I’ve had something come up in a LOT of conversations lately – both professional and social, so I get this sense that maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to talk about.
And because you know I like to make everything about me, I’m going to start with a story. I’ve been a little low in the last month (mentioned it a few times, I know, experimenting with vulnerable transparency – how am I doing?). There have been days when it just feels like a cloud in the sky – a partly to mostly sunny day. I’m still doing most of my things – maybe a little less social, maybe a little more tired, a little more inclined to pick up a book than have a conversation – you know kind of cloudy. Other days have been this swell mix of medical woes and misery that have been full on incapacitating storm conditions – like when all the power is out and you can’t leave the neighborhood, except without the nice part where you discover that taking a break from social media is a good thing.
Storm conditions when it is very clear that none of the things you planned yesterday are going to happen, and you can’t really remember what they were anyway. The ones you kind of remember seem stupid and you feel too sick to do anything about something that seems stupid. Yeah, like that. You’re down to one flashlight with batteries and into the canned goods. THAT kind of bad day.
Mercifully, it seems that both the physical and the emotional aspects of the storm are easing, and that has been an incremental kind of thing, each day finding one more battery, remembering the granola bar I hid for emergencies, reconnecting with one really good thing I wanted to do and feeling its importance deeply. And as I make this transition, I wonder about the difference between these two states. Some of it was purely physical. I won’t go into details, but it seems that everything that bothers me in a low-level chronic kind of way decided to show up at once at higher-levels. It’s been really fun. And the physical stuff certainly fed the emotional component. It’s hard to stay optimistic when your body is basically giving you the finger (and yes, that’s an intended pun for those familiar with my arthritic hands). It’s hard not to let your whole outlook be determined by your physical reality. And so, I gave up the keys.
A few weeks ago I decided to let my discomfort, my frustration, my pain, and my pessimism drive the bus. “I quit. Here you go. You do it. This is too hard. I’m too tired and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so I forfeit. You drive.”
This was not a conscious decision. And let me be clear. I’m not just talking about surrendering to feeling bad, because I think that’s necessary. I think all of those feelings need to be felt, honored, seen, heard – all of it. But that’s not the same thing as letting them drive.
In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes how fear can totally inhibit the creative process. Her remedy is to imagine that fear has a seat in the car of your process, but it does not get to drive. Others have expanded on this idea. A 5th grade art teacher worked with her students to create a painted chair that holds all of the fear while they do their work. I have a chair in my office that is designated the fear chair. I send fear there when I have something big and important that I really want to get done. She doesn’t have to leave the room. I hear her. I know she’s there, but she doesn’t get to make the decisions because if she does, I won’t do any of the amazing things that I am here to do.
We can all agree, I think, that fear is something that we sometimes need to put in a chair. What I think we’re not as clear on is the difference between putting something in a chair and stuffing it way down deep (think passenger seat instead of glove box). What I think we’re not as clear on is the kind of route that holding two disparate feelings and opinions sometimes requires. I also just don’t think we pay attention to what part of us is holding the keys. They just get tossed around willy-nilly like a hot potato and whoever has them when it’s time to move, well, that determines what happens next.
For me this month it was disappointment, discouragement, general darkness. For so many others it’s fear. And fear drives that car in some really strange ways. Fear can decided to just park it because it’s a big world out there. Fear can decide to give us lots of reasons to do sub-par work so we can blame our lack of progress on something other than finding out if we’re really up to the task. Fear can make us worry so much about what’s coming down the road that we miss seeing the horses running in the field right next to us. Fear is a shitty driver. Disappointment, discouragement, and general darkness really aren’t so great either.
We can have all of those feelings. We can feel them, honor them, notice them, respect them, have conversations with them. We can allow them to inhabit us, feel them in our bodies, notice what they are. We can do all of these things without letting them drive. When we feel them in the quiet, when we honor them but don’t make them all of us, don’t make them everything, we can hear that at any given moment, there is more, maybe a small still voice, maybe just a deep breath waiting to be taken. There is more and the way clear, the road forward will be there, the route will unfold. We don’t need to let fear drive just so we have somewhere to go.