Bear with me: I want to tell you what happens when you let life do its thing to you. That’s how my old therapist, Gary used to talk about situations you didn’t love, but which were happening anyway, despite what you might have preferred.
“Just let it do its thing to you,” he would say when I was sad or angry or tired, and sitting in the leather chair across from him, sobbing. “Let it do it’s thing to you.”
Which is a really great concept – “Yeah man, let it happen” – but harder to swallow because I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m feeling sad or angry or out of control, there’s a knee jerk tendency for me to want to change the channel, pour a glass of wine, pick up my phone, get on Instagram or open the refrigerator. I want to feel better right now, and run from whatever is working me, instead of letting it touch or change me as Gary might suggest it could.
It was the consuming of things that was often my little escape from pain in the years right before the pandemic. The internet too – of course – and my best friend – the phone – were completely addicting. But the consuming of things – even small things, like running to the market when I was certain I needed one bell pepper, and then spending $50 more on things that caught my eye. I did that a lot. I went to the market every few days – felt better the moment I walked in. I exhaled. All those wonderful things for sale; groceries, vitamins, cheese, sushi, wine, flowers, fancy crackers.
I understand we eat to live, but this was different. This was buying things I wanted and already had at home. This was me throwing down a credit card because I wanted something now. Or maybe I threw that credit card down on Instagram or Facebook. I’d see some cream for aging skin, or maybe it was a pretty dress, and I’d click. Here’s a product to make my hair lustrous, one to amp up my sex drive and one to keep me alive until I’m 100.
I was clearly hungry for something, but what? I have a closet bursting with clothes, often bought because I was sad or lonely. Bought for that small rush of beauty, believing that the top, or the shoes were going to save me.
There was a wastefulness – a having too muchness that mostly made storage a problem, but which didn’t resolve the pain. My desire to tweak the moment just delayed the inevitable sadness, or whatever was moving through me – often times I was simply exhausted from working too hard and not taking care of myself. Maybe I was feeling some deep aloneness or unlovability that frightened me. At one point I felt my sadness so acutely that I’d be in a store fingering a blouse, and starting to get a little woozy with the thought of bringing it home, and the sadness would flood me and I’d have to walk out. The sadness rode my back. Nothing was going to change with my purchase and I knew it.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I never try to flee the moment anymore. I do. In the last ten minutes of writing this, I opened an email from Williams Sonoma because there’s a sale on their cast iron stuff, and I’ve always wanted a big pot. For a moment I forgot about the virus, forgot that I hadn’t seen my younger daughter since December, hadn’t seen my mother since February, forgot that the market is crashing, that friends’ livelihoods are at risk and that I already have a perfectly fine pot.
What am I hungry for? What is so hard to be with now?
Like you, I’m wrestling with change. Fear of the unknown. The dissolution of a kind of naiveté that somebody has our back or somebody has “got this,” and will fix it for us. Some this-can’t-be-real feeling that this is going to be over soon and we’ll get to go back to… what?
And so here we are, a month into sheltering in place, with at least another month in front of us. Hard to change the channel on this one, though I’ve stopped going to the market whenever I wanted something. All purchases have been reduced to essentials – which is a relief. I have lost my desire for a new shirt or a pair of new earrings. There is no dinner out when I don’t feel like cooking. Yes, my daughter and I take long walks and fantasize about meals we’d love to make – baked mac and cheese – she tells me. Marzipan cake, I reply. But it’s a relief to crawl down from the scaffolding of what I thought I needed to live and to find myself on my feet and with agency.
I hope I won’t be entirely misunderstood when I say that, on days when I hear them talk about lifting this sheltering in place earlier than they thought, I think “shoot, not too fast,” by which I mean I feel like I’m just dropping into this thing, this great blah blah – which is another thing Gary used to call life; The Great Blah Blah – just dropping into the possibility of what this strange time out is an opportunity for – for me. I’m not talking about tackling my back room or my catastrophe of a desk, I’m talking about some other kind of…? I was going to say striving – but I hope that’s not it. The truth is, each day I am centering down a little more, moving more slowly, walking around barefoot and making time to sit quietly outside in the sun alone.
Of course I write this from a warm home and a job. I have the luxury of contemplation. I don’t want for the suffering of others, of course I want the curve to flatten, but what I also want is to drop into the beauty of the moment, and to stop resisting what is happening.
“We’re all on retreat,” my friend Jeff Greenwald tells me. “A forced retreat,” he says, “which in military terms means a failure – a surrender, but in mindfulness practice,” he says, “a retreat is something that compels us back to our own resources, and our relationship with ourselves.”
And then this, something a woman named Miv London – who is a friend of a friend wrote on Facebook – wrote. It’s a reminder of what Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and writer declared centuries ago: All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And, as Miv adds, “we’re all, like it or not, being furnished an opportunity to remedy that.”
I guess this is how you begin to let the great blah blah do its thing to you. And what a time to practice.
How are you doing, friend?
Listen to Laurie read The Great Blah Blah …
In 25 years when a young person turns to us and wonders what it was like when the pandemic hit, people like you and me will have taken some notes. Please accept my free gift of 27 Wildest Days to help you get started.
Thank you for sharing these lovely reflections. Your words resonate with me. I imagine myself to be mindful, but what that really means is I cram my mind full with words every day. Teaching from home now via all day google meets, my eyes and brain don’t feel like reading or writing or painting and I’m completely at a loss. I don’t feel like doing anything. Nothing at all. And nothing is what I’m supposed to learn to do. Who ever thought it would be so hard! Your words are a blessing. May you, too, be blessed!
I’m loving your 27 Wildest Days videos. I wrote three poems yesterday, Day 2, one that’s not too bad.😊
Thank you for offering this! ❤️
what’s 27 wildest days. Did I miss something? I want in. Girl you sure are a fantastic. that means everything. keep that pen moving. I love you, my Laurie.
“The dissolution of a kind of naiveté that somebody has our back or somebody has “got this,” and will fix it for us.”
I too feel a tiny sense of – panic? – disappointment? – when there’s talk of this being over soon. Sure, I want my salary back (they cut us to half time). Even more, I don’t want those who are really suffering economically to go a day longer. Of course I don’t want any more people to suffer or die. But this – how do I keep this?
“each day I am centering down a little more, moving more slowly, walking around barefoot and making time to sit quietly outside in the sun alone.”
Oh, this is so lovely, Laurie. Thank you. My favorite line here: “The sadness rode my back.” I relate to so much of it, and like you, I am grateful for the forced retreat. I love what Jeff said to, about how a retreat compels us back to our own resources and our relationship to ourselves. Very powerful. Thank you. xo
Oh thank you Laurie for writing what I’m feeling…me too, please not too fast back to….? I’m so grateful for your videos. Such intimate, supportive writing companionship everyday, thank you xx
So good, and so true. Thank you for saying it all so well!
Laurie, our thoughts and perspectives are so in alignment at this moment! I found myself nodding through this repeatedly.
Yes, Laurie -naming it.
“shoot not too fast”…it’s good to hear Im alone in what seems like an insane thing to say, especially given what that means to me. But you know, this has forced me out of a painful existence and I am still in creating of the revision.
Beautifully expressed, Laurie. I resonate with much of what you have said. Thank you also for the gift of the latest writing prompts. Writing with them is very grounding for me.
Yes! I also feel that I don’t want it to be over too soon, that there is something necessary and long overdue happening inside of all of us in this “centering down.” Thank you for putting it so beautifully into words.
Gary tells you, “Let the thing do it’s thing to you.” My teacher put it this way, “Trust the process.” Equally apt, tough words to hear, put into practice.
“I was clearly hungry for something,” you ask, “but for what?”
And as you often do, you ask the question behind the question, make yourself vulnerable, human, approachable, draw your reader in.
Healing words for my heart! I thought I was ‘over reacting’ as I have been told all my life. Thought that I was the only one. Why do I keep crying? Why are the tears lying in wait to flow right behind my eyeballs, when I am pumping gas or listening to my audio that I am not sure when I shut off the listening to the book and my thoughts took over. I am all over the place. The sadness that I am shouldering. And yet it is not constant, it is not even new to me. Now I get to hang out with this old friend. Myself. Thanks Laurie
I launched an eCourse a few weeks ago, and of course, wrote out the lessons way back when the world was so different. For what it’s worth, thought I’d share a little excerpt from one of my lessons, entitled Spend Time With Yourself (when I wrote it alone-time seemed like a luxury!):
“…most of us – especially extroverts and especially in the Western World – are afraid of being alone. We’re afraid of boredom, embarrassed of what being by-ourselves might look like to other people, we hold guilt about lack of productivity and fear we’re wasting time.
These fears are based in our deep desire to belong and to make sense of how we fit into our society. But somewhere along the line, we developed a skewed view – that we have to always be in the midst of a group in order to belong to a group, that we always have to be busy in order to be productive. That we have to always been consuming information, and other people’s ideas, in order to be informed. That sitting alone and staring into space is somehow odd, antisocial, or like a huge sign saying ‘I’m lonely’.
And so we fill any chance we have of being by ourself with social media, news, videos, TV, plugged in to music or our devices, and rely on these external props to tell us what to think and believe. We hope they’ll make us feel less lonely, but all too often we end up feeling even more isolated, because we’ve become observers, rather than participators.
Words matter – Instead of thinking of solitude as being BY yourself – think about solitude as spending time WITH yourself”
Wow! How magical it is to be reading your post, Laurie, and all of the comments above. When this sheltering in place was instituted, I felt a weight come off of me…like it was giving me permission to slow down and go deeper in a way that I had not been able to before. A part of me felt guilty in that I was so enjoying this time and that part of me doesn’t want it to end. Well, it doesn’t have to as it is up to me to remember what I’m learning and to keep living it under any circumstance. Here is to remembering! Thanks, Laurie, and everyone here for sharing.
Thank you so much for your honesty, transparency, and clarity. I love your posts ~ what a mitzvah to the world.
Thank you also for gifting us 27 wild days of writing! So excited.
May you sink further into the Great blah blah, and flowers bloom at your feet.
Stop the world I want to get off it! Before the pandemic, I was frantically searching for the pause button but only found it in brief bursts.
Great essay Laurie – and thank you for all the comments above. The learning for so many is huge – and though the tragedy is filled with deep sadness, I’m grateful that most of humanity is figuring out how to manage it together, despite the lack of leadership in D.C.
Personally, working the day job like the rest of the world at home, so I’m grateful for the 3 hours saved from commuting, and for the extra time to read and write.
Love this, Laurie! Speaks greatly to my experience as well… I feel like I’m just now getting the hang of it… have made great friends with “the flow”; what feels right in the next moment… I hope to take this with me as the sacred souvenir of this time…
Love this, my friend. xo
Once again, thank you for your raw honestly and naming what so many of us are scrambling after, “climbing down from the scaffolding of what we think we need.” The retreat for us is not a retreat for everyone, and that’s hard to square. Trying to center and feel the sadness.
We are truly not alone in the grade blah blah… I can totally relate to the rush of purchasing things consuming things distracting myself from myself…I love your honesty… And your words