Learning to Laugh in the Face of Calamity

Right now, I’m sick, broke, and homeless. As the old adage goes, “when it rains, it pours.” As much as I want to curse the sky for soaking me to the core, I need to remember that I can pull out an umbrella or step inside whenever I’d like.

“Emotionally we have many problems, but these problems are not actual problems; they are something created; they are problems pointed out by our self-centered ideas or views.”

–Shunryu Suzuki

Perhaps the above adjectives are a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve been suffering from chronic fatigue and dry cough for the past six months; though frustrating and inconvenient, I am still in generally good health. This year has brought with it an abundance of unexpected expenses: medical testing and treatment, car repairs, and now home restoration; these costs are dipping their paws into my savings, but at least I have emergency savings to draw from. Finally, our home was declared “unlivable” following a pipe leak and significant water damage; though HOA and insurance refuse to pay for alternate housing, friends and family are offering their beds and floor space.

It’s far to easy to focus on the negatives in our lives–you burned the casserole, the dog has fleas, your boss is an asshole, and at 30-years-old you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. When things don’t go according to our plan, we often forget that we can’t control our circumstance, but we can control how we react to those events and emotions. We can let them corrode our well-being and sanity, or we can accept them as parts of the normal ebb and flow of life.

I’ve been increasingly interested in Buddhism across the last decade, particularly the ideas of mindfulness and non-attachment. For much of my life, my head buzzed as if the central hub of honey-production. I was constantly overwhelmed with anxiety about everything–daunting exams, terrifying class presentations, awkward first dates, unraveling friendships, my life’s purpose, and what people thought about me. I crippled myself with worry and fear, and prevented myself from living as fully as possible; I cheated myself of new friends, experiences, and life lessons.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

–Thich Nhat Hanh

Since graduating from college seven years ago, I have spent countless hours studying the mindsets, habits, and tools I can apply to live my best life and let go of any anchors that latch me to my past. Of all the ideas I’ve encounter, I believe the most profound is to remember that every moment above ground is a gift, whether or not we recognize that at first glance.

Sickness is a reminder of what a healthy body is capable of, as well as a stark contrast against which to compare your fully recovered self. In that way, illness and disease are an opportunity to recognize that any suffering in response to our condition is self-inflicted. Sickness is a reminder to cherish good health, and find joy.

A sense of lack reminds us of our true wealth–the fact that you’re reading this suggests that you have computer access and free time, both of which are more than others across the globe. Though the unexpected expenses have induced a bit of stress, I am extremely grateful for the income, foresight, and sacrifices that allowed me to build up savings for events like these, so I can respond without incurring debt. Loss is an opportunity to appreciate abundance, and seek joy.

My eyes swelled with tears as we walked away from our water-damaged home with a single suitcase stuffed with clothing, a few sentimental items, and important documents. It’s hard to leave a house you’ve built into a home knowing that it may never be the same; it’s stressful not knowing where you’re going to sleep tonight, or for the next four months. Yet, the situation offered me a new perspective on what matters. Aside from some cherished photos, cards, and sentimental gifts, everything in the home can be replaced. Knowing that many of our possessions may be lost feels freeing–as long as my boyfriend and I have each other, everything will be okay. Aimlessness is a chance to appreciate the journey, and an open invitation to joy.

“I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.”

–Rumi

So, in the face of unfavorable circumstance, I choose non-attachment and acceptance; I choose to smile, laugh, and love more deeply that ever before. Today, I have made the choice to be happy, in spite of the chaos swirling around me–like a singing bird, nestled in the warm embrace of it’s true home, rooted deeply in the center of the storm.

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