All the Heartache in the World
What to do when despair is the only sane response
I write this week with a heavy heart. I wake up, go to sleep, move, grocery-shop, pack lunches, shower, practice yoga, meditate and talk to our mailman with a heavy heart. I feed the dog that way, do the dishes, check the news…and all the while my heart is heavy. I suppose it’s my hope that does me in, but I’ll hold onto it with everything I have, because without that, what else is there? I hope that we will learn to coexist on this planet without killing one another over land, resources, religion, or just because one person has a gun and gets pissed off at the wrong moment. I hope that we will create a world where school-age kids don’t feel so angry, rejected and alienated that they get their hands on assault weapons and take down half their school on a random Tuesday. I hope that we’ll learn that every human being deserves love, respect, kindness, understanding, access to shelter, medical care, education, water. I hope we’ll learn that this planet we’re on is not ours, that not one person is entitled to plant a flag and say this piece of land belongs to me because I bought it or I took it, or I swindled someone out of it. It shouldn’t have been sold to you because it never belonged to the person who handed over the deed. We’ve created insanity and we live in a world of insanity every day, and it isn’t easy. It’s why so many people struggle with mental health - the fact is, all of us should struggle because almost none of this makes sense.
Photo by Brett Ritchie on Unsplash
We didn’t create this planet, we just arrived here and grew up here and eventually we named it Earth. There was a time when we looked around in awe, stared at the stars, tried to figure out the miracle we were living in, the way the seasons work and the earth spins, the way the sun rises and sets and the moon comes out at night. We used to revere nature and respect the sea and live in harmony with our surroundings. But as time went on, we became less connected to one another. We didn’t live in groups anymore, and we created money and agriculture and manufacturing. People began to live in boxes with doors and windows so they were more sheltered from the elements, but also less connected to their neighbors. The thing is, we don’t own this planet, we just get to borrow it for a time, for our lifespans. The earth is about 4 billion years old. Each one of us gets about a hundred years if we’re very lucky. Who are any of us to think we get to decide how things should be, when we’re only going to be here for a blink of time, anyway? We are honestly so blind and naive to think life is about money and accruing things. Both my parents have died in the last few years and guess who boxed up all their precious belongings and figured out what to do with them? You don’t get to take it with you, the biggest gift you get is time and genuine connection to other human beings. That’s the gold.
If you’re lucky you get to travel, to see the world, to talk to people who live differently than you, to have deep conversations about things that matter, to feel truly understood by at least a few people, to know you’re deeply loved and to love people with your whole, big heart, to laugh your ass off, to dig your feet in the incredible white sand of a beach that doesn’t look real, to be surrounded by people who speak other languages and still feel at home in yourself, to have your heart broken so you know how despair feels, to lose people you don’t know how to live without, to watch your children grow taller than you, to call your best friend in the middle of the night and ask if they’ll get on a plane because you’re not okay, to listen to great music and eat delicious food and dance until you sweat and sing even if you can’t hold a tune, to create art and learn to be a decent, loving, empathetic person, and maybe, if you’re very lucky, to have at least one great dog in your lifetime. That’s the stuff. The earth was spinning before we got here and it will be spinning long after we are gone. We just get to live here, and there are finite but plentiful resources for all, but only if we aren’t selfish asshats who want to dominate one another and continue to take more than we need. Here are a bunch of things we’ve created out of thin air: borders, countries, languages, governments, laws, religions, currency, botox. We created all this. (We’ve also created art, music, literature, poetry…it’s not all bad). We could have created something different and we still can, but right now, this is the mess we’ve created and this is where we live and if you’re having a hard time with it, that makes you sane.
Anytime you see people killing each other, you’re seeing the basest part of human nature. You’re seeing one person who feels angry, violated, unseen, disrespected, desperate or somehow justified, fighting someone else who feels the same way. I’m probably not going to include anything I’ve just written in the personal essay this week, but it’s everything I feel and it should go somewhere so it isn’t stuck in my brain. Also, how do you write a personal essay about relationships and childhood wounds when every person reading it has been bombarded with videos of things that really ought to just do you in. They’ve done me in. My heart hurts. I feel enormous sadness. I feel like humans are not getting the memo and I don’t know if we ever will. I worry for my kids. This morning, my husband and I were out taking our morning walk and on the way home we saw a coyote run down the middle of the street where traffic would normally be, at 10am on a weekday morning. In the middle of Santa Monica, a block east of Main Street, like it was normal. It often feels like the world is on fire and people are still going about their business, but I know everyone is feeling this, underneath it all. You can stick to your routine and buy your favorite peanut butter and lament the price of groceries and gas and shake your fists at the current people in power, but these problems are ours. These are human being problems. When we lose our humanity and insist on one side versus another and black-and-white thinking, this is the world we get. Read: when we forget there are no sides and we are all in this together - like it or not - this is the world we get.
I posted something a couple of days ago about feeling utterly heartbroken for all the children in Israel and Gaza, all of them, Israeli children and Palestinian children alike. It is absolutely possible to feel unbelievable heartache for the atrocities committed by Hamas, to feel sick to your stomach for Israeli families mourning the loss of their children, parents, siblings, best friends, beautiful kids at a music festival, someone’s daughter in the back of a pickup truck (I write through tears)…and also feel enormous heartache for Palestinian children in Gaza who are going to die now because of what has happened. You can feel all of that because in all reality there is no such thing as “other people’s children” - my children move through me, I get to love them and feed them and shelter them and teach them anything I know worth teaching, but they don’t belong to me, they belong to themselves and they belong to the world, like everyone else’s children. And yet, there is no weeping like the weeping of a parent whose baby has been killed. I would say if you don’t feel grief, outrage and despair for all the babies suffering violence, something is going wrong. Something is going wrong. My god, something is going wrong.
The only thing I know to do is try to create peace inside myself, and then spread that peace as I move through the world. Everything we see around us in the world is a reflection of everything that’s inside us. Most of us are at war within ourselves in some way or another, because it’s hard to be a human being in a brutal world. It’s hard to trust and open, to cultivate curiosity when you’ve been taught about survival of the fittest, (even though Darwin was much more focused on adaptability as a means to survival than, you know, dominating the people around you and taking what you wanted). We’re taught to compete with each other at school - the kids who do the best are held up as examples and the kids who struggle are sidelined and sometimes shamed, sometimes publicly. Here in the west, we’re told it’s all about how you look. Make it look right on the outside, and the rest of it will take care of itself, but it doesn’t. It does not. See: the world. So when I feel despair, I ask myself where I might be at war inside myself. Where I am not practicing compassion and patience with myself, or tolerance at the very least. Where I might be rejecting certain feelings as not okay, and therefore not worthy of oxygen or attention when maybe the thoughts and feelings need my attention in order to pass through me. Where I am being harsh with myself, or militant. A good marker for any of those things is watching my reaction to other people. If I start to think, “Wow, how could s/he do that, think that, say that, post that?”…I realize there’s probably something in it that makes me think of something inside myself that I recoil from, and I see if I can figure out why I’m feeling insecure, less-than, not-good-enough. It’s not always easy or pretty, but this is the stuff that keeps me on track. That way, at the very least, I can be accountable for the energy I’m spreading as I move through the world, talk to our mailman, walk our dog, write this essay, parent my kids.
One of the most painful things a human being endures is not feeling loved, seen, heard, respected or understood. Not feeling valued. Maybe that speaks to you, maybe you know exactly what that feels like. I felt that way coming out of my childhood. It turns out my mom did love me, I figured that out as a grown woman, right at the end of my mother’s life. But when I entered the world of young adulthood and started forging relationships of my own, I was attracted to people who withheld love, approval, affection. I understood how it felt to earn those things, and to never quite feel that I had them - that felt like home to me. As a result, I ended up hurt, badly, more than once. I also hurt people because I didn’t know what was driving me or what I was trying to solve. I will simply end things by saying human beings are human beings, wherever they may be. When we feel invisible, undervalued, scared, anxious or alone, it does not bring out the best in us. If we feel cornered, attacked, judged, or discarded, generally what we will end up with is rage. There are a lot of very hurt, enraged people in the world. My best hope is that more people will take more time to address the landscape of their inner worlds, do the work to make those worlds more peaceful, and in turn, spread that peace outward. I truly don’t know what else we can do.
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If you’d like to meet me in real time to talk about despair, heartache and how to create a more loving, compassionate world within you, I’ll be here Friday, 10/13/23 at 11:15am PST or you can wait for the Come As You Are Podcast version. And if you’d like to meet me in the real world, I would love that so much. Here are two upcoming possibilities.