Moments of Being

Does your life ever feel a bit stale? Are you bored, impatient, or finding that your relationships and daily routine have become tiresome? Are you walking around in a state of listless malaise?

Maybe you need an infusion of vitality. Something that gets you feeling pumped, juicy, and motivated. Just a little fun and laughter. A glimpse of beauty. A touch of passion. A sound of harmony. A taste of pleasure. Oh, to recapture that youthful wonder, approaching your day like a child skipping through a meadow with a new butterfly net. That would do it. But you’re an adult, with so many worries and responsibilities. How can you get a break from the drudgery and let go like a child?

VirginiaWoolfPerhaps you need to locate some moments of being. The great English novelist Virginia Woolf writes beautifully on this subject.* She speaks of life as having both “moments of being” during which one is aware, engaged, and living consciously and “moments of non-being”, which is filler, the “cotton wool” of our lives, non-descript – doing what has to be done. It may include washing clothes or fixing the vacuum cleaner. “Every day includes much more non-being, than being. When it is a bad day, the proportion of non-being is much larger.” This is the normal experience of life and its rhythms.  But sometimes those moments are rare, or escape your notice entirely. Maybe you feel smothered by cotton wool.

There may be another explanation for your weariness. It is possible you have fallen asleep – figuratively I mean.

Those who have had the cursed blessing of an awakening experience know what I am talking about. These come in many forms: a life threatening illness, a major accident, or a significant loss. Any “close call” can initiate your awakening, opening you to your own mortality … waking you up! Maybe you have endured such, but have forgotten the lessons. Time has a way of obscuring what was once so abundantly clear.

Winston Churchill commented on this kind of learning, “Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth, but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.”

That truth, once discovered, and actively remembered, can be a passage to a new way of living.

It happened to me. Coming out of major depression ushered in my awakening. I had confronted deathly despair, and after a sublime moment of hope, began actively choosing life, minute by minute, hour by hour. My turning point would be barely noticeable to any observer, yet to me, in the condition I was in … it was monumental. This spark of hope felt earthshattering because of its sheer contrast with the bleak underworld I had been trapped in. I could suddenly feel the acute distinction between life and death. This awakened me with a jolt.

I quietly pushed through … emerging like a germinating bean coming forth from the ground. In an instant I was above the soil – in the land of the living. I was alive. I had been dead and now I was alive.

What was happening? It was some form of metamorphosis: I was quickly and slowly, awkwardly and gracefully, cautiously and courageously … moving from one form of existence to another.

Woolf describes coming of age at Hyde Park Gate in the following passage, which poetically describes my unfolding process: “… I was thinking; feeling; living … with the intensity; the muffled intensity, which a moth feels when with its sticky tremulous legs and antennae it pushes out of the chrysalis and emerges and sits quivering beside the broken case for a moment; its wings still creased; its eyes dazzled, incapable of flight.”

Sitting beside my broken chrysalis … I knew my days of flight were coming.

I discovered on that day, in that hour, that my new life had begun.

To fully heal, I had to embrace living with every cell of my being. During that intense recovery phase, there was no cotton wool, no moments of non-being. Even the mundane felt pleasing and deserving of gratitude. Maybe I was like one of those annoying “too happy” people, smiling incessantly, apparently without a care in the world. But my smile was about celebrating the life I had reclaimed, the love I felt, and the beauty that surrounded me. It wasn’t a Pollyanna outlook, oblivious to the reality of pain. Rather, it was authentic joy – the result of being delivered out of the depths.

Being alive was electrifying and mobilizing. I was greedily stuffing the goodness of living into every day. There was no heaviness, weariness, boredom, or doubt, at least until I got used to this new way of being. Having been profoundly depressed for over a year, I was not yet accustomed to happiness, nor could I take it for granted. I was filled with love and meaning – precious moments of being.

This was the perfect recipe for my healing. I prefer to describe it not as “recovery” (for I did not go back) but “procovery” – moving forward and allowing the emergence of a more enlightened and stronger self. Although ten years have passed since my illness, I reflect daily on the lessons it provoked. They have helped me become a better version of myself. I like the new me, so I’m determined to never go back.

I am committed to staying well. This requires me to engage in thoughts and behavior that support my wellness. Each uplifting thought I entertain serves to strengthen my mind toward optimism. Every productive, positive endeavor I get involved in serves as another “insurance policy” for my health.

What lessons have arisen from your struggles? My guess is that the most powerful ones were born of some form of suffering, maybe even a brush with death. Having to look into the cold face of death can give you a mega dose of compassion, a connectedness to others, and a sense that we are all in this together. You may have a heightened authenticity and some recognition that we are all fellow travelers. I hope that you may be fully restored from the pain of your struggle.

But as for the lessons? Keep nourishing the wow of their initial discovery. Marvel at them. Remember their truth deep in your bones.  When you have an opportunity, share them. These lessons will produce triumph from your tragedy. And, in no small way, they will open your eyes to moments of being.

 

“Man always dies before he is fully born.”

-Erich Fromm, German Psychoanalyst

*Moments of Being: A Collection of Autobiographical Writing by Virginia Woolf, Edited by Jeanne Schulkind, Harcourt, 1985.

 

 

6 Comments

  1. I’ve been undergoing a metamorphosis like this in recent months. I feel more alive now than I have in ever so long.

  2. “I could suddenly feel the acute distinction between life and death.” Powerful stuff there, Lisa — letting that one set with me a while. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Tom. I’m not sure if I was able to convey that moment in writing. It is funny that you picked out that line, because I sat for a while and struggled with how to describe that particular “moment of being” with Grace and Johnny (in fact, at the Puente Hills Mall at the Gap buying birthday clothes for Grace)! After a brief hour of “flow” helping Grace (in the midst of one year of NO feelings of life), I realized at that moment that I was able to live, and would come out of my depression. I would call it a miraculous “aha” that in a certain sense, saved my life. From that moment onward, it was just a matter of putting in the effort. My hope was restored.

  3. “Winston Churchill commented on this kind of learning, “Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth, but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.”
    That truth, once discovered, and actively remembered, can be a passage to a new way of living.
    It happened to me….”

    Thank you Lisa for staying on point in this blog…the point that new experiences can be a catalyst to growth. Glorious agony, cursed blessing, childbirth of screams and joy, Dying to live. Paradox.

    As a Hospice clinical chaplain I experience this daily w/ pt’s. IF we can except the inevitable, learn, and not fight…there is a strange comfortng peace. Much of outcome depends on HOW we look.

    My own personal journey…years ago I lost the love of my life in a car wreck. We were heading to our wedding, Candace died, I lived w/ a broken neck…quad. i later recovered but lived in memory….but now as I reflect back…very painful yes. But as I lived on, thru, all I also gained a deeper appreciation for life, sunsets, relationships, spiritual ideas.

    I am writing between pt’s so might not be as clear, clean or concise…

    Thank you Lisa,

    Shane

    • Shane, thank you so much for your insightful comments and story of loss and transformation. Your patients are truly blessed to have you in their life … and death. Peace to you.

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