Are you expecting life to be a straight line up?
At the end of 2022 I went to my first in-person yoga class since the pandemic started.
It happened to be on Winter Solstice and the teacher peppered the practice with her thoughts on it being the longest night of the year.
At one point, she said something along the lines of: Everything is a cycle and even the darkest night is followed by the dawn. Winter is always followed by spring.
That’s an important reminder from Nature. Nothing is permanent and, if we hold on, this too shall pass.
But for some reason, that night on the yoga mat, I had a different thought:
How come we never say that even the brightest day is always followed by night? That’s equally true!
If everything is a cycle, then why do we avoid talking about how reliably winter arrives in our lives?
Okay, I hear it. Sounds kind of bleak.
But, I don’t mean that in a bitter old lady kind of way: “Things may be good right now, but just you wait…the other shoe is about to drop….cackle cackle!”
More like, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge and accept that both parts of the cycle are equally natural.
I know that in my own life, there are times when I find myself surprised and even hurt when Night inevitably arrives.
Night sometimes feels like it's personal.
Maybe it feels that way, in part, because in our culture we rarely talk about the cyclical nature of life.
And when we do, we only seem to talk about half of it - moving from winter to spring or from night to dawn.
As if that’s the whole cycle. Which actually makes it less of a cycle and more of a straight line.
As Jacob on Abbott Elementary would surely remind us, capitalism and colonialism have conditioned most of us to believe that life is a linear journey.
We’re supposed to climb straight up the ladder, always in pursuit of growth and improvement.
And if we're not climbing up that ladder or we do try, but fall off for any number of internal or external factors, then we’ve done something wrong.
And if we're not climbing up that ladder or we try, but fall off for any number of internal or external factors, then we’ve done something wrong.
When we expect life “should” be a straight climb up, then any other direction or even a pause in our progress, feels like failure.
But our friend Nature is always showing us that life doesn’t work that way at all!
Life is cyclical, not linear.
Thank goodness Nature sends regular daily, monthly, and annual alerts to remind us.
So, about that ladder we’ve all been sold?
Turns out there is no ladder.
We’re all navigating through a series of interconnected, overlapping labyrinths.
Here’s what I’m wondering:
What if we expected life to be more like a series of cycles, rather than an unbroken straight line?
What if we fully expected Night to arrive through no fault of our own? Would we feel less shame or disappointment when it did?
By the way, I’m not saying that going through a dark Night isn’t painful.
But I’d love it if we could throw off that optional layer of suffering we tend to create with unrealistic expectations about how life “should '' be.
Without them, maybe we’d feel less resentful when Night dared to show up, just as things had been going so well!
All I know is this: there's nothing wrong with you or me or the work you're doing if life is turning out to be more like a series of spirals, rather than a straight line up of progress.
Maybe if we knew that to be true, it would allow us to redirect our precious time and energy towards greater acceptance and better care for ourselves and each other.
And then we'd all have a little more of what we needed to keep moving towards dawn…and back again.
“Your happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the events of your life and your expectations of how life should behave.” - Mo Gawdat
“Don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.” ― Rumi
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