Friday, March 19, 2010

Separating from the Suck

I have found that I often discover truths while talking with other people. During conversations things will come out of my mouth that then click in my mind, and I wonder,"Why haven't I thought of this before?" I don't know why this is true; I just know that I get a better grasp on difficult concepts when I try to explain them to someone else. Knowing this would've made calculus much easier. Maybe. Maybe I never should've taken calculus to begin with. But that's not the point.

Recently I was talking with someone important to me who was facing a dilemma in the truest sense, having to choose between two equally unfavorable options. Without going into specifics out of respect, the choice was essentially between someone that really mattered and something that really mattered. At the time, the two were becoming mutually exclusive; one could not co-exist with the other. We raised the question, "Why is life so HARD?" This question was raised during the time that I was waiting to find out if I have cancer (which I don't) and just after I'd been in a car accident which totaled our car.

The conclusion I proposed was totally original. "Life sucks and then you die." And in a sense, I believe that. Not in a belief window skewed world view kind of way; I'm not actually a pessimistic person. I do believe in inherent fairness and overall justice- just not in so short a frame as a lifetime. I went on to say that a big part of our journey here is learning to separate ourselves from the suck, literally to remove the very essence of ourselves from the mundane banalities of life that suck the hope and vivaciousness from our souls. The way the world works, from the smallest cellular level to the expanse of galaxies floating through space continually collapses toward entropy. Everything from our very planet to our very mitochondria moves toward chaos. We know that, we can feel it on a subconscious level, which is why our conscious level is so drawn to melodramatic phrases like "nothing is permanent," "we all die alone," "in the end, all you have is yourself." We are depressed, repressed, and oppressed from all directions, trying to fit into every mold we see someone else wanting for us. Whether or not it's there. And then we get angry because we don't feel like we're getting what we "deserve," trying to impose the order we think should be there on a system that does not recognize our authority.

Part of my journey is learning to distance myself from that. Not from life, but from the suck. My whole life I have struggled with chemical depression. Situations and events can make it worse, but it's a constant chemical imbalance that I have to battle with. And for a very very very long time I fought against taking any kind of medication for it. I didn't want to be "weak," I didn't want to be "dependent" and I was afraid of what judgments other people would make. I tried therapy, which helped but didn't fix the underlying cause. I tried exercise, which did fix the chemical imbalance by providing an excess of another chemical to fill in the blank. Then I got broken and could not physically exercise anymore. And that SUCKED. My depression flowed back, stronger than ever because now the chemical had situational to add fuel to that dark fire. And then I realized something; my brain is an organ, a physical mushy mass of matter. If I had kidney problems, I would take medication for it. If I had a heart problem, I would take heart pills. The medication is a tool that I can use, it doesn't make me a tool. That seemingly small paradigm shift changed a lot for me.

And THAT is what separating from the suck is really about. Paradigm shifts. Changing not the world, but the way we perceive what happens to us. Replacing expectation with hope. It is our constant perception that life is failing us somehow that is making this so hard. For example, I expected that exercising would allow me to manage my depression. And it did, for a while. But then when exercising (specifically running) was taken away from me, I felt angry, betrayed by life. But life didn't betray me. Life was just carrying on as usual, the consequences of a thousand thousand butterflies flapping their wings and changing outcomes. What needed to be changed was MY perception, because THAT I can control. If I had hoped that exercise would help manage my depression, I would've been pleasantly surprised that it did, and when it didn't anymore, it wouldn't be the end of the world. Like when you're young and there's a boy you like and you expect him to call and he doesn't, it ruins your night. But if you're only hoping that he calls and prepared with something else to do if he doesn't, then it is perhaps inconvenient, but not a game changer. That's one difference. I've come to understand that the plan that I make is really only what I go to if nothing else happens. Those plan A's that we all have we think are what happens first and everything else just gets in the way. The paradigm shift we need (by the way, a paradigm shift is when one conceptual world view is replaced by another; i.e., learning to plant a garden and grow food meant that humans could live in one place rather than constantly be searching for more food) is to understand that our plan A's are actually plan Z's- they are what we go to when nothing else happens.

We think of those happenings as interruptions, or deviations from our expected plans. Is it any wonder that we're upset and frustrated when what we expect to happen is really the last possible thing that could happen? In earlier posts I've mentioned that I do believe our life has a purpose, and by extension I do believe in God. I also believe that the greatest gift God gave us was the option to choose. Every action, every thought, is a decision we make for ourselves. I do not believe that God makes bad things happen. The neverending cry of "Why do bad things happen to good people?" "How could God let this happen?" is not a difficult question. Uncomfortable, yes, absolutely, but not difficult. He gave us the power to choose by providing choices. He cannot protect us from the consequences of those choices, or from others being affected by our choices, because that denies our choices. We all live here. We all love, eat, breathe, and die here, and if outcomes are changed by a butterfly flapping its wings, how much greater change does each individual effect? Bad things happen because entropy happens, because life happens, because the world is imperfect and imbalanced because we are not prepared to handle perfection and balance, no matter how much we may believe we desire those things here and now.

I love C. S. Lewis. He said "The truth is, what we call interruptions are precisely our real life, the life God is sending us day by day." I do not believe God makes bad things happen; I believe he nudges and orders events so that good things come out of bad ones. Like that car accident I referred to earlier. It happened the morning I was going to have my biopsy to check for cancer. The biopsy results take a week to come back. That morning, a teenager texting on her cell phone hit me from behind without even trying to break because she didn't even see me. I was completely stopped beforehand. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt, except our car, which was totaled. It was a bad day. I even called my cousin, who I know is going through a series of difficult situations, to complain about my day. And by most standards, getting in a car accident the same day you have a possible cancer biopsy is a rough day.

Now I'm pretty familiar with how the aftermath car accidents work because I was a paralegal. I also had to find a new car to buy and talk to my insurance, her insurance, the repair place, the car rental place. All of this was a very long and involved process, but not one that was strange or overwhelming for me. And it gave me something to focus on for a week while I waited for my biopsy results. I tend to be an obsessive over-thinker (a friend once observed that I must not get a lot of quiet because my mind is always going) and had I not had all those tasks to focus on, I would've spent that week researching cancer treatments and survival rates and support groups and grief counseling and making sure my affairs were in order and gradually driving myself mad. Now that teenager, who texted while driving, was going to get into an accident. God could not prevent that from happening and still be giving her a choice, because without consequences, there aren't choices. (Consequences get a bad connotation, but they don't have to be bad- the consequences of allowing yourself to be loved are pretty awesome). However, nudging the events a little bit made it so she ran into ME, who desperately needed something else to focus on, for whom a car accident would be inconvenient but not catastrophic, and who never really liked my car much anyway, is how He can intervene without taking anything away.

I do yoga, and I learned the meaning of a phrase I've heard over and over in the background chanting of yoga videos. I erroneously thought it was a Hymn to Shiva, The Destroyer, because one of the words sounded like Shiva. Um, no. The phrase is Om Namah Shivaya. It means "I honor the divinity that resides within me." That's part of why all this entropy feels so wrong; it's not who I'm supposed to be. But finding that harmony and balance, that zen, separating myself from the suck, is the purpose of the journey. My life now is not what I expected; I'm not where I expected and not doing what I expected. That could make me very upset. I could feel betrayed and angry and upset, because my expectations weren't evil or wrong, quite the opposite. But this is the life that I have. I can choose to feel guilty about the past and worry about the future, or learn from the past and prepare for the future. You do have to have a plan, a direction. But the change is that you have to hope, not expect, that it will happen, and be prepared when it doesn't happen the way you planned. Even when we want something we KNOW is good that does not mean we'll get it. And its those things specifically that make us feel so hurt and betrayed when it doesn't happen. That does NOT mean you won't get what you want, eventually, but it won't be the way you planned or when you planned because it doesn't work that way. We cannot control all the variables. What we can do is hope, work, and learn to bend so we don't break. And it doesn't work all the time; usually we don't see the benefits that come out of crappy situations until well after the situation has past and the benefit has been established, and then we have our moment of enlightenment (or "Oh, duh!").

Life may suck, but living is sure worth it.