A jar of real human feelings

I’ve started and scrapped this letter so many times already. It’s hard to be profound when it seems the world is spiraling out of control, isn’t it? It seems an inappropriate time for self-reflection, but that’s my schtick. I’m supposed to be teasing out a thread of meaning to offer you—some small idea to warm you like a blanket. All I have is a pile of rags. Shit’s fucked up, it turns out.

But sit down anyway, I’ll try to build a nest from these scraps.

In the grocery store a week ago, my son asked, “When you become a parent, who tells you how to do stuff?” I was engrossed in the ingredients list on the organic ketchup bottle, and surprised by the question (though why his perceptions surprise me still, who knows). Still, honesty befit the moment, so I went with that.

I’m just making it up. No one tells you how to be a parent and do things. You just make it up as you go and hope it all works out.

Panic fell across his face as he realized there was no pilot on the plane; no one was driving this bus. I felt a catch in my throat because suddenly, and finally, I understood the same thing.

I really enjoyed this episode of The Big Think, featuring Krista Tippett. The part that really stuck on me though, is when she talks about how we really meet our selves—we even become our selves—when everything begins to fall apart.

“We are made by what would break us.”

I think about this often. Pema writes in a similar theme:

“We’re so used to running from discomfort, and we’re so predictable. If we don’t like it, we strike out at someone or beat up on ourselves. We want to have security and certainty of some kind when actually we have no ground to stand on at all.

The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We have no ground to stand on, and at the same time it could soften us and inspire us. Finally, after all these years, we could truly grow up. As Trungpa Rinpoche once said, the best mantra is “OM—grow up—svaha.”

We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked.

Maybe that sounds too uncomfortable or frightening, but on the other hand, it’s our chance to realize that this mundane world is all there is, and we could see it with new eyes and at long last wake up from our ancient sleep of preconceptions.”

I’m going to be honest with you. Historically, I’m not at my best in these times. I panic. I collapse. I crumble apart. (I write poorly.) Right now, in our big world, there’s not a lot of dry land to find footing on. There’s been a good deal of scary images and sounds and news bites floating across our various glowing screens the past few weeks, so it’s hard to feel grounded. I’m afraid that for me, groundlessness, if left unchecked, can slip into nihilism.

I feel shame around this, my coward’s defense, my surly cat. When I delude myself into thinking nothing matters, when I stop caring, my heart contracts and stiffens. Joy and pleasure drain away and I can lose my self there; I find it’s comfortable, even. Like lying down on a cool, stone floor. I can see right through that bottle, and it seems safe compared to the murk and muck you’ll find in a jar of real human feelings. I hate that about me.

It’s my great work, I think, to carry that particular truth of my self around my neck, while foolhardily, nakedly trudging through this mundane world just being a person for as long as I possibly can.

All of this is to say that I don’t know. And I am not wise enough or wealthy enough or strong enough to fix or fight the wrongs in this world. It hurts like hell to stay soft and find inspiration, but I can sit down with the pain that needs attending—that’s my schtick, after all. I can be vulnerable and honest, should it befit the moment. I can tell you that I’m struggling with panic and the instinct to bolt. I can try to grow the fuck up. But let’s be real, I’m just making shit up, doing the best I can.

Gentle Reader, I hope it works out. For my sake, as well as yours.

Melissa Jo Hill

Author: Melissa

Melissa Jo Hill is a writer, thinker, mystic, and mom in Upstate New York. She writes field guides to the internet.