Up in Smoke

by MW Cook

There was a time when I just could not stand it. It was as if there was a burning pit of death in my chest that I did not have the endurance to keep carrying. People tried to encourage me with words. “He never gives us more than we can handle,” some said. I wanted to scream back, “Liar! Look at this thing I carry! Look at this amazingly effed up situation I’ve been forced in! You don’t know what it’s like! And even if you did, that does not help at all–words are wind blown from open mouth-holes. How could words help me? I cannot handle this!”

But, of course, I did handle it. I’m still here, after all. I guess it was all in my head.

That’s not totally true, of course. There was something real going on in my life that sparked the suffering. My thoughts were, “If only so-and-so were never in my life! If only so-and-so hadn’t done this, or that, or whatever! Then I’d have never lost my peace.” But that’s a half-truth only. And not a useful one, at that.

Suffering and peace only exist in my own consciousness–in my head. It was important to realize that, because it gave me the opportunity to deal with me, even if I could not deal with the situation.

I took the hand of the Beloved who suffered along with me, and together we made a list of the things that our death-like anxiety sprang from. They fit on a small slip of paper. We looked at each item, mindfully and in turn. They were not so heavy now, on that thin scrap. It seemed like we could fight back. So we set them on fire, and laughed at their fragility.

The fire-ritual didn’t change our situation, of course. The people who were actively trying to rob our peace continued their thievery. But we created distance and glimpsed into the truth that it’s all, at the end of the day, in our heads. And I get to choose what dwells in my head. The trials changed over the following months and years, and today I cannot remember what it was that destroyed my peace so utterly. Life goes on, everything changes, and the crises of today will always go up in smoke.