Monday, June 29, 2009

Doing the Next Right Thing

1930s - Woman Walking on Sidewalk by Walfred Moisio by straatis.

Tonight I had the privilege of being there for a new friend whose life is falling apart.  Or so it seems.  This lovely young woman with the beautiful smile and laughing eyes is facing an unexpected and devastating divorce—one brought on by what appears to her to be unfathomable betrayal.   

She is devastated, terrified, and nearly without hope.  Yet she reached out to me and another new friend for support.  This is both a privilege and a humbling prospect.  She doesn’t even know our last names. 

The Buddha said that suffering is the first noble truth of human existence.  What is the measure of this suffering?   And what do I have that could encourage S. tonight?  Nothing, except shared human experience.   

So I wrote her a long letter as she prepares to return to her home in another state to face this situation.  I kept coming back to the idea of doing the next right thing.  Reducing the days and weeks small manageable pieces.   An idea I learned from my 12-step friends. 

In S’s case, it might be enough tomorrow to get on the airplane and fly home.  And to let that be enough for one day.  Or maybe she’ll need to break it down further.  Get up.  Brush teeth.  Get dressed.  Now, eat.  Now get in the car and drive.   Etc.  Try, knowing it will impossible to succeed completely, to put off worrying about other things until they truly need to be faced. 


I have been in places when I was as fearful as S. is today.  I wish I’d known then about this doing-the-next-thing idea.  Sometimes still, I’m in such a fog, and there seem so many urgent things to be done, that I overwhelm myself and do nothing.

In other words, the next indicated thing itself eludes me.

For times like this, I have a mental cheat sheet of things that are always a right thing to do.  I don’t always use it, but I have it.        

One is to go for a walk.  Or bike ride, or other exercise.  Preferably outside.  Another is to read something that feeds my spirit.  Another is to do stream-of-consciousness writing for three or more pages.  Or meditate:  just counting my breaths to ten and starting over.  Or go to a 12-step meeting. 

I don’t think I’ve ever done one of these things and later thought, Damn.  Was THAT a mistake.   I usually calm down, having made at least one good decision in a day.     

If I am hungry or tired, I need to eat or rest before doing anything else, unless it’s literally crucial to do something else first.  My ability to do anything successfully if I’m hungry or tired is compromised.    

I use this stuff every day.  It helps me navigate the multitude of moments that add up to a life.  And I need all the help I can get.  What more do we have but this very moment?  Yesterday really is gone, and tomorrow really isn’t here yet.  That I spend hours remembering the past or fearing the future doesn’t make them any more real.    

Woman walking by dhammza.

Tonight I hope S. and any other hurting person will find the courage to do the next right thing, and then rest, knowing that’s all there is for now.    


top photo: Walfred Moisio, “Woman Walking on Sidewalk.”  second photo:  A woman walking down steps in the old city of Jerusalem, November 18, 2007. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90. photo:  dhammza,

text copyright The Blue Kimono 2009.  Please do not use or copy without permission.


Zuzana said...

I am sorry to hear that your friend is suffering. How difficult it is at all times to offer consolation to others, as we can never truly know or understand how they feel. Sometimes just "being there" and offer to listen is enough.
I am sure she will pull through, the fact that she does look for support in others means she is on her way.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

One step at a time is all anyone can do.

Lucy said...

YOu're a wonderful friend Sallymandy, and your friend has you to count on. That's so important in times of need. I have a friend who is going through this as well. It's tough.

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful post. I have a friend in exactly the same position as S and being able to offer her something constructive, like the next step, is wonderful.
You're a good friend and I do hope S will find her way through her pain and suffering into a brighter, happier tomorrow.

Marian said...

So sorry to hear how your friend is suffering.
Big hug xx

La Belette Rouge said...

What a gift you are giving your friend. In times like the one she is enduring one really does forget the importance of breathing, walking, sleeping and eating. I am certain your letter will be an extraordinary comfort to her.

Malisa said...

S absolutely chose the right person to turn to for help and advice! In another life, I have been in her position and it is a miserable place to be. I love the suggestions you gave about one step at a time. In fact, I am sure I will apply your advice to some of the challenges I am facing now with my husband's health. You are a good woman!


Stephanie N. said...

You're helping more people than your friend S right now. I'm bookmarking this, for advice for the next time I feel overwhelmed and need to re-focus.

Unknown said...

How true! Taking it one step at a time is all we can do when life gets over whelming.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Oh Sallymandy - you are the kind of friend we all could use. Such a lovely post - haunting pics and helpful text. Thanks.

Rosaria Williams said...

She has a great friend in you S.
Nothing prepares us for such pain. But friends make all the difference.

sallymandy said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. Friends do make all the difference. SM

Saz said...

A wonder- full post...I shall print this out and memorise it..for those moments when you need someone or something to help get you through the night, day, next moment! I'm what its all about.

Eleonora Baldwin said...

You are simply wonderful.

And your ailing friend is a very lucky person to have you.


ticklishfromadistance said...

Such a sweet and meaningful post. Thanks for sharing. xox g.

Cheryl said...

It is a privilege, I think, to be asked to be there for a friend in pain. It's one of the times we can make a real difference in someone else's life.

But, oh! to remember to sleep, eat, to simply take care of one's basic needs when you're in the throes of that strange madness (so it seems from the outside). Hopefully having you there will help your friend pull through.

Kayleigh said...

Such profound wisdom, yet simply bestowed in an almost poetic way...a true gift for the spirit.


Innerspace Yoga said...

i like how you busted out the first noble truth. your friend needs all the dharma she can get right now. she needs to know her suffering will run its course. like happiness or anything else, the suffering is not permanent. you're a good friend to her.

sallymandy said...

Thanks everybody. My friend has made some decisions for her own well being this week, and I'm glad for that.

sallymandy said...

Thanks everybody. My friend has made some decisions for her own well being this week, and I'm glad for that.