Each day must be begun anew. Sleep is the restorative. Waking is the opportunity.
To open your eyes and be able to say “still here, still alive” surely has the potential to infuse you with renewed vigour and appetite for life. Somehow, no matter how paltry your contribution to humanity, no matter how insignificant your squawks and wirbles, you’ve been given another roll of the dice.
I mean, people talk about ‘impostor syndrome’ in walks of life where their success and status feels like a trick, like some kind of flukey mishap that has plonked the keys of the kingdom in their surprised hand, but what if the bar of success is much lower than that? What if simply being given another day is the big triumph, the roared conquest? Then we might begin to feel grateful for being in full possession of our faculties and having one more day to see what we can do with them.
Now, before you have a vision of me standing at my morning window, eyes abrim with tears of delirious gratitude, pausing every step I take just to revel in the wondrous good fortune with which I have been blessed, let me elucidate.
I know the iteration “still here, still alive” could just as easily be infused with dread ennui, with miserabilist torpor, with the jaded certainty that you have merely flipped the calendar one day closer to death. It could be uttered with the despondent resignation of the condemned, cynically and expectantly defeated as they plod heavily on the treadmill of grim existential labour.
I get it. I really do. For the last while, I have been dragging a lot of shit around with me. For various, not insignificant reasons, negative energy has accumulated around me like a bank of fog and enveloped me in its murky embrace. Breathing has been laboured, levity non-existent, writing impossible. Each passing day has felt like a weight added to the scales of defeat. Soporific, frustrated, uninspired – it’s been a real party.
This is a recognisable syndrome. Mostly we just call it life. We shrug our shoulders and offer pat commentary, the pabulum of social grease that stops us looking too closely, with phrases like ‘another day, another dollar’; ‘same shit, different day’; ‘here we go again’; ‘once more with feeling’; ‘same old, same old’; ‘no rest for the wicked’; ‘happy Monday’, and on and on with the dark humour of shared pain and barely expressed pointlessness (‘Groundhog Day’, after the time-loop movie, is often included in these clichés, but it’s not a good fit because the narrative of that much-loved comedy results in the protagonist’s repetitive ordeal leading him to something akin to enlightenment, the fact of which has made some commentators regard it as a key existential text!).
Of course, there is comfort in the belief that the pain is shared. We take some small solace from the fact that we have fetched up on this grey game show of existence with countless other contestants, aping each other’s reactions and platitudes, rolling with the cues and canned laughter. The game show is broadcast on an ancient TV with the sound turned down, the blizzard of static that obscures the monochrome pictures prompting anonymous watchers to wrestle with rabbit ear antennae and thump the side of the box in exasperation. But hey, at least we’re in it together!
With the sound turned up, waves of white noise disrupt any intelligible conversation, again leaving viewers frustrated as they strain to make sense of intermittent snatches of rote patter. What they don’t realise is, inside our TV show the technological interference is twice as bad, so we are no better than they are at understanding what the hell is happening. We squint effortfully through the disruption and sensory chaos to see if anything can be ascertained, rotating our heads slightly to better present our auditory faculties for successful reception, but it is all in vain. We don’t know what we are hearing, nor do we know if we are being heard, but for fear of being the one who breaks social convention, we nod and affirm and agree and intimate satisfaction with all results.
But it’s a form of madness. People watching don’t understand. People inside the show don’t understand either. But everyone keeps trying to get satisfaction. The set gets thumped, banged and kicked and nothing really changes, the static and white noise just shift and realign, sustaining the status quo.
That’s the collective experience, which though painful, is not entirely unendurable. For an individual who is struggling with life, I think it’s different. This individual feels like they are in a far more torturous, punitive game show. They are overwhelmed by the daily mountain that has to be climbed. Every step they try to take is hard won. They are caught in a grinder, and no matter what they do, they are relentlessly pulled down towards the teeth. They are so much meat being pounded and ground until they no longer know which way is up. Their senses are flattened, their energy depleted, their bones and flesh schnitzeled to oblivion.
That experience can feel like life is forever piling in on top of you, a deluge of unceasing challenges pouring over you like a dam that has burst its banks. Or perhaps it is like being the unlucky rugby player who finds themselves at the bottom of a scrum or a ruck with hundreds of kilos of grunting, sweating muscle and bone forcing you into the ground. Even worse is the soldier trapped and trodden on the mudbath battlefield – allied and enemy combatants trampling over you in a fearful frenzy as the earth sucks you deeper to its core as if your sacrifice will be its sustenance. You become ever more immobilised as limbs and bodies above become enmeshed in a savage mortal wrestle, becoming a rapidly closing portal that will forever obscure the sky.
Overwhelmed. Inundated. Crushed. Masticated. Swallowed. Submerged.
It’s almost like you are nothing more than a morsel of food caught in life’s digestive tract, waiting for some other matter to push you along towards the bowel, through which you will ultimately pass as something that is recognised as waste.
It is a gratuitous metaphor, but I think it is useful to ponder how desperate and helpless and small we can sometimes feel if only to acknowledge and validate the reality of that state, temporary or otherwise. I am not even talking about depression per se, but rather the attritional nature of existence, what we might hear referred to as ‘the slog’. It is the accumulation and repetition of adversities both trivial and grave that eventually coalesce into something that becomes defining and oppressive and life-altering until you one day find yourself wondering why it has been so long since you’ve seen the sky, or tasted water, or breathed fresh air.
But this is the thing. The sky and the water and the air haven’t gone anywhere. They have always been there. They always are there. What disappears is our ability to see and taste and breathe. The atmosphere around us changes. The environment changes. The topography, the geography, the geology. The world reshapes itself and starts to grow around us and on top of us. We become part of a layer of soil, or a centerpiece in a rock formation, or something through which roots begin to grow. We believe this is our new, passive role, that we are being relegated to a lower level of existence.
But to accept that is to deny ourselves agency. If the world reshapes itself, if the atmosphere and environment change, why cannot we change with it? Do we not have the same rights as other organisms in our own ecosystem? Surely our imperative to thrive will allow us to adapt. There is no force that compels us to be rigid and unyielding. The forces around us may feel very insistent. They may feel like they are dictating all laws of space and physics, but what if we bring our adaptability to the fore and instead of saying ‘I can’t breathe!’, we say ‘I’ve always wanted to live at the bottom of a swamp.’ And we breathe into it.
We breathe into it.
The world has changed? Life’s not what it used to be? Well, the fundamentals don’t change. You’ve got resources. Don’t stop using your lungs. Don’t stop seeing with your eyes. Don’t stop feeling with your heart.
Our physical mechanism allows us to keep going. Those lungs keep expanding and contracting, that diaphragm keeps rising and falling, that heart keeps beating. They renew their essential actions unquestioningly to allow us to play the lottery of life. Why don’t we embrace the organic machine that we are and replicate its rhythmic protocol in our abstracted self? Our imagined self; our perceived self; our inter-relational self; our emotional and psychological self.
Renew them. Reinvigorate them. Put them to bed at night and wake them in the morning. Begin again. Begin anew. Don’t listen to the corny, schmaltzy internet advice and live each day like it’s your last. On the contrary, live each day like it’s your first. That way you won’t feel like you have to scream from the rooftops your triumph over your own cynicism, because your cynicism won’t exist on day one. There’ll be no kissing postmen or swimming with dolphins, you can just get on with your day. Get on with your morning, your afternoon, your night. Get on with your moment, because that’s where your life is.
So yes, I am saying wake up and be grateful that you’re still in the game. And don’t ever think that you can’t set some of the rules in your own ecosystem. You go to bed old and you wake up young. You are renewable. Breathing, blinking, beating. Again and again and again. See. Taste. Breathe.
Give yourself a chance. You don’t have to be today who you were yesterday. Begin anew.
Do you think you can renew yourself? Do you dare to try? Reset!