By: Danielle Wilson
I’ve been working towards regulating my ups and downs, recently. It wasn’t long ago when a mentor of mine asked me how life works and gave me a choice between three hand gestures: one with her hand going up a slope, another sliding down, and one waving up and down, up and down, like a rollercoaster. In the moment, deep down, I knew that life as an upward slope was the wrong answer, but before the thought even collected itself, I was acknowledging how I had lived my entire life, until that point, as if it was an upward climb. Life, in fact, is a rollercoaster; this never-ending stream of ups and downs that keeps us in a cycle of utter impermanence.
I was told to “be with” the rollercoaster of life, to accept that I’m involuntarily on the ride, and just sit back to watch it happen—rather than fighting every downward, upward, or sideways turn so harshly. As it was my first experience living outside the idea that I could climb and claw my way to the top—a place where, in my mind, joy was ever-present, success was heightened and attained, and worry was a thing of the past…it’s actually hilarious that I ever believed such an outlandish fairytale to be true—I clung to this advice like gospel.
Aiming to just sit with whatever stage of life I landed in, I did just that: I sat in it. If I felt happy, I was jumping, and dancing, and perspiring with joy. If I was anxious, even a little bit, forget it; I’d say to myself, “well, I’m with my anxiety today, so I guess I’m just going to be uneasy and straddling the line of physical nausea all day.” Life was either incredibly easy, or heart wrenchingly difficult. Each low seemed to dive deeper than the last, while every high hit a larger peak than the former. The rollercoaster I was trying to sit back, and ride was beginning to drive itself out of control—meanwhile, driving me (and everyone around me) completely mad. It wasn’t until I reached the lowest valley of life I’ve ever experienced—unable to get out of bed, fulfill my commitments or responsibilities, burdened with the feeling of being constantly on edge—when, amidst my inconsolable tears, a friend said to me, gently, “Danielle, as much as life is a rollercoaster, I feel like your ups and downs are just so much larger than the average person.” He was right. In my attempt to just following the ride of life, I had forgone the control that I do have in manipulating the direction of either slope. As I surrendered my own will in the matter, the highs peaked higher and lows dove lower, resulting in a push and pull of my emotions, my life, so strong that it prompted a complete breakdown of mind, body, and soul.
It was clear to me that I either needed to alter my perspective, seek professional help, or both. I geared up for the former, more cost-effective option, and decided to look at “being with” my emotions, differently. I realized that being with something meant that it was outside of me, not a part of me. Yes, I had enough awareness to recognize where my heart and headspace were at on any given day, but I was being in that mindset/emotion rather than simply being with it.
Awhile back, I was in a yoga class when the instructor advised us to take all of our mental baggage and set it beside our mats. I loved this visual. It insinuated that I didn’t have to ignore the things I was thinking or feeling, but I also didn’t have to sit in them helplessly. I could acknowledge them, set them aside, and focus my energy on the task at hand. In the beginning, I knew that my baggage was there beside me, my awareness of it resulting in a thought or glance over, for comfort almost, but what I realized was that, after some time, the thoughts and emotions I had set aside caught my attention less, and less until, eventually, they dissipated all together.
By kindly placing my mental baggage/emotional state to the side of myself in order to be with it, rather than in it, I am able to acknowledge my awareness of it without judgement or attachment, remain engaged and focused on the present, and all of my priorities and goals that come with it. Inevitably, I can exist on a fluctuating ride of life which remains fairly steady in comparison to the hills and valleys I’ve surrendered to for so long. There is a balance to merely accepting the cards that we’re dealt in life—we may not be capable of controlling which event, experience, mood, or mental state falls into our lap, but we absolutely have the choice to perceive and work with each moment in a way that either serves or hinders our highest good. We’re not as helpless as we may think, or as I once thought, and I think that thought alone can bring hope to anyone experiencing the waves of existence on an exponential scale.