I’m not good at letting go of people or things that have been important to me, even if they take up unnecessary space in my mind or in my closet. I’m not talking so much about the physical things that I carry with me forward through time (that I mostly keep in a big box under my bed); I’m talking about the memories I have of cherished friends, past loves, treasured times with my family, and the wonderful trips my husband and I have taken. When I’m weary of the present nonsense I know I can close my eyes and summon the memory of a time when I was excited, or joyful, or serene, or content. I don’t just look at the picture memory, I invoke all my senses to recall details like the temperature outside, what I was wearing, the feel of a stone wall or the sea rushing around my feet, or the smell of the desert, or the sound of the laughter of people I love. I will never let go of these moments; they bring me comfort sometimes when nothing else can.
On the flip side, I’m very good at shedding things that hold no meaning for me. I have a visceral need to not burden myself with a lot of possessions that keep me rooted in one place; I think I must have been a gypsy in another life. For a long time my mantra was “if it doesn’t fit in my truck I don’t need it”, and I was true to that for a number of years. As time goes on, though, you tend to accumulate stuff, and then, as George Carlin said, you have to buy a house to put all your stuff in. I still think that, if needed, I could put everything I value into a single vehicle and drive away without a thought spared for the furniture and dishes and bric-a-brac I would leave behind. I just don’t care about it.
Somewhere in the middle of all this is deciding what ideas about who I am and what my life is supposed to be like should I hold on to or discard. This is very, very difficult, and I struggle with it daily. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m mostly wrong about a lot of things, but I find I’m having a much harder time letting go of some of my deep-rooted attitudes than I think I should have.
And I have learned that just because I have a realization about myself does not mean that I will immediately begin to act on it.
Insight is not change. Insight happens in a flash; change takes time. I think we often make the mistake of believing that the moment you have the flash of insight into whatever challenge you are facing it means the battle is won. Certainly this is how it’s portrayed in stories – the hero is confronted with an inescapable truth, or they finally realize what their struggle is all about, and suddenly their behavior is transformed! They immediately begin to act from a place of this new perspective, and presto – happy ending! I wish it was that easy.
The insight is just the beginning; the real work of change happens (or not) depending on how much you are willing to work at letting go of your previously held beliefs. And I assure you, doing that is much, much harder than arriving at the moment of insight. But we don’t talk about the work part much – not very sexy, is it?
One of the ideas about myself I can’t seem to let go of is that I’m not a creative person. I’ve written about this before, but I’m still pushing against this barrier in my head that won’t let me believe that I’m capable of creating beauty, or of finding the words that will express my truth. I know what I need to do – every writer whose advice I’ve read agrees that the key is to write every day – but I haven’t done it. I know what I need to do, I just haven’t broken through that barrier in my own head that deep down believes that I don’t have anything original to say, and that I will never have even half of the facility with words that the writers I admire seem to have so effortlessly, so why bother, really? What’s the point?
I do push against this barrier. This blog is the evidence that I take a run at it once a week. But it’s not enough. I’ve had the insight, I know I have stories of my own to tell, I just haven’t done the work to make the change in how I live. And that’s what it takes. It’s slow, and painful, and takes a tremendous amount of perseverance and faith. It’s easy for me to tell others to keep the faith. It’s easy for me to keep the faith for them, my talented friends whose work I admire and whose success I hope for daily. I just can’t seem to do it for myself. It is indeed “The War of Art”, as so brilliantly described by Steven Pressfield in his book of that name. And it is a war that, so far, I’m losing.
I’m losing the war because I haven’t let go of the belief that to be a writer, other people have to think you’re good. That’s actually not the case. I have met some writers who aren’t very good at all, but I still think of them (and they think of themselves) as writers. Although everyone who wants to be a writer obviously wants others to think they’re talented (and publishable), this really shouldn’t stop anyone from trying.
I have always been the kind of person who, if I couldn’t be the best at something, just wouldn’t try. Math, for example; I never gave a damn about math because I wasn’t good at it. I’ve always been a good writer, but that’s not enough for me. If I’m going to fancy myself a writer, I have to be the best. Which is ridiculous, of course – that determination is (mostly) subjective. I think it’s an excuse not to do the work. Or I’m afraid to fail, or humiliate myself, or some other imagined outcome that seems so awful I’d rather not risk it. Or I don’t have time, or I don’t feel like it today, or any other of a thousand excuses that keep me away from doing what I profess to love.
I would normally say now that “I have to let go of the fears and beliefs that are holding me back from doing what I know I should be doing”, but you know what? The truth is I don’t have to let go of anything. I can keep on doing what I’m doing now, living my life, pursuing my career, taking care of my house and my family. I can do that. It is the easier choice, certainly. And it isn’t evil. Not wanting immortality isn’t a bad thing. Not wanting to change the world isn’t a terrible way to live your life.
But I know this to be true about me – I am never satisfied. I can get distracted, bogged down, temporarily defeated, but eventually I can’t take it anymore and I do drastic things to change my life. Sitting down and writing every day might not seem drastic on the face of it, but it is. It is a rejection of the status quo. It is an act of defiance. It is not allowing my life to be absorbed by the mundane. It is taking a stand against the forces that would keep me from becoming the best version of myself I can be.
And, finally, there’s this – we all make the same choice every day, to explore the divine within ourselves, or not. Choosing not to take up arms against the mundane isn’t evil. It’s just a waste of potential.
So, in a spirit of defiance, I give you something I’ve been working on. I don’t expect anyone to like it, but I’ve decided to share it with you anyway. I’m not really happy with it, but I’m not sure I ever will be. I have to get used to that.
I know they’re out there, somewhere,
waiting for me to find them.
They hide in the noise.
Sometimes they stand in front of me, hoping
to be noticed, but I look past them.
I look for them behind my eyelids.
I borrow them from other people.
I want them to want to be with me.
My wish is that one day I will just
and they will come to me, silently,
and curl up in my lap
like a cat.
photo credit: alexisnyal via photopin cc