I’ve been anxious lately — anxious, a little down, and frustrated. I won’t go into the details of why, because the details are all run-of-the-mill things that don’t really deserve the attention in the first place. I’m frustrated over things that a) aren’t all that serious, and b) I have no real control over, anyway. I’m frustrated over matters of an easily bruised ego; frustrated when I compare my “rate of success” with my perceived rate of success of others around me. I’m frustrated with the dribs and drabs of life. It’s easy to do — we all do it, some of us more than others.
In the back of my mind, though, a thought is trying to break through all this chatter. That thought is this: I am LIVING with diabetes — these dribs and drabs that I’m obsessing over and allowing to take over my thoughts are GIFTS! Being on this planet at all is a blessing, much less being on this planet with a loving wife, opportunities to be creative through writing, with a day job I enjoy and frequent opportunities to play music. I have a good life by any measure — I’m not rich, and there are things I’d change, but who wouldn’t change a few things here and there?
So if there is a “problem” to be solved, it does NOT involve changing the bits and pieces of my life that I wish were different; it doesn’t involve “catching up” to where I think my more successful friends are; it doesn’t involve changing these material things at all. If there’s a problem to be solved, it is my lack of confidence in my own capacity for greatness, and a lack of gratitude for the wealth of good that I have in my life.
An empty vial
I used to keep an empty vial of insulin on my meditation table. I did it to remind myself of exactly this lesson — to remind myself every day just how easy it would be for my entire life to have been wiped from the earth 19 years ago. If not for the advances of modern medicine, the story of my life would have ended at age 15.
That empty vial was a powerful symbol, and one I may once again resurrect. It reminded me of many things. It reminded me to be grateful for each day of life. It reminded me to let go of the fear of failure — after all, if each new day is “borrowed time,” why worry about failure? It reminded me to let go of petty grievances and petty comparisons to others. That empty bottle became a powerful emotional and spiritual elixir against the self-sabotaging thoughts that lead to inaction, self-pity, and mediocrity.
Because of all this, I’ve always felt a certain level of gratitude for diabetes. Of course, I hope everyday for a cure. And of course, if I could say some magic words and remove it tomorrow, I would. But there is no denying that living with a serious medical condition offers a level of perspective on life that not everyone has the opportunity to see. If we truly live into that lesson (something I have neglected to do recently), if we truly appreciate how profound that lesson really IS, we have no choice but to live boldly. My choice to obsess over petty matters, my choice to wallow in despair when things don’t work out how, when, and where I want them to, makes no sense! I’ve been in the “bonus round” of life since I was 15, for heaven’s sake! Why on earth am I worrying about the details? Why am I letting small setbacks push me over the cliff? Why am I not “drinking the marrow” out of every passing second of this miraculous life?
Most of the world’s monks would agree: Thoughts are insidious things. Little thoughts can gain traction and build, turning into raging whirlwinds that hold us back for days, weeks, months, years, even lifetimes. They can single-handedly stop us from achieving the full breadth of what we are capable of. They can rob us of our happiness. They can destroy us. But what is so easy to forget is that our thoughts are not separate things. We create our thoughts, and in turn our thoughts create us. It is a back and forth cycle, but not one we can’t control.
I’ve been chasing my own destructive thoughts too much lately. Sometimes I chase them because I really want to change them. Other times I’m just wallowing. But regardless of the motivation, chasing thoughts never really helps. Letting go helps. Focusing on the present moment helps. Breathing helps. And well-placed empty insulin bottles help, too. I think it’s time to resurrect an old tradition.