The Fight to Stay in the Light
Oh snap. I have recently come to the realization that conscious living takes constant effort. Now that we have started this blog, I feel the pressure to live what we’re preaching. I can’t write about embracing joy and love and then continually succumb to the doldrums of my less-than-glamorous life. This spiritual journey is no joke. I am going to have to hunker down and continually check myself, adjust and re-adjust.
Sometimes, in the midst of a busy work and school week, I feel like I’m going through the motions, robotically returning phone calls and e-mails; making dinner and packing school lunches for the kids; plodding through bath time. Click…I turn myself off to get it all done. I power through the day so I can go to bed and start over. In these moments, I am numb and glazy-eyed and definitely not experiencing joy or mindfulness.
Being joyful in the midst of life’s many ordinary moments is HARD work. As best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert (www.elizabethgilbert.com) said during an interview with Joe Fassler of The Atlantic, we have to cultivate “stubborn gladness” even when life gets challenging. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/11/the-stubborn-gladness-of-elizabeth-gilberts-favorite-poet/281158/. She borrowed this concept of “stubborn gladness” from a poem, “A Brief For the Defense,” written by Jack Gilbert. This poem posits that the world is both terrible and awe-inspiring and reminds us to cultivate wonder and delight even when life is at its most bleak. She pulls “stubborn gladness” from his statement that, “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world.”
Sometimes, my “ruthless furnace” is emptying out the dishwasher. Yours may be folding another mountain of laundry (seriously, it never ends) or scraping PlayDoh off the floor. Or you may have a true furnace on your hands, battling an illness or trudging through a cemetery of grief. Is it possible to find joy and beauty even in life’s mundane and dark moments?
Back to my ruthless furnace, the dishwasher. Every other day, I spend 4 minutes, 22 seconds emptying the dishwasher. Stacking the plates, untangling the forks and spoons, wearing a path from the dishwasher to the cabinets. I hate it. When the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, I will take every effort to avoid emptying it. I will even hand-wash dirty dishes, I will scrub caked-on grime with zest, all while glaring sideways at that devilishly-full dishwasher. When I finally succumb to the inevitable duty, I boil and bubble with rage, stacking the dishes with a little too much vim and vigor.
I’m not sure why this task fills me with such dread. Perhaps it is because it is so constant, so repetitive, and so boring. And because this task ALWAYS falls to me. Much of life is like this, especially in the midst of raising children. Of course, there are moments of great joy and beauty, but in between the hills and valleys, the plateaus can be a little boring. (see Exhibit A: How I Spend My Friday Nights). I’m discovering that settling into those plateaus and allowing the old habits and negative attitudes to surface is actually easier than cultivating “stubborn gladness.” Those bad habits, that gloomy outlook, that tendency toward mediocrity, are like an old pair of cozy socks. (But the socks stink just a touch and have a hole where your big toe peeks out.)
So WHY should we take on this struggle and great effort to live a more meaningful life and be true to ourselves?
Because this is what it takes to feel truly alive, to feel the electricity of getting out of your comfort zone and connecting with yourself in a way that feels like LOVE. This is getting quiet enough to allow yourself to truly relax, let it go (whatever “it” is), and melt into who you are called to be. This is a choice to shun that deadened feeling and instead embrace the good in life, be ridiculously delighted by the beauty of every sunset, and be every bit your beautiful, magnificently-divine self. These are the reasons to take on the challenge of living a conscious life.
And so I will clean out the dishwasher once again, but this time, I will take 28 deep breaths while doing it, and I will think, “Wow, that breath was a gift. And that one too. And that one too.” However difficult it is, I will push through the boring and find the beauty. I will think how lucky I am to have a machine that swishes hot water and soap on my dishes so I don’t have to. I am blessed. I am blessed! I will hold on and fight to stay in the light.