Draw the line

It’s surprising how easily old patterns can creep up on you.

Today I caught myself in the old habit of ‘absorbing damage’. That is to say I was putting in extra work to process the emotional fallout of someone else’s choices. When I didn’t need to accept that. There was nothing real in it for me. I should have just returned to sender.

In autopilot, I had followed the path of least resistance instead of the path of most integrity, and it left me feeling drained.

The alternative does feel heavy handed. Having boundaries is hard. But letting reopened wounds bleed out onto the rest of your otherwise untarnished life is stupid. So heavy handed it’ll have to be.

Maritime industry

Sometimes, things happen in life. It feels quite rare to me, that things happen. My life generally feels peaceful and uneventful, a millpond rather than an ocean, and sometimes I feel like maybe I should splash about a bit more just to make some ripples.

The reason I sometimes feel like I’d enjoy some more ripples in my life is mostly just for the practice. Ripples (or better yet, waves) tend to rock the boat, and I’d like to keep my sailing skills sharp. Because occasionally, the waves do come to me, and I don’t want to be overturned by them.

Anyway, my boat is rocking right now. At first it was exciting. Now I just feel a bit seasick. And I realise I need to ask the right questions to steady my ship. At first I was asking about the waves, but there’s only so much information you can glean about external and unpredictable forces. I realised today the questions I need to start asking now are about my ship. What can it withstand? What is it capable of? What are its weaknesses? Where could it go from here? Is it better to wait this out, or set sail for calmer waters? What trajectory should I set?

The patience challenge

Talk to some people and they’d tell you I am infuriatingly impatient. Talk to others and they may have even been convinced that my patience is saintly.

For me, at least, patience comes down to how I’m grappling with desire and control. The more I want something, and the more I think I may have control over it, the less patient I will be. And, sure, I have some control issues, but it’s the desire metric that always gets me stuck in the shit, because that seems to map quite well to an exponential growth curve.

What is it about unabridged desire that compels you to operate completely against your own self interest?

I worked on my control issues first. That helped. That made me…inconsistently patient. Realising that I don’t deserve agency over other people’s timelines, for instance, made me a lot more reasonable. But…

But if you think you can actually be patient about something you really, really, REALLY want, I fucking defy you. I think you just worked on the desire metric a long time before me and you’ve forgotten the scorching agony of candescent, raw wanting.

Good for you.

I have taken the edge off my desires now – cooled and soothed them with perspective – and that is not a sad thing in any way. They were, to quote myself from 2015, “so much more than I possibly could contain within this fragile human shape”.

I am still, by most measures, a desirous woman. Where would the fun be otherwise? But I am tempered. I can find pleasure in the wanting, now that it doesn’t consume me. Mostly.

The wisdom we thought we had

I have a book reserved for writing song lyrics in. I’ve been writing songs since I was about nine, but I started this book in 2013. It’s a space I have cyclically attended, at the times of my life where it has felt like the only way to let the feelings move through me is with words and music combined.

Recently, I connected with someone who helped me to reconnect with my inner musician, and I found myself returning to the book. Not to write, but to visit. It’s not that I had forsaken it, but I had come to see it as less meaningful in recent years. Which, I should know by now, is a sign in itself that something is wrong. I have been working to rectify that.

It often surprises me to read my own writing back, when it’s old enough to have been more or less forgotten. It can be even more bewildering to sing my old songs. Because they seem so much wiser than I must have been. Or so much more applicable, still, than I think they should have the capacity to be. Because I feel them in my body still – they still, literally, resonate. I would always like to think I have made more progress than clearly I must have, if my past self is there teaching me a lesson that I still, apparently, need to learn. When she so perfectly articulates it for me, but I already know she dove head first into the very same problem, the very same pattern, the very same mistake.

I’d like to think I’m safe from all that now. But she must have thought she was safe back then. She must have thought she was on the other side of it. After all, she’d found the answer. And yet, her relief was temporary; her recovery incomplete.

I think the wisdom is always within us. I think we always have the answers we seek. It’s our ability to align with them that makes the difference. And our ability to stay aligned when things come along so perfectly designed to knock us off course.

I saw the light, and then I plunged into the darkness. And then I found the light, but I sank into the darkness once more. Then I escaped to the light, and fell back to the darkness. And each time I got better at recalibrating and navigating my way back to where I wanted to be.

The darkness will always be there. And so will the light. It was never about finding safety. It was more about the finding the freedom to move at will between the two. I will choose to be grateful for the time I took exploring the dark landscape, because it taught me many things about being in the light.

Expand and retreat

Out walking today, it was very, very windy. After aborting our beach walk, we were heading inland, my son in a carrier with the cover over his head like he hasn’t been for about two years now. We’d had quite the adventure racing to shelter when the wind picked up. He’d had enough of the ‘sand wind’ and wanted to be safely wrapped up against my chest, with my cardigan secured over his legs. He went very quiet and very still, resting his head against me. Amidst the screaming wind, he seemed like the centre of all peace.

I’d taken provisions for a full day out – I guess I should have checked the weather more carefully. As it happened, about 20 minutes after we got to the beach, we were headed home again, my son no longer even in the mood to visit the swans at the park. I hadn’t intended to be carrying a nearly three year old on my front, my rucksack full of clothes and drinks and snacks on my back, and his little rucksack stuffed full of toys in my hand, for essentially a two hour round trip. But it was an unanticipated blessing.

I’ve been doing my best lately to give him space to grow and flourish into the human he is becoming. To make myself a little less important. It’s challenging and relieving and rewarding and terrifying. But to embrace him as the baby he still in some ways is is as comforting to me as it is to him, I think.

We are all in need of both expansion and sanctuary. One without the other soon becomes a bleak existence. But residing on the borderline does amplify the contrast. It creates a tension which can be uncomfortable, especially during times when we feel the balance of our needs shifting. Ultimately, though, it allows us to sink deeper into each space; to enrich ourselves more fully. Like all aspects of duality, it’s the dancing on the borderline where we find the most living to be had.

Just own it

I used to find it impossible to admit to my mistakes and failings.

I’d drag myself over hot coals for the slightest misdemeanour, but outing myself to somebody else? Not a fucking chance. I think I thought everyone else was a whole lot closer to perfect than I was, and the only way I could ever be remotely accepted by anyone was to at least pretend that I was too.

When I was younger, this resulted in me snaring myself in kneejerk denials that led to bizarre, convoluted, improv lie-trains that surely weren’t fooling anyone. As I grew up, I calmed my powerful instinct to deny, and instead developed a more sophisticated tactic of mitigating my blame. I also learned to skirt around the lie; to say true but misleading or distracting things that let me avoid disclosing the dirt.

I always felt guilty about trying to shirk the guilt, so I was always struggling to change my behaviour. But the shame within me was just so crippling that I was never wholly successful. I could never fully own my shortcomings.

A few years ago, I was working for board at a family homestead in Northern California and one of my hosts took me into San Francisco to meet her friend who was flying in. We were meeting in a jazz bar, and after we found parking, there was a short walk up a decently inclined street. I hadn’t given it a thought, and started walking at my usual pace when my host had to stop me. She was very overweight and couldn’t keep up.

She told me about how she could barely walk a block these days, and hills got her out of breath in a few steps, as we made our slow and staggered ascent. What she described, and what I could see, was a reality I couldn’t imagine, and had my mind reeling at the countless implications it must have for every moment of her life.

But then, more strikingly, she very matter-of-factly told me how deeply it bothered her, how it was a very real, very big problem in her life that she was very aware of, and how simultaneously she was very aware of the fact she was doing absolutely nothing about it. No excuses, no complaining, no sugarcoating, no joking, no agenda – just a plain, simple describing of the very personal facts in a totally casual, unloaded way.

This was a quality of hers that I saw displayed a number of times while I stayed there. She just owned herself and her flaws entirely. Fucking wow. I want that level of bravery. I think that was the first time I’d really seen true authenticity modelled to me in the real world. It was inspiring, and it stayed with me.

There are still certain areas of my life that I find it difficult to own up to, but damn have I come a long way. Finding a metric to aspire to instead of a metric to fear made all the difference.

Our convoluted path

We all have our patterns. The cycles we fall victim to. The fallen logs in the forest we’ve passed a few too many times already.

It’s frequently said that healing is not linear. Learning is not linear. Progress is not linear. It’s more like a spiral. An upwards spiral.

Progress is earned by searching through our cyclical patterns for an opportunity: To make a change. To alter our trajectory. To aim higher. This usually means reliving the same patterns an interminable number of times, in numerous iterations, before we can leave them behind once and for all. Grandiose changes rarely last, so we’re looking for humble consistency. The effect may seem underwhelming, but it’s cumulative.

We tread the same ground so that we can keep seeing what we need to change. And then we tread it ’til we change it. And then we float over it, seeing it from new angles, so we can understand how to never end up back there, or anywhere like it. And then eventually, maybe, we fly away.

The importance of a spiral is that it is not a circle. If you look at it from the wrong angle, though, or without the appropriate vision, you can’t tell the difference. That can get disheartening.

But, trust me: If you’re trying, it’s a spiral.