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.
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.” http://ffffound.com/home/bkaczmarek/found/?offset=125& second photo: A woman walking down steps in the old city of Jerusalem, November 18, 2007. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.http://religionandterror.com/haunting-images/2007/12/16/flash-90/. third photo: dhammza, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhammza/3429957344/
text copyright The Blue Kimono 2009. Please do not use or copy without permission.