Large Scale Pessimist, Small Scale Optimist

It’s no secret that I am an extremely cynical person. On the surface this may seem confusing to those around me, given that I put so much effort into fighting for social change and self-improvement. Why bother if you don’t believe that there is any hope of creating any lasting, large scale impact? Why be vegan if you fully believe we’ll never be able to liberate animals, that the earth will perish long before human beings make the connection? Why do social work every day if you believe human beings are inherently bad, that the system is corrupt and won’t change? Why advocate for a leftist agenda if you also acknowledge any political system will inevitably be taken over and coopted by bad actors if given enough time?

The reason I keep fighting, isn’t because I think I can change the world. In fact, I feel completely confident that I won’t. I fight because I have to. Even if failure is the only possible outcome. Giving up is still not an option. As long as I am here, as long as I’m still breathing, I will keep advocating for the things I believe in. I will keep fighting for those that don’t even have the privilege of a voice of their own.

Despite my resignation to the hopelessness I feel on a large scale, I do find personal fulfillment and meaning on a smaller scale. Very few of the child abuse cases that I work on ever go to trial. My clients, my coworkers, and myself are constantly faced with the sobering reality that many of these pedophiles and domestic abusers will walk free, that they will go on to victimize more and more people, that they may never ultimately face justice. Even so, a criminal conviction is not the only outcome that I consider a success. I’ve had many kids tell me that my coworkers and I are the nicest people they’ve ever met. And they meant it. I believed them. Sometimes I get to be one of the ONLY people that would even listen to them, the first person that believed them. Sometimes this is all someone needs, more than they thought they would ever get. I get to hold their hand as they let go of the external repercussions and focus on the possibility of inner healing, the only thing that they actually do have the power to influence.

Even though I have no hope that I’ll see the end of animal agriculture, even though I believe I will, instead, see the end of the earth, I will continue to do everything in my power to spread the vegan message and protect animals. Every person that goes vegan, every person that buys an Impossible Whopper without mayo instead of a Whopper, every person that switches to plant based milks, makes a difference. Maybe not in the bigger picture of the oppressive, abusive industries across the world, but to even a single animal. That matters.

I may not believe that I can change the world, but I do believe that I can change the lives of the people I meet everyday, of the animals that I DON’T eat. Just because I can’t do it all, doesn’t mean what I can do doesn’t matter. Take pride in the small victories. Why should it matter than you couldn’t end all oppression? You were there for someone in a vulnerable moment, in their moment of need. Maybe you didn’t change the world. But you changed the world for one person and that’s just as good. All we can do is offer our love and compassion, and that’s enough.

Suffering in Silence

I learned early on that tears and tantrums are bad behavior. Showing these emotions causes displeasure and annoyance in those around us. Our first subconscious lesson to swallow those big emotions and keep them inside, those first seeds of unworthiness, are planted when we are very young. A lesson that others don’t have time for us, are not interested in our distress. Some of my most painful and poignant memories from childhood emphasize this lesson.

Looking backward in my memory I see a tiny child retreat to her bedroom when the world becomes too much. Perhaps an easily disregarded issue to the adults around, but a great source of pain to one so new and small. I see her shut herself away the first few times with a confidence that her mother will come to her, show compassion and concern for her suffering. It seems like hours as the child waits in the darkness for someone, anyone to show her that they care, that her presence is missed. Fits of crying come and go, some intentionally exaggerated to ensure they are heard. Still no one comes.

No one ever came. Many occasions like this ended in crying myself to sleep, feeling utterly alone and unloved. Even though I now understand this was so as not to encourage this behavior (i.e. crying and sulking in order to get attention) it doesn’t make the internalization of the initial message any less harmful. Nor has it helped to have this message reaffirmed throughout life.

I had bouts of extreme sadness in my high school years. I’ll never forget the week my first serious boyfriend broke up with me. I fell silent, kept my head down, hidden in my arms as I fought back tears for days on end. I wasn’t looking for attention. I wanted to disappear. But the realization that this would be so easy, that I would be utterly ignored was a sobering one. I quickly learned the meaning of the term “fair weather friend” and that most friends fit this definition. My best friend at the time did not try at all to console me or hold space for my sadness. She did not even seem to look in my direction that week. It felt as though I could drop off the face of the earth and no one would notice or mind my absence. Understandably this response served to compound my sadness ever further.

It’s not as though no one has ever extended a hand to me in my darkest hours. The best friend I have now is always there for me, through laughter as well as tears. I’ll never forget the day one childhood friend of mine made her boyfriend drive over to get me as I sat on the sidewalk in abject despair. She took me with them to Denny’s and did all that she could to make sure I was okay. These instances have pierced my soul in the most beautiful way. I’m so grateful for them even now.

Intellectually I understand that being present for another person’s suffering is hard. It’s not always that those around me don’t care, but they don’t know what to do. They are just trying to avoid their discomfort. They may even feel guilty and ashamed deep down. That being said, it doesn’t change the way it feels, especially when I am already so low.

As an adult, I really struggle with expressing myself due, in large part, to these experiences. When I’m struggling, I usually suppress the urge to reach out to anyone. I shrink away from the whole world. I choose to suffer in silence and put on a mask for everyone. It’s simply too painful to feel people pulling away from me when I need them most. It’s easier to pretend I don’t need them. My inner voice whispers, “No one cares what you’re going through. Don’t burden people with your problems. You’re only worth anything when you can make other people smile and laugh. If you show them how you really feel, they’ll all abandon you. Just keep it to yourself. Stay quiet.”

Not only does this perception greatly increase my pain and sense of isolation, it also pushes the people that do care away from me. I’m always in a weird spot when a negative event occurs in my life. I usually can’t muster the courage to tell anyone unless I absolutely have to or they directly ask me. I’m so afraid of their reaction, I’m so ashamed of making myself the focus of the conversation, that I just pretend everything is normal. But then when/if people discover what’s happened and realize that I didn’t share it with them, it makes them feel like I don’t consider them a friend. Which is understandable. I like to be kept up to date on the important events in my friends’ lives too. It does feel like a slight when they don’t confide in me.

I never want anyone else to experience the loneliness and pain I have gone through. I never want anyone to feel like no one cares for them when they are suffering. That is what I must believe all of these moments have been teaching me. I’m definitely someone that has the tendency to panic and avoid people that are crying or going through a tough time. I don’t know what to say or do. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. But this feeling I know so well, let it be my inspiration, my motivation to push through that fear and be there for others in their time of need. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. Just being there is the greatest comfort, just acknowledging that pain, sharing it, holding space, that is one of the few gifts I can offer. Let my own suffering give me the courage to do so.

Sorrowful Sunrise

Let the tide swallow me whole, like morning light through windows. Let that dark water take me home.

Where We Went Wrong – The Hush Sound

The sun slowly rises dispelling the peaceful blackness of night. The stillness, the contentment of mind that lingers on the edge just before consciousness fully reemerges, is stolen in an instant. It is replaced by the heavy weight of memory. It is replaced by the knowledge of the day that came before and the pain that has waited for us patiently throughout the night. It slips back in under half-opened eyelids. It stings like the prickling of so many tears. It throbs in synchronization with the dull ache in my head.

Glancing out into the dawn, snow falls in heavy clumps, coating the earth in a sheet of white. Frail flowers that sprouted too soon suffocate under it’s weight. A few days ago spring had arrived. Now even the weather emphasizes the shift in my personal reality. Winter is not yet over. Tender hopes smothered in harsh contrast with new sorrow, like the creaking skeletal trees against the pure white backdrop.

There is a sharpness of focus that comes with suffering. Pain paints the world in vivid color. Each moment feels crisp and inescapable. There is a sense of complete surrender in despair. Sometimes it feels good to lie down under the wheels of life and let it pass over you without resistance. To accept that there is no escape from the bitter taste of mourning. To submit to the violent pangs of unavoidable loss.

Sorrow seems like a homecoming. Drifting back down to the place where I belong. There is a sense of peace, a strange comfort in that belonging. There is justice in this pain, because I deserve it. It seems my soul is only suited for suffering. Happiness and love are substances that were never mine to hold. They are too slippery in my clumsy fingers. The struggle to hold onto them is a cruelty I can only subject myself to for so long. Now I can finally rest again. I have finally come home to the stillness, to the hollow space at the bottom of everything.

Safety in Darkness

The colorless, odorless, sunless expanse of this long winter slouches over me, obscuring my heart, shrouding me in icy darkness. Happiness is supposed to come from inside, but if we are all one, doesn’t that mean this bitter cold is also inside of me? Freezing over a joy that only spring can defrost? There is a duality in my very nature that pulls me apart. It is never more apparent than when these alter egos emerge in the face of the changing seasons. I’ve learned my rising/ascendant sign is Gemini, and I feel it.

I can’t reconcile these two sides of myself into one cohesive whole. One version of me is optimistic, playful, lighthearted, full of light, laughter, hope, and joy. This is the me that fell in love with yoga, that weeps at the cruelties I’ve inflicted on myself, that finds blissful stillness in a meditative state, that breaths deep and easy, that finds comfort and safety in gratitude and compassion. This is the me that I was as a child, friendly, curious, open, loving.

When I became a teenager, I thought this part of me was lost forever. I saw it transmuted into a deep inky darkness that bled out and stained every part of my snow white soul. I anguished in the face of the life I saw before me. I learned to hate myself and nearly everyone else too. Reality seemed too unjust, too wretched, too heavy to bear. Many days I cursed myself for being a coward and not bringing it to an end all together. Living and dying both seemed unacceptable and I felt painfully caught in between the two. This self found comfort only in nihilism, in darkness, in the thought of burning it all down some day. I wrapped myself in this darkness and lived in it for years, believing it would be my home forever, or at least as long as I could last.

When I found yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and other self-love practices it was like the sky cracked open and the bright light that shined on me in my early days had returned to me. I couldn’t believe it was possible. I had never thought I would set down the heavy weight of my inner burdens again for even a moment. Each breath was taken into brand new lungs, supplying oxygen to a transformed mind. I was so grateful to be freed from myself, to come back to who I had always hoped I might have been. And just like before, I thought this too would be a permanent and lasting shift.

It is so hard to slip back into the darkness again from that place of peace and light. I feel myself grasping for it even now. In this black, starless night, it is impossible to believe that the sun will rise again, to convince myself to keep moving forward. Harder still is understanding the strange pleasure I derive from the very darkness that plagues me. Part of me enjoys this thick, inky hopelessness. Somehow there is comfort in the weight pressing me into the dust. I find sick joy in the nostalgia of it all, in feeling like this helpless, worthless thing.

It feels nice to indulge myself, to let myself be crushed. I am repelled by my uplifting, spiritual practices, by the very light that I desire. I cradle my wounded heart in sad, despairing songs. I savor the salty taste from licking my long jagged wounds. Despite the pain, it feels more right in the darkness than it ever has in the light. It feels more true. There is no more imposter syndrome. I belong here it seems. It’s easier to identify with my suffering than with my joy in many ways, an energy flowing downstream instead of against the current.

Despite this odd sense of coming home to myself, I’m afraid of resting here. Even though it feels nice to nestle into my inner darkness, I fear if I stop here, I’ll never again find the light that I know I still need. Even so, for now I think I’ll lie my head down for just a moment and give myself permission to rest.

The dangers of duality — Tantrik Studies