Less than one month into 2021 and there’s no denying that the mirage of a new year oasis has vanished. Just a few weeks into January, and I think most of us are thinking the same thing: After my free trial of 2021, I’d like a refund.
But what strikes me most about the time we’re living in is how alive the world is right now. The past year has forced us all into a paradoxical state of stagnant unpredictability that has lit up our edges and expanded our boundaries. It’s like the whole world was walking along a path, in the dark with nothing but a headlamp. All we ever knew was what we could see in the stream of light. What lurked off to the sides, in the darkness, didn’t matter. We couldn’t see it as we walked by, so it didn’t affect us.
Then the pandemic hit. And the sun came up.
Suddenly, we can see that we’re walking alongside a seaside cliff. One wrong step and we plunge into the water. But if we walk away from the edge, the ground is treacherous. Scorpions scurry around our feet and jagged rocks block the way. The remains of parched and starved creatures dot the landscape, reminding us of our inevitable end.
But the ocean is deep blue and birds caw overhead. In the distance, a waterfall flows from snow-capped mountains and mingles with a creek that flows through bright fields of rippling wildflowers. A small cottage sits on the banks, a plume of smoke rising from the chimney.
It is both warm and cold all at once.
As a person choosing to keep living on this earth, you have no choice but to experience all that it is to be human. All that it is. Pain, grief, loss, worry, despair, frustration, aging, health problems, death—you are not exempt. Until now, society has done a damn good job of telling you that if you buy the right face cream, find the perfect spouse, and take the right drugs, you will be able to protect yourself from the cliffs and the scorpions and the craggy paths.
But you know, now, that it’s not true. Right?
After this last year, you’ve learned that pain will always wait for you, right?
You know that suffering is not an interruption, but an inevitable side effect of living?
And you’ve learned that when you cut yourself off from experiencing all that is uncomfortable, you cut yourself off from who you might become. Right?
Do you get it now? Or are you still fighting?