I’m learning how easy it can be to experience life as an affront.
When life shows up this way my attention is drawn to everything that is absent. I see how much I long for that cannot be, and the many reasons why that is the case – the limits of my resources and power, the particular place and time in history into which I was born but which I did not choose, the people I have met and not met along the way, the many choices made and the many chances missed. How nothing is ever complete. And how nothing is ever perfect.
Life as an affront is nothing but a series of unrealised and unrealisable expectations which somehow I’m expected to take care of.
It’s not hard to amplify the feelings of shame and resentment and despair that arise from this. I can easily dwell on all the ways I imagine I am to blame for it all. Or, in a more grandiose sense, I can get to feel entitled to a life that spares me from the ever messy, partial, uncontrollable situation in which we all find ourselves, and resentful and fearful at its impossibility.
Sometimes I catch myself in the act of choosing this interpretation of life, for a choice it is, and see that it’s a habit – a way of thinking and feeling in a predictable and familiar way, over and over. A way of sameing myself.
I’m reminded that choosing differently will be difficult and unlikely to become a new kind of habit without my dedication, commitment and constant practice.
So I’m hoping over the coming months to learn from traditions that have chosen a different and more joyful interpretation of life. I want to follow in the footsteps of those who have been attuned to the very real difficulties and suffering we experience and who have nevertheless deeply cultivated their capacity to look upon life with both wonder and joy.
The Sufi tradition in Islam, Hasidism in Judaism, the Jesuit order in Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism all have a strong streak of joyfulness and laughter woven through their stories and practices. They are able to laugh at and laugh from within life, and take joy in the sacred messy incompleteness of everything.
I’m seeing what it could be like to whirl and be whirled by life, to consciously practice finding joy at what is, to love and be loved by life rather than habitually being affronted by it.
Already I’m seeing so much in ordinary life that normally passes me by.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
With thanks to my friend and colleague Lizzie Winn, who invited me to take seriously the idea of living life as a ‘whirling dervish’ and from which this post, and this inquiry, arose.