Sunday, February 17, 2008

slow on the uptake

A dear friend once said to me, "It's only when you actually try that you realize you are not succeeding." I don't recall the exact context of the conversation, but I recall that it was during a particularly rough period in her life. My friend has a knack for levity, so I laughed a little at how dire it sounded. I was also troubled by how dire it sounded. I wasn't sure how to respond to or process what seemed to me to be—right or wrong—a statement of defeat and hopelessness. It seemed like she was saying "You're not going to succeed, so why try?" It was unsettling. It made me uncomfortable.

So, I presented my friend's statement (sans name) to a teacher whose counsel I very much trust. I expected a validation of my perception, but instead I got this:
...the explanation is simple: before throwing in the towel you must try! In other words, fight the good fight no matter what the outcomes. If you don't, you can never say it was beyond your grip. In life, what is important is the process and not if you are going to come up as a winner. Growth only resides in the process.
This sounded lovely and, of course, I agreed with fighting the good fight, but I couldn't figure out how he'd pulled that out of what my friend had said. He must not have caught the nuances of resignation. And so I dismissed the whole thing.

Just days ago, and over ten years later, I was listening to When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. In the chapter "Hopelessness and Death" she says:
Without giving up hope—that there's somewhere better to be, that there's someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are....Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together. We may still want to hold our trip together. We long to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but we've tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us. Trying to get lasting security teaches us a lot, because if we never try to do it, we never notice that it can't be done.
That last statement stunned me: "Trying to get lasting security teaches us a lot, because if we never try to do it, we never notice that it can't be done."

I honestly can't say whether or not my friend intended this meaning. All I know is that her words and my teacher's interpretation were first things that came to mind...and right now I'm feeling like maybe I'm the one who needed to crunch some foil on my nuance antenna. Or would it be more accurate to say that my antenna was dead on, but—because it's ingrained to believe that we can hold everything together—I just didn't know how to process the information? I think that might be the case.

Who wants to quit hoping? Shit. That's a tough one.

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