Understanding versus grasping is such a powerful distinction. There is so much we understand, yet struggle to grasp. This is part of what makes effecting change so challenging--there's a disconnect. Some of the friends who read my blog have told me that they see it as a form of my personal processing, and in many ways, they're right. When I look back and read my blog posts, what I see are messages that I understand, but that, for the most part, I am still trying to grasp. This is why you see recurring themes in my writing: I'm still somewhere on the spectrum between understanding and grasping these concepts, so I continue to discuss them. Putting language around what I have come to understand, see, and recognize helps to give me something tangible to hold outside of my mind. My writing allows me to turn a concept into a keepsake, a piece of paper I can go back to and further develop. But naming the thing is only the beginning of the process.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been in a weird place. Some of my closest friends here in Vermont moved out of state, one of my best friends moved to Europe, I am living alone for the first time, and I am just a few weeks shy of starting up graduate school. I have cycled through feeling overwhelmed, sad, and scared--even though I know it'll get better and that I will adjust. I have been rereading my journal entries, poems, and blog posts from other times when I've been in a "transitional funk" and it has been pretty eye opening to see that practically all of the same things are coming up for me, over and over again.
For some time now, I have understood that life is but a series of transitions, that letting go is an essential, unavoidable part of life. I understand that I have survived change before and that I will again. That the intensity of this feeling is temporary. That there are still so many more beautiful chapters in store for me. But I am only on the edge of grasping this.
I have been exploring the depths of change, loss, and letting go in therapy and with friends. Through these experiences, I have had multiple "aha" moments, where for a brief period of time, I can grasp it. I have been able to temporarily hold the secret between my hands and allow it to take a hold of me. Outside of those moments though, I continue to write the same poems and operate from my same old programming. Letting go still feels excruciating. Leaning into future, joyful chapters feels far fetched. The unknown is still the unknown. I continue to grit my teeth and sink my heels into the past. It's like I wish I could perpetually relive the moments of grasping and use that steady knowledge source as my fuel, but I come up short when I'm searching for it. Like with music, as David Steindl-Rast noted, "What's there to grasp?" The grasping state isn't any more permanent than anything else in this life--it's just a glimpse, insight; it cannot be caged or domesticated. I think I imagined that grasping and changing would come hand in hand, but like any other practice, it turns out the change comes with an active persistence, not a passive one. *Sigh*.
In a mindfulness and meditation class that I attended recently (you can listen to the recording from the class here), the guide spoke of life as a river. He asked us to picture ourselves on a raft, floating down a flowing river: sometimes getting caught on a rock for a while, other times moving swiftly downstream. He talked about all that we experience as the scenery along the river bank. We have a tendency to be extremely resistant to going with the flow, to leaning into the unknown. Because, well, it's the unknown (duh). Instead, we tend to cling on to the river bank--to what we know--for our lives. "The river bank you're holding on to is eroding too," the guide gently reminded us. There is really nothing outside of us that can be held on to with certainty. Change and the self are the only two constants we can count on.
In a wave of insecurity, I expressed to the person I'm dating that I've been worrying about things not working out. "What if ____ happened? Or____ ?" Rather than appease me by telling me these things wouldn't happen, he responded by telling me that, if things between us do end someday, yes, it would suck, but we would have so much goodness behind us to be grateful for. Why let the unknowable ruin the now? The permanence of a romantic partnership isn't any more or less of a guarantee than the riverbank or the rest of the scenery, so why let fear drive and miss out on all the fun? This felt like a hard truth to swallow at first, but I'm beginning to understand* that this perspective is more founded in reality than the perceived guarantee of a "forever" and that there is actually a lot of beauty and hope to be found in that perspective. (*One thing at a time--I'll grasp this one later.)
Every time nostalgia has come up for me lately, I've begun to ask myself questions around how it's serving me. I'm realizing that it is easy to rob yourself of joy in the present by holding on too tightly to the past. When a place is engulfed by a cloud of nostalgia, it creates space for comparison and disappointment in the present. At least for me, I feel it's important to work towards shifting my feelings of nostalgia towards feelings of fondness. On paper, that looks to me like "Wow, those times were amazing. What can I do now that is also amazing?" I believe it's worth us taking a closer look at our nostalgia to shine a light on what it is we cherish and miss within those memories. What were you feeling like then? More often than not, when we dig deeper, I think we notice a strong sense of belonging, love, or aliveness in those memories--raw, authentic, moments of grasping...Grasping how lucky we are to be here, that we belong here, that we are not alone. While those experiences of grasping are impermanent, we have the power to do the work of extracting the eternal from the ephemeral. We can pocket those glimpses and use them to shape the guiding principles in our lives, even when the memory of the "aha" moment feels distant. We can choose to actively stroke the fires within us, even as the scenery that helped us start the fires starts to fade out of sight.
We must not hold on too tightly. Everything is fleeting, everything is in a constant state of flux--look to nature if you want to find confirmation. As the meditation guide went on to narrate, we can either walk through the forest admiring the scenery, or walk through the forest with a net behind us, trying to drag the scenery with us. Attempting the latter will weigh us down. It will prolong our suffering and deprive us of joy. We must instead be grateful for what we had, for what we have, and what we will have, without trying to tie it down or have all the answers. We must come to realize that nothing stays the same, that we will never have all of the information. There's magic in the mystery too, but tuning into it is a choice.
Saying goodbye to a friend who is moving is like watching once luscious green leaves fall off a beloved tree at the end of fall. I had the pleasure and privilege of watching the leaves change colors, the tree is still standing and alive, and I know where to find it. The old leaves will never be again, but a changed and growing version of me can love and experience the new leaves that it sprouts. That kind of mass exodus brings sadness, but not without peace. In the change of seasons--both literal and figurative--there is a whole lot of gratitude and opportunity that we can choose to turn ourselves toward, especially when it comes to experiences of loss under normal, comprehensible circumstances. (Also worth noting: thankfully, my friends are not trees, and it is year 2018, which means I can call them, FaceTime them, and continue to find ways to suffocate them from afar. That doesn't mean things feel easy, though.)
I want this blog post to be a grasping rant, not an understanding rant. A springboard towards action. I am sensing a shift in myself where the distance between my consciousness and my pocket full of glimpses is shrinking. Rather than just talk and write about it, I am actively trying to honor my grasp on what it means to let go by faking it until I make it, and repeatedly choosing hope and trust in the future over fear.
May we be brave enough to let go of the river bank and look back on the scenery with more gratitude and less desperation. May we also not deny the fact that letting go is hard and will continue to be, and remember to be kind to and patient with ourselves in the process.
PS. Love you guys.
PSS. Stop leaving me please.