My investigations this week have centered around living my passions, dreaming big, envisioning myself arriving where I really want to be. What do I want my life to look like? What could happen if I free myself from everything that has gone before, and instead begin again, give myself a completely blank slate?
A conversation with a friend brought up phrases I have used against myself throughout my life: “I need to admit I’m never going to…” “I just can’t…” On one hand, it’s important to be honest and realistic, something that is highly unpopular with the positive thinking gurus the interwebs are brimming with lately. I, for instance, will never, in this lifetime, become a gymnast. (Really. Not ever.) I may or may not ever become a best-selling author, as there are factors involved in that process that are beyond my control. On the other hand, just because I can’t yet see how doesn’t mean I can’t free myself to envision the what. There are some things I am highly unlikely to accomplish at this point, and there are many doors that have permanently closed; no matter how hard I may beat against them I will never get them open again. But there are just as many wonderful and amazing things that I can yet accomplish. However, nothing is possible– NOTHING– unless I believe it is, so if I believe I can never become a best-selling author, guess what? (Those positive thinking gurus have some things figured out.)
We can’t change our past. (If someone finds my lost key to the TARDIS, let me know.) But the rumors of the limits imposed by our story thus far may be exaggerated. It’s our interpretation of our story that needs questioning. Who am I, what am I capable of? What if I answer those questions from the center of my being, without much concern for where I’ve been or what I’ve done in the past? How will tomorrow look, if I wake up in it unaddicted to yesterday? What will I say then?
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”
Maria von Trapp, The Sound of Music
Doors sometimes close, other times open. Choices perch on thresholds of portals. Deciding what to do with that choice is all on us, but fear of making the wrong choice can prevent us from taking any action at all. If life is unfolding as it should, do I accept this door closing peacefully, or am I supposed to push back? If an opportunity presents itself am I obligated to jump in with both feet, or can I let it slip through my fingers? Is this a test? Am I failing or passing? How do I know?
There arises the agitation again, that striving, that aching to know I have the right answer. It is my mindfulness bell now, my reminder to get still, to sit, to watch the breath. I may never know if any of my answers are right. There may be no rights or wrongs, only choice after choice carving a pathway to some invisible destination. One foot in front of the other…
It is quite late where I am, after a long day, and I have an early morning tomorrow. I am not complaining, but observing… I debated a bit on whether to just wait for more inspiration, more time. But something happens when you keep the heat on the pot, when you keep tending and stirring the cauldron. It may not always look or smell lovely at every moment of the process, but consistent progress is only made by persistence, so I chose to sit down, log on, start typing.
Something happens, too, when we immerse ourselves in a process, doesn’t it? Have you ever made a commitment and seen it through– both times when it was easy and times when it was hard to keep going? The transformation is nearly never predictable, but it is steady and assured, the way a river will certainly wear down rocks over time, but we have to stay in the river to be changed. Stepping in and out along the banks will keep our feet wet perhaps, but we won’t develop strength from the challenges of the current; we won’t give enough of ourselves to the water to become someone new. I have spent much of my life to date as a dabbler. This is perfectly fine, necessary even; clearly it is part of my story. But I also desire the depth I may develop from persisting through the many cycles of doing just one thing, instead of dipping my toe into first this, then that.
Of course, to succeed in not quitting, I do have to silence the demanding perfectionist in my head. I require permission to be imperfect, too brief or too verbose, too pointless, too focused (since it’s writing I’m talking about here). What permissions do you need to go deeper with a worthy process? Does your desire to “do it right” get in your way of doing anything at all? Can you set that requirement aside, if only for a moment, and try on a different thought? You can always judge yourself harshly again tomorrow! 🙂
The only person standing in your way is you.
This is by no means news. But sometimes a concept that has been rattling around in your head will abruptly drop itself into your gut, WHAM, and your breath is knocked out of you by the force of finally “getting it.” That’s me, and that sentence, this morning.
I am, whether by nature or obsession, a seeker. I can’t turn it off (I’ve tried), and I concluded some time ago that I don’t need to. I read, study, investigate, pontificate. I feel chronically on the brink of enlightenment. Just one more process… almost there…
Nope. It’s a labyrinth up here in my head, and all this striving toward leads me away. What is blocking me?
Isn’t there some ancient proverb about “Stop seeking without what can only be found within”? If not, I am totally claiming that one 🙂 Time to go sit, and be.
I am forty-one-and-a-half years old, and I still do not know the answer to this question.
The generation before mine, characterized in many ways by their strict cultural rules and limited choices, had this sorted out by age twenty. The children of that generation (read: me) may have noticed this, and felt an intense sense of urgency about not knowing (here I go with the not-knowing again!). Add to these feelings an explosion of opportunities and some lurking awareness about not wanting what went before, couple that with being an outlier in some way, and ta-dah! You’ve got a foolproof formula for never getting an answer!
I want to tease that out a bit… it seems there are several pieces to pick up, examine, turn over in the mind here. One piece requires laying to rest the expectations of the previous generation. For some, this means burning bridges with those who suppressed or outright oppressed them, those who overtly and willfully hurt them for failing to conform. This may be the right action for some, may be the wrong action for others, and in either case, is only the beginning. Whether we maintain relationships or not, the real work lies inside our minds, where all those expectations became our expectations for ourselves, the yardsticks by which we see if we measure up. Frequently figuring out whose yardstick it was in the first place falls in that “journey of a thousand miles” category– we’ve internalized the message so deeply it can be difficult to discern that it doesn’t even belong to us.
But here’s my favorite way to turn my brain upside down: what if I’m not even supposed to know? What if all my attempts to answer the question at all are misguided, another remnant of that old yardstick I thought I discarded?
Now my eleven-year-old is waiting to use the computer, as I have taken all morning to write this much, between unloading and reloading the dishwasher, getting everyone through breakfast, attempted homeschooling, cleaning the kitchen, starting the laundry… so rather than striving for some perfect wrap-up, I’ll embrace my perfectionism and self-consciousness and just. Stop.
I started out this morning thinking about self-acceptance, in particular as it applies to body image. Then, life happened, my battery died, and I lost all but the title. So, being me, I’m taking that course alteration and instead I’ll just say this:
Whatever journey you are contemplating today, no matter how long and impossible it may seem, remind yourself that you don’t have to make the whole trip at once. Just one step today, the smallest step you can take… that’s all. (And resting is a step along the way as well.)
I’ll try to remember too 🙂
This delightful, if bittersweet, post from Miriam inspired my post this morning. I suspect this is something programmed into our reptilian brains from the bygone days, before the dawn of Homo sapiens. We fear the unknown. While we can think (with our fancy, modern prefrontal lobes! Yay!) that the unknown may be just as marvelous and exciting as it might be frightening and dangerous, our survival center still knows: danger may lurk around any and every corner, in the shadows, behind the rocks.
So what do we do? We make up the answers before we ask the questions! If we think we know what happens next in our story, we can push fear out of the way. I can put one foot in front of the other when I can see the path. Take away the path, or simply my ability to see it, and suddenly I have no idea where to put my foot. In reflecting on parenting and how very-much-not-like-I-thought-it-would-be it has been, I have often said we humans would be extinct if we knew what we were getting into in advance. (Hm, so perhaps this power of self-deception also contributes to the survival of the species… hmm…)
But peril awaits when we think we know more than we do. In scientific study, this is such a problem that it has a name: “confirmation bias.” In life, when we declare, This is The Way! when we don’t actually know, we may end up at a very different destination than we hoped for, and may lead others astray in the process… especially if we are prone to that type of loud and forceful persuading that sometimes is born from insecurity.
And there is another dilemma. Knowing all the answers leaves us with a preselected path, and has a very powerful door-closing (more like slamming) effect. We fear not knowing, but resting in the not-knowing allows space for magic to happen. The not-knowing is where the Universe flows, where spirit expands, where that which some call God resides. To allow miracles to occur, we can’t always know what happens next.
Today, may we find ourselves not knowing, and settle into it. I’ll meet you there 🙂