17 February 2016

Forks and Bends

In the past, the days leading up to my birthday have been times reflection. And when I say reflection, I mean panic. What am I doing with my life?! Why haven't I achieved that goal? Who and what is important to me? What have I learned? What does turning this age mean? What do others expect of me now? 

I often look back to see what I was doing this time last year (and thanks to Facebook Time Hop, there are usually plenty of jarring/endearing photos to remind me). Thoughts of... awww, remember that job? That friend? That feeling? That apartment? I reminisce about choices I made, and the paths I ultimately chose to take. Sometimes I have an overwhelming feelings of peace and gratitude that I followed a flutter of an intuition down one trail. Other times, I get stuck in the illusion of what "might have been" had I chosen another route. From my driver's seat, I'll glance in the rear view mirror and wonder if I should flip a u-ey to see what I missed. Was there a guidepost that I blew by? Did I take the scenic route or the fast track? And what about the intersection where I went left, instead of right?

This life will always present us with different paths and forks on our journey. There will be times when we have to choose between the two job offers. To stay in the relationship or walk away. To say hello or avert eye contact. To book the vacation or save money. To jump or to recede. To invest hope or pull the plug. 

It's the fear of the unknown that makes us resent these forks, instead of embrace them as a choose-your-own-adventure. 

We choose one because we can't choose both. We may always wonder where the other path may have taken us. And it's ok to be curious. But don't let your stray-dreaming distract you from the present journey and loving what it's revealing to you. There will be more forks and more choices. They may feel right in the moment and wrong later. But all we have access to is this moment, so our choices are always in alignment with what's needed right now.

On the 27th anniversary of my birth, I didn't slip into that heart-breaking, confusing stray-dreaming. I didn't try to hijack the past or wish for a rewrite. I avoided comparing and tallying my performance. I didn't measure myself up against some societal-grown expectation. Instead, I felt such extreme gratitude. No qualms about where I was going, or if I hit whatever benchmark. I let myself feel happy. I graciously welcomed the new year and stripped it from any meaning or implications. I gave myself permission to simply feel happy to be surrounded by such wonderful people in this life, to have a spirit that gets to thrive in a healthy body, and to live in a place that bestows sunny, warm days. 

I'm not looking for a "good for you for not having a shitty birthday!" pat on the back. I've had my fair share of horrifying birthdays, where my consciousness darts around in the caves of wonderland and plagues me with the "what if's." Those birthdays where the invite list feels like a drudging, momentous task and who shows up is even more painstaking. But do you show up? And for what purpose? To celebrate, or commiserate? 

I've had both kinds of birthdays - the dreamy, happy ones, and the vacant, depressing ones. Whether it's your birthday, your wedding day, or your least favorite Tuesday yet, you have the power to choose how you view your reality and the micro-decisions, judgments, and observations you make to shape that reality. Don't forget who is at the wheel.

There are days when I click on the cruise control and some chill music, and feel wonderfully relaxed as I coast through. I feel comfortable, yet still possess the ability to gun it or slow down. I take in the scenery and feel the wind whip through my hair. It's like the ultimate convertible car ride down the PCH. It doesn't matter where I'm going and when I'm getting there, because it's so beautifully romantic and dreamy every second of the journey. Those are the really wonderful days.

Then there are days when I'm in stop and go traffic. I'll hit a good bout, get to a decent pace (the speed limit if I'm lucky) and then hit a wall. Grid lock. I feel trapped. I'm glued to the clock on my dash, like it's keeping score as my life ticks by. I create a separation between myself and everyone else, and that anger makes them all wrong and in the way. Everything shrinks in on itself. I start to wither away as I disconnect from my synergy with all that surrounds me and my internal power source. No accomplishments or arrivals feel like success, because I made the journey out to be a treacherous obligation. 

What IS that? All that dark mind-chatter and frantic desperation? It's all rooted in fear. Afraid of being late - whether late that day, or late to some feigned milestone in my life. Afraid of not being able to do all of the things I want to - do my job well, spend time with my friends, call family to offer support and shower with love, read my ever-growing pile of books, cook nourishing meals for myself, take hot yoga, enjoy the beach, look at the stars, write, say 'yes' to a spontaneous invitation... the list goes on. The fear of lack will cause any sentient being to feel overwhelming stress, sadness, and defeat. Perhaps it manifests as anger or terseness. Maybe that fear of lack lures you hide away from the world, or to self-sabotage in order to prove your fabricated story. Or maybe you hold on for dear life to everyone and everything, a white knuckle grip on every possession and relationship, whether they serve you or not. 

However it shows up for you, that fear is consuming. It steals our peace of mind. It distracts us from the beauty that surrounds, and it surely doesn't encourage the other-worldly inspiration that emerges in those times of carefree PCH bliss. 

In Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I stumbled upon the following passage. Driving has been a reoccurring theme for me over the last two weeks. It's been popping up in my writing and in my reading, and the visuals and sensations it evokes feel so spot-on. This little excerpt is a pep talk Gilbert gives herself when she's about to embark on a creative journey or start a project:

“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I'm about to do anything interesting-- and, may I say, you are superb at your job. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There's plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way... Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio. But, above all else, my dear familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

This is such a lighthearted, but effective reminder. As the author of our own lives, each day is a creative endeavor. And we must accept that fear will often be a passenger. He may want to ride shotgun and belt out super annoying songs that get stuck in your head. Songs about taking the easiest, safest route, or how bad of a driver you are, or how long and tireless the journey is. But, ultimately, we must not give up our position as the driver. Trust your sense of direction and enjoy the ride. Pick up some hitchhikers along the way. Let them off when it's their time to go. Seize opportunities to go off-roading. Everywhere you go is part of your beautiful, divine path. Your whole perspective will shift when you start to choose it, rather than accept it.