when a tree grows up to a rock

it doesn’t break through

but grows around the rock

trunk twisting and adapting

so our emotional growth

recurls from trauma

leading a winding path

to “feeling okay”

– It’s Okay to be Where You Are

Sometimes, it can be easy to feel like we’re not where we should be.

Maybe you feel like you should have had a better career. Maybe you sacrificed relationship quality-of-life for your career, and you look at others who are growing their own family with a sense of FOMO.

Personally, I sacrificed a lot of things for personal growth. Sometimes, I ask myself if it was all quixotic.

I recall having a conversation in messenger late last year with a former schoolmate from CU Boulder with whom I was in a lot of creating writing workshops. I always appreciated her because she took critiquing seriously and tried to understand the material.

I felt a similar conviction, and I applied myself studiously to actively developing as an intellectual and an artist.

Speaking with her recently, we both reflected on how we came from introverted households. We both had heard that the most important thing you could do was make connections. But neither of us really knew how to do that.

It wasn’t really something we were prepared to do by our family cultures.

(I think of family cultures as being like Darwin’s finches. Our family has its characteristics, like cold-adapted finches. In some circumstances, we might thrive. In others, we might not do so well.)

Sometimes there appears to be many paths, such as at this split in the canyon along the Colorado River in Utah.

It didn’t help that we graduated college a year after the 2008 financial crisis, either.

Both of us never found that career avenue after school. Myself, I spent two years as a copyeditor, proofreading hiking guides and gardening guides.

After that, I sort of just ended up lost without a sense of direction for a long time. I was just trying to make ends meet, and I never really felt settled.

We both felt like we expected to be somewhere else in life. We didn’t know, in those years right out of college, how common our experience would turn out to have been.

Setting aside my own experience, I know in talking to other people that we’re all always comparing ourselves to the experiences of others.

We must realize that as we are are comparing ourselves to others, they are in turn comparing themselves to us.

We all lack in ways. It all evens out, mostly. We are balanced creatures.

It is good practice to see the upside in the choices you have made. For myself, I find all of the self-development I’ve done to be very important. In my eyes, a sense of self is invaluable in a world saturated with memes and windows on hyper-real cyber lives.

You are where you are meant to be on your path. My friend, Mike, joined me on this hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. We hiked the snowshoe trail out of season, which led us through a lot of bog. Embracing it, it was a unique journey.

Ultimately, we need to accept that it’s okay to be where we are. Just like the tree that grew around the rock. If there hadn’t been a rock there, it could have got tall faster. But the rock was there.

When we can accept where we are, we can free up energy that would have been tied up with thinking about the past. Acceptance can help bring presence.

There was a period of my life that felt like disaster after disaster. Reflecting on it all in hindsight, I was trying to find my way out of anxiety. But I couldn’t identify it.

Trying to blend in and avoid attention, as a fundamental practice, affected me on so many levels of my life. I felt like if anyone focused on me, they would see my low worth.

When I reflect on my twenties and early thirties, I intuitively get a sense of the connection between anxiety and depression.

Perhaps graffiti is the best medium in which to write of love. We whitewash and write-over one love after another.

Anxiety kept me in a cage. The depression was the natural depression of an animal who lived their life in a cage.

Now that I have tools to manage my anxiety, I look at my life and I can feel like I’m so behind after many years of living in a self-made cage.

But when I’m out riding, it feels like a blessing in some ways. I feel like I’m lucky to be just discovering road biking right now.

What greater time to be alive than when we’re just discovering a rewarding interest, and everything is new?

It all balances out. And when I use my practices, I can enjoy my adventures more with a sense of presence enabled by that new-found acceptance.

Life goes on, of course, and any ribbon you tie on a story about your life is bound to age and wither.

I have times when I feel like I’m really engaging with my practices and experiencing growth. And then I have times of trouble when I struggle to find things to be grateful for.

I think of the story of the farmer whose horse runs away, which I read of in “The Book of Joy.”

His neighbors are quick to comment on his bad luck. The farmer responds that no one can know what is good and what is bad. When the horse comes back with a wild stallion, the neighbors are quick to comment, this time talking about the farmer’s good luck.

“The Book of Joy,” 151-2, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams

The story goes on with more twists of fate, and at every point the good or bad fortune is assessed by the present state of affairs. And just so, we can only judge from this moment.

We always have a mesh of contexts, be they emotional, physical, or spiritual.

We are looking at our lives at any moment from this point that is now, within the contexts in which we are experiencing our lives at that moment. Based on that context, we may pull out parts of the story of our life to create a narrative of good or bad fortune.

We have our contexts, just as does nature. We also experience cycles. Adversity often presents us with the opportunity to let go of the old and make space for new growth. Adversity is a context that we’ll never be able entirely to leave behind. We’ll be periodically challenged to meet it and find growth.

So as I appreciate the sense that my path has led me to a point that is rewarding, I know that at some point in the future it will be otherwise. Another day, my life will have seemed to be a movement toward misfortune, a misbegotten experiment.

By practicing acceptance, I can prepare myself to see those low moments as part of the ever flowing stream of life.

Lately, I’ve been trying to recuperate from a lot of physical strain from work and riding. It’s made it harder to rejoice in my narratives about how everything turned out okay because I discovered cycling and started living my life.

What about you? How is your context affecting your sense of your story, now? Are you afraid of the possibility that things could change? Or maybe you’re afraid things won’t change?

How can you practice awareness of that context?

Published by Miles of Mindfulness

My name is Mike Bragg. I'm a Denver-based cycling enthusiast and a big advocate of mindfulness. I enjoy the outdoors, and I use mindfulness practices to help myself be more present with my adventures. I like to read challenging material, and I have a keen interest in ancient history and natural sciences.

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