How to Lean Into the Good
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ― Desmond Tutu
Spring is beginning to open up here in Detroit despite relentless snow each day. I am feeling the pull for something new, to lean into the good, instead of craving for my life to be different. Only I am not sure I know how to lean into the good.
Each morning sitting on my black meditation cushion I now hear song birds and mourning doves cooing softly as the sun begins to rise. This morning I listened to a single crow calling out while I sat at my desk which is littered with half empty tea cups, a teaspoon I took from D’s house the day he died to eat the pint of ice cream (I felt I deserved it after sitting watching him die for four days), pens and highlighters, a stack of thank you letters I need to take to the post office and stacks of books, many of which I have read, many still waiting for my attention.
Finally, there is a single sheet of white paper with a short paragraph I printed in black ink from a blog post I read two weeks ago by Jonathan Fields. Each morning for the last few weeks I have sat with my green tea in the cold darkness and read these words:
If you knew, with 100% certainty, that the thing you were doing today, the people you were with, the partner whom you’re dancing would have to be the thing, the people, the partner you stayed with for the rest of your productive life, but you had the ability to craft the way you experienced each precisely the way you wanted, what would you do differently? How would you create the most purposeful and rewarding reality within those constraints?
The blog post, Before You Blow Up Your Life, Do Thishas rearranged everything inside of me. It is redirecting my choices and changing how I act and behave each day. I admit to clinging on to the belief that I need blow up my life in order to be living a truly purposeful life. I have felt that I am so how less than or not good enough because I have not blown up my life. I feel like a loser because I still have my day job working at a non-profit building affordable housing and I have not abandoned my responsibilities to those who depend on me.
Ever since D died almost four years ago, I have felt that I am not doing what I need to be doing in my life. That I need to be doing more. I need to pursue my passions. I felt that I gave up my calling to live a life of creative expression for taking care of others and security. His death made acute the reality that life is indeed short and I had better make some changes.
I did make changes, lots of them. I began prioritizing my writing and creative work. I started blogging and connecting with other like minded women around the world. Taking care of myself became nurturing and joyful not just another should or something I had to do to keep my head above water. I woke up a part of myself that I had buried under the pressures of being an adult and taking care of my son (and way too many others). I slowed down. I stopped worrying about cleaning the house. I became softer.
Yet, I felt this wasn’t enough. It wanted to be more. I wanted to earn my living from my passions. I felt I was falling short. I wrote business plans. I incorporated. I poured all of my free time and energy into learning about building a business. I created opportunities to gather women and reflect on good enough. I got certified to lead creative writing workshops and started teaching.
And I am somewhat successful for doing a part-time gig. I tell myself I know I can make this happen if only I can do it full time. I dream of winning the lotto or some other windfall of cash that will allow me to finally pursue my passion job full-time. As a result my day job has become enemy number one.
I am bound up in striving and ignoring when my heart whispers to go to my studio and play with paint. I tell myself I can revise those poems and prose pieces later, after I finish my latest newsletter. Instead of submitting new work I have to set up the launch of my next workshop. Despite my efforts and hustle, I am still not living a life of creative expression I so desperately want.
I cause so much suffering by thinking I need my life to be different, as if what I have right here and now is not enough. This is classic craving.
So here’s the deal, I have a good life, a really good life. It is me that creates so much unrest, and dissatisfaction by constantly craving more or different. I choose to not lean into the good that is present here and now.
I am not going to lie, I am torn about my day job, it is demanding. Some days it feels so much bigger than me and I want to run and hide. I often come home and collapse on couch unable to think. Sometimes I cry because the needs in my community seems so impossible to meet. Yet it is also fulfilling. My efforts literally builds homes for people in need. Trust me it is not as glamorous as it sounds. It is not me hammering the nails and raising a roof but rather writing grants, talking and bargaining with people in suits likes bankers, lawyers and city officials. It is solving problems and mitigating risks.
It is good work, it is meaningful work. I am good at it—and I want, no need, to do other creative work too. I need to express my creative impulses. Just like a good night's sleep, clean healthy food and time to sit in meditation each day, I need creative expression in my life. Creative expression for no purpose, goal or end game but then to create. And I think I have gotten off track.
I have to also acknowledge the benefits my day job provides me. It gives me stability and security, something if I am honest with myself, I need to keep anxiety and panic at bay. It affords me the resources to do creative work. Not only art supplies, my Macbook, or super fast internet, but also I can afford to go on retreats, and take classes. My day job has taught me how to work with and manage a team of talented people. I have learned how to manage big complex projects. It has taught me how to believe in myself and do things I never I thought I could.
So how would I create the most purposeful and rewarding reality within the constraints of my current life? How can I rise up and not blow up my life?
I don’t know. I want to say some smart witty things but the truth is, I am not sure yet. I do know just by asking the questions, I feel a shift inside. In the simple act of asking I am creating a space for me to pause and look at what I am doing in my life. It is in this space I can let go of the striving and self-judgement, to really see what I have and what I want.
I also know that I need to make more space in my life my own creative expression that is for no other purpose than to play and have fun with my art. Even if that means I have to pull back on my side hustle a bit. I love teaching and gathering women together. I love the work of building a business too and at the age of 45 I now know that I can’t do it all. Life is not only short but time is limited (as well as energy). Unless I win the lotto or some other large windfall of cash enters my life, I need to do work that provides my basic necessities and provides me with stability.
When I stop and really consider blowing up my life, I know I don’t want to. I would have blown it up already. But I still feel the tug that I am missing out, being a wimp or not good enough and if only something were different, than it all would be better.
So as spring opens, I find myself opening too, to a new direction, or rather a realignment, to what I knew so fiercely in my bones after D died. Life is short and I have to make wise choices about how I am living and using my time. I need to have space for creative expression without the pressure to blow up my life to make it great. I need to lean in my good and let go of the false notions that there is always something more and better.
I am doing good, meaningful and important work—both in my day job and with my creative expression. I am rising up and that is good enough.