Tiny Revolutions №86: The Flip Side
+ a very good strawberry 🍓
I posted the above on January 18, but the gif stands for the way all of January felt to me. It was one of those months that seemed to drag on forever.
And I struggled and fought so hard against it! At issue: I came into the new year feeling good about the state of my life and excited about all the things I wanted to do. But somehow that didn’t translate into any forward momentum; instead I felt like I’d been caught in a loop of hopelessness and apathy that reminded me of the darkest days of the pandemic. I couldn’t hit my stride, or any stride. I missed a lot of deadlines and cried on more than one phone call. I did not WANT to feel exasperated. Or angry. Or resentful about the state of the world. But I did, and often, and it frustrated me to no end.
You should not be feeling this way, I thought. You can fix this if only you try harder! But no — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, some things are just hard. I’d include winter during the late stages of a pandemic in that category.
There was a point last month where I was ready to hop in the car and hightail it to…somewhere else. To visit family and friends in Northern California, Portland, or even further afield. I just wanted to escape the chain of my desk and my house and my brain. I looked at Airbnbs in Joshua Tree and Sedona. I considered booking a flight to Mexico or Guatemala. But in the end I realized all I was doing was trying to avoid reality. And there’s nothing wrong with a little of that, but I was going at it just a bit too hard. I MUST LEAVE NOW I CANNOT GO ON was the dominant internal monologue. But when I listened more closely, there was also a quieter voice saying, “OK, I don’t think that’s actually true.” Such a killjoy, that quiet voice. But always right.
My go-to these days when I’m struggling is my Zen practice, so I brought myself back to the Four Noble Truths, which sit the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. The gist is that 1) all life is suffering, 2) the cause of suffering is desire, 3) an end to suffering is possible, and 4) the way to end suffering is to awaken via the path Buddhism sets out, which involves cultivating a mindful approach to living. (That’s an incredibly reductive paraphrase, but go with me here.)
So I’ve been trying to do the only thing one can do in a difficult situation, which is to do my best to let go of all the ways I think think things *should* be, and pay attention to the small joys of the every day that are available right now. So for me that’s the long walks, the reading, the good meals, the sun on my face, the points of connection with my loves of both the sentient and insentient variety.
And I’ve been trying to keep the perspective that there’s always a flip side to whatever “pain” you’re experiencing. More than one, actually — situations being multi-dimensional and all. Because as much as it’s important to find the pleasures of the now, you can also console yourself by trying to appreciate things that won’t be true anymore once the tide turns. Because the tide always turns.
At dinner the other night, my friend, another single writer type, says she always thinks about how next time she’s in a relationship she won’t be able to spend all her precious free time on binge watching TV and reading for pleasure. It helps her appreciate her current situation.
Another example is from a dharma talk I heard recently, wherein the speaker relayed that growing up he believed that people who exercised or played sports did so at the cost of their intellect. He realized when he got older that this was ridiculous and that he had missed out on a lot of bodily joy, but the flip side? He’d done well academically and created a rewarding career in medicine.
I think about how my depressive tendencies have led to so many years of searching and seeking the light, just an endless and sometimes exhausting quest to not feel so fucking bad all the time. The flip side? I’ve been able to collect and, (hopefully!), embody wisdom that I can share with others.
So while I’m still jumping out of my skin much of the time here, I try to remind myself that something good will come out of this period, one way or another. There’s always a flip side.
On to some things I found worth sharing recently:
A closer look at the Four Noble Truths, including a 🔥 Zen parable:
A tiger gave chase to a monk who had been walking peacefully near a cliff, and the monk, running as fast as he could, had no choice but to leap off the edge of the cliff to avoid being eaten. He was able, as he leapt, to grab hold of a vine trailing over the cliff. He dangled in mid-air with the tiger snarling at him overhead and under him a very long fall into a rushing river full of boulders. Then he noticed a mouse gnawing at the vine. He also noticed, growing out of a cleft in a rock in front of him, a strawberry plant with one ripe berry. He ate it. He said, “This is a very good strawberry.”
We are all the monk.
Playing the Fool
Before I started intensely resenting the month of January (lol), I gave a talk at ACZC about the parallels between Zen and Clown, and how they can help us choose what energy we bring when we show up to any situation. Even to the hardest, darkest interactions. You can listen to it here. You can also revisit an old issue I wrote on the topic: Playing the Fool.
You Are a Light
No, literally. This is from 2009, but pretty cool: Japanese researchers used ultra-sensitive cameras to reveal that our bodies emit tiny amounts of light that are too weak for the eye to detect. Humans Glow in the Dark
Treading the Pathless Path
One of my favorite newsletters is Paul Millerd’s Boundless, which is dedicated to exploring our relationship to work, and what having a fulfilling career might look like in the 21st century. I consider this project a kindred spirit to mine, one in which we have no idea what’s ahead, but we’re on a ride to find out. Paul has a new book out called The Pathless Path, and I wish I’d had it when I quit my big agency PR job in 2009 in search of a career that better suited me. No easy answers, as those don’t exist, but some good questions and ideas for how to find a path that works for you.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
There was no single, magic moment when I looked around myself and realized, “These people treat me like garbage because I think I’m garbage and I’m not! Enough of that!” Rather, it’s been a slow unraveling of deep-seated beliefs, expectations, and so much grief. Just when I think I’m on top of it all, that I’ve finished that bit of work, I realize I’m still working on it. All that old training has worn deep ruts in my psyche which have a natural tendency to pull me back down, but choosing a new path is essential to my integrity practice.
Another kindred spirit: Asha Sanaker, whose Sh*t To Help You Show Up newsletter always tells me something I need to hear.
Morning Pages Forever
“[Sobriety] helped me become a different writer. I began to try to write to be of service. And where, before … I was always trying to be clever and intellectual, after I got sober I began to try to be useful. A lot of what happened to me with “The Artist’s Way” was an impulse to teach something that I had learned through experience.”
Here’s a great interview with Julia Cameron about writing The Artists’ Way, the beloved classic about getting unblocked in your creative work — and in life in general. I’ve been doing morning pages again lately and it helps!
It’s Really All a Matter of Perspective (Twitter Edition)
Something Scary but Exciting!
Last issue I announced the name of the book I’ve been working on: What the World Needs is You. This title has been rolling around in my head for months, but saying it out loud has made it real in a new way, which is exactly what I hoped would happen. I got a lot of nice responses from you asking how you can help me bring this work into the world — thank you for that! Truly, it means the world. So now I’m going to do something else that scares me, which is turn on paid subscriptions to this newsletter.
If you’d like to help me get this dang book written (and continue writing this newsletter), you can support me by becoming a paid subscriber. Subscriptions are $6 a month or $70 a year. You can also become a Founding Member, and contribute somewhere between $70 and $150 for the year.
As ever with this newsletter, this is all an experiment, so we’ll see how it goes. I plan to continue sending all issues to everyone, but in the future I may start throwing in some new features and discussions for paid subscribers only.
Feel free to let me know what questions you have or any feedback.
And above all - thank you for being here.
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p.p.s. Here’s an interview I did with the Creator Habits podcast about my practices for keeping Tiny Revolutions going and doing my best to stretch as a writer and a person (they all feed into each other). For all of you making any sort of creative work, I daresay it pairs well with morning pages. :)