A friend of mine was having a really bad day. Imagine the worst day ever and multiply that by a thousand and you get the kind of day she was having.
Now, this friend is a profoundly wise person who runs a huge business in New York City. Additionally, she has had years of experience in meditation, contemplation and practice. In effect, she has courage, and she has muscle. She knows how to center herself, how to not take things personally, how to create right perspective and how to surrender. She knows how to be present in the here-and-now. She knows all the philosophical tactics to get over her suffering and return to wholeness. Basically, she could take anyone to the spiritual mat and my bucks would be on her.
But for reasons any normal person could understand, this day presented more than she could handle. It did. And she found herself at a café, crying uncontrollably into her double shot cappuccino. She had houseguests coming later that day, and like this she was ill prepared to meet them with any equanimity, much less hospitality.
She had to pull it together, and fast.
Sobbing, she called her husband, who implored her to call her dear friend, or call her spiritual director, or to come home and take a walk, maybe take a bath, and just find some peace again. She knew none of these things would work this time.
‘You know,’ she said to me dryly as she was recounting the story, ‘sometimes you just have to use whatever tool you know is going to work.’
So, purse in hand, she bolted up from her table and headed straight for the local high-end cosmetic boutique, The Cos Bar.
She burst through the glass doors, the counters were teaming with customers trying on lipstick and examining eye pencil color palettes. A saleswoman spotted her instantly and met her half way.
Gesturing towards her tear-stained, world-weary face, my friend looked this saleswoman straight in the eyes and said simply,
The saleswoman took my friend’s hands and slowly led her over to a chair in front of an enthusiastic display of various cosmetics.
‘Honey,’ said the kindly saleswoman, in that velvety southern drawl (that all cosmetic saleswomen seem to share), ‘everything’s going to be just fine.’
During the makeover, my friend and the kindly saleswoman discussed all manner of essential profundities such as Kim Novak’s much-discussed appearance at the Academy Awards, and whether or not Meryl Streep had had work done (she hadn’t, they concluded).
Five hundred dollars later, my friend was back on track. She walked out of The Cos Bar feeling centered, lighter and grounded. She was ready to move forward in clarity and strength.
In the words of my wise friend, yes, sometimes you just have to use whatever tool you know is going to work. Don’t make the mistake of missing the depth of her choice, just because it appeared superficial. When a tool, any tool, serves wholeness, it is always sacred.
I think sometimes our philosophical, spiritual and religious concepts deny us the use of a lot of ways back in to wholeness, because they appear ‘unenlightened’. So we try to be ‘good’ and ‘wise’ and do all the right things and we’re still a mess, especially on those really-really-bad-times-a-thousand days. And we flounder and we don’t know why we can’t find our way.
In my friend’s story, I see a profound exchange — of vulnerability, of authenticity, of kindness and of wisdom. Who cares if eye shadow, lip-liner and concealer were the medium.
I’m going to toss you a gauntlet. How about you sit down and write a list of ten tools—really outrageous, indulgent, out-of-the-box ideas—that you know will help you get back to center. Then, you’ll have a list handy just for you when your having one of those ‘really-bad-times-a-thousand’ days, when nothing else works and you have to pull it together.
And please don’t write ‘meditation’ or ‘walking’…no, none of that wholesome saccharin sweet Hallmark stuff. I mean take a risk. Go ahead — go over to the dark side. It’ll be ok, I promise. I won’t tell anyone.
To get you started, I thought I’d share a few of mine.
1. Have sex (preferably with someone you love and trust, in my case, my beloved husband) — my body knows much better than my mind the way back to sanity. When my body leads and my mind has to hop in the back seat, I’m restored to where I need to be.
2. Dance — I play my iPod over my speakers, really loud, and dance like crazy — I have different playlists for different moods. I have sad playlists, angry playlists, joyful playlists, and earthy playlists. This gets me out of my head, and allows my body to process intense feelings.
3. Go shopping — just do it, and get over yourself about it. If I’m feeling broke, I go to thrift stores and go treasure hunting. One well-scored, three-dollar item is all it takes to make me happy.
4. Ride my horse — at a gallop. This helps me to feel unfettered. What ever your horse is, ride it at full tilt.
5. Buy music — the kind that is really speaking to me in that moment. This helps me to remember I am not alone.
6. Clean out a closet or drawer — I love throwing stuff away. Let me say it again. I really lovethrowing stuff away. It gives me great joy. Yes, ok, sometimes I’m politically correct about it and donate. But sometimes I just need to chuck it into a giant black trash bag and walk it ceremoniously out to the trash bin, and fling it in, and slam the lid down again. This helps me to feel unburdened.
7. Visit puppies at the animal shelter — I know, that sounds weird. But we’re lucky to have a no-kill shelter in my town. We also have several animal sanctuaries. Every dog and cat will have a home eventually. So I get to let my inner child lose in the puppy runs and have a ball. They remind me what is important.
8. Indulge in my favorite TV series — the darker the better as far as I’m concerned. Breaking Bad and True Detective really helps me find my heart again. Comedies also help, but again, darker is better (that’s just me). My favorite comedian? Louis CK of course.
9. Work on my business’ excel spreadsheets — there are rules to math and equations. Hanging out in that black and white world of rules and expected outcomes based on those rules helps me to feel safe again.
10. Drive in my car down the highway with the music as loud as possible — it feels like my very own private flying sanctuary. This helps me to feel free.
I recently spent time with my friend again. Life is still throwing her some heart-shredding challenges. But she’s finding new ways to keep her head above water; I can tell you they are downright unconventional. And they are working. She’s a blessing to be around. She’s radiant. And it isn’t just that new lipstick.
You can read more of Kelly’s writing at EQUUS, here.