“The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”
— Richard Bach, Illusions
I’ve always liked the image, conjured up by the story from which the above quote is taken, of us humans clinging to our rocks in the river of life because of the illusion of safety, comfort, the known. In reality, we cling out of fear. Letting go puts us in the river, takes us to the unknown. We fear being hurt, fear failure, fear judgement…and all those other fears bouncing around in our heads. We also cling to ideas: of who we think we are, who we think we should be, what we should do…
Clinging, holding on tight, takes needless (and fruitless) effort. Unfortunately I tend to be a gripper (goes with being a worrier). This week I became aware I have to let go of my (current) rock of Shoulds and Gotta Dos.
A Wall of Expectations
In my first blog post I had a list of things that were holding me back from creating my website and blog. I charged forward anyway (if one can charge in teeny tiny steps). Into the current I went, bumping into debris, knocking against some rocks, getting water up my nose, but moving in the stream nonetheless. And it has been scary, and challenging, but overall it’s been a really, really, Good Thing!
Then I started building up expectations of myself like a teetering wall of children’s blocks (rocks, rivers, blocks…painting you mental pictures today). I won’t go through the whole list (you’ll fall asleep), but suffice it to say the Art Full Life I’ve been living has been full alright, but not with much in the art making department, and lots of worry and angst instead (not doing so good on Practice #10…being a life-long worrier is hard to give up). Turns out, though, that many of those Expectations I built up aren’t really mine anyway. I just appropriated them.
One of the good and bad things about the Internet is the ability to discover new artists and interesting people.
Good: people are creating such beautiful, amazing things out there! And I can see what they are doing even though they might live in Australia! That is just so darn cool. Honestly, I feel so grateful to be living in this moment in history, when this is possible.
Bad: people are creating such beautiful, amazing things out there! ….aaand I’m not! They have a million people following them on social media! They are making a six figure income selling their work online! That blogger posts 3 times a week! I suck compared to them! I need to work harder!
Not that I thought I was alone in this practice, but apparently this tendency towards comparison is a thing. Studies show Facebook can make you depressed because of “social comparison.” Nice to know, but I want off the hamster wheel.
You: wait, I thought we were talking about a river and rocks…
Me: I know, just go with it.
At the beginning of November I started sending myself what I’m calling Love Letters. The inspiration started more as a strategy for not being sad about the fact that my newly rented P. O. Box wasn’t going to have any mail in it for a long time (if ever). I figured if I sent myself a piece of mail every week or so, it would be an excuse to go check the box, but then I also wouldn’t be sad to find it empty (I know, the whole process is kind of sad in and of itself).
The double happy thing (for me) would be that I would create the Love Letters as little playful pieces of art. Nothing serious, just fun, no pressure art-making. At a minimum they get me in the studio, even if nothing else is going on in there (well there’s a whole Organization Project going on – when in doubt clean something! – but that doesn’t count).
After retrieval from the post office, my Love Letters get pinned up to the studio wall. Little 3″ x 3″ works, on the wall one at a time, and eventually (hopefully) I will have a large, happy, sparkly “quilt.”
Silly, perhaps, but it turns out I’m getting more out of it than glue and glitter on my hands and a non-empty mailbox.
Our True Work is This Voyage
I’ve only done four Love Letters so far, but they’ve become little lessons in mindfulness and self-compassion, truly letters of love to myself. On the back of each, I write the number, date, and some little sentence or two to commemorate the day and/or remind myself of something. One of them I finished on my brother-in-law Scott’s birthday (his death was a catalyst). He would have been 54. I reminded myself that life is short.
As inane as the process sounds, there is something to putting the key in the box, pulling out the postmarked letter, and waiting until I get home to open it. You’re thinking “it’s not like the contents are a surprise,” and you’re right, but taking those steps to see the little, bright square, with fresh eyes, makes me pay attention to it and whatever is written on the back. Pinning it to the wall (I even bought shiny gold map tacks) is the final, caring, step.How you spend your time, what you choose to focus on (and what not to)…that’s it! “Life’s what you make it” and all that, but it’s true. I can’t have artwork to share (much less make six figures or have hundreds of followers) without the work and joy of creating in the first place. So I’m letting go (of all those built up self-expectations) and focusing on the art making. The doing.
I’m going for a little river ride between rocks. I’m sure I’ll be clinging again at some point, but many life lessons are learned over and over again (learning to accept that too).