By Dana Gornall
I met my friend Kate when I applied for an apprenticeship with Elephant Journal.
She was one of the main editors there, and she had this calm, motherly presence about her. She was a few years younger than me, and yet felt wise beyond her years. She was one of those people, you know them…the type of person you can always go to with something that is bugging you and every single time they know the right thing to say. Sometimes it was commiserating, sometimes it was blunt, straight forward advice and sometimes it was just a compassionate ear to listen.
She started building a brand on that skill, and soon began sending out newsletters and holding workshops on self-care. Every time I received one of her emails, I couldn’t delete it. Each one held valuable information that I felt I could use again one day, and so I hoarded them in my inbox.
When she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew in my bones that she would beat it.
Nothing could break this woman’s spirit. She was beyond cancer; she had to be. She went through chemo and surgery, she lost her hair. She modeled different colored wigs and continued sending out newsletters and advice on how to deal with life, how to live with and through cancer. Even on her darkest days she saw the sunlight peeking through. One day after a lengthy chat in messenger I told her how much I looked up to her. To this day I am so glad I told her that.
Two years ago, Kate died.
I still have her emails, and truthfully there are many days when I scroll to the top of my email inbox, type in her name in the search bar, and my screen fills with her words. I often slide the arrow down until I find one that fits the mood I am in or the dilemma I am facing, and re-read it again.
Lately, I find myself night after night, emotionally drained.
The definition of “burn out”: the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.
The year where my youngest child was supposed to finish her senior year and walk across a stage filled with other 2020 seniors. The second decade of the millennium. The year our globe has been locked down with a pandemic, political parties are not only divided, but dispersed so much that no one makes sense anymore. The year that many of us are walking around in homemade cloth masks, while others are shouting about how it is their right to not wear masks. The year of murder hornets and the pentagon releasing a video of a UFO. Many of feel like we went to sleep and woke up in a Black Mirror episode.
And so here we are. And at this stage of the game, a lot of us are feeling like we are running on empty. Each time we try to adjust to what is in front of us, the game changes again. So where do we go from here?
Looking to my friend Kate for advice again, I found this:
There’s a quote I love from Dennis Wholey that says: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you’re a good person is like expecting a bull not to attack you because you’re a vegetarian.” Life brings us so many different things, and when it brings tough stuff, it doesn’t benefit anyone to pretend everything okay.
We breathe. We grieve. We ask for support.
But then what? Then we have a choice. It’s up to each of us to look at what’s come our way and choose between two perspectives. We can ask: “Why is this happening to me?” OR “Why is this happening for me?”
You are the hero in your story.
You are not some random bystander.
So when the dust settles and you’re ready to decide what you need to do, ask yourself: Why is this happening for me? What can I learn here? What patterns does this reveal to me? What’s the big picture? What tools am I gaining from this experience? How can I be gentle with myself through this? What support do I need?
When we look at all of our fortune in life, all of our difficulties, the unexpected and surprising turns our lives take, it would be easy to search for a meaning behind all of it, but the meaning is what we bring to it.
In this month of May we are practicing Metta, and one line in most Metta prayers is: may I/you be happy. When we feel like we can’t give another inch, when we feel like our entire soul is running on empty, we breathe, we grieve and then we ask for support.
Happiness is not smiling all of the time. Most of us associate feelings of joy or laughing with happiness and while it is a part of it—that is only the tip of it. Real happiness is equanimity. It is being able to weather the days that are hard. It is being able to bend so we don’t break and use the resources we have to recover. Sometimes that’s a chat with a friend, sometimes that is looking for professional help, sometimes that is meditating every day for five or ten minutes.
Whatever it means for you, it holds the key to getting through the next step, the next day, the next hour.
It’s 2020 and I don’t know what is around the corner. None of us ever really do. But only we can choose to be the hero of our stories, only we can find the sunshine peeking through the darkest times. We breathe, we grieve and we ask for support.
When we say, may you be happy—whether it for someone else or for ourselves, we are looking at that real, deep happiness that runs through the course of our lives like a steady, unstoppable river. It’s not a flashing moment of laughing or smiling. That may be euphoria, but happiness is something much more solid—and a deep well to access when we are feeling emotionally drained.
“Look at the stars. It won’t fix the economy. It won’t stop wars. It won’t give you flat abs, or better sex or even help you figure out your relationship and what you want to do with your life. But it’s important. It helps you remember that you and your problems are both infinitesimally small and conversely, that you are a piece of an amazing and vast universe. I do it daily—it helps.” ~ Kate Bartolotta
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