This last week I’ve been almost drowning in a barrage of difficult thoughts. The days are reflecting the way I feel, heavy with low clouds keeping the sky a gloomy grey and constantly misting the ground. I feel like I’m living on Venus, a planet that never sees the sky because of Her thick layer of clouds.
I long for the blue summer skies sharp enough to cut your eyeballs in half. When I was a little girl, my favorite crayon in the box was “sky blue”. Turquoise is my birthstone and my current favorite color. So when I say I miss the sky, you see, I really MEAN it.
For days my mind has been like the oppressive grey mantle of mist hanging overhead, weeping all over everything and generally feeling miserable. Normally I’m really good at keeping myself positive and surfing difficult emotions, but I just hit a wall last week.
You see, I had a discussion with someone that’s still stuck in my craw. I can’t seem to cough it up and out of me (and in fact I’ve been down with a physical illness — starting with a really painful sore throat and turning into coughing and wheezing).
I’m one of those people who manifests their emotions in their body. This conversation I had made it clear to me that my loved one and I have very different needs, and all of my abandonment triggers reared their ugly heads as I became convinced that I was about to lose yet another person from my life.
This happens to me sometimes because I’ve lost a lot of people. There’s been death, addiction, and sudden breaking of long-standing commitments. And even though I know that this is just a story I carry, it’s hard for me when I think that a loved one and I are going to have to distance or part ways.
This morning I saw blue sky for the first time in days — in my mind anyhow. I talked with a mentor who was able to reflect back to me that I’m stuck in a place of black and white thoughts. I’m stuck in an obsessional lose-lose scenario.
I’ve got some other ones too:
1. I’m either the best writer in the whole world or the worst.
2. I’m the best mom in the world or the worst
3. Either everyone loves me or they all hate me
4. Either I’m rich or I’m poor
And while my mind actually knows these thoughts are ridiculous, I can’t stop thinking them. There’s a vicious cycle being created within my flesh, the unhappy thoughts piling up in me, making my body feel more and more unhappy.
So this morning after talking to my mentor, I drew the “Wheel of Fortune” tarot card. What a wonderful reminder that the events of anyone’s life simply go around and around. Sometimes things are fabulous, sometimes they are awful, but mostly they are somewhere in-between. Most of life is in this between space. And really, my thoughts are huge part of whether that middle space, where things are “so-so” is joyful or awful.
I used to think of myself as an optimist, a visionary, but I wasn’t really expecting the best in real circumstance. What I was really doing was living a fantasy life. Regardless of my actual situation, I was always convinced that my life was about to be transformed in a moment — just like a fairy tale.
In high school I was convinced that at any moment one of the most gorgeous football jocks in school was going to fall in love with me. In college, that I could get straight A’s without studying (ha ha). In my first job, that I would make some great scientific discovery by designing my own work time instead of doing the work I was hired for. And as a writer, that I was always about to write the next great American novel (well that one could still be true!).
Now that I’m in my 50’s, I’ve finally realized that I’ve lived my whole life in a sort of vague fantasy, always convinced things are going to magically change, but without any real plan for how to create that change.
Through the healing work I’ve done, it’s become clear that this way of being comes from growing up with an alcoholic parent and a lot of neglect. Because I was desperately unhappy as a child, and felt unloved, I created a magical world for myself where everything was rosy and wonderful. In some ways that served me really well. It insulated me from the pain of my situation, allowed me to form strong spiritual connections to a higher power, and gave me strength to create a good life for myself where I was able to go to college, get two graduate degrees, and succeed at my chosen career.
But these days I want a different kind of success. I want to succeed at living a satisfying life, at relationships, and I want to change the world.
Yes, I know it’s still a little bit Don Quixote. There’s nothing wrong with optimism, and I hope that passionate belief in the best outcome never leaves me. But I’ve come to see that I must stay calm and take practical steps towards my goals. And right now my first, biggest step is to stop the black and white thinking and open my arms and my heart to all the shades of grey.
That’s hard for me. Because grey feels like dying, like limbo, like throwing myself into a limitless void that will swallow me up and leave nothing behind. And GREY is my LEAST favorite color in the crayon box.
But embracing it is the only way forward for me now. If I want to continue my journey towards enlightenment — which is really just a way of seeing myself and my actions clearly — then I have to learn to LOVE the grey crayon, to learn to see it as just as beautiful as the sky blue.
When the Buddha talked of releasing attachment, I think he was talking about this middle path, this place of grey. And in this place maybe there are many options of how to be.
Maybe some people love me, some like me, and some are even indifferent. Maybe when they love me, that love doesn’t look any particular way.
And maybe I’m no better or worse than anyone else, just one of the crowd, doing my part, the part that I was sent here to do.
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