Compassion, Human Condition, Humanity, Philosophy, Society

Keep Your Hands & Feet Inside the Car at All Times

Turn and face the strange
-David Bowie

Life is a roller coaster ride, a wobbly high wire act, at best. For all the self-help books and therapists and support groups and gurus, in the end it’s just a crap shoot. Life is anyone’s guess.

Even though I know all this, and my mantra, for the last few years at least, has been “Keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times and remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop” – even though I’m no stranger to disappointment, failure and heartbreak, and I know better than to let my guard down,  it’s still ridiculously easy to grasp onto the faintest pattern of twists and turns and adjust to the ride with expectations born of habit, especially if the ride becomes comforting and familiar.

It’s so easy to fall into habits of expectation – with family, friends, work, community – that if you let your attention drift, you might not realize the tracks have changed, that you’re on a slightly different ride, until an unexpected drop throws your heart into your throat. Then you hesitate, look down, forget to be in the moment and start looking at all the elements of that moment – and then all seems lost. At least for that Matrix-like moment of decelerated atomic level devastation that seems to go on forever, that disorienting slo-mo ground swell of change during which life feels cataclysmic.

If we’re lucky, we muscle through this unnervingly protracted and unwieldy new reality, zombie-walking our way through the psychological carnage that may have come with it. If it’s a particularly deep-seated change, we may even go through stages of grief , feelings akin to denial, anger, bargaining, depression – because that sort of core rattling change can also be a death of sorts, the demise of a way of thinking or being, of believing or understanding, or doing. It doesn’t matter that the tidal wave physiological response may seem out of proportion to the actual degree of ground shift. While it may be true that we can be anything we want, it’s also true we can never be anything more or less than human.

The hardest part of the unexpected change of sudden self-awareness, or situational shift, is acceptance – that last stage of grief that’s also the most important part. It can seem to take forever to find our footing in new realities. There’s a marvelous lyric in the Imogene Heap song, “Wait it Out”:

Everybody says that time heals everything.
But what of the wretched hollow?
The endless in-between?

The “endless in-between” is a miserable place to be, and an ironically easy place to stay. Our tendency is often to “fight” these feelings, to try to ward off depression and sadness, to avoid wallowing.  But often the only way out of these mental morasses is to go through them, to be sad, depressed and to just wallow.

“Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days,” was author Charles Bukowski’s advice.  “Then they’ll come back good for a while.”

He might have had something there. Allow yourself to feel what you have to feel until you’re worn out feeling it, and then get up and get going. At that point, you might realize, with surprising relief and fresh awareness that what had seemed to loom so dramatically large and overwhelming was just another blip, a few moments out of a lifetime of moments, blown out of proportion by the anxious mind; just psychological CGI.

If you can get there, and can see with real clarity, free of bitterness, sadness and regret for what might have at first blush seemed a catastrophic failure on your part, then you might uncover the gift of freedom that comes with blameless acceptance. That’s an especially good place to get to that frees us from blaming ourselves or others,  and makes it possible for us to look back without anger or accusation, and ahead with openness and appreciation, if not love, for everything that previous path taught us before the ground shifted.

We’re often in such an anxious, impatient hurry for things to work out and resolve themselves,  that the world devolves into an oversimplified black and white caricature of itself. That makes us look at everything as an end in itself, as good or bad, as right or wrong, at each moment as always, when each moment is just that – a moment in a gray area. The past is instructive, but not necessarily predictive of the future.

The book of our lives is ours to write. It’s only when we look down, when we lose our nerve and fight the ride instead of riding free and loose and adapting as we go, that we drop our pen, lose the narrative and let others write our story, that we lose our way.

But if you make the conscious decision to ride it out, you can better find your way to that point of acceptance on the other side that leaves open a portal of opportunity should the track ever switch back and paths align again, in a new time and place. It leaves space for our hands to reach through to one another, to reconnect in new ways, and take our shared histories to new places if we choose to later on.

So if you’re going through changes, if your core is shaken, and you can only see the world through the narrow dirty windows of that endless in-between, take a breath. Rest, and try not to read too much into everything, since your perspective is likely off because of those tiny little dirty windows of sadness and confusion. The people who love you,  who matter to you, and you to them, the ideas that endure, will still be there for you, at least if you let them be. Those that aren’t there, don’t matter and never did, which might sting a bit but you’ll be stronger anyway and either way.

But take your time. Come out when you’re ready. Then turn and face the strange, dust yourself off, get back in the car and buckle up. Pick up your pen, and start writing again.

Life’s a long game, full of ch ch changes, and the rewards are rich and many for the resilient ones who stay in the game.   Life’s challenging for a lot of people right now, but I’m rooting for you, like others have rooted for me.

There’s a lot left to do.  You got this.  We’re waiting for you, if we’re still part of your journey, and cheering you on even if we’re not.


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