Have you ever played with a pill bug? You know the ones that curl up into a ball and you can roll them around the palm of your hand. I loved them as a kid, they seemed mysterious, and the idea that they could instantly create this protective shell was intriguing to my younger self.
Now I realize even small bugs feel fear.
We all do.
Pema Chodron says fear is part of being alive, something we all share, even the badasses, or should I say especially the badasses. We have such colorful ways of individualizing ourselves, don’t we? Creating these spectacular auras of uniqueness, but it’s a lie, a disstraction from the essential truth.
This pandemic is like being dragged back to school, a classroom for humanity if you will, and if you’re not curling up like a pillbug, you’ll learn all sorts of new things about yourself.
We all react differently when confronted with the prospect of loneliness, of death, of not knowing the future, of not having anything to hold on to, or anyplace to go. If we are observant when faced with the unknown we move closer to the truth.
The truth being your most basic self, no frills, just a loving, compassionate, hopeful person who confronts reality without fear. And by the way this is a continual process because nothing in life is permanant. Impermanance happens to be the nature of all things, in order for their to be birth, there has to be death. That sucks, but it’s the nature of reality, and that happens to be our best teacher.
There is this steep hill behind the lake house, we didn’t know this at the time, but a truculent drug dealer lives at the top of the road, in a shabby little house, with a bunch of pugnacious pit bulls. We like to walk this hill for exercise, it’s challenging, and the reward upon return is a slussie (but that’s another story). One day a bunch of my kids and their friends decided to conquer the hill, there were maybe six or seven of them, and they headed out in the heat of the day. When they crested the top of the hill the drug dealer let his pit bulls loose on them, apparently they woke him up (he must work nights), and he didn’t want them hanging around his street.
Three snarling pit bulls come charging out of the house, straight at the kids, but the interesting part is their variety of reactions towards the same threat. Some of the kids literally froze, a few searched around for weapons, some ran for their lives, and others (the crazy ones) ran straight at the dogs, screaming expletives. Talk about facing your fears! Ends up the dogs were not as ferocious when threatened themselves.
The point being, when confronted with the unexpected we either freeze, search for distractions like alcohol, shopping, food, gambling, sex, or we stay calm and allow ourselves to feel, to validate, and to learn from our emotions. As usual, learning seems way less appealing than distractions, but hey, nobody can take it away from you.
Life nails us. It just does, but you can lean into your struggles, learn from them, and not shut down.
We like to think we’ve learned how to manage our shit, but the truth is unexpected situations are revealing, they show the real you in neon colors. We’re a rainbow of colorful emotions, and try as we may, anxiety, anger, resentment, envy, hatred, and narcissism are aggressive emotions, but like dogs, they retreat when we find the courage to confront them.
Pema Chodron says, “we think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” Lovely, it’s an endless cycle, as if a nightmare that regularly revisits your dreams. But Chodron likes to point out that we have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering, because we can’t relax with how things really are, or we can embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.
I started my blog Living in the Gap as a metaphor for living with both feet in the present. I was not expecting anyone to disassociate themselves completely from the past, or ignore the future, but living for today while holding those aspects of our lives in conjunction with each other. Clearly the past informs the present but the future depends on how we choose to live today.
I’ve always liked the idea of mindful living, and what I mean by that is doing our best with everything we encounter, whether it be another person, a job, a workshop, an emergency, or a nasty virus. This is like an insurance policy, doing your best usually translates to less regrets, and less suffering in the future.
So I’m reading Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart, and came across some concepts that have expanded my understanding of this gap I like to live in. She says when suffering arises in our lives, we can recognize it as suffering, then stay curious and mindful of our reactions, because they are usually habitual.
The good news is habits are learned behaviors and can be replaced!
Chodron asks, “Do you see how you spin-off from this place when seized with anxiety? Notice where your emotions take you, without judgment, or the intention to clean it up.”
She gives one’s emotions permission to be experienced and felt, don’t shun them as if wayward children, welcome them, observe them, and learn from them. It’s more fun to judge our partners and children, but as Matthew warns, “why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own?” Bahaha, because I’ve grown accustomed to my log, but your splinter is annoying the hell out of me.
This is the good part. She says, “when we perceive the spaciousness in our lives, when we sense a gap in the continual conversation we have with ourselves, when we suddenly notice what’s in front of us, when we take a fresh, clear, unedited look at reality, we can recognize it as egolessness. This is always available to us, this freshness, openness, where we delight in our own perceptions.
So my friends, this is not the time to curl up with our emotions, and roll around the house like a pillbutg. This is when we fight to stay open to ourselves, to our destructive disorders, and let them go. It isn’t the things that happen to us that cause us to suffer, it’s how we react to the things that happen that causes us to suffer. In times of drastic change this is how we equip ourselves to live in a world that no longer exists. We roll with it!
I’m Living in the Gap, rolling with it, letting the emotions out to play.