April 5, 2013

Easing into Spring

“May” by 5ftinf

At the vernal equinox, I stayed with a dearest friend in two bright rooms in the rear of a bungalow in Los Angeles. The setting felt like a tropical version of The Secret Garden: just off the street, in the middle of a vibrant neighborhood, was an L-shaped garden curling around the side of her house, so that from every window and through the screen door the view was close, fragrant, and green. I kept asking her to say the name of each plant, just so I could hear the extravagant words again. Kalanchoe. Bougainvillea. Ranunculus. Honeysuckle and jasmine perfumed the air like a grande dame, and riotous pink flowers climbed over head. Waxy, dark green succulents sat in orange clay pots along the brick walkway. I’m not one to talk about the energy of a physical place, but looking out her windows in the morning at all that lush growth, I felt something special there.

We went on a couple of hikes. The view was obscured by fog one day as we scrambled up a steep, narrow path my friend had never wanted to take alone. The way down was long and dusty, our sneakers slipping on the too-smooth surface. At one point I looked up from my shoes to see how much further we had to go. It was a long way and I groaned and cursed. Don’t look, my friend said. And then she said something meant as a practical piece of advice to keep me from skidding on my ass and knocking her down in the process, but which sounds really cheesy and instructive in this context. It was something along the lines of keeping my eyes on the next step.

We sat later in her garden with frozen pineapple vodka drinks (hello, California!), and  I thought again of that passage from Bird by Bird I had just excerpted recently on the blog:

E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

I have been exhausting myself with thinking lately. If I see another article about 10 ways to live your passion or 5 steps to embracing abundance, or if I make another list of what makes me feel most alive, or write a mission statement, or craft a 5-year plan, I might just pack it up. This happens sometimes. I’m comfortable in my inner world, but sometimes it starts to get a little claustrophobic in here. It is too plush and confined, with way too many thoughts and feelings not acted upon. It’s like a Victorian drawing room.

And so it is spring! What a perfect time to get out of thinking and into doing! Only not so much. An encouraging April horoscope had me frozen in my tracks. Wait, what new path am I supposed to be forging? I am (and you, too, Aries sisters!), apparently, unstoppable during our “cosmic birthday” April 10. But for what purpose? Circulate, put it out into the universe, make those dreams manifest! I can’t take the pressure. That, too, feels exhausting.

Here’s the thing: I’m not sure I can think myself out of every problem. Lists are helpful to a point, but I keep forgetting the two bits that come after brainstorming: surrendering (full stop here to really think about that one) and putting one foot in front of the other. I get stuck in a giant, swirling whirlpool of ideas and plots about how to scale the mountain ahead of me, when what I need to do is close the notebook, and feel my way. Put one foot in front of the other.

On Tuesday night, another friend told me about the Taoist concept of wu wei, which she described as the action of non-action. It’s not doing nothing like a purposeless layabout; it’s “the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of ‘going with the flow’ that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which––without even trying––we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.”

I think this concept is hard for a lot of us. We are goal-oriented doers, achievers, and list-makers. If I gave all that up, how would I get anywhere? Tara Brach’s recent podcast on self-compassion broke this same wall down in such a startling way, I couldn’t embrace the basic idea. What would it mean to be OK just as we are? What the hell would happen if we gave up all the busyness of improving ourselves and our lives? I mean, honestly: can you even imagine? I’m afraid that releasing a vise grip of what looks like control will plunge me into complacency. But complacency is a far cry from “effortless alignment” or “great ease and awake-ness.”

I don’t have answers, but I hope asking the questions counts for something. I do know that perhaps more than ever, this spring feels like an opening. Not to leading with intellectual force, but taking a cue from subtler models, like the neighborhood crocuses who had a false start in mild January and are back for good this time. We just have to hold out hope for how natural the process of blooming really is.

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  • Kristina Strain: Brilliant. That last line, especially. And you’ve got me reading Bird by Bird again, too– SO good.5 years ago

  • EBK Riley: I really like this! Sometimes we just have to stop planning and live. Just found your blog and really enjoy it.5 years ago

  • Cadi: Oh Sarah, you always manage to give words to feelings I have that I just can’t seem to explain (and I am a very wordy girl). Beautiful, thoughtfully put as always, and I’m headed out to get Bird by Bird today. A little birthday gift to self!5 years ago

  • Lana: Beautiful, as always. So happy I came across your blog oh-so-long-ago. Happy weekend, Sarah!5 years ago

  • cristina: have to reiterate kudos for that last line, too. quivered like a bow when i read it! i’m so familiar with the whirlpool, but trying to surrender to it until i get sucked through to the current i’m meant to ride (or something like that.) thanks for the words5 years ago

  • Melissa @ Hilltophausfrau: So do you think that is why people who are practitioners (those who walk their talk) of the world’s main religions seem to be more peaceful? Because they surrender? I’ve noticed this to be true in my own findings. Realizing there is only so much we have control of…it seems comforting!

    Also, navel-gazing: so silly! We are mere specks in this universe! Our only task is to put good energy into it! No one really cares about how new the car we drive is, you know? And those who do care, well lets just say, not sure if they’re in the “process of blooming” yet 😉5 years ago

  • Jecca: I lived in southern California for a long time and the beginning of this post makes me miss it more than ever. Beautiful, accurate, evocative writing. Surrender and wu wei are difficult and wonderful things. Thank you for this.5 years ago

  • Alyssa: What a wonderful post as always 🙂 Thank you for giving voice to so many of the conflicting feelings and thoughts that so many of us have. This constant questing can be tiresome. I feel like Jo describing her family and transcendentalism. The constant goal of perfecting oneself can be a lot of pressure!
    As I read your post I was wondering how I could bring more of the wu wei. When did I have it? and how can I bring it back?

    I think, for me, meditation can be very helpful. It quiets my mind and helps me relax and go with the flow of life and laugh ant the little irritants that would otherwise throw off my day.

    Another thing that helps is surrendering expectations. I’m good at doing this on vacation, but not day to day. I think if I start looking at everyday as an adventure of unknown possibility, I won’t be as tied to certain outcomes and will be more able to go with the flow.

    Thank you again for you thought provoking writing. Now I just need to try to put some of this into practice.5 years ago

  • Sarah: Kristina, I hope you’re enjoying rereading it as much as I have. I just love Anne Lamott’s voice so much. Have you read Writing Down the Bones? Another amazing book on writing.

    Cadi, Happy birthday! Have you read Traveling Mercies? Another great one.

    Melissa, I don’t know. I do know that I find the concept of surrender and letting go both intoxicating and difficult. Sometimes I think what “religion” offers is just quiet. When I am meditating, or listening to Tara Brach or going to yoga, that’s the peace that I get–that much needed quiet and stillness. I love your “mere specks in the universe” comment.

    Jecca, I adored falling into your gorgeous blog yesterday! So much fun and delight there. Every time I go to LA I fall in love with its tropical beauty and hills and lushness and vintage signs. So glad it reminded you of a once-upon-a-time.

    Alyssa, I love that you can just name check “Jo” and that everyone here knows who you’re talking about! 🙂 Constant questing does feel tiresome, and I love your added word of “expectations” to surrender. It’s something I’ll keep in mind today.5 years ago

  • Monna McDiarmid: Hi Sarah!
    It’s Sunday evening in Japan and, as is often the case, I have “Sunday night mind”… the little squirrels inside my brain are darting around like crazy… planning projects and contemplating places to visit and making lists 🙂
    Reading your lovely post slowed me down and helped me breathe for which I am most grateful.
    Then I watched Maira Kalman’s “Creative Mornings” talk (http://vimeo.com/53526343) and something she said really resonated with me. “I consider a walk around the block the same as a journey to India.”
    I thought you would like to hear that today!
    Monna5 years ago

  • Heidi: Sarah, it reminds me of a quote you put on POP a few years ago that still echoes, a Leonard Cohen lyric about ringing the bells that you can still ring and forgetting your perfect offering. I identify with you. I’m terrified that if I don’t wake up with a list of at least 10 things to do and complete them all by the end of the day, then my life and my business will spiral out of “control.” Where did I ever get that idea? Who told me that? How different would my days be if I instead allowed each one to bring what it would? I don’t have any answers either, but it’s tremendously encouraging to let go a tiny bit if I know someone else is doing it, too.5 years ago

  • Adrianna: I’ve been sharing your blog with my mother ever since I started reading it. She’s been dealing with a case of the “blahs” of late, but continues to be her amazing self. Upon reading this post she replied, “Thank you. I needed that.” So in turn, thank you, Sarah.5 years ago

  • Sasha: Love this post, Sarah. I was totally there with you regarding not wanting to “do” anything on my yoga retreat last month. Honestly, I don’t even think I wanted to “do” the yoga! But I did. And at the end of the retreat I found myself clearer, and I’ve been striking a nice balance lately between making “to do” lists and actually “doing”. So I totally think you will be blooming soon! 🙂5 years ago

  • Sarah: I can’t remember where I heard this quote–maybe “On Being–but I had to share it here:

    “I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” –Rainer Maria Rilke5 years ago

  • The Sunday List ~ Issue 22 | Monna McDiarmid: […] Easing into Spring ~ a lovely blog post by Sarah at Pink of Perfection. […]5 years ago

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