Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Blocks, broken

There’s something I noticed this week, as I’ve been handling various things around home that I had put off for one reason or another. Before I did the things, they took up a good deal of mental and emotional energy. Afterward, I didn’t give them a second thought. I moved effortlessly on to thinking about other stuff. Tasks that had seemed so big, so potentially difficult or traumatic, became inconsequential in hindsight. Blocks look so different from the other side. It seems they always look bigger before one goes through them

I think it’s wrong, though, to say that it’s all illusion, that a block really and literally is smaller than we think when we look at it unbroken. I think we do ourselves a disservice by saying that “I thought that thing was going to be hard, but it was all in my mind.” Of course it was in your mind; that’s the thing that gave the block power. Just because “it was all in my mind” doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential; maybe it’s even more consequential, because the thing that’s holding you back is part of you. The thought “that was such a small thing after all” is too easily followed by thoughts like “so why couldn’t I just deal with it before? What’s wrong with me, anyway? Why am I so weak?”

So I’m noting today that it’s a mistake to give blocks too much credit, to see them as things we can’t overcome, but also a mistake to give them too little credit, because they really do matter and it really is hard to get through them — otherwise they wouldn’t be able to block us. Give them too much credit, and you never get to move on; give them too little credit, and you also discredit your own achievement when you finally get through.

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Signs

All morning I wanted to be somewhere else — anywhere else.  My feet were ready to roam, and I thought of a number of interesting things I could do, useful things, fun things.  I pottered around the house, playing on the internet, doing a little spinning, playing with yarn and beads, and thought about going somewhere else.

It’s not that I need a break, though.  I just had a field trip yesterday, going out for lunch, then to a cafe to do some writing, then to find a bead shop and get some beads suitable for adding to a couple of knitting projects, then to choir.  It was a lovely day out, and I don’t think I need another one.  I was itchy to do something, but the things I was thinking about weren’t really the right things.  About lunchtime I realized that what I needed to do is sit down and write, get to work and produce something.  The itchy feeling I had was pushing me to be active, but I was misinterpreting it, trying to find an easier way to soothe it than the harder work I really need to engage.  Sometimes field trips are good, but it’s work that’s really satisfying.

I’ve been thinking about this too lately, how I misinterpret signs.  I mistook my need to “do something” as an excuse to run off and play for the afternoon.  I mistake physical cues all the time.  I think I’m feeling grumpy, but really I’m hungry, or have a mild headache.  It’s like the wires are crossed somehow, signals don’t come through in the way I expect, so I try to fix the wrong thing or miss the signals entirely.  I don’t give my body what it needs, so the problem gets worse, and maybe starts spawning new problems.

One of the hardest things I find to deal with here is just admitting the depths of my own cluelessness.  I mean, how can you just not notice being hungry?  That’s the stomach’s job to speak up about, isn’t it?  Sometimes it does, so how come sometimes it doesn’t?  How come I sometimes have to wait on something else to tip me off that I’ve forgotten to feed and water myself again?  It doesn’t seem like it “ought” to be that way, so I don’t make a point of trying to feel what I’m really feeling physically, or make plans to manage the stuff that I just plain struggle with.

Misunderstanding signs is another kind of block, another thing that holds me back in life, if only from not taking care of myself well enough to support doing my best work.  So I’m trying to pay closer attention to what I really need, to figure out what my body and subconscious are really telling me, and finding ways to manage the things I perpetually get wrong.  Taiji is helping; spending blocks of time focused on my body as I practice taiji is fostering a greater awareness of my body at other times too, I’m more likely to notice now if I’m sitting or standing poorly or tensing some part of my body for no reason at all (something I tend to do frequently, I’m discovering).  Just taking a moment to think about what I’m doing, what I want to do, what time it is, what I’ve done so far in the day can also help — have I eaten breakfast?  How about lunch?  Have I been drinking water?  Have I been writing or knitting or in some other way focusing for a long time, and need to take a break?  Remembering to stop and be aware makes a difference, when I remember to do it!

Some signals are becoming clearer.  Today I feel parched, and I realize that not only do I need to drink more water, but also I’ve been eating too many processed foods lately, too much salt and preservatives.  I’m craving fresh stuff, fruit and vegetables and good, simple dishes.  That’s a problem I can fix properly with some planning and a trip to the grocery store, now that I’ve recognized it.  I hope that paying more attention to the rest of me will help that kind of awareness spread through the daily things I do.

Blocks

One idea I’m learning from taiji is about letting energy move through the body, and how various things can block the free movement of energy. Tension. Bad posture or positioning of the body, arms, or legs. Disconnected movements. Any of these things keeps energy from moving as it should, and since taiji as a martial art depends on energy for its striking force, learning to let energy flow freely is a big deal. (To be clear, I’m not talking about energy in any mystical or super-hero sense; taiji doesn’t teach you how to shoot lightning from your fingertips. It’s about the energy of movement, being focused and delivered in specific ways, or being received from an opponent and either shifted or dissipated. If you’ve ever cracked a whip, or snapped someone with a towel, that’s the kind of energy I’m talking about — it’s not the object that strikes as much as the energy moving through it. The object is just a conduit.)

I’m slowly figuring out that blocks can exist throughout life, and that they can affect me in unexpected ways. Yesterday was a weird, antsy day all round, and I couldn’t settle to any kind of mental work. Around lunchtime the anxiety growled its way over into anger, which focused itself on my house. I’ve been neglecting too many things for too long, and the gradual cascade of dust and untidiness has been making me gradually unhappy for a while now, slowly enough that I didn’t notice it creeping up on me. My physical surroundings were becoming a block to my mind and emotions, making me hold too much inside, until it broke through in irrational-seeming fury. Realizing that my house was a big part of the problem, I turned that emotional energy to doing some determined cleaning, which helped the anger go.

There are other kinds of blocks. Putting things like cleaning off indefinitely makes for another, subtly different kind of block too — put one thing off until later, and my will to get anything at all done is weakened. It makes it easier to put other things off too, until I’m not doing anything at all, which ends up making me feel vaguely unhappy, restless, and tired. If I look around and see nothing but dangling ends and unfinished intentions in all directions, it blocks my ability to engage at all; which is really maddening when there are obvious, easy, needful things to do, right in front of me. There may as well be a plate-glass window in between me and them, I can see what’s there but can’t grasp hold. I’m blocked.

I spent a lot of years believing a lot of wrong things about myself; that I didn’t really like people, that I couldn’t have good friends, that I was no good at having conversations, that I wasn’t a very worthwhile person, that nobody had reason to like me, that I had not much reason ton like myself. All because of lies I told myself and believed or misinterpreting situations I was put in, or who knows what. All of those beliefs were blocks, keeping me from being happy and moving through life and growing up. It’s taken a long time to get through them, and I’m still sometimes blocked by those things and others.

While I’m passing through this transition phase, having left old work and not found new work yet, I wonder what else I’m being blocked by, things I haven’t noticed yet. The things I wrote about the other day feel like a block — waiting for someone else to construct a life for me rather than constructing my own is definitely a block on going forward. Focusing too much on the uncertainties of my situation is sometimes a block. Forgetting to believe in myself is definitely a block. Forgetting to hang on to my faith is another big block. I wonder what the other ones are, because I don’t think I’ve found them all yet; or maybe that assumption, that there’s something else “wrong” which I just haven’t spotted yet, is itself a block, creating a problem just by assuming one has to be there.

Blocks in taiji keep energy from moving. Blocks in life keep energy from moving too — the energy of living, of experiencing life, of getting things done. Of loving people and sharing life with them. I can’t tell if this is a needed period of rest, or if I’m stuck when should be moving. I want to be free to move. If there are blocks, I want to find them, I want to understand them, I want them to be gone. I want to live with the same kind of fluidity and force that I want to develop in taiji, in order to get things done, in order to live well, in order to relax, in order to let go of what’s old and let all things be made new.

Drifting

There’s something I’ve been pondering for several weeks now, which I feel has a direct bearing on how the next stage of my life is going to go … something which has ruled my life for a long time, which I want to change and don’t entirely know how. At least I’ve spotted it, which is a start. But that in itself doesn’t go far enough.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a follower, a joiner, a wait-and-see-er, a do-what-you’re-told-er. I built a lot of my personal sense of value on approval from other people, and that came in great degrees from doing what other people wanted and doing it well. Right through school, right through college, right through my early temporary jobs into the one I held for a decade. I got really good at carrying out other people’s wishes; I can also be good at taking someone else’s plans and suggesting improvements, but the ideas and efforts were always initiated by someone else.

I’ve been pondering how this has kept me too still and static, how I think this personal tendency helped to keep me in a job that I was done with long before I left, how it has kept me from doing a lot of things that I think I might like to. Right now, when I’m in an in-between period of life and needing to determine what happens next, it’s not helping me move forward. I’m a grown-up now. I don’t get assignments and grades, no one is giving me work projects, no one is going to tell me what’s right and wrong for me to do. I am, in that sense, free. But I don’t know what to do with my freedom, and some part of me is still sitting around, waiting for someone else to give me directions to follow, so that I can please them and keep being valuable.

A lot of the people I really admire are not like this; they decide to do a thing and do it. They take action. They learn things they don’t know yet. In a practical (if grandiose-sounding) way, they make the world. The things that exist, exist because someone decided they should be made; the events that happen, happen because someone did the work to make them happen. That really appeals to me, but I struggle to do it. I’m good at having ideas, but I don’t make them happen. I’m good at helping other people do their things, but not at starting and doing my own things. And that’s not really how I want to be anymore, but I’m kind of at a loss how to change it.

The problem isn’t ability or lack of opportunity; it’s something mental, something emotional, something I haven’t laid hold of yet. I see the shape of the problem, but I haven’t found the practical levers to help me shift it. In that weird, contradictory, human way, I’m not sure if I really want to move it — some of me does, but I’m well aware that a lot of the time, people don’t really want the things they think they want, or at least not all of them does, and I don’t trust myself here. I don’t understand myself. I’m really not sure what to do.

I have been trying to make a point of writing, because I feel like that’s one part of what I need to do next, but I don’t know what shape I want it to take. I’ve been thinking about turning a collection of my essays into a book, but I’m not pursuing it as wholeheartedly as I could. I feel that I’m drifting, and I don’t want to be, but I’m not taking up my paddle, either. So can I really say this isn’t what I want? Judging by my behavior, I find it hard to justify.

So I don’t have a tidy conclusion today, just something that I’m trying to come to grips with. The world really needs people to take hold of good things and make them happen; there’s so much need, and so many things to make, and things to do. I’d like to be part of it. But I’m afraid I’ll keep sitting here, watching the world pass by, and the wish will stay wistful and unformed, drifting away on the wind.

Interlude

What a difference a few months makes.

I write these words as April moves on toward its end, as spring struggles to come in around constant rain and gloom. The old, tired job is long gone and mostly forgotten. I have been settling in to my new identity as a writer — I may or may not ever make my living doing this work, but nonetheless I am compelled to do it, and finding a great joy in the doing. I keep praying “whatever you choose for me to do, Lord God, that’s what I choose too; please guide me where you want me to be.” I don’t really know where I’m headed yet, but on my more confident days I can say I’m more sure I’ll get there, wherever-it-is. On my less confident days I still worry and wonder if I’m really doing what I need to be doing; I expect I’ll always fight with that, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

I’ve been writing devotional essays and posting them to a site called FaithWriters.com. All of my work to date can be found here, I will put occasional updates on this blog linking to my essays there. Last week I entered the FaithWriters Writing Challenge for the first time, tomorrow I’ll find out whether or not I placed in my level (the Beginners group). I’ve received a lot of good feedback, which is already encouraging.

More to come. I feel like the next stage of my life is struggling to come in, just as spring has been; sometimes I get tired of waiting on it, and need to remember that motion is inevitable, whether or not I can sense it in the moment. I’m learning how to be patient, and also how to make decisions and keep walking — lessons I badly need, whether or not I like living with them. Onward.