turning and returning

i'll start by saying that i'm living in a whirlwind. you know that business plan i wrote about in my last post? well, it is such hard work. every day in class, new worksheets and spreadsheets and whole segments of my plan draft are due. it's hard and it's demanding and the days feel like a blur, and i'm barely keeping my head up.

whereas last week, when i wrote this, i was living in a dreaming and creative and thoughtful and inquisitive place about all this, this week has felt like an all-out battle zone. i woke up early monday morning to work on a new section of the plan and just could not get my mind to go at all. i felt blocked and paralyzed. all i could hear inside my head were all the ways that i would fail. my mind kept flashing to the presentation i will make to the faculty panel at the end of this program, the presentation that will actually allow them to confer me with my degree, and all i could see in my mind's eye was disappointment written all over their faces and disbelief that this plan is any good or that anyone would ever want anything to do with it at all.

somehow, with kirk's help, i pushed through and got my assignments done that day, but i still felt wearied and beaten down by it. and with the pace of this month's requirements, i've continued to feel more of the same through the rest of the week. weary. beaten down. overwhelmed. wondering if this idea is really any good. operating in a pretty huge vacuum. throwing daggers against the wall in the dark. keeping on with all of it at a haggard pace because the course load just keeps speeding along.

but there are glimmers of hope. like tuesday morning, when i woke up in the wee hours of the morning again and found this beautiful illustration staring back at me from the screen of my computer.

questions/answers piece by penelope dullaghan

immediately, my eyes were drawn to the words making their way down the right side of the page . . . words like i can't, afraid, not an expert, scared, and don't know how . . . questions like what if i'm blank? what if people think i'm dumb? what if i'm really a fraud? and what if it's just a big flopper? . . . judgments like not good enough and tick-tock-tick-tock. i could hardly believe i was staring at a piece that voiced every single fear and judgment and every shaming thought and oppressive criticism i'd been carrying with me for the past few days. i could hardly believe someone knew my own head and heart so intimately, enough to create such a delicate yet elaborate illustration that expressed all of my insides so completely.

but then my eye was drawn to the left side of the page . . . the side that said why not try? what if it turns out to be fun? and how about letting go of the outcome? the side that said you're going to die at some point, so why not? and boldly invited me to live daringly.

the more i stared at this painting, the more i noticed. for one, i noticed that instead of staring straight ahead, caught directly between these opposing voices, the girl was turned in the direction of possibility, facing the open-ended thoughts that invited her up into the expanse of hope. then i noticed that the tinges of color on her cheeks even reflected the two tones of voices inside her head, one lighter and one darker, but that it was the softer-toned cheek that was turned toward hope and grace and playfulness. and then i picked up on the contrast in sound, noticing the cacophony of thoughts on the right are all shapes and sizes and just a chaos of jumbled noise but that the inviting voices from the left are larger, more full, more cohesive and complete. i don't know about you, but it's those crazy, tangled-up, right-side voices that get my attention every time i look at this piece. there's something in its design that pulls my eye to that side first, and all i can do is focus on the noise. it takes a conscious effort to pull away from those thoughts, just like in life, to attend to the opposite thoughts. but after that effort is made, it is those left-side thoughts that actually inspire me with such invitation to play, to laugh, to try, to experiment, to wonder . . . to let myself just be human. (interesting sidenote: from the girl's perspective in the painting, it's actually the opposite. the open-ended questions filled with wonder and anticipation are ballooning on the right side of her brain, where all the creative sparks inside of us fly and zoom around. all the crazy, judgmental thoughts are situated on her left side, the side of our brain that's analytical and processes the logic of what we think, say, and do.)

i stared at the illustration of this girl, marveling at the two sides of herself, and i saw quickly that this was indeed the two sides of my own self, that the capacity for both shame and grace exist inside of me, and that right now, in this moment, i could perhaps choose to offer myself the merciful way.

with all the conviction with which i wrote about beautiful humanness in my last post, i confess that i turned against my own beautiful humanness this week. with all the pushing back against certainty and control and surety i preached in my comments on that last post, i confess those are exactly the kinds of things i grasped for this week. in the midst of a penetrating fear of failure and overwhelming judgment from the outside world, i shamed myself to be better, try harder, get it together, and just be smarter. i didn't care for the tender parts. i didn't make room for mistakes. instead, i turned against myself and tried to make myself immortal . . . instead of allowing myself to be exactly what i am: simply and beautifully human.