Monday’s Meditation: On Enduring What We Imagined We Couldn’t
I was recollecting about a particularly challenging period of my life with my friend when I commented, as we always do, “I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I got through that.”
I was immediately struck by my own utterance of that phrase. It seems we are always declaring our assumed inability to endure struggle. When we speak of hypothetical or future challenges we say, “I can’t imagine getting through that.” When we look back on difficult times we say, “I have no idea how I made it through that.”
There must be something there. After all, we know we are capable and caring and strong. And yet we doubt our ability to be so, we immediately forget having been so.
The majority of us are myopic creatures. We are aware mainly of what’s occurring directly in front of us- not in a focused on the present moment type way, but rather a “What’s the next thing I have to do and what basic need of mine needs to be met next?” way. Most of us are unable to momentarily leave our own bodies and observe ourselves from above. Without that perspective, without actually being able to watch ourselves in action, our experience becomes limited to the realm of minutia. We cannot recall the feeling of actually working through struggle because we were preoccupied with features of the everyday. We struggle to imagine being able to overcome challenges because we have never been witness to our own strength.
This may be why watching others suffer is so shockingly painful—we are able to actually observe people outside of us, and thus, we are acutely more aware of, though not necessarily invested in, other’s struggle.
Our myopia is neither a liability, necessarily. In business perhaps, but not in life. There is a protecting element to our limited perspective. If we were able to immediately call up the pain as we can the details of what we wore or where we lived, we would be crippled. And if we were able to visualize ourselves engaged in forthcoming trauma, we would be similarly so.
The truth is, whether or not we are able to conceive ourselves capable, when the moment arrives, most of us are able to overcome even the most bitterly awful, tormenting chapters. How do we manage that? We draw upon our reserve resources.
We are much stronger and more resilient than we realize. By this I don’t mean we sell ourselves short, we don’t give ourselves enough credit– self-love!– and such. I mean that—it must be— a chunk of strength and perseverance and courage is held back from our overall count. Is sequestered somewhere inside of us, saved for those most challenging times, at which point it bursts forth (having been there all along, in case) and surprises us.
You may go through all of life never drawing forth from this pool, and if that be the case, you will be both lucky and unlucky, a fact you will understand to be true only if you have.
But mostly, we must never underestimate the will to survive. This thing, this living force thing, it is the strongest. It is innate within us like DNA, like blood, like thought. When tested, our will to survive initiates. It shifts the rest of our being into auto-pilot and takes the reigns.
During those times when you feel the life within you seeping out of your pores, so deeply painful are your circumstances, it is your will to survive that places one foot in front of the next. When the thought of nourishing your body repulses, so filled with sadness and anger are you, it is will to survive that coaxes you to swallow down half a cracker, a handful of cereal, one bite of a banana.
The good news is that if and when you ever reach that point called baseline, when all you’re capable of is attending to the elemental needs of food, water, and warmth, when you’re precariously coasting on your will to survive alone, and if you manage to rise from that state thereafter, you will forever be changed. You will feel that in a differential universe, you know the darker opposites. And so knowing, you may truly, too, know the light.
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