The image was frightening. Hannibal Lector’s face, complete with face mask, peered out from inside a small cage. The metal bars covering his mouth glinted in the sun.
No, this wasn’t Silence of the Lambs 2. It was my dream, and it annoyed the hell out of me.
Because for me, the message was clear:
Stop locking yourself in a cage of your own making, refusing to be heard.
The previous day I’d been in a slump, damning myself for not being more productive, more inspired, more ‘fire in the belly’.
Now in my fifth year of grief after the death of my daughter, now at the ripe old age of 57, I should be all better. Or so argues my mind.
I should be just like I was before her death — even though I am now a significantly different, older person. And even though my life has been profoundly changed.
Somehow it feels like my current level of productivity is not enough.
Enter Hannibal Lector.
When you suffer a shocking loss, you grow and evolve differently as a result. You can’t help but be changed by it, and perhaps that is the point. For what is life but a non-stop series of tumbles, splats, triumphs and recoveries?
This is how we learn.
Furthermore, we are designed to take big hits, so if we choose we can rise up again. Still we won’t ever be the way we once were. Nor should we be. We will be altered forever by our misfortune, and hopefully become wiser as a result.
For me, I am definitely humbler. I don’t need to wave flags and get all eyes in the room on me anymore. And my spirituality has grown deeper and far more connected. Part of me no longer cares about my prospects for success, either.
Yet at the same time I often feel like I just don’t quite measure up.
My mind wonders … is this softer, gentler me who lacks ambition really okay?
Is it alright, after years of grief, to not need to burn the world up anymore? My needs are met. I have everything I could possibly ask for.
So is this life I’m living actually enough, right here and right now?
Even in this driven world of striving and ambition?
At such times I always come back to an important set point. There are only two things that matter to me now. Self care, which includes the deep love I share with my partner, and my call to become a better person and share that path, step by step, with my readers.
But when I’m locked in my cage of self-doubt, I forget all of that. Then nothing I’ve done seems significant at all.
The Buddhists say I’m at choice here. I can give in to the voice of dukkha, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’, in my head and really milk it for all it’s worth. Or I can just observe it, acknowledge it and let it go.
It’s sort of like turning off the Trump-Clinton presidential debates, and deciding I don’t need all that negativity in my head.
So I am cultivating a practice of letting my feelings of weakness simply be. Because that’s all they are — just feelings and nothing more.
They are not a pronouncement about my worth in the world. They aren’t predictors of my future. And they certainly aren’t reliable signposts.
For this, too, will change. Today I might feel weak and indecisive. But tomorrow, I could get a whole new outlook on life. We are always in flux and that is an exciting thing. We never really know what could happen next.
What’s important today is to forgive myself for not being as ‘on’ as I once was. I need to give myself a compassionate pat on the back, and allow myself to do what I can comfortably do … expecting nothing more.
Then, magically, I am enough and the cage door swings slowly open. So I emerge once again, ready, willing and able to help.
Ironic, isn’t it?
But then isn’t this the sweet process of life as it unfolds, one day at a time, ever pushing us forth to become better, humbler, kinder … the embodiment of love.