Outside my window, the mercury has inched well past the 90° mark. It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over, but it must be true: leaves are turning from green to gold, and kids are marching along the sidewalk with backpacks looped over their shoulders. The seasons are gently blurring from one into the next.
That’s perfectly fine with me. I’m not wishing for snow flurries or rain showers; stormy weather has been bearing down on my head and heart for several long weeks, and I’m already drenched to the core.
I tend to shy away from revealing the intimate details of my life on my blog, but I will say that the personal side of my summer wasn’t a whole lot of fun. There were no picnics in the park or long walks on the beach; rather, these months have been full of painful discoveries and long silences and nights spent staring at the ceiling.
Whenever I feel unhappy, I usually start plotting my escape or daydreaming about sunnier times that are surely right around the corner, anticipating the moment when my painful feelings and thoughts will be replaced with pleasant ones.
If only I could choose my life experiences like I choose tomatoes at the farmer's market - taking the plump, shiny ones and ignoring the scarred ones with divots in their skins. I wish I could grab the warm, fun, happy times and leave the ugly, awkward, angry ones on the table, but that's simply isn't possible.
Over the past couple of months, I've begun to realize that hoping for things to change doesn't make me feel any better. If anything, it makes me even more miserable, more acutely aware of all the things that are wrong. The more I resist the difficult and un-lovely things in my life, the more unhappy I become.
One of my most cherished spiritual teachers, Pema Chodron, strips this concept to the bone in four short words: Give up all hope. In her book Start Where You Are, she writes: “One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level, or at the spiritual level or at the level of mental peace.”
She goes to say: “This simple ingredient of giving up hope is the most important ingredient for developing sanity and healing.”
That sounded bizarre the first time I read it, but by the fourth read-through, I decided to give it a try. Slowly and deliberately, I begun to relinquish the notion of Someday When, grasping the truth that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; no happily ever after; no light at the end of the tunnel. This grubby, tangled, sweet-sour mishmash of actions and reactions is the very stuff of life. I can't run; I can't hide. As long as I'm alive, I'll be smack in the middle of it.
As I began to make peace with the idea that none of the things that are currently causing me pain might change or get better or improve, an unseen hand released an invisible pressure valve somewhere within me.
I started to breathe a little more easily. Nothing changed on the outside, but I felt more at peace.
It occurs to me that our culture is saddled with this notion of constant improvement. We're acutely uncomfortable with sorrow and death and suffering. Things are getting better all the time, don’t cha know? We’re getting thinner, richer and smarter with every passing minute. Our iPods are getting swankier, the fine lines around our eyes are becoming 30% less visible, and seats in the first class cabin offer a more satisfying night’s sleep than ever before. We're moving on up!
Remember what Dante saw inscribed above the door to Hell?
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
That phrase has been flitting through my head for the past few days, and (though I know this wasn't Dante's intent) I feel the tiniest bit lighter every time I think of it.
My current storm will eventually give way to sunshine. Days or weeks or months later, another storm will arise. And so it is; the never-ending cycle. In the meanwhile, I'm tipping my face towards the rain clouds and leaning into the wind.