Tag Archives: happiness

Becoming the Wind

10 Jun

On a sunny morning last summer I found myself lying on my bedroom floor, sobbing, unable to get up. I say “I found myself” because it was like an out-of-body experience. As though I stumbled upon this girl, a heaving pile of limbs, and I could do nothing to help her.

Thankfully, someone else was there to scoop me up off the floor, put me in the car, and take me to the doctor.

While I sat in a bare clinic room, cheeks sticky with tears, he made the difficult call to my mom, gingerly explaining to her what was happening. My parents were on a plane to Asheville the next morning.

And there were other knights in shining armor. A friend who called me from the endodontist’s chair after I sent him a text message asking for help; who got me out of the house for a walk in the woods; who sat with me at Urgent Care, dropped off my prescription, and took me for a slice of pizza. Another friend came to spend the night with me, armed with movies and the willingness to listen. One thing I know for sure: I am a lucky woman to be supported with such love.

The most difficult thing to explain is just how I reached such a low state. From the outside, things seemed to be looking up. I had just completed a master’s degree, moved into a new apartment, built a solid group of friends, and was dating a lovely guy. But something was off.

Trying situations had been amassing over the previous year: heartbreak, loss, unemployment, and that whole 26-and-directionless quarter-life crisis thing. In June I came to the painful (and expensive) realization that I didn’t want to do the very thing I’d just spent two years becoming qualified to do. In July my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. By August, I’d been unemployed for months, couldn’t pay any of my bills, and had no desire to do anything productive.

That last part was the scariest. A total paralysis. Here was a girl who has essentially worked since she was 16, now utterly afraid to seek employment. I couldn’t even imagine myself interviewing for a job, let alone having one. What if I broke down crying in front of my boss? What if I couldn’t get up in the morning and had to call out? I felt pathetic. Suck it up, I kept telling myself, millions of people are much worse off than you. But for some reason, I just couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed by change. Nearly every single aspect of my life had changed in the course of a year, and it felt like life was happening to me. Worse yet, every time something good came along I clung to it with a death-grip that immediately strangled it out of existence.

We have all observed change in nature and called it beautiful: fall leaves like glowing embers, an emerging butterfly, grapes fermenting into wine. Of course, these changes mean that something has died, and without death this beauty wouldn’t exist. Yet when death reveals itself in our immediate lives, we resist, turn away, or dig our fingernails deep in a panicked attempt to hold on.

Depression is a strange friend, in many ways. Often brought on by separation or loss, it beats you down until you have no choice left but to give up or stand up (or let someone pick you up…). General sadness does not compel such transformation–it allows you to keep trucking along, thinking tomorrow might be better.

“Standing up” and moving beyond depression is not about stubornness nor determination. It’s about letting go and becoming the wind, as Rilke puts it in the poem below.

Through yoga, long chats, books and yes, a brief stint on medication, the tide shifted. Yoga, in particular, is teaching me how to embrace change. What was the worst time of my life turned out be the bearer of life’s greatest fruits: the “children” of whom Rilke writes. For me, these children were deeper friendships, a renewed passion for writing, and a sense of belonging in this little mountain town of mine. Right now, that is happiness.

When life changes drastically again, as it inevitably will, I’ll remind myself of all I’ve gained from loss. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do what Rilke suggests…

***

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two XII

All the Single Ladies…

20 May

It took me 27 years to discover the value of being single. Now I finally get it. And I think everyone, yes everyone, should be single for at least one year of their adult lives.

Let me be clear: I believe love is the highest expression of humanity. And I am most certainly a romantic. I love cuddling, hugs in the morning, blueberry pancakes in bed, knowing that another person has my back (and I have his), laughing so hard that I fall off the bed, embarrassing nicknames, streaking through my living room to wild applause, sweet messages on sticky-notes, and being comfortable enough to perform my goofy, made-up songs for someone.

I am not suggesting these experiences alone are equal to the massive, ineffable concept of love. They are simply human expressions of love. And they are some of the reasons why it took me so long to appreciate the single life.

But love does not require a committed relationship, let alone a ring (c’mon Beyonce, I know you don’t buy that shoulda put a ring on it crap). Love doesn’t even require another person. Although a measuring device does not yet exist, I am pretty sure I experience more love as a single woman than I did as a girlfriend or fiancé. But why?

For one, I am more open. Open to experiences. Open to people—forming new friendships and reviving old ones that have faded. Going by myself to a quaint little bar in town leads me into the most fascinating conversations with the most fascinating people. (Most recently: an ex-lawyer from Jersey who used to defend mobsters.)  Sure, you can do that while in a relationship, but how many do?

Also on the list of things I do now that I didn’t do when I was in a relationship: practice yoga, meditate, disappear on a long drive without telling a soul, spend entire days reading and writing, dream up the most fantastical scenarios for my future without feeling a single ounce of guilt about who else would be affected, cry senselessly and often without anyone asking what’s wrong, and converse weekly with adorable boys from Chicago I’ve spent only 9 amazing hours with (okay, there’s just one adorable boy from Chicago).

I’ve been single for the last two years or so. During the first 8 months, I didn’t date anyone. Unless you count that one time I spent two hours watching a guy down five gin and tonics on a Tuesday night while raving about how much he hates liberals.

It’s not easy being 100 percent single, as in not dating, after being with someone for years. The loneliness is piercing. I spent a lot of time trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered ego. I also spent time beating myself up, smashing what remained into tinier and tinier pieces, until one day I had absolutely no idea who I was.

And that moment, when I had lost any inkling of an identity and sat in a heap on my living room floor, turned out to be the most important moment of my life. It was the first time I realized that truth we all do our best to avoid: I am alone. I’d been alone a year prior, when I had a boyfriend, and I’ll be alone 20 years from now when I’m (hypothetically) married with three beautiful kids.

People change, people leave, and people die. That fact always exists. Moreover, other people live inside their bodies and their minds, and they will never live inside mine. We may try to merge with our loved ones—through hugs, words, laughter, sex—but we cannot. And so often when we try, we lose our own sense of self (or fail to develop it in the first place).

When I was finally whole enough to date again, I did so with new intentions. I stopped looking for a boyfriend, a soul mate, a lifelong partner. I began opening myself up to simply experiencing men. Appreciating each one for who he is at this moment in his life. Worrying less about where it’s going and more about how it feels now.

The notion that a loving relationship requires a label, or even an exclusive commitment, is just plain false. I dated a man for 9 months, never once referred to him as my boyfriend or made a declaration not to see other people, and had more fun than I’ve had with any other guy in my life. I loved him. I still love him. We remain (gasp!) close friends.

This is not to say everything was perfect, or that we never experienced jealousy, or that I didn’t struggle with having to explain our relationship to family and friends. And it’s not to say that a non-exclusive relationship is necessarily tenable long-term. It’s just that we proved love exists outside those boxes into which most people insist on cramming it.

My relationships are not shallow. Tears flow, my heart breaks, and disappointments are inevitable. I am still me: fiercely loyal, passionate, intense, and exceptionally picky. When I love you, you know it. And this love is not reserved for boyfriends only. It’s available to everyone I invite into my life.

I am learning how to love without giving myself away. Without needing to nail down the future (an impossible feat to begin with). Maybe you were lucky enough to learn these lessons in high school. Or maybe you learned them through your relationship or marriage. But for me, it took being utterly alone to appreciate what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in one of his letters to Franz Kappus:

Nothing describes loving less aptly than calling it a merging, surrendering and uniting with another person (what could such a union of the unresolved, the unready and the as-yet-unorganized possibly resemble?); it is a sublime occasion for the individual to mature, to become something in himself, to become a world, to become a world unto himself for the sake of someone else; it is a great immodest demand placed upon him, something that singles him out and calls on him to go far. Only thus, as a task to work on themselves (“to listen and to hammer day and night”), should young people be allowed to use the love that has been accorded them.

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