September 20, 2012

Against Reflection

Have you ever stopped caring about something that used to mean the world to you? It happened to me in the spring, maybe in the early summer, and it was the weirdest thing: I stopped wanting to reflect. I know! My daily bread and butter, the very way that I approach the world, rejected! Whatever kind of seeker’s quest I had been on for the past, oh, seven years or so, I gave up, for no other reason than I was sick of myself. What had once seemed like a rich topic of investigation suddenly seemed like the most boring material on earth. Who cares why I do things the way I do or how I can do them better, what I want or what the future holds? Certainly not me!

I like to think that it began at first because I was so happy. I was so happy, in fact, and for such a long stretch, that I stopped fearing it would slip through my fingers. I stopped reflecting why it was so. So I gave up yoga (too much tuning in!), tarot (whatever!), Buddhist podcasts and all my stacks of books about a considered, conscious life (boooooring!). Turns out, I thought at the time, when you stop thinking about how to get more contentment and joy, it just appears! Maybe the secret to feeling good was to stop thinking about yourself so goddamn much?

It was freeing at first. I surfed the surface of my days, not getting mired in my own thoughts. I fell into fully-engrossing novels about Irish detectives and secret gardens. I watched more TV. I was shocked at how placid the surface of my own life had become. And I liked staying right there, right on that surface, like the smooth skin of a ripe nectarine.

And then I started to notice that I was no fun at all to hang out with. Over dinner with a friend in the Village, I shot her with questions as if it were an interview, not wanting to ever get around to me. When we did, finally, I talked about myself briefly, as if I were a mildly irritating person from the past I didn’t know especially well before moving on to more interesting topics, mostly other people.

Because one thing I noticed in my “I’m bored with myself” period, is that I talked a lot about other people. I gossiped. I bought tabloids every week with a Kardashian’s face on the cover. I considered motivations and baggage of both celebrities and people I actually knew with the same tireless, laser focus. On a windy day at the beach, I read the entire sycophantic Vogue cover story about Marion Cotillard (and I love Marion Cotillard, but ugh), and then I remembered why I stopped reading Vogue.

I hadn’t known it was possible, but I was even more bored. And then I was blue. Where was the meaning and the sparkle that I cared so much about? I texted one of my writer friends. “What do you do when you’re sick of your own voice?” I asked. She wrote back immediately: “I suck it up!”

My original supposition was wrong. It turns out, for me anyway, that if you’re not looking for daily joys, they are surprisingly easy to miss. It’s easy to overlook everyday kindnesses and all the delights that an ordinary day can sprout in your path. They are often small, tiny things, like the first crocuses. They don’t draw attention to themselves or shout for your acknowledgment. But they are quietly there and it turns out, much too easy to pass by without notice.

I got lucky. It took a birth to plunge me deep back into life’s meanings. In the hours before my niece’s arrival, I sat with my sister in her hospital room.  It was quiet and calm in there, filled with afternoon light, and we talked. A few hours later, after I had gone into town, sat in front of my computer, eaten a couple fish tacos and sipped a beer, my family and I went back to the hospital. We sat in the waiting room. And then, still more hours later, we walked back into my sister’s room. Only this time, where it had just been she and her husband, there was now a third person, a new person. I saw this little face, strongly holding her head up to look at the world around her. In the time it had taken me to eat dinner and write a few sentences on the internet, my sister had become a mother. It split me open with the kind of sobs you don’t even see coming. I remember mostly reaching to cover my face with both of my hands, so surprised by an emotion so visceral it felt like too much to openly bare. There was now a new life. It was as simple and mundane as it was a miracle.

Her name is Violet.

It’s hard not to reflect once something like that happens. My niece brought life into stark relief: what mattered was in the foreground, bright, heartfelt, and top of mind. Everything else diminished into a darkened background.

I went back to yoga, my mind and muscles a little slack from the pause. It seemed I could hear the whole world in our chants. It was the sweetest sound.

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  • Kristina Strain: Goddamnit, I love your blog. Please please please don’t ever stop.

    Congratulations on being an aunt!5 years ago

  • Cadi: First, congratulations on becoming an aunt. Isn’t it just wonderful?

    And second, YES. I’ve noticed the same thing about myself lately, that I’m just not as in tune as I like to be with the world around me. I blame it on going back to work, but that’s only part of it. I think it’s mostly because, in the 6 months I wasn’t working, I had a lot of time for self-reflection and many hours spent alone (or with Ted the Cat), and I really got to know myself better than I had in a long time. In fact, the last time I knew myself so well was when I was just a girl. I was so pleased with what I could do with my own two hands, and with my thoughts and actions that I hadn’t really tapped in to in so long. It was refreshing and new.

    And now that I’m back in ‘the world’, I don’t get that time. I have been struggling this week trying to find time to cut out a dress pattern that I’ve been staring longingly at, on my sewing table, for weeks. I’ve been so wrapped up in my self-imposed everyday schedule that I just haven’t made it happen. I need me time. I WANT me time. I feel I’m becoming boring.

    My remedy has been my lunch hour lately. I’m walking to our town’s sweet little square, watching the kids play in the fountain and the leaves turn, sometimes taking a book, and sometimes not. I’m going to start taking a lunchtime yoga class a couple days a week. And I’m finding that, even this little hour, gives me enough pause to connect with myself and recognize the little joys, the small things that make a day wonderful, that should be noticed and smiled at.

    Thanks, Sarah. It always feels good to know I’m not alone. Have a great day!5 years ago

  • Rebecca: What a beautiful tribute!5 years ago

  • sebastian: What a beautiful post, Sarah. There are some really profound revelations here. I guess sometimes when you burn all your journals it just means there’s less background noise. Or room for a new journal. It reminds me of my favorite parable/line from nietzsche where he describes the fierce spirit needing the endurance of the camel to experience all life has to offer, the ferocity of the lion to throw it all away, and finally the innocent awe of the child to experience it all anew. years ago

  • Sarah: Thank you, my friend, for these beautiful words. I needed to read this today, as it refreshed my own soul. We never tire of hearing your voice. 🙂5 years ago

  • EB: Oh Sarah. How wonderful.5 years ago

  • MrsBx: *gasp* yes and yes and ya-haaaaa!!!

    You are so wonderfully, reflectively, wisely and perfectly right!

    Heartfelt congratulations, Aunt Sarah xxx5 years ago

  • Bekah: Oh wow, Sarah. You’ve done it again! I nearly cried by the end of this. Thank you so much for your beautiful reflections (yes, reflections!).

    I too have fallen off the track of reflection and yoga, but am realizing that these are necessary elements of a beautiful life. I wrote a post about it here, if you’re interested.

    Congrats on being an Aunt! There’s nothing quite like it! I cannot wait to hear how this little Violet adds joy to your life!5 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: Congrats on being an aunt – I became one this summer and it is the BEST.

    I’ve been feeling like this too, recently, skimming the surface of my own life. And I’m tired of that. I want to savor, to live deep, to focus on what matters. Here’s to the important things. xo5 years ago

  • Julie: Oh Sarah, this made me a bit teary. The healing power of new babies! I remember when our old landlords came home with their first baby, and we heard her cry that first night. I kept thinking, she wasn’t here just a day ago; now she is filling up such a great space in the world. And you got to see that transition extra up close. Yay for beautiful new nieces! Yay for diving back into life!5 years ago

  • Amy: I wrote about something similar-ish today. I think that being a seeker is a long, difficult journey and it’s easy to get sick of looking inward and trying to get “better.” And yet, we must. I adore this post.

    I just love this post. Congratulations on being an aunt. That photo is just so radiant and lovely.5 years ago

  • Nicole: Ah, the problem of recognizing and holding onto joy. Lately I’ve been revisiting an old matra of mine, “Systems tend toward entropy”. I like to remind myself that finding joy, feeling stable and centered, isn’t necessarily a one time thing, and that there can be a satisfaction in letting things fall apart just enough to get the satisfaction of putting them back together.5 years ago

  • Lana: This is superb. It’s okay to take a break from yourself every now and again. Sometimes reflecting starts to feel like a job, doesn’t it? It’s hard to have the balls to try and see the joy in small things and appreciate a crocus when the whole world is telling us we should be paying attention to much bigger things. Good for you for taking time off and coming back full circle. Oh, and that adorable little nugget, Violet? Is it coincidental that her name is the same as a shy little flower that, once emerging from the snow or the shadows or the underbrush, is so gorgeous and bright it forces you to stop dead in your tracks and appreciate it’s small, magnificent beauty in? Me thinks not.5 years ago

  • Alyssa: What a spectacular post. Your blog is truly inspirational and you seem to say all the right things at the right time.
    I’ve recently been wondering if all of my self-reflection and close attention to the world around me is too self-indulgent.
    Your post has reminded me (in and artful and delicate, yet powerful way) that this introspection is a necessary part of a life well lived and a life fully enjoyed. I am most available for others and engaged with my whole self when I take quiet time with myself and take the time to see the true beauty and perfect imperfection in them.
    Thank you, Sara.
    And my deepest congrats on becoming an Aunt. It is the most delightful blessing I’ve ever received.5 years ago

  • Gigi Valina: The power of your writing is simply breathtaking. Like the first commenter said, don’t ever stop.5 years ago

  • Jessica: Sarah, this was so beautiful–the joy your niece has brought you just radiates. Thank you for the much needed reminder that when it feels hardest to see the beauty in the everyday is also when it’s most important to really look.5 years ago

  • amanda {the habit of being}: i was reading along wondering what it was going to be that pulled you back into yourself, open to the world around you and well, a niece. yes. perfect. welcome, violet! and welcome back, sarah 🙂5 years ago

  • Alice: Beautiful post, beautiful you.5 years ago

  • Meg: i absolutely adore this post. i have been going through the same thing for the past six months or so – wondering why i need to reflect and post the mundane little details of our life… what makes the first time i make my favourite lentil soup this autumn so special, really?!

    but it is special, and thank you for the reminder that celebrating the small joys of every day life and exploring the innermost reflections of my own mind is why i started writing in the first place, and – looking forward – why i want to continue writing as i move through this life.

    xo5 years ago

  • megan: first of all, what a lovely picture. and what a sweet little nugget of a niece!

    second of all, if ever words rang more true than these: “I talked about myself briefly, as if I were a mildly irritating person from the past I didn’t know especially well before moving on to more interesting topics” then i don’t know what. that’s, ironically, kind of what being a mother has felt like for me. i can talk about the little buddy forever, but even i know how annoying that is for people who aren’t his parents. and then, once i’ve stopped that, i feel lost! probably this will pass? when he’s not an all-consuming BABY? i don’t know. i was just thinking about when it is that i might think about things, and what it would be that i’d think about that wasn’t my sorely neglected dissertation. isn’t that awful? when you spend time thinking about things you could be thinking about?

    ANYWAY, this is your blog not mine, but i think this resonated with me in a way *i* didn’t expect…5 years ago

  • Jackie: This was beautiful. Thank you.5 years ago

  • Franne: Beautiful, Sarah. I always look to you and your blog when Fall rolls around. I’m happy to hear you’re back in a good groove. Congratulations!5 years ago

  • Sara Rose: Fantastic. I knew you would find ‘this’ back. We all wander, my lovely friend. But I’m so happy wandering helped you find where you were headed.

    P.S. I just wrote my own little tribute to Owen on our family blog. It was his belated birthday letter. He reminds life is neither to big or too small to just be wonderful even at its worse.

    🙂5 years ago

  • Pattie: I think it was Kris Kristofferson who said upon hearing Joni Mitchell’s beautiful soul baring album “Blue”, “Joni, leave something for yourself.’ …

    This amazing post is honest and raw and brave. You are opening who you have been, are today and might be tomorrow, to those of us who love to absorb your words.

    Your journey fascinates and encourages. Violet will love you to pieces.5 years ago

  • Kelly Jeanne: Aw, Sarah, you’re making me tear up! What a fantastic post. So glad you’re sticking with your blog.5 years ago

  • Kimberly: I feel like I was reading about my summer when I read this post with tears in my eyes. Thank you so putting it into words and thank you for being you. Violet is a lucky one.5 years ago

  • Violet: Hi Aunt Sarah,
    I made my first trip to the mall today! I loved the pink sparkly wallpaper in the Macy’s ladies lounge!
    Come see me soon! I can smile!
    XoxoxoxoxViolet5 years ago

  • molly: You are just so beautiful and lovely and fantastic.

    As is your Violet. Violet!! You lucky dear.5 years ago

  • geek+nerd: “Maybe the secret to feeling good was to stop thinking about yourself so goddamn much?” HAHAHA, Sarah, that line almost made me spit out my coffee. Too funny.

    That’s amazing that your little niece pulled things into perspective for you. That picture is beautiful. It looks like you take to auntiehood very naturally. Enjoy!5 years ago

  • Amy Wills: Beautiful. Love.5 years ago

  • Lois Conley: What a beautiful picture of the two of you. Congrats! Thanks for sharing.5 years ago

  • Life's a Bowl: This is my first time stopping by but just wanna say that you are a beautiful writer! Whether or not you get into another “funk,” never give up! And a big CONGRATS to your new family member, she’s precious 🙂5 years ago

  • jen: all around gorgeous stuff. thanks as always!5 years ago

  • Little Big: Wow. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.5 years ago

  • Cheryl: Congratulations! The photo of you is beautiful.5 years ago

  • Friday Link Feast #20 | The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl: […] Pink of Perfection: Against Reflection Sarah is on my all-time favourite blogger list and this post – reflections on not reflecting – is just beautiful.  […]5 years ago

  • LindsB: I’ve been away from the blog for a bit, and wouldn’t you know it, today I came back to it and read this amazing post. Miss Sarah, you’re such a talented writer and a lovely soul. The world’s a little glow-ier by you sharing that with all of us.

    I love the honesty here, the truths you’re not scared to admit– I know it makes me feel a little braver, and like I should be a little less hard on myself at the same time. It also reminded me how much I enjoy and relate to your writing. Your blog is SO GOOD! 🙂5 years ago

  • Kanesha @itsafullnest: Sarah this is so beautiful and I’m so happy little Violet is in the world.
    Your words and the space you create for deep, fun, whimsical, and stylish reflection is much needed.
    Thank you and keep up this excellent work!5 years ago

  • A Body As Full as a Canvas Sail « Pink of Perfection: […] and I hoisted them over my shoulder. And while it sounds too convenient to be true, there are wild violets blooming in the yard and between the patio stones, and none of us remember them being there last […]5 years ago

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