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A weaving of five contemplations
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A song I’m loving:
I’ve been thinking about how we say we value authenticity, but what we actually seem to collectively gobble up is the opposite, or at least the top layer of it: After/Overcoming stories, healing memes, emotionally easy narratives, overly-simplified versions of what is muddy and murky underneath. When people share what is real, what is true, what is complex, what isn’t figured out or finished, whether on the internet or in person, we tend to recoil a bit, want it to be neater, want it to be resolved. Yet we rarely live our lives in resolved places — we rarely find ourselves in the After of anything, instead usually swaying somewhere in the middle, wading somewhere in the current, unsure of what is truly next.
This makes me wonder how we, or maybe just I, can get better at staying with the murky, leading with what is real, Going There, even when it isn’t profitable or marketable or sellable or even admirable. How can I stay knitted together with the truth? How can I avoid turning myself or my life into a lesson, a symbol of anything other than a web of multitudes? How can I keep unraveling from writing in a way that offers some outcome or insight, and moving toward writing to question, writing to uncover, writing to stay aligned with undoing the After narratives we see over and over again? I don’t have answers to these questions, but I am asking them, and it is broadening my idea of who I need to be in the world.
Sometimes, it is excruciating to always be In The Middle — to no longer strive for the other side. There is a continual ache involved in a contemplative life, in a present life, in a fully awake life, in a life acknowledging mystery. There is a constant felt sense of what I don’t know and what I’m highly aware of, and this is both the gift and the curse of choosing to orient toward life with open eyes, with an open heart. There are times I wish I were better at ignoring my dimensions, didn’t have so many unanswered questions, felt more like myself in a place of blissful ignorance than I do in sitting with all I don’t know, with all I haven’t figured out.
And… what comes with always being In The Middle is the capacity to really fucking be here, even when I don’t want to be. Being in the middle means no longer being surprised when the floor falls from under me, or when I return to “old” patterns again and again, or when I show up to something in an entirely new way than I had before. Being In The Middle, in the process, in the ongoing practice of just staying where I am, including when where I am is awful, has reduced the pressure to get anywhere else, even when I want to be somewhere else. And it has allowed me to notice when things go better than I anticipate, or when nothing crumbles, or when there is delight. I’ve come to the conclusion that acknowledging how Unfinished and Unpolished I am is the only way I can truly stay rooted to possibility — acknowledging how far from the “other side” I’ll always be is the only way possibility becomes a practice.
“I center down - I retreat, not inside myself, but outside myself. ... Self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we don't waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves.”
Annie Dillard wrote this and I can’t stop thinking about it. Self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. As a writer and someone who was previously steeped in the therapy/self-help world, it is easy to get swept up in thinking about myself a whole lot. But this sentence wraps up what I’ve been orienting toward lately — this idea of forgetting myself and my small stories and my small lives and remembering what else is there, who else is there, what exists outside of my narrow ideas of what it means to be alive. What if the barrage of Canva posts directing us inward aren’t actually always helpful? What if the non-stop obsession with understanding and knowing ourselves doesn’t always bring us closer to true aliveness? What if we get so swept up in our own healing projects that we forget what exists beyond our wounds, beyond our neuroses, beyond ourselves?
I’ve been doing a lot of personal narrative writing outside of anything I share publicly, and it feels like a nurturing and expansive place to think about myself and my life. Writing is the place I go to look inward, so naturally my writing tends to be personal and self-explorative. Yet staying stuck in that headspace, in that frame of mind, isn’t something I’m interested in. I don’t want to always be thinking about whether or not I’m doing “well”, or how far I’ve come, or what I'm moving through. I don’t want to waste every waking minute saying hello to myself. My life is the subject of most of my writing, yet I don’t want my life to be all about my interior. I want to think more about the trees in my yard and the conversation I had with a stranger while getting my blood drawn and the way light changes in my living room. I want to think about what changes beyond myself. So I wonder: how can we tend to ourselves, our stories, our thoughts and questions, while also remembering there is so much beyond us? How can we pay attention to our interior without getting stuck there? How can we look inward without fixing our gaze on ourselves at all times? How might self-forgetfulness become an ally?
I’m working on not anticipating that things will be hard. Much of my life has felt like a bracing, like a waiting for the shoe to drop, like tightness — which is why finding moments of softening, of flow, of nature has been so important. I keep my eyes open for the ways life is working for me. I keep my eyes open for the ways things are already going according to past hope. I keep my eyes open for the ways it’s working out. It feels like a growing edge to not take inventory of all the potential ways I’ll fail/it won’t work out/I could disappoint people/etc., yet this growing edge is the worthwhile kind. When growing edges cause us to lose sight of our once rigidly-held worries in order to make room for something else to become possible, the rocky path of becoming unfamiliar to ourselves is worth it.
adrienne maree brown said, “small is good, small is all.” This has become a personal philosophy, one that keeps both my ambition and my expectations more human and more kind. I notice the 20 minutes spent writing and don’t discount it as unimportant or not enough. I watch my daughter wave to ladybugs and get enveloped in a seemingly meaningless moment. I observe the way tiny, near-insignificant steps lead to something bigger. I take one step at a time. I slow way, way down and feel the way not rushing supports me in taking right action. I turn toward my projects and chores and tasks no one knows about, that no one would find important or newsworthy, and remember they are the things that make up my actual life. I return to just taking a breath when I’m unsure of what else to do. I stop getting so wrapped up in more, in bigger, in What’s Next, knowing those are just details, just results of the tiny next move. I forget all of this and practice remembering again.
Small is good. Small is all.
What are you contemplating lately? What’s swirling in your brain, your body? What are you giving your precious thoughts to? What is occupying you, gnawing at you? Feel free to share in the comments if you’d like to. Thanks, as always, for being here.
△ This recent scene of my girl & her stuffed goose, on expired 35mm film:
To more wandering — more wondering.
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