So, I’ve had some life events recently.
I think that term is funny. Aren’t all events, by definition, “life events”? That said, there are some that signal new chapters in the lives of their participants, and I’ve been having those kind. My daily landscape has changed, and while not all the changes are bad, they are all significant. I’m navigating some new terrain, and that can be unsettling, even under the best of circumstances.
So, of course, I’ve been writing about it, in pieces for publication and in the pages of my notebook. (Yes, I still have one. Not everything got burned.) I’ve been trying to come up with an approach (or maybe just a “calm the hell down” kind of mantra) that will keep me sailing smoothly, or at least capsizing with less frequency. The problem is that I’m really good at identifying a thing I want to do or change and then making it so, but for now, I don’t get to exercise that kind of control over the changes in my life. They are what they are, and it’s up to me to navigate the new landscape gracefully. Or, you know, in the absence of grace, with humor at least. Maybe some wisdom.
Three words keep coming up for me, planting themselves in my consciousness again and again, like sign posts, like clues: Breathe, love, create. I think I’m onto something here, so I’m sharing. Life transitions are hard… and constant. When it comes right down to it “life events” are nothing if not relentless, but I’m finding some traction in my breathe-love-create strategy. Here’s how it works, or at least how I aspire to make it work…
Of course, I’m not just referring to the natural inhale-exhale rhythm of our autonomic nervous system here. I’m talking about slow, conscious breaths, the kind you take during yoga or meditation.
A couple of years ago, I was going through scuba certification. We were in a pool, in wetsuits and carrying tanks for the first time. We were supposed to swim to the floor of the deep end, take off our masks, and breathe until our instructor tapped us on the shoulder, which meant we could surface. I wasn’t entirely okay even with my mask on. Despite evidence to the contrary, my brain refused to accept that I could, in fact, breathe underwater. “Hold your breath!” it shouted. “Swim to the surface!” I spent the entire class ignoring my panicky, screaming brain.
It was worse when I took off the mask. The bubbles from my breaths blinded me. My heart raced. The urge to surface was almost overwhelming… until I focused on my breathing. Just that. In and out. After just a couple of breaths, my brain settled, my panic subsided. I noticed other things, like the pleasurable weightlessness of my body and the quiet of the pool. By the time the instructor tapped my shoulder, I was calm, and even a little disappointed that the exercise was over.
I’m finding it works now too. I have been, for the past few months, a tangle of emotions (and good intentions, and failed attempts to be more patient, compassionate, and accepting). When I can remember to breathe – just breathe – I can feel my body relax and my anxiety recede. It’s like a magic trick.
And, really, it’s breathing. It shouldn’t be so hard to remember.
As a devoted love warrior, I understand how important it is to choose love, even and especially when it’s hard. I’m getting a lot of chances to practice that these days, but I’m also having to practice loving with less expectation, loving from a distance, loving without immediate feedback.
A couple of weeks ago, after dropping The Boy off at college, I flew to LA to spend the weekend with some girlfriends. It was just the right place for me to be. I was exhausted and sad, and they were funny and loving and supportive. One of my friends, who’d been through what I was going through (twice!) said, “Don’t get all hung up on whether he calls, or whether your messages get returned. Just be happy when those things happen. It’s different now; accept that it’s different.”
She was right, and still, I cried on the first day of no contact. I want him to want to talk to me all the time, to miss me as much as I miss him. I want him to call and interrupt me the way he used to come into my studio/office a few times a day and interrupt whatever I was doing with his long, rambling, hilarious life observations. Occasionally he does; he calls or texts with a funny story. I’m learning to be okay with that, with the occasional-ness of it. I’m learning that the ache of missing him is not unbearable, and that sometimes it gives way to something sweeter, something precious.
And this, to me, is the holy grail.
Over the course of the last few months, both my sons moved out, my sister-in-law moved in, our car burned to the ground, we signed the papers that assure we’ll be paying student loans off for years to come, I drastically changed my diet and workout routine, and we’ve had to manage the emotional-financial roller coaster that every start-up company is.
I’ve been making stuff. Especially over the last couple of months, I’ve been writing and doodling (and painting, and collaging, and collaborating, and designing) as if my life depends on it, or if not my life, at least my sanity. There have been days when I’ve been so sad or worried or frustrated (or yes) that I’ve felt paralyzed. But I also had creative commitments – to myself and others – so I closed my studio door and made art happen.
And I always, ALWAYS felt better.
I think sometimes we get trapped. Our lives are demanding and making time for creative pursuits feels like more work, or worse, frivolous. We’re too tired, too depleted. And yet, for creatives, creation is a salve, a necessary ingredient in our lives, without which, we are incomplete.
I’m convinced there is no faster way to get present than to work on a creative project. Any creative project.
So that’s my strategy for the foreseeable future: Breathe, love, create.
What would you add?
Note: The Breathe, Love, Create art is available as prints and as a set of art cards in my Etsy store. (Which now accepts credit cards and Etsy gift cards – woo hoo!)