Tag Archives: Personal

Getting to Tomorrow

I met up with a former student last week and it was a delightful, gratifying, and energising experience. It is a real pleasure to see how much a young person has grown in a very short amount of time and to have conversation about, as a friend would say, life and the universe.

I’ll paraphrase and modify here, but we talked about what it means to be grounded and about believing in something to get through a difficult time. Some people rely on faith in a religion or religious figure and for the rest of us, well, there must be something, right?

I know what has carried me through times of difficulty in the past and I know there will be more of those times. After all, that’s living. In many ways, overcoming a difficult time has come down to perspective. Where am I really in the grand scheme of things? What can I cling to that will remain constant no matter what else is happening? What images need to be in my head while I concentrate on my breathing until my heart rate slows and my mind ceases racing?

There are several things that I find helpful and this post will share these. Perhaps you will find them helpful, too.

Tiny little me with a very tall tree in Berkeley, California – June 2018

One thing that I know is that the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. It might be cloudy and I might not be able to watch the sun disappear and reappear along the horizon but I know it’s happening. I know that today will end and tomorrow will come. Even if I’m dreading tomorrow, I know that, like today, it will begin and then it will end and I will walk tomorrow like I walked today.

Deliberately cultivating a certain attitude matters a lot here, too. I have spent the last seven or eight years writing down three things I’m grateful for every single day. There have been extended periods when this lists consists of a roof over my head, a hot shower, and a full stomach, but it helps to remind myself that I do have these things. I have something rather than nothing. And I have been lucky enough that those things are also constants for tomorrow. Regardless of what it is, the perspective of having something to be grateful for has calmed my mind.

Another image that helps me find my footing when the world is spinning more quickly than I can grasp it is to look at the trees. Really look, look carefully and silently and deliberately. Mentally trace the patterns on the bark, the shapes of the branches, the growth of leaves and flowers. Trees are strong and tall and solid and they withstand all sorts of weather conditions and human activity. The trees, too, will be here tomorrow and through the next storm and the next one. Touch the trees if you can. They hold a special sort of warmth.

I’m not a religious person but I think there’s an element of spirituality here, an understanding that I am part of a wider universe that spins and moves. The best I can do is spin and move with it rather than remaining rigid and uncompromising. Complaining and waiting have a time and a place but they don’t always get us very far. As my pen holder mug proclaims:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. – Unknown

Peace can be hard to find, there’s no doubt about that. Peace can also be fleeting. It can engulf in one moment and then completely desert in the next. But the important thing is being able to find it again, to develop those moments when peace is easy and fluid. This also means you need to look for it, actively seek it out, especially when everything is all right. Watch the sun. Write down a few things. Look at the trees. When all is well, the world has given you time to find who you are and ground yourself in the present. Doing so eases the transition to whatever world we awake in tomorrow.

Living Gently

A long time ago I encountered the idiom, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I didn’t understand it then but have since lived within its meaning. Yesterday, I referenced glass houses while ranting to a friend about people who fail to treat others with dignity and respect. One breath later, I realised that this idiom goes much deeper than that.

We are all fragile beings and encase ourselves in fragile lives. At any moment, we can lose or gain someone or something very meaningful. We don’t know whether we’ll make it home from this errand or that day of work and we don’t know what we’ll discover on the way. We don’t know what a doctor will find during a routine procedure. We don’t know, upon hanging up the phone or clicking send, whether we’ll indeed speak again soon. And furthermore, we don’t know how others’ lives entangle with ours and how that many affect us.

In short, we are fragile and so are our lives. Losing sight of this can lead us to interminably waiting for the right opportunity or the right time. There often is no “right”. Instead, there are opportunities and there are times. Take them when they come because life, because living, is fragile.

With this understanding, it is easy to appreciate how quickly a stone can shatter who we are and how we live.

Treat others gently because they, like you, are fragile. Treat others gently because they, like you, deserve dignity and respect. Treat others gently because they, like you, are only human.

As we walk in the world, it is important to remember that it is not enough to avoid throwing stones. We all live in glass houses. Life throws enough stones and our energy is better spent lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down. Instead, let us acknowledge the fragility of who we are and behave in ways that demonstrate that we accept the same about others.

A Momentary Lull

This is the first moment since the school year began in August that I feel like I might be on top of things. For once I don’t feel as though I’m being pulled in more directions than I can handle at once. Multiple directions, yes, but perhaps I’m naturally flowing into them at appropriate times rather than being pulled and prodded and dragged to places I don’t want to go.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this feeling!

After nine years of teaching, you’d think this would have happened much earlier in the year and to be honest, it should have. About a month ago, sitting down to our first meal in Yunnan, China, I described this year as “the most stressful year since I first started teaching and was voluntold the job of yearbook advisor and was also a graduate student”.

I’m grateful for my friendships and support system; I’ve been leaning heavily.

Also significant is that I have a strong sense of purpose. I’m increasingly interested in how this sense of purpose guides what I do and makes it possible to keep doing what I see as the right thing, or the best thing under given conditions, despite challenges and resistance. On the other hand, I’ve also come to recognise that a sense of purpose is not something that can be taken away: This is important. And that’s where it ends.

Knowing that this is important to me, and letting it guide my attitude (this has been admittedly very tricky) and behaviours, has allowed me to cycle out the gate at the end of each day knowing that I have done the best I can because this is important. This matters.

Knowing that there are others like me doing the same has helped immensely, too. It has given me models to follow when my brain, tired of running and circling, desperately wants to let it all go.

I’ve lived in the world long enough to know that the sense of calm I’m experiencing now is a momentary lull. Something will come up and it will be followed by something else and then something else.

But I’m grateful for this moment of peace.

And sometimes, that’s enough.