(written in the final days of 2021)
For years I waged an internal war against my humanity. Religion taught me the flesh body couldn’t be trusted, and I fell for it. Emotions were enemy, my mind, monstrous. My body failed me for seven years and I never forgave it. I couldn’t accept frailty any more than I could accept myself. I hated my body for what it couldn’t do, my choices for what they could, and my heart for its constant effortless betrayals.
I spent another seven — or more — learning to walk again, trying to understand what it could mean to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” dipping my toe into puddles of gentleness when all I’d ever found there before was harsh and acidic. Expunging the myth planted in my subconscious of anguish being next to godliness.
I’ve been confronted by the limits of my own fault lines. Not knowing where pain stops and I begin, I’ve started asking what belongs to me, and how much of what doesn’t can be set down on the side of the road. I’ve spent so many decades in the tiny cavern of my mind, seeking higher wisdom while ignoring the quiet pulses of a body.
Without art and nature, I’m not sure I’d know, feel, or understand what it is to be okay outside the endless search for clarity or some universal meaning championed by big business and wellness gurus alike, littering any screen or billboard with a barrage of endless and oppressive inspiration. Constant highs, good vibes, and linear, upward-motion progression. Always expansion, and never contraction.
Art and nature have made knowable for me the space outside that, where a whole humanity exists. I’m talking about Jung’s shadow, sure, but not for the sake of perpetual healing or non-stop integration (another kind of capitalism, where our only worth lies in our productivity, including self-healing). There’s a retrograde, not-knowing, no-answers, messy, loving ache and terror of aliveness, and I’m interested in how to make space for all of it in a way that doesn’t try to transcend the experience or even make sense of it. No bows here. Nothing meant to be pretty. “Goodness is not the point anymore.”
People like to quote this line by the late and great Joan Didion: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” But the context in which it appears in the rest of the essay actually insists that stories are inherently false, and meaning entirely made up. “We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five,” the essay continues. “We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
I appreciate those who don’t teach so much as ask, don’t dictate so much as offer. There is a pleading inquisitiveness in certain artists, paired with a deep love for the world and its mysteries, a humility in turns obliterating and uplifting. Words fail because words fail. Even though this all comes down to writing, there’s an understanding here that language isn’t where it’s at. Words can’t save any more than they can explain, though they can be portals into glimpsing dimensions where one can live, with some semblance of peace in the throes of irreconcilable discomfort.
Special shout-outs to Lindelof’s The Leftovers, Jessica Dore’s Offerings and tarot pulls and her overall ethos of not providing answers but living inside the questions, the music of Erykah Badu, and Ariana Reines (her poetry, but mostly her work through Invisible College). Artists I’ve been tempted to call “fearless,” which really points to a shared impulse to explore the unknown without landing on absolutes. A way to live that is both spiritual and outrageous. Where falling apart doesn’t lead to doom or to ecstasy. Where existence and experience are ways of seeing and being, and thought or understanding aren’t the aim but the vehicles. Where rage and joy aren’t polarities, but fractals of the same light.
I learned to live this way outside of language this year, too: through the body and a daily practice of yoga. It took months of practice before the body knowledge clicked in, and I experienced movement not as an obligation or a workout but as a way of moving energy that didn’t require understanding or naming. Shaking tears loose and lighting fires in my belly. My body doesn’t need answers, only attention.
The funny epiphany — and I recognize the irony of this, being put down in a collection of words that sums up an experience — is in allowing myself not to have explanations. “I don’t know” have become words of comfort instead of activating my nervous system’s fight-or-flight. Ironically, from that space, I’ve realized with much more clarity how little confusion and helplessness play a part in my life, despite the endless narratives I’ve made around my self-perceived powerlessness.
It’s been two years of mostly inward living, and it’s been vital, a lifeline, and allowed me the time, energy, and space to do some of the most challenging and fulfilling work of my life. This evening, on the eve of the December solstice, my gaze turns outward again. The questions won’t stop. Answers will be fleeting. Discomfort may be eternal. I won’t wrap this up in any neat kind of way, because doing so would contradict everything I’ve written so far. Whoever you are, and wherever, I wish you happiness, but only sometimes. My bigger wish for you is the full experience of whatever arises in any given moment, without the urge to run.