I've recently been in a reflective mood, as we creative types are wont to do.
I've been sharing on Facebook, and described in my previous post, but I've been in quite the shift recently. Saying YES more to space, saying NO more to things that simply don't light me up. Having been a people-pleaser for most of my life, this shift is much bigger than it may seem on the outside.
Being in more space, having more unscheduled time during my days, leaves a lot of room for that reflection. Beyond the navel-gazing or purposeful meditation, there are those moments when I find myself standing in the middle of my living room, unsure of which way to go.
Do I switch the laundry? Start a new acrylic painting? Finish that encaustic one? Work on that PTO project? Clean the kids' rooms? Grab an apple (or a chip)? Scroll through Facebook? Glance outside to make sure no one is watching me stand here in the middle of my living room, looking confused?
Back when I transitioned to being a "stay-at-home mom" (I put it in quotes because I still don't like that term), I had some of these moments pop up every now and then. Most of the time, though, a cry from my newborn or my drooping eyelids made it clear the step I needed to take next.
As the kids grew older, I had longer periods of time where I wasn't being called in one direction or the other. I'd actually sit on the couch, with no one calling my name, no screams from the next room, laundry whirling in the dryer, and think - "Huh. Now what am I supposed to do?"
Used to being busy and longing to fulfill my creative and wellness cravings, I started blogging, did yoga teacher training, and took several online creativity courses. All of this led to further courses, some of which I was taking and some of which I was teaching, LifeUnity, BeingBreath, and the numerous pieces of art, photos, and posts I have created since then.
All of these efforts have, in one way or another, been attempts at getting to know myself and the world around me in a deeper way, and sharing what I discover. I am an explorer at heart - though one who prefers to explore not by hopping on a plane, but by jumping into a different perspective.
With this newly found power to say NO, I've found myself with more time during the day to explore. The kids, being older, allow me more quiet time even when they are home. And we are in that odd time of year where social engagements slow, and that delightful time in rotation where house projects and car repairs are finished (for now).
All of this adds up to a lot of time - but not to more answers.
I'll pause here for those who haven't been in this position. It is important that you understand this space.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a blissful place in which to be.
I certainly thought, when I chose to "stay-at-home", that my days would be filled with skipping between chores, happily spending hours cooking the most delicious and healthy meals, playing games with my kids and having long talks with my husband in the evening, and having endless hours to read with a warm cup of tea by my side.
You could be forgiven for laughing out loud alongside me right now.
What these past few years have led me into is a welcome, but very disconcerting space of Not Knowing.
I'm not told what to do each day. Save for a few projects here and there, I don't have deadlines unless I set them myself. I could easily spend all day in front of the tv. Again, bliss, right?
If you've not been in this space of Not Knowing,
allow me to describe it for you.
Not Knowing is like the feeling that arises in the silence at a party when conversation has run dry. Or what it feels like if you were standing on stage in front of every person you've ever known, and one of them asks you a question that you have no idea how to answer. It's what I'd expect a mid-life crisis would feel like.
There is a craving to DO something, to fix something, to create something, ... but having complete uncertainty of what, exactly, that "something" is. So you sit a little longer, which just prolongs the crisis or the silence - but doesn't provide any answers.
In the Not Knowing, there is no one telling you what is right and what is wrong, nothing directing you what to say or what to do. If you are willing to go deeply enough, you find that even your own habituated responses of "right" and "wrong" are drawn by these repeating letters, these S-H-O-U-L-D's, again and again - and you begin to question if even your own responses are worth following. The space of the Not Knowing grows and grows, right alongside the anxiety of being within it.
All of this continues until one day, you find yourself standing in the middle of your living room, uncertain as to whether you should sit, stand, cry, laugh, run 5 miles, or grab a gallon of ice cream from the freezer.
For one who is within this space, it becomes necessary at some point to move. Even in the Not Knowing, life marches on and so must you with it.
The decision - the ongoing decisions, for the Not Knowing doesn't disappear once you move - is which direction you'll take.
Again, you'd be forgiven for thinking that chosing a direction makes the discomfort disappear.
You could choose to get the laundry done. Or take or stay with a job that gives you the illusion of Knowing from 9-5. You could paint, or prepare a week's worth of meals, pee, or go for a walk.
But now that you know that you don't know, not for certain at least, you will always be carrying the Not Knowing within. It is something that you will always need to acknowledge. And it is a discomfort with which you will need to learn to live.
To have the opportunity to be in this space (physically and mentally) is, indeed, fortunate. To be willing to be here without trying to fix or run from it is strength. To think of being in this Not Knowing as leisure time, as luxury, as luck, as wasted time that could be more productively spent? Foolish.
Not Knowing is the empty space from which all form materializes. To be able to dip into these waters is to tap into a wisdom that is the wellspring of all creative ventures.
But it is freaking uncomfortable.
We are taught to Know.
Heck, we get rewarded for knowing. Good grades, top schools, great pay, just for being the first to raise your hand and say, "ooh, ooh, I KNOW!" Feeling as though we know, that we have it figured out, brings comfort. We can relax and say, "ah - yep, I'm certain of this".
Even in the age of the internet, though, there is so much that we don't know. As individuals, we certainly don't (and can't) know it all.
Generally, we keep ourselves in a safe-enough bubble so we don't need to be reminded that we don't know. We follow a safe career path, try to keep the bills paid, take vacations to well-marked parks and tourist destinations. When we veer from the tried and true path, most do it with a certainty that they at least Know what they're doing. Following their bliss, soul-searching, finding themselves ...
all just further tales that are told to cover up the fact that beneath it all, we reside together in this space of Not Knowing.
Back to standing in the middle of the living room.
Perhaps you are with me now, in sharing the confused look that graces my face as I decide what to do. Perhaps you understand my need to pause, to introduce more stillness and space into my life as I deliberately choose not to continue to march along the lines of S-H-O-U-L-D.
Perhaps you have a bit more insight as I share my astonishment at being happy with a day where I had an hour to respond to a friend who needed to talk, another hour to chat with my mom on the phone, a bit of time to get the sheets washed, time to get the kids to and from school, dinner - nothing fancy - prepared, served, and cleaned up, and little to no time spent blogging or painting. I was equally happy with the day that followed, where I spent nearly 4 hours working on an encaustic piece, had the kids play computer so I could continue to work on emptying my email inbox, and ended up getting take-out for dinner. (Contradictions of this sort make sense in the Not Knowing.)
And perhaps you understand the giddiness I feel as I discover little, seemingly sychronously-placed reminders of the need to stay on this path of questionning, "following the bread-crumbs" (as a dear friend says), of moving where and how I feel called in the moment, of being comfortably uncomfortable in this Not Knowing.
Reminders such as this post that I came across today from Jonathan Fields, where he lists questions to ask when we hit pause - questions such as, "what do I hold sacred, both in business and life?", and "what do I value on a non-negotiable level?".
Reminders such as this post, from David at Raptitude, that I came across yesterday. In it, he asks a question that will stay with me for a long time:
"You can apply that question to anything you do, or don't do any more - do I like who I am when I'm doing that?"
(I love how this can apply to even those things that may feel uncomfortable in the moment - like working out - but that make me FEEL like the person I want to be. It also reminds me of how doing those things that feel totally comfortable in the moment - like munching in front of the t.v. while watching the 3rd show of the night - are not the sort of things that make me like the person I'm choosing to be.)
Reminders such as this text, from a book that I am thoroughly enjoying reading - text that I read just yesterday as well:
"Among the calls of getting older is regeneration and renewal, and there's precendence for it in everyone's life. In other words, you've been here before, at the place of dreaming your life, needing and wanting to experiment with it, trying things out, taking risks, finding out who you are. It was called adolescence, .... Only this one doesn't come with an entire instuitutionalized structure designed to encourage the passage from adolescence to adulthood, i.e. an educational system. There's no degree program in maturity. We're on our own and have to design our own curriculum."
(You can find Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion, by Gregg Levoy, here on Amazon.)
I sit here, fingers poised over the keyboard, Not Knowing how to finish this post. Not Knowing what I'll do when I stop typing.
And it's okay.
This is perhaps what I wanted to share most of all - that Now Knowing is not only okay, but nourishing, freeing, and wisdom-inducing.
I want to share it with you and to remind myself.
To live in this space, to own it, is not to declare that one is giving up on the search for knowledge, letting go of all projects with the plan to sit and meditate all day, or acquiescing to sitting on the couch in front of the television for hours on end. If you've learned anything through this post, I hope you've learned that this space is as far from laziness, complacency, and apathy as one can get.
To forge ahead in a life while opening to Not Knowing every. single. second. can be terrifying and disorienting and, from the outside, seem utterly confusing and undesirable. But as it is lived, it is the most enlivening string of experiences one can have.
Each moment is an opportunity to know one's self (if you'll forgive the trite phrase), and to choose thoughts, intentions, and actions from that knowing. Again and again and again.
Each moment is an opportunity to acknowledge change. It is a chance to acknowledge that what served you a year ago or even a minute ago may no longer be of benefit and, because this moment is just as new, it is okay to let those things go and to try something different.
Each moment is an opportunity to laugh at the challenges and mysteries that present themselves, to throw your hands up and say, "Heck, I don't know!", and to move forward anyway.
Each moment is an opportunity to begin again (and again) in living a life of conscious choosing, one that emerges from the deep pool of Not Knowing, and one that thus reflects a life to which we are all connected.
Each moment is an opportunity to be very practical about the Not Knowing, to choose to clean dishes or to tickle your kids or to color with crayons or to finish the spreadsheet - to explore where you feel called to explore in this vast space.
Or maybe these were just a whole bunch of words to make it seem like I know about not knowing.
I don't know.