A man walks down the street, says “Why am I soft in the middle now? Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?” – Paul Simon
Paul Simon wrote this during or after a visit to Johannesburg, where he collaborated with South African musicians, under the horribly racist policies of apartheid. I think it’s meant as something of a critique about Western middle-aged angst — fixating on our beer bellies and muffin tops and other minor troubles when there’s so much real suffering of the world.
The wordplay is clever. I’ve had it stuck in my head, inviting me to consider my own self-centeredness and self-indulgence. I see the ways that I get totally overwhelmed in the drama of little problems. And I know that sometimes I wallow in them — life is hard, and I’m getting fat and old, and I. Just. Can’t. Handle. It. Anymore! — when the reality is that by every objective measure I’ve got things pretty darned good. When I think about the genuine hardship faced by billions of others, I feel like a jerk for complaining about anything I’ve got going on.
I mean, here I am worrying about whether or not I’m getting “jowly,” or obsessing about real and imagined personal offenses, while humanity is facing crises of poverty and hunger and displacement and violence, and we’re all in the midst of an actual environmental doomsday scenario… Honestly, how dare I?!
Sometimes, it seems like the answer is to “suck it up,” to toughen-up a little. Grow a thicker skin. Stop sweating the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff) so you can put your energy and attention into the things that matter. That’s not entirely bad advice.
On the other hand — and there’s always another hand — “suck it up” is just about the shittiest suggestion I’ve ever heard.
The things that matter to me matter to me. The concerns that hurt your soul hurt your soul. Honoring this, being sensitive and tender-hearted, is a lovely quality that we can bring both to the world’s challenges and to our own lives. Sure, we can all fall into pity parties sometimes, and it’s no fun to linger there any longer than necessary. But if I recognize that my cares and your cares and everyone’s cares are actually overlapping circles of infinite relationship — then self-care can be a perfect and gentle entry into the heart of the entire world. Compassion for others must not preclude loving-kindness for ourselves. If it does, we’re missing the point.
We’ve all experienced trauma and loss. We’re all grieving, and constantly processing our feelings through everything we do and experience. At the same time, we’re bombarded relentlessly by scary news regarding global issues that tells us we’ve arrived at the critical tipping point after which it will be too late for any of us.
I don’t think we can separate these — the personal and the universal. The scale may be different, but both the micro and the macro includes each one of us. And the gentle love needed to successfully navigate our individual emotional landscapes is the very same skill that, with practice, can heal the world.
I’m feeling soft-in-the-middle, and thin-skinned, and sensitive, and sometimes scared of everything. How about you? If we can be together in that kind of intimacy, creating safe spaces for ourselves and each other to explore the things that deeply matter to us, that touch our hearts… well, that’s freakin’ beautiful, friends. And I think it’s really the whole point of spiritual community.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, June 23. Celebration at 10:00 am. XO, Drew
© 2019 Drew Groves