A long time ago, in a land far away, I swiped a book off my mom’s bedside table called “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing In the Pits?” Though I was far from motherhood (and perhaps womanhood) when I read it, I remember bursting into laughter as I read Erma Bombeck’s essays on families, marriage and raising children. Today, though, it’s her fabulous title that keeps ricocheting through my mind.
Because life isn’t just a bowl of cherries. Never has been and never will be. Sometimes we are happily frolicking in the cherries and sometimes we find ourselves in the pits.
Life is a mix of good and bad, successes and failures, challenges and cake-walks. Bad things do happen to good people. But so do good things. I don’t believe in complaining when you’re in “the pits.” Sure, a good cry or two may be in order. But these cries are designed to be cathartic, to clear out the clouds of despair and frustration. When you find yourself in the pits, I believe in digging deep for the wherewithal to navigate your challenges, losses or failures. I believe you need to find the strength to fight to change the things you can change. I believe you need even more strength to find the inner peace to surrender and accept the things you cannot change.
The hard part, as the Serenity Prayer (written by American theologian Reinhold Neibuhr) so beautifully states, is developing the wisdom to know the difference between the two.
As many of you know, I have had some fairly serious health issues over the last several months. Your messages of concern and well wishes have brightened my days during what has been a confusing and somewhat scary time. Last week, after the last of many appointments with many doctors, it is clear that this odyssey is over. While I had fervently hoped and prayed that these doctors could make me “all better,” that is not going to happen. Instead I am going to be “mostly OK.”
It is what it is. And, as I surrender to that reality, I am somewhat surprised to find, it is actually fine.
Many years of delving into spiritual teachings (yoga, contemplatives, theologians) have taught me that one way to peace of mind is to stop seeing the world in stark shades of black and white. (For the record, psychologists agree.) This, however, is easier to read about than to do. Humans seem to be naturally wired to automatically label experiences as “good” and “bad.” To arrange the world into categories of “things I like” and “things I dislike.” To strive for the former and avoid-like-the-plague the latter.
Avoiding-like-the-plague is really, really hard. It takes a profound amount of energy, which is good and fine until you realize (probably on a day that you’re feeling more exhausted than you ever dreamed you could feel) that all of your running and fighting is fruitless. Because sometimes it is. Sometimes, you have to stop running and fighting. You have to surrender and accept reality.
Again, the wisdom to know when to fight and when to accept can be elusive. (That’s why millions pray for it every single day.) But, in my experience, it’s only elusive when it’s not yet time to surrender. If you’re taking the time throughout your long fight to check in with your heart and soul, your state of mind, and your ever-shifting reality, you will (just as every OB-GYN has said to every woman waiting for her first child to be born) “just know” when it’s time.
What does this “checking in” look like? Prayer. Meditation. Writing in a journal. Practicing yoga. (You knew I was going to say that, right?) Taking long walks with your dogs. Whatever helps you sift through everything you know – opinions, facts, research, ideas, advice, and so on. Whatever helps you get clarity on everything you feel – scared, mad, hopeful, sad, excited, panicked, etc. Whatever helps you tune in to how you’re actually feeling and doing.
When you’re regularly doing whatever it is that helps you “check in,” I assure you that there will be a moment when you “just know” that it’s time to surrender. In that moment, acceptance will be effortless. In that instant, as your perspective shifts, almost magically your experience of your reality changes too.
Despite the fact that nothing has changed, everything has changed. Which is to say that YOU have changed. You will relax. You will brighten. You will suddenly be able to see nuance in the “bad thing” or the “thing you dislike” or the thing you’ve been avoiding-like-the-plague. Basically, you will realize that you’re not in the pits at all. You’re actually in the cherries and they have pits. Because, like life, that’s just the way they are.