Out of the Muck, Ready to Bloom

When things are shit.

I mean when you literally feel stuck in the most bug-ridden, stickiest mess of your life, the things that steadied you may no longer carry the same potency. You are, after all, stuck.

The problem is that ripping yourself free might mean that you lose a favorite boot or sandal and have to walk barefoot through the muck for a while. It may mean that you have to admit you played some part in getting yourself in this pile in the first place. It may mean that it gets worse before it gets better. Let’s admit it, standing stuck in mud sucks. Every step is laborious, and pulling your foot out of the boot to scamper stickily away will feel pretty nasty for a time, too. Sure, you’ll be free of your immoveable position, but you may end up knee deep in stink before you make it to the shower or at least to dry land.

What is Success?

All that to say: the way we define success in these seeming life-sucking situations must change, or else we also succumb to judging ourselves for not smelling like roses when we’re covered in shit, it’s just not realistic.

I am reminded of the end of a long, hot day of backpacking in the Porcupine mountains—heels blistered, out of filtered water, stomach grumbling and menstrual cramps setting in. Attempting to pump water through the filter only clogged it in the muck of a leech, deer fly, and mosquito ridden pond. That night it rained, and donning packs to hike the next day was delayed by airing camping gear dry on a rope between trees. Ironically, this memory recollection more often brings laughs and joy than the distress that may have been felt in the moment. Was it success or failure?

Of late, my day to day, breath to breath has felt much like that evening. I have gone from being a planner, thinking months ahead, plotting dreams and plans for work and pleasure, to only being able to bat away the bugs of the present moment—coaxing myself to get out of bed, to eat, to move, to sit quietly and breathe and not jump all over myself if the tears flow anyway. I am learning to redefine success, and at times to let the bugs buzz without batting them.

Recent Successes:

  • Allowing myself to sleep as much as needed

  • Jogging 5 minutes without stopping or having pain in knee or hip

  • Reading scripture and sitting in the belief that all will be made beautiful, in fact, the beauty is all around me even now

  • Moving my body through 30 minutes of Yoga asana

  • Sitting in 25 minutes of nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and coming back to my breath, even after sobbing co-opted a few minutes of my focus

  • Taking myself on a date to a favorite bar, alone!

  • Appreciating my physical appearance and self-care practices

  • Leaving my phone at home when on a walk in nature or turning it to silent for an hour at a time

  • Reflecting on my needs, intentions and expectations before making even the smallest decisions: what to eat, whether or not to get out of bed, how to spend time while sitting in the unsettling looming of the unknown

  • Smiling without expecting a smile in return

  • Eating something good for me, slowly, without also reading, texting, or otherwise distracting myself (other than my raging thoughts)

  • Preparing food for ailing loved ones, sitting quietly beside and respecting a gentle “no, thank you” when help is offered

  • Swinging my leg over my darling bicycle and peddling into town to write this, albeit 2 hours later than previously intended—no judgment, Andi, you’re here now.

Time for Self-Acceptance

In times like these it is crucial to come back to my intention of self-acceptance:

  • Believing I am beautiful, whether or not those I wish would tell me so are able to say it—I have found that telling myself this is more powerful, anyway!

  • To come back to my breath

  • To notice that an inhale and an exhale are gifts in themselves, not to be taken for granted, they are the essence of human life.

In months like this one, when time passes too slowly, I choose to repeat reminders, like:

I am able to cope with this moment.

I want this or that, but I don’t need it.

I am content, I accept reality.

I can accept not knowing (but of course, I wish I knew—again, no judgment).

In times like these, success becomes as simple as:

  • Keeping my commitments

  • Staying present

  • Maintaining the awareness that I am worth life, that there are still those who benefit from my presence, including me.

The biggest successes come when I own that my emotions are my responses to what is actually happening, they are not what is actually happening itself. Then I can let lips part and teeth come together, cheeks lift and beam like I mean it, until I do.

Boundaries Matter

Rather than lofty goals, my success is being redefined by self-imposed limitations that involve avoiding putting myself in a situation that could give me enough information to bring up, again and again, pain from which I have been healing. I am not always good at this. Turns out delaying knowing a painful truth is just as challenging as delaying gratification. Why do I crave knowing even the ugly things?

Success also involves making some changes for myself. At times I feel as if I have no control over my own life, so I take some:

  • I start running again

  • I let myself sleep in if I need to

  • I sit quietly and cry and pray and scream instead of calling someone else every time I panic

  • I cut off all my hair, and then do it again, and enjoy the unending compliments, and more so my joy and freedom in the burden feeling lighter and lifted from my shoulders.

Pema Chodron in her beloved book, Comfortable With Uncertainty (pp. 79-82) does it so well:

“We practice catching our mind hardening into fixed views and do our best to soften. Through softening, the barriers come down.

There’s no problem with being where you are right now…We can be where we are and at the same time leave wide open the possibility of being able to expand far beyond where we are now in the course of our lifetime…As we continue to relax where we are, our opening expands. When we say, ‘May I have happiness,’ or ‘May I be free of suffering,’ or ‘May any individual have happiness or be free of suffering,’ we are saying that it is the potential of a human being to expand our capacity for opening and caring limitlessly…the full human capacity for connecting with love and compassion, which is limitless, free-flowing warmth…This is our human potential: to connect with the true state of affairs. It begins with where we are.”

Settled in Instability

This refocusing on equanimity, on contentment, on undisturbed stability is the core of my new perspective of success. While nothing actually feels stable around me, I settle myself in the knowing that life continues to gust, blaze, bloom, wave, grow, die, and change. I imagine being like the rock at the shore allowing the waves to polish my sharp edges or like the iris outside my work building, bending and swaying