Note: this is a companion piece to The Essential Act of Nothing. Its sentiment can be summed up by the following:
Recently, I wept along side a theater full of adults. We were watching the latest Mr. Rogers movie, and he reminded us, “you don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” It was something we needed to hear. It is something I hope I can soon believe.
I am a stubborn woman. I like the way I do things. I like what it is that I do. Though I am open to ideas, I remain closed off to interrupting my process. In pursuing the greatest authenticity of myself, I am wary of too much influence from the outside.
I learned to buffer myself from chaos and noise growing up. I was sensitive enough to notice, headstrong enough to disagree, and imaginative enough to ignore. Though I observed the world around me with intention and inquiry, I always decided that my way was the best way. There could only be echoed agreement within the bubble I lived.
I was a finisher of things. Of tasks, food, interactions. I systemized my behavior to maximize productivity. I knew how to be likable and leave a good impression. If I left interesting enough trinkets for people to find/ embrace, I could throw them off my trail and just continue floating, unnoticed. How beautiful it was to play and fulfill a role and then retreat back into your safe, untouchable self. You could be exactly who you wanted to be and exactly who you were, without compromising either.
I am most comfortable within myself. I do what pleases me, and the fact that I have a fruitful life allows me to do so without guilt or internal judgement. (Concern for external judgement left me decades ago). Anytime my habits are disrupted, I get anxious. Most of the time, I just leave. As one of the original ghosters, I prefer to slip away without the ritualistic rounds of ‘goodbye’. Entering and leaving others realms was distressing enough. It forced me to alter my existence. I have no interest in celebrating that with fanfare.
Rutted in ritual, and consciously detached, I was mistaking stagnation for satisfaction.
By separating myself from any outside methods of being, I was deliberately avoiding comparison. Even with myself. I equated being happy with being content, and I learned long ago that you can’t miss what you don’t know about. You can’t lack what you don’t want. Stay blind and void of desire and you will find yourself smiling more often than not.
My movement practice echoes this. I have no goals other than to keep learning and not hurt. I shy away from things that seem too difficult. I want to stay very close to where I am, and find something compelling there.
The irony is, as much as I have become attuned to internal feelings and happenings while in motion, I am woefully incapable of translating this skill to the mental and emotional realm. My body serves as the great distraction, and I have so practiced and honed consideration there that it has become my default. There is so much to look for and discover internally — the how, when, what, and well, alongside all the possible tinkerings and reconfigurations — that it creates an infinite to-do list to keep my eager desire to learn and relate beyond satiated. Everything has a potential significance, and in living on the brink of excitement and breakthrough every single day, I trained my seeking attentions to be compartmentalized to my active time.
Such a clever, shelled-in psyche. It lay blissfully insentient; unaffected and unbroken and unconcerned, exactly as it wished to be.
To access and acknowledge it, I needed a disruption. Should it have come in the form of solely movement, I would have absorbed what I found interesting and remained relatively intact — an expanded version of me instead of something deeper, and well, moved. Instead, it appeared in a person; an entity I imagined but secretly never hoped I’d find. The looking was my quest of choice. I did not want to stop, and so I resisted.
I was questioned and dug into. I deflected, deftly. Still they came back and around and through. They stayed. This was the one that was going to break me. I tried to break it first. Freedom, I assumed, was to be fully you. In all my cherished and cultivated independence, I never considered how another being could carefully shake me into deeper recognition.
For the first time, I chose to linger in procedural discomfort. I had become friendly with physical unpleasantness, realizing it held the answers to acknowledge issues, determine causation, and eventually eradicate pain. Mentally, though, it was much easier to play dumb. You could prevent the issues from surfacing. There were no signs of strife nor matters of contention. Not when you were the only observer and assessor. You saw only what you wanted to see, and you built an infrastructure around these truths.
It is a risk to follow instead of lead. It makes you stray from what you know. Unprotected from your sureness, you dare to challenge your convenience. I listened and I tried and I overly compromised. I made myself cold. I ate less and differently. I kept leaving my home. There were new definitions and contexts, and frustration became familiar; teetering the edge of knowing and not knowing, doing and having no idea how to do. The struggle was not the preemptive should I or shouldn’t I. It was in sticking with what I decided to endure.
Actually hiking into and staying in the woods for a night or two was not the same as the idea of it. There was no going back or reconsidering. No recognizable place to retreat to. Just not bed and not shower and not agreeable on repeat. My head swirled with what I lacked, and by contrast, what I had seemed loathsome.
An equitable movement situation would be thinking 10 x 10 deadlifts sound like a worthy activity and then getting tired of it by the third round. Instead of just stopping and being able to switch tasks, I have to force myself to finish. I committed. I have no other options. Boxing yourself into something that is no longer pleasurable is something I have skillfully sidestepped and evaded.
Being an escape artist meant you had to be quick to disconnect. Always monitoring and assessing, one hand near the rip cord. The separation was to protect, everyone (or so my ever-noble persona led me to believe). I had no idea I could sever myself from myself. It took another human to show me the divide, and concede that I was the puzzle that I most avoided.
I could disassociate completely, but plug in any parts I wished. I could find meaning and importance and acute focus there. Mental strain was immediately dispersed by physical labor. I needed my body to show me any way other than the one that terrified me.
I felt movement as if it were emotion, and often, instead of emotion. Physical sensations made sense and were controllable. Incubation made progress. Warm and self-reliant, I could examine my surroundings and learn to separate myself from it.
In affiliating with nothing and no one, I could both maintain my distance and temporarily transform into anything. I subjectively argued against camping in the same way I did rock-climbing. I didn’t like these foreign things that seemed to belong to a particular group. I refused to be defined as them. Mr. Rogers told me I didn’t have to do shit. Would you still be my neighbor if I said no?
Herein lies the humanity that only straying from self might come to encounter — being exposed and exposure. As much magic as one can conjure, it remains an illusion unless it can be shared and mutually experienced. Rescue is a symbiotic act. The interested are interesting. Those convicted with changing the world must admit they are a part of it, and permit themselves to be transformed by it. Resolutely remaining is a foolish victory, reserved for the ones who resolve life is something to be won.