Birthdays can be such profound time of year for grasping some some of the broader truths of this existence. On mine, the other day, I was at once receiving well-wishing messages as I was receiving updates on a Facebook thread I had commented on that morning, posted by a friend whose elderly father was slipping away from this life in his hospital bed. There I was, strolling in a beautiful garden in the sunshine with a decidedly celebratory feeling in the air…and at the same time, I was also feeling deepest compassion for my friend as these two distinct kinds of phone alert continued to arrive in the strangest juxtaposition, one after another or often in pairs.
That evening, I read the update of my friend’s situation, with its attached photo of her dad in his hospital bed and the caption “Breathe in dad, breathe out….that’s all there is, this now” and it struck me how this is so universally true for each of us, all the time, though we so often forget when we are in the very thick of life. Then another bizarre juxtaposition occurred, this time in my newsfeed as I scrolled down to the very next post, an announcement from another friend whose grandchild had just been born. Literally bubbling over with the kind of excitement that leaps from the page, it declared “welcome to this world, welcome to planet earth, we’re so very excited…”
So there it was laid out for me in stark contrast on the anniversary of my own launch into this world; the beginning and end points of life, the start of what often feels like a race and then the drawing to a halt; breathless, tired. Yet were these two place markers of the life experience so very contrasty or is it the way we conduct the journey between the two that is often so out of sync with these constants.
From that one tiny starting point, the helpless babe in arms, we rocket-launch into this life like marathon runners from a starting gun, so very eager to get started from the first moment we draw breath, then surrounded by so many people who are just as eager, it seems, to keep track of our every progression (from first tooth to final salary) and so we quickly become fixed upon keeping that same racy momentum going all of our days. Our enthusiasm for life is infectious, we run at everything – even the problems – like children unleashed in a toyshop, making everything urgent, everything ‘the next big thing’ we ‘must’ get to, ‘must’ overcome, ‘must’ collect, ‘must’ achieve. We live attached to a drip-feed of anticipation, always striving, waiting, hoping for something up ahead. Its wonderful, its endlessly invigorating, its so very very human and unlikely to change any time soon…but until our quieter, more defeated moments and sometimes until our last, we forget that other truth. Breathe, just breathe. Be fully in this moment.
When we put those two things together – the crazy joy of being alive and the unshakable awareness of the stillness within – what a team! Even in the midst of having way too much to do, of explosive joy, of runaway success or the struggle to survive, of family mayhem, of catastrophic illness, of whatever life throws at us, this one truth resounds – that we are complete and whole and already ‘there’ in this moment and there is nothing more to do, no fire to put out, so we can just allow ourselves to ‘be’ (if only we can remember how). In fact, these are our most inspired moments, the ones when we just ‘know’ what we are all about, without any pretence to others or ourselves.
Life can throw us a curve ball or pull the rug from right under us but in this place of ‘now’ we are endlessly whole and once in there (and fully aware) we get to repair, to recalibrate, can allow all the newest, most inspired information to flood in ready to inform our next steps. Best of all, we start to trust in our ability to take those steps as they were meant to be taken…without the big race, the endless planning, the striving, the push and shove, the desperate urgency but, rather, one step and one breath at a time.
I do know this stuff (though like most people, I forget). I was in the process of re-knowing it in that garden on Friday, life having just thrown me a curve-ball that had winded me, had thrown my plans and expectations into disarray and left me with a huge empty space where I thought I had something great going on, something I had worked towards for months. My day out was providing the reminder of my own best way of dealing with this; I was pushing the tatters of my hopes to one side and just taking one moment at a time…one step at a time…and I am still in that space right now; not raking over the rubble of my plans, not forcing myself to shake down and start over again just yet but just allowing things to be as they are and just being in each moment. It feels like the most precious gift I can give myself right now.
So, when life is racing and swirling and pushing and shoving all around us, or hurling curve balls in our path, how do we get into this clear space and stay there? All it takes is focusing on the quiet, steady focal point of one breath after another to re-find our centre-point; that aspect of us that signed up for this crazy ride and which will out-survive it and, no doubt, be back for yet another go as soon as its over, like an excitable child at the fairground. Its an aspect of ourselves that simply isn’t phased by anything that ‘happens to’ us and so it has some extraordinary perspectives to share; ones we might otherwise miss. Taking pause in this space reunites us with the stillness that we really are, provides the ultimate perspective and easy clues to guide us through all of the most crazy turbulence, the tangled pathways, the tides of overwhelm and all those indefatigable waves of “I just don’t know what I want from life anymore or how to get to it”. In this space, the stuff that seemed oh-so important for the longest time just isn’t anymore – its quite incredible how quickly things recalibrate. Just one step then another step, this moment followed by another moment, in time with our breath…and learning how to be here, fully, in this moment – this is the gift so often received at the very end of our lives but how so much more of a gift when remembered from within it.
Being reminded of this was one of my greatest gifts, this birthday.