Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Help Ourselves Through Helping Others

I chatted with a friend of mine today and she sounded so cranky, annoyed with meaningless little things that we normally let pass unnoticed. But when your life takes a downturn those tiny details of existence begin to enlarge, gain in significance. So I felt her mood, like I feel it in my son occasionally, when he takes it out on me though I know I am not the source of his sorrows. I started digging and there were the things people said and did that offended her deeply and I know exactly why: she is angry with herself, disappointed for not being where she thought she would be, taking the blame for her failure to conform, to meet expectations, both their and hers. And all those people just voice her concern, her self-inflicted wounds she’s been trying to bury deep inside. She was feeling down because, like most of us, women, she couldn’t accept the difference between the anticipated and the real. We are not always handed the exact lot we envisioned, sometimes we can’t help the sense of wonder at how our lives turn out. And not always knowing what’s the next turn or when to expect it doesn’t help the matter much either…

Anyway, I sensed her mood and jumped to the rescue. I dug for true reasons, untangled the cause-and-effect thread, thought of ways to turn the problem around or at least re-frame it. I asked her to try not to sink. Or not to be sinking for too long: occasional luxury of allowing yourself to brood for a day or two is okay, as long as you don’t linger, don’t get sucked into the black hole of the life-sucks attitude. I told her things I tell myself when I am going down, or I wish someone told me. It’s all we really need sometimes: a true friend to care, to say “don’t feel bad”, because we forget to switch gears: and when you are stuck for too long, you don’t really realize you are stuck. Thinking the same thoughts, coming to the same conclusions, failing to see alternatives.

Today I came across a quote by a Buddhist monk: “You’re not good; you’re not bad; you just are”. And that’s what we tend to forget: to just be, to just be ourselves. To cease the self-punishment for being not good enough, or not having the right life (or even the right moment). Somehow you see it clearly when trying to reach out to a sinking friend, when trying to help because you know exactly how she feels. And soon you know that she feels better, and so do you. Because if you saw that the light is there for her, then it’s there for you as well. You shared the pain, and you shared its release. There is always someone who feels worse than you, no matter how low-spirited you get. Helping them up does not only distract you from your own sorrows, it helps you see the direction in which you, the person giving advice, should also be moving.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Lately I’ve felt resentment about the whole “to-do” check list. As much as it’s nice to have some kind of a life plan, a well-defined road-map to happiness, it gets frustrating when the expectations are not fulfilled. Maybe you didn’t get married in your 20-s like most of your friends, or your career came to a dead end, or you decided to renounce some delusive principles – there are unwelcome moments of doubts, when you realize that not everything goes as you planned and you are clueless what’s next. Sometimes there’s simply no backup plan, just white space that you can fill with any possibilities not considered before.

We don’t always know for sure whether it’s time to call the defeat or we can still go on hoping and waiting for some extended time. Will things happen on their own, or only if we put effort in, or they won’t happen at all no matter what simply because they were not destined to be? How are we to know it’s time to close this chapter because we are stuck or it’s time to double the efforts because we are almost there? A friend of mine sighed recently, “I am 30 now and there’s no light in sight…” meaning her personal life is as stagnant as it was 10 years ago. People tell her to go out more, and I want to suggest getting the best of what she has now (or doesn’t have), because if it’s not meant to happen for another couple of years, blaming yourself for lack of results can only drive you to despair and cast shadow on simple daily pleasures of the present.

But who can tell me that “it’s not meant to be” so that I stopped the self-eating reproach of “I am not doing enough”. Who can define “enough” for me? Maybe whatever I have today due to my aspirations, luck, destiny and randomness IS enough? It’s a major paradox of life that we seek a stopping point but it’s always beyond the reach, hence we are unable to stop, nor are we ever satisfied with the incessant motion. I haven’t heard “you have to” statements from anyone but myself for the past several years. They think I have it all, so why can’t I? Why can't I tear up the check list and embrace the blessed moment of being, whatever form or emotional color it’s presently taken?
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