The things that we each want most in the world might be different - one person dreams of success, measured by friends or fans, job title or position, Instagram followers. Another person wishes for security - they want a family or maybe money in the bank. We all want to be acknowledged in some way, to be liked by some and loved by others. These things that we wish for and that we reach for, sometimes desperately, are all a mixture of our instinct for survival combined with years of socialization and cultural programming. We’re each our own cocktail of so many different forces that combine to create our personalities and our lives. But we are also all human, and these threads of desire that move inside of us connect us deeply to each other, from the marrow of our bones.
As a yoga teacher, I am always trying to break people (especially myself) away from this line of thinking - this reaching for certain things to “complete” us in order to bring some level of happiness and satisfaction to our lives. Because it’s an endless reaching that never ends; getting one promotion has you already wishing for the next. Accumulating things over a lifetime sometimes just leads to a messy house, or a life overrun by things that have no substance. Because nothing ever quiets the searching, so that force moves in you forever, and can be the fuel of your life if you allow it.
We don’t live alone in the world, and this searching and collecting is also deeply connected to other people and to the communities that we belong to. Part of the lingering narcissism that we all carry with us from infancy comes from us classifying everything in the world as either “mine” or “yours.” But the tighter we close our fist around the things that are “mine”, and the more protective we feel about everything that we believe either belongs to us or is owed to us, the more we also close ourselves off from taking in new things and allowing growth.
I remember my first twinge of this feeling in elementary school, when I felt competitive with a classmate over who got better grades. It sounds ridiculous now, but it tormented me all through the year - after all, I was the one who got A’s, I was the best student in the class. Her success made me feel uncertain of my own. I felt this again in 2011, when I lost the job that had defined my life for 6 years. I remember how angry I was, how resentful. I just couldn’t believe that something that was mine had been taken away. How could my colleagues just keep their jobs, keep their salaries, keep their lives the same, while my life and my whole being was thrown into chaos and uncertainty? I also felt fundamentally rejected - I had been evaluated and judged, and found to not be good enough. It was like my greatest fears were all confirmed, and the ground beneath me was pulled away.
Of course, the truth behind everything is that nothing in this world ever really belongs to us. When my family and I were in the painful process of selling my childhood home, I was consumed by grief. A thing that I had feared for years was finally happening. This place of love and memories, of childhood and innocence and growth, this place that was MINE! was suddenly being taken from me, and I didn’t know how to cope. Then one day my dad said something that stopped me in my tracks: that he realized the house had never belonged to us - we had just been borrowing it. Our family had taken it over from the people who owned it before us and for 25 years, we had lived in that house, and we had taken care of it as it had taken care of us. But now it was time to pass the house on to the next family, and it was time for ours to move on. It has taken me years to learn and relearn this lesson.
This got me thinking about how everything in the world is this way - never ours, and always just on loan. Even the bodies that we move through this world in are only borrowed for the years that we spend on this earth, and when we die, we give them back to the soil. This is a truth that most people (including myself) avoid thinking about, because it means that none of us have any ground to stand on, that there is a fundamental and equal uncertainty to all of our lives. Of course this is both true and also terrifying, because it means we have to give up our illusions of being in control. Everything that we have and have worked so hard for could disappear at any time.
So we try to shield ourselves from the realities of both life and death when possible. I am certainly guilty of this - but I've been surrounded by a lot of death these past few years, and when two people I loved died unexpectedly last year over the span of two months, it lit up some strange truths inside of me. First, the knowledge that we are all just grasping at straws if we believe we have control over the events of this life. All the reaching and wanting in the world can’t make a person we love stay on this earth, even when it feels like the grief will kill us. The world still turns, the sun still rises and sets. We are all on this strange journey together, more connected than we realize.
All of these stories and memories are to say that yes, there is so much uncertainty in life. There are endless things to fear, to hope for and to run from. And what I’ve found is that the only true antidotes to uncertainty and fear are deep gratitude and love. It has taken me all my life to understand that there really, truly is enough of everything to go around. We are all sitting at the same dinner table, eating from the same plates, sharing in the same meal. This doesn’t mean that every person in this world has all that they need, but it means that I strive to live my daily life from a place of deep gratitude, for everything that I have, right now: The small apartment that I live in. The love of my family and friends. The vines that grow on the fence in my backyard. The taste of scrambled eggs and toast. My body, that is strong and capable and that carries me through each day. Gratitude and love for this world full of things, both good and bad, that belong, in their own way, to none of us and to all of us at the same time.