“Why haven’t I been doing more?”

So I was reading this blog post by Emma called Havi, hope, and an unexpected hero.

Yes, I will read your blog post if it has my name in the title but it has to be really, really fascinating (yes, even beyond that) for me to mention it here. 🙂

And it totally was. It’s brilliant and you should read it, and I had an especially thought-provoking experience from the conversation that emerged from the initial comments.

Emma writes beautifully about the patterns of struggle, pain and resistance that so often accompany — or even define — our relationship with the creative process.

And then there was a sweet comment from Diana Maus that kind of summed it all up for me.

She asked a powerful question — and I realized instantly how almost all the people I know have been dancing around this question. For a long time. Maybe forever.

The answer to this question is at the very core of the thing I’ve spent the past few years trying to teach.

“And if this is really everything to me, then why the hell haven’t I been doing more?”

Oh, sweetie. Oh, my love.

I’m about to say something very important that might, at first reading, come across as simplistic or just confusing. I’m not trying to go all Zen koan on you or anything, I promise.

It’s just that the answer to the question is right there in the question.

There is a perfectly good reason to avoid the thing that means everything to you — whether it is your art, your writing, your secret mission, your own heart, or whatever.

In fact, avoidance of the thing which has meaning and power for you is the most understandable and normal thing I can think of.

Here is this thing — ohmygod the thing! — that has incalculable symbolic weight for you.

You’re avoiding the thing that’s holding all your dreams? Good grief! Of course you are! That symbolic weight? It’s that much potential for hurt and disappointment.

If you weren’t avoiding it on some level, I’d be worried about you. If you could do the thing easily and painlessly, without having to spend years and years working on your stuff to get there… I’d probably assume that it didn’t mean everything to you.

It’s not this: “Even though I thought this meant everything to me, I’m still avoiding it so clearly I don’t really care about it.”

It’s this: “Wow, this means everything to me… so of course I’m avoiding it.”

Where things get complicated and tangled.

Where it hurts.

Where it gets tangled up is exactly here. The stuck happens inside of the resistance that you place around the question.

Instead of recognizing your pain, you start to question yourself and your commitment.

Instead of treating your avoidance as a natural sign that this thing is so powerful and so important for you that of course you’re going to run away from it, you give this avoidance the power of truth.

You start to think that if you cared about your dream you’d invest in it, when the truth is that when we really care about our dreams we run away from them in panic and terror.

Until we recognize just how legitimate our fear really is.

Because avoidance is fear’s favorite thing to wear.

Back to talking about fear again.

We want so badly for our fear to become unnecessary and irrelevant. We want it gone — to retire, or at least to take an extended vacation.

And maybe one day it will be gone for good. But the only way to get fear to agree to give you some breathing room is to acknowledge its legitimacy and its purpose.

To say to yourself:

“Of course I’m afraid. It makes sense that I’m afraid. This fear is a temporary part of where I’m at right now. And even though I’d really like to not need to have it around anymore, this is where I am right now.

I am allowed to have this fear.

This is me noticing how much space my fear takes up. This is me reminding myself that my fear is only one part of who I am. It is not all of me. It is of me, but it is not me.”

Because so much space opens up right after you’ve softened the resistance and the fighting with yourself.

Every time I interrogate myself (“Why am I so tired? Why can’t I write this blog post? How come I don’t feel like doing yoga?”), my reaction is resistance.

Every time I notice what I’m feeling and give myself permission to feel it (“Wow, I guess I need some rest. I’m allowed not to always be in the zone”), I feel safe. Safe and comforted.

Invariably, I remember what it’s like to not be fighting with myself.

And then it all gets easier.

Well, one of two things happen.

Sometimes what happens is that all the answers start showing up. All of a sudden I know why I’m tired. I remember the thing, whatever it is, that’s been tugging at my subconscious and fogging up my writing process.

Perspective. Reassurance. And then it gets easier to — as my friend Michael says — “catch the next wave”.

I get back into flow.

Other times what happens is that I no longer care — but in a good way. I still don’t know why I’m tired or why I can’t write, but those questions no longer seem to be that relevant, or to bear the same accusatory weight.

It’s just where I am and it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my way or anything horrendous like that. So I cheer up.

I step out of the blame-guilt-loathing cycle. I remember that only something as significant and important to me as my work could bring up so much stuckified gunk.

Which at least makes me laugh ruefully. Hey, it’s better than banging my head on the wall.

It’s the question that’s half of the problem.

Every time I wonder why things aren’t the way I want them to be, it creates friction.

And every time I recognize that it’s legitimate for me to feel whatever it is I’m feeling about the way things happened to be, I get room to breathe.

So the big thing I’ve been working on is moving from the crappy questions (“Why like this?!?!)* to the useful questions.

* Direct translation from Hebrew, if that sentence made no sense to you!

Some of the “useful questions” that I’ve been working with:

  • What if I’m allowed to be scared of the things that are meaningful and important to me?
  • What if there’s an easier way of doing things?
  • What do I need?
  • What will help me feel safe and supported?

That’s where I’m at right now.

I won’t say that it’s easy or anything. But it beats the hell out of drawing the conclusion that stuckification and avoidance mean that my dreams aren’t important to me.

Because they are. They must be. Because they still scare me.

p.s. Speaking of stucknesses and working through them, Naomi and I are teaching our absolute best tricks for Not Being Impressed by the recession — tomorrow. You should at least get the recording if you can.

The Fluent Self