Something Worth Giving

Every being on this earth is truly unique. No two people think, feel, or experience the world the same. Therefore it stands to reason that each person in the world also has something unique to offer, whether that be in the smaller scale of people in their lives, or society at large. Each form of giving is equally valuable and fulfilling. I think it comes naturally for us to want to give back to our family, friends, and community. There is an inherent satisfaction in being helpful to other beings. Giving of ourselves is not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what our own special offering is.

Creativity and inspiration come from the deeply held belief that we have something worthwhile to offer to the universe. Artists can often feel compelled beyond all reason to express this powerful urge from within. Even in my darkest hours, a part of my intensified creative energy in this state is a deep longing to reach out and share my personal suffering with others. The idea that my suffering could be a comfort to someone else or an acknowledgment that they are not alone, that someone else understands, is a beautiful driving force.

I think one of the many reasons I’ve been feeling so stuck and unmotivated is that deep down, I really don’t believe that I have anything worthwhile to give. This feeling hanging in the background of all I do makes me want to be as small as possible. I shrink away from the world, trying to get out of everyone’s way. The bitter taste of conceit turns my stomach when I contemplate creative efforts. Who am I to create? Who am I to take up space? Lately everything I do, everything I am, feels like an affront to the world rather than a gift. I am filled with shame by the perceived presumption that what I say, do, feel, or create should or even could matter to anyone else.

Somehow I’ve always been able to hold two contradictory believes in my heart simultaneously: Everyone matters. I do not matter. Everyone has a unique and valuable gift to offer. I have nothing to offer. Everyone deserves to be loved. I do not deserve love. Even though logically I realize both of these statements cannot be true, that doesn’t seem to affect my conviction toward either one.

Perhaps I still just haven’t determined what my unique gift is. Despite all of my varied talents and skills, there are always a lot of people that out perform me in any arena. Once again, I would never proclaim that you have to be “the best” at something in order for your work to be worthwhile, somehow I hold myself to a very different and unrealistic standard. Maybe it would behoove me to get some outside perspectives on this matter. I wonder what those closest to me would say is my special gift. What is my unique value in this world? What I am able to offer in a way that no one else can?

Then again, despite the value you perceive personally, there is beauty in the idea of giving regardless of the “worth” of whatever that may be. Sometimes it is even more moving when someone with little or nothing of value shares the small amount they do have. Part of me believes that it is only our role to give, not to determine the value of that gift. After all we can never truly tell how something may affect or benefit another person. It’s the thought that counts, right?

I may never be able to determine for what reason I matter in this world. But I have faith that there is a reason for all of this despite my limited ability to understand. Maybe it’s not my place to know but to learn how to continue being without that knowing. Maybe it’s my place to give what I have and not worry about whether or not anyone else “wants” it. It’s the intention that matters. It’s the energy behind our actions that determine their worth, not the physical manifestation of those actions. No matter what I have, I can choose to give it with love, and that’s more than enough. And if others happen to think it’s not enough, that is their obstacle to overcome, not mine.

A Thousand Deaths

A morbid fixation on death overcomes me from time to time. Usually I don’t think much about it. Death hasn’t touched my life much at all in these 28 years. Somehow I haven’t really lost many close family members or friends. The death of beloved animals has been the majority of my encounters with this grim shadow that lingers on the edge of life. It’s been easy for me to live in denial of this unpleasant reality.

Last night as I was reading through the terrible ends of characters in books, I couldn’t escape the contemplation of my own inevitable departure from this world. I was petrified at the idea that I would die alone in some unimaginable form of physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. I don’t have any children, nor will I. I’m also the youngest person in my family. I only have a few close friends. It’s hard for me to picture how I would even avoid a horrific demise besides my near certain assumption that the earth with end before I have to worry about dying of old age or disease.

Then as I was falling asleep that night, a truth I have known for quite some time, but never fully felt in this way crashed over me. It is utterly pointless for me to spend my time and energy playing out this possible future in my head. If this is my fate, if my life ends in isolation and agony, so be it. Thinking about that will never be able to prevent it or change it. Yes, it’s hard to accept that death will find me one day. Even harder to accept that my final moments may be particularly sad and full of suffering. But making myself sick with fear from these thoughts will not spare me this death. Instead it will cause me to experience a thousand deaths rather than just one.

What Am I Making This Mean

Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.

I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.

It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?

I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.

One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”

Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.

Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.

When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.

Unworthy

The fear of not being worthy of what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do was the most frightening fear of all.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Mental healthy is a slippery thing. One day I’ll feel like I’m doing great things, living a beautiful life, surrounded by love and opportunity. Then next I’m silently screaming in the shower as my body crumples convulsively in on itself in an attempt to disappear. The thought that grips me most violently in these moments is that I am alone. I am so alone. I’ve always been alone. I will always be alone.

My mind scrambles searching for the people that I love. Where are they? Where have they gone? They dissolve into floating masks, colorful fictions. A door slams in the face of my heart. It feels like these people never knew me, don’t like me, don’t care for me at all. Worst of all, I can’t convince myself that this is not true. Even on my good days this feeling is there, I just don’t look at it closely so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Depression and anxiety play tricks on you. Tag teaming tormentors of the soul. They twist and contort the world around you until it becomes unbearable and grotesque. They block out the light and tell you you’ve always been in darkness. Pinholes poked through a shrouded sky reveal only the most painful parts of your reality. Suffocating. All consuming. Looming large on a jet black horizon that seems to be closing in faster and faster.

When I find myself in this desperate state, my already poor social ability breaks down even further. A drowning man violently grasping and grabbing, trying to pull everyone around down with them in a blind attempt at salvation. When my clawing hand is pushed away, it is a confirmation that I’m not worthy of the oxygen I need. The world becomes a funhouse mirror. I can’t bear to look.

I’ve often heard people saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is just a line, a cop out. That no one really means this when they break up with someone. I’ve never felt so sure of that. I’ve felt the truth of these words in my own throat. It is because I love the people in my life that I feel compelled to sever all ties with them. I am nothing but a burden, a leaden weight pulling them underwater with me. I’m a chore, an annoyance, something they would be happier and better off without. When someone ends their own life, everyone gasps, “How could they do that to their family?” Not realizing they probably did it for their family.

I’ve felt unworthy since the moment I conceptualized that was something one could feel. I’m sure other people feel this way, but I wonder if they feel it in the same sense that I do. I wonder if they hold it up to the light of justice and feel these pangs with that additional intensity. The added weight of taking what is not yours, of doing something vile and criminal, something sickeningly selfish.

All the bonds in my life feel tinged with injustice. I don’t deserve to be loved. I couldn’t possibly be loved. I am doing a disservice to everyone I meet by allowing them to pretend for the sake of my own neediness, to dissuade my heavy sense of self pity. The melodrama is thick, but it’s genuine. This is how I feel. When I push someone away, there is never even a moment’s consideration of whether that has hurt them, whether they are sad, whether they might miss me or want me in their life. These questions seem ridiculous to me. I’m clearly not worthy of remembrance or tenderness. You don’t miss a rock that has finally tumbled out of your shoe when you shake it.

When I begin to feel better, when my agitated state of mind starts to settle, I still don’t believe these things to be any less true. I never feel worthy of love. I just feel less guilty about receiving it. I never lose that sense of being utterly alone. Being alone just doesn’t seem to hurt as badly. I’m left with only a sense of embarrassment and shame for showing the world my suffering. For being selfish and conceited enough to think that anyone else should or would care, for bothering everyone by asking them to, for being so ungrateful when I already have so much more than I’ve ever deserved.

I’m just left wondering: How can you move forward, how can you be happy, find love, love yourself, when you feel so certain that you are unworthy of all of it? When you feel guilty for even wanting to?

Learning From Loneliness, Loss, and Stagnation

Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.

One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.

For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.

Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.

No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.

Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.

Stages of Cognitive Development

Childhood and Developmental psychology classes helped me learn and understand the different stages that children pass through as they grow, particularly the stages of awareness and consciousness. Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development highlight the ways in which we all expand our perception of ourselves and the world around us as we age.

In the first stage, we gain object permanence, we begin to understand that we are separate entities from others, and that our actions affect the world around us. In the second stage we are largely only focused on ourselves and our own perspective. This stage is also where we first begin to be able to think symbolically, grasping that images can represent ideas and objects. We still think in concrete terms and struggle with abstract concepts. The third stage is where we begin to develop our logic and reasoning skills. The fourth and “final” stage is where we form the ability to think abstractly and contemplate hypothetical situations.

You may notice that I’ve put the word “final” in quotation marks, and I have good reason for that. It occurred to me the other day when I was thinking about the idea of faith and the many aspects of reality and life that we cannot know. I began to wonder why it is that it seems so absurd to consider there being more to reality than we can hope to conceive of in our current human state. Psychology has already laid out the ways that a child’s brain is different than an adult’s and has a more limited ability to process the world. Why do we assume then that a fully formed adult brain necessarily has overcome all of these cognitive limitations? In fact, based on Piaget’s theory, it seems logical to infer we may still not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to perceiving ourselves and the world around us.

It practical terms, it does us no good to try to operate in the world on this premise. All we can do is use the information available to us in order to live. However, this idea that there is potentially much more to this world than we are able to understand is one that brings me comfort. This is my rather garbled attempt to emphasize the fact that faith may not be as groundless as I, myself, once thought. It allows me to more easily surrender to that unknown aspect of this universe and trust that, even when I don’t understand it, there is some higher purpose, or meaning to all of this. There is much more going on than my brain is capable of grasping. Perhaps death is the final stage of cognitive development.

Face Value

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

The other day my coworker paid me a compliment that took me by surprise. She told me that she envies the way I seem so calm and present all the time. She said I come off as truly content and mindful. Part of me literally cannot believe this is really the way that she sees me. Perhaps she is just telling me what she thinks I want to hear? I don’t know why she would bother though. The comment seemed to come out of no where.

Although I already think about it often, this really emphasized the idea that my perception of people and their perceptions about themselves are quite likely extremely different. I never feel calm and content or that I’m able to enjoy the present moment. I’m exceptionally pleased that I may come off that way to people, but it’s hard to wrap my head around how that could be. Inside I am in a near constant state of fear, anxiety, and agitation. Often I am even ruminating on thoughts of bitterness and anger, playing the victim in my own inner story.

My coworker’s comment made me realize just how easily we become consumed by the image we imagine of ourselves, that we forget others may not view us in the same way. We’re so familiar with the reoccurring thoughts and patterns in our own minds that we forget others have no awareness of them. In the same way, it’s easy to forget that the information we have to work with on the surface isn’t necessarily giving us an accurate understanding of the full complexity of another person.

With the limited information we have, it’s easy to just write someone off as an asshole or an idiot. However, if I reflected on my own actions day to day from an outsider’s perspective, I’d likely label myself in this hasty, inaccurate, dismissive way just as easily. It’s uncomfortable to see someone doing something that we think is inconsiderate or irrational and just let it go with the acknowledgement that we don’t (nor can we ever) know the full story. It’s easier to construct a story to tell ourselves with the small pieces of information we do have.

As a social worker, I hear all kinds of crazy circumstances that people deal with every day. I really couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. With that in mind, you’d think it would be easier for me to give someone the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a lot going on and reasons for behaving the way that they do. On the contrary, I still find myself constantly falling into the trap of cynicism and judgement..

Another helpful way to think about this is to consider that, at least in my experience, I am able to find redeeming qualities in just about everyone that I get to know on more than a surface level. When you only see a handful of moments in a persons life, it is much simpler to judge them harshly. The same tendencies in someone we know are more palatable to us than in someone we don’t know. I believe this is because we are able to weigh them against all of the positive qualities of the person we know, whereas we have no other points of reference for the person that we don’t.

On the flip side of this, my interaction with my coworker reminded me just how silly it is to worry about what other people might be thinking about me. I spend a great deal of time worrying about how I come off to other people. I’m terrified that they will think of me in the same harsh, unforgiving manner that I think of myself. While that might be true, it may also be true that they think more highly of me than I think of myself. The point is that I can never know for sure, nor can I hope to precisely shape the way another person thinks of me intentionally. It’s best to just express myself as I see fit in the moment and not worry about the rest.

Unknowable Energy & Raising Your Vibration

Have you ever encountered someone who you immediately felt at ease with? Someone who, without word or gesture, signals something within you that evokes a sense of safety and unspoken understanding? Every week when I do my grocery shopping after work, my eyes hopefully scan the self checkout for my favorite cashier. I’ve only “met” this person a handful of times. I don’t even know his name. But there is a palpable connection between us that I can’t help but imagine he feels just as clearly as I do. There is a certain magnetic quality or gravity in the air between us. Often it’s hard for me to get a read of people or what they’re thinking/feeling, but other times, I feel completely confident that they like me and enjoy my presence as much as I enjoy theirs, however inconsequential it may be.

What exactly is this indefinable quality I pick up in certain people, and how exactly am I sensing it, by what means, when on the surface, everything is so mundane and commonplace? Do other people feel this strange, instant connection? Are they drawn to the same people that I am? Is it something inherent in these particular people that sets others at ease and draws people in? Or do we all have our own brand of energy that captures the attention of specific, compatible people?

I’ve recently heard someone complain about the idea of such “energies.” They rightly proclaim that energy is a measurable quality that can be quantified. Still what would you have me call these more ethereal sensations? I agree they aren’t necessarily “energy” but then what are they? I’ve got to call them something. My education in psychology would lead me to believe that this is just an expression of unconscious biases that have formed from past experiences. Perhaps someone with a similar facial structure or tone of voice was once important to me. Maybe they remind me of my mother. Maybe I get “bad vibes” from someone who resembles in some slight way a school yard bully. This explanation does not satisfy the reciprocity of this experience though. Why should the other person feel similarly toward me? Perhaps I also subconsciously respond to them in a more agreeable, charismatic manner because they have set me at ease, but I genuinely don’t believe myself to behave very differently. After all, how differently could one respond within the span of a few pleasantries at a grocery store checkout?

In the same vain I can’t help but believe in the idea of “vibrations,” particularly “raising your vibration.” Even though I can’t explain it, I’ve felt it. I’ve felt the way that in certain states of mind, spiritual practices, an almost divine sense of awareness, moving realizations and impressions come easily to me. Yet the very same thoughts in a less positive state of mind seem ridiculous and leave a bitter taste in my mouth. This drastic shift can even occur within the span of a day, even a few hours! Physically though, what has changed? The only answer that somewhat satisfies this question in my mind is that I am in either a higher or lower energetic state. The words themselves may amount to utter nonsense, but nevertheless, the experience remains. I can see the effects of these different states in my self-talk, in my entire body.

All of these questions remain frustratingly unanswerable as far as I can tell. They are hard enough to verbalize, let alone understand empirically. New, more pressing questions naturally arise from them. How can I utilize this strange shapeless coexisting reality of vibrations and energies to my benefit? Are these energies destined to only be felt, never directed or created? There are many sources online that claim to offer advice for “raising your vibration” but despite my best efforts, they never seem to result in the desired change in me. One obstacle is the practical impossibility of performing some of the vibration raising activities when I find myself in that lower energetic level. I guess it could be said that it just takes persistent practice. After all, I seem completely capable and well versed in lowering my vibration. One thought or critical word is all it takes to destroy my good mood and positive mindset.

My impression at the moment is that these abstract, slippery sensations are not to be understood intellectually. The manipulation of such things (if even possible) is not a skill that can be taught to us. We must each learn to notice, accept, and respond to these inner mysteries in our own unique ways. While this is far from a satisfying answer, it’s all I’ve got for now.

Artwork | Alex Grey

Unlikely Lessons From Charles Dickens

Reading in the evening has become a very meditative and often insightful time of day for me. It has been a great joy and comfort to snuggle into a nest of pillows and blankets after a hearty meal with a warm cup of matcha tea and forget myself for a few hours before bed. Novels are a medium for self-surrender, an opportunity to lose yourself in the plot of another’s life. They are also a chance to gain fresh perspective once we reemerge to take up our own life once again.

Particularly for people like me who suffer from social anxiety, it is a good way to get a feel for the way others think, feel, and act. Observing the real people in my life or analyzing my own relationships has always felt a bit too close for me to understand objectively. It’s rather hard to learn from or concentrate on what someone is saying to you when your entire body is in a state of utter panic. Novels provide a safe cushion of distance and detachment that creates the perfect environment for personal growth and self-discovery.

Even when I think I’ve already learned a lesson many times before, there are always instances that present the essence of this knowledge in a new and penetrating way. For instance, one of the common themes that stands out to me in the works of Charles Dickens is the resilience and near stoicism of his characters. They encounter unbelievable hardships day after day, yet seem to be unmoved by them. They bravely face whatever fate lies before them with dignity and acceptance. Whether they be robbed of all their earthly possessions on a filthy street or arrested and sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit, never have they added to their suffering by lamenting the injustice of it all. It’s almost as if they move through the world with no expectations whatsoever. Whatever comes upon them in the course of their lives, they take it without complaint.

As a yogi, I am constantly confronted with the idea that we prolong and worsen our own suffering when we pile our own rejection and stubborn indignation on top of it. This truth that I’ve carried with me for years now felt all the more poignant when I experienced the living example of it in the form of Dicken’s colorful characters. Even thinking of it now, in David Copperfield, there is one character that is constantly in a state of depression or distress. They moan, “I am a lone, lorn, creature, and everything goes contrary to me.” They agonize over their belief that they just “feel things more” than everyone else. Despite a relatively decent existence compared to many of the characters, she suffers immensely. It is primarily her own perception of herself and said suffering that is the cause of it though.

Sadly enough, in spite of myself, I find that I tend to identify with this character. I get upset, then am upset and ashamed of being upset. I want to be comforted, then am embarrassed for needing constant comforting and being a burden on my loved ones, and the cycle continues from there. In contrast little David Copperfield himself is a shining example of how I would rather face the world and the difficulties that come with it. In addition to not resisting the unfortunate events of his life, David also does not blame himself for them. I’ve found that if I am not blaming the world for being against me or being unfair, I am blaming myself for being naive or foolish whenever something bad happens.

Because of these simple lessons and many others, I truly feel that reading these books has been healing for me. Although they are fictional, the truth behind them remains. We can gain a new perspective of ourselves and our situation through reading. We can also find powerful examples of how we might choose to be instead. When I see these characters accepting their lot in life, suffering, injustice, and all, I feel more capable of accepting my own life and all it entails. When I see these characters making “mistakes” that I would have torn myself apart for, I am able to view them with compassion and understanding. It fosters a willingness to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know. Often the hardest hurdle to face with our problems is not knowing an alternative way to respond to them when they arise. Reading is the opportunity to find that alternative.

The Personal History of David Copperfield. by Dickens, Charles: (1849) |  Raptis Rare Books, ABAA/ ILAB

Impermanence

When I look around at the civilization that we have built as humans, I see it crumbling. I see abandoned buildings retaken by the earth, vines weaving in and out of windows and door frames, mossy, earth eaten walls. I see cracked and distorted highways and crumbling sidewalks. I look within my own home and I see the small consequences of daily life chipping away at tabletops and wallpaper. I see clogged pipes and burnt out bulbs. The constant repairs, the consistent yet futile attempts to prolong the inevitable. The frustrating struggle to keep an impermanent structure, permanent.

These are the most important differences between what mother earth has created and what we have. Nothing is wasted or caving in on itself in nature. The earth moves as a single organism absorbing the old to give birth to new systems and structures in a beautiful ever changing cycle. I can remember having a morbid thought once as a child as I looked out the car window over the acres and acres of headstones on the hillside. Won’t all the land be graveyards eventually? While I no longer think we will allow cemeteries to cover the earth, I do think I was on to something. The earth does slowly become more and more of a human wasteland every day. As we rapidly consume and discard, our garbage remains and multiplies. Even our homes are reclaimed by nature in time.

Impermanence is something that we have all but disregarded as a species. It is something I personally struggle with everyday. We want things to remain the same, to remain constant and predictable. Still our best efforts lead only to stagnation and slow decay. We are unwilling or unable to accept that nothing lasts forever. Instead of learning how to better situate ourselves within this system, we have endeavored to resist it. It’s an endless source of anxiety for me to know one day I’ll have to buy another new laptop, new clothes, new shoes, new windows and shingles. To clean off the kitchen counter every single day, to vacuum the house knowing tomorrow it will be covered in cat fur yet again. The ultimate decay and transformation of death is perhaps what I’m truly fearing, what we are all desperately trying to avoid and deny by our unmoving creations.

Our efforts to ignore and avoid life’s natural cycle of death, also prevent us from experiencing the beauty of growth and rebirth. Impermanence isn’t only something that exists outside of us in the physical world. Our spiritual selves, our mental and emotional needs, are also subject to constant change. I have a tendency to hold on to my habits and routines until long after they have stopped serving me. I lament to think about the fact that I’ll need to keep tweaking and adjusting my behavior as my inner and outer worlds endlessly change. How can we ever expect to accept the natural cycles of nature, when we cannot even accept our own inner cycles?

When I come up with a new productive habit or self-care routine I am usually delighted and fully satisfied by it for a few months. Each time I think to myself, “Aha! I’ve finally found it. This is the thing I’ve been looking for to make me feel happy and help me grow.” I’ll cling to this “perfect formula” I’ve discovered even once it no longer brings me the same peace and joy. I berate myself for once again growing distracted and disinterested, instead of adjusting or coming up with a new habit that better serves the new me that is ever emerging. It feels overwhelming to even consider constantly having to contemplate and concoct new systems within my own life. Yet I don’t know exactly what it is I’m imagining my time would be better spent on. What could be more important and fulfilling than learning to read and respect my own inner journey and tend to my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs? In some ways, that’s what this life is all about.

We plan and construct our lives and our world with the unspoken assumption that things will remain constant. We’ve never learned how to shape our aspirations and intentions to be flexible and temporary. We are a rigid and unrelenting species. I personally am no different. Even so, I hope that I can learn to practice, allow, and accept impermanence in the world, in my life, and within myself. We can never hope to overcome or resist this ever changing system we are a part of, attempting to do so only leads to frustration, disappointment, and ruin. We are numbing ourselves to the beauty and potential that will inevitably emerge from the ashes we are so desperate to prevent.

DEATH/REBIRTH | Poets