I’m watching My Octopus Teacher for the second time. Cole and the dog fell asleep in the middle of the first screening. But I’m transfixed. This tiny octopus is covering her vulnerable head with shells and stones for camouflage. She has been through impossible odds just to make it to this moment. I, too, have made it through impossible odds just to make it to this moment. Haven’t we all?
But now it looks like it’s all over. A shark grabs her shell-covered body and shakes it violently just as the filmmaker has to surface for air. When he returns, we see that the octopus has somehow made it on to the shark’s back. She is literally riding the shark, safe from harm.
Lately I feel like a hunted octopus, trying her hardest to outwit a shark with no idea how to get on its back. Each day, it seems like there are more sharks patrolling the figurative waters where we live. Today it is two new wildfires burning just 10 miles northwest of here. Yesterday, ash was falling from the sky. The smoke was so thick it was tough to breathe, turning the sky red, hours before sunset. And of course, the election is only 13 days away. And when my head aches from all this uncertainty, I wonder, Is this a headache or a new tumor?
In the midst of all these incredible difficulties, it helps to think like an octopus. She knows she is vulnerable. Alert to her weaknesses, she learns from them and adapts. This is different from being fragile. Fragile is waiting for life to become more predictable and safe.
By imagining the worst, the octopus actually becomes more creative, not less. When she can’t change her color and texture enough to match the ocean floor, she tries something else. She becomes algae or kelp or this strange cluster of shells. We think being brave means pushing down our fears. But being brave means doing the more difficult work of working with them. Even riding them! We have to ask, What else can we become? What can we make with what we have now?
My diagnosis forced me to face my own death repeatedly, and that has not made me shrink from the world and all of its painful craziness. Instead, it has made me fierce, and alert to the world’s beauty. It has also unleashed more creative energy than I thought possible.
If you are haunted by worst case scenarios, turn and face them. After you have gathered your old photos and valuables in a box and prepared to evacuate, see if you still want to say yes to life and all of its challenges. I trust that you will. You have survived unimaginable attacks before, you can do it again. Maybe this time you will end up riding your biggest fear like an octopus rodeo star.
This kind of resiliency takes training. And grounding. There are still 14 days left in the free mind-body-spirit challenge. Join me! It’s never too late to drop something you resent and do something joyful in its place.
Image: Getty images