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The Counterintuitive Answer

I am a compulsive doer. It’s hard for me to sit still. I jokingly say I developed maladaptive stress syndrome because I burned out my adrenal glands from doing too much. But maybe it’s not a joke. It should come as no surprise then that I search far and wide for solutions to my problems. I devour every book, every method, every suggestion with frenetic fervor hoping this, this will be the answer. Thus far, the answer has not presented itself. There is nothing worse than telling a compulsive doer there is nothing to be done.

On Wednesday, I went to the doctor again as a Hail Mary. I haven’t had diagnostic tests done for several years so I figured why not? I cried and later laughed as she threw out suggestion after suggestion of things I’ve already tried. In addition, the bevvy of diagnostic tests all came back normal. It has become clear to me this is the end of the road. There is literally nothing left to do because everything has already been done.

I asked myself, knowing I have tried everything, can I finally accept my reality? Can I finally accept things as they are? After many tears, the answer is yes. A weight has been lifted from my shoulders because I no longer need to do anything. All the solutions have been tried. All that I’m left with is acceptance.

Sometimes the answer is counterintuitive, like an oasis in a desert.

Sometimes the answer is counterintuitive, like an oasis in a desert.

Not knowing what I’ve been going through, a friend sent me a podcast from Invisibilia called “The Problem with the Solution.” In it, the show hosts talk about this very concept in the context of mental illness. They traveled to Geel, Belgium, where people with mental ailments live with families and are accepted just as they are. There is no stigma, the families don’t even know the diagnoses. Mental illness is accepted just as it is, and wouldn’t you know it, counterintuitively, people thrive in Geel. That’s not to say the diagnosis vanishes, but it improves.

In the U.S., we are obsessed with solutions. We believe if we look long enough and hard enough, the solution will present itself. But what if it doesn’t? What if there is no solution? What if the solution is accepting things as they are, right now? Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting people become doormats or tolerate injustice or give up on trying in general, but for the things which we keep trying to fix and are unable to, maybe those things require acceptance.

There’s a story in the Mahábhárata that comes to mind. When Duhshásana was pulling the sari of Draopadii, she was tightly holding the cloth to her body with one hand, beseeching lord Krśńa with the other. “Oh! My lord, save me!” But he didn’t come forward to save her. When Draopadii found no means of escape, she then released her hold on the cloth and appealed to the lord most piteously with both hands outstretched, saying, “O lord, I surrender my all to you. Do what you think is best.” And then the lord immediately rescued her.

I don’t offer that story as a means to get what we want, because surrender and acceptance has to be real, legitimate, and complete without thoughts of what we want, but the story reminds me that when I surrender, release, and let go, that’s when the divine has room to enter into my life.

I dream of a world where we accept the things we cannot change. A world where we understand there aren’t always solutions. A world where we realize instead of doing something, sometimes we need to do nothing.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Refocusing

I am very attached to my vision of things. I have an idea of how things “should” look and it’s hard for me to let that go. In the nonviolent communication world, we’d call that being attached to a certain strategy for getting a need met.

This week I’m zeroing in on my strategies and also realizing I can still get my needs met without employing a specific one. For instance, I have a need for intimacy and connection (we all do). My perspective has been because I’m single, those needs are not getting met. However, I finally looked up the definition of both those words, to be sure they mean what I think they mean.

I'm refocusing and realizing things are perhaps not what they seem.

I’m refocusing and realizing things are perhaps not what they seem.

The definition of intimacy is “the state of being intimate; close familiarity or association. Nearness in friendship.” And intimate means, “Innermost; inward; internal; deep-seated; hearty. Or near; close; direct; thorough; complete.” Once I read that definition I said, “What am I complaining about? I have that in spades.” Because I do. I have that with myself, I have that with friends. Heck, I have that with strangers.

Similarly, connection means “that which connects or joins together; bond; tie.” Did you know Rebekah means to tie or to bind? Guys, connection is quite literally my name. I already have what I want, it’s inherent to who I am. It feels good to refocus and see nothing is missing in my life, although on the surface it may seem that way.

This topic also reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Under the Tuscan Sun. The main character moves to Tuscany, by herself, and cries to a friend about wanting a wedding in her house, and a family, and someone to cook for. She imagines that wish will become a reality because she meets someone, but in the end, her wish comes true in a different way: she hosts a wedding for her neighbor, her best friend moves in with her newborn daughter, and she starts cooking for her friends.

I realize Under the Tuscan Sun is a movie, but I love stories like these because they remind me the universe is open and surprising. That there are many ways to meet a need. That I don’t have to cling to a certain strategy because the world is a vast and mysterious place. And furthermore, when I refocus, I may find I already have what I want.

I dream of a world where we take a closer look at our needs and find how they’re already getting met. A world where we let go of our attachments to how things “should” go and instead let the universe unfold as it will.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Become a Gift

When I was 20, I studied abroad in London. I interned with a publication that encouraged me to plagiarize. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a good fit. I was miserable and tried everything I could to get out of it – even going so far as lining up another internship, but the study abroad program said no. I still don’t know why. My parents got involved too and that also yielded nothing. It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t make my circumstances better. The first time I had to wait out a crappy situation. It was the first time I experienced a taste of authoritarianism and I hated it. The unfairness of it all outraged me.

The other day I watched a movie, Desert Dancer, and was reminded again, authoritarian regimes continue to exist. Except other people have it far worse. The movie takes place in Iran in 2009 where dancing is forbidden. I know, that’s also the theme of Footloose, but Desert Dancer is no sappy comedy, it’s real life. People are literally beaten and killed for expressing themselves artistically. As an artist myself, I’m horrified. Living in the U.S., I forget there are places in the world where legitimate authoritarian regimes exist. Where other people are not nearly as privileged as I am.

become-a-gift

Become a gift.

After my experience in London, I was able to come back to my normal life, to one of privilege and relative ease. But the people in Iran? Or Syria? Or some other country that barely registers in my brain? They are not so lucky.

It is easy for someone like me, a college-educated white woman living in the U.S., to do one of two things: feel guilty for my privilege, or forget other people exist. In conversations with other white people, I see so often we wring our hands and say we feel badly about the things other people have to endure, but what can we do? Or we feel guilty our lives are different because of our privilege. We carry around our white guilt like a suitcase at airport security, always ready to show it to someone else for inspection.

I also see that we forget. We forget other people exist except when a horrific tragedy jerks us from our daily lives. We go about our days wondering if that guy will call or the raise will come through. We get caught up in our own worlds. I’m not saying that’s entirely a bad thing – we must take care of ourselves – but we must also take care of others.

Friends, I don’t want my two options as a person of privilege to be white guilt or amnesia. Neither of those options does anyone any good. I would much rather use my skills to make the world a better place. As a journalist, that means giving a voice to the voiceless. It means telling someone else’s story and broadcasting it far and wide. For you, it may mean healing the sick or planting a community garden. We all have gifts and talents. There’s a quote by Hans Urs von Balthasar that sums this up nicely I think. He said, “What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.” May we all become gifts not only to God, but to the rest of humanity.

I dream of a world where we use our talents in service of others. A world where we remember other people exist and we do our best to make the world a better place for everyone. A world where we all become gifts.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Moving Together

The other day I had an interesting experience. Coming home from the city, I stepped into Walgreens and noticed a couple in front of me, primarily because the man had a huge, green backpacking backpack. The couple left and I didn’t think much of it until about half an hour later when I exited my station and I saw the same man! This is surprising because there are many trains and many stations he could have taken, but we ended up at the same one. Keep in mind, my station is a residential one – it’s not a popular destination.

If that wasn’t intriguing enough, the same day I sat next to someone at the train station and he too, got on my train and exited my station. When I noticed his presence as well as the man with the green backpack, all I could do was laugh. It reminded me that knowingly or unknowingly we are all moving together.

Even bubbles share space.

Even bubbles share space.

In Sanskrit there are several words to denote this concept, one of which is samáj, which means “society,” or a group of people who are moving happily and peacefully. In today’s world, this concept seems especially important to remember. Some people live in their own little bubble, thinking they are the only ones in existence. Other people are not thinking much about their actions and only looking out for themselves.

In the U.S. in particular we praise independence and rugged individualism. We’re in love with the myth of the self-made person, the lone wolf. We romanticize the notion of self-sufficiency, or at least that’s my perspective. However, I would challenge that notion. As I said to a friend the other day, it takes a village to raise a child, but I also think it takes a village to be a person. We’re not meant to do everything by ourselves, and why would we want to? Like it or not, we’re all in this together. Noticing those people on the train the other day reminds me we may think we’re our own little universe, but our universes are moving together. We are all on this big blue planet spinning through space.

My spiritual teacher says, “The proper thing is for all members of the society to move in unison; and while moving together, each member should feel a responsibility for every other member of society. Those who are unable to move must be carried so that the rhythm of the collective movement remains unbroken.”

I love this notion because we may pretend otherwise, but we are all dependent on each other and the world would be a better place if we all started acting like it.

I dream of a world where we realize we are all moving together. A world where we feel responsible for other members of our society. A world where we take care of not only ourselves, but each other.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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