Sometimes I feel down. There are a variety of reasons for this: a tough day at work or school, a flare up in my relationship with my parents, lack of sleep, gloomy weather, etc, etc, etc. Once upon a time I would have solved my down feelings by spending time reading the Bible and praying, by remembering what Christ did for me and reminding myself that heaven awaits me, and that the Bible urges us to be joyful. I might even have reminded myself that Debi Pearl says that women should be cheerful no matter how they feel.
But today, I no longer believe in God, and I certainly no longer listen to anything Debi Pearl teaches. So what do I do when the world feels gloomy and my life seems shut in? Several things, actually. Four, to be exact.
First, I remind myself that family and friends matter more than personal achievements, and that I can’t be the best at everything. All I can do is try my best, and not lose sight of what’s most important. It’s easy to remember this when I come home to a happy smiling toddler, and a husband who adores me. I remind myself that while good work well done brings a good feeling, achieving some sort of idolized success doesn’t automatically bring happiness. In other words, there’s something to be said for being content, and just being.
Sometimes I think we run so fast on our treadmills that we forget to enjoy the present in all our looking towards the future. We forget to stop and see the smaller joys in life. I think children, especially young children, remind us of this. Sally laughs out loud when her daddy comes home, or when she gets to wear her rain boots to splash in puddles, and finds great joy in playing with clay or coloring with markers. These are life’s simple joys, and it’s so easy to miss them as we are hurrying to an appointment or feeling the need to clean up the kitchen or finish an assignment. But what is life but an accumulation of these simple joys? And what do we miss when we overlook what is right in front of our eyes?
Second, I focus on the good in humanity. There’s so much ugliness and pain in the world that it can be overwhelming sometimes. The number of people who starve each day, the existence of war and discrimination, the continuance of religious persecution in places like Saudi Arabia or Iran, the number of children who grow up in dire poverty…while there’s something to be said for motivating ourselves to action, dwelling on these numbers and statistics can be quite a downer. The truth is, in many ways, our world is a very depressing one. And that’s what I think it’s important to remember to find beauty in humanity.
There is beauty in love and compassion, in potential and in cooperation, and in acceptance and a yearning for freedom. There is beauty in leaders who advocate for humanity or human rights, and in neighbors who lend each other a hand. There is beauty in the potential of young children, and in the potential of human movements to make a difference. There is beauty in our desire to make the world a better place and to agitate against injustice. There is beauty in humanity.
Third, I step out into nature. I walk into a forest or a glade of trees, breathe deeply, and just soak it all in. I don’t know what it is about nature, but there’s something so peaceful and calming in it. I imagine the trees sucking up water from their roots, the leaves absorbing sunlight, the grass growing and the microorganisms in the dirt breaking down dead leaves. Everything in a given ecosystem works together so perfectly, so musically.
As I stand there in surrounded by trees, my toes curled in the grass, I imagine myself as a part of this circle of life, somehow at one with the other organisms that surround me. Someday I will die, and my body will decay and my matter will go on to become part of something else. This, this beauty, this circle of life, this will go on, with me a part of it. Thinking about this actually gives me a sense of immortality and at the same time reminds me how little my individual life matters, just a drop in the bucket. But I am part of something bigger, a life cycle that existed before me and will go on without me, a planet that fairly pulses with life and vividness. All I can do is work to improve my little part of it while I am here, and do my best not to cause harm to it or pass on problems to future generations of living things.
Fourth and finally, I meditate. Sometimes when my head is full of fuzz and my thoughts are muddled, the best thing I can do is clear my head, take a deep breath, and relax. Sometimes I meditate on nature, sometimes I meditate on tarot cards, sometimes I meditate on sayings I find inspirational. I find that it is helpful to push away all the difficult thoughts and focus one one thing to the exclusion of all else, or sometimes on nothing at all. I also find that mediation can help me be a better person by helping me to realized what has been going on lately and what I can do to make things go more smoothly in the future. Meditation also calms me and makes me feel more ready to take on what life has to bring.
Sometimes I think we get moving so fast in our fast paced world that we forget to stop and just be. We forget what it is like to sit in silence without a racing mind, or to simply sip tea and smell the summer air wafting in the window. We forget how to be still, or how to be calm. We forget what it is to climb off the treadmill of life and just be. And sometimes, it’s important to remember how to do that.
I think everyone develops these sorts of little ways to cope in a busy world with a myriad of demands and concerns. I think anyone, religious or not, can be down and grumpy while others in the same circumstances are happy and full of life. I think managing your stress and the weight of concerns and demands put on you is important. I think remembering what is most important in life, and finding beauty in life, and taking time to invest in yourself, is crucial. There is something to be said for inner peace, inner joy, and inner contentment. I’m not staying we shouldn’t strive to make our world a better place and grind against injustice, but rather that if we focus only on that fight we run the risk of losing our sanity.
One last thing. Sometimes it’s okay to feel down. Sometimes it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s okay to feel like life is tough. Growing up, I faced the imperative of being happy. After all, why wouldn’t you be happy when Jesus died for your sins and God himself wants a relationship with you? I remember feeling like there was something wrong with me if I felt down, like I must not be a good Christian or a good person. But the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with feeling down now and then. While you shouldn’t, of course, let down feelings dictate your life and debilitate you, there’s no mandatory rule that you must feel happy one hundred percent of the time. And that in itself is a relief.