Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity? Why would you refuse to give this gift to anyone? Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups. They swim the huge fluid freedom. –Rumi
The temperamental obstacles of Comparison and Envy, which I haven’t fully morphed out of my life yet, have become opportunities for a transformative practice which helps them dissolve more elegantly. Discernment and competitiveness – generally accompanied by a high dudgeon and despair – were marginally more workable in my youth, what with school and jobs and boyfriends and such. But now, at a gentler juncture, they are entirely unsuitable and, left unexamined, bring little but boring uni-directional angst. Measuring myself against others in any way has outlived its usefulness and I am now quick to notice it skulking around and invite it to dance. What arrives with the waltz, a “huge fluid freedom,” is where the juju is. So let’s talk about that instead.
This isn’t intended to be a “how-to find peace” piece, but nearly all I write turns out to be for me, anyway. Because the waltzing whirls around my writing as well, let’s look at that process first.
I write to tease apart the stuff that thrills and bothers me. Asking myself to sit with slithery topics long enough to know my truest thoughts, cutting out the blathering asides and non sequiturs, spit-polishing the language but still insisting it sound like me, getting the format, grammar and punctuation in apple-pie order, and then being willing to share it with the world – you! – well, it all comes down to taking every single step, even when I don’t know what the next ones are. You don’t see my drafts of course – the continually revised and then abandoned brain farts that never quite gel – but I dance them too. A whole lot more bothers me than I can write about, but the process of discovery and distillation, the artful wrassling, hopefully leading to a wise acquiescence, is the practice. And the practice is a verb not a noun.
The same Pas de Un process, minus the writing part, succeeds with those one-down fearful unreasoned awful despairing comparisons. Professional jealousies, inner enviousness, unkind self-talk, shamed shyness and morbid existential discouragement: the only way out of all of them for me is by curious, open-minded and guileless examination, teasing what I discover into the greater realms. It takes longer than a few hours at the keyboard. And it’s not an exercise, really, it’s my life.
That said, what works best to foster this un-judgey oceanic expansiveness resembles holistic athletic training, because competition is inevitable – at times even still desirable – and a refreshing zesty stance towards it is more interesting and actually kinda fun. Supremely effortful, yes, yet ultimately simple. Simple and Effortful as in “when you know better, you do better.” Here are a just a tiny few of the tangentials which factor into the training of my inner kung fu fighter.
- I eat like a healthy grown-up. Eating and drinking are pure yummy sustenance.
- I sleep like a happy child. Regular bedtimes and wake-times in a dark, quiet, mildly cool room bring adequate restorative hours.
- I dress myself in a minimalist capsule wardrobe of seasonal clothes in styles and colors I adore, that fit and “behave.”
- I move my body thoughtfully and methodically with no other goal than the moving and I generally want to move more because it just feels so dang good.
- Short, but without-fail daily, meditation provides a small window into my logy and frantic mind’s antics.
- I am comfortable being alone and with silence, but then I have that native tendency and have simply allowed it to bloom. I have extended that ease to being comfortably quiet in the presence of others, listening more.
- I allow my art to come through me in any way it shows up. And, yes, this is something new because, as it turns out, “the black dragon jewel you have been searching for is everywhere.” (Xuedou)
There’s more I could write about being a creative sentient animal, thinking and feeling, acting and non-acting by turns, but you get the idea. It basically takes everything I’ve got to stand with the world I find myself in just as it is, to incorporate and enfold, to love and cozy up to every morning’s heartache and then bring what I can into the living, breathing material world through my arts, words and deeds.
Wait! One more bullet point:
- I read, nearly anything, hopefully done excellently, preferring true tales, interpretations and accountings over all others. So I conclude with an extended quote from the book I finished last night, Edward Espe Brown’s No Recipe.
“We practice Zen, ” Suzuki Roshi explained one morning in the old Tassajara zendo, “to purify our love.” He elaborated, “Usually our love is associated with some idea of gain — what will we get out of it?” As we purify our love, we are shifting from the mind of exploitation to the mind of nurturing. We shift from our head to our heart, from thinking (about how to get and have) to feeling (how to connect and benefit ourselves and others.)
This is not about what you should or shouldn’t do — “Be kind” or “Don’t be selfish” — but rather about choosing where to put your awareness and noticing that where you put your awareness can be like a gift or a blessing. When you can share the goodness that is inside with the world outside, then the garden grows, the food arrives, and your family flourishes.
The kitchen can be a place for purifying your love, shifting your thinking from what you can get out of it, to how you can offer your time while you are there. This is something we keep deciding: how to spend our time. And even the concept of spending your time is already off the mark, as spending probably means you would want to be making great purchases with your accumulated effort. Perhaps “gifting” works better — where will you choose to gift your time?
–LizCrain, who wants you to know that the incomparable *Susie Moore gave her the title for this post.
4 thoughts on “Compare and Despair*”
Yummy! Agree with all! Re: reading. Have you read Elizabeth Strout? I am plowing through her novels. Very satisfying.
Hi Marlene. No, I haven’t read Elizabeth STrout, but I will be now! Thank you!
My very favorite post of all time!!! Thank you for allowing us inside to learn a bit more about where your heart resides as a creative spirit. I find at 64 years young i crave the freedom and yet i know it is around me everyday. Balancing ‘being productive’ and knowing that often my ‘productiveness’ comes out of stillness. For me, it’s about giving myself permission.
Love this !!
Oh, this is so great to hear, Jan. I have waffled and dithered about this post for over a month. It just never came clear to me what I wanted to say, without being petty or obvious, until I realized I would have to just write the damn thing to find out. SO glad it resonated with you. We can both give ourselves permission to be still now!
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