When I was walking on Tuesday, I passed a house near the river covered with sculptures and art. Three fish made from old glass bottles with sheets of metal shaped into heads and fins were suspended above planters beside the street. These bottle fish are like my experience of the creative spirit. I am a hollow vessel to be filled, a fountain pen for ink, a tea bag that awaits the kettle.
First I breathe open the space inside. Then I wait and watch and listen. Like the bottle fish, there must be space for the creative spirit to inhabit and also an egress for that which flows through.
“The ocean swims inside the fish.” Rumi.
This creative process requires a lot of being.
Going and Doing
Since our blatant acts of de-materialization this year (we gave away and sold ninety percent of what we owned), my husband and I have both been wondering what to do next and where to go next.
Our conversations sound like this:
“I don’t know what to do next.”
“I don’t know where to go next.”
“I don’t either.”
We live with our children are in our rental outpost. We hold each other and our few possessions tight to us like flotation devices in an unknown sea. We each have shreds of going and doing to comfort ourselves while we re-open to the less familiar being.
Most nights I dream that I awaken inside our former family home. I realize we’ve been asleep in a house that belongs to another family now and hurry to get us out of it. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to read this dream’s meaning. It’s a snapshot replay of our de-materialization that I made happen over several weeks this past summer. I awoke to the fact that I could not continue to go and do as I had been. I got rid of things and left our house to a new family.
I did and then I went.
Since then, I have been preoccupied with where to go next and what to do.
Do and go.
Go and do.
As I walk and sit, cook and eat, I watch the busy-ness around me. Everyone else is going and doing. There’s a lot of going and doing happening all around me.
I’ve slowed my cooking. I walk to the markets for fresh vegetables and bags of flour and masa. I slow-ferment my dough in a traditional French method. I bake my loaves till the edges are just this side of black. I soak beans for 24 hours and then sprout them two more days before cooking them. I ferment vegetables. I make tamales. This is all going and doing as well. But it’s a much slower version.
Now I watch the brightening of the sky each morning. I sit and study the waves before we put on wetsuits to venture out into the ocean. Then I wait and watch for the good wave that will carry me to shore.
I walk. A lot. I walk for errands. My twenty-year-old car stays parked. Around me on the streets, many others are going and doing at high speed and costs.
Segue: Cars don’t kill people. People kill people.
All this going and doing by automobile has allowed the grim reaper to hire additional staff for his industry. Automobile accidents are the number one cause of death of all Americans from the age of 4 to 34 (per the CDC). Death by car is a close runner-up in most other age categories. These preventable deaths are only the tip of the death-iceberg when it comes to the costs of racing around going and doing.
Do you remember being? I remember being.
Being was before we were trained in school to go and do. We go to school, do school work. This is to train us to go to work and do our jobs.
I remember being. I remember.
I lay high in the swaying arms of my favorite tree and watched the leaves play. If I were very still and quiet, I could hear everything speak. Trees murmur and sigh. Golden light makes soul music on skin. A field of green fast-growing corn in late July whispers and chatters like leggy teenagers in the sun. Water speaks with many voices. It tinkles and giggles, hammers and rattles, booms and lays silent. Water talk is my favorite still.
There was time to be with others. Mostly the old people, the old farmers and retired gardeners, castaways on their small plots of land growing food the old ways. At the end of weeding a row we would sit in the shade and wait for hoes to cool. The older children, who had been spirited away to school, had no interest in this.
I couldn’t imagine any other way but this being.
Then school came for me.
Going and doing. Buses and homework. I got credit for going and credit for doing. Credit for sitting still and credit for shutting up. My sunlit song was replaced by sticky gold stars. Rain water trickled silent on the outside of the school bus windows.
More going to school. Then even more going to school. I rigorously trained to go and do for credit. I was graded, judged and valued on going and doing. Staring at clouds lost me the credits I had gained by all the going and doing. Talking to others lost me credit. I learned that my only value was go and do for credit.
I lost being.
It seems that all the wants I have now for going and doing are a drug withdrawal, of sorts. I have been hooked, addicted to motion, fed on credits, isolated from the earth, from my humanity and from myself.
The value of my being has been reduced to going and doing, working and earning. My fish was caught and pulled from the sea, emptied of water and given credit for going and doing, sitting still and shutting up.
There is extra credit to be had for going along with the rest and doing what they do.
To stop this is not easy.
I feel uncertain, simply being in the midst of all this going and doing.
How much uncertainty can I tolerate?
To those who wander here:
Thanks for reading this mental meander of mine.
All those who wander are not lost.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.