For a few years in high school and college, I dated a guy named Jack. Jack was a hockey player, so we went on some dates to the ice rink.
Now, if you’ve witnessed the grace with which I walk this earth (or lack thereof) this might surprise you, but I could skate, technically speaking, because my Mom had forced me to take skating lessons in childhood. (Meaning: these dates miraculously never ended in the Emergency Room, all thanks to my Mom.)
But claiming “I could skate” still feels like a huge lie when held up against this indisputable truth: Jack could skate. I mean, the dude could fucking skate.
It was like my definition of skating was “moving forward on ice at various speeds without falling over” and his definition of skating was, you know, “skating.”
He could skate backward and forward, skate really fast, and stop any moment on a dime, tiny ice crystals flying up from his blades. And he did it all with a carefree nonchalance. (A nonchalance that I perhaps have never summoned in any waking aspect of my life.) He literally skated circles around me. The spectacle was incredible to witness, though I always viewed it through the fear-based lens of focusing on not breaking my elbows or tailbone.
He, essentially, moved on the ice more gracefully than I moved off the ice.
When I think of my skating the word that comes to mind is, simply, fear. I wasn't terrified, but my mind was consistently preoccupied with not falling. That's what fear does: insidiously preoccupies. It projects you into a scary future, thus depriving you of the present. Fear is the basis for worry, stress, and anxiety.
But when I think of Jack skating, I think of this word: Ease.
I turned thirty a couple weeks ago (I haven't seen Jack in over a decade, though I can still envision him zipping across the ice), and you know how people sometimes set a guiding word for the new year? I want to set a word for my new decade—my thirties (how is that possible?!?)—and make that word ease.
I consider ease underrated. People often associate "easy" things as "bad" and, to a certain extent, I get that. I don't advise eating Hot Pockets or going through drive-thrus for every meal. And there are obvious detriments of “taking the easy road” which implies you’re blindly following the crowd.
There's sound reason Rainer Maria Rilke advises in Letters to a Young Poet:
"We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us...that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it."
And that poet Robert Frost says in The Road Not Taken:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
But I think it’s flawed to assume the easy path to take equates to the ease-filled path.
Consider the 50 closest people in your life: How many are living lives full of ease? How many glide through life's trials and tribulations like expert skaters? And how many are stressed and anxiety-ridden, always worried about (metaphorically) falling on their asses?
This is where things get a bit paradoxical, but stay with me. [Or don't; I don't mind, I'm thirty now, so I'm completely self-assured. ;)]
I believe the road most taken, and thus, the perceived "easier" road, is actually the road that is more difficult, mentally and emotionally, to traverse. That is: the road that is easiest to take is the road that is hardest to travel. It is the drama-filled road. The road of fear and stress. The road where you spend most of your life either re-living the past's pain (immersed in guilt, remorse, regret) or panicking over the future's uncertainty (immersed in worry, anxiety, stress).
I said in my last letter that it's easy to hate, and I also believe it's easy to be stressed. I'm speaking from experience! I've spent most of my life riddled by stress—and you know what? Stress is easy. Which is a paradox in itself: when you're stressed, of course, everything feels really hard, but choosing to live always stressed out is easy. You want to be stressed out all the time? No one will stop you.
I'm not shaming or blaming you if you feel constantly stressed, I often feel this way. In fact, I (inexplicably) felt very stressed over the weekend. I am simply encouraging you to open yourself (and me to open myself) to the possibility that there could be another way to live. As the great poet Hafiz says:
"Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions."
"As you start to walk on the way, the way appears."
When you walk with trust the way will appear for you, you no longer make constant fear-based projections into the future—you, simply, walk. You no longer skate not to fall. You skate to skate.
Making ease a focus for my next ten years doesn't feel like the easy road; it feels worthy. I even think—in a sense—Rilke would be proud, because committing to living a life of ease is choosing something difficult. :) [I'm smiling because I recently heard author Anne Lamott say, "All truths are paradox."]
In loving-kindness meditation (i.e. Metta meditation) you focus on phrases, rather than the breath. You can direct the phrases at yourself, another person, or a group of people. The phrases I generally use are:
May I (or you or he or she or they) be safe.
Live with ease.
That is what I wish for you, personally, today: safety, happiness, healthiness, and a life full of ease.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. This statement could be completely nonsensical, hence why it's a post script, but it makes sense to me: I believe the road less traveled is the path of least resistance. (Mental and emotional resistance, that is.)
p.p.s. I like how this is volume 29. Thanks to each one of you for being a part of my 29th year, in small or big ways. Namaste.