How many times over these past ten or so months of the pandemic have you felt simultaneously terrified AND grateful?
Depressed AND eager for a brighter future?
Uncertain of what happens next AND sure of what matters to you?
It’s mathematically not possible to parse out the human experience into neat little buckets and only drink from one at a time. The tempest comes all at once and soaks us in everything, all the time. If we aren't willing to sip from the full spectrum of what it means to be a human, we will be thirsty forever.
In 2021, there’s no going “back to normal”. I've always gotten burned when I have been lured into that seductive idea, swept into its orbit like an ocean current or pulled by its massive magnetism. Who doesn't buy into that mirage of being able to "get back" to something you lost, left behind, or even voluntarily surrendered at some point in time? It can be dangerous to believe that we can somehow "get back" to what once was: a different age, place, state of health, that old perspective, that long outgrown rule that we lived by but that doesn't work for us any more. We can acknowledge and honor and rightfully mourn the things that we have experienced in the past - the people, habits, and things that served us, the experiences that helped to shape who we are now - AND still walk forward in this moment. In fact, it's not only possible, it's a must.
One of my favorite Buddhist parables is about learning to let go of what once was and move forward in the present moment. The story tells of a man who walks through the woods and comes upon a riverbank. He realized he cannot cross the water on foot, so fashions a raft out of nearby sticks, leaves, and other natural items, which allows him to cross the water safely. When he gets to the other side and as he prepares to continue walking on his journey, he has the option to leave the raft behind or to carry it with him for all the miles that lay ahead. Which should he choose? To continue to shoulder the heavy burden of the raft that he built as he continues to walk through the woods, where it becomes impractical, a weighty relic of the usefulness it once served? Or shall he set the raft down and walk through the woods lighter, feeling gratitude for the past usefulness of the raft in the very circumstances that he needed it, and in which it served him well? This story always helps to remind me on how the insistence to go back or maintain what once was can actually weigh you down in the present moment, making it hard to imagine a future or being able to move forward with curiosity or ease.
It's impossible to write about these ideas without also acknowledging that I wish I had written more often on this blog in the past year. This self-critical refrain has been building for awhile, and honestly, its presence made it really tough to even start this post today, simply because I was so focused on thinking about what I hadn't done in the past that it was distracting me from the worth of what I am currently doing in the present. Admittedly, it feels messy and clunky to type these thoughts out, and on top of feeling uncomfortable about how out of practice I feel writing blog posts, my inner critic continues kicking up dust, saying things to me like "It's bad enough the writing is out of shape, but you're actually writing about how your writing is out of shape? LAME!"
To which I answer: Yup, I am writing about writing, and no matter what our inner critics, perfectionists, and anxiety believes, the act of creativity (both on the page and in your life) is just that: an ACT. It's action oriented, and to write is to move energy, to take up space, and to (hopefully) let anyone reading this know that if you are feeling like you regret something, if you desperately want to do-over, or wish you could use past time in a way you felt better about, that you aren't alone. It's not always a fun club to belong to, but I'm right here with you. We're all here together.
So what does this have to do with the New Year? We can’t reverse or rewind, but we can shed, set down, let go of, reclaim, rekindle, mend, and work with the things we have in the now in order to approach tomorrow with everything we’ve got. The only choice we do get, should we choose to accept the invitation, is to go FORTH, into the world, into our lives, and continue the cosmic art project that is creating the kind of life and world we want to thrive in - and what a masterpiece you are becoming, even if you don't yet realize it.
Some days, we will feel like we can take on the world while other days, taking a shower or the trash out will be akin to climbing Everest. No matter. Give whatever you have and take care of your precious self to refill the well when you’re in need of more water. Slow or fast, you’ll get there.
Particularly in the middle of a pandemic, a New Year continues to push me to consider what I want to get "back" to when circumstances allow some semblance of normality. Honestly, I have no desire to “go back” to the parts of life that weren’t feeding me before the pandemic, and in fact, the things about my life that were starting to whisper to and nudge me from time pre-pandemic have now taken to shaking me by the lapel several times a time, shouting if they need to in order to get my attention.
Getting "back" to normal / before / business as usual? Not possible.
Moving into a new year with a blazing desire to keep the fires of love and ambition and hope and justice and movement burning brightly, with a sizable side of relentless refusal to return to the patterns, people, and paths that don't make me feel alive? Absolutely.
Feel it all. Don’t fight it. Then, forge ahead (and push "publish" on your post).