On my walk to work today I listened to an episode of On Being that was a conversation from 2016 between Krista Tippett and the poet David Whyte. About 10 minutes in, as a precursor to reciting his poem Everything is Waiting for You, Whyte said:
we have so many allies in this world, including just the color blue in the sky, which we’re not paying attention to, or the breeze or the ground beneath our feet.
I have to be honest, although the rest of the episode played on, I wasn’t giving it my full attention. I was too hung up on these words and how they made me feel.
I looked up to the blue sky above me, with barely a cloud in sight. My world felt vast. I turned my attention to the feeling of the solid concrete under my feet. I felt supported. Safe.
I know the benefits of feeling connected to the world around me, of grounding myself, and feeling a sense that I’m part of something bigger (sympatheia is what the Stoics call it). But, I haven’t had a hook that calls me back, or reminds me of this connection. Now I do. It’s the idea that when I need it most these things will be there, without fail, to support me and lift me up.
It is your life — but only if you choose to make it so.
This quote feels particularly pertinent this week as I try to make choices — especially in work — that have me swimming against the stream.
It’s so very easy to get drawn along in the flow with everyone else and not realise that there’s another way, a choice to be made to do something different. Something that sits more comfortably with who you are and what you want to achieve.
The first step, of course, is noticing. Noticing that something isn’t right, that your needs aren’t being met, that you’re struggling or frustrated, and that something needs to change. And with that comes the realisation that you do indeed have a choice about what happens next. That you can break free from expectation and first make, then walk, your own path.
That metaphor of the path is something I’ve used before and have returned to recently. I used it to help me in the early days of starting my current freelance career. The path is mine to build, brick by brick. It will meander and possibly need to divert to avoid an obstacle in the way but overall it’s headed in the direction I choose.
I have a reminder of this on my house keys. A single yellow Lego brick reminds me I choose where and when the next brick is laid.
It is our expectations that define what will anger us.
I really relate to this quote as I recognise that when I most often get angry it’s because I’ve set unrealistic expectations for myself or others. I’m also very aware that in those cases where I have expectations of someone else often I’ve failed to communicate them clearly or at all. It’s in the gap that anger festers.
I write this in the full knowledge that I have a history with anger and how I respond to it. I have spent a lot of time working on this relationship and I know giving it my attention has paid off. I feel different and see that my behaviour has changed. I knew this quote was coming up as today’s prompt and so I asked my partner whether she had observed the same and I’m pleased to say she verified it.
In fact, I can’t actually recall the last time I was angry had an angry outburst. I changed what I wrote there because it isn’t that I don’t still get angry (although it’s also happening less) but what’s changed is how often I act out as a result of that feeling.
Returning to an earlier thought, I feel a lot of my anger is bound up in non- or mis-communication on my part. Through bottling up my feelings and not letting the people close to me know what I needed from them and then consequently feeling frustrated and angry when my expectations weren’t met. Things changed when I started talking with those close to me about how I am feeling and allowing myself to be vulnerable. They’ve changed even more since I started a more regular dialogue with myself through journaling.
Another thing to explore further is this distinction between the feeling of anger itself and the response to it or behaviours that result from it. It’s natural to feel angry sometimes, what happens next is the important bit.
What’s changed for me is that I’m getting better at noticing when I feel angry. Spotting it before it has a chance to fester and cloud my judgment... and then pausing before I act. That pause gives me space to choose what happens next. Happily, more often than not these days that choice is to let go.
I’m a member of a community who meet for daily mindfulness and journaling sessions. I host one session every week too and in this capacity it’s also my responsibility to contribute to the prompt schedule. This week we’re using quotes as prompts for our reflections. Writing in response to these quotes is something I had planned to do personally, to breathe life into this blog, and I decided to share them with the group too.
Today’s quote is...
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
— Lao Tzu
When I first came across this quote (in Dense Discovery #181) I felt a response to it physically. A jolt. A lightning bolt. As I repeated it again and again in my head trying to distil its essence, and its lesson, I settled on the line that things will happen when the time is right.
I think the reason these words stopped me in my tracks is because I know I have a tendency to want to be further ahead with things than I am. When I set my mind on doing something, I feel a pull, an urgency and I want it to be done... yesterday.
What is the rush? Where are the benefits of hurrying to get things done? What can be gained from slowing down and paying attention to the process?
The longer I sit with this quote, the more layers emerge. In this morning’s session I was thinking about the various cycles in nature. Sunrise and sunset. The tides. The seasons. Migration. Metamorphosis. They happen without fail. Again and again. There’s no rush. No fuss. And yet again I came back to thinking about the routines in my own life. How they help me stay calm and balanced. How they help me to slow down.
I’ve got far more to explore on this topic than I have time for today. And so I’m taking a lesson from Lao Tzu. I’ll not hurry it. I’ll sit awhile longer and ponder it. And come back another day.
Reading this now got me reflecting on both the experiences of the past year and my own period of wintering which marked the transition between an old life and the new.
I bookmarked a few pages to return to both for the ideas and rhythm of the writing.
The starkness of winter can reveal colours that we would otherwise miss. I once watched a fox cross a frosty field, her coat shining against the gloom. Walking in the bare winter woodland, I am also surrounded by astonishing foxy reds: the burnish of bracken, its dry fronds twisted to lacework; the crimson leaves left on brambles; the last remaining berries on honeysuckle; and orangey clusters of rosehips. The iconic holly, its boughs so thoroughly raided each Christmas. There is also the bright yellow of gorse on heathland, glowing on until spring comes, the stately evergreens, and the tangle of green leaves that remain unnoticed on the ground. Life goes on, abundantly, in winter, and this is where changes are made that usher us into future glories. (from p. 81)
Some people thrive on a little sleep deprivation, but I do not. I now know that I can achieve far more after nine hours than I can in the spare time afforded by a short night. Sleeping is my sanity, my luxury, my addiction. (from p. 86-7)
I clear the surface of my desk and make a pool of light with my lamp. I go off to fetch matches and light a candle. One light is steady and sure, the other uncertain and flickering. I open my notebook and work between these two poles. On balance, it's where I prefer to be: somewhere in the middle. Certainty is a dead space, in which there's no more room to grow. Wavering is painful. I'm glad to be travelling between the two. (from p. 94)
In our winter, a transformation happened. We read, and we worked, and we problem-solved, and we found new solutions. We changed our focus away from pushing through with normal life and towards making a new one. When everything is broken, everything is up for grabs. That's the gift of winter: it's irresistible. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not. We can come out of it wearing a different coat. (from p. 140)