With my birthday rapidly approaching, I set out to write a post about “What I Know For Sure” after forty revolutions around the sun. And as I scribbled some notes in my journal, what I know for sure is that I don’t know much for sure at all. In fact, as I get older, and look to my greatest teachers–my children, my patients, and my books, these days–I realize that the more time passes, the less I know.
I have fewer answers and feel my way through the days living the questions. And that is okay.
Living the questions has made me more curious to life as it presents itself to me, rather than me imposing my ideas of how life should be. But there are a few jewels that have I picked up along the path, and I am grateful for any wisdom that has been granted to me. So here they are, plain and simple. What I (think) I know for sure, at this particular intersection of space and time:
Everyone has problems. The nature of the problems looks different on the surface…health, money, relationship, family, work…but they are problems nonetheless. The suffering that we feel underneath, and our desire to be free from suffering, is a fundamental and shared part of being human.
True freedom can only be found within. If we look outside of ourselves for freedom, we will be constantly rearranging our external circumstances to try and soothe ourselves. We will seek a little more of this, push away a little more of that, and try with all our might to resist change. Even if we achieve perfection by arranging our life just so, we will feel anxiety about when that perfection will slip through our fingers. Which leads me to…
Freedom within comes when we release our expectations of how life should be, and embrace life exactly as it is. When we can fall in love with the truth of what is, we stop resisting the surprising and unpredictable ways in which life unfolds. This is easier said than done, and I have to remind myself of this particular point every time I find myself arguing with reality.
It is easier to do than to be, as counterintuitive as that may seem. In our constant striving, doing, seeking, we exhaust ourselves. Even as I write this, I am practicing. It is okay to live slow. It is okay to relax. It is okay to make time for coffee and long walks and staring into space and nothing at all. It is okay to release the constant need to get somewhere other than here. Because…
Our worth is not dependent on what we do, how much we earn, what we have accomplished, or who we know. Our value comes simply from existing as a human being on this planet, a temporary collection of cells, bones, muscles, fascia, and organs, alongside every other human being on this planet. So we can stop trying so hard to feel worthy. We already are.
It is important to travel lightly–literally and figuratively. A patient passed this gem along to me just last week. “Doc,” he said. “I am just trying to take it easy and travel lightly these days.” Indeed. It is hard to laugh and feel joy when we are dragging heavy baggage with us wherever we go. Sometimes it is as simple as deciding to set it down and walk on.
Gratitude allows us to notice the abundance that exists in the smallest, most ordinary moments. At the end of the day, and at the end of our years, it is these small moments–a lovely meal, a laugh with friends, a kind note–that stand out in our minds as precious. Even more so than the grand celebrations and occasions. Today I received a book I had been wanting from a friend. It wasn’t the book itself–it was that she noticed, and remembered, and took the care to send it along with a loving note. The small things.
Dealing with “big” emotions like joy, grief, fear, and anger can be easier than managing “small” emotions like loneliness, irritation, and general unsettledness. We can name the big emotions and therefore find a way to cope with them. The smaller emotions get under our skin and make us feel uncomfortable in ways that don’t often get recognized or addressed. Be gentle with yourself when these feelings arise. They are part of our humanity.
Everything feels worse at night, when there is little distraction or light. Almost any thought, emotion, or physical pain will feel better once morning comes.
Embrace love where it exists. We can spend our entire lives searching for love where it cannot be found, like trying to extract water from a rock. Meanwhile we are bypassing those who are ready and willing to love us right now, just as we are. Children, animals, and the harmony of nature are sources of simple, uncomplicated love. It is up to us to notice and receive it.
True, heart centered compassion towards ourselves and others can solve almost any problem. Really. I actually can’t think of a problem right now for which compassion isn’t the solution.
The only moment that can be truly lived is this one. And the only life we can live is our own imperfectly human one. Sadness and worry unfold when we believe our thoughts about the past and the future, where we most certainly cannot live. Sadness and worry also unfold when we compare ourselves to other people or standards of perfection. Over and over, we can bring the gentle light of awareness to where our consciousness is resting.
That’s all I got for now folks. I am grateful for all of the experiences and teachers that have illuminated the path to here. I can only believe this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now, challenges, imperfections and all. Who knows what the next forty years or even tomorrow will bring?
I know that none of us knows for sure, and that feels scary and hopeful all at once. In the meanwhile, I will continue asking and living all the questions–one singular moment at a time.
With gratitude, Monisha