Bear with me: I want to tell you what happens when you let life do its thing to you. That’s how my old therapist, Gary used to talk about situations you didn’t love, but which were happening anyway, despite what you might have preferred.
“Just let it do its thing to you,” he would say when I was sad or angry or tired, and sitting in the leather chair across from him, sobbing. “Let it do it’s thing to you.”
Which is a really great concept – “Yeah man, let it happen” – but harder to swallow because I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m feeling sad or angry or out of control, there’s a knee jerk tendency for me to want to change the channel, pour a glass of wine, pick up my phone, get on Instagram or open the refrigerator. I want to feel better right now, and run from whatever is working me, instead of letting it touch or change me as Gary might suggest it could.
It was the consuming of things that was often my little escape from pain in the years right before the pandemic. The internet too – of course – and my best friend – the phone – were completely addicting. But the consuming of things – even small things, like running to the market when I was certain I needed one bell pepper, and then spending $50 more on things that caught my eye. I did that a lot. I went to the market every few days – felt better the moment I walked in. I exhaled. All those wonderful things for sale; groceries, vitamins, cheese, sushi, wine, flowers, fancy crackers.
I understand we eat to live, but this was different. This was buying things I wanted and already had at home. This was me throwing down a credit card because I wanted something now. Or maybe I threw that credit card down on Instagram or Facebook. I’d see some cream for aging skin, or maybe it was a pretty dress, and I’d click. Here’s a product to make my hair lustrous, one to amp up my sex drive and one to keep me alive until I’m 100.
I was clearly hungry for something, but what? I have a closet bursting with clothes, often bought because I was sad or lonely. Bought for that small rush of beauty, believing that the top, or the shoes were going to save me.
There was a wastefulness – a having too muchness that mostly made storage a problem, but which didn’t resolve the pain. My desire to tweak the moment just delayed the inevitable sadness, or whatever was moving through me – often times I was simply exhausted from working too hard and not taking care of myself. Maybe I was feeling some deep aloneness or unlovability that frightened me. At one point I felt my sadness so acutely that I’d be in a store fingering a blouse, and starting to get a little woozy with the thought of bringing it home, and the sadness would flood me and I’d have to walk out. The sadness rode my back. Nothing was going to change with my purchase and I knew it.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I never try to flee the moment anymore. I do. In the last ten minutes of writing this, I opened an email from Williams Sonoma because there’s a sale on their cast iron stuff, and I’ve always wanted a big pot. For a moment I forgot about the virus, forgot that I hadn’t seen my younger daughter since December, hadn’t seen my mother since February, forgot that the market is crashing, that friends’ livelihoods are at risk and that I already have a perfectly fine pot.
What am I hungry for? What is so hard to be with now?
Like you, I’m wrestling with change. Fear of the unknown. The dissolution of a kind of naiveté that somebody has our back or somebody has “got this,” and will fix it for us. Some this-can’t-be-real feeling that this is going to be over soon and we’ll get to go back to… what?
And so here we are, a month into sheltering in place, with at least another month in front of us. Hard to change the channel on this one, though I’ve stopped going to the market whenever I wanted something. All purchases have been reduced to essentials – which is a relief. I have lost my desire for a new shirt or a pair of new earrings. There is no dinner out when I don’t feel like cooking. Yes, my daughter and I take long walks and fantasize about meals we’d love to make – baked mac and cheese – she tells me. Marzipan cake, I reply. But it’s a relief to crawl down from the scaffolding of what I thought I needed to live and to find myself on my feet and with agency.
I hope I won’t be entirely misunderstood when I say that, on days when I hear them talk about lifting this sheltering in place earlier than they thought, I think “shoot, not too fast,” by which I mean I feel like I’m just dropping into this thing, this great blah blah – which is another thing Gary used to call life; The Great Blah Blah – just dropping into the possibility of what this strange time out is an opportunity for – for me. I’m not talking about tackling my back room or my catastrophe of a desk, I’m talking about some other kind of…? I was going to say striving – but I hope that’s not it. The truth is, each day I am centering down a little more, moving more slowly, walking around barefoot and making time to sit quietly outside in the sun alone.
Of course I write this from a warm home and a job. I have the luxury of contemplation. I don’t want for the suffering of others, of course I want the curve to flatten, but what I also want is to drop into the beauty of the moment, and to stop resisting what is happening.
“We’re all on retreat,” my friend Jeff Greenwald tells me. “A forced retreat,” he says, “which in military terms means a failure – a surrender, but in mindfulness practice,” he says, “a retreat is something that compels us back to our own resources, and our relationship with ourselves.”
And then this, something a woman named Miv London – who is a friend of a friend wrote on Facebook – wrote. It’s a reminder of what Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and writer declared centuries ago: All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And, as Miv adds, “we’re all, like it or not, being furnished an opportunity to remedy that.”
I guess this is how you begin to let the great blah blah do its thing to you. And what a time to practice.
How are you doing, friend?
Listen to Laurie read The Great Blah Blah …
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