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Nothing Has Been Wasted

a litany from the open heart

Nothing Has Been Wasted

I want to pause a moment on this insight I mentioned last time, that nothing has been wasted. Even when it felt like my life was unadulterated pain and misery, there were elements that got me to where I am now.

On Saturday evening, I went to Dances of Universal Peace, a Sufi event where all comers sing and dance together, songs and dances from traditions all over the world. I had a moment of self-consciousness about this bigger body I now find myself in, and I looked around the room at the 12 or 15 of us ranging in age from 20s to 70s, ranging from tall to tiny, from broad to spindly, dark skin to white skin, myself included in the circle, and my heart opened wide.

We can’t even see the heart, and it is so much more, both inside and outside, than the body by which we’re identified. I felt such warmth toward all these bodies and their emanations, my own included. The warmth was love, and it was unconditional, in the sense that it wasn’t “because of” anything, and it wasn’t based on any thought-realization; it was a sheer celebration of what was present.

And I used to drag myself to Dances of Universal Peace when life was unadulterated pain and misery--I used to go and sing and dance even though I wished I was not alive, and my heart would open a little. That was not wasted.

All the meditations I did when I wished I was not alive were not wasted; I did them anyway. As my Sufi mentor said, I was “winding the clock.” Maybe I couldn’t stay focused on the meditation for even one complete second, but I showed up. That was not wasted.

All those hours and hours I practiced oboe and English horn, all the hours making reeds, rehearsing, performing, traveling to performances and lessons and rehearsals were not wasted, even if I haven’t picked up the instruments in over a decade. I can close my eyes and practice fingering out and blowing through the most challenging pieces I performed back then. My breath control is still incredible. The focus and discipline required to play at that level are bedrocks inside of me that are finally shaking loose from the self-criticism and perfectionism to which they were unfortunately anchored. That was not wasted.

All those gardens I planted and then moved away from fed people. They were not wasted.

All those plants that died under my care and any veggies that spoiled in the refrigerators under my care were not wasted. (Really?) I learned from them how to adjust the care I provided or optimize the refrigerator environment. In forming a life full of purpose and gratitude, that was not wasted.

Those “three things I’m grateful for” that I wrote down like a chore for years and years when it seemed like making up stories were none of them wasted. They were digging me a path to follow where weeds become blessings.

My MFA, and my other degrees, were not a waste. Yes, many of my grad school colleagues are now doing stellar work as academics, and I’m so happy for them. And yes, I’m not doing that. And yes, I haven’t written many essays or poems recently, and I haven’t lifted a finger to organize my manuscripts for publication, let alone submit parts of them to journals. The moments of writing, the participation in classes, workshops, seminars, the in-betweens--all of those moments had their intrinsic value then, and the writing itself exists for disseminating, and words continue to flow from my heart/brain/fingers. In good time, and when the time comes, and when I choose (or am chosen). None of that was wasted.

That Chi Nei Tsang qualification--the time and money invested in that while in academic grad school--that absolutely wasn’t a waste. Sad and circumstantial that I stopped doing it for a while, but what a wonderful flowering of universal healing power it puts into these fingertips; what a joy and an honor to be working on people again. That was not wasted.

It wasn’t wasted when I dragged myself to the community mental health services for therapy groups, even when I felt like we all dragged each other down and no one wanted to look beyond the misery and mania we were all mired in. I did things there that were as productive as kindergarten activities, and what we do in kindergarten provides the basis for seeing ourselves as fundamentally creative beings who can find beauty or meaning with dull scissors, weak glue, and a pile of old magazines. I was putting myself in an environment where people were offering hope and healing even in an absence of funds or deep knowledge about avenues toward health. That was not wasted.

I wasn’t a waste when I showed up for individual therapy, and to meet with my Sufi mentor, and couldn’t see beyond what a waste I was, couldn’t comprehend wanting anything more than to lose more weight, to be free of the torture-wheel of binge-purge-starve-rage-hallucinate-..., when I had recurrent fantasies of a giant hammer appearing and slamming me like a blister, wished it would happen. I felt such guilt for expressing these wants and images to these people, seeing how it was painful for them to hear. But now they see me grateful to be alive, experiencing the enveloping warmth of unconditional love emanating from my own heart, feeling myself on purpose, and they can know that their support had a part in this transformation in me. That was not wasted.

I am not wasted these dog days of summer when it’s hard to fall asleep in my hot bed and then hard to get up in the mornings. It’s been a month since my fourteen-hour days at the clinic came to an end now, and I believe I should be all caught up on sleep, and when I’m not even starting my morning exercises and meditations until close to 8 o’clock, oh what a waste and a layabout I feel! But this slower-paced waking is not wasted time. I’m beginning to remember and learn from my dreams, beginning to court that learning. I’m beginning to value what I do at this moment, and this moment, and this--whether it’s doing a Chi Kung practice that leads to sleeping a little longer, or correcting a typo, or straightening shoes on the doorstep.

What I’m doing right now, this moment, matters--see what future now it could be contributing to! See what moments built this current now, even when I thought everything was for naught.
Please remember, whatever your life circumstances in the current now: Nothing has been wasted.

About the Author

Ela Harrison

Ela is a wordsmith and herb lover who has lived in many places and currently resides in Tucson, AZ.

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