“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” – Agnes de Mille
I have weird dreams these days. I recently dreamed about a plane nose-diving from the sky. As it grew closer and the space between us narrowed, instead of feeling fear, I felt this sense of awe and relief. I couldn’t do anything. Things just happened.
The last couple of months have forced me to let go of some plans, projects, and ideas. I have collectively faced unexpected endings in various corners of my life. In some aspects, my life has become narrowed.
The narrowing can be disorienting and disruptive. It feels claustrophobic, even in my own privileged circumstances to have a job and work full-time. Who knows what will happen next? Another lockdown? Schools closed again? All this uncertainty. All this change.
Changes and endings no doubt bring grief, but I am also curious about the sense of relief that some endings can bring. Perhaps, it is the relief of not having to make certain decisions anymore. There is no fear of better options because there are so few options. When an action or ending is outside my control, the fear of getting it wrong is diminished. It is no longer up to me because the decision has been made by someone higher up. Whether an ending brings relief or grief also might have something to do with being comfortable with not-doing that accompanies it. When it is up to me to let go, my natural tendency is to work really, really hard to fill the space it leaves behind. This process further entangles me in what I am trying to let go of. It is like a pit I have been digging, only to tirelessly scoop the earth back in. When I spend my time simply filling an empty pit, I take a lot longer to reach new and steady grounds.
I can make important changes in my life but often neglect to check in with myself to see if they still serve me. I become attached to my identities as not being a morning person, or a certain profession, without asking if these circumstances still require the routine, the abstinence, the doing. An ending can be frightening because it confronts my identity. But an ending or a narrowing of my life also brings relief because it brings me closer to this idea of doing one thing well. For as long as I can remember, I have prided myself on being someone who juggles various projects easily. I have enjoyed the rush of several to-do lists, the calendar that is always filled, and even the sense that I am chasing my own tail brings a certain satisfaction.
What this pandemic taught me is that sometimes my doing, my complicated schedules, and my “shoulds” are of my own making. And it is up to me to let go, to embrace and end without doing anything. Ever since that dream of the plane taking a nosedive, I have been inspecting my “shoulds” and letting go ruthlessly. I have surveyed what I have been putting off and let it be a guide to stop adding something to my to-do list. I have listened to what I don’t want because sometimes the don’t-wants are more defined. Being a single mom and working full-time is not always easy and involves setting boundaries or shifting priorities, but by letting go of what I don’t want, I make space for what I do want to emerge. Letting go is one part, being comfortable with doing less and being in the space is another. But I know I don’t have to do anything to make this space. I don’t need to fill it. I can simply be in it, unsure for a while.
Reducing what I do helps to center my focus and attention. It helps me to take notice, it is the nudge I need to enact my own endings instead of only waiting. I need empty, undesignated space so I can keep figuring it out, over and over, nosedive after nosedive, narrowing and narrowing, allowing myself to inch closer to the mystery, the awe, and the relief of it all, one day at a time.