Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
The Forgotten Truth: Turns Out I Want to Be Here
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
~ Henry David Thoreau
When I was eight I had a hard time transitioning to a new school. I walked there each morning with a vacated spirit – absent before they’d called my name, absent once they did. I sent my body on to do what I was supposed to while I remained observing from a distance. That was the first time I can remember the distress of mentally pulling away from the moment.
One of the underlying drivers for those of us who go “absent” is the thought (conscious or not) that it hurts to engage, that life currently poses a threat. It doesn’t actually ever hurt to engage, it hurts to disengage and attempt separation. It isn’t being in the world that is painful; it is trying to control the world, fearing we can’t, but believing we must in order to be okay.
In his book, Free to Learn, Peter Gray describes how in looking externally for a sense of control, we make ourselves prone to anxiety and depression. We must locate our control internally and know our influence in our experience. Otherwise, we’re compelled to worry about what will happen next to us because we have so little awareness of our power. Gray emphasizes the need for free play in order to connect to our internal sense of control. In creative play we determine our own path, discover our interests, and put our ideas into action; we are the creators and directors and that helps us locate the power inside us.
We “leave” ourselves, when life seems to be happening to us and we feel out of control. When we feel like that, we don’t want to be Here. But the Here we’re rejecting isn’t the culprit. The distress we’re feeling isn’t because of the world or its conditions, but rather because we’ve forgotten the creative capability and influence we have.
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself.
~ Marcus Aurelius
I was recently working on a drawing and not enjoying it. I had two days to meet the deadline and all the criticism I’d been pelting at my work and my efforts had left me resistant to the process. I didn’t like the picture or me. My husband had caught a cold, then soon, my son. I attempted, amidst the sniffling and hacking, to (detachedly) offer tissues and comfort while remaining immune, but by the week’s end I was overtaken.
My mind was blurry, my will weak. I kept lying down and waking up an hour later feeling no better. Working didn’t seem possible. When I finally felt well enough to make myself return to the drawing, it was slow going. The next day I tried again, hoping to finish it despite still feeling off. Then Photoshop started malfunctioning, leaving me unable to work.
When the technical problems meant I absolutely could not do the work, to my surprise, I felt a wave of authentic desire to do it – beyond enslavement to just getting it done. The external restrictions served as contrast and helped me perceive my true interest in the project. A few minutes later, I figured out the software glitch and soon completed the picture.
The spell had been broken, but it was just a spell of forgetting. I had forgotten I wanted to be Here. I had inadvertently constructed a Here filled with self-criticism and doubt; it’s logical to want to mentally pull away from that. But in the pulling away, I had separated myself from a true desire.
When I focus on what I can create and the influence I have, negativity can be part of the environment, but it does not flatten me, it morphs. It becomes another piece of furniture – another thing, but nothing from which I need to run. That means I don’t have to mentally squirm to try to get out of or away from any situation – to “vacate”. Instead I focus my way into the place I actually want to be, where my control and power are: internally.
When I got sick, I almost wished to be sick to get out of working on that drawing. But the forgotten truth was I wanted to be Here and I wanted to make a picture – I just didn’t want to suffer in the making of it. And living that truth required, not escape from what is, but reconnecting to the power of what is – in me.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.