How giving yourself up to the process can turn things into something beautiful
Okay, okay. I'm not there yet. But stay with me here, and I'll explain. First, some context about the coffee can analogy.
When I lived in Australia from 1983 to 1987, it was right in the middle of the so-called New Age Movement. Lots of programs like EST, for those with long memories, and plenty of folks claiming to channel everybody from ancient poets to Jesus Christ. A good friend at the time made a sage comment about a mutual acquaintance who claimed, in that busy city of Melbourne in which I lived at the time, that he was able to create a parking spot just by thinking about it.
That was his claim to be spiritually advanced and enlightened. The parking spot.
She laughed out loud. Then, in that wonderful, withering way that Australian women can pull the pants off the most arrogant of Aussie men, she said that this man's much-lauded ability to create a parking spot was the single rock in his coffee can.
"He shakes that can so hard that it makes one helluva lot of noise," she chortled. "It's just one wee rock but it sure can make a racket if you shake the can hard enough."
It was such a great put down that I promptly stole it, but she gets all the credit.
That's the origin of the rock reference. In this case, I'm using the analogy differently. Ever since I had my last magnificently painful break up with the ex, an event which landed me in six different hospitals in Indonesia and effectively skewered that entire trip (Big Upsets will do that) my world has felt like that rock in life's coffee can. It's fascinating to me how a disaster in our love life can really undermine our confidence in other areas.
Not a complaint. Just an observation.
That was three years ago. I've written plenty about the events of the last three years. Now, as I get ready for a lot of hours in transit back to Eugene where I really thought I'd found hearth and home, I have the benefit of perspective. Distance, and the ability to divorce myself from that gorgeous space, all the stuff in it, and ask different questions.
The great beauty of Life in the Coffee Can is that it does get easier when we allow ourselves to be shaped. The more we rattle around in there, if we allow it, the smoother we become. I'd rather be smooth sea glass than spikey rough rock.
That takes work, time, patience, and a willingness to let go of the ridiculous notion that I can control my life. It's the compulsion to control which creates the problem. Control of anything is an illusion, but the idea sure sells a lot of motivational books and products.
I like this article from Psychology Today:
From the article:
...This bump, this boulder, dragon, wildfire, or crevasse in our path, is not something we can control; it’s bigger than us. What it’s doing here, why the universe put it in our path, we don’t know and may never know. This involves that most profound step we call surrender. When we truly surrender to the fact that we cannot wish, work, buy, pray, seduce, or strategize this challenge away, that it’s here whether we want it or not, then, we are on our way to a smoother ride and a different sort of serenity.
She says surrender. I use being vulnerable, same difference.
As I sit here in the soft early morning in Nairobi, just shy of six hours before my driver takes me out to the airport, I'm considering a trip that didn't turn out as hoped, and reviewing these past few years with some humor and plenty of discomfort.
That's not a bad thing at all. In fact, although I would have preferred things to have turned out differently, the way I'm wired I will forever seek out, as Saga Supporter Nalini Mcnabb is wont to do, the benefit of being banged around in Life's Coffee Can.
After all, Nalini survived a stroke. Many of you have experienced much worse than I have. As a friend kept reminding me while here, the women I write about who have to put four kids through school on what is tantamount to slave wages have it worse. It's all about context and perspective.
There have been some big, big losses lately. While anyone can (and some will) argue that it ain't as bad as some, one lesson I've learned over and over again is to not minimize someone else's pain simply because you don't happen to be feeling it. Or, you don't see how their situation is all that bad. IN THAT MOMENT, the shit has hit the fan for them.
Let them grieve.
My great friend Dr. Rosenna Bakari's very first knee-jerk reaction to my news was the acknowledgement that I was in grief. THAT is a friend. I hadn't even given myself permission to think about grieving, I was so overwhelmed in that moment, as can happen. She was absolutely right.
We're allowed to grieve.
Barking at someone to snap out of it and get going is uniquely unhelpful. It's very American, for we are so averse to admitting failure that even when it doesn't happen to us, we want it to go away to avoid getting failure cooties on us. All that does is add more sharp edges (guilt, resentment, anger) which we now have to work off.
Sometimes people's losses are much bigger than we know. When we minimize them, we actually do more damage. I've done it myself. Being an asshat is a good way to lose friends. Someone here was being an asshat at times, but I know why. There is space for that to happen without torpedoing the connection. More on that in a sec.
Besides, when we say such things to others, we are only ever speaking to and about ourselves. Of course that's hard to remember in the moment, but that's about the only thing that kept me from barking right back. Truth, though, the conversations were just more battering around inside the coffee can. There were things I needed to hear, whether or not I wanted to hear them.
The sharper the edges I carry, the more painful it is. Wherever I have pushed hard to remain where I am, or to continue a certain way of life, or to hang on to a certain identity, well. Whole lotta shaking going on, as has been the case for so many, whether from Covid or the economy or all the above and then some.
When I moved into my last house in Denver in 2006, that was supposed to be The LAST HOUSE. Then on August 1st, 2020, when I woke up on the floor in my sleeping bag in my great big bedroom in Eugene, that was supposed to be MY LAST HOUSE.
It's like every single time you ever said about anyone, THIS ONE IS THE ONE FOREVER AND EVER AMEN. Until, natch, they aren't. When I am willing to enter into something new with the softness of knowing this is for now, and the openness that it may or may not last, that's smooth sea glass.
The more I try to force something, the more I identify with something external, the more likely Life's Coffee Can is going to be rough.
Have to, supposed to, must be. For life, them's fighting words. Sharp edges.
That's supremely useful, that discomfort, that reminder that stress can rip the competence right out from under you. When you keep pushing on and on, harder and harder no matter what, there is a price, and it's high.
Well-meaning platitudes are probably not the answer when someone is in the crapper already.
We have no clue what others are carrying. Sometimes what we really need to do is just listen. You and I already have our own answers. They are most often hidden because we're either too stressed out, or in some way we are utterly blinded to our own truth. Often that's because we're trying to force something that can't be forced. Sometimes something is just over. A way of life, a place, a person, an old belief.
I've rarely felt so lost, so inept on an adventure trip. Those moments are the most instructive, for they offer us that tremendous opportunity to be vulnerable. To listen, to hear, rather than put so much effort into try to make X work.
Having a friend treat me like an adolescent was also unhelpful, albeit that really does beg the deeply uncomfortable question as to whether or not my behavior called for it. Or, whether, deep in the throes of their own issues, as are we all, that friend was reacting to something strictly private and internal to them, and I was a handy target. Probably a little of both. We all do it.
Ultimately it doesn't matter. Everything is fodder for learning.
The smoothing of all those hard edges has nothing at all to do with life's getting easier. The more we soften the hard edges of demand, control and resistance that life mold itself to us, the "I deserve," "this shouldn't happen to me," the easier it gets to deal with those very things. I wrote about that yesterday.
Then I spent time talking to another brilliant person doing good things, visited a bunch of gorgeous reptiles and had a simply marvelous final full day in Kenya.
My big hotel bed is littered with all my stuff, including a few souvenirs as gifts. Lots to do. Netflix works here (go figure) so I have a movie for my background music. I have no clue what awaits me when I return. I know this much: Ethiopian Airlines just emailed me and said there was a problem with my ticket.
It's just life. It can be something small, or the stress from the Coffee Can will blow it into a HUGE THING. I have a ticket. I'll get home. Eventually. I have a passport, funds and I'm fine. If the house goes, I'm fine. Close the business doors, I'm fine. Don't resist what becomes clearly inevitable. The edges come off. That's what being sea glass looks like. It's a lot less noisy.
It might take me a few days or a few weeks to work through some pain to get to that point.
You and I are allowed to grieve when a dream implodes. The heart and soul of transition is acknowledging, then grieving our losses. The strongest people I know, and again I'm not there yet, take time for grief. I'm working on it. If it sounds like I'm still trying to convince myself, yup. Such permission does not come naturally.
And if our friends, our real friends, love us enough, they know not to make us wrong for our feelings, our process, and the journey back to making fun of what Life throws at us.
It's loud enough in the Coffee Can already, working off all those sharp edges.
With heartfelt thanks to those friends who know that down times never last, and that they are necessary passages to better times.