“This is not a piece of paper,” she said, holding it aloft in the morning light.
I was momentarily confused because clearly, to any sentient human being, the object in her hand was a plain, white piece of paper.
This beautiful, mild summer morning was deep in the heart of my 40 day project last year.
The luminous, Elise Witt, had recommended to me–on more than one occasion actually–that I check out the meditation classes at the Shambhala Center in Decatur. As the 40 day project was a pretty busy, stressful period of time for me, and I was especially feeling some feels about my impending 40th birthday, I thought learning to quiet my brain would be good practice.
Some mornings at Shambhala, you can take an introduction to meditation class and then join up with other, more practiced meditators. The larger group session wraps up with a reflection led by a teacher, not unlike a sermon at church really. It was during the speaker’s reflection that she held up the page.
“This is not a piece of paper,” she said. “It is the sun, the water, the tree that made the pulp, the hands that cut down the tree, the other hands that made the paper, the generations that breathed the air that fed the tree. It is all the things that have come together in this moment to make it what it is. It cannot, in isolation, make itself a piece of paper.”
As she kept talking, I could not only see her point, I deeply resonated with it.
It’s easy when you’re a single person to think you’re going through life alone. I’ve often felt like everything was a bit harder than I wanted it to be as I navigated the journey’s terrain without a partner. That’s what the thesis of the 40 project turned out to be. I discovered in a way that I didn’t completely know before that I am not alone, even when I can’t always feel into it.
In a week and a half, I’ll be closing on my first house. This has been an incredible passage for me, and an incredibly emotional one at that. I have struggled mightily with feelings that I would be giving up on my dreams of a lifelong, loving partnership if I bought my own house. I have done battle with fear that I cannot afford to do this alone. That, if the water heater breaks, I will become financially and emotionally bankrupt, unable to get up off the floor.
The thing I had to realize, though, is that I am neither doing this alone, nor have I ever really done very much in my life alone. I am not a piece of paper. I have a wealth of resources and support from my family, friends, work, and community that are girding me up. Case in point, when I went to visit the house for the second time, to make a firm decision about whether to make an offer, I had two of my best friends, Amanda and Bailey, with me, along with my mom on Skype. I went back that night with my friend, Vienna; we sat in the driveway and prayed together that, if this was the right house, the right choice for me, the process would go smoothly. It has.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that I’m a person who genuinely needs other people. More, I’m an externally motivated human being. The older I get, the better off I am when I dance gracefully with this impulse in myself…
…I had a lot of trouble fully utilizing my gym membership until I found a gym buddy who shared the same need.
…Going through a break-up, which generally makes it difficult for me to make myself go to the grocery store, I called up a friend to ask her if she’d go with me.
…I wanted to keep a resolution to read more, so I joined a book club.
One time when I mentioned these sorts of strategies to a friend, he called me co-dependent; I say I’m just holding myself accountable.
I also think about this myth of independence when it comes to our political landscape. There are far smarter people than me writing on this subject matter, but I do think that particular parts of partisan politics are built on the myth of independence, the glorification of the mythological “self-made man”. In this article, debunking that myth, I first learned that our modern interpretation of the phrase to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is actually not at all as originally intended. Rather, it was meant to connote something that was completely impossible.
So, I guess all this is to say, I’m grateful for the sun, the water, the trees, the generations that breathed the air, my family, my friends, my work, my stories, my hope, my sadness, my dreams, and this bed I’m lying in as I write this. All of it.
Here’s to 2016, a new year of interdependence.