There’s a wave rippling through the collective consciousness, encouraging us to find gratitude in any situation, joy in every moment, and evolve one’s higher self. These well-intended messages are everywhere, whether they come through Oprah and Deepak Chopra or the barista at Starbucks. Especially the baristas at Starbucks. They are seeking fulfillment while highly caffeinated.
The Pursuit of Happiness
The quest for enlightenment is stressing me out! I know that’s not the intended outcome. Even before COVID ravaged the country, politics became the most divisive in recent memory, and pardon me, people just generally lost their shit, things were crazy enough. As the challenges multiply, the guidance I’m hearing is to find a higher purpose and meaning in them. My Type A personality insists I can do this. My tired psyche says I’m not so sure.
I decided to see a therapist to work through my fears so I wouldn’t drive away all my friends. I took a deep dive to find one that I could relate to. This proved more difficult than I anticipated. Especially when they don’t have kids and are a decade younger than me. How can they relate? The ultimate letdown came after one, hearing my experiences, said to me “I don’t know how you get up in the morning.” I wish I was kidding. That was very unhelpful.
While I can say I have learned to appreciate the simple things far more than I used to – the big gigantic awakening hasn’t come. The expectation it should makes me feel like a big fat failure because I can’t seem to attain it! If one more person tells me I should meditate I’m afraid I might get violent. All 5’ 2” of me. It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’m just quite bad at it.
The first time I attempted to meditate, I shut the door, settled onto my new cushion, lit a scented candle, muted my phone, and got down to it. Twenty minutes later, frustrated I couldn’t stay focused, I returned to the real world – which unfortunately I hadn’t really left. I found I missed a call from a loved one in treatment. It was her only call for the entire week!
The second time, I did all the above rituals and listened to a guided meditation. This time I missed a phone call from an elusive physician to go over lab work. I finally got her back on the phone to learn that, among other things, I’m allergic to my beloved cat, black pepper, and pepper trees. Most of my backyard haven consists of pepper trees. So, two things that bring me joy can apparently kill me too. Epipen: Check.
The third time, I went to a external location to mediate with others and discover how to tap into my intuition. I felt like a fraud, not having the “breakthroughs” every one else seemed to be having. Honestly, how can these people be so upbeat? It’s annoying. Their veneer seemed suspiciously perfect, like the images people share on Facebook. After class, I went out to the parking lot to find someone had hit my car. Clearly I have no intuition at all, or I would have stayed home.
Introspection: The Kitchen Sink
I can’t help but think the universe is telling me that meditation isn’t my gateway. So, I turned to other tactics. I did yoga until my body screamed “Uncle!”, listened to podcasts from gurus like Joe Dispenza, read books, took more classes, did a diet cleanse, worked in the garden (sans pepper trees), cleaned the house until I scrubbed the finish off the floors, and walked the dog until I had to pick him up and carry him. Because I didn’t want to kill my dog, I made an acupuncture appointment.
I dutifully lay on the cushy table, listened to soothing music, a tinkling fountain, and surrendered to getting needles stuck in my body. What followed resembled a battle scene from a Lord of the Rings movie. My muscles were so tense, they contracted in a way that shot the needles out like arrows at a velocity strong enough to fly across the room! The doctor took refuge behind a decorative screen until the barrage was over. Her next words were as unhelpful as the therapist’s. “Stress much?” Maybe a vodka martini would have worked better. It would certainly have been less expensive.
I’m not telling you any of this to be whiny, or belittle the above practices. I actually plan to revisit some of them. I’m sharing my work in progress, and what I’ve learned when things go horribly awry. It’s pretty simple and not exactly an epiphany, though for me it’s seismic. The bottom line is this: We need to be okay with things not being okay. What’s unrealistic is expecting life to always stay on a positive trajectory. Waiting for perfect days to be happy is the real failure.
Whatever tools we apply to cope with hard times, be it meditation, prayer, chocolate or Oprah – not all of us are going to reach the lofty goals of enlightenment and gratitude in the heat of the moment. When you can’t conjure up spontaneous fits of joy as your life hits a speed bump and everything goes sideways, don’t feel defeated. Let it go and start again in the morning a big mug of java. Sometimes knowing you’re trying has to be enough, and the barista can put in a good word for you with the powers that be. For now, I’m going out to carry my dog.
In the meantime, namaste.