After a busy fall, work slowed to a crawl in mid November and limped along through the holidays. I had some time to think about this blog. I’d been negligent, putting my own writing on hold in deference to the sacred cow called earning a living. The reasoning held up for awhile, then crumbled into an excuse not even I could buy. Judging led to self-doubt followed by guilt and finally an admission of flat-out laziness, the mother of all insults to an Enneagram three.
Not ready to write, I resorted to my fall-back position and reached for a book. When Women Were Birds caught my eye, Terry Tempest Williams’s stellar memoir about trusting one’s voice. That led to Refuge, also by Williams, followed by a re-read of Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and a third time through Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, a book I first read in the late ‘80s. I am certain I could read about writing until I’m a hundred and still not start, so daunting is the prospect of beginning again.
And then I remember Sally’s husband, Tom, some years younger than I, in the final stages of Younger Onset Alzheimer’s. If not now, when?
Like the jogger who returns to the streets after hanging up her Nikes, the writing is stiff and deliberate. Nothing flows. Pages fill with the boring regurgitations of a scattered, insecure mind. It takes all the discipline I can muster to keep the promise I made to myself in January: write every day for a month, no matter what, even if five minutes is all you’ve got. Because here’s the thing:
Years ago I discovered that I’m more peaceful when I’m writing. There’s an ease that comes in letting go of the resistance and softening into what is. I think less about my puny retirement account and how no one’s holding the net, ready to save me, and drop into the writing. Under-the-surface anxiety mellows. I spend less money. There’s nothing I want. I’m more apt to let life unfold rather than try to control the outcome, which is to say I have a shot at being present longer than it takes the prayer flags on the tree pole to flutter in a light breeze. Wisdom has a chance of rising to the surface. There’s less ricocheting between pulling life towards me or pushing it away and more moments spent in equanimity, on and off the mat.
Write for awhile and I understand things more clearly. By the third revision, the piece loses its identity as a Word doc on the laptop and feels more like a living creature that deserves my faithfulness. I stop bemoaning the loss of bone density despite a lifetime of physical activity and healthy eating and concentrate instead on finding the word that sticks. I’m not so eager for discomfort to pass; I already know it will. I stop worrying about Ali’s well-being and see her instead as whole and capable, remarkable and brave. I see her that way because I’m feeling those things about myself.
Spiritual masters teach us that how we experience the world is simply a projection of our own thinking. What we think is what we see. What we believe about ourselves is what we become. Life as we see it is us looking in the mirror.
On the day after Christmas last December, Colin O’Brady completed his nearly two-month-long, 921-mile journey across Antarctica, alone and unsupported. A month later, he had this to say about the experience:
When it’s blue sky and you’re on the polar plateau, you can feel so small. It’s just endless, and you’re like this tiny little speck. You can look 360 degrees, there’s nothing. There’s no tree, no building. You are the only tiny little thing out there in this endless sea of light. So that makes you feel small. But then when it’s whiteout, it’s the opposite: It’s super myopic, insular. All I can see is my compass a couple inches away from my nose, and the contrast of those two things is so stark, but what is ever-present is that you are just a product of your own thoughts, your own mind.
What are you thinking? What do you see?