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What am I doing in the pits?
Last week was another week in a rather long spell where, if I were to allow myself to do so, it would be pretty easy to feel like Erma Bombeck must have felt when she quipped, “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”
Deep in the throes of yet another proverbial poop-storm, I decided that I would be a better problem solver if I took the time to walk my dogs. Before I left, I thumbed through old, pre-pandemic episodes of my favorite podcast, On Being with Krista Tippet. The title of one made me laugh – “Welcoming Flies to the Picnic” – so that’s the one I chose.
Life is made up of bumps in your road and flies at your picnic
I was captivated by musician, Joe Henry, before I’d even left my driveway. Within two minutes I knew that somehow, some way, exactly the teacher I needed had found his way to me exactly when I needed him.
“We’re sort of seduced into thinking that here’s life and then there’s these bad things that are like obstacles that just fall into your road. As if the obstacle is not the road, you know? We want to think that, all things being equal, we should be content all the time and would be except for these pesky flies that want to ruin every picnic – as if that isn’t what the picnic is.”
“Yes!” I thought. This – these problems, crises, challenges, sorrows, and headaches – are not messing up my life. They are my life.
The power of perspective
As I walked and listened, I noticed how good it felt to move, to be outside, to feel the sun and the breeze. I watched my beautiful boys noticing every bird, every squirrel, and every leaf that blew across the sidewalk. I felt lucky to live where I live. I felt deeply grateful to be living this “one wild and precious life” of mine (The Summer Day by Mary Oliver).
And I remembered that just minutes ago I’d been teetering on the edge between frustration, exhaustion, and despair and this glowing sense of good fortune. In a little bit of awe, I realized that life had conspired to “tip me” toward gratitude via a serendipitous choice of a podcast – and I felt even more grateful.
The dogs and I came home to the same life we’d left. The sad thing had still happened. Hard decisions still needed to be made. A logistical nightmare of a knot still needed to be untangled. I will confess that I did not particularly want to engage with any of this mess. But something in me had shifted – I no longer felt persecuted by it.
This was my sorrow. The choices that needed to be made were also mine. Gently untangling the knot of feelings, schedules, and communications was going to hurt a little, but I knew when it was done, that I would be able to rest easier. In essence, I felt empowered. Seeing my life rather than the mess gave me a vested interest in working it through.
One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Lesser, shared an acronym I love – “AFGO” (translation: another effing growth opportunity). This is her hilarious way of acknowledging that problems are indeed growth opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that she is super happy when they show up. Which is important.
Just because you recognize that navigating your current poop-storm will leave you better, wiser, stronger, etc., does not mean it won’t still feel exasperating, exhausting, and impossible. In other words, it’s OK to feel like shouting to the heavens, “I am fed up with AFGOs!” Being alive is not easy. Even when you know it’s a gift.
Nonetheless, life is a gift. When the road is bumpy or flies are swarming, when you are more exhausted than energized, when your attitude may be more salty than you’d like, it is possible to pause. It is possible – with tears, sarcasm, humor, profanity, or whatever else you need – to shift your focus from the current mess to the preciousness and wildness of this one life of yours.
There can be a surprising amount of laughter in spiritual direction sessions. Having someone to laugh with is as healing as having someone to cry with when you’re navigating life’s ups, downs and “oops!”-es.