I have a problem. I realized recently that the thing that motivates me in life beyond seeking beauty in magical places and amazing connections with awesome people is…struggle. So, ironically, I think maybe my problem with my life is that I don’t have enough problems for my brain these days.
When I see something easy, free, and relatively stable, I bring strife and overthinking and overanalyzing to it until something about it hurts, until I’ve created a chink that I need to solve. Solving it makes me feel like I’ve earned the good times. But then eventually, if the good times stay around too long, the problem of no problems comes up again.
I know, you’re probably laughing or rolling your eyes right now. But if you think about it, this is how the immune system works, right? If we don’t give it enough to focus on (like minor bacteria and viruses), it will instead start hurting you with your own shit (aka autoimmune disorders). We’re seeing a rise in this in the US – what with all the antibacterial soap meant to ward off all the things our immune system loves being exposed to and violently killing to feel good about itself.
So why doesn’t the same go for us? Our brains our high-powered machines that want something to solve. Isn’t this like the stereotypical critique of “male brains” – that they want to fix the problem and not just listen to the issue? I’ve been accused of having many “male qualities” in my brain, by the way.
But anyway, back to my point. My point is that when I’m feeling generally happy, after a short while, my first instinct is to ask “Wait, what’s going on? Where is the boogyman hiding?” and immediately begin looking into all the corners and recesses of my life and brain to try to find the thing(s) putting me at risk of losing the happiness (the happiness I spent very little time actually enjoying). But the searching itself causes me to “lose” the contentment immediately.
Likewise, when I’m feeling an emotion, my first instinct is to try to make sense of it, connect it with things that create a logical narrative, put it in a box, wrap it with a bow, and send it on its merry way. I thought for a long time that I was really sending the boxes away to some distant land in Nantucket (or maybe to Sarah Palin in Alaska). In reality, I seem to have built a metaphorical wall in my brain and the boxes were all just thrown over this wall by the carrier. The wall says “PLEASE KEEP OUT. DANGER AHEAD.” and I guess for the longest time, I just didn’t know about the wall or wanted to be mindful of the sign (which doesn’t sound like me to actually do what authority wants me to) or maybe had just not figured out a way to get behind the wall. The last couple of months, a number of people seem to keep showing me how to remove some bricks in the wall and see the boxes – that they still exist, that they haven’t been dealt with, that *nothing has changed* in them. A couple of times, I’ve managed to climb the wall and jump to the other side and realized that all the boxes had opened in the process of being thrown over and all the stuff is a mess. The bows did nothing to keep the stuff in one box from the stuff in another.
Today, I am standing at the other side of the wall – realizing that all these “problems” I tried to put in boxes and thought I was done dealing with actually have no narrative, no box, no bow. They don’t make sense together or apart.
The world is full of people who want to tell you how to make boxes, how to tie them with bows, how to release them from your sight – in other words, how to actively *fix* the things. But time and time again, the people I see happiest are those who tell me that there is no such thing as fixing – unless you stop wanting to fix them at all. And then, paradoxically, there is no need for boxes, bows, walls, or narratives. No, they won’t disappear. But suddenly, all at once, you won’t look at the mess of stuff and see them as needing to “make sense” or “be fixed.” You will just see the things as….oh, ya know, the stuff, no biggie. You may clear a path to walk through it. You may organize it into some beautiful origami crane. You won’t mind wandering through it, occasionally examining the broken bits of things here and there. You may just see it as internal decoration for your brain, but nothing that drags up any negative thoughts or feelings. It’s just…you. And you are it.
I so want to be here while looking at my “stuff” today. But admittedly, I am not. I am still trying to fix, still attempting to wrestle things and people and memories in my life into a cohesive narrative that doesn’t change and mutate constantly, still wanting to cling to something that I know is entirely false (aka stability or making boxes, tying them with bows, throwing behind the wall believing they are being sent elsewhere).
When I am happy more or less, my brain still wants something to “work” on. Oftentimes, that spurns depression and an entire lack of motivation to start new things – hobbies, etc. And then it’s just this cycle. In this time, I believe that I am really seriously “working on my shit!” I talk through deep stuff with people, I write profound-sounding things, and I read philosophical books. I stop doing all the things I know my body wants me to do – like exercise, get in the sunlight, eat well. I stop doing all the things that would actually propel me in life – like working for some money, like planning time with people I love, learning new hobbies, etc etc. “But, seriously, I’m working on my shit and this is productive,” I convince myself, after spending an entire night weaving a bunch of thoughts together, making me feel like I am making boxes and shipping them away. “I’m letting go of things!” I think. Only to find the same “box” arrive at my door 6 months or a year down the line in *exactly the same condition.* What the fuck!!! I think. I dealt with this shit already! I’m happy! I’m working on my shit! Go away. And I ship it back again…back to the wall.
Today, my therapist told me to retrieve a difficult memory and tell her about it. I told her about it – from my head. She said, “Okay. Now feel it…and then sit in those feelings.” I said “Yeah, everyone says that. I sit in my feelings all the time.” She asked me when I do this. “Well, ya know…when I hike, when I take a bath, when I climb, when I’m driving, when I cry about feelings that come up with someone else, …” “In all of those moments, you’re doing something,” she said. “Don’t you ever just sit and stop distracting yourself and stop trying to make stories about the stuff going through your brain?” I recalled when I went to meditate at a number of different centers – how I generally used meditation to make more connections and do more “fixing” in my brain. “No, maybe I don’t,” I admitted.
As I told her about the memory, I felt hard feelings come up – ones that were sort of attached to things we were talking about and some were not at all. She asked me what I was feeling in my body and I couldn’t really do that well – the feelings were so overwhelming. I started shutting down. Then, she asked what I was feeling in my body when the memory actually happened and I couldn’t recall or felt I couldn’t accurately. Our time was up. She said she still sees me running, packing my feelings into a narrative, putting it away, and calling that “letting go.”
I am reminded of a good friend of mine who realized that the seizures he was experiencing were all being triggered by stress and strong emotions. He decided he did not want to be on anymore medications (since they caused more harm than good) and that he would rid his life of stress. Without the trigger, he believed, he would not have seizures. And he did. And he was right. But it was only recently that I discovered how he did it.
He made a wall – likely not at all unlike mine in my head – and very actively threw everything salient behind it. He didn’t need a carrier nor even a box. He just wanted a quarantine for feelings. No feelings = no stress. Right? After he told me this, he adamantly expressed that I not do what he did on a conscious level (or subconscious) – “Please. I don’t recommend it.” he said. He told me that he has to remind himself so often why he remains on this earth because without feelings, everything in life feels the same. Turns out that no feelings does = no stress and also = no motivation = no joy = no pain = no love = no loss = no human purpose.
So if struggle is human, if joy and pain and stuff is human, it seems the best thing we can do is listen to Paul McCartney and “let it be.” And stop trying.And shrug it off, saying “No biggie.”
But fuck if I know how to do it.