Growing up, it was always the case that before saddling up to a school project or studying for an important exam, I had to clean my room. I had to from a deep need within myself to get my life under control, to get my surroundings calm and free from distraction. No one was telling me to do this. It was a self-driven urge and one that always resulted in what I perceived to be an increased ability to work. In high school, this ritual also welcomed the addition of a pint of Haagen Daz Deep Chocolate Fudge ice cream. I did not share. It did help.
Twenty-six years later, I’m still moved by the same need, although the work is different and much more complicated. Oh, what I wouldn’t do sometimes for the clear job of passing a test or writing a paper. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, granddaughter… you get the idea. And sometimes, it’s not so clear what I’m doing, what my focus is and how to proceed. The other day, this grey maelstrom was sitting on my shoulders, so I did the only thing I could with the spare couple of hours I had to myself: I cleaned my crafting and writing space. I emptied out the closet filled with all of the potential for upcoming projects. Who knew so much yarn could fit into such a small space! And the wool… I have so much to spin. I will spin simple skeins, and some will have sparkles and colorful threads and banana silk and maybe even some beads if I learn how to do that. I cleaned my desk with all of my little flyaway notes about stories I want to write, letters that I want to respond to, and businessy stuff I must tend to one of these days. I went through my baskets of unfinished projects and then considered all that I want to make for an upcoming craft show. I then finished a gift for a beloved family member who is facing pancreatic and liver cancer with courage and grace. Every stitch I completed on that day was a meditation on my love for her, every stitch a repetitive breath, “I love you, I love you, I love you”.
So then guess what happened? The next time I went in to that special space with all of that potential, I stood there and looked around and didn’t know what to do. I touched my favorite yarns and looked at a simple loom all ready for some color and texture, and I just could not begin. And then another day passed, and it happened again. What is this thing that happens, this invisible but tangible force that stands in between longing and action? It made me think of why it is so difficult for some to just do that thing that they know is good for their soul when times are turbulent. I’ve heard the same story from others many times, and certainly know it in myself. “I know I should just start exercising, but…”, or, “I know I feel better when I paint, but…” For me, I am fully aware of the transformative power of making things, and how radically it can alter a mood in a moment, as well as change a perspective on a difficult situation, yet sometimes, just sitting down and starting is the biggest herculean feat.
I think the thing to do in these times is consider what is being held onto so tightly that it’s preventing one from living in the present moment with the creative mind. Is it possible that I’m holding on to things that are not my own to wrestle with? And that is somehow serving some unconscious function to thwart the creative and expressive aspects of Self? Worry and the all-mighty “oughts” and “shoulds” are the absolute enemy to here and now living, whether that involves making full eye-contact with your most beloved people, creating something, writing something, cooking something marvelous, tending lovingly to a garden, or walking peacefully and with quiet attention across a field, up a mountain, through the woods… Anne Lamott talks about this when she describes radical self-care. You can read an interview with her where she talks about this here. I love reading about radical self-care because it reminds me to extricate myself, lovingly, from a pretend control position on another person’s journey and participate fully in the one I’m on.
When you notice there is this invisible wall between you and what you want to do, think about what you can let go of that isn’t yours in the first place. I’ll try to do the same and maybe something beautiful will come of it.