As last year came to a close, my inbox was full of business end-of-year emails lamenting 2020. Friends and family were talking of looking forward to 2021 with the vaccine and going back to “normal”. A consistent theme of 2020 being a terrible year. But what if it wasn’t?
“I know how devastating 2020 has been” began one company’s email.
It was perhaps the most striking of them all, it stopped me in my tracks, I haven’t experienced 2020 as devastating so it leapt out at me as a surprise. It also leapt out because I seem to have developed an allergic reaction to the media/emails/other people whitewashing a whole experience into one ‘thing’ and assuming that ‘thing’ is a universal experience for all. Telling people how they must be feeling.
I know for some there’s good intent, trying not to assume it’s all fine, trying to be respectful of what has been a difficult year for some people because yes there are people who have, and are, experiencing devastation this year with loved ones gone, businesses gone, jobs gone. There is much shock and grief.
But many people have just had an inconvenient year. A year in which they’d have preferred things to go differently, if they’d had their way. And some won’t have been impacted at all. Some businesses are flying. Some people are living in situations almost entirely unaffected by the virus.
Whichever experience you’ve been in, how you think it should have gone is kind of irrelevant. Our preferences have nothing to do with how life actually goes. Including if we’d prefer not to be devastated.
In being sold ‘the dream’ of a modern life it’s included the idea that we get to choose, that we are empowered, that if we want it we can get it. But no. Not at this level of the personal me.
The personal me, the concept of me, thinks it needs life to be a certain way to be ok, to be included, to be safe. It’s the one that desperately sets goals and strives and tries to line the ducks-of-life up in just the right way that pleases the personal-level thoughts – and hopefully the world! Look how good I did!!
The personal me has no idea about life. It can’t. It’s just a thought. It can’t know.
What knows is life itself. Life knows exactly what it’s doing and we are a part of the mechanism for life to happen. We — personal us — aren’t the pinnacle of the universe, We don’t get to choose whether viruses appear or not, and it’s really OK.
Think of times when it’s looked like life has thrown you lemons and then lemonade got made.
- Maybe tiny things like you accidentally put a ‘wrong’ ingredient in a meal but it turned out to make it even more delicious.
- Or when you didn’t get that job, only for a better one to come along later.
- Or when your engagement broke off and you cried and cried but then went travelling, or discovered time on your own was so enriching, or met the love of your life.
We can’t know at the time how something will pan out, sometimes it takes years before the gift in an experience is truly revealed. Sometimes a lifetime.
And notice how there is no objective truth to something ‘going well’. If there was, then that ‘wrong’ ingredient would have stayed wrong forever. Impossible. It just doesn’t happen.
No ‘thing’ is inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Those experiences are a function of the meaning we ascribe to them in each moment. When our thoughts about it change, the experience of it changes. This can happen in an instant.
And yet we attach ourselves to these ‘wrong’ things and suffer when we think about them as wrong and how they shouldn’t have gone like that or shouldn’t have happened to me.
And on the other side of the good/bad coin, we attach ourselves to them going brilliantly and think we’ve been saved by it working out in the end. But to whose definition of ‘brilliant’ are you working? And at what moment in time? What about when your definition of ‘brilliant’ changes and that love of your life starts to look like the devil?
Notice how attaching ourselves to any ‘thing’ leaves us being tossed around in the waves of life, and suffering as a result. Those ducks-of-life will never line up neatly according to the personal me’s requirements.
This might be sounding terrible at the moment — if so, great, just notice that. Notice how the mind that’s grasped for being ‘good enough’ one day hates to think that its goal is unattainable. Little does it know that freedom lies on the other side of its ideas…
Think of times for which, still today, you wish things had gone differently
- Maybe you hark after a career you think you’d have nailed but which didn’t happen.
- Maybe you have kids and you love them but you also look with envy at the freedom of others’ lives.
- Maybe someone passed away and you think they shouldn’t have gone like that, or at that time in their life and the repetition and belief in that idea plays on and on, dragging you further into despair.
Notice the suffering in all of these.
When I fight with reality I lose. But only 100% of the time.
The moment we imagine life should only go the way we want it to we suffer. It’s just that simple.
Does that mean we shouldn’t feel sad and grieve those we’ve lost? No. Sadness is a normal part of the human experience. But it turns to suffering when we continue to tell ourselves that it shouldn’t have happened. Not to them, not to me, not in that way, not at that time.
How could we ever know these things? It’s just not up to us, the personal me. None of it ever has been.
The mind hates this
The conceptual mind that creates that personal me hates the idea that it doesn’t have agency. It throws toys out of prams and kicks cats. Really, it can get very cross at the thought that it doesn’t get to choose.
The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Notice how the personal me only hates the IDEA that it doesn’t have agency. It’s never actually had agency so it can only be an idea of it that it doesn’t like. It imagines terrible outcomes and disaster. In fact, the more we see that it’s always been an idea of agency, the more we re-discover the freedom, love, and happiness that was being hidden by ideas. And when that happens we discover we suffer less. We didn’t even realise how much we had been suffering in imagined limits of life until the limits come off and we say ‘Wow! This is nice!”
We naturally realise the stories that have been clung to and resisted and they drop away.
We naturally notice where we’ve taken on someone else’s story as our own and it stops making sense to believe it.
And we naturally see where we’re whitewashing a myriad of experiences into one lump of an idea.
With all of this, we find we naturally dance with what life brings us, sometimes lost in the swirl of it, imagining it’s all terrible, but then waking back up to the reality of it and working directly with life as it is.
So how useful is it to communicate that we’ve all had a year of devastation? How useful is it to read or hear these things and adopt someone else’s ideas as your own experience?
Instead let’s come back to here, to this experience here — it’s really all you’ve got. Bring awareness (no actions, no doing, no plans or resolutions — just awareness) to these questions…Maybe write your answers but make no attempt to solve them or make them different….just awareness…
- Where does it look like life should be going differently than it is?
- What are you hoping for, or wishing away?
- Who do you think should be different than they are.
- And what was 2020 really like for you? — get really honest here. Put to one side all others’ ideas, all societal ideas, and just notice what it’s actually been like, for you.
Now continue into 2021 with a little more openness, a little more curiosity, and a little more fluidity so that life returns to the dynamic dance it’s designed to be, irrespective of the music playing.
With love, Helen