“You cant stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -John Kabat-Zinn
There’s no denying that 2020 has been a challenging year. Take the happiness guru’s advice that you can bake banana bread to side step emotionally exhaustive experiences with a grain of salt. We’re all being challenged this year, some more so than others. Don’t feel bad. It’s a fucking lot.
We’ve been living through a pandemic, and the fear of the unknown, both physically and economically, is taxing, whether it affects us personally or not.
We’ve been cut off from our communities, or cooped up with roommates and loved ones. Now, we face the largest civil rights movement in history, and while that’s great, its calling us to summon energy we might not have in the first place. We will find a way.
It’s ok if it’s hard. It’s ok to not be ok. Social media really skews reality in making it seem like everyone is living their best life except you. Don’t fall for it. Struggling does not make you weak, it ultimately makes you stronger.
There are so many things to be grateful for, yes, and maybe making banana bread does create a shred of joy that wasn’t there before, and we need to hold onto those joyful moments, seek them out, and cherish them. They are a life force right now.
In addition to all this big picture stuff going on, many of us are dealing with personal problems, as a result of this bigger picture stuff. People are uprooting their lives, changing their careers, breaking up and making up, and maybe even pretending not to hear the existential dread that comes knocking on our door daily.
I’m generally an optimistic person, sometimes too optimistic. And I genuinely believe that the best things in our lives, and the greatest growth, always stem from the worst times. The tide will surely change, in a big way. It has to. For now, though, I just want you to know we’re all going through it.
I just deleted Instagram because the highlight reel syndrome was getting to me, and it’s too much information right now. I’ve been dealing with some personal and family issues and generally digging pretty deep each day. There are a lot of things I’m excited about and hopeful for, and I make sure to do things out of self care and in joy every single day, but I’m not gonna lie, this has been one of the hardest weeks I can recall in a very long time.
So I’ve been thinking back to the times in my life when I’ve felt this before– breakups, deaths, disappointments, betrayal, having $37 dollars to my name, and while those times were without a doubt extremely challenging, the next phase always brought about a massive upleveling, necessary change, and eventually, deep gratitude that things didn’t work out the way I had wanted, because I was able receive something even better than what I thought I wanted.
Take break-ups for instance. No shade to my ex’s, as I wish them all well, and they all had their good qualities, but every time I went through a breakup where I wished it would have worked out, and had to mourn the fantasy of the life we could have had together, I see now that there were bigger and better adventures waiting for me, wonderful people I had yet to meet, and experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. My life is so much richer because I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.
Here’s a few examples, ALL NAMES have been changed for privacy:
If I had moved to England and stayed with Tim, I may have never went and lived out on my own in Chicago with two of my best friends, performed in bands and parades, and finished college.
If I had stayed with Calvin, got married and had babies, I would have never lived alone for the first time, gave up teaching to pursue what I really wanted, traveled, or moved to the Northwest and learned to ride a motorcycle, to surf, and garden.
If I had stayed with Aiden, I would have never been pushed to make my garden design business flourish, or to leave a crappy retail job to go work in a library, or live in a more fun part of town, meet tons of interesting people, and explore my sexuality further.
If I had stayed with Todd, I would have never moved out to the beach, had the experience of staying in a half a million dollar home sandwiched between thousands of acres of woods and the surf, and gotten deep into making art and writing again.
If I had stayed with Sven, I would have never been forced to double my income, travel to new cities to hang out with potential suitors, raised my standards in dating, experienced living in a house all to myself, and make my dream of taking a road trip down the West Coast of a United States a reality etc. etc.
Something good always comes from the worst of times. It’s a test of our resilience and our strength, and it’s painful when the universe rips away something you really, really wanted, but trust that it is for the best, and that it is the way the world makes room for something better.
Take my friend, for instance, who was having a hard time letting go of her Australian citizenship, out of fear it would take away from her dream of living there again some day. Her and her husband have had a dream of buying property and homesteading, and have been very slowly saving to do so.
She finally decided to send some emails, let go of her ties to Australia, trusting she could go back one day if she wanted to, and turns out she had $12,000 in retirement funds waiting for her over there.
When we let go, we make room.
I’m going through the letting go part right now. I won’t lie to you and say it is easy to let go of a dream, or to not feel sad at life’s disappointments, or uncertainty about big changes, but I’m choosing to trust anyways, even if it’s hard. We have to trust, to keep moving forward, and remember all the times where it felt like our worlds were ending, but really, better ones were being prepared for us.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my near- thirty years is that there is no end goal, final destination, or day when you finally “figure it out.” And I know it’s cliche to say it’s the journey not the destination, but it’s true. We’re always learning, even when we’re in pain. We’re constantly evolving, no matter what milestone we hit. We are seekers, that’s part of what makes us human.
We walk around with goals and dreams in our brain, and we convince ourselves when we accomplish these things, we’ll be done, or we’ll finally be able to feel good forever. It never works like that.
What I’ve learned, and what I’m learning, is that life is never finished, your work is never done, and our lives are in a constant state of draft– requiring our edits, cuts, and perspective changes on the daily.
You might be surprised and disappointed to know that once you get married, or get a house, or take that vacation, or buy that boob job, life doesn’t suddenly become all roses and rainbows and fluffy kittens. Life remains weird, painful, confusing, scary, or downright disappointing from time to time.
We are always in motion, always in flux, always striving for and desiring new things, as soon as we get the last thing we thought we wanted.
This isn’t to say achieving your goals won’t bring you more satisfaction, or happiness, and to not have any goals, but realize that once you get the thing you so desperately want, you essentially increase your tolerance to it and want more.
We know this consciously, and yet we still always strive to find our happiness in the next “thing.” That’s fine, in a sense, because changing and striving and achieving new goals is a part of our evolution. Our happiness, however, is always in the present moment.
We resist the darker times like we’re worried we’ll get stuck there forever. And sometimes we do experience a delay, if we forget to turn on the light, or shut ourselves up in a dark room and lose sight of the sun rising with each new day, but the darker times don’t have to be a burden. They feel like burdens in the moment, but we always grow, always learn, and always come out with a renewed appreciation for boring life, simple life, happy life.
With that said, stop resisting. Life isn’t about finding ways to dodge the darker times. Life is about learning to hang on with a loose grasp. Don’t let yourself break your wrist because you’re holding on too tight. Life will continue to dish up challenges. Learn to navigate them, to find simple pleasures, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to find the lesson, and to remember that they will pass.
It’s kind of like mountain biking, or motorcycling, or surfing. Look where you want to go, and unless you loosen up your grip, you might fall and hurt yourself.
Loosen up your grip on life, and remind yourself to stay calm when there are big waves crashing over your head and you have to dive under and hold your breath for longer than you think you’re capable of. You’re going to find a lot more inner strength and oxygen than you thought you had when you remind yourself to relax, instead of panicking.
Panic zaps our energy, and our oxygen, or our perception of it. When life has you diving in the wild ocean with your eyes closed, wait it out and use your swimming skills. Stay calm, and pick a wave to ride to shore if you can’t wait it out any longer.
I don’t care what guru tells you you can avoid pain or the trials and tribulations of life. They’re lying. Life will serve up even the most self- aware, positive, healthy and well-adjusted, wealthy, beautiful humans big slices of uncertainty, obstacles, and heart ache. None of us are immune to the weather patterns of the ocean or of life. But, we can carry an umbrella. We can learn to surf. We can find things to do on rainy days.
We can even marvel at our smallness and take comfort in the fact that we are teeny tiny beings in a much grander scheme, and that our worries and dramas are cosmically insignificant. Or, radically significant depending on which way you look at it.
Take a break from social media and know that we are all going through it–if not currently, soon enough, because it’s just a part of the deal. “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Don’t resist the changes, your heart ache, your disappointments. Lean in to them, learn something new, and before you know it, the sea will be calm again, and maybe you’ll even think, “well, this is boring.”