Sunshine all the time makes a desert. Arab Proverb
In the physical world, sunshine all day and day after day is not a good thing. Without shadow, without the dark of night and without rain-swept days, life as we know it could exist. The physical world needs a balance of environmental conditions to continue to be, let alone thrive.
We too need the dark night of the soul, the shadows and the storms of daily living along with the lighter, brighter times to flourish and grow.
We need the not-so-good times in order to appreciate the better times. Loss helps us to appreciate the blessings in our lives. Hardship makes us more appreciative of times of ease. Aloneness makes us grateful for times of connection with those we love.
And the tough times provide us an avenue for learning as well as building resourcefulness and resilience.
It might even be that too much of a good thing can actually bring unpleasant if not disastrous results. I mean who wants to eat cake all day, every day? Pretty gaggy, yes?
Bodily, mentally and spiritually we need a balance of conditions much as the physical world does.
And yet and yet, we long for never-ending sunshine.
Longing and the Source of Longing
“We long for things that harm us and run from the things that grow and heal us. We think good is bad and bad is good.” Tessa Afshar
It is impossible to recreate the past or predict the future, yet many of us thirst for the good times, bygone and yet to come. Such longing removes us from our present circumstances, most especially if they are uncomfortable
So, we long for nirvana, heaven on earth, where there are no disappointments, challenges or disturbances and with nothing to spoil our peace of mind. In this scenario, we seek perfection in ourselves, in others and in life. And that ceaseless yearning can produce enormous amounts of suffering.
Then why do we do it?
It is my belief that longing flows out the pain underlying our inability to deal with life as it actually is and not how we imagine or wish it to be. And so, to numb our pain, we look for an escape hatch, meaning that we engage in various diversions to numb our feelings. We distract ourselves with activities (e.g. busyness) and addictive substances and behaviors.
These escape mechanisms, of course, can create their own difficulties, their own anguish. And they resolve nothing because the initial problem is still there.
Dealing with a Life in Sharp Relief
“It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.” Proverb
So the question remains, how do we deal with a life in sharp relief – a full life with its ups, downs and sideways? And sometimes a life of seemingly dull and boring sameness?
Here are some practices that I have found helpful.
Willingness. Having some modicum of willingness to accept things as they are is, at least for me, the first step. This does not mean that I absolutely accept life as it is, but I am nevertheless willing to give it a go. Or, in the very least, willing to consider it as an option. This paves the way for the next practice.
Acceptance. Somehow, someway being able to accept life as it is, springs out of willingness. In my experience, it almost sneaks up on me. It just happens; it can’t be forced. And there is a strange kind of peace that arises when I do not just understand it intellectually but can feel it in my bones. It happens when I can accept that life is impartial – that life is not out to get me. It happens when I can accept that life is a by its nature a conglomeration of good days, unpleasant days and often plain old neutral ones. And a significant part of this arising peace is the realization that my self-will is a pretty limited thing. I don’t have absolute control over myself, let alone other people, places and events.
Changing what I can. As inferred, my sphere of control is quite limited and that mainly any control that I do have is in relation to myself — and I am often a pretty difficult customer to deal with. Thus, I can only do my best to change my behaviors and attitudes. I can endeavor to make wiser choices. However, the outcome of my choices is quite out of my hands. Of course, my behavior and attitudes can and do impact others. Therefore positive changes in me can foster improvement in, for example, my relationships, but there are no guarantees.
Trusting then letting go. As I am unable to control the outcomes of my actions as well as other people, places and events, I am left in a quandary. How do I feel safe in this unpredictable and uncontrollable place we call life? For me, it comes down to trust in something greater than me. This is not difficult – after all, I am just the tiniest of particles in this boundless universe, am I not? Nevertheless, for me, this power greater is undefinable. I just know that it is somewhere out there or somewhere deep inside me. And so, without much or any intervention on my part, I am more and more able to trust that things will somehow work out and maybe even better than I imagined. I have done my best, I tell myself, and now it is time to just let it go. Hence my serenity formula becomes this: action plus trust plus letting go of the outcome equals peace of mind.
Gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful remedy for control-freaks and negative thinkers. It is a mood-lifter. So when my mind starts to take me down into pessimistic, even catastrophic thinking, I just need to recount the many blessings in my day and in my life. There is more in my life that is good than there is bad, sad or horrible. And even on the worst days there is something to be grateful for like the sunshine, the wind and the rain, and the shadows of the night.
“I grow strong and stand tall as I embrace the winds of life with gratitude.”