Tim Heintzman says sometimes we get stuck on where we think we should be in life, but life may have different plans for us. Now, if only we could listen to what life is telling us.
I was chatting with a friend the other day who was complaining about the confusion that seems to be brought on as we age. She told me about trying to get into her locker at our sports club using what she knew to be the correct combination on her lock, only to be frustrated by its not opening. She has used the same locker for years. After several failed attempts she finally realized that she had been trying to open the locker that was next to hers. I tried comforting her by saying that at least she wasn’t in the men’s locker room. That wasn’t helpful.
As we talked about all the changes that aging brings — memory lapses, aches that appear for no reason, stiffness, the seeming lack of courtesy in interpersonal exchanges between young people and older people, parents who can no longer fend for themselves, fears about getting older and seemingly less secure — I said maybe her experience with the locker was a kind of metaphor for life. That brought a smile to her face.
If you look at it through my distorted lenses though, life is kind of like a locker. A container of experiences, expectations, dark secrets and cherished memories; our lives are something we have been told to protect and keep close to our heart. But life is an ever-changing experience and even those who seem to lived charmed lives undergo change which can rattle their security, even if it’s only briefly.
I have changed residences many times in my life. Each time I moved I was amazed at how much stuff I had accumulated. I had all this stuff that I barely ever used but somehow felt was still important to me, and which I thought, mistakenly, provided me with an identity. And each time I moved, I dutifully loaded it into the new house where it all found its way into a storage space.
I am faced once again by the challenge of finding a new home. All my stuff is stored in a warehouse, and that which I couldn’t fit into the warehouse is residing temporarily in a few friends’ homes. As I search for the perfect new place to live I find myself asking: “What do I really want? Where do I really want to live?” And: “How can I find a place that will hold all my stuff?”
That’s the problem with “stuff” (and there is a good reason why it’s called “stuff”). You have to stuff it somewhere and usually you have to stuff it into a too-small space that becomes over stuffed.
When we overeat we say, “Boy, I am stuffed!” It’s that somewhat uncomfortable feeling of being bloated and weighted down. Do it too often and you become unhealthy.
Is my stuff creating an unhealthy life? Well, from a personal point of view I should look at my appetite for accumulating things and see if maybe I am trying to satisfy an unhealthy diet of acquisitiveness. My comment to my friend about lockers being a metaphor for life ended with the comment that sometimes we need to get a new locker. One that isn’t stuffed with old things we never use anymore. Or can’t use anymore because our lives have irreversibly been altered by, well, life.
Permit me to follow along on that metaphor of life as a locker. My friend was trying to get into one using her combination that had always allowed her access before. She had not noticed that life as she knew it had changed, ie. she was trying to get into the wrong locker. It’s kind of a reversal on that old chestnut about doing the same thing over and over in order to get different results. Sometimes we try to make changes because we don’t like the way our life is going, and sometimes we cling to old habits because it seems safer. Either way can be a blindness to what life is telling us.
Humans, if we are aware, are a wonderfully adaptable life form. We have the ability to overcome our disabilities as long as we are willing to try new ways of living — or new ways of looking at living. I have not, as yet, faced any real physical disabilities like a stroke or blindness or cancer, but I do notice a slight loss of hearing and a detectable slowing down in my movements when I play my favourite sports. Time to change my game?
My virtual spiritual guide, Ram Dass, who in his book Still Here talks about an elderly woman who complained to him that she was angry because she was too tired to do all the things she had on her list of things to do. His suggestion was to add to her list taking time to rest in between the other things needed doing and see how that worked. Resting became a higher priority for her and the other things less so. Not unexpectedly her anger disappeared.
My wish for the New Year was for a brave new one. I think I have found the way to at least get a start on that. Get a new locker. And to really push the envelope, I’ll get one without a combination lock. The memory isn’t what it used to be and whatever I put in the locker probably will only be of temporary value anyway. Now if only I could find a way to get by without user names and PIN numbers….
“Open 19” loop_oh @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.