Lately I have been reading through a journal I wrote when I turned 25 - ramblings and musings from a decade ago when I was so young I felt invincible. I felt overwhelmed by what seemed like life’s endless possibilities. I had starry-eyed dreams of accomplishing Something Big. I had a lot of very high highs and low lows. My life often seemed to swing between incredible bliss and near-suicidal despair. (Or perhaps the more mundane moments of life did not make it into my journal.) At 25, I lived big - grandiose. I ate big and I drank big and I smoked big and I sang and I lived like a diva. In all my grandiosity, I was sheltered by the gigantic tree of marriage. Its trunk stabilized me, rooted me, kept me from spinning off into an orbit from which I could not return.
My life is so different now. Parenthood has tempered me, forced me to settle down, to focus on someone other than myself. Divorce has left me feeling, in the Arabic phrase, maqtua3a min al-shajarah (cut off from the tree; rootless) but I am slowly learning to put down roots and settle into the life I have.
I have been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over the last 10 years. At 35, I am still young, but I would like to think I’ve learned a few things. I am very aware of just how little I do know, in the scheme of things; perhaps that is a humility that comes with age.
Here are some of the lessons I would like to think I’ve learned (or am still learning day by day). Not in any particular order.
Life does not always turn out as you imagined. While potentially scary, this can be a wonderful thing because there is the possibility of life turning out better than you imagined. Basically, be open to life taking you to unexpected places and don’t get too attached to “how things are supposed to be.”
Don’t look for anyone or anything outside of yourself to bring happiness. I know it’s such a cliche, but I spent my 20s and most of my 30s so far doing this in some way, shape or form. I am still working pretty hard with this one; learning that happiness is truly a result of my attitude to life and not about any achievement, thing I acquire, or substance I put in my body. Happiness has little to do with external conditions and everything to do with internal ones.
Tell the truth. I’ve decided that lying, even so-called “white lies” has had a toxic effect on my mind, body, and spirit for too long. For this reason, I’ve decided to give it up. I have even given up making excuses that aren’t true. I simply say, “I can’t do it,” or “that won’t work for me.” Less is more. Sometimes the truth can be hurtful; and sometimes it needs to be said anyway. I’ve learned the hard way about the danger of lying to protect others’ feelings - it only comes back to bite you in the ass.
Big accomplishments often come about as a result of small, daily actions. In other words, discipline is more important than having lots of time on ones’ hands to do something. I can’t say I’ve applied this principle to my blog over the last several months, but I have seen it work miracles in my life in other ways. I’ve especially learned this lesson as a parent, when “free time” has become a laughable notion.
All things that arise, pass away. I didn’t know this when I was 25, at least not in a really visceral, gut way. That came about as a result of the last 7 years of studying Buddhist philosophy and trying to live it in my life. These days, even when things feel just impossibly painful, I seem to remember “this, too, shall pass” - and it always does. This also applies to the good stuff - which reminds me to savor life’s joys more deeply.
When you’re feeling down, do something for someone else. For much of my life I have led a very self-centered existence. It’s just always been All About Me. I’m learning that this kind of attitude does not tend to bring much peace, nor does it foster authentic relationships. I’m learning that when I am really in a bad place emotionally, it is actually more helpful to ask someone else how they are doing than it is to repeat my same sob story to someone else for the gazillionth time. Doing for someone else, or even just asking them how they are doing, gets me out of a rut every time.
I don’t need a man to complete me. Feminists everywhere are puking because I ever felt differently. But the truth is that I have not been alone for my whole adult life. There was always a man. It has only been in the last few months that I feel like I can authentically speak this sentence, from the heart and not the head. At the end of this year, I may decide to start dating again. But if I do, it will not be from a sense of lack but from a sense of simply wanting a partner to share this big, crazy, beautiful, complicated thing called life.
Don’t act out of anger. Anger is an absolutely authentic emotion that has very real and legitimate causes in many cases. Yet I have regretted pretty much every single thing I’ve ever said when angry, and every email I’ve sent in anger. I’m learning to pause and allow myself to feel angry without actually needed to say and do anything from that place. To take some time and postpone action until I am calmer. I may still be angry but I am not acting from the heat of that intense rage.
Live for today. This one is in the category of wisdom I am very much still working on. I spend huge swathes of my time in the past, feeling remorse, or in the future, feeling anxious. The pull of the past and future are like these huge magnets on either side of my brain, tugging endlessly. But yet, both don’t exist. Every day gives me an opportunity to start fresh trying to live this truth.
“To compare is despair.” I am most miserable when I am comparing my life to someone else. I always fall short; or if I do deem myself superior, there is always someone else who will come along and cut me down to size. I am most at peace when I compare myself to myself. Yes, I may not have the huge book deal I dreamed of 10 years ago. I am not really accomplished in any sense of the word. I don’t have an ultra-glamorous, prestigious job and I am not jet-setting around the globe. But I see how far I have come, how much I have grown in the last decade, and it makes me smile. I have much more compassion for myself than I used to, I am learning to forgive myself for my mistakes, and I am on the road to being more comfortable in my skin.
Happy birthday to me!
Welcome to this blog - my chronicle of the illuminating, character-building path of single parenthood. I'm making this up as I go along. My life is my practice, and my five year-old son is my greatest teacher.