The scene in front of me appears chaotic, but a closer look reveals beautiful intricacies that I would have otherwise blown by. The leaves have fallen perfectly into place to create a soft gradient from somewhat lively to lifeless. Their crispness under passing footsteps compliments the chill in the air. The trees, standing strong and bare with open branches, appear to be welcoming of their fate at the season’s mercy. As one does on a park bench, I sit down to contemplate life. It seems like a perfect time to ponder something I recently picked up while reading that has helped me to make sense of things so far:
Life is a trail of dominos. The first falling at our birth and the last with our final breath. The pieces in between represent all the other experiences we go through. Remove any event ― regardless of how isolated or how horrible it was ― and the chain is broken; all momentum is lost. It’s a simple way to see purpose where we only feel pain. I’m in a better place right now so I don’t allow myself to dwell over anything in my past. That includes not finding a way to have my previous contract renewed or that one smart ass comment three years ago that cost me my job and a holiday.
It works to an extent. But then you try to apply it on a larger scale ― like to the rest of the world. The amount of hurt and suffering in the world is incomprehensible. There are refugee children eating grass, public shootings, and citizens rioting to get their basic needs met. Switching off the news helps. But working in the *mental health field, I’m confronted with unsettling situations everyday. It may be through a screen, but when someone posts a Twitter poll asking which day of the week they should throw themselves in front of a train, it’s still difficult to process knowing that there’s a real person behind that handle.
Lately I’ve been questioning whether there is a purpose to absolutely everyone’s pain? If life truly is a series of dominos, cards or any sort of game, it certainly isn’t a fair one. Like a wild animal, ‘life’ is an experience we react to rather than tame. It reserves a choice between pleasantness and savagery.
Still sitting down, my attention has now shifted to the sky. Winter’s impenetrable overcast looms above but I take particular notice of the sun. And how, despite the same seasons occurring year after year, it still attempts to fight its way through. It’s a losing battle but the occasional ray of light does pierce through to bring a sense of warmth and optimism to all those who witness its momentary victory. I smile. There is something so admirable about refusing to give up. And I believe that when people adopt the same mentality, we also shine.
What specially shines in us is the human spirit. We recognise it in people who endure difficulties that would have otherwise destroyed us. It’s in Muhammad Ali’s eyes during his final portraits which prove he never stopped being ‘the greatest’. And through my work, I also come across many notable examples. I hear from people who will be medicated, in therapy, and dependent on others for life, but still remain committed to making the most out of the life and the dominos they’ve been dealt.
“The greatest achievement of humanity is the human spirit. The ability to rise beyond circumstances, to find hope in the midst of suffering, to love so deeply that it transforms entire societies.” ― Kamal Ravikant
Carl Jung famously said “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” And I believe that choice is at the heart of the human spirit. A choice to embody what it means to be truly human and the paradox of fragility and strength. A choice to light the way for others who may be able to go on.
This blog is my choice to control the narrative of my life and not succumb to the doubtful and worst of myself. It’s my choice to focus on the good in the world and contribute where my gifts allow. I’ve recently moved to Melbourne ― which means I’m starting my life again for the third time ― so I’m hoping there’s no shortage of spirit in me.
I’ll end with a story told at work during a recent induction. A particular manager presented a painting of which she described, “looks like it had been painted by a young child.” She had purchased it from a grown man who has been mentally unwell for most of his life. It was rather simple: blue skies, a brown house, a white picket fence and a green lawn. But what she asked us to see was the simple, but deeply moving reminder that “We all want the same thing… a safe place to call home.”
** I have to say that this has given me an unbelievable amount of respect and appreciation for all first-responders and anyone who works with the less fortunate and in-need.