Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning to go with the flow

I've always believed traffic is prescriptive and metaphorical. It reveals its rhythm when we merge; choose to go or not to go with it. It's smoother if we go with the flow that surrounds us. Gotta love those perfect merging zippers. In my mind accidents happen when one driver "goes against the flow." Too fast, too slow, sudden movements outside the mainstream.

When I teach I also talk a lot about being intentional. I believe we either set up the motion of our action or we let others' random forces direct our energy. So it was pretty embarrassing after a day of preaching the intention gospel I found my beloved car slammed into the back of a building-size Ford pickup in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic. The impact exploded my air bags filled with a dust that smelled of burning carcinogen. The force fattened my lip and smacked my wrist, leaving a golf ball-size lump in a second. The good news is I was only going 25. The bad news is the cop called by the cheerful witness came long enough to write a report, hand me a $345 ticket for following too close, scold me and leave me waiting for the tow truck in the space between off-ramp and interstate freeway. Bad day.

Let's back up, though. This debacle happened at the end of a long line of misalignments. There was the crud I contracted on Christmas Eve and hobbled away from a month later long enough to travel with my adult children. There was the relapse upon my return, followed closely by an onslaught of allergies, sneezing and blowing until nauseous. There was the slight twist as I opened my office window leaving a pain in my back that whimpered when I breathed and yowled at the end of the day. And me with a heavy teaching load. When I left the classroom the afternoon I totaled my car, all I wanted was to be home on my heating pad in my jammies.

Each time I was knocked down, I would get up. I kept trying to surrender and take care of myself instead of examining my part in the downturn. It wasn't until the accident that I finally said, "What is the lesson here?" Truth be known, all my struggles can be traced to my difficulty assuming the rhythm of things happening around me. I love to make things happen. I struggle to let them happen. The fall had been filled challenges to my own ability to go with the flow.
  • All the kids home for an extended time during the holidays (I wanted it to be special).
  • One daughter's impending backpack trip to South America (if you are a parent I don't have to say more).
  • My anxiety-ridden aging parent with failing memory (if you are the child of an aging parent I don't have to say more).
  • My own developing writing voice (I want it to happen faster).
And the reason I had the accident is that instead of inching my way onto the freeway like the crawling line of commuters, I quickly turned my head over my left shoulder to scope out the oncoming lane of traffic and my possibilities for escaping the flow. When I looked back the pickup bumper and the air bags were in my face.

I confessed this abysmal behavior to one of my healer peeps. I told her that I felt like a fraud. She understood the feeling because even as she prescribes therapies and practices to her patients, she's unable to perform them perfectly in her own life. Her optimistic viewpoint is that even though we aren't perfect, we keep trying to learn the lessons and that gives us a slight lead on those who don't. That makes us teachers.

I'm reminded that even when we are smart and really trying, change is hard. Even when we know who we want to be, choosing behavior that matches is life's work. And while today I'm feeling okay about making baby steps of progress, I keep wondering how many times it will take to truly learn the lesson. Maybe I need to change all my passwords to "gowiththeflow1st."

1 comment:

cactus petunia said...

Oh boy. Big sigh. Bigger lesson. Sometimes it seems we'll never get it, but we do. Heal fast, my friend.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.