COPE

On the phone today, my friend asks me, “How are you doing? Emotionally. We haven’t talked about that in a while.”

There’s a silence while I think about it. Then I tell her I think I’m good, actually, and that I appreciate her asking. “Because,” I say, “Nobody’s asked me that in a while.”

I talk a lot about coping, if only because I’m aware of the fact that I am or have been doing it. When you’re actively coping, it’s hard not to exhaustively narrate your inner monologue to everyone every chance you get, which is why, after a while, everyone stops asking you how you’re doing.

Fundamentally, I think humans are always coping. Like, with life itself. Like, I’m not sure our brains can really reckon with our existence, and so I think a lot of subconscious mental power gets occupied with trying to deal with why the fuck we’re here.

To complicate matters, because of the age we live in now, coping becomes essential to survival on the daily. It might not always seem like that for everyone — the filter of image or class or social media can make it seem like some don’t have anything to cope with ever, but I think it’s true that the people you think have nothing to cope with probably do, and if they don’t, they might be coping with the absence of something to cope with.

In any case, it’s really not until circumstance sort of “serves up” a tangible thing for us to cope with we can intellectually recognize requires our coping mechanisms that we can finally become aware of the essential nature and presence of coping in our life. Then we can say, like, “OK. This is a thing I have to deal with,” and then do whatever it is we have to do — or not do, as the case may be. Only then do we become conscious of it.

That’s how it happened for me, anyways: in hindsight I realize I’d been coping with a life that hadn’t turned out how I imagined all along, but it was only when I ultimately had to face coping with that life falling apart that that became evident. Basically, I’d been focused for so long trying to tie my life up into a big bow, I didn’t realize it when it become a knot.

I got so preoccupied with trying to turn that knot into a bow, that I couldn’t just untie the knot and start over. Someone had to do that for me.

Which is why my friend asked me on the phone how I was doing emotionally, because it’s been a little over a year or so since the whole trajectory of almost ten years of my life changed course in a single afternoon, and while the people close to you will be there for your to offer shoulder and ear at first, after a while everyone assumes that the coping has set in and is finally bring you further and further away from that need.

Which is true, I suppose. If you let it.

Like, I was telling my friend that I had looked back at that first year [of coping], which was full of all kinds of imperfections — good choices, bad ones; triumphs, setbacks — but somehow, regardless of the peaks and valleys, looking forward at the upcoming year [of coping] had became markedly easier.

Coping, by and large, doesn’t seem cool at first because it gets conflated with dealing. Dealing with the pain of whatever terrible experience you’ve endured. So it gets a bad rap for being that, Instead of what it actually is, which is the process of growing out of that terrible experience — something we call “healing,” but I’m on the fence about that.

My friend, on our phone call, as our conversation spun into a discussion about grief and trauma, and thus subsequent coping, referenced something called “The Four Levels of Consciousness,” and did in terms of said coping —

Now if you Google this, there’ll be a lot of hits for a lot of different personal development models that might not be this model in particular, so, for the purposes here, and your edification, I’m giving credit to Peter Sage, cited in a post on the blog “Real Growth.”

These four stages of consciousness are as follows, in order: “To Me,” “By Me,” “Through Me,” and “As Me,” and if you think about how we respond and transition into a state of coping, just looking at it should already make a lot of sense. Now, while I do think most coping is active — after all, nothing changes lest we change — I also think coping can occur passively. I think we can do a modicum of coping without even trying, until one day we wake up and things just don’t hurt as bad anymore.

But the overall reality of coping is — and the blogger cites this in the post — it’s a journey. We cope through these levels, not by them.

This is why when my friend asked me how I was doing, I had to take a sec. Because, the fact is, things have changed. Circumstances have changed. Life changed. I’ve changed.

A year ago, when people’d ask me how I was, I might say, “Surviving,” or “Alive.” There was comfort in that attention —

You know, that attention can be like a pacifier, and after a while those responses to it can become canned. Eventually, when no one’s asking you how you’re doing anymore, you might still respond in this way as a way to stimulate them into asking. Which is sad, because that means you’re stuck.

See, when you’ve truly progressed in coping, that authentic feeling at the root of how you are interacting with the world around you, it’s undeniable. Then, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” you have to think about it, then respond.

So, basically, here’s how the levels of consciousness presents, in the order they do:

To Me” is the victim mentality, which is the instinctive response to a traumatic event. “Why is this happening to me?” For however uncomfortable it is, this is also the most comfortable level, because it allows us to indulge in the pacification of self-pity;

After we ditch the blame and take some accountability, though, we move into “By Me.” This is the active state, wherein we rely on productivity to replace the crutch of self-pity. This level frees us from the indulgence of the “To Me” state but can also wear us out;

Through Me” occurs when we’ve surrendered our need to control and steer our circumstances (as a justified causal reaction to the memory of our pain, of course), and rely on a faith that our life is now in a state of “flow”;

The author of the blog post highlights this level FYI — and its transition into the next, and final, level — as being the most critical. The reason being, “Faith,” as the author points out, “Is the flip side of doubt.” Although faith can be a powerful tool, it doesn’t take much to compromise its integrity. Faith, reinforced, says the author, “Is knowing”…

And “knowing” leads us to “As Me,” which is just total fucking oneness with the Universe. And all I’ve got to say is, if you’ve got that going for you, it’s “nice.”

My friend and I were both able to peg down where we were on this journey, hilariously stuck in the meddling [and very luxurious] rift between “By Me” and “Through Me” — ironic on the eve that we’re launching a business we’ve gone in on together.

As I, personally, head into this new year, I’m trying to enjoy a state of “flow,” but I also don’t want to let the slack out too much; I want to work toward that “knowing,” instead of just “believing.”

Wherever y’all are at on your journey, do your best to appreciate it. Moving on to the next level isn’t an achievement, and “you can only hear from the level you’re at,” so don’t confuse another’s progress in coping with your own. Honor your own path, and take a moment now and again to recognize the distance you’ve come.

DEATH

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paw…”

I’ve always been concerned with time. Killing it, saving it. Trying to catch it when it flies, wishing it’d fly when it drags. Etc, etc. Trying to save it ’cause it’s money, but there ain’t never enough of it.

Time is such a double-edged sword. We look forward (payday, vacay, Super Bowl Sunday) until it’s passed, because when it’s the past we start looking back. And what really sucks is its inevitable, which is why when we do get to the time we were looking forward, we start looking back, because suddenly we’re another time we were looking forward to closer to our death.

And death is the thing that concerns me most about time.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a high-idling fear of death, which obviously can’t be a unique fear by virtue of the fact that I’m talking about fucking death here and if you’re not afraid of death then you’re a fucking robot or just the guy from Free Solo (who is also maybe a fucking robot), because, honestly, what’s scarier than everything being over?

I used to sit up late in bed just, like, sweating death. And I don’t mean like dying. Not, like, worrying about the way in which I’d die — honestly, I don’t really give a fuck about that, but if you’re curious, the top three ways I would rather not go (because, look, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it) are 1) shark attack, 2) fire, and 3) a skin-rotting-style-virus —

I’m talking about sweating death itself. The great void. The nothingness.

Do whatever thou wilt, swift-footed time…

And it wasn’t even like I was sitting up late in bed sweating my death. I was sweating everyone else’s death that would happen before mine, because that’s the shit you really have to endure. Which is how sinister time is — like a home invasion thriller except the home being invaded is your life, and first it takes your dog, then your folks, and then, depending on where you sit in the lineup among your other loved ones, maybe it takes you next, but no guarantees, and plus, you’re dead now and without the luxury of knowing what happens to your peeps!

And what’s worse, by the way, is this: say time does run its course, and death does happen in its natural order. Well, my friend, then you gotta consider yourself lucky because think of all the poor unsuspecting individuals who contend with the wanton fetish of death when it selects those well before their time.

But I forbid thee one more heinous crime…

It seems like the mystery and inevitability of death would encourage us to live in a certain way. Like, it would force us to live with the presumption of it. But I think death is just so unknowable and looming that collectively, we’re just too scared to really cope with it. And, as if the relationship between time and death and their compounded existential threat weren’t harrowing enough, death has a side scheme —

It can get you whenever it wants. However it wants.

Like shark attack. Or fire. Or a skin-rotting virus.

Once again, I’m not trying to highlight the modes of death by talking about death in those terms, I’m just saying that via those modes, death is fully unpredictable. Which is why I say that I think humankind really has an issue with death-denial, because by virtue of our very lives we’re expected to deal with both the immediate threat of, like, this possible and sudden death, but also run-of-the-mill death which slowly approaches, no matter.

If I had to drum up a sports metaphor for this right now, it’s like being a quarterback, except the D line and the downfield situation both represent death. And pretty much everything else on the field probably also represents death too.

Yet do thy worst, Old Time…

When my grandfather died — old, not suddenly, so, like, no worries — I remember my uncle said something to me about death that was just concise enough for me to process but profound enough for me to never forget —

“Death,” he said. “It’s so uncool.”