Being here, doing this
He settled into the chair across from me and, smiling, said, “Sometimes it takes a while to realize you’re in the right place at the right time...” I smiled back, anticipating his punch line, “...being here, doing this.” It wasn’t difficult to know what he was thinking – he’s an old friend.
Over time I’ve come to recognize and welcome people like him into my life, the comforting ones who are content to know that they already occupy a place in this world and this life just their shape and size. The easy familiarity of their companionship encourages my own journey, each time that I pause at the threshold before my next step.
I reach out to touch the glass of the mirror in which he is my reflection, remembering that this is really myself that I see. This is that first face that I see each morning, and each morning I pause to say “good morning” to him. For similar reasons, as I fall asleep at night, I recall the people I’ve seen that day and say “goodnight, sleep well” to each of them. And so I sleep well.
We all cross these thresholds every day – sleeping and waking, coming and going, greeting and parting – and it is good to hesitate as we do, to take the time each time to connect with ourselves and with one another, thoughtfully, and with care. This is how we sustain the continuity needed to live life well, and to know that we’re always in the right place at the right time – and though it may not always be comfortable, it is always where we belong.
What interrupts this awareness of life’s natural flow is the illusion of abrupt urgencies – the demands and obligations that suddenly dismay us, and upset our personal hopes and plans. As we begin to expect these interruptions we become apprehensive, watching for how things might go wrong any moment now, and so self-confidence and curiosity become eroded by defensiveness and worry.
The events of life themselves are like the occasional elements of a landscape – the mountains and the meadows, the woods and the streams. They appear to us in light and in shadow by turns, as the sun plays upon them and as clouds pass by – and we are pleased and we are troubled by the way things seem to change.
We find ourselves crossing the threshold between pleasure and sorrow frequently, because suffering and joy are very human responses to the events of life – these feelings are part of what it is we do as sentient, sensing beings. The events do not do this to us, mind you; we do it to ourselves in response to them. All sentient beings experience this, I’m sure, just as I’m sure that all beings are sentient.
This experience of suffering and joy is particularly seen in the human experience of disease and recovery – the hard work found at the threshold of a greater health. While it is said there is no poison that is not found near its antidote, their relationship has a more valuable purpose than in providing simple cures.
I’ve said before that my two eyes have differing opinions of what they see, and yet they work together to recognize what they cannot see alone: the depth of dimension. What we believe are polar opposites, such as disease and recovery or sorrow and joy, do not simply neutralize one another, they come together to compound themselves and provide something much more vital: dimension and resilience, and wisdom and compassion – that remarkable sort of health that is only incubated by what many think of as the suffering of illness.
Being here and doing this, pausing to meet and complete ourselves at this threshold, is not simply leaving something behind to plunge into something better ahead. This place where we are, where paths converge, is the numinous crucible where we happen to be, ready for the transformation by which we are invigorated, here and now, at the junction of our capacity and our potential.
Health – living life well – is not after all about resting in comfort and convenience. It is about pausing to stand and accept the challenge and opportunity of being actively present in this world and this life, knowing ourselves and knowing where we make our stand, and engaged in what is taking place within us and about us – and by responding to it, we become responsible.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also writer, poet, and the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. email@example.com.