…we are not defeated when we are worn down, just exposed anew at a deeper level. We are meant to live between the two. ~ Mark Nepo
Some hold the spiritual belief that life does not move in a linear fashion upward, sideways, or even forward. Nor does it move in a circle. It instead moves in a spiral, encompassing all of these, moving up, moving down and around and around. The spiral hits the same places again and again from different vantage points, giving us the opportunity to be in relationship with issues in our lives again and again. Perhaps the issue involves different people or situations, but at its core, it holds the same theme for us to explore and learn something more about. How we handle it this particular time will hopefully be different next time as we incorporate the learning and wisdom we’ve acquired. Or perhaps we haven’t learned much of anything and will wonder with frustration and puzzlement, “Why do I keep going through this?”
I have especially asked myself this when I have felt worn down by life, not just the worn-downness of fatigue, but feeling worn down from the difficulties of life. And in these days especially, not just the specific situations of my life but life in the world in general.
Many years ago my family was going through an especially difficult time of great loss. I told my children that what mattered most was not simply the “what” of it, but the “how” and “who” of it — how we encountered that time and who we were being in it. In a language they could understand I suggested that at some point in the future we’d look back and would tell the story of what we had been through. What stories did we want to tell? It was a way for each of us to acknowledge our feelings while also choosing how and who we wanted to be (as best we could), and what we wanted to create as we lived through that time. Framing things around the story we might someday tell was helpful not only for my kids but for me too.
As I look back on that time now, it still doesn’t feel great, and emotions from it still rise up within me. But feeling exposed and vulnerable allowed me to go deeper into who I was and how I wanted to be in the world. To live it out. To not give up.
Lately, I’ve heard some people talk about what they’re doing to address the deep concerns of these times, concerns they’re feeling anxious, vulnerable, and fearful about. They quite often say something similar to what I said to my children many years ago: that when their grandchildren or nieces or nephews or some young person one day asks them what they were doing during these times, they’d have a story to tell they felt good about.
Challenging times like these provide us with an opportunity to discover who we are, and how we want to be in the world, and to make choices about that, even if they’re only incremental ones. During one tough time I told myself, “All you have to do each morning is get up and put one foot in front of the other because that’s all you can do right now, but you’ll be in motion.” Sometimes we simply are where we are, and that’s gotta be okay. The spiral will swing back around again in a new way.
The choices are not only choices of doing but the important choices of being. Times like now allow us to see where we are, how we were when we arrived here, and what is here for us to learn, to see, experience anew. We are changed by these serious events. The question is, “Changed how?” Only we can really know that then choose how we want to engage with allowing ourselves to be changed as we encounter a deeper layer of ourselves. Until the spiral swings around again.