How to Love a World that Sucks Sometimes

Be still.

Sit in a quiet room, alone, and stop moving. Get comfortable first, because, seriously, stop moving. Be still.

Let your emotions be what they are. Rage. Despair. Fight. Grieve. Numb out. Give up. Stop caring. Feel guilty. Feel brave. Feel self-righteous. Try not to change things. Try not to overanalyze them. Try not to censor yourself. Be whatever you need to be, but be still. Let it happen for as long as it needs to happen.

Slowly, when you’re ready and/or exhausted for the moment, draw your attention towards the fact that you are sitting. You are mostly still. You are breathing, swallowing, wavering. Scan the feeling of physicality for as long as you need to, with an intention toward relaxing tense things and seeking mild comfort. Unfurl your fingers. Uncrease your brow. Loosen your jaw. Drop your shoulders. Notice your toes, your knees, your tailbone. Let out your belly.

Become aware of your breath specifically. Feel how it comes in through the nostrils or over the tongue, what it’s like down the throat, into the lungs. Notice how your ribs move, your spine, your shoulders, your diaphragm. Feel the reverse, the release, the billow out. Don’t seek peace. Don’t think Zen. Don’t worry about Nirvana. Just breathe and be here, still, noticing keenly what that entails and how it feels.

Thoughts will come and distract you. That’s fine. The brain never stops; that’s not a fault on your part. Let thoughts come, and once you notice them, let them drift away as you refocus on breathing.

Do this until you stop itching to check your phone, shift around, or look at your calendar. Do this until you become poignantly grateful for the fact that we breathe despite how complicated a process it is, that we live despite how complex our bodies, that we exist in spectacular and mundane frailty – every single moment.

Good. Thank yourself for taking the time to do this. (There are other things, but you don’t have to do them all at once.)

Now go for a walk somewhere with trees. Try not to find any humans. A sidewalk will do if it must. If you live near a hiking trail, go there, even if it’s hot or cold or you’re tired or your shin hurts. Walk slow, if you need to. Take breaks, if you need to. Wheel yourself, if you need to. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t listen to music. Don’t time yourself. Just go to the nearest, most undisturbed nature you can find and move around.

Trees, you may notice, are easy to love. Trees are still and silent and unerringly generous. Trees are flexible but strong. Trees are tall and stately. Trees are absolutely perfect, and you can spend as much time under and around and in them as you please. Hug one. I won’t tell. Just to see – notice your breath while you’re there, with the trees.

Look up at the sky. Let yourself feel foolish and small and allow yourself to re-find that awe you feel at how large the ceiling is. The sun warms your face, or the wind chills your neck, or the moon lights everything with a strange glow, or the clouds draw a blanket over the sky. Regardless, it’s amazing, isn’t it? Just think about how large it is, how far it goes over and around our world, how distant on and on into space. Just try to fathom an existence so big that even the largest trees feel minute within it. You and trees share that.

Now, here’s a good part: find a cat. Or a dog. Or a hamster or sweet bird or rabbit or any warm and friendly critter that will let you hold them. If you don’t have your own, borrow a friend’s or visit an animal shelter.

Lavish attention and affection on them. Give and receive. Look deep into their eyes, study their face, stroke their ears or soft bellies or downy chests. Snuggle up or rough house a little – whatever you both want. Sit nearby if they’re shy. Talk to them. Tell them anything you want. Ask them questions. Wait for answers. Be as ridiculous or morose or cuddly as you feel like being. Do this for as long as you can reasonably allow yourself to. Try, if possible, to do most of it without other humans.

Other humans are last.

Reach out to someone that you know and care about. Your mom. Your sibling. Your best friend, spouse, or mentor. Your child, your colleague, someone you may not even know all that well just yet, but want to. A therapist or counselor. A trusted teacher or coach. Ask them to go get dinner or coffee. Set up a meeting or a phone date. Skype. Write them an email, or better yet, a letter. Ask them all about what’s going on in their life and how they’re doing and what they feel, and don’t talk about yourself unless asked. Be honest. Be open. Don’t pretend to be happy if you aren’t. Don’t pretend to be brave or smart or anything impressive, really. Just try to be authentic. Nervousness certainly counts as authenticity, when necessary.

This doesn’t have to go on forever or be a huge commitment. You’re not trying to accomplish anything. You don’t even have to set up a next meeting, if you don’t want to. Thank yourself for reaching out. Thank the other person for accepting.

Now go to the store at a time with lots of people. You can shop if you want. Multitasking is okay now. But the important part is to watch the people. Do the opposite of what we’ve been doing all this time so far. Don’t go in; go out. Forget about yourself and forget about your feelings and forget about your breath (it does take care of itself, thank goodness). Just watch.

Watch the mother red-faced trying to quiet her screaming child. Watch the college boy in baggy sweats reading the label of every bottle of dish soap. Watch the old woman slowly circling the adult diaper aisle, waiting for it to empty. Watch the little boy playing hopscotch on the floor tiles. Watch the little girl watching him with big eyes. Watch the couple begging gas money at the entrance. Watch the tweens walking on autopilot while they scroll on their phones. Watch the clerk tiredly restocking the produce. Watch the man playing at the free video game sample station. Watch them all, but don’t make up their backstories. Don’t try to empathize or judge or even understand. Watch them exactly how you watched the trees – the stars.

Notice how complex they are, how attractive and ugly and interesting. Notice colors and shapes and sounds and smells and how they come together to make up these people. These amazing, moving people who breathe constantly and watch TV and go for walks under trees sometimes and let friends borrow their dogs for emergency snuggle sessions. These multifaceted strangers good and bad. These people who cry. These people who live and die.

Look for freckles. Look for braids. Look for hunches in backs and polish on nails.

Look at them all, and feel what you feel, and realize that no matter the time or the outcome, comedy or tragedy, outer space or rumbling purr, we are a part of a rather phenomenal existence. Look at it all and believe that all of it, one way or another, is unfathomably beautiful. Be here, and check in with your breath, and understand that this, too, is love.

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  • Julia Munroe Martin

    This is so good, Annie, and a really important reminder. I’ve noticed how much better I feel when I don’t pass judgment on anything, just simply observe and am. And also I feel better when I’m generous with strangers in being nonjudgmental and loving. This last weekend I was on a flight with a woman overwhelmed caring for a baby who was crying, and afterwards she apologized to everyone. I simply told her I understood how it was being mom — and that it was much harder for her. She almost cried. I think there’s a lot of hurt going on and we’re all a little fragile. Lots of love to you, my friend. Take care.

    • Thank you so much, Julia. Luckily for us, observation is already so crucial to being a writer, so we perhaps have some innate tendency– or at least lots of practice. I’m sure you softened that woman’s day. ♥ Love to you too, and a peaceful Thanksgiving.

  • Wow, that’s very deep and philosophical. It’s important to find things that help us gain perspective or make us happy in these trying times. I’m just doing what I usually do — struggling onward.

    • Sometimes struggling on is the most we can do, and that’s okay too. Hugs, Lexa.

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    One word, Annie. WOW. If desert trees weren’t so prickly, I’d be out hugging one now (and you know it’s true)!

    • Melissa Crytzer Fry

      I’d like to add that I read a report stating that the world is on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020 … and I’ve been in such despair since reading it. I knew it was bad… but not like this… So your suggestions will be tremendously helpful as I try to figure out “What can I do? Can I make a difference?”

      • I saw that same report, and it breaks my heart. I’m doing the same thought laps as you, and I wish I’d found an answer. But yes, in the meantime, I think that’s a good place to be. Thanks, Melissa.

    • Prickly trees! Oh crap, I didn’t think of that. Haha. I even thought, “What about the desert or deep in a city?” but then thought… no, there are *some* trees almost everywhere. But prickly trees… that I wasn’t prepared for. Maybe you can high five the leaves? Sing them a song? I know you’ll find a way. :)~

  • Carie Juettner

    <3 <3 <3

  • Lisa Bubert

    Thank you, Annie. I love you for writing this and the world for being a place in which it could be written. <3

  • *breathes* I love.

  • KelsNotChels

    Wow, wow, wow. That was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you. <3

  • Peggy

    Lovely, Annie!!!

  • Jay Lemming

    Great reminder about how NOT to turn inward, especially when you know what is hitting the fan. It’s been a pretty challenging year in many ways for me and I’m sure many other people can say the same thing. Keeping still and simple would seem to be two of the easiest things to accomplish but as one can tell from reading your well-detailed and soothing post, it’s not that easy at all. Look at what we’ve become in this digitally connected, non-stop, stressed-out world. It’s time to stop racing around all the time, to slow down and find one’s center. Breathe in and out. Thanks for posting, Annie. Jay

  • Cynthia

    Gorgeous. This, and you.

  • Such good, important, and HARD advice. So glad you wrote this.