The Unfolding of Life

Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life. -Epictetus 

Life is a series of unfolding–of unwrapping gift after gift with the uncertainty of what’s inside the bottomless box. Each layer of the box reveals itself to us when the time is right, regardless of whether we feel ready for it or not. A blanket may be perfectly folded, but it will not keep you warm in that state. It might look pretty on the shelf of a linen closet, but to truly utilize it, we must take it out of that tidy state and explore its manifolds. The unfolding may be messy and there is no guarantee that it can be refolded the exact same way it was before. It is this uncertainty of the unfolding that scares us to death. 

Unfolding can be messy. It can look like a toddler hastily unwrapping a birthday gift, throwing the scraps of gift wrap on the floor in a pile. Unfolding can look like a businessman carefully opening a letter containing important documents, careful not to rip or tear anything. But life is not an envelope with perfect perforations–we are bound to make accidents; but these accidents are all part of the unfolding. How we go about unfolding is what truly matters. 

Unfolding requires bravery. Sometimes it’s easier to let the envelope sit on the counter than open it. Sometimes you unfold the shirt from your drawer and it’s wrinkled and stained, but would you rather wear the same shirt everyday? Maybe you can iron it, maybe you have to wear it as it, wrinkles and all, and embrace the imperfections. When things are folded, we feel in control. Folded things give the illusion of perfection, of order. Unfolding always has a certain amount of chaos. We’ve been conditioned to organize, to clean, to perfect, to trim our lives like a rosebush. We try to fold our lives into tidy little boxes. 

My manta this week has been, “I trust in the unfolding of my life.”  I surrender to it. I let it reveal itself to me without judgment. It is easier said than done, but I am slowly learning to love the process of unfolding. 

I Contain Multitudes

One of my favorite Whitman quotes from Song of Myself goes like this: 

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well then, I contradict myself, 

(I am large, I contain multitudes) 

When I first read this in high-school, I remember feeling a little flutter in my chest as if my heart was bouncing up and down and singing “Yes, yes yes!” You know that feeling when the sunrise hits the dew on the grass just the right way and what was once another lifeless lawn in a row of suburban monotony becomes a forest of sparkles? Or when the sky turns that creamsicle orange at sunset? That’s the feeling I had reading this poem. I couldn’t name it– and that made it all the more special. All I knew was I felt everything; I could feel my whole soul in between those parentheses.

Whitman’s bold declaration of contradicting himself is something few of us have the courage to do. Most of us hate being wrong; we hate having our inconsistencies pointed out; we hate contradictions because we hate opposition. Opposition is viewed as inherently “bad.” In order for something to be “good,” we think it should be consistent. It should be logical, linear, and coherent. Even though we live in this winding multiverse of space and time, our brains are so hardwired to think chronologically that we can’t fathom any disruption to this false sense of symmetry we’ve confined the universe to. 

If we acknowledge that the world around us is multidimensional then, we, as the inhabitants of this cosmic playground, are also multidimensional–so why try to contain ourselves to one way of being throughout our existence? If we contain multitudes, as Whitman says, then shouldn’t it make sense that our very being is filled with what we perceive as contradictions? We don’t question why winter turns to spring or why the moon wanes and waxes. We know there’s a reason for these transformations and that life as we know it wouldn’t exist without such. We also know that there is plenty we don’t know–why is the expansion of the universe accelerating? And why does it exist in the first place? Each new discovery leads us down an infinite rabbit hole of questions and each question forces us to reevaluate our previous answer. For us humans, life is nothing but a series of paradoxes and contradictions. The minute we think we have it figured out, we’re thrown a curveball; and since we’ve been programmed for linearity, we call it foul-play. We think we’ve struck out. 

What I love most about Whitman here is his acute self-realization. To study one’s self is daunting, precisely because it leads to these so-called contradictions. But getting caught in these mysterious webs of identity and existence can actually be freeing. To swing from rope to rope is much easier (and enjoyable)  than walking across the tightrope: we tip-toe anxiously from point A to point B struggling to maintain balance. Baby step after baby step, we stare down at our feet, scared to look up; we think falling is fatal because we don’t know what lies beneath us– and there’s nothing we resist more than the unknown.  So while our eyes are focused on what’s below, trying to make our movements precise and almost robotic, we miss the outstretched hand in front of us. We miss the comforting beauty that envelopes us like a warm embrace. We spend our whole lives scared to fall, scared to change, and never realize that there’s a net at the bottom waiting to catch us when we fall. 

We’re allowed to be contradictions. We’re allowed to change like the leaves and tide. Every moment in time is different and our failure to recognize this leaves us feeling stuck on that tightrope. If we are truly present, we can embrace that uniqueness of each moment, meaning we can exist as we should according to the here and now. If others don’t understand, simply say, “I contain multitudes.” I Exist as I am, That is Enough Walt Whitman Song of Myself  Poem (18 x 24, Parchment): Posters & Prints