beauty that asks not to be seen,
heard, touched or experienced
yet how warm her welcome, how
very much i feel in her presence
how inspired i am by her nature to
make beauty from my deepest places
for the only purpose of sending her
out into the world, for you to find
she on her wings, and you on yours
and of course they are one, the same
and she and we only grow with each
lovely desire to make beauty bigger. TS
A memory is not
or an empty space
in the wind,
anymore than a flower
is its missing petals
their time to say
Why is it we look
and regard the world
from a place of
only to complicate
what is absent,
or no more?
It is the full vitality
of what is
that allows even
for our experience
We are always
what is. – TS
I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in my mid-twenties, warring with a Masters thesis that hurtled barriers against my every attempt to get the thing done, spiraling into in an increasingly depressive state. I had become feverishly obsessed with my thesis topic on colour theory in cinema, which had me asking: why were black-and-white films so successful when we don’t see the “real” world as shades of grey, while colour films had a more shaky entrance into the world of film?
I devoured more books than one little thesis could hope to assimilate, and mostly avoided the phone (and often, the shower). I spent days on end doing things like rewinding The Wizard of Oz for the thousandth time (these were the days of VHS), pinning down to the second how much screen time was devoted to displaying the yellow brick road, compared to the movie’s sepia segments.
This was all fascinating stuff, but it began to overrun me. Studying had become a compulsion, propelling me toward some vague “something” that an unconscious part of me decided was worth the sacrifice. But my psyche wasn’t taking all that well to this martyrdom my mind was encouraging.
My journal from those days were filled, in turn, with wonder, bewilderment, self-loathing, existential and overwrought treatises on the meaningless of it all, and also, a “read-between-the-lines-esque” impression that I must be destined for absolute, unequivocal greatness, even though I was equally sure that I had never produced an idea of any value and likely never would.
It seems these often go hand in hand—low self-esteem with an overly grand, superhero sense of self, belittlement and aggrandizement; the feeling that one is at once smaller than a grain of sand on the shore and also larger than the vastest ocean.
Being less-than and more-than must fit so comfortably together because of what they have in common: they are both ultimately ego-driven, and miles away from our ideal destination of equilibrium, of being just who we are. It’s so hard to unveil our true nature, to accept the flawed, floundering, and also magical qualities of our unique being without taking them on a ride into extreme-land now and then.
But we have to start somewhere, if equilibrium is our goal. For me, it was a ton of bricks slamming into me—via my journal—one day. The realization seems silly to write down, but it was so profound to me that it almost knocked me off my well-used and under-tidied bed.
I’m just an ordinary person.
I am not less than a person, and there is absolutely no one asking or demanding that I be more than one. Ordinary is not bad. Ordinary is sublime, and the necessary starting point containing the vast sea of possibility that is us.
If we let it.
I scribbled furiously. I wondered how I arrived at the belief that my sense of worth needed to come from accomplishing some unforeseen act of spectacular genius, and that who I was today could be validated by some mysterious future action I couldn’t name for the life of me.
I wrote about how I was self-imposing so much pressure to distinguish myself that I actually forgot live my present truth, and what kind of future can come from a non-existent and saddened present? This was the future that was supposed to retroactively save me, even though it was as obtuse as life on Mars?
It had never occurred to me before that the only one creating this mass drama of my identity was me—another human on a planet brimming with them—and that I was not only enough, but perfect, and just as I was supposed to be.
Just like I felt everyone else was.
In allowing myself to be “just” a person, I could start to put my adopted (if accidental) persona of glamorous doom aside and do things people tend to do in the course of an ordinary day. I could shower, call my friends back, and read difficult books without having a heart episode every time a question was left unresolved. I could maybe enjoy a meal in a venue other than my bed.
Of course, none of this happened overnight.
In the end, I continued to struggle with the thesis as I landed my first post-school job, and then my boyfriend at the time and I moved to Bangkok for a year. It was only when I came back that I had enough distance to realize this one thesis didn’t have to change the world—and I got it done.
It was a longer road still until I found myself at another impasse that led me back East, now more sure than ever that I’d love for my chaotic mind to not dominate my life, the key to fulfillment lying in healing the wounds of the heart. The journey is a long and meandering one, to say the least!
Looking back, though, I’m sure that the seed for all that was to come was planted on that day—in that journal entry—as I wrote in amazement that my only real job was to fulfill my legacy of being human; to be the best possible and kindest person I could be, just like everyone else.
This will always be enough.
“Ordinary” is not a pejorative term; it never means that we are limiting ourselves. Rather, it entails coming to own our shared existence, and laying foundations for blooming into the expansive vistas of all we can be, in the light of what we are in connection.
- This article was originally published in The Tattooed Buddha.
“We must be willing to encounter darkness and despair when they come up and face them, over and over again if need be, without running away or numbing ourselves in the thousands of ways we conjure up to avoid the unavoidable.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Come and see: As above, so below; as below so in the sea; as high above so in the upper sea; as above, so below; as below so in the lower sea.” ~ Zohar Beshalach 2:48b
The personal is political and the political is personal, but we still see everything as separate and so we ask:
How did we get here? How has all this happened? How could there be such a mess here, in our midst, among us?
We want our brains to answer, scramble to form conclusions, but it’s our hearts that are hurting.
The temptation can be so strong, to hide under the covers where it’s warm and safe, even though we know deep down that in this state, nothing can enter and we can’t get out.
We try to change things without actually taking the steps needed to change from the inside out, and this is the primary—primal, even—contradiction in a vast sea of them; and the cycles of human suffering continue.
The solution isn’t to stop blaming others and start blaming ourselves, because accountability is not the same thing as blame, and because self-blame doesn’t solve the riddle of this mess we find ourselves in any better than blaming others does. Neither can we can’t blame the mess for being what it is, which is what we are.
But we are beautiful. Beautiful things shouldn’t be able to generate ugliness in the world.
Yet here we are. It is made, and some of it is very ugly.
Our contradictions and paradoxes are not to be avoided, or forever indulged. They come directly from us and they’re interesting, and need to be acknowledged, observed and witnessed.
Humanity, glorious as it is, is a messy adventure, whether we understand how we have come to be here and why, or not.
Our contradictions are the building blocks not of the world, but of our self-understanding.
We respond, for example, to notions like be positive, and go for it! with triumphant determination, but say no when resistance presents itself.
We don’t like facing resistance even though doing so engenders change and allows for creation.
We feel the need to go easy, the way of comfort, and resent that no revelations emerge on this path.
We want to fly without leaving the ground.
We want to think through our feelings and infuse our dreams with common sense.
We think sad is wrong and happy is right—we think there is wrong and right, like we think there is you and there is me and that our existence in no way depends on each other.
We think that, from the position of separation, we can know the realities of the other.
We think we can filter everything through a framework of knowledge and wonder why we aren’t reaping the rewards faith brings.
We think the only way to feel good is to feel good immediately, and always.
We think there is an always, even though nothing lasts as long as you can hold it, and we’re going to die.
We think dying is something to be avoided though dying is inevitable, without exception.
We think living long is better than living well, without wondering where this idea comes from.
We think we can run away.
We want to make the best use of our time and then clutter our minds and environments with distraction.
We want to be understood within this cluttered environment filled with distraction.
We want clarity without making things around us clear and free.
We want to see through the mess of our own creation.
We want. We run in circles. We want some more.
The beautiful thing, though, one of the most precious things about being human, I think, is that we do want to see, to understand.
And this is because of love. Love compels us to emerge from the chaos and into something something softer.
Because we have consciousness (which is love-fueled), we have the drive and impulse to get down to the bottom of things, to have clear vision and a space for compassion. This unites us even as our distractions and messes attempt to pull us apart.
This strong pull toward the best kind of survival—a mindful, conscious, clear and compassionate survival — is something we should be so grateful to have in our human arsenal.
With it, we can move toward self-enquiry, find the deep, quiet spaces within, from where we can glimpse at the idea that there are no real contradictions, and start to plant the seeds of a wise transformation, though we are not yet always wise.
Seeing past our contradictions, guided by love: this is the great, human hope amid a mess that need not remain.