I started a long list of things I am grateful for, but it did not have the magic I wanted it to have. Its true, what I love is mundane: the beauty of the physical world, the way my body functions as it was intended to, the fact that all my basic needs are taken care of, the fact that I have a wife who loves me, a perfect daughter, a great job, art, poetry, friends, a keen mind, a strong body, a fearless heart full of love for the world in all of its broken grandure…
the regular stuff.
For years I struggled with depression. I did not know how to cope with it, and it dragged me down pretty reliably. It hardly ever kept me from going to work, but it wore on my family and on me. For weeks at a time all I would want to do is sleep, or drink until I passed out. Everything was bland and ugly and meaningless, and getting out of the deal was the only thing that made any sense to me. Luckily I was never so overwhelmed that I lost site of the love of my family, but it was the sense of obligation to them that kept me breathing, not any desire of my own.
But for the past couple of years I’ve been free of the debilitating effects that depression used to have on me. I saw someone for a couple of months who kind of turned my head and helped me step onto this path I’ve been on, and I decided to take the reins of my life into my own hands in a way that I had never done before. At first it seemed like the worst kind of fakery:
making all these lists, monitoring my self-talk, meditating, understanding my feelings, dealing with my rage, etc. Whoo-hoo. I felt like an idiot.
But I was so miserable that I was willing to do anything. And that is what pain does at its best. It helps to dislodge you from your current place and nudge you toward the light.
So now I find myself a changed man. Sure, the weather still blows in from time to time, and I feel the old soul-numbing gloom sweep over me, but it no longer has any power over me. Like a cloud that obstructs the sun for a moment, but does not touch the sun. The light dims, but the wind shifts soon enough and the light returns as bright as ever.
What I have learned is that I am responsible for my own happiness. What a trite little lesson, but a hard won one. How freeing this knowledge is. It is not my wife’s duty to make me happy, or the President’s, or vodka’s, or God’s.
It’s just mine.
So now I make sure that I do this most important job every day. I wake up, and I make a deal with myself to have a great fucking day. I promise myself to see the beauty in the simple things. I look at the sky. I watch the ocean. My heart lifts along with the birds as they take wing in masses from the eucalyptus trees that edge the highway. I treasure the aroma of the morning coffee, the sounds of my wife and daughter still sleeping as I get ready for work, the joyful presence of the dogs as they slap their tails on the floor or nudge the back door to be let out….I make a point to really see the people I work with, to really listen to them, to find a moment or two every day to just be with them and let my own preconceptions go….this is an amazing exercise- you should try it. How full of ourselves we always are! These people are always surprising me with their humanity, their dramas, stresses, joys….
I play hooky. I treat myself to ice cream, or a beer, or a long, long run….whatever I want, I give to myself. As a gift. In the spirit of loving kindness, and in the certain knowledge that my days are numbered.
If you are your own best friend, you will never be alone again.
And I have learned that compassion, once awakened, is the most powerful force you can know. I found it easier at first to have compassion for those I loved…compassion for myself was such a foreign concept that it took a long time for me to accept it as a valid stance. But once I did, the whole world changed.
I’m still learning. I am still too quick to judge, too quick to dismiss, especially the people on the fringe of society, the homeless and lost…its easier for me to imagine I am compassionate toward them that it is to actually feel compassion for them when I am confronted with them in person…but I’m getting better all the time.
I love this life. I am grateful for it all.