I ended my last reflection with this: My version of slow isn’t about stopping. It’s about finally hearing the people who answered my I want to be… with but you already are. I now understand. The mistake I had been making – and perhaps it was a necessary mistake, the wrongness of which I could only understand by trying to do it – was that I set about re-designing my life, when what I needed to do was unearth it. What I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, was already happening, was already there, but it was struggling, buried, a seed or a bulb planted too deeply to find its way to the surface, but working towards the air all the same.
There is a saying that life never hands us more than we can handle, but it says nothing about how well or otherwise we will do so. Or how long it might take. And I am not renowned for my patience.
I spent the first few months after grief hit, buoyed up by a fantasy, a lie, a dream that was never meant to come true which, when it failed, dragged me even lower and forced me to face myself and to ask for help.
Ask and it shall be given, is another truism – but you have to know where to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and sometimes the answers don’t make any sense and have to be dissected, refracted, broken down, viewed from all angles, including inside out. I asked, and it was given. With infinite patience that only once or twice saw signs of fraying. For eighteen months I was listened to and guided as I did the work of setting goals, starting projects, abandoning projects, meeting goals, not-meeting goals, not-even-trying to meet goals, working through the what-ifs and buts and maybes.
Sometimes it was hard. For a lot of the time I felt like I was miserably failing.
I couldn’t see that, through all of that time, what I wanted was happening, quietly, in the background, underground, out of sight.
I wasn’t miserable the whole time. Far from it: there were moments of joy and days of contentment. There was friendship and laughter and achievement and moving house and selling the old place and growth and connections forged or strengthened, and others allowed to fall. There was a year of spirit – a spring, summer, autumn and winter – seasons, changes, sowing, growing, ripening (or not) and another fallow time. Early spring came again in promising guise.
Then the world went mad and all bets were off. The plan wasn’t just unworkable it was laughable – but I held onto it. I’d created this design I was going to see it through, come hell or highwater. What we faced was something akin to one or the other and the plan ceased to be laughable and became meaningless.
And I found I was pleased.
I found that the plan had never been designed as an enabler, it had been designed as a shield. Shields can be useful things, but they also tend to be heavy and cumbersome and restrict your ability to move out into the fray. The plan – my plan, remember – was actually stopping me from living the life I wanted. It was keeping me in the world of expectation. I might have set the objectives and the targets but the whole was predicated on a view of the world that I no longer believed in. No longer wanted to be in. It was pulling me in the wrong direction.
And I was resisting.
It took two tangentially related things for this to finally penetrate my consciousness.
Firstly, time – locked-down time – time in which there were many things I could not do – so there was time to think, to really think, to write my way through it, ask myself not just ‘what’ and ‘how’ but most importantly ‘why?’ There was time in which I could not be impatient, because the time was stretching ahead with no foreseeable end, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about that. Not only was there no need to rush the process, there was no point in trying to.
The second was permission: encouragement to give myself permission to ‘just live that life’. It is the most powerful thing anyone has ever said to me. Perhaps it had been said many times over the previous 18 months, but this time I heard it. I heard “just try it on, without expectation, just to see if it fits”. I come back to this conversation again and again, because it was the key – and because this time I was ready to turn it, open the door and walk through.
I made a start. And discovered it wasn’t a start at all, it was a continuation. In a sense, I made a stop – lots of stopping, removal, pruning and clearance – work that is ongoing. I was (am still) removing layers of litter so that the seed gets the light it needs.
In the meantime, something I have learned is this: sometimes we don’t need to build, we need to dig.
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