Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dancing my way through a mid-life crisis

The words "mid-life crisis" sound like such a joke, until you're in it. The joke isn't the crisis, the joke is what we do with it.

My mid-life crisis started when I turned 40 and realized I had no health insurance, no retirement, and no savings; I didn't even own a car. So I went to grad-school to fix those problems and when I graduated I got a job with the county of education as an Orientation and Mobility Teacher in the special education department. I now have health insurance, retirement, and the beginnings of a savings account. My family is more financially secure, so I should be happier, right?

Nope. Not happy at all.

Sure, I can pay the mortgage and go to the doctor now, but the deeper questions still remain, questions like, who am I other than Queen Teen's mom? Why can't I save her? Is there a god, and if so, why is she doing this to my daughter? Or is Queen Teen's disability caused by her karma? Is she atoning for past lives, or learning something important? Are the atheists right? Could it really be a random luck of the draw that caused her disability? What happens when things get worse? Will she die? If she does, will her soul live on or is there no soul? Will she just disappear? Do we all disappear?

I call myself a Buddhist, but I'm questioning my faith in that philosophy. Even my favorite teacher, Pima Chodron, the one Buddhist teacher who has been able to help me when faced with spiritual crisis, can't answer my questions. Which I suppose is part of the Buddhist philosophy on suffering: there is no answer.

But damn it sometimes I want a straight answer!

Questioning ones faith and place in the larger meaning of life is the heart of a mid-life crisis. Facing mortality and meaninglessness is what causes so many people to dump their spouses, buy a sports car and quit their jobs. Existential angst is painful, so who wouldn't jump at the chance to run from it? Much better to celebrate life, rather than worry about the other cliche: the meaning of life.

If we don't stop and face those questions and understand there aren't any answers, those questions will come up over and over and drive us to make one stupid mistake after another. In the middle of the night they'll haunt you, until you need sleeping pills or alcohol (or both) to get some peace. Am I being melodramatic? Probably, but a mid-life crisis is melodramatic. Life and death come crashing together on stage in flaming technicolor, and only the brave or slightly crazy can stand the noise.

Luckily I am both brave and a little crazy, so I'll be alright. The most important thing you can do when coping with these deep, psychological questions is treat yourself with the utmost compassion and patience. You will have horrible days when the pointlessness of everything will make you want to start drinking at 10 am. And you will have wonderful days when that pointlessness will actually look beautiful, because you'll feel free and open to all the possibilities of life.

Keep breathing, and don't jump the cute guy who gave you his phone number because you think he'll save you from getting old. No one can save you. The only one who has a chance of saving you is you, but that probably doesn't give you much comfort when you're hurting and confused.

Here's a song that brilliantly portrays the feelings of a mid-life crisis; I've danced to it several times, which helped a lot. Get out of your chair and start dancing. I think dancing might be the only way to survive a mid-life crisis.

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