Pelicans fly low sometimes, skimming along the surface of the water. (Not flying high now.) They’re mostly looking for a meal, for nourishment. Being low has its benefits for pelicans. And, I’ve decided, for me, too. Although the name of this publication is Flying High Solo, no one is “up” all the time.
By currently flying low, I’m learning some valuable lessons. Before I share them, let me set the stage.
Americans – happy all the time
Years ago I read a great article, so great, I remember it still (but wish I knew the author’s name). It was about Americans’ fear of feeling down, of being sad. The author had just returned from Italy and contrasted what she witnessed there as the Italian attitude toward sadness with ours. There, she said, crying and sadness were considered normal parts of life. (Hey, c’est la vie, to mix languages.)
Here in the US, of course, sadness is considered a pathology. (As of 2011, one in ten Americans was taking anti-depressants.) We are supposed to be happy all the time – going out with the crowd drinking beer/wine and laughing, or cozied up at home with our loved ones. We’re supposed to be posting our adventures, accomplishments, favorite photos, movies/music/memories on Facebook, our job promotions on Linked In, Tweeting our favorite thoughts of the day. We’re the extroverted happy culture.
Great article in the Atlantic a while back on whether Facebook is making us lonely.
Get out there!
It’s not by accident that I use the word “extroverted” in relation to the happiness culture. I’m now reading the brilliant and (for me) comforting book, Quiet, by Susan Cain, subtitled “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” I have not gotten to the power section yet, but her analysis of how and why the “Culture of Personality” replaced the “Culture of Character” is very revealing – and for me, I’ll admit, a bit sad. (And I still recommend the book highly.)
Cain also explores the whole self-improvement movement, epitomized by Tony Robbins. You know we are told constantly that through positive thinking and positive actions we should achieve happiness, fame, and fortune. We must do the practice – train ourselves to be happy and positive. So much pressure for happiness! But, the truth is, real life means not always flying high.
Low right now
Currently I’m a bit low because I’ve recently sold my townhouse and am a homeless itinerant, traveling around, biding time until I have to go back to work in March as an academic adviser at Ohio University. Then I have to start a new life somewhere. I’m feeling at loose ends… a bit worried – unconnected, up in the air (but not very high!). Worried about what life will be like, about finding a place I can afford. (My plan is to go to Denver.) Now I know why most people stay where they are. This quest to find the next place takes you out of your comfort zone – you think you have no one but yourself, and much of the time, that’s true.
Sadness is useful
When I’m flying low, I need nourishment, like a pelican, but for me, it’s emotional food.
And when you’re sad, you revisit your life – and think about what you’re doing and wonder if your life is going in the right direction. You question things. That’s a valuable exercise. And, you come up with new insights.
In this current flying low phase, I’ve clarified some thoughts on sadness and come up with some insights that may be useful to others.
The value of sadness
1) It’s an opportunity to reach out to someone, a friend, an acquaintance. There are some people out there who care. Make the effort to share what you’re going through. It might be hard, and it might take a couple of contacts to find the right “ear,” but by sharing your problems or vulnerability, you may even help the other person have an insight about their lives. At the very least, a sympathetic ear validates you and that feels good.
(Note: When you’re over your sadness, you can offer to be the empathetic ear to someone else and create a circle of caring.)
2) Don’t be afraid to cry. Latest information is that tears release toxins and relieve stress. It’s good for you!
3) Do something, take an action, make a plan, decide on a first step to fix the situation. That will also force you to reach out – for information, new ideas, new contacts. Sometimes an understanding or encouraging word can come from an unlikely place.
(Example, I reached out to three realtors to start my search for an affordable house around Denver. The third said something that dislodged me from my funk. She said, “Trust the universe, your house is out there. Believe that the universe is preparing it for you right now.”
Wow – a gift from a stranger. A realtor who was not just about numbers and sales! One who put my mind at ease. Taking an action can lead to useful surprises.
4) Find a way to trust that the resources are there to work things out. Let me explain this – as I don’t mean it just as baseless positive thinking.
I struggled with the trust question after the realtor said “trust the universe.” The idea that the universe (or God) will provide seemed a bit too – well, passive a way to be for me. Although I have had some good luck in life, and wonderful help from a lot of people, I also had to work hard for so many things in life. It didn’t seem quite right to just give it up and just let it all happen.
So I thought about it and here’s what I came up with. The universe is a cornucopia of resources – natural, man-made, and human. Birds and trees and mountains and the sea and all of nature inspire our spirits and feed our bodies and souls; books and buildings, restaurants and planes and cities and towns and merchandise provide shelter and work and entertainment; and the great human resource, people, give us information, kindness, comraderie, and caring.
So trusting the universe suddenly meant for me – knowing the resources that I need – natural, man-made, and human – are all here. All I have to do it use them wisely. Trusting the universe is a partnership with it, seeing what’s there, appreciating it, and using each natural, man-made, and human thing with care and intelligence. So I’m not trusting it to do for me, but with me.
And having gone that far – later, I tossed in a bit of real trust – it will work out!
5) Give yourself something to do to look forward to. A lunch, a class, a movie, a visit to somewhere, a craft. Think up something you enjoy and make a plan to do it.
6) And, find things to be grateful for and really concentrate on feeling gratitude – for sunshine, breakfast, the ability to read a book, a bird sitting on a branch, the fact that your heart is beating, and new adventures are around the corner.
My conclusion is – the Italians have it right – sadness is just a part of life, and sometimes it’s good to embrace that sadness – for the stress-reducing tears, for the insights it brings, for the way it stimulates new actions.
So it’s OK to be like a pelican sometimes and fly low and wallow around and nourish your spirit. And know that sometimes pelicans fly high. And so will you (and I).
By Bojinka Bishop, March 4, 2013 Photos and art, except where noted in the captions, were obtained from Depositphoto and are copyrighted.
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