I've had a frantic week during which I've occasionally felt frazzled so when I returned to my apartment last evening I needed some comfort food - bread and molasses washed down with a glass of cold milk to be more precise. I'm not sure why I find bread and molasses so comforting. I suppose it's because I associate them with my warm and happy childhood. A variety of other foods have the same effect on me - my mom's homemade biscuits, baked beans, cinnamon toast, boiled dinner with dumplings and homemade chicken soup, for example.
It's interesting to think about what else provides comfort. Usually, it's familiar things or activities - my husband's arms around me, tea with a friend, a favourite movie, curling up by the fire with a book, or going for a walk on my favourite beach. Rissers' Beach (where the picture above was taken) is one of the places I go whenever I have things to figure out. Invariably, just being there soothes my soul, encourages me to breathe, and helps me get a little perspective on whatever's troubling me.
Though it's familiar things that are most comforting, new ideas and perspectives can help as well. For instance, at the moment I'm reading a wonderful little book entitled When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Pema Chodron) which was recommended by a friend. A few days ago, I read this passage:
Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, to make friends with yourself, not to run away from yourself, to return to the bare bones, no matter what's going on. Fear of death is the background of the whole thing. It's why we feel restless, why we panic, why there's anxiety. But if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.I suppose some might think that counselling "hopelessness" is a bit pessimistic or depressing - but what Chodron is talking about is letting go of illusion and accepting and savouring life just as it is - rather than constantly focussing on the future or the past and wishing things were different or better somehow.
Too often, she says, we're so engrossed in our internal dramas - so consumed by our hopes and fears about the future, regrets about the past, etc - that we aren't really able to experience our lives as they happen - in this moment
The reality is that people get sick and die, children are born, we make mistakes, and it's quite likely that one day each of us will lose many (if not most ) of the things and people we care about. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. It's just what happens. Essentially, life is impermanent and there's not a darn thing we can do about it. It's the clinging to what we love, hoping for only good things to happen, and resisting impermanence that keep us from savouring and appreciating the lives we have.
So, why is any of that comforting to me? I suppose because it means I can let myself relax into the present. The past is done, the future hasn't happened yet and the things I think and feel about them aren't real. They're just thoughts and feelings that will change over time like everything else. The only power memories or hopes have is the power I give them in any particular moment. Accepting the essential impermanence of things (or reminding myself to try at least) quiets my internal control freak. When I accept that I can't change the past or control the future, I can just be present in my life, grateful and comforted by noticing I'm still here - relatively healthy, surrounded by people who care about me, doing good work, contributing what I can, experiencing life - which is an awful lot better than the alternative.