In other words: Forget about the dots

“Wanting an intimate relationship doesn’t mean I get one. But to paraphrase Stephen Stills, if I can’t be with the one I love, my best insurance policy against a sad, lonely old age is to love the one I’m with. The one who will never leave me, no matter what, for real. That one, of course, would be me.”         — Meredith Maran The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention

 

You take a step. Make a choice. Decide.

You never know exactly what to expect, how it will “turn out”, where it will lead. But you think you’ve looked at it from every angle you can, and it seems like the next right thing to do, so you think you know approximately, at least, what will happen.

In Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech, he said ““You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” You know this is true, but even hearing Jobs’ wisdom in your head at each decision-point doesn’t stop you from trying. Doesn’t keep you from thinking that, maybe, this time you’ve managed to connect the dots forward. This time you’ve mapped the trajectory of your own future correctly and all will proceed accordingly.

But it doesn’t.

You fail. Someone you rely on fails. Markets fail. You get sick. Someone you love gets sick. You calculated based on certain assumptions, now proven incorrect. (Donald Trump gets elected President proving all bets are off.) People refuse to act according to your predictions. Life refuses to act according to your predictions.

You feel disappointed, disillusioned, depressed. Alone.

Now what?

Self-recrimination (what did I miscalculate? how could I be so wrong? I must be missing a crucial gene!)? Shut down and spend days, weeks, just getting through until I can sit in my easy chair at night and fall asleep? Blame everyone else for not meeting my expectations (which, of course, are perfectly reasonable)?

I don’t have any prescriptions for fixing a life that goes off the rails, for solving the endless riddle of “how did this happen?” or “How did I end up here?”  But here’s what I’m learning*, or at least what I think I’m picking up on right now:

Whatever happens, wherever I go – I am the common denominator. Blame, anger, self-loathing…not helpful. Helpful? Compassion, forgiveness, self-awareness. If I have to live with myself, I prefer peaceful, loving cohabitation.

Whether I am proactive and take-charge or reactive and passive, I will experience the results. In which case, doing is preferable to wallowing; action preferable to waiting; woke-ness preferable to somnolence.

Endlessly ruminating on what happened yesterday or last week or four years ago, trying to pinpoint a moment “where it all went wrong”, is a waste of my energy. If I had known when I was 29 what my life would look like at 49, I might have chosen differently. But I didn’t know. And I chose what I chose. Move on.

Endlessly ruminating on the future, on my fears of being old and alone, or getting sick, or…just not ending up where I wish I would end up…only paralyzes me and wastes my days in longing. “Stop gazing at your reflection in the Mirror of Erised,” I practice saying to myself; step away, then step onward.

 

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”       —Ranier Maria Rilke

* Like most important lessons in life, these “learnings” are not new to me. I am simply spiraling through them on another curve. Right now, it is helping to read a bunch of books about women my age reinventing themselves, changing their lives (whether forced to change or choosing to change).

 

 

Waves

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“[The waves] move across a faint horizon, the rush of love and the surge of grief, the respite of peace and then fear again, the heart that beats and then lies still, the rise and fall and rise and fall of all of it, the incoming and the outgoing, the infinite procession of life. And the ocean wraps the earth, a reminder. The mysteries come forward in waves.”
Susan Casey, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

Three years ago this month, I was in Florida for a conference. Since we had a rental vehicle anyway, a friend and I took a day to do some sightseeing, and ended up at the Canaveral National Seashore. It wasn’t exactly warm on the beach, but it was significantly more so there than in Iowa at that time, so we weren’t about to forego the opportunity to walk and sit in the sand for a while.

I remember watching the waves as they rushed onto the beach then pulled back out to merge with the sea. I had the strangest sensation (something to do with the combination of staring at sunlight on water, the overwhelming sound of the water, the rhythmic motion of the waves) that I, myself, was rushing forward, then pulling back.

And indeed I was. On the verge of major life changes, I felt my soul pushing me toward new shores, but my ties to all that lay behind me exerted an equally powerful pull to fall back into the sea of my then-current life. The fluid grace of the water lay in its refusal to fight for one or the other – rather, the water ebbed and flowed naturally with the energy exerted upon it. The waves, the water existing at the leading edge of that energy, had the greatest potential to change and be changed – it could change the beach or be changed itself by what it carried back with it. Generally, both occurred together.

I had been living in the vast ocean of my life for a long time, and suddenly found myself on that leading edge where change was most possible. I lived there, briefly, allowing myself to change and (in turn) creating change – carving new shorelines. But I couldn’t seem to find within myself the water’s ability to flow; I fight for control, insist on “deciding” – or, another way of saying it, choosing sides. Three years on and I still haven’t quite caught the knack of moving naturally with the energy waves. But here I am, still on that front edge, hoping to change and to create change.

I’ve been thinking about that day and that experience quite a bit lately. A colleague said last week, “Everything is about waves! Spooky action at a distance, gravity waves – all the discoveries are about waves! What are we supposed to be learning in our lives from all this talk about waves?”

Perhaps it is simply to accept the ebb and flow that is experienced at that leading edge of the wave we call “change”; to accept that change occurs over the vastness of time and in the immediate moment at once. Perhaps I am supposed to stop trying to control the pace and meaning of change and, instead, experience it as it unfurls.

“The mysteries come forward in waves,” Susan Casey says. And the waves themselves are a part of it all.

The Wave

Run with the flood

Ebb when you must

Mount to the moon’s call

Dare, flow and trust

This tide has to be

Its force will not break you

Cannot unmake you

For you are the wave

And there is only the sea.

            –Joy Pitman