“I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell
It was the 9th time that I had shuffled into the healing circle. I'd come to "heal" the horrible anxiety that I'd been experiencing – although "experiencing" sounds like what you'd do while watching water ballet and this was no water ballet.
My husband had lost his job and couldn't find another one. We had two children to feed and clothe (and to try and be "semi-normal" around.) We'd had everything but now, our house was in foreclosure, our credit cards had been maxed out and shut off, our retirement spent, unemployment had run out and we had no real solution on the horizon. My life had been turned upside down.
The anxiety was the worst at night. It would literally wake me out of a deep sleep and the thoughts of worry and fear would suddenly flash over me, catching me unaware…like for a time my body and soul would forget and be at peace and then suddenly, as I stirred awake, the room would begin to spin and the reality of my situation would jump out at me from behind a door and say, "Gotcha!"
I was a bit late for the healing circle and sort of rushed in and tried not to make a big deal of my entrance. I looked over the group, all regulars, except for one. She was a heavy woman with non-descript features and mousy brown hair. She was the kind I'd walk right by and not think anything of, especially then. I was so wrapped up in my own thing that I didn't really have time for anyone else's.
I plopped down next to her and she held out her soft hand and looked at me with a huge smile and said, "I'm Rachel. I'm so happy to be here."
The ceremony began. After several moments of blessings and explanation, our leader opened up the circle for sharing.
Rachel went first. She'd almost given up, she said. A year or so ago, she'd lost the will to live. It had leaked out of her, slowly, over time. There wasn't a single event; it was the monotony of nothing to care about, no meaning, no hope of change. She was lethargically trying to figure out a quick and non-dramatic exit, but she didn't have the strength to actually go through with it.
Story of her life, she said, not enough fire to do much of anything. She'd resigned herself to a life of victimhood; small, slow, infinite suffering punctuated here and there with work she didn't particularly care for and her best friends; a bowl of potato chips and a TV guide.
Then something crazy happened…She got a terrible case of vertigo. She'd get up and fall down. She'd try to eat and would vomit. She'd go to drive and end up in a ditch. She couldn't work, couldn't watch TV, couldn't even live the very small life she'd been living. Everything that she knew fell apart. How could things get any worse?
So she started to go to doctors and no one could help her. She saw specialists and was poked and prodded and x-rayed and MRI'd. "It's nothing," they'd all said. "It's in your mind." She found acupuncturists and chiropractors and shamanic healers…and before she knew it, she was actually fighting to keep the little life she lived. Her desire to live was flipping around in her head and propelling her, with great purpose, forward.
"It was God," she said, "or the Universe or whatever you want to call it. All along, it was there. God brought me the slow simmering pain of feeling like a nothing. And when that didn't motivate me, he dumped this crazy ailment on me. To make me fight, to make me feel what it feels like to be truly alive. To make me see how precious it all actually is…every little moment of it."
I choked back my own tears as I listened to her. How many nights had I wished for numbness? How many times had I had it out with God for the wealth of feeling that I had felt had been dumped on me? How many times had I just prayed for a blackout in my brain, a total shut down in my nervous system? In my agony, I would have given anything for a boring existence with a job I didn't like and a TV guide for a friend.
But I had been missing the point.
"I was dead inside and the vertigo, the literal turning upside down of my world, made me fight to live and that fight made me feel so alive. And in that aliveness, I grew to know myself. Yes it was awful, but it was way better than plan A. And now, I realize that anything is possible for me, ANYTHING."
They say everything happens for a reason. Sitting there next to Rachel I could see my situation in a whole new light. My "circumstance" was actually my opportunity to grow and become reengaged with life…a better life. It was my chance to become the someone I'd always wanted to be.
My life had the potential to be completely transformed by this pain. Instead of wallowing in it, I should be relishing the energy it was creating in my life…energy that could be harnessed and used to propel my family and I forward.
I wasn't where she was…I wasn't out of the woods yet, but I knew, in that moment, that I would be, that it would all be OK and that I would be able to look back on all of it and not only would it make sense, but I would be grateful for it. I could see how this intense "alive-ness" was what I needed to not only survive but to move on to bigger and better.
Rachel was beautiful as she described her life now. Her eyes danced as she spoke of the simple things that gave her great pleasure; a cup of tea, the way the sunlight streamed through her curtains in the morning, a simple wave from a neighbor, a drive to the grocery store, the pleasure of good health. She glowed as she described the sound rain on her roof. Every moment became a moment to experience being alive.
I suddenly realized that I too had a growing list of small but wonder-full things; a warm bed, a roof over my head, money to buy food, gas in my car, the kindness of dear friends, loving hugs from my husband and children.
"From now on," she said, "I'll never be a victim, I'll be a fighter, a survivor." Her drastic change in perspective blew the door off any concept of victimhood. If you are grateful for your circumstance, no matter what they are, you cannot, ever, be a victim again.
With that same gratitude planted firmly in my heart…my mind brimmed with creative ideas, like…how could I make my own money? How could I take this situation and create a future out of it…a future that I owned? A future that otherwise would not have existed without this "tragedy." I can I turn this situation into an expression of life?
Equipped with my new found strength and courage, my new ideas of the importance of gratitude and love for the littlest of kindnesses I took a huge, brave step forward and co-founded my own company, intent on sharing the lessons I'd learned in my process.
I saw Rachel last weekend and told her how much her story had changed my life. She looked lovely, she'd lost over 40 pounds. I asked her if she still had the vertigo and she said, "Sometimes…when life's is just going along, it will show up. But in a really weird way, when it does, I say a little thank you prayer for it…it reminds me that I am alive."