A few days ago, I received an email from a reader that’s left me thinking long and hard about a few universal truths. I’ve been reading and re-reading this email, masticating its undertones and all that went unsaid. I’ve come back to it over and over again. In the words of Cheryl Strayed, “I can feel it there the way the princess can feel the pea under her twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds.”
With his permission, I think it’s worth sharing with all of you.
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I’m writing to you because I’m not sure what to do or what’s wrong.
You once wrote that you’d stopped worrying about “stuffs” when you were 25. Now that I’m almost 26, I still haven’t stopped worrying—I may do it more than ever. I have new fears, like not continuing to travel the world or how long the days feel lately. But I also have new joys, like exercising, cooking, and wine nights with friends.
Through my experiences, I’ve learned not to settle for less than what I deserve—but now I don’t feel at peace with what I have. I’m confused and sad about this. Everything feels slow and noisy at the same time. Help?
You’re not the only one.
I was reminded of this just yesterday as I was obsessing over how difficult it is for my son to fall asleep. He fights sleep like David fights Goliath—but it’s not Goliath, it’s just sleep, the most wonderful of all the things, right? I was telling my mom that it would all be so easy if…
…if he would just take a pacifier!
…if he would just stop crying so much!
…if he would realize that he doesn’t have to fear sleep!
If he did any of these things (or all of them, please?), life would be easy breezy, and I’d have conquered all that is Life with a Baby. Because if I conquer this one thing, then everything else would fall into place.
That’s when my mom said to me, “There will always be something.”
Some people hate it when their mother is right, but I kind of love it. Right, right she is.
There will always be something that’s off, something to work on, something that’s unsettling us. But there’s something that runs deeper. I could sit here and tell you how to solve the problems you describe in your email—the ones on the surface, like how to satisfy your desire for travel—but that wouldn’t be fair. I wouldn’t be addressing the full picture, or the right picture, at all.
What needs to be addressed is your desire for *peace*, because that’s the pea that’s lying under your twenty mattresses.
Right now, it’s manifested as X, but next week it may be Y or Z. What will you do to hold on to peace like my son clings to wakefulness?
The answer to that isn’t as simple as a 1, 2, 3 list of tips and tricks. Some people turn to meditation, to their children, to writing, to sports, to religion, to gratefulness. Or maybe that’s just me? What matters is what works for *you*. To figure that out, you’ll have to experiment.
As I struggle with teaching my little little to fall asleep, I’m grateful for everything I’m going through: for the patience and will to read up on different strategies, for his health, for the lessons I’m learning as I guide him, for the *chance* to guide him, for all the bonding time we get during his struggles. And I come back to my peace, to the serenity in knowing that everything is as it should be, even in our struggles. I’m grateful for everything, including the bad. It works for me. Maybe it’ll work for you?
They say life is full of obstacles, but I disagree. An obstacle is only an obstacle if you identify it as such. Everything that happens to you is just that: stuff that happens. It’s nor good nor bad. It just is. The series of stuff that happens is what we call a life.
As you search for your best life, G., please remember the pea under all your mattresses. All your problems and obstacles are just what’s on the surface. Get to the pea, to your desire for peace. That’s the only way to get a good night’s sleep.