ICE AND SKY
Hard times are always closer than we think, but we can’t live like that.
As our everyday life morphs and evaporates in front of our eyes, it can be hard to have hope in our heart.
We wake up one morning and everything is different. It even looks different. Empty streets. Empty restaurants and bars. A bathroom nearly empty of toilet paper. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) (And I get to joke about it, because I decided not to do my usual stock-up-on-two-months’-worth-of-toilet-paper last week, and now I’m sorry I didn’t.)
Was it only a week ago that the steering committee for a major county-wide open studio tour get into a passionate debate about whether to shift the dates for our event to avoid fire season in California? Now we can wonder how many of us will even be able to participate at all.
But as we left the meeting room, a friend said something, and I responded with a phrase that was one of my late father’s favorites:
We are all walking on thin ice, every day.
We just don’t know it.
My dad wasn’t really a philosopher. When he was angry with me, he’d warn me with, “You’re treadin’ on thin ice!” I knew I had to either stop or hunker down, or there would be consequences.
He meant, of course, that if I kept it up (whatever “it” was), I’d get smacked. Looking back, I’m grateful he let me know! It allowed me to make the changes that would avoid that.
But as we go through life, it turns out we are treading on thin ice every day. We are almost always only a step or two, one crack, away from catastrophe. We are always only one step away from the event that could change our lives, forever.
We’ve all experienced the panic of a car that suddenly veers into our lane, or the driver that runs a red light as we enter the intersection.
We’ve probably all been through the medical test result that suddenly takes away our notion that we’re in “good health”.
We’ve had that dreaded phone call from the police, or the hospital, in the middle of the night.
We can be cautious, we can be prudent, we can try to avoid all risk and potential danger. But it won’t protect us from the random acts of other people, our own occasional idiocy, and the forces of nature.
Suddenly, we look down, and realize we are walking on thin ice.
We could fall through any second.
It’s the bottom of our world falling out from under us.
And yet, we can’t live like that.
If we were aware of this potential danger every second of our lives, our lives would be miserable.
Our lizard brain, of course, is happy to help us see danger everywhere. After all, its job is to protect us, and it works very hard at that.
Yet another part of our brain sees life as “normal”. Our loved ones will be there when we wake up in the morning. There will be food in the fridge. There will be no incidents as we drive to work. Everybody will stop at the red lights. There will be toilet paper at the grocery store.
That’s why we are so shocked when the ice breaks. We’ve been lulled into believing the ordinary will stay ordinary.
Should we listen to our lizard brain more?
That doesn’t work.
It seems the more I worry, the more I find to worry about. This is when we obsessively worry, all the time. When we try to control and manage every aspect of our modern lives. It’s a toxic, never-ending cycle that never gives us what we crave: Peace in our hearts.
Life is uncertain, yes. There will always be things that are beyond our control. There is danger lurking everywhere.
There is also beauty, and goodness, and tiny moments of insight and clarity, even in the darkest hours.
They can be so tiny, we can’t see them until after the worst is over. They may seem so insignificant, we can’t image their utility, until later.
There is almost always a gift there, albeit one we would probably never choose deliberately.
We can see this in action, especially through the internet, even now. There are people who are angry, freaked out. People looking for someone to blame.
People whose fears overcome their consideration for others in the same boat. (The images of people with a year’s worth of toilet paper in their shopping carts.)
Yet a friend shared a post on Facebook recently that moved me to tears. The original post shares the beauty, wonder, and solace to be found in these frightening times.
As artists, we are fortunate. Making our art can restore us to our highest, best selves. (Except when I drop that box of seed beads on the floor and spend the next hour patiently picking up and sorting each one…) (Which, okay, I start out yelling and end up in a Zen state. For real!)
We may be afraid, but we have a place in the world.
Yesterday, our county set a “shelter in place” protocol for all residents. I raced to the studio to bring home enough supplies to work at home.
A storm system was passing through, and a rain cloud was just leaving. It held the sky, dark and dismal, with tiny patches where the sun shone through.
As I looked up, a large flock of snowy egrets burst into the sky, and flew away.
Great white birds, flying as one, as flocks do, their snowy feathers catching a random ray of sunshine, silhouetted against dark, stormy clouds.
It took my breath away.
Take a few minutes today to find your happy place. Find a little time to do your creative work. If you can’t get there right now, make notes for your next project. Imagine the steps. Write them down. Savor the anticipation.
Find a favorite book to reread, relishing the bits you might have skipped over in your racing through to find out what happened.
Share something that lifts your heart. In the comments, share a tiny blessing you’ve found in the last few weeks.
Post a link to something you’ve found comforting, uplifting. It could be a beloved poem, or a thought you’ve had, something you’ve read or experienced that lifted your heart. It will lift the hearts of others.
Think of small ways you can help, right now, with the causes dear to your heart. Donate online to agencies that are forces for good in the world. Even a couple of dollars can make a difference.
Set aside your greatest fear for now, not because it’s “unlikely”, but because it doesn’t serve you right now.
I mean, yeah, follow the “shelter at home” protocol if your state has set them. Do what is recommended and required, and take exquisite care of yourself and your loved ones.
But also find ways to let your lizard brain know you’ve got this. Thank your lizard brain for trying so hard to keep you safe. Then let it rest for a while.
You can still be the best “you” in the world, today, if you try. The internet can be a curse, or a blessing.
Today, use it as a blessing to share your own moment of Zen.
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