My Instagram followers already know that many of my post ideas appear like lightning strikes out of the blue. They manifest during meditation, hugely distracting me from the task at hand, and all I can do is sit by and watch helplessly as the post virtually writes itself. On the one hand, it’s pretty cool, this charged jolt of inspiration. The ideas are really good, they’re eloquently organized, deeply heartfelt. Sometimes they even squeeze a tear from my dry eye. But on the other hand, they’re a little frustrating. The transcription is never as good as the original document, and so much for my concentration. (God? Who’s God?) The idea infiltrates my meditating brain and I can focus on absolutely nothing else. Be kind this one insisted. On repeat.
In the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. It felt like my meditations were being hijacked, and it was enormously frustrating. In addition to feeling like a failing devotee (I could just imagine my guru shaking his head at me as I wrestled to regain control), the post ideas were always of the deeper variety, and often made me a little uncomfortable to share. Sometimes really uncomfortable. That familiar and much-dreaded feeling of knowing I was exposing myself to judgement, attack, criticism. Sometimes I think how nice it would be if I could just post pictures of pretty sunsets and adorable animals like most other normal Instagramers. But for some reason, things are never quite that simple for me.
God’s Calling Card
But in spite of the reluctance, I shared the thoughts–still do. It would be hard not to; there’s always this sense of urgency. Which is a little contradictory because urgency is usually directly linked to the ego and it’s clear sign that I should stop, or at least proceed with caution. The one critical difference is that there’s never any reluctance involved when the ego is calling the shots. It would (and sometimes does) cheerfully push me to my downfall, no foot-dragging involved; there’s nothing hesitant about it.
Consequently, that inner reluctance became the calling card of a God-post; if my ego was saying no, then I knew God was saying yes. So I would share, and over and over the same thing would happen: someone would reach out with a grateful thanks, that’s just what I needed today. This happening once or twice I could easily ignore, so God made sure it happened over and over (and over) again. Just giving me enough time to connect the dots, I guess. Of course this exchange instantly changed things in my mind and that initial reluctance morphed into defiance. All of a sudden I didn’t care if ninety-nine people had hated my post (and even attacked me for it), one person had liked it. Had needed it. And that was good enough for me.
Over time, it started to feel like I was some kind of conduit, given the task of spreading just a minuscule dose of love. Or maybe I was assuring a lonely someone that they weren’t really alone. Perhaps I was making a “weirdo” feel less weird. Sometimes I would unknowingly encourage someone who was in need of support. No matter what came of those posts, it always increased my love (and compassion) for humans, and made me feel like I had God’s nod of approval. And I was 100% okay with all of that.
I can’t take full credit for the posts; it’s a 90/10 partnership at the very most. Honestly, even that feels generous, maybe 95/5 is closer to the truth. If it inspires someone, encourages someone, comforts someone, God gets all the kudos. She was just smart enough to choose someone who loves to express herself through words, time and time again. No matter how many time She asks.
Those lightning bolts slowed down some when I left Instagram and focused on other projects. The inspiration was still flowing and the ideas were still coming, so I never felt like I had lost that sacred connection with creativity, with God. But then I got back on Instagram and just like that, the bolts were back. I’ve never understood the energy exchange I have with Instagram because there’s something strange about it all. Something I’ve never been able to explain. But I guess I don’t really need to know the why of it in order for it to happen, because last night it struck again. And here I am type-typing away.
They Seemed So…Perfect
Lately God keeps repeatedly showing me something, making sure I understand. Or maybe it’s more of a reminder not to forget lessons I’ve already learned. My recurring reminder? Don’t trust that what you see is all there is.
I’ve known someone for my entire life who believes that what she sees visually is, in fact, the whole and complete story. They’re smiling? Well, they must be happy. They’re crying? Well, they must be sad. They’re holding hands? Well, they must be in love. Being so close to her, I witnessed a pattern repeat itself over and over again in her life. I still remember her shock when she told me that the neighbors with the “perfect” marriage were overheard fighting. No, not fighting, screaming, and open windows on a summer’s night meant the neighborhood had front row seats. The news was met with an indifferent shrug from me (well, of course they argue), but she couldn’t believe it. They seemed so…perfect.
God kept offering her the opportunity to understand that the grass was never as green as she thought it was. My friend would take a person or a situation at face value only, and never question whether or not there was more going on that she couldn’t see. It’s interesting that I didn’t adopt this attitude myself because I grew up alongside it, but I wonder now if I was learning that particular lesson right along with her. Maybe God was teaching me through her. Because my reaction to the brilliant smile has always been more along the lines of, But I wonder if she’s really happy…
Darkness & Light
I know how easy it is for some of us to don the façade; I did it for a lot of years. If we met during that time of my life, you’d think we were having an interesting/deep/fun conversation. I was cheerful and I was friendly. You’d probably want to be my friend. What you wouldn’t suspect is that my hands were shaking because I felt trapped and couldn’t easily escape (you). Or that I had a hot knot of terror in my belly just waiting for the suffocating wave of panic to break over me. Or that the constant fear of finally snapping, being committed, and having my children taken away always loomed large in the back of my mind. You’d never guess that my seemingly healthy body was breaking. I could paint on that pretty face while I was dying inside. And you’d probably believe it.
There are a lot who’ll disagree with me, but it wasn’t inauthentic. The darkness in me was much bigger than the light, but the light was still there. By smiling, day after day, that light eventually won. So the smile wasn’t a lie, but it was never the whole truth, either. It was never the bigger truth. But I’m veering off course; that’s another post for another day.
So lately, God keeps reminding me that smiles can and do easily mask the pain. Sometimes I think about how brave we are right up until we either break or rise. How we keep getting out of bed every day, pulling on our armor, and getting through the next twenty-four hours the very best we can. Sometimes we do okay, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we start crying the moment our eyes open and we realize we have to do it all again, indefinitely. So we paste on the smile, go about our business, come home, and cry ourselves to sleep.
Have you ever thought about how strong humans are? Really thought about that? We neglect our bodies, we neglect our minds, we neglect our souls, and then? They keep on ticking. It’s pretty incredible the sheer strength (and courage) contained in these small forms.
So there are all of these battered souls moving through life every day. They walk beside us, and they eat beside us. Sometimes they even sleep beside us. In the worst of times they are us. And you might never know. I mean, they look happy enough and their life seems like it’s in complete order. But what happens when the smile fails? Sometimes I felt like a pressure cooker and that mounting tension would manifest in other ways; the constant pressure has to escape somewhere, right? And sometimes it wasn’t through a cheerful smile.
Only On the Outside
I remember one New Year’s Day when the girls were still small. The family met at my house that year (not sure what I was thinking…) and we celebrated the start to another three hundred and sixty-five days. Food, games, lots of little kids having lots of (loud) fun, and by the end of the day my already battered nervous system was ready to snap. Sure, I was still smiling. But only on the outside.
It was nearing the end of the day and things were looking good; I might actually survive the cheerful chaos. Then, in typical kid fashion, the troop of littles came tearing in from outside, roaring joyfully through the house…and leaving a smeared (disgusting) trail of dog poop behind. Someone (I name no names) had stepped in a pile and tracked it all through, over, under and around my kitchen. That was it–my final straw. I remember yelling something about dog shit (and I don’t typically swear) and then storming off in a rage (pressure released). I retreated to the quiet of my bedroom, sought out my meditation chair and tried to hunt down my sanity. Mostly I stared out the window and prayed desperately for peace.
My husband could have reacted in one of many ways because my behavior was totally inappropriate. Most people would have yelled back, and I kind of deserved it. Or given me a lecture on taking out my anger on the kids; I kind of deserved that, too. But you know what he did? He filled the mop bucket and he quietly cleaned up the mess. And you know why I remember it all these years later? Because it was kind.
He didn’t feed my pain with more pain. He diffused it with kindness.
Behind the Smile
No one knew I was ready to snap that day. It was good times, we were laughing and celebrating; I imagine I looked as perfectly happy as I had looked for thirty years. But you never really know what’s going on behind that façade; I couldn’t have doled out pain like that (poor kiddos) if I hadn’t been in such pain myself. And while growing up I had learned the significance of those hidden stories through my friend’s lessons, living behind the smile had given me a whole different perspective. One I prayed to carry with me as I healed.
There have been many chances to exercise compassion through the years. It’s like when you buy a new car and all of a sudden you see them everywhere? That’s how it was with panic/anxiety/depression. So much suffering, everywhere, that I had never noticed before. And now I could feel their pain, and sympathize with their suffering. Well…for the most part.
One day the girls and I were on our afternoon walk. We live on a country road–no sidewalks–and the drivers and pedestrians usually share the quiet streets peacefully. Generally the cars kindly slow to pass us, and if there’s traffic from more than one direction at a time, one will stop and let the other pass. You know, so as not to run us over. There are often smiles and waves, sometimes beeps.
But one day a pick-up truck roared past and the driver decided he hated us, for reasons unknown. “Get off of the road!” he screamed out his window. I’m not sure where we were supposed to go exactly. Wade through the poison ivy? Tiptoe along the stone wall? And honestly, in moments like that compassion isn’t always my first reaction. My first reaction was to turn around and flip him off, because, you know, what a freaking jerk. But I didn’t, because I’d been in training for a while, and I listened while God whispered something soothing. Then I rode out that ego flair, mustered some strength, and refrained from obscene (though warranted) gestures.
Because in that moment I was (somehow) able to remember that you can’t give pain if you don’t have pain. I imagine if this dude had just won a million dollars on a scratch ticket and had passed us under exactly the same circumstances, he wouldn’t have wasted a second harassing us. Basically, we were his dog poop: wrong place, wrong time. Pressure released.
Mop the Floor
I remind myself that I don’t know what’s going on behind the scream just as I don’t really know what’s going on behind the smile. And if I see ugly on the surface, it can only be because there’s ugly behind the scenes. Who knows what terrible things could be happening in that guy’s story? He could have been just like me, his world crashing down around him. Or worse, maybe he was fighting his way through the aftermath, the destruction. What if he just found out his girlfriend was cheating on him? Maybe his dog was dying. Maybe he was dying. And yeah, maybe he was just a jerk, but I imagine that’s pretty painful, too.
I can’t control his reaction, but I can control mine. I can ball the fist, bite my tongue…and mop the floor. I can diffuse some of the pain by not feeding the pain. Sometimes I fail; it’s hard for me. Unfortunately, my first reaction is to respond in kind. You think you’re cutting? I can probably cut deeper. You want to argue. I’ll probably win. But then I remember the mop, and if I can do nothing bigger, I can walk away. I don’t need to stick around for the continued abuse, but I don’t need to increase the pain, either.
Right now, God wants me to keep on remembering that in a world where I can be anything, be kind.
And since the lighting struck, I guess maybe God thought one of you needed to hear that, too. Either that, or someone’s just about to step in dog poop.
Have a happy week, friends. Love & Blessings ~ Melinda
(For more in my spiritual series, please visit here)