Confessional quirk

Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at themes of provisional living and choice. Like all victors I get to write my own history so they’ve been about fairly positive aspects of that experience. Both focussed around ‘stuff’ as that is an external thing and it can be quantified and measured. So reassuring. Stuff has let me start exploring the topic of freedom, which is what I think we’re edging towards talking about.

Before we get there, it is worthwhile talking about a choice that didn’t go so well and some payoffs from provisional living that haven’t been so easy to give up.

I haven’t given up making voluntary contributions to my superannuation account. Even though I know it is essentially futile. I still want to believe that somewhere in a future I might get to are golden days of leisure where I am ‘retired’ but still physically functional. I *know* right?! That retirement age went up to 70 years of age already. As the Boomers’ demographic bulge really hits the retirement costs wall, that will be bumped up again, we all know it.

I haven’t given up on fantasising about which set of high-end luggage I will buy (I favour Rimowa) when I start travelling the world in this mythical parallel life where I have the same income but somehow no costs of living or debt responsibilities (and I don’t get homesick every 5 days).

I keep promising myself that *next* spring I’ll get the garden going properly and get back into growing at least tomatoes so that I’m not totally dependent on other people and fossil fuels for every single thing I eat. I believe there’s still plenty of time to get that organised and somehow it doesn’t quite make it up my list of priorities, but you can guarantee I’ll rant about toms being $10 a kilo come February.

This little list of hypocrisies is barely indicative of how many deals there are still in place. Maybe you’ve got some deals of your own – where rationally you know one thing, but behaviourally you just keep hooking in to doing the thing you’ve always done. Maybe you’ve ‘made’ a whole bunch of choices without ever really thinking about it. Why aren’t you vegetarian? Why do you have a credit card? Why do you watch tv in the evening? Why do you assume this is the only way it can be?

Last year, as these questions began piling up, I tried to find the unified theory that would answer these conundrums and deliver unto me a blazing, pure path of honesty, integrity and clarity. I hoped that wanting this very very intensely and visualising it as though it had already appeared would help to manifest this life-changing awakening. I knew in my heart that when it came, I would be incandescent in every sense, the wisdom of all the ages would illuminate my problems and my failings with pure love, and they would melt into submission in the face of ultimate reality.

Beautiful no?

Ah, beautiful indeed. While I waited for this magnificence to manifest, I kept working hard and diligently at everything. I felt the pain of my failings and of my compromises. I felt like a fraud at the deals I made to keep going. I pushed through the fatigue of commuting, the hollowness of a meaningless job and the maintained the façade of a good modern cog – I was productive.

Without making a choice, I had chosen denial. I was, with the very best of intentions, breaking myself.

Eventually, I failed at breaking myself. In the aftermath, I realised my golden answer, my unified theory, my ‘access all areas’ lanyard was simply not coming. (Let me be clear, this is (or will be) a Very Good Thing even though at the time it was hard to handle.)

Where I am struggling, is that in-between the pushing to make it so, and the failing to change, I’m in a place of confusion. Some things (stuff!) are under my control and some things (climate change) just kindof aren’t. No matter how much I reduce my carbon footprint and make my boyfriend think twice about his use of the clothes-dryer I can’t stop the polar ice-caps melting. If no one is going to listen to Al Gore without getting snarky about what car he drives, who am I to try to change the world while I own a car at all? Hmmm.

More than confusion. I just gave up. But that’s not living from my values either. The sun keeps coming up each morning and the wheel of this year is turning. I am asking, not for a golden answer now, but for a way to muddle forward. I’m asking for sustainable freedom and my deepest wish is that you and I will find it together.

Making choices

Last week I shared with you the idea of provisional living and touched a little on the bubble of the myth of constant and inevitable progress. In writing, we’re always making choices. We’re constantly selecting one word or phrase over another, crafting images and stories that will resonate with our chosen audience and choosing when to pause or stop a narrative and leave the rest to our readers.

no answers only choicesAn aphorism that I’ve tried to live by for the past decade or so is “There are no answers, only choices” and I’d like to share that today in the spirit of exploring how to live inside of and create from a position of values in what feels like an aggressive, shallow and purely commercial world. I will disclose at the outset that I have a day job. I pay my way in the world from the position of a cubicle in which I write for my corporate overlords. I chose to get (and keep) this job and bear the consequences of that choice. One of those consequences is that I do not have the bo-ho credibility of ‘living off my art’. I don’t see it that way, but you might. My skills in communicating with people (and translating between people who speak the same language but can’t understand each other) make me useful in a business environment. It is no mean feat to remain useful, relevant and employed these days, but that’s not the most interesting choice to talk about.

Instead, let’s think about giving up the emotional and psychological payoffs that come from the behaviour of provisional living. In place of daydreaming about what life might be like ‘when I win lotto’ there were questions that started with ‘What is wealth?’ and ‘What do I think of as freedom?’ and lead to ‘What if I already have enough?’

Money wasn’t the only topic that came under review. Relationships of all kinds, working, debt, health, writing, travel, relaxation. In some ways nearly everything had become infected with an expectation that it would just get better by itself (thanks Progress!) or that eventually a day would dawn where I would be handed a golden answer. To *everything*.

While I lay on the couch, watching the sun pass across the ceiling and really getting it that the golden answer wouldn’t come, I started to play a game of ‘what if?’ Maybe you’d like to play it too?

What if I already have enough?

What if every life really is sacred?

What if I could help someone every day, just in the course of my normal life?

What if there are no unsacred places?

What if my purpose is simply to love and be loved in return?

What choices would I make if these things were true? What would I chose to live by – if I could chose anything? How would I be in my life if I sought out ways to bring my choices to life? Would I select different experiences, people, priorities?

What would you do if you turned out to be responsible for your life and your choices without recourse to any wish for it to be different than it is right now?

It is what it is. Then what?

One little thing at a time, you make choices.

For stuff, I decided that one thing in meant one thing had to go out. That tiny choice created a cascade of implications and considerations, not least was creating a kind of mindfulness about quality, emotional shopping, waste, recycling and boredom. So many choices we make without thinking. There are no answers about how much stuff is right, or which stuff is better or why stuff is such an obsession. There are no answers about why, or when, or who. I just made that one choice that felt right in my situation, and I committed to living by it and within the consequences it produced.

It took some time, but inside that choice came a new type of freedom.

Hiatus

There’s an odd sense of guilt that I experience when I am ill (as I have been recently), that somehow, despite barely functioning physically and mentally I should be maintaining an “effective public presence.” In sideways conversations over cuppas I’ve discovered that other people feel this pressure too. It is not just on social media that we try and hide the clunky bits of our lives, it is in our conversations with acquaintances and colleagues. We down-play our dark days and try to skip through recuperation as though our soul and our heart can rebound to the pace of the paycheque. I know one woman who keeps the symptoms of her bowel disorder even from her husband. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We invented clocks to help us manage things we want to do but somehow we’ve lost control of the idea of time. Now time is a commodity and we humans must work feverishly under the relentless ticking. Things inside us must be allowed to be a bit slower. We have these tides. The sun comes up but part of us is still in yesterday or last year, or in the moment our life changed forever. We sometimes struggle to honour where we’ve come from and still have enough left to get out of bed. Some people have an internal commanding officer, a big yeller in them who gets them going. They mean well, when they share these yelling people with you, but they don’t work for everyone. The phrases I remember most from my mum while I was growing up are “pull your socks up” and “we’ve all got to do things we don’t want to”. These never made sense to me, and then once day I discovered that that’d become part of my unquestioned -ness. The system that runs me that I’m not consciously aware of.

So when there are times that staying functional in the world is a challenge, the internal edict I hear is to not let it show. To be sad or weak or worn out is to be a failure. Tick tick tick tick! Every tiny tick a hammer-blow of judgement.

This time, I tried to do it a bit differently. I let those metaphorical socks flap around. I did things I needed to do and then just rested. I took some time off from being that me and the ticking. It took longer than was comfortable and the guilt and self-consciousness about that became a topic for another round of gentle reflection and learning and resting.

Six months is not so long in a life. I consider it a good investment.

Ripening New Year

Like many people around the world I sat down to write out what I wanted this new year to be like. Unsurprisingly it was very similar to how I had hoped that last year might be. At first I was despondent about my life having turned into a drab kind of  “rinse and repeat” cycle.

No. Honestly I was gutted.

Wheel of FortunePerhaps this would be all that I could hope for into the future – fresh chances to try and get just one year right. One year where my modest goals could be met; where I might weigh a little less instead of a lot more, where I might see my loved ones more than my work colleagues. Simple, humble goals that I have failed to achieve in the last year. And indeed the year before that too.

You might suggest that having a process fail regularly would be a good reason to let it go. New year’s resolutions are for chumps, everyone knows that. Yes, so just give up, roll over and let it happen how it will. After all, I am 42 now, a middle-aged lady. Nobody cares. All my rage and fury and desires are unbecoming on podgy hips and graying hair. Passions and hopes are for young people. I should just shut up and pay my taxes. After all, I had my chance, I made my moves. Time, as they say, moves on. Every new year just reminds me that I’m racing against the clock and I don’t get to start from scratch, I’ve got a handicap from all the time I spent learning the wrong things, following stupid advice and bumbling around life’s maze.

But time has moved on without so many of us I cannot be alone in hoping for a second chance.

Then I remembered an amazing phrase that had lodged like a burr in my mind since I had read it on the Archdruid’s Report sometime in the last month or two which I have remembered as “we ripen towards death”* and it took the sting out of my haunting sense of another ‘failed’ year. It hinted of slower, gentler rhythms and reminded me that life’s purpose is not to ‘arrive’ at our final destination. We will, most certainly, get there in due course. Our purpose is really a deliberate and mindful process of combining our own selection of influences and inspirations to constantly become our own selves in relationship to the world around us and its major events.

This then is why I keep my little lists in the front of each diary of my intentions and goals. They are my deliberate and mindful process of who I wish to be in face of what life will throw at me.

In the midst of the year’s wheel, I will have a compass to help me towards what will make sense of this world for me. We all want it to make sense, for there to be a reason behind the pain and the obligation and the duty and the frustration and the lost days.

So many lost days in the life that is ticking down to a long cold end but let us each at least be ripe in our own time. If you are thirsty, seek water. If you are fearful, leap. If you are on fire then burn as bright as all the fires in the heart of the sun.  Your path is towards your own end. Let each step on that path be your decision as much as possible. Seek your own flavour in this new year.
Say ‘yes’ to your time.
Be brave. Be incandescent.

* the quote is actually quite different – and a lot better!:
“These people aren’t looking for salvation, at least in the sense that word has been given in the religious sensibility of the last two millennia or so, and which was adopted from that sensibility by the theist and civil religions of the Western world during that time; they are not pounding on the doors of the human condition, trying to get out, or consoling themselves with the belief that sooner or later someone or something is going to rescue them from the supposedly horrible burden of having bodies that pass through the extraordinary journey of ripening toward death that we call life.”
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/at-closing-of-age.html

Can’t find the stories for the books

Too much of a good thing?
Too much of a good thing?

Writing has stalled.
Bogged.
Lost in the wilderness.

The discipline is there, time in the saddle, words down each day but the fire in the line is missing. How to fix?

I got up from my desk, very slowly and very carefully so as not to disturb the references on my right, the notes and journals on the left, the correspondence behind me, the ideas and clippings behind me to the left, the recently read and waiting for review, the to-read, the not-sure pile and then finally the dog who had curled up on the stepping space. They used to be a path to the door but it had shrunk when I cleared some of the books out of the kitchen. The stovetop and the bathroom were the only places in the three bedroom house free of book piles due only to the unrelenting truth that fire and water remain the mortal enemies of paper.

I made a cuppa and sat on the back stairs as the couch was covered in magazines and papers and the dining table was hosting a long-term craft convention, complete with comparative pattern books and technique tomes. The dog sat in the sun in the yard and looked at me. I sipped and thought. Perhaps sometimes too much of a good thing is simply too much.
“Something has to go.” I said to the dog.
“Better not be me.” he replied and wandered off to sniff at some grass and see if the crows had dropped anything interesting from their headquarters.

I sipped on, realising that my bibliophilia had reached an unexpected crisis point. My hoards of books were suffocating the stories trying to come to life. It wasn’t just books stashed and crammed into the house until there was no room left for my heart to break but they were the most symbolic, they would be the hardest to release. Each one was a promise, a kiss, a call, and a friend. I believed in some deep and sad way that I would be irrevocably diminished in some ineffable but vital way without every single one of them and yet something really had to give and it had better not be me.

Trust in the process

Learning something just doesn’t work unless there’s a moment of surrender and I make or let myself say “I don’t know”. When I was a child I didn’t have this challenge. I expected that I didn’t know lots of things but as an adult, I am attached to the idea that I already know things, that I’m already good at some things.

Learning just feels like a lot of failures and plenty of frustrations and errors. That doesn’t feel great. “I don’t know” is a vulnerable place to be in our world of specialists and competition. I can see the value in it too. It is my ego that stops me from admitting I don’t know. My ego holds me back from the chance of learning!

When I reach the surrender of “I don’t know” then I know I am actually ready to learn. From that point, I am truly starting fresh. Then I just have to trust in the process and let the ‘failures’ and frustrations show me the way from there.