For as grateful (and amazed) as I am that I’ve completed my book, it is an incredibly odd thing to place it in someone else’s hands, to know it is no longer in my own. I’ve been writing its words and pages and stories in some way, shape, or form for nearly two decades and so, without it, I feel a bit wobbly, out-of-sorts, and slightly disconnected from myself.
I am rhetorically and repeatedly asking what I’ll do next, what I’ll create, what writing will yet be mine.
No answers come.
It’s not only about the writing. It’s also about time. What do I do now? What do I not do now? How do I fill up the empty space? And with what?
Still no answers—at least not any that are immensely helpful, generous, or grace-filled.
And so, as one does, I turn to Google.
I thought about asking “what to do with extra time” or “how to manage a slightly existential crisis” but both of those felt just a tish too broad. Instead, I asked, “what to write when you don’t know what to write.” There are lots of helpful tips and techniques to be found but none were quite what I wanted to hear. So, I looked at the books on my shelf, thinking maybe something would inspire me. Nope. Then I got out a deck of cards I’ve had for a long time, but rarely use: Writing Down the Bones Deck: 60 Cards to Free the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. I thumbed through the first ten or so, and came across this one:
” . . . there’s nothing you feel like writing about. Don’t pop up or pull a different card. Sit there for ten minutes, feeling your breath. Allow everything to be as it is. Just now I’m asking you to be.”
On the back of the card, she says this:
“Now write what you can accept with no judgment, no criticism . . . What else can you accept? The more we accept what’s around us, the more we can accept what’s in us and what comes out on the page. Let’s face it, we are all a little odd, maybe demented. From another angle, delightful. For our ten minutes of just sitting, we can put our arms around it all and write from a softer place.”
We can put our arms around it all and LIVE from a softer place.
That sounds lovely, doesn’t it? To live from a softer place.
If you’re at all like me, you are immediately looking for the how-to manual. Apparently, Natalie Goldberg anticipated this:
- accept what’s around you
- accept what’s in you
- no judgement, no criticism
I have a hunch that were I able and willing to do this—accept, accept, accept—my writing, creativity, time, and life itself would, indeed, be softer.
This is what I want.
There’s an ancient, sacred story told of two sisters. One was busy with all the details connected to hospitality: cooking, cleaning, serving. The other sat at the feet of their guest and soaked up everything he had to say.
The striving one complained, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Their guest responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
There’s plenty I chafe at in this story. But at least in this moment, I’m accepting the wisdom it offers: to live from a softer place is the better choice.
The better choice—and—in my lived-experience, the harder choice.
It is easy for me to stay busy. I know how to work hard. I am actually quite comfortable with efforting and striving, thank you very much. *sigh* What is not easy, what I do not know how to do, at least as well, is to let go, to wander, to wonder, to sit still, to accept what is, to be.
It strikes me that my first step is accepting even this. Allowing it to be as it is, me to be as I am. Putting my arms around it all. Taking another deep breath. Letting these ambivalent places between work and rest, striving and ease, knowing and unknowing, even writing and not writing, be a softer place to land . . . and live.
How about for you?
Whether you are a writer, or not, it is well worth your while to spend some time with pen and paper (or, like me, keyboard and screen) and these questions. No urgency. No wrong answers. Allowing. Embracing. Soft, remember?
- When you look at your circumstances, your surroundings, your relationships, your work, your world, what is yours to accept? Not accede to, but name honestly with deep breaths and no stiving.
- Where, when, and with whom do you notice your tendency to strive, to effort, to push, to labor? What if you didn’t, even for a time?
- What yet longs to be accepted within you? How can you put your arms around it all?
- What would happen if you let go of judgment and criticism? How would you feel? What would change?
- If there were a softer place to land and softer way to live, what can you imagine that would look and feel like in the most specific of ways?
And for us?
Imagine a world that is not endlessly embroiled in arguments, political tension, and seemingly constant fights over gun-violence and abortion rights and same-sex marriage and racism and ableism and sexism so much more. Acceptance does not mean we look the other way where injustice is concerned; rather, it means we see and name it for what it is. We respond from a place that is clear, succinct, and even devoid of judgment and criticism. It means we are compelled by courage, desire, and hope. And collectively, that would create a softer place for us to live—together.
May it be so.