Friday, August 24, 2012

I hope there is a cure for that

A long-time friend moved recently. She wrote yesterday, relating that she'd found an excellent paediatrician for her daughter, who has a genetic illness, and that her son's second year of college has begun well.

She wrote, "Overall, things have worked out well, though I keep waiting for something bad to happen. I have turned into a pessimist. I hope there is a cure for that." 

When you think about it, pessimism is used as kind of like a talisman in our culture, "Don't get too happy, or too comfortable or too confident, or too anything joyful whatsover, because it can end in a second!" 

Relentless gurus churn out dozens of number one best selling books every year, all promising the secret to everlasting happiness and peace. But even they come at you with the not-so-veiled message that the reason you have to grab that inner peace, seize the day, or live the moment is because the sky could fall on you at any moment! Like if you don't seize each moment and wrestle it to the ground like it was a Texas longhorn steer something bad might happen!!!   We pretend, no let's call it what it is; we have this superstition that pessimism and anxiety are a shield that will protect us from the falling sky.

When my father died unexpectedly I was unable to make the very long trip to his funeral. Although I knew rationally that it didn't make any difference to Dad it meant I never said a proper goodbye to him and that's a grief that has never completely resolved. But that grief manifested in a strange way.

Dad died in late November. For Mother's Day the next April the boys asked, "What do you want?" and I said, "I want a kitten." And so a grey and white five-week old kitten whose short legs and fat little body made him look like a furry caterpillar came into my life. He was a clown in a cat suit and he lived almost 18 years, but from the day he arrived until the day we had to ease his old body off to sleep, every time I held him and looked at him I felt anxious about losing him. That anxiety kept me from enjoying him as much as I should have. Every time he squeaked I panicked. It's as if I felt my anxiety could protect him, and me from the pain of parting. It did not.

There's a Zen story which says that anxiety makes no sense, regardless of circumstances. I haven't mastered this anxiety-free life so at the moment it's purely conceptual but it interests me. 

“There is a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” ~ Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World  

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