"We all need something that helps us forget ourselves for a while--to momentarily forget our age, our gender, our socioeconomic background, our duties, our failures, and all that we have lost and screwed up. We need something that takes us so far out of ourselves that we forget to eat, forget to pee, forget to mow the lawn, forget to resent our enemies, forget to brood over our insecurities...Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are."
In these three wonderful sentences, Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book Big Magic exactly for what I have always been searching. That one thing where I am lost in a moment seemingly even forgetting to breathe. Breathing is something that happens without even us having to think about it, having to analyse it. That's what a passion is with the added bonus that it is an act that "helps us forget ourselves."
So much of what we are learning about living mindfully today is to be conscious of who we are, to be aware of our actions and our choices, to live on purpose. Yet often what we desire is to, as Gilbert says, forget ourselves and to be in an almost--transcendental place, absorbed in an act of doing that which fills our soul with a feeling of being exactly where we are meant to be and who we are meant to be.
For me, this comes in multiple forms. When I was a little girl, I lost all track of time and space when I was reading. Reading has always been my escape, my education, my elevation to a place of purity and imagination. Nothing mattered when I was reading. Not the chaos around me growing up in a house with parents who tried their best but were not the best at communicating with each other, unless it was in an argument. Not the pressures of a new school where I was pretty much shown how average of a student I was (average being a kind word). Not the strangeness of a new city when I moved to start a job where the expectations were high and the global spotlight was blinding. Not the long, confusing, winding path of searching for and finding "the one". Not the delicate nature of peeling away the layers of understanding marriage. Not the harsh self--judgement that comes hand in hand with motherhood (Rachel Cusk's words in A Life's Work come to mind: "I suspect some failure in myself: of force, of identity, of purpose"). And not the bewilderment that comes with facing ageing and all the strange and wonderful realities of entering a new phase in my biology. None of it matters as I crack open a book, smell the earthy scent of the pages, and dive into the illuminating pool of each and every word promising to inspire me and even save me.
While words feed my mind and soul, taking me away from the everyday, I have found that yoga is doing the same for me too but in a different way. Practising the asanas, the poses and the flows are feeding me physically, physiologically. B.K.S. Iyengar writes in Yoga for Life, "To a yogi, the body is a laboratory for life, a field of experimentation and perpetual research." Ironically, it is this research that inevitably leads us to understanding more about ourselves, about myself. Iyengar adds, "We begin at the level of the physical body, the aspect of ourselves that is most concrete and accessible to all of us. It is here that yogasana and pranayama (breathing) practice allow us to understand our body with ever greater insight and through the body to understand our mind and reach our soul." I find when I am practicing any particular class, especially the ones where I am stretching and moving with purpose and flow, my mind is no longer wondering about my day or my life because it is physically impossible for me to do both. I have to be present. I have to be focused on the moment. I have to look inward and feel every cell in order see and viscerally understand what my body is trying to tell me. Otherwise I will fall, twist, and leave a practice feeling unfulfilled. It is what many practitioners describe as a "work in" as opposed to a "work out". I find strength to keep trying and moving by looking out the window and seeing this one beautiful 15m/45ft tree that stands tall in my neighbour's garden, its leaves moving with grace every time there is a breeze. It's the same when I close my eyes and look inwards, feeling the relief and even invigoration with subtle adjustments reminding me that sometimes breakthroughs and changes can come from making small moves.
And then there is my writing. My favourite part of this process is staring at a blank page with the cursor blinking away, willing me, daring me to have the courage to put into words what I am feeling, what I am thinking. I never knew I loved to write or at least I never thought about it. I enjoyed writing my term papers in high school and university, taking great pride in how I presented my research and opinions. It was only when I started working in television did I realise how much I enjoyed that part of production; how after I would go out and interview people, I would start writing my script for my report in the car on the way back to the newsroom. And today, it is a wonderful feeling to have an outlet for me to express all that I do, no matter how scary and vulnerable it is. Don't get me wrong, I do often think about deleting all my posts because I feel they are either terribly written, don't make any sense, or are too revealing. See, this kind of writing, writing this blog is so very different from the writing I did as a journalist. As a journalist I wrote about others, the information deemed from their experiences. It was as if I was in the safety zone to an extent where the only criticism would be about my style rather than the substance. As a blogger, my only source is me. My only well of resources is me. Ralph Keyes perhaps said it beautifully in his book The Courage to Write, "Any writing exposes writers to judgment about the quality of their work and their thought. The closer they get to painful personal truths, the more fear mounts—not just about what they might reveal but about what they might discover should they venture too deeply inside. To write well, however, that’s exactly where we must venture."
Finding that powerful thing (and I use 'thing' because it isn't something anyone can really quantify of define), comes down to following our flow, seeing what we gravitate towards, what we tend to use to escape our everyday and helps us feel more whole than we would normally feel. It is something that is ours alone. For a lucky few, they can even turn that thing into something profitable, it becomes their method of earning a living. There is, however, a fine line where doing what we love can turn into a chore. But if we are mindful of that and use it anchor our expectations then we should be ok. This thing is also different from having a hobby. A hobby is a fun pastime. A passion is something we can't, or don't want to, live without. It is, as Hilary Swank told me about her love of acting, "it's like breathing". The self-help author and blogger Mark Manson argues that we don't need to go searching for our passion. It is already there. He writes, "You already found your passion, you’re just ignoring it. Seriously, you’re awake 16 hours a day, what the fuck do you do with your time? You’re doing something, obviously. You’re talking about something. There’s some topic or activity or idea that dominates a significant amount of your free time, your conversations, your web browsing, and it dominates them without you consciously pursuing it or looking for it. It’s right there in front of you, you’re just avoiding it. For whatever reason, you’re avoiding it. You’re telling yourself, “Oh well, yeah, I love comic books but that doesn’t count. You can’t make money with comic books.” Fuck you, have you even tried? The problem is not a lack of passion for something. The problem is productivity. The problem is perception. The problem is acceptance."
I am not the most visually creative person. I can't paint, draw, dance, and I know I can't sing. I don't write poetry but I am good at making up songs for my kid. My dream is to write a book one day (as I'm sure it is for many). Basically, I'm a pretty average person who is searching for my place in the world. I achieved professional success in my former career. But if my life were to be a book, there are still so many pages left to be written, so many moments in which there is still to be lost. If my life were to be a movie, we've gotten to the cliff edge, what happens next is anyone's guess. I guess I am trying to find it all through the books that I read and from within through my yoga practice. I am trying to "forget myself" as Elizabeth Gilbert wrote because that self is often defined by who I should be or need to be to others. Yet I am also trying to find who I am. A search that could take a lifetime. A search that comes with one experience, one journey, one book, one practice, one blog post at a time. But as Manson says, "that’s the whole point—”not knowing” is the whole fucking point. Life is all about not knowing, and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this."
"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels--that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place--that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one."--Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic