Chutes And Ladders

“It doesn’t matter how bad things get.  It doesn’t matter how dark the clouds are.  You have to believe, deep in your heart, that the sun is still shining, even if, right now, you can’t feel anything except the continual downpour.” ~ SSHenry

There are times in each of our lives; moments, days, months even; when we feel like giving up; when we feel that going through the motions of daily life are just too difficult and it would be easier to curl ourselves into a small ball and just wait for it all to end.

I’ve had one of those years.

The details don’t matter.  Suffice it to say that a year ago something happened to me that turned my world upside down.  It began with a single event and cascaded (as single events tend to do) into a thundering waterfall of circumstances that swept away nearly every aspect of who and what I was.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look at the dates on my writing here on the website.  You’ll notice that since a year ago the entries became fewer and farther between.  There would be months between entries.  That is because I was spending every last ounce of energy keeping my head above water; trying desperately not to drown in my own tears.

I was left clinging tenaciously to one thing and, oddly enough, it wasn’t someone or something outside of myself that I found myself clinging to.  It was an inner knowing; an understanding that even though it felt as if all of my insides had been torn out through my chest and kicked about by people in very dirty and heavy work boots before being randomly stuffed back in, it was going to be ok.

Somewhere deep inside I knew that even though it felt as if things would never get better, that this was just one of life’s weird twists.  It wasn’t the end.  It was more like the square on the Shute’s and Ladders board where you plummet back to nearly the beginning before picking yourself up and beginning the climb all over again.

Mind you, that didn’t make it any easier to handle.  That didn’t make the days any easier to face.  What it did was enable me to use my meditation and mindfulness skills to focus on the right here and now, as painful as it was; on getting through today.  Not looking towards tomorrow.  Not planning for the future;  just on getting through the day; through the morning; through the next hour.  I survived moment by moment until the hole in my heart scabbed over and reduced itself to an aching throb.

And after nearly a year’s worth of mornings where the alarm would go off and I would groan in disappointment at finding myself still alive and at the prospect of having to deal with yet another pointless and meaningless day; after nearly a year’s worth of days finding myself bursting into tears for no particular reason; one morning I surprised myself by waking up with a smile in my heart.  I could feel the sun again, and see colors.

Sure enough, when I checked the scab that had covered the hole where my insides were torn out had finally fallen off, leaving new pink skin underneath.  Mind you, it’s still very, very tender, and painful when exposed to the air or vigorous rubbing.  But it’s whole.  And I can feel my insides carefully rearranging themselves.  I think there may be a few pieces missing, for there certainly seems to be an emptiness inside that wasn’t there before.

Or maybe there is nothing missing.  Maybe during this last year, while I was focusing on getting through the day; maybe I grew.  Maybe it is not that there is something missing.  Maybe instead it is that there is now room inside of me; room for more; more of everything.

The Dark Demon of Despair

“Have you ever dealt with the dark demon of despair? Have you ever invited him to walk with you as you wend your way through life? Has he ever held your hand as you balanced on the razor’s edge of sanity and seduced you with his promises of oblivion?” ~ SSHenry

Sometimes the demon of despair doesn’t need an invitation.  Sometimes he just appears out of the clear blue and swoops you up before you have a chance to protest.  One minute you are on top of the world.  The next minute you’ve been dragged down into a morass of pain so deep that you are sure that you will never find a way out.

And sometimes; sometimes it seems that the only way to be rid of the pain is to stop living.

Yes, I know despair is not the usual topic for this time of the year.  Usually we focus on love and romance and the promise of spring, but here is the thing; there are people all around you who are grappling with this demon even as we speak.  Who knows, you may be one of them yourself.  And it is times of the year like this; holidays dedicated to love and family and having a positive outlook on life that can be the hardest for these people because it emphasizes everything that they do not (or that they no longer) have.

The reasons why any one of us may give in to this demon are as many and as varied as there are people in the world.  Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you to death.  Perhaps you love has left you for someone else.  Perhaps you’ve received bad news regarding your job or your finances or your health.  Perhaps you have simply become jaded by life and no longer see the purpose of it all. Does it really matter?  If there is one thing about the demon, it is that he is an equal opportunity employer and absolutely no respecter of persons.

And while we may not be able to predict when this demon comes to call or just how hard he’ll impact us when he does, we do have a choice of whether or not we will give in to the despair that is his dark inheritance.

Yes.  There are going to be days when it seems that we cannot take a single more moment; moments that are so painful that the thought of bearing one more instant is physically painful.  But there is one way to ensure that the despair will not consume you entirely and that is to find your anchor of joy.

Your anchor of joy is what keeps you tethered to the knowledge that this clinging fog of doubt and depression is not the way it always was, nor the way it always will be.  And while it may seem impossible to remember the good times when the darkness threatens to swallow you whole, if you can find just one moment of joy in each day and hold that close to your heart, it can be enough to keep you alive.

It doesn’t have to be anything big.  Perhaps it is the contented purr of a cat, the vivid colors of a spectacular sunset, the overwhelming awesomeness of your favorite piece music or the simple beauty in a budding flower.  It may even be something more mundane like the deep robust scent of your coffee, the way the sun slants through your bedroom window or the feel of clean sheets against your skin.

Whatever it is that brings you that moment of joy, however brief, hold it close.  Hold it tight.  As you slog through the rest of your day; as the cold darkness of despair threatens to engulf you, focus on that moment.  Relieve it in your mind as many times as you need to and know that there is hope.

And one morning you will wake up to find that the one moment has become two, and then three and, before you know it they will have multiplied and you will have banished that cold dark demon from your life and will be living in the sunlight once again.

So don’t give up.  And if you know someone close to you that is wrestling with this particular demon, don’t give up on them.  Help them to find their anchor of joy.  You cannot find it for them, but you can help them to recognize it for what it is and encourage them to hold it close to their hearts and hold tight to the knowledge that there are brighter days to come.

All it Takes is Gratitude

 “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~Melody Beattie

It has been said that gratitude is the real bread of life; that without it life becomes bleak and bare and lacking in so many different ways.  And yet, how many times do we actually stop to express our gratitude for what we have been given?

I’m not talking about common courtesy; saying thank you when someone does something for you and things of that ilk.  No, I’m talking about real gratitude.  I’m talking about a heartfelt appreciation for everything that you have in your life, no matter how small or insignificant you may consider it to be.

Believe it or not, even the poorest of those who will read this are better off than half the world’s population.  For starters, you have the free time to be able to get onto a computer and surf the internet, not to mention that you have access to a computer. You probably have a roof over your head, clothes in your closet and food on your table as well.  You have access to health care (or at least to an emergency room) and have more likely than not received some sort of an education and are able to read and write.

And these are just the fundamental basics! So many people don’t have even this, but that doesn’t stop them from being grateful!  And so many of us have so much more than the basics and yet we are always looking for more.

But what about the intangible things?

What about those things that can’t be touted up on an accounting sheet or listed on a home inventory list?

What about friendship and love?  What about caring and commitment?  What about courage and integrity and creativity?  Do we ever stop long enough in our headlong rush to be grateful for those things that lend the fabric of our lives such rich texture?

In spite of everything that we have; in spite of everything that we have been given, it is so very easy to take what you have for granted – until it isn’t there anymore.  And then, once it’s gone; once it is gone and you can never get it back again, you feel like kicking yourself at every moment that you wasted; every opportunity that passed you by without your noticing.

Most times it is easy to be grateful.  Indeed, when you have everything that you need; when life is sweet and full of interesting people and experiences, gratitude seems to come as naturally as breathing.  We don’t even think about it.  It is simply there.

And yet, there are times when being grateful is the last thing on your mind; when the pain is so deep and the darkness and despair so dark and suffocating that it seems that there is no way that you can ever find your way out.  At these moments gratitude can seem as far away as the surface of the moon, and just about as helpful.

But what if I were to tell you that that is when you need it the most?

Because if you can’t remember the good things in your life, if you can’t bring to mind the bright moments of laughter and life and love that make everything worthwhile, those dark and depressing times can suck you down so far that you may never get out.

This is why it is so very important to practice daily gratitude.

I don’t care how you do it.  Buy a journal, start a blog, post it on Facebook, Tweet it to all of your friends, send out a text message – whatever!  But start today.  List all the things that you are grateful for.  Don’t just do this one time, do it every day.

In fact, make it a habit to find at LEAST five things to be grateful for every day.

On an awesome day you may take up pages listing all the things you are grateful for.  On bad days you may only be able to list a handful.  But believe it or not, this handful can make all of the difference.

You see, there may come a particularly bad day when those things that you have listed are the only things that keep you from giving up altogether; when one or two of the items on that list are all that keep you tethered to life. Those things will become your focus; your reason for living.

And believe it or not, if you can make it through the day; if you can focus on that handful of things that you DO have instead of those things that you do NOT have, eventually it will get better.  In time the good things will begin to multiply again until once more you find your life to be overflowing with life and love, friendship and good fortune and once more life will be worth living.

All it takes is gratitude.

Personal Note:  For me 2012 ended on a tragic note when I found that a close friend had killed themselves just after Christmas.  I cherished every moment that we spent together and even though I had given them all the support and advice that I could – it wasn’t enough.  In the end the pain and sadness that they felt overwhelmed them. They simply couldn’t find a reason to keep living.  This is why this message is so important to me.  Life is fragile and far, far too short; don’t let a moment of it go by unappreciated. 

And please – PLEASE – if one of the things you are grateful for today is someone else; a friend or family member, let them know!  Don’t assume that they already know.  Just tell them.  One day you will be glad that you did.

When Only the Moon Howls

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”

~ George Carlin

We’ve all had those nights; nights when logic and reason abandon us to those thoughts that we usually keep locked up deep in the untouchable places of our minds. You know the thoughts I’m talking about.  The kind that we keep locked up so tight that we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we never entertained them.

It’s on nights like these that we wander around the house searching for something; unsure of what it is that we are looking for but finding nothing but frustration and abandoned hopes scattered like overlooked dust bunnies beneath the larger pieces of our mental furniture.

If you are anything like me you wander from room to room; switching on lights, computers, making a cup of hot tea, running a futile Google search (and usually for random phrases that keep running through your mind), perhaps skulking around the yard in hopes of encountering something unusual to keep us occupied, maybe listening to some music or attempting to read a few chapters in your current book until finally you crawl back into bed and close your eyes in hopes that sleep will finally find you.

It is then of course that they come.

But it isn’t sleep that creeps into the silent spaces in your mind.

It isn’t sleep that seeps into the corners of your heart and congeals in oil-slick pools that make your stomach turn over just looking at them.

It is those dark contemplations; those self-doubts and depreciations and fears that we keep locked away in the daylight; buried deep in air tight caskets like so many vampires relegated to the dungeons beneath our waking thoughts.

For some reason they thrive in the moonlight and bask in the play of shadows that fall across the living room floor.  You can see them slithering along the baseboards and skulking in the darkness under the stairs and worming their way across the landscape of your mind.

The impression of teeth; of claws extending from misshapen hands; hands that are reaching out to tear our self worth into shreds with one swipe and stand growling over the carcass of our sanity like a hell hound bent on tearing our soul right out of its shell. It’s enough to paralyze you; to leave you shivering on the couch with a blanket pulled around your shoulders, hunched against the chill of uncertainty and self-loathing, the tea congealing on the coffee table and every creak and groan in the floors and pipes only underscoring the sinister ambiance.

When these nights come – and they will come – you can either cower in fear and hiding your heart from the despair that they generate, or you can embrace them; pull them into the core of your heart and welcome them with open arms as long lost aspects of yourself.

You see, these unlovely thoughts; these fears and doubts and feelings of impotency and despair are just as much a part of you as the practical and upbeat aspects of your daytime self; the one who always knows just the right words to say and who others look to when they are in need of wisdom and emotional support.  Denying the truth will only give them more power each time that they manage to creep beyond the confines of those deep places to which you have relegated them.

If you embrace them however, if you welcome them as a part of yourself that has heretofore gone unacknowledged and greet them with love you will find a strange thing happening.  Like the early morning mist that dissipates as the sun creeps over the horizon, these dark and loathsome thoughts will melt away in the all-forgiving light of you love.  You will see them as they truly are, and they will lose what power they had over your heart and soul and mind.