This blog is more an emergence from cloud than an incisive argument. I feel many thoughts converging, which may or may not cross in the middle, or perhaps only obliquely. But I like ‘thinking the opposite and seeing what happens’. I like ideas thrown into the air, where everyone seems to know how they fall – and then they don’t.
I am interested in why we are so afraid of our lives, why we make plans expecting them to work, why we are disappointed so often, and why we even think we have to measure up to some constructed ideal in order to feel life is correct or successful. Why did I live in fear, for example, for so many years, afraid of losing the only love that life would ever have to offer? I never thought of myself as possessive until now.
In the beginning
We think of life as starting with simplicity and innocence, followed by the accrual of many skills, emotions and abilities, by growth and strength, maturing to a point of complex fulfilment. I wonder whether it is really the other way round, like entropy, tending to maximum disorder, to basic simplicity.
The baby begins with great certainty, rooted entirely in fixed instincts, with few structured points of awareness, no muddled concepts in their head, no mistakes, nothing mis-structured, just aware of being alive and needing to be alive in every sense. Everything is connected to what it needs, in order to get life right. It’s like Lego out of the box with clear instructions and diagrams. It’s designed to go together from little pieces into a beautiful whole. A pirate ship or a castle, maybe. And yet it may never be that again.
Imagination, mistakes and lost pieces intervene, pieces that belong elsewhere come in, until the original set of pieces is part of a muddle in a common box.
Do we really move towards a better design, a clearer purpose, a more completely ‘correct’ idea of who we are and can be?
Too often we end with broken ideas, false certainties, failed hopes, lost direction and a sense of being alone, being deserted by life itself. Like an idealistic housing project in which no-one has lived because it was a great idea that did not reflect the reality of living. Don’t you wish you could find the original plans again? The older person fixed in ideas and failures, unrepeatable successes, dragged down with fears and grief, struggling to believe in themselves – is the one without fulfilment in being alive today, and today, and today. How then, are we to preserve the joy and meaning of life, to grow younger as we grow older?
Grief is a remarkable teacher, if you let it be
Let me take your hopes and aspirations, your ambitions and goals, your images of what life is all about and which give you your basis, as of now. Let me take those forward agendas, those lists and prescriptions, those expectations and wish-lists, and let me tear them slowly into small pieces before your eyes. Let me cast them into the air between us, openly. Let’s watch the fluttering fragments descend to the dirty floor. How will they fall? In chaos? Certainly any pattern will be a measure of your psychological response, not of orderedness.
Now stand with me and take this in. How do you feel?
There lie all your future loves. There are your future rewards and achievements. None of them are real, all are based in everything you have learned, embedded in yourself, or to which you have anchored yourself. Do you feel freedom – or fear? Which do you most feel like doing: fitting the fragments together with shaking hands? Or blowing gently on them and taking a fresh, clean, rather smaller piece of paper, on which to rest not a pen but your ever-changing thoughts.
Yes, the sense of loss is unbearable, isn’t it?
You are thinking: such a waste! But is it? Where is this fear coming from, and of what is its substance? What are those pieces on the floor, what do they represent, and why this profound grief? I want to try this idea: what you have lost is possession. Everything in pieces is what you felt secure with, that you owned, that was yours, that maybe even was a part of you. And yet you were born with not one letter of one word on one fragment of this agenda, this list, this future you.
Possession and fear are inextricable
The moment we have anything in our lives – from a realisation that we can do something, to a material thing like a shoe, a coin, or even a home, to job or responsibility, or a friendship, to a deep love for another – we enter the fringes of fear. Grief stands waiting from that first moment, hand outstretched for the dawning of doubt, the fragility of hope, the impossibility of anything good lasting, or of being good enough to deserve this thing at all. We are terrified of our aloneness. We are terrified of ever being that baby again, one hundred percent potential, surrounded by grown people balanced on their uncertainties and fears, ready for grief.
What must we learn about life in order to regain its potential, and let go the fear of losing everything, the moment we find something valuable in our lives?
Not much of a Christmas/Seasonal message is it (apart from the Lego bit)! I want to know why, though, because I feel that it is true, and yet avoidable. What must we learn about life in order to regain its potential, and let go the fear of losing everything, the moment we find something valuable in our lives? I want to learn something here in a new way, because this is where I am. I have known loss, I have known grief, I have stared into the gaping pit of becoming nothing, of life becoming completely not worth continuing, or preferring to be dead than to being alive. And I know I am a ‘mild case’ of this so I don’t take it lightly at all.
If nothing else, we must let grief teach us honesty. We must take in the pieces on the floor and know they mean nothing.
To belong is not to possess; to be possessed is not to belong
I belong to no-one. No-one belongs to me. I ‘owe’ nothing, and I am ‘owed’ nothing. I have nothing to give, I have only myself to be, and to choose how to be. If my being alongside another helps that person to be, then I have done what every particle in the universe, dark or bright, does. I have created a resonance that makes a bond that creates something new, that influences the next, even at the most fantastical relative distances.
And yet I see this so easily as being vulnerable, as feeling intensely alone. Is this actually where we find real strength? If the ability to belong wherever we find ourselves is the most real we can be, then we can begin truly to live only when we realise we shall always belong. Perhaps in different ways or places, but always belong, simply because everything belongs – simply because that’s how things are. How can you dance through life if you can’t hold hands, let go, and hold hands again? (With anything or anyone, not in a romantic sense.) How can you receive if your hands are full with not giving? And why is this so frightening? Why does everything new have to immediately feel permanent and safe, when we know nothing about us is permanent?
The baby simply belongs, the adult fears. The adult sees the baby as insecure. The baby does not yet know how insecure the adult is. The baby possesses nothing, the adult fears losing their possessions. The baby is all life and potential. The adult is too often trapped in their own misunderstanding.
Lego, just let go
Sometimes I think we learn life like accruing Lego bricks. We get one, we place it, another and it clicks on top. We keep going, with occasional adjustments and rearrangements, building our idea of a house (or pirate ship or castle), hoping to finish it and explain the pieces by means of our construction. At worst we fear the bricks falling apart (the early ones did!) and apply our glue. This, we say, is how life is.
But maybe we are building false complexity, mistaking order for availability to live. Maybe the simplicity of simply belonging as we are, rather than possessing some whole construction, is what this life is all about.
Lego does not mean ‘let go’. It actually means ‘play well’. So let’s go and play, not possess. And lose our fear of life.