Right now I’m drinking a killer matcha tea on the 50th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City and I'm having a sudden surge of emotion. An introspective epiphany, more or less. I turn to Google, my trusty steed, to put a word to this experience and this is what I find:
Sonder (noun): the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
Here I am, looking out across the Mekong Delta, the miles and miles of skyscrapers, and the tens of thousands of human ants on scooters, and I realize how incredibly small I am. Ha, ha yes. Laugh because I’m short. But seriously.
While I take in the bustle and mass amounts of humanity around me; from thousands of towers, buildings, cars, scooters and everything beyond, I am reminded of what a minuscule part of this world I occupy. With that, so does all of my pain, worry and strife. And guess what? So does yours.
This is not a means to discount emotional distress. There are inescapable currents throughout life. I believe we should become more accustomed to the discomfort of welcoming them, feeling them with every piece of our heart and soul. Yes— that means binging on as much Friends and Ben & Jerry's cherry garcia as you deem fit. Scream, cry, kick, laugh. It's all the same as long as you're feeling the feels.
But at the end of the day, when your tear ducts are dried out, your nails are bitten to the wick, and you’ve endured a gnarly food coma, step back and reflect. Pain is relative. Our stresses can feel like the end of the world, when instead they're the end of an era in the world that we know. Who's to say we can't know other worlds?
It’s important to weigh the gravity of our complaints in proportion to the tiny specks of dust that we are. The intensity of our pain hardly aligns with the itty bitty place in this world that we occupy. We. Are. So. Freaking. Small. And our struggles are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And that's without mention of all the beauty in this world, just waiting for us to notice. Waiting for us to jump, climb and embrace them in their fullest form.
Moments in life are fleeting, but so is pain. Remember that whatever emotion(s) you might be experiencing in the moment, that’s just it: they are but a factor of the moment. They will pass. It might take a conscious effort to kick 'em out, but they are impermanent.
Sea glass is my favorite analogy. I'm a bit of a shell fiend, and always have been. From when I was little up until now, I struggle tearing my eyes from the shore; forever seeking the thrill of an intact sand dollar. I also can't ignore a flicker of green when it catches my eye.
Sometimes, though, when you find a piece of sea glass, it's too fresh. Maybe broken in the past week or so, the edges are still sharp and you run the risk of cutting yourself. In contrast, a true piece of sea glass is softened on the fringes and delicate to touch. You can squeeze your fingers around the fragment without any threat of getting pricked. It's translucent and smooth, almost velvety, with little evidence that it began as a sharp remnant of a bottle. But this is only after months of being shaken by the waves, crushed into the sand, pommeled by the ocean, over and over and over again.
Pain is like this. When first shattered, our shards are untouchable. Don't get too close or we'll make you bleed. But softened by time and abated by support, the fractured parts of us are sanded down and dispersed by the wind. This is also quintessentially human. We persist, we adapt, and we survive.
This moment of sonder was enough to rattle me out of the less-than-cheery morning I was having. Humbled by the itty bitty place that my worries and I occupy in this world, I was given the chance to step back and practice gratitude.
In this giant rat race of life, we could all use a reminder sometimes. A reminder that we are teeny tiny microscopic iota floating through the atmosphere. And so is our pain. Even in states of heightened emotion, when you feel as if the world is crumbling, think of all those who would kill to be exactly where you are right now. I mean... this is an online blog. The fact that you have Internet access and are feasting your eyes on these words (or struggling through them, whatever flies since you're here reading regardless) means you are more privileged than millions on this planet.
In the meantime, on tough days, remind yourself of the inconsequential space in the universe that you and your worries occupy. The levity is comforting. Reflect on this, and you will instantly be overwhelmed with gratitude.
And just as a fresh shard of glass transforms into a softened scrap over months of being thwacked by the turbulence of the ocean; this too shall pass... even if it sucks enormously first. Quoted verbatim.
With light and love,