What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come … Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark … –Virginia Woolf
I wrote and published an entire book whose overarching credo is about paying attention in our lives. Yep, I chronicled how I learned to do that and what a difference it made in my life.
And yet, right now, in this moment on Earth, I feel like I am desperately seeking the matches in the dark that Woolf speaks of, sparks of joy or aha moments that lead me to the next one. And the next.
The above quote is in David Schiller’s book called See Your Way to Mindfulness: Ideas and Inspirations to Open Your I. Clearly I plucked it off my shelf because I am on a spiritual quest for answers. I have never so badly wanted to know what was around the corner. What does our collective future hold? More fire? Wind? Rain? Violence? Rage? Division? What will we wake up to tomorrow?
Intellectually I know I need to focus on that. One breath. Then the next. And yet each day it remains a challenge. I am distracted by the pain in the world. Doesn’t everyone feel it like this? Maybe I’m an empath at a supersonic level. I have to work hard these days to focus on the blue sky, the church bells playing Amazing Grace, the laugh I share with my sister, the way the sun reflects off the skyscraper.
I like to be captivated. I like that I’m awake and appreciative. I pay attention to life like few people I know.
And yet, it’s work for me now to be with the daily miracles as much as I am with the daily disasters and debacles. I watch The Voice and the kid whose dream comes true because Jennifer Hudson showers him with praise, and I begin to cry. It escalates to a sob. The Voice is good, but it’s not that good. Clearly I needed somewhere to put it all. One lit match to take me to the next.
It seems I am surrounded by people who are either just as zombie-like as me, muddling through a time of deep despair in the world, or people who are riding the positivity train so hard it feels absurd. Love conquers all on the surface, a smiley face emoticon posted next to flailing denial. None of it feels emotionally healthy.
I keep coming back to last month when I had a particularly emotional day and wrote a post about it. Part of my distress that afternoon was a verbal abuse situation that unfolded outside my apartment building. I felt so conflicted about how I responded that I reached out privately to Lt. Tim McMillan, whose posts I’d been following on Facebook. Essentially, I had come to respect his views on humane and common sense law enforcement issues and I was curious what he thought. Because his academic background is in cognitive psychology, human perception and consciousness, he went beyond my anecdote and offered this:
“Ultimately, your responses from start to finish are the epitome of individuals who are deep thinkers, who are also empaths and can feel the emotions within the fabric of humanity. I will tell you in regards to that, be careful. You can feel the power of positivity and therefore negativity seems so strange and counterproductive to this world. Which is indeed true. However, you can easily find yourself carrying others’ pain and causing yourself a lot of distress. Ultimately, it will ebb and flow to the point in which you just have to detach from the world to an extent.
“Just always try to keep in mind that sometimes the strong emotions you may feel are not necessarily your own. Rather, you are absorbing the emotions of others … I bring this up to say that it is vital for you to make sure you surround yourself with equal parts positivity and positive people. Experiences where you can laugh and not worry about the ills of the world. In the end, this will help make you a stronger advocate for those in need.”
Read it again.
Now do it.