A wise friend once said, “Life is sad and beautiful.” Her simple words were eloquent and profound. It’s true, I thought, this is the range of human experience, so wide. It’s not fun living on the sad end of the range, yet no one gets to escape this part. It’s part of the human experience.
Eight years ago I gave birth at home to a baby girl two weeks and three days prematurely. Two hours after she emerged from my body, our midwife calmly told us she wasn’t breathing well and that I needed to get dressed and go to the hospital. I went into shock. Raw and unmedicated, my entirety felt ripped apart by desperate, frozen thunder.
Inside the ambulance, the paramedic flicked the bottom of our baby girl’s feet to keep her lungs stimulated. Her father and I spent day and night after day and night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as her lungs received support to grow healthy. On her 10th day of life outside my body, we took her home.
In the weeks that followed, I fed our precious baby my breast milk and was supported by a well respected Lactation Consultant. When she told me that my milk supply was low because my breasts’ milk ducts were arranged differently than most mothers’, my being felt ruptured again. What? My body could not feed my baby?
A silver lining appeared. I was introduced to a woman named Mary who had an oversupply of healthy breastmilk. Her milk was just right for our daughter as she had given birth just five weeks before I had which meant our babies’ nutritional needs were similar. Mary and I shared a fierce bond. Our daughter was fed largely by Mama Mary, someone with whom I share core values and whose milk I trusted. I’d pick up small, tall glass jars of her milk and stock our refrigerator weekly. My soul’s Village values shone bright and a new human life became fully nutritionally nourished.
Still, the shock and trauma I had experienced after giving birth struck me on deep levels. I entered 13 months of postpartum depression, even in the presence of the greatest Love I’d ever known: our child. Even in the presence of her highly devoted father. Even in the presence of world class friends and an attentive, loving family.
Thirteen months was a long time to feel down. Our daughter received a lot of love and affection, she was held by our arms and in her carrier, I sang to her and we read to her, and her lungs worked great. Still, something had lodged itself within my consciousness that kept my inner skies gray.
Then one day, I decided I wanted to exit. I wanted to rise up. I wanted to find a land where joy was daily, where the songs I’d sing to her filled our home with bright smiles and silliness. This can’t be difficult, I thought.
It was springtime. My little lady, with her toddling new steps, stepped out of our front yard onto the sidewalk with me. Renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle came to mind as his distinct capacity to be present seemed to slip into the fresh April air. The essence of Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, planted itself in my mind.
This moment, now... I thought. What do I want?
I took one step forward and stopped in that position, one foot in front of the other.
Ahh, the sun feels so good on my face.
Another step, and pause.
Goodness, we have a healthy daughter! WOW, wow, wow! How fortunate we are.
Her voice makes my heart do kartwheels. She is a dream come true!
As my daughter toddled along the sidewalk giggling and plucking flower petals off the ground, it struck me that all of a sudden, I felt lighter than I had when we walked out the door. God this felt good. I continued.
I have legs to walk. We have hills in our neighborhood. I love walking up hills!
Another step forward, another pause.
Where we live, the air is clean and feels so good to breathe in… I love this fresh air!
I could kiss her cheeks and belly 1,000 times a day.
As we walked past neighbors’ homes admiring trees, I realized I felt noticeably better. My heart was light, right now. And in the next right now. I was not depressed. Not right now.
Another step forward and pause.
We have fresh food to eat, grown organically. Love for our bodies, Love for the Earth.
It was that simple.
When I could have chosen antidepressants or coping with overeating (which I had chosen in the past), I chose a simple exit into a place of feeling good. Whichever option is chosen does not change whether that person is lovable; I am simply glad that in this situation, I chose a way out that didn’t hurt.
We are all doing our best. Depression is something many people experience and we all make the choices we need to, to cope, process and heal.
Seven years later, I find myself applying this same simple practice as I move through recovery from neurosurgery. Is there pain? Yep. Is there fear? More than I ever thought I’d face. Are the answers complicated and difficult? No, they are not. One step after another, one day at a time, I can choose — as can you — to live in the only moment there is: Now. In this moment right now, I can choose to notice beauty, joy, and all the things I’m grateful for. In this moment right now, I can give thanks for how my body communicates with me so precisely. As does yours, with you.
Alternatively, we can choose to place blame, we can choose to focus on negativity in our physical body or in the world, we can choose to feel bad. Regardless of the circumstances, we are free to choose.
To anyone experiencing depression, fear or anxiety, I share up this simple tool to bring yourself to a brighter state of mind. Your choice. You choose. Step outside and one step at a time, one moment at a time, focus on what feels good. You are the creator of your state of mind, and by the way, you are radically beautiful. Notice that. It’s all up to you.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Love-based leader, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.