Not much news on the book front – I was reading a bit less and doing a bit more this past weekend. I am now writing a text about an impressive collective drawing event, in which 250 participants drew tableaux vivants featuring mostly nude models, artfully stylized and choreographed. I was there to write, but in the end started drawing too, and found the experience exhilarating. I felt giddy and yet very grounded. Since I haven’t even tried drawing in the past 20 years or so, I could not expect high performance from myself, so I went into it freely and lightly; ambition was out of the question. This attitude. I want to take it with me to other endeavors. That weight of hesitation and anxiety and uncertainty I’ve been under for so long? Boo! It’s not even real.
The paradox of feeling isolated, lonely, shunned, misunderstood, unworthy is that it is actually the place where we are one with others. That very place where we think no one can see us suffer is where the party’s at. The masks we wear to show the world how well we’re doing are what sets us apart, and while we chase some ideal of self-improvement or perfection, we actively work at increasing the distance. Trying to leave the unhappy little me behind, to lift it up from despair and anxiety, we don’t want to look at others drowning in misery, not to be reminded that it is ours as much as theirs. But we know it. Lightning struck as I remembered John Donne’s Meditation XVII. I made my students read it every year, even though I did not entirely understand his thinking then. I thought, right, metaphysical conceit, and I was taken in by the sheer beauty of the sequence of words. But here lies the power of poetry: the images and melody it carries lodge themselves in the reader’s body and soul and wait for the right moment to blossom. As reverend John Donne put it,
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Donne was a minister, and his writing deeply religious – the above Meditation was written in praise of the Anglican Church. Political activity of religious organizations and leaders aside, I am becoming more and more convinced that we really are missing that spiritual dimension, that map with which would allow us to find our bearings. In “Addiction to Perfection,” Marion Woodman writes:
“One reason people are suffering today to an almost intolerable degree is that their unmediated suffering has no conscious connection with its archetypal ground. Cut off from that ground, they feel they are alone, and their suffering becomes meaningless. They do not realize that what they are suffering exists within creation itself, and that the gods and goddesses of religion and mythology have been there before. . . . The suffering itself can easily become gilt-edged, self-dramatized, when we lack the god or goddess at the center. To sympathize with that suffering in us or in others beyond a certain point is to condone the arrogance, and to condone the arrogance is to paralyze the sufferer.” (134)
Meanwhile, I still haven’t completed the “What are your values?” exercise Loehr and Schwartz want me to do. I am so dogging it. But “The Power of Full Engagement” made my eyes pop again with this fact:
“A growing body of research suggests that as little as 5 percent of our behaviors are consciously self-directed. We are creatures of habit and as much as 95 percent of what we do occurs automatically or in reaction to a demand or an anxiety.” (166)
If this is true, then it means that my life, which I always thought was chaotic and devoid of rituals, was actually structured, just not consciously. If I didn’t like what I was repetitively doing, I would tell myself that my will was weak or that I lacked discipline. But that’s just one angle of looking at it. Instead of beginning with will and discipline, which inevitably leads to teeth-grinding and frustration, I could purposefully establish
“positive rituals – precise, consciously acquired behaviors that become automatic in our lives, fueled by a deep sense of purpose.” (L&S 166)
5% conscious life. The rest just flows through us. Mind blown. Again.
But at least I know that I am doing the right thing here. It takes 60, some say 90 days to establish new routines and make them into habits. Mine are slowly taking root. I do yoga (almost) every morning and I write every day. I don’t do it at fixed times – this is the next, important step. The little contrarian in me still doesn’t like the idea of being confined to a schedule or an agenda, but I am also tired of expending energy on random whims and Pavlovian responses. Right now I don’t want more options, I want to stop meandering and flow steady for a while.
To keep in mind:
“If the truth is to set us free, facing it cannot be a one-time event. Rather, it must become a practice. Like all of our ‘muscles,’ self-awareness withers from disuse and deepens when we push past our resistance to see more of the truth. We fall asleep to aspects of ourselves each and every day.” (L&S 163)