When They're All Lined Up With Sticks
I talk a lot about presence.
If you've read my recent blogs, it may seem as if I've got this presence and surrender thing nailed.
Yay me! I can cross that bit off my to-do list.
Except it doesn't work like that, does it?
Presence isn't something we accomplish. It's something we bring ourselves back to . . . again and again and AGAIN.
So if I gave you the impression that I'm all calm and zen, I owe you a huge apology.
Several weeks ago, before COVID 19 had really taken hold—before social distancing and masks and gloves and closure of schools and businesses—I experienced something that really threw me off my game.
I was out running errands, and had made a quick stop at my local Food Mart.
I hadn't intended to pick up groceries. I hadn't even packed my shopping bags in the car. But a sudden inspiration for spaghetti-squash-noodles had hit and I'd pulled over without a second thought.
It wasn't until I was already deeply invested in the fresh produce aisle, that I began to notice the weird, anxious vibe of the shoppers around me. What was happening? I looked around and saw people dumping armloads of bottled water and canned goods into their carts with a great deal of urgency.
I placed a couple more items into my basket, and walked quietly to the self-check-out lane where a growing number of apocalypse shoppers were gathering with their toilet paper. Everything felt tense and uncomfortable. Long lines were forming.
Suddenly it was my turn at the machine. I dug for my wallet and card, but my purse wouldn't cooperate.
I balanced my groceries on my hip, tugging and pulling at the clasp, as a growing number of people shuffled restlessly behind me. Damn it.
I set my purse down and received an immediate alarm signal to GET IT OUT OF THE BAGGING AREA. Fuck. I wrenched the wallet free, tucked my purse under my arm football-style, then scanned a couple of items only to discover that I couldn't get the grocery bag open.
The alarm went off again.
A flame of fear fanned up through my heart.
The bag didn't have an opening. I fumbled with it as the people in line breathed the heat of their frustration down my neck. I grabbed at another bag but it was just as impossible as the first one. I was caught in some sort of static-cling nightmare. Dozens of eyes narrowed in tight focus on my back, judging me for not bringing my own reusable sacks. Hating me for my clumsy, sloth hands.
I was afraid to glance sideways, certain that by now, the shadowy figures were all holding sticks. I started to sweat through my double-layered top.
And yes, dear one, I did all the right things. I turned my focus away from THEM and mentally brought myself back to ME in the present moment.
I breathed. I reminded myself not to abandon myself. And I didn't. But you need to know that even while I did that, even when I was present, I was still red-faced and shaky and weak-kneed and sweaty because seriously, WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE EFFING BAGS! For a brief moment I considered throwing everything and just running out the door but then a clerk appeared and began to massage those stubborn plastic bags open. "Someone ordered the wrong bags," she told me. "And it's stressing everyone out."
I just stood there, breathing—in and out—watching her whisper bag after bag into happy cooperation. And then it was over. I was out the door and back in the safe cocoon of my car.
Later, I thought about the incident and marvelled at the amount of times Life has intervened on my behalf.
I've found that when I'm willing to be in the present moment just as I am, there's a great deal of grace waiting for me.
And it's waiting there for you too.
But don't think for a minute that you're not allowed to wobble.
Don't imagine, even for a second, that "being present" means being as cool as a cucumber.
That's NOT what this is about.
It's about being willing to pull your attention away from the problem (and the stories you're telling yourself about the problem) and shift to just BEING in the here and now.
Sometimes the answer will appear as magically as that clerk did for me.
Sometimes it will come as an obvious impulse. Run!
Sometimes it will show up as a recognition of CHOICE.
Because even though I felt helpless and stuck at the check-out counter, I wasn't.
I could have turned around and asked someone for assistance. I could have used my coat as a make-shift bag. I could have just left my groceries in the basket and walked out the door.
We often feel like victims even when we're not.
This current crisis is no exception.
So, if it feels like everyone's all lined up with sticks (and you're the piñata) take a breath.
Resist the urge to abandon your body when discomfort hits. Stay with yourself (and your feelings) and breathe space into them.
You don't have to do this perfectly.
Just bring yourself back to presence in any way that you can.
Again and again and again.
Sending you SO much love,