I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m someone who believes in the power of mantras, words to focus on to redirect one’s thoughts. In fact, all the chapter headings in my book are the actual words I repeated to myself as I went through each stage of my divorce (and all the subsequent life crises), and starting putting myself and my sense of the world back together again. I am alone, but I am not totally alone. When the world gets too big, think small. When I accept I cannot be safe, I can be safe.
In recent months, my mind has drifted toward terrible, dark noise instead of words of strength and wisdom. I’m still not quite sure why I’ve been so brought to my knees with such definitiveness now, so many months and months after all the crises started (well, actually, I have some ideas, but they’re still not quite clear enough to articulate), but whatever the reason, it’s been jarring to see that so many of my familiar coping devices are eluding me. And instead, I’ve been reinforcing my gloom and my sense of disconnection from any forward motion, by doing the mental equivalent of throwing up my hands in despair and crawling under the covers and waiting for some kind of flames to engulf me.
I give up. (And at the darkest times I can’t decide what’s worse: that I feel that defeated, or the fact that there aren’t any flames.) There’s a canyon of difference between wanting to be dead and wanting simply not to Be Here, but the latter is bad enough even still.
I have been searching for a mantra that would encompass that feeling of submission, of being flat-out exhausted by the hard and harder that can pile up in life. I asked my shrink to tell me what words I could replace the dark words with, and she, of course, asked me to speak aloud what they were, what they could be for me. I had a blank. No idea. And I’m not a person who generally experiences a lack of words.
Unimaginable things happen in life. Families who’ve lost one child, lose a second. Or a family decides to let their son walk home from camp, and on the very first day he’s abducted and killed in a grisly, ghastly manner. Angry ex-boyfriends strangle their high school girlfriends for breaking up with them, destroying innumerable lives in an instant. And there are the lesser agonies that are no easier to bear: years of underemployment tearing at a family’s foundation; a friendship tossed aside over a bungled misunderstanding; a much-loved plan for a business that fails; the echoing, simple heartbreak of life not turning out the way you hoped it would.
Finally I came up with this, weakly: “I am living it, it is unfolding.” I’m not actually stuck. Everything hasn’t come to a grinding halt. I am continuing to find my way, even though I haven’t found my way yet, even though it doesn’t feel like I’m finding my way. Life happens.
She nodded, my sage, wise friend, who guides me to my own wisdom somehow.
I had this stunning and blessedly simple insight in my book, too. Which goes to show that you can live and learn life’s lessons and have to learn them again. (Annoying, that!)
So today I was scrolling around on my desktop, as I was looking for files for an article I’m working on, and I stumbled across this, and I gasped. Oh, how I need this! And I needed it today, right now. (Actually I needed it a couple of weeks ago, but why quibble?)
“Trust Your Struggle.” That’s even better than “I am living it.” I am going to choose to Trust My Struggle, because I know I’m paying attention, I know I’m trying to find my way with open eyes and not hide from whatever I have to feel, I know I’m not looking for some instant answer. I’m not looking for help; I’m looking for peace.
And if I Trust My Struggle, I’ll get there. And so will you, if you Trust Your Struggle, whatever it may be. Now close your eyes and repeat.