Do you want to escape?
A few weeks ago I almost yelled at a young woman in the makeup store. Like everyone else in the world, I have a lot of different feelings, but anger is one that doesn’t show up for me very often; so I’m always surprised when the heat of it flows through my veins, my mind hums, my muscles constrict, and my face blazes red.
For two months I'd planned a special mother-daughter day in downtown Boston. My plan included eating at our favorite poutine cafe, then going to the makeup store for makeovers. This was on a Sunday, and I was having new headshots taken for my business the following day. I was hoping for a fresh look for my photos, so I'd found a picture to bring in of what I would call an edgy, but professional, makeup job.
The makeup artist did her thing and kept going on about how awesome it was looking. I trusted her, since my eyes were closed, and my expectations lifted. When she was all done, she turned my chair to face the mirror and said, “Open your eyes.”
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! She’d put red eye-shadow all over my eyelid, and even underneath my eye. She’d made the color droop down at the outside edges of my eye too… it was an edgy, professional look for a sad circus clown. There was so much concealer, and light skin-toned powder under my eyes that I was afraid to move for fear of cracking my face. With a little reconsideration, I decided I looked like a sad, circus-clown zombie.
“I look like a clown,” I said. Choking back my frustration. She tried to convince me that it looked exactly like the photo I’d shown her. After debating with me, she grudgingly attempted to make an adjustment — but we were clearly not seeing this situation the same.
“No, I can’t...” was all I could manage to say without losing my cool. My jaw was on lock down, my muscles spasmed as I tried to quiet the insults screaming in my head. I stood up, walked to the next booth over, got a cleansing wipe and scrubbed everything off my face.
My daughter, not used to seeing me so upset, started crying. Throughout the afternoon, waves of frustration, disbelief, disappointment, and anger flowed through me. In my head I wrote a letter to her manager, “I don’t care if the customer looks like Angelina Jolie on Oscar night, if the customer says, 'I look like a clown,' then the employee should apologize and do everything in their power to make it right.”
So ultimately what did I do? Nothing. I know that my experience is transient— like a kaleidoscope that’s constantly turning. It’s kind of like that saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
Even people who suffer from depression, when asked to really consider if they experience depressed thoughts and feelings 24/7, will find that they do have moments of relief. Moments where they’re concentrating on a problem at work, moments where they’re concerned for someone else, moments where they’re smiling despite of themselves.
One of the blessings of living in a first-world country is that with our survival taken care of, we’re left with space to consider our happiness, or our feeling states. Given adequate time for pondering, we’ve developed a cultural dialog which says that out of all the ways to feel, being happy… or at least content... is best. But I would argue that this dialog has actually kept us from reaching what we aspire to.
In past articles we've explored how we are not our thoughts, our ideas, or our labels… but we are vessels for experience — a wide variety of experience. We trip ourselves up when we think that we are, or should be, designed for only one or two flavors.
I am most alive when the sweet and sour flavors hit my lips — the strong ones, the subtle ones… the sugary ones, the bitter ones. Why struggle for a one dimensional experience?
If I look past the “shoulds,” I can see that I am full color. I am high definition. I am alive with the sensations of experience passing through me.
I am alive with the experience of this world. I am alive through my perceptions of this world — and I am most alive when I am not struggling.
Please don’t read that as, “I am most alive when I am happy.” No! I am most alive when I embrace all the colors that live me.
Why would I ever want to turn my full color, HD life into a black and white reel? Why would I ever want to live only half-way? Why would I ever want to eliminate lightning storms in exchange for eternal sunshine?
I am most alive when rather than hiding from the rainstorm, I choose to dance in it. I am most alive when the pain of loss wakes me. I am most alive when I cry for joy… but I can never know that joy without first knowing the absence of it.
The longing, the stress, the sleepless nights, the tears… they are not who I am, but they remind me of the life flowing through me. They remind me that I am alive. They remind me that I breathe. They remind me that I am vital.
Only a dead person can escape longing, stress, sleeplessness, and tears. And this life is too interesting, too rich, too full, too vibrant, and too precious for me to wish for that kind of escape.