I’m Sad Today and That’s Fine

joshua-earle-557-unsplashI’m sad. I wasn’t this morning. I won’t be soon enough. I’m sad right now.

I can’t tell you how much being able to recognize that and acknowledge it has changed my life.

When I was younger I would process a change of mood perhaps as often as once a day. Back then I might not even notice the presence of my feelings for a few hours after waking. That was true whether happy or sad or angry or whatever. I say whatever because I’m sure there are more than 3 moods. In general though it was one of these. For a long time there were just two since ‘sad’ would morph immediately into angry. I don’t know why. I guess it had something to do with a limited emotional palate and an abundance of youthful testosterone.

I once heard a person who had been abused talk about their decision to forgive the abuser that took so much from them. Initially I didn’t understand how they could ever truly forgive them. I thought perhaps they were still reeling from the abuse and reacting out of fear. But in their explanation I learned about what they were really doing when they chose to forgive. How it was actually an act of self preservation. 

‘Forgiving my abuser was very hard. I didn’t do it for a long time. Instead I held on to that anger and felt like it was my armor. I somehow thought that carrying and caring for my anger, keeping it alive, was what kept me safe. But it didn’t. He didn’t abuse me again. He didn’t have to. Carrying around that much anger and bile did all the damage he couldn’t do. In time I had to forgive him to let go. Think of it like this, anger is a poison pill. For me, holding on to my anger was like swallowing poison in hopes that it would make someone else die. But of course it doesn’t work that way. The poison was in me. It was killing me.’

The second I heard that my whole perspective shifted. 

I have not had to confront abuse, thankfully, but I could see myself holding on to anger. Compiling resentments and scorn and holding them close in order to keep them fed. In the years I’ve spent thinking about this piece of wisdom I’ve come to relish the opportunities I have to recognize and identify my feelings. My anger was my poison pill. Still is. 

It may sound silly, but to me feelings were an outside force somehow. That was how I perceived them and I’d guess I’m not the only man who has felt this way. My feelings felt like a threat to my stability, best denied or ignored. At least the negative ones. But that’s not how it works. I can’t deny my feelings away and the more I may try to do so the more I am at their service, providing them only enough oxygen to live but never enough to recover and heal. In that kind of cycle joy feels more like a liability and I treated it that way.

So today for some reason I started to feel sad. I recognized it, I acknowledged it, I’m feeling it and soon I’ll be moving on.

Sometimes emotional maturity is as simple as that. As simple as recognizing that which is evident and allowing space and time to do their work so I am not controlled by that which I struggle against and try to wrestle into submission.

Instead I just say I am sad today and I am thankful that I recognized it. Being sad now does not mean I’ll be sad tomorrow and it doesn’t mean I won’t be. It just means I’m sad. It’s a feeling and feelings change. Sometimes I’ll discover there was a reason I felt that way and other times I’ll discover there was no reason other than being human. 

Don’t Ever Stop.

light-in-the-darknessAnger grows from fear. And from despair and loneliness and feeling unnoticed and unloved.It feeds on itself and flourishes in the dark. The antidote is light and love and attention and intention. Some bet on the inevitability of anger turning to hate. They short the market and prosper on hate’s seeming inevitability. They seek profit in its viral growth.They guard against the light to keep the ground fertile. They tell the angry that hate is the medicine for the pain caused by the weight of anger. They are modern day snake oil salesman, only worse. They trade in souls. Hate only breeds hate, especially when quarantined. Hate can relieve the pain of anger for a moment, perhaps, and unburden you by letting it out, but it returns heavier than before. Hate hides from light. Fear is angers predecessor. Fear is the root and it holds steady throughout.

How then should we spread love, light?

Meet anger with joy. If anger has turned then we meet hate with love. Strong, determined love. It is the light that can guide us. We have to stand before hate and defend any light we can find. If we can’t find light we must bring it. It will be near impossible at times and we will fail. Failure cannot stop us. Love is not a passive state but rather a treasure worth fighting for, worth dying in defense of.

Your efforts to put light in the world no matter how small are vital and important. They make the light just a little easier for someone else to see. Don’t ever stop. Diminishing returns means we fight harder for the light. You might not see the difference you make, but you make it by showing up, every day.

Thank you.

Life Won’t Wait

Life is slippery. And fast. It’s hard to catch and if you ever do it’s impossible to hold for any length of time. The only effective tool for capturing life, at least as far as I can tell is gratitude.

Gratitude is often a step too late. It’s hard to notice the things that we should be expressing gratitude for when we are experiencing them. In general, my default feeling is ‘overwhelmed’. It lives with me moment to moment. It consumes me. I can’t seem to shake it. It blocks out so much that I should be grateful for.

2015-06-22 12.02.30Our family is emerging. It needs constant feeding and tending. We are so consumed by it’s care that we can’t manage to get any distance from it in order to simply appreciate it. We are caught up in the mechanics and logistics of the whole thing. At this point, having managed two full time jobs, two full time toddlers (two full time babies before that) and the day to day tasks that all of that entails we are so negligent of gratitude that it’s hard to find at times. Which is awful. Because gratitude is the key to it all. It provides respite from worry and perspective on life. It’s a feeling you are responsible for inciting. Simply expecting the magnitude of our good fortune (health, family, love, work, companionship, food, warmth, a home, etc..) to bring gratitude to us is a recipe for entitlement, gratitude’s opposite, it’s opponent even. My whining entitlement can obfuscate all that I have to be grateful for.

2015-06-22 14.43.12I’m sitting precariously atop the bell curve and if I don’t find a way to appreciate it I run the risk of missing out on all I can see from here. At this point in my life, unlike anytime before and unlike anytime after I am surrounded by all of the people that will make up the world I’ll have known. The new arrivals and those that preceded me. Every primary player in the story of my life is active in it right now. My children, my siblings and my parents are all here, all full of life and vibrantly available to me.

I’ve experienced gratitude in different ways. There is visceral gratitude, the type you feel in the moment. For me it’s often been while hiking. I don’t have the chance to do it all that much, and it was always a vacation activity and not an integrated part of my life. I’m not a person that meditates, but from what I hear about the peace that comes from that practice it’s similar. Perhaps for me walking in the woods is a form of meditating, focusing on a simple task that requires little thought. Who knows. But the feeling is wonderful. It’s a full appreciation for everything, from the air I breath to the wearying muscles of my body to the beauty of the world I’m submerged in. It’s a feeling of peaceful bliss and I hope to pass the love of it on to my kids once they are able to appreciate it.

11133746_10206086038933979_5520499095169659982_nThe other form gratitude has taken for me is the result of a discipline and can be captured anywhere. At a desk. In the car. Lying in bed in the dark. I don’t practice nearly enough. It’s being put aside for worry and stress and fear. All the things I choose to carry instead of putting in the effort that gratitude as a discipline requires of me. It’s not even a lot of effort, but it can feel like way too much when I’ve tricked myself into thinking I can’t let go of those other things that I am carrying that are weighing me down, becoming heavier for all I pile on top. But I know, if I take the time to appreciate all that I have, and don’t just slide by saying things like, ‘I’m very lucky’ or ‘I really shouldn’t complain, I know I have so much’, but rather actually take five minutes to list the specifics of what I have to be grateful for I can access the peace that gratitude can provide. I can be consumed by gratitude. I can be relieved by the perspective it brings.

It’s a commitment I will never regret but one that’s so hard to stick to. I hope to instill a sense of gratitude as a discipline in my kids. But how will I ever do so if I don’t  take the time to practice it myself? If I don’t change it soon they will instead inherit the burden I drag around in the place of peace, perspective and true appreciation for this beautiful life that isn’t permanent but is a gift to be treasured.

It’s a little magical this intentional type of disciplined gratitude. It’s a force field of sorts that can protect you and enrich your experience. Intentionally showing gratitude makes the world around you safer, more vibrant and provides you with both calmness and joy. It’s a practice I can’t afford to take for granted any longer.