Chutes And Ladders

“It doesn’t matter how bad things get.  It doesn’t matter how dark the clouds are.  You have to believe, deep in your heart, that the sun is still shining, even if, right now, you can’t feel anything except the continual downpour.” ~ SSHenry

There are times in each of our lives; moments, days, months even; when we feel like giving up; when we feel that going through the motions of daily life are just too difficult and it would be easier to curl ourselves into a small ball and just wait for it all to end.

I’ve had one of those years.

The details don’t matter.  Suffice it to say that a year ago something happened to me that turned my world upside down.  It began with a single event and cascaded (as single events tend to do) into a thundering waterfall of circumstances that swept away nearly every aspect of who and what I was.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look at the dates on my writing here on the website.  You’ll notice that since a year ago the entries became fewer and farther between.  There would be months between entries.  That is because I was spending every last ounce of energy keeping my head above water; trying desperately not to drown in my own tears.

I was left clinging tenaciously to one thing and, oddly enough, it wasn’t someone or something outside of myself that I found myself clinging to.  It was an inner knowing; an understanding that even though it felt as if all of my insides had been torn out through my chest and kicked about by people in very dirty and heavy work boots before being randomly stuffed back in, it was going to be ok.

Somewhere deep inside I knew that even though it felt as if things would never get better, that this was just one of life’s weird twists.  It wasn’t the end.  It was more like the square on the Shute’s and Ladders board where you plummet back to nearly the beginning before picking yourself up and beginning the climb all over again.

Mind you, that didn’t make it any easier to handle.  That didn’t make the days any easier to face.  What it did was enable me to use my meditation and mindfulness skills to focus on the right here and now, as painful as it was; on getting through today.  Not looking towards tomorrow.  Not planning for the future;  just on getting through the day; through the morning; through the next hour.  I survived moment by moment until the hole in my heart scabbed over and reduced itself to an aching throb.

And after nearly a year’s worth of mornings where the alarm would go off and I would groan in disappointment at finding myself still alive and at the prospect of having to deal with yet another pointless and meaningless day; after nearly a year’s worth of days finding myself bursting into tears for no particular reason; one morning I surprised myself by waking up with a smile in my heart.  I could feel the sun again, and see colors.

Sure enough, when I checked the scab that had covered the hole where my insides were torn out had finally fallen off, leaving new pink skin underneath.  Mind you, it’s still very, very tender, and painful when exposed to the air or vigorous rubbing.  But it’s whole.  And I can feel my insides carefully rearranging themselves.  I think there may be a few pieces missing, for there certainly seems to be an emptiness inside that wasn’t there before.

Or maybe there is nothing missing.  Maybe during this last year, while I was focusing on getting through the day; maybe I grew.  Maybe it is not that there is something missing.  Maybe instead it is that there is now room inside of me; room for more; more of everything.

The Dark Demon of Despair

“Have you ever dealt with the dark demon of despair? Have you ever invited him to walk with you as you wend your way through life? Has he ever held your hand as you balanced on the razor’s edge of sanity and seduced you with his promises of oblivion?” ~ SSHenry

Sometimes the demon of despair doesn’t need an invitation.  Sometimes he just appears out of the clear blue and swoops you up before you have a chance to protest.  One minute you are on top of the world.  The next minute you’ve been dragged down into a morass of pain so deep that you are sure that you will never find a way out.

And sometimes; sometimes it seems that the only way to be rid of the pain is to stop living.

Yes, I know despair is not the usual topic for this time of the year.  Usually we focus on love and romance and the promise of spring, but here is the thing; there are people all around you who are grappling with this demon even as we speak.  Who knows, you may be one of them yourself.  And it is times of the year like this; holidays dedicated to love and family and having a positive outlook on life that can be the hardest for these people because it emphasizes everything that they do not (or that they no longer) have.

The reasons why any one of us may give in to this demon are as many and as varied as there are people in the world.  Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you to death.  Perhaps you love has left you for someone else.  Perhaps you’ve received bad news regarding your job or your finances or your health.  Perhaps you have simply become jaded by life and no longer see the purpose of it all. Does it really matter?  If there is one thing about the demon, it is that he is an equal opportunity employer and absolutely no respecter of persons.

And while we may not be able to predict when this demon comes to call or just how hard he’ll impact us when he does, we do have a choice of whether or not we will give in to the despair that is his dark inheritance.

Yes.  There are going to be days when it seems that we cannot take a single more moment; moments that are so painful that the thought of bearing one more instant is physically painful.  But there is one way to ensure that the despair will not consume you entirely and that is to find your anchor of joy.

Your anchor of joy is what keeps you tethered to the knowledge that this clinging fog of doubt and depression is not the way it always was, nor the way it always will be.  And while it may seem impossible to remember the good times when the darkness threatens to swallow you whole, if you can find just one moment of joy in each day and hold that close to your heart, it can be enough to keep you alive.

It doesn’t have to be anything big.  Perhaps it is the contented purr of a cat, the vivid colors of a spectacular sunset, the overwhelming awesomeness of your favorite piece music or the simple beauty in a budding flower.  It may even be something more mundane like the deep robust scent of your coffee, the way the sun slants through your bedroom window or the feel of clean sheets against your skin.

Whatever it is that brings you that moment of joy, however brief, hold it close.  Hold it tight.  As you slog through the rest of your day; as the cold darkness of despair threatens to engulf you, focus on that moment.  Relieve it in your mind as many times as you need to and know that there is hope.

And one morning you will wake up to find that the one moment has become two, and then three and, before you know it they will have multiplied and you will have banished that cold dark demon from your life and will be living in the sunlight once again.

So don’t give up.  And if you know someone close to you that is wrestling with this particular demon, don’t give up on them.  Help them to find their anchor of joy.  You cannot find it for them, but you can help them to recognize it for what it is and encourage them to hold it close to their hearts and hold tight to the knowledge that there are brighter days to come.

A Blue-Gray Wind


There are colors on the wind tonight, and flavors in the rain. So I roll down my window as I drive, and let the colors float through, taste the flavors of the raindrops on my tongue.

I found a last shred of hope under the visor, but lost it when a blue-gray wind whipped through the car and carried it out into the woods where crickets are calling out for reinforcements against what has to be invading bull-frog hoards. I slam on the breaks, but it’s gone. All gone, whipped off and no longer visible, and I find tears on my cheeks, for it was all I had left, and now my heart is left empty.

But even as I sigh and head back down the slick black road, dodging puddles and downed tree-branches, I have to wonder what they thought of a blue-gray wind bearing hope. Did one side or the other see it as an omen, a sign of divine intervention on their behalf?

Or maybe it didn’t pause in those damp green woods, perhaps it drifted right over the heads of the battling crickets and bull-frogs and instead drifted off into the fields where slightly soggy lightning bugs are huddling under ivy leaves in the hopes that it will dry out enough for them to give their backsides a good workout – it’s been a very long time after all, and what would they make of a blue-gray wind carrying hope?

Or did the wind ignore the lightning bugs and instead curl itself around the legs of a late-night jogger, devoted soul, only a devoted soul would be out jogging on a night when blue-gray winds are whipping things out of people’s cars and splattering white mesh running shoes with muddy spray. Did my hope trip up the jogger? Make them fall face first into a mud puddle? Are they even now spitting out a mouthful of mud and brushing the leaf bits out of their hair?

They probably didn’t even notice the hope. They would have cursed it. What need has a jogger of hope? Focused devotion, that is the only emotion that they have room for, they probably carry it strapped to their arm like an iPod, turned up to highest volume, nothing else in the world for them at that moment in

Perhaps my hope never made landfall at all, and is even now drifting off into the stratosphere, its blue-gray transport slowly turning to silver-white as it crystallizes into ice, its silver touch chilling the hope to nearly the freezing point.

But that’s the nice thing about hope you see, it can never be entirely destroyed, so even a silver-white wind wouldn’t have any effect on it – or not entirely, it might make it sluggish and cold, but eventually the silver-white wind would lose its grip, and on its way down – spiraling down to earth, it might just get caught up in an updraft, and a sliver of rising morning sun, and a splatter of raindrops, and, just for a moment, my hope, that hope I had tucked so securely beneath my visor, that hope for which I had such great plans, would be visible to the world, reflected off a million raindrops, refracted by a million photons of sunlight, and trickling down to the world – into my waiting hands, in an outpour of shimmering multi-hued rainbow light.

And I smile, because that’s my hope. I feel it in my heart of hearts, recognized it the moment I saw it. And it’s made even greater now, by having been lost, it’s finding can touch the hearts of thousands – of millions – and perhaps they will not be silly enough to fold it in half and tuck it under their visors, but instead keep it always in their hearts and souls for all the world to see.