(This piece is based on a journal entry of mine from January, 2009.)
The last couple weeks have been very challenging for me. I’ve been feeling anxious, off-center, low on energy, and afraid. Lots of things have changed in my life all at once.
Watching Everything Fall Apart
The nonprofit that I’ve been leading for the last year and a half is shrinking and dissolving as I’ve gotten clear that the nonprofit form is the wrong structure to do what I’ve been wanting to do. All of a sudden, my regular schedule of nonprofit meetings has disappeared. I now realize how much structure these meetings have been creating in my life, and how meaningful it’s been to me to hold a vision of a thriving, beneficial organization.
I’ve also been doing some research on the implications of climate change and our dwindling oil supply. I’ve realized how fragile the global systems are that are supporting life—both the natural systems and the man-made systems. All of a sudden, everything that has seemed so solid suddenly feels much more tenuous.
All this brings me face to face with death—not only my own death, but the death and transformation of the civilization that I grew up in (and that I’ve become quite fond of and attached to). I’ve also been becoming aware of all the species that have been going extinct as humans take over the whole planet. It seems foreboding—like walking toward the edge of a cliff in the fog.
Learning What Helps
It’s been interesting to watch my mind and body react to all this impermanence. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve often felt weak and low on energy, and also cold—colder than usual. I’ve felt like sleeping a lot, and on bad nights I’ve woken up in the middle of the night—thinking, thinking, thinking. I’ve gone through periods of very low presence—feeling confused and having trouble staying coherent and focused.
However, all this hasn’t been constant. I’ve also been enjoying learning what helps me shift out of this state. What seems most helpful is focusing on contribution—contributing to needs being met. Especially the needs of others—that really seems to energize me—but sometimes, my own needs. Giving myself permission to lie in bed for an afternoon nap, even when I “should” be doing other things. Giving myself a chance to rest. Giving myself a break from my self-imposed schedule of daily spiritual practices. And especially, meaningful conversations with friends. I’ve found it hard to pick up the phone when I’m feeling depressed—that’s still an edge for me. But when I’m feeling more enlivened, I’m finding that it really energizes me to connect with others.
Another piece of the puzzle that seems to be helping is the broader context that Buddhism gives me. It gives me a context for understanding all these changes—a frame to hold everything—even the destruction and disappearance of my civilization. I don’t claim to fully understand what Buddhism points to, but I do have an intuitive sense that there is a way to understand it or comprehend it (even if I don’t, yet). I’ve been placing my faith in what intuitively feels like the right direction and allowing myself to receive guidance from those wiser than me—even guidance from the universe itself (of which I’m a part).
Emerging from the Tunnel
Over last couple of days, I’ve noticed myself gradually emerging from the tunnel I’ve been moving through. (That’s what it seems like in the moment, anyway.) I’ve been amazed to find myself having bursts of energy, being able to flow and dance around the house—doing housework and enjoying it.
In a way, it feels like I’m letting go of views, strategies, and values that have been limiting me in some ways. I’m opening myself up to new possibilities for contribution, collaboration, community, and meaning. Opening myself up to the possibility that I could be capable of much more than I ever imagined. And welcoming the energy I feel flowing through me as I consider that years from now, I might be contributing to the well-being of others in ways that are hard for me to imagine now. Welcoming the possibility of everything changing—and it all being okay.
I also have a sense of equanimity as I remember that I was really suffering just a few days ago. I hope I can remember just how dramatically my state of mind can change in a few days—from being in the middle of great suffering to being in the middle of great energy and bliss. I hope that might give me hope, the next time I’m suffering.