May 18 Meditation - The Futility of Normalcy
“Without understanding yourself, what is the use of trying to understand the world?”
- Sri Ramana Maharshi
I’m going to try something a little different tonight and try to speak in the first person as much as possible. I’ve noticed a tendency to slip into the Royal We—we feel X, we must do Y, etc—which feels a bit disingenuous because I’m not a spiritual teacher and I’m not trying to be. I’m so happy to hold these mediations and share traditions that are meaningful to me in the hopes that they provide some solace and insight to you, and that they further your own spiritual journey. But I don’t know what’s going on in this crazy world, especially at this crazy time. I don’t have wisdom to pass on and I can’t snap you into a state of peace. But I can share my experience, and so that’s what I’m going to do, and I often don’t share a lot of personal information with my patients because I want your time with me to be about you, and your journey, so I hope this won’t skew that relationship for any of you.
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about normalcy, and what is normal, and how we decide that. And isn’t it so funny how we come into this strange world, and wherever we land, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, that’s normal and acceptable, at least for a time. Eventually you grow up and somewhere in your teens or 20s you realize that your experience differed from everyone else’s experience and you start examining the differences, and wondering if your experience was abnormal, and then you deal with all kinds of anger and grief and resentment and confusion about that discrepancy.
I had a rather unconventional, you might even say bizarre upbringing, and for years, maybe even decades, all of it was all normal. My mother died when I was one, and I have no memories of her. I remember being seven years old when I really started to understand that I had once had a mother, and that she was dead, and that this meant she was never coming back (although for years I spent every Tooth Fairy wish and birthday wish asking for a miracle). For years, not having a mother was my normal, and I had no idea that other people could have a different experience.
My Dad, bless his heart, is a pretty eccentric character, and didn’t really have friends, and kept an interesting lifestyle and household. I was recently remembering that whenever we purchased new furniture (that was assembled, not the kind you have to put together) he would keep it in the packaging for as long as possible. This meant that for years our mattresses and couches and chairs and even a desk were kept in the thick plastic covering they came in. Which made for a really crinkly night’s sleep! A part of me knew this wasn’t normal but also a part of me recognized that this was just how we did things in my household. This was our normal.
Now here we are, here I am, in the time of COVID-19, facing a lot of questions about what has been normal and what will be normal. These questions seem largely useless to me as I consider my own experiences processing the concept of normalcy—primarily because I’m not convinced that a normal exists. I think I often cobble together a standard for my life based on the relationships or habits or material lives I observe around me, and I decide that their lives are normal and I need to aspire to that. Which, obviously, negates my own creativity and life force while also putting a lot of pressure on myself to be something I’m not.
This is sort of what I see happening with my reaction to COVID. I’m both holding on to the world I thought I was walking into in 2020, and having a lot of trouble revising my business plans or travel plans or whatever because really it’s not a revision, it’s accepting destruction and creating a new vision almost from scratch. And also, I’m trying to force these new visions into a shape that fits the old paradigm, that fits what I’ve known to be normal, rather than exploring what I can be.
Meditation is beautiful because it lets us drop all those ideas of normalcy, and all those standards, and all those comparisons, which is really at the root of this problematic concept of normalcy. In meditation we find stillness, and in the stillness we find truth. Truth is much more beautiful than normal is.
Do sad people have in
Common? It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
What is the beginning of
It is to stop being