Considering where I am at in life–both literally and figuratively–I should’ve been prepared for an existential crisis. I’m only in my first year out of undergraduate; I live with retired women who reflect on both their lives and death daily; I’m applying to graduate schools that require me to write about my goals for learning, teaching, writing, and life. Plus, I’m trying to write a memoir about my short life, which requires piecing together common themes, digging for symbols and meaning throughout my meandering path of a life. Is it really a surprise that negative thoughts surfaced, causing me to question my purpose in life–or anyones’ purpose in life? In the past month, we’ve celebrated a 100th birthday and two separate 95th birthday parties. I’m living with women who know a thing or two about how life slips by.
I’ve been thumbing through all my favorite books, looking at underlined passages to remind me about all the joys of being alive. I’ve been re-reading a lot of my favorite writers lately, but especially the woman I’m doing my independent study with this summer. I reread her books for technical reasons, so I could focus on her different strengths at the craft level. This way, I can properly articulate my goals for working with her when we meet in a month. I can’t be happier that I took another look at her latest book Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power. It applies to what I’m experiencing spiritually lately, even directly addressing the issue of existential crises, and how it’s important to be open to what they have to teach us. So, her book woke me up–in the way only good books do. This quote of hers helped me realize what needed to change in my life:
“We are surrounded by the clutter of busy lives, lives busy in part because we clutter them up, trying to fill the nameless needs that we don’t want to feel” (Horbacher 51).
So I’ve spent the past few days taking away the clutter. I stopped working on my final grad app, which may not be wise, because it’s due February 1st. It’s almost done, though, so I felt confident in just relaxing for the weekend. I painted, listened to an audiobook, a ton of “On Being” podcasts from American Public Media. A lot of them I’d listened to before, years ago when the show was called “Speaking of Faith.” I forgot what wisdom is packed into that 50 minute radio show. I also journaled, read, and just sat in silence, which is hella hard. It’s not just sitting in silence that’s hard; it’s sitting still, too! I think Elizabeth Gilbert says it well, in Eat Pray Love, when she writes: “When I ask my mind to rest in stillness, it is astonishing how quickly it will turn (1) bored (2) angry (3) depressed (4) anxious (5) all of the above” (Gilbert 132).
I found one theme, in all of the spiritual literature and interviews I’ve been absorbing, and that’s to slow the eff down. There’s just not a polite way of saying it. They all remind me that I can’t force myself into an epiphany, and chasing spirituality won’t get me anywhere. One of the podcasts talked about how we are entitled to the right to pursue happiness, in America, but sometimes we need to stop pursuing it and let it come to us. And that’s what I’ve done. The past few days have been the medicine I needed.
After pausing this evening, to realize how proud I am of the peace I feel lately, I started digging through my books again–to find some quotes that might inspire me to blog. In my old copy of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (a writer I’ve wanted to be like since I first read her when I was 18), I found some scrap paper from the hospital. In the hospital, my brain was so sick, I couldn’t concentrate to read anything. Yet I found solace browsing through this book. A folded piece of notebook paper fell out. It was covered in scribbled cursive, barely legible because it’s written in yellow colored pencil. Reading it, I realized it’s an activity we did in group therapy in the hospital. We had to write a conversation between our sick and healthy voices, using our dominant hand to write our sick thoughts, and our non-dominant hand to provide “insightful” answers. I remember thinking it was pointless. Hating that I had to get out of bed to sit at a table with people crazier than me. Here is my boring, frustrated, and sick inner dialogue, which will not have quite the punch it packs on paper, seeing the messy child-like handwriting in yellow colored pencil.
Right Hand: I’m concerned about feeling better. Will I ever enjoy living again? Left Hand: In time, you will learn to love life. Right Hand: I hope so. Left Hand: It won’t be easy. It will take effort and patience. Right Hand: I don’t have anymore patience or the energy to put in the effort Left Hand: That’s why you’re here. Rigth Hand: I don’t want to be here. Left Hand: No one does, but you’re getting the help you need.
Finding this note reminds me of how much I’d given up on life, and that an existential crisis is not the same as giving up on life. I think the crisis is fading, anyway. I just needed the old remedy of watching “I ❤ Huckabees,” yoga, reading, and lots of silence. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I’m happy with the results.