This week was my 40th birthday. The big one. A milestone. I feel the weight of it, in my bones. And from the moment I woke up, I was psyched about it. Like, Oprah-psyched.
But there was something else, too. I was sad. Not because getting older (which I believe is a privilege, really). Because I hadn’t planned anything “special” to celebrate it.
This is embarrassing to admit. I mean, [I’m a self-care teacher and] I didn’t think of anything. My family didn’t plan anything either. Our life is so full that everything is rushed and last-minute, and that includes special occasions.
I knew could have given more thought, planning, attention to detail — mindfulness — to this big turning point in my life. But there I was. As I was. On the couch, face covered in some special volcanic purifying clay mask I’d just bought (because, care rituals), curled up in a super-soft gray blanket, holding one of my favorite mugs, listening to my daughter make her baby brother laugh. No frills, no fake, no makeup, no cake, no candles, nothing notable. No party. No plans. Just the ordinary, simple everyday miracles. Just peace.
It felt super-weird. But it was also something else. It was also alright. In fact, that’s precisely the point: to be right where we are, wherever we are. Even, especially, if it stretches us. You can’t stretch if you aren’t still. Try to move, try to “do,” and you’ll pull something.
Our biological instinct is to move away from discomfort but, sometimes, all you need to do is sit with it, breathe it in and out, again and again. ‘Realize that you can sit with it, breathe it in and out, again and again. You can be sad, grieving, lonely, anxious, or angry. A lot, or just a little. The Sit With It trick works with any brand of fear.
In Buddhism, it’s called “compassionate abiding.” It’s an effective, but unusual, tactic I use with my toddler whenever she has a tantrum. Instead of trying to change her feelings (or distract her from them), I sit there, in the middle of that emotional storm. I stay as calm as I can, give her a soft place to fall, and let her let it all out. Because this is how she learns how to love all of who she is. This is how we all learn.
The only way to love all of who you are, is to be with, to be able to sit with, all of who you are. Not by being okay only when we’re happy or polite or nice, but also when we’re sad or fuming or ashamed.
So, the next time you’re feeling sad, Sit With It. Then, celebrate. Because balance (and being human) means “both.” Because every moment is a bigger gift than birthday gifts. Because darkness literally opens our eyes to let in more light.
And, whether it comes from candles or from your core, there is always, always, always light.