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The Thing Itself, and Not the Myth

So, things have been going well this week. I'm surprised to say that I already feel a slight shift. A certain levity, and the briefest hint of something even better to come.

I've accomplished most of the items on my week's to-do list, which has felt encouraging. On Monday morning I went to a yoga class — my first in months — and it was the perfect way to start my week. As I breathed through the poses I couldn't believe that I had let this part of my life slip. How necessary and meaningful it is to connect with ourselves in this way!

That afternoon I bought new collars for both the cats. Unable to find Reynold's old collar, I figured the little guys could use some sprucing up anyway, as part of my show-the-cats-more-love campaign. I also took care of some annoying things like mailing off packages and finishing up licensing applications. Yesterday afternoon I went for a run, and last night I took a bath — baths being another sacred self-ritual that I have seriously let slide.

I started taking baths regularly that last year that I was living in Los Angeles. I hated them at first. I felt trapped, sitting there in the warm water with nothing to do but face my thoughts. I made myself do it every single night though, and after a while the feelings of frustration gave way to this new feeling of peace and space in my life, something I hadn't realized was sorely missing until I had it back.

Speaking of my time in California, I've been thinking about how it's not so much the 28 year old, adventurous, single me that I miss. While that was a fun part of my life, there was something else to that last year I was there. In that year I went on a search for self, delving as deeply as I could into the core of who I was, trying desperately to change my patterns and peel away layers of mistaken identity. It was incredibly difficult and wildly rewarding. The baths were part of that process. So was all the yoga and meditation and a whole slew of other things.

What I attained in that time was marvelous. I've never felt better, never felt as centered, as selfless, as loving and peaceful and genuinely happy, as I did then. But the thing I've realized about that kind of work is that it's not something you can just do once. It's something you have to work at ALL the time.

The last three years of my life have been an intense flurry of role shifts. I moved across the country. I became a wife. I became a mother. And somewhere in the middle of all of it, I stopped tending to myself, stopped exploring and probing and diving into the depths of who I am. I'm reminded of Adrienne Rich's poem, Diving Into the Wreck, one of the greatest metaphor's for self-exploration I've ever read.

I'm ready to do this again though, ready to strap on my mask and flippers and fall backwards off the side of the boat. Now that I've solidified this new identity of wife and mother I'm ready to go exploring and to figure out the best self I can be within this context.

And my new plan is working. Even if I have to write down things as simple as "take a bath," I'll do what it takes.

Something else I've done more of this week is work on being present to the moments I find myself in. Becoming a mother has made me into a frantic, schedule-keeping kind of person, which I don't really like, and I realized lately that I've been missing out on meaningful experiences and spontaneous interactions.

I ended up sitting by a bank of elevators at the hospital yesterday afternoon, deep in conversation with a co-worker whom I'd never much talked with, and we had the most intense interaction. The kind of nourishing conversation that stays with you for days to come. Had I rushed home like I meant to, and not made the split-second decision to just sit and give myself over to the moment, I would have missed out completely.

Driving home after that conversation I couldn't help but think of all the things I've been missing out on lately because I've been so desperate to keep everything in some kind of order. Except that instead of order keeping my life together, it's just created a kind of prison that I'm now trying to pick my way out of.

I started reading a book yesterday called Yoga and the Quest for True Self. I'm only a few chapters in and am floored already by how much it's speaking to me. Much of it has to do with this entering of middle age, of the afternoon of our life (as Carl Jung puts it), and of the deep, internal search for meaning and spirituality that follows. The book talks about the search for that quiet voice inside of us, the one that gets so drowned out by the frenzy of our lives. It's been a long time since I've heard that voice, and I'm on a mission to find it again.

This passage brougth tears to my eyes and pretty much summed up my current quest:

When we finally commit to the quest for the true self, we will discover that we are not alone on our journey. One day, to our astonishment, we will find that the true self for which we are searching is also searching for us.

8 Comments

  1. Lovely Claire. I like your insight about the “it” that you are searching for is not that snapshot of the 28 year-old adventurer that you were, but rather the fabric of your life at the time — the bigger picture, the quest for self you were on. I also like the piece about knowing this is a process, not something you do once.
    And this part spoke to me so very much:
    “Driving home after that conversation I couldn’t help but think of all the things I’ve been missing out on lately because I’ve been so desperate to keep everything in some kind of order. Except that instead of order keeping my life together, it’s just created a kind of prison that I’m now trying to pick my way out of.”
    xx

    Comment by Bryce on October 8, 2010 at 10:37 am

  2. Thanks, Bryce! You and I met right when I was in the throes of it all. I remember a fantastic lunch at Tender Greens in Culver City with you. Wish we could do that again right now! xoxo

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on October 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

  3. A beautiful post. Good luck on your journey! I would like to get in touch with that quiet voice, too.

    Comment by Anne on October 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm

  4. Claire, I’m so glad that you’ve worked out some ways you can start to feel reconnected to yourself! I know exactly what you mean about the yoga. I try to do it every day (as a single girl with no children, and a yoga teacher, I have the luxury of feeling like it’s justified — as ridiculous as it is that I feel the need to justify it) and I have to say that I really notice it when I don’t get the chance to fit in even ten minutes.
    And how beautiful, that you got the chance to have such a meaningful interaction with your co-worker. Here’s to many more such moments for you!

    Comment by Sophie on October 9, 2010 at 8:10 pm

  5. I have that book but I’ve never read it! I think I need to dig it out of whatever box it is living in and dust it off. Maybe it’s a sign. I’m very into receiving signs from the universe lately! I feel like I’m on a quest of some sort lately, too. Maybe we’re both about to recapture some of that “early days in Los Angeles” magic. I’d never heard this quote from Einstein prior to two days ago, and now I’ve seen it twice in very different places:
    “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
    It must mean something, right? :)

    Comment by Liz on October 9, 2010 at 10:45 pm

  6. Ooh, thats a great quote. Definitely check out Stephen Copes book! Love that were on the same mission.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on October 10, 2010 at 9:39 am

  7. Thanks, Anne!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on October 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

  8. Thanks, Sophie! Oh, I envy your life as a single girl and yoga teacher. From where I sit that sounds pretty blissful!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on October 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

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