"I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains." –Anne Frank
By a certain age, most humans have experienced a big ugly. Some of us way too young. Some of us, blessedly, older. The bulk of us are somewhere in between. But ain't nobody getting out of here without singing the blues. And often as not, some of those big uglies are vast. And complex. And thinking and talking our way through them only goes so far*.
There are just too many moving parts. The well of pain is just too deep to make sense of. But by this point in my life, I’ve been grappling with my big uglies for years now and here’s a thing I’ve noticed… some things are so big that you can’t work through them in the moment. You might could not even be able to work through them at all, even if you dedicated lots of time and resource to the process*. You just need to shelf them a bit, then revisit them from time to time and wait patiently until your insides grow big enough to contain them. And then to just, well… make them part of your matrix, part of your load-bearing walls and your flying buttresses.
It’s kinda magical… how that widening, that gaining of girth, occurs inside your brain and inside your heart. But truth be told, it isn’t so much magic as it comes down to learning, and then practicing, a couple skills. And one of those skills is language.
Once upon a time, I came from the tradition of hiding. I learned to hide my skeletons in closets. I learned to hide my needs under responsibility and expectation. I learned to clothe that hiding in politeness. And I was taught these skills by maestros of the genre, in a town and decade (or two) where this was expected behavior.
But in my twenties, I stumbled upon a little truth. I discovered that the secret to success in so many things is to learn a new language. For me, it was about learning how to speak honestly. Not a “truth versus a falsehood” sort of honesty. But to honestly communicate what I thought and felt. I learned that starting my sentences with a couple few different catchphrases created a blank space that was easy enough to fill in with honesty. Truth be told, I can no longer remember these catchphrases that were so revolutionary at the time. I’ve been practicing this language long enough now that I can’t remember the Dick and Jane version. But I imagine it was something as simple as “when this happens, I feel this.” I do know that I was clumsy and awkward for years and even now it takes work. And even still, I sometimes smash ALL the dishes in the china cabinet before getting the right words out. That’s okay. I love myself enough to extend myself that grace.
Simultaneously, I’ve slowly tried to acquire other languages as well. Not just honesty, but also vulnerability, accountability, confidence, assertiveness, bravery...and even kindness. Learning catchphrases that made it safe to try out the concepts, until the catchphrases were internalized and then made into authentic versions in my own voice. And yes, I still overshoot or undershoot the mark as often as I get it right. But dang, I’ve come a long way from where I started. And again, I love myself enough to extend myself grace.
But how does the above relate to this month’s meditation? How does this relate to a focus on not the misery, but the beauty? Ah and yikes. This is a poetical blog. I might wince reading this a year from now. Or I might not. But here goes.
As I started with, there are some pains that you can’t ever completely unwind. They are just so vast and complex and interconnected. Tragedy and Regret are sometimes so big that they CAN’T fit inside language. Outside of poetry, at least. There are some pains so large that really all you can do is sit with them. Get to know them. Let them rest. And then, one day...you find the space inside you is big enough to comfortably house them. And at that point, remembering, mostly, the beauty that remains becomes a possibility.
How does that relate to learning languages? Well I’d assert that practicing the languages of honesty, vulnerability, accountability, confidence, assertiveness, bravery and kindness is what makes your insides grow big enough to contain the big uglies. To put the big uglies into perspective. To burn enough of the misery out of an experience that you can more clearly see the beauty that remains.
And I find this thought very comforting as I sit and look at a pile of old journals and memorabilia that I am just now getting the confidence up to look at. Are my insides big enough now? There is some fear...and ongoing avoidance. So maybe not quite yet. But I think I am close. And I know I am closer.
Peace and good things.
*therapy, support groups, true friends and all such things are very, very important and valuable.