What do you live for?
This is one of the most important questions we must continue to answer for ourselves, day after day. It’s stupidly easy to lose sight of the reasons we do anything in life, to let our days fall into patterns and habits and endless to-do lists of things we can never seem to get done on time. We live in a world where constant improvement is the standard we live by in all areas of our life; nothing is ever enough. We are constantly seeking to be more productive in our waking hours and more efficient with our sleep. We are taught that life is short and if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards, so you better get going – no time to waste.
It seems we barely have the time to put the phone down to have a real conversation, face to face. “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, thanks. And you?” “Good, good. I’m very busy, you know – I better be going! This has been nice.” Such is the life of those who work to keep up with the Jones’. Always rushing. Always hurried. Always busy beyond measure.
I’m tired of the word “busy.”
I think the word “busy” has become a badge of honour in our society. The ends justify the means, right? Right? Wrong. We’re pushing people too hard, too fast, and we’re suffering for it. In hot pursuit of human and technological advancement, we are forgetting the things that make a life worth living, the things that make a person whole. No noble prize is worth missing out on a week spent camping in the Rockies with your family. No olympic gold medal will ever replace the joy of eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that ooze all over your fingers and face. No amount of money will ever compare with the warmth of the sun on your skin on the first sunny day in spring.
In our constant pursuit of improvement, we’ve developed the mindset that nothing is ever enough. We are never enough.
But we are. We are not what we do – we are so much more than that.
We are our memories and our loved ones and the challenges we’ve faced. We are everything we’ve ever overcome. We are the books we read and the movies we watch. We are the songs we dance to when no one is watching, and the music we turn up too loud. We are strong and vulnerable and courageous and lovable. We are not machines, we are human – nothing is more important than that. We are unique, and we are enough.
I’ve never been very good at celebrating my achievements. The mindset of constant pursuit was wired into me at a young age. I am slowly unlearning this way of life, but it is not easy, and I often forget. In the spring when I was sixteen and I suffered a torn ACL, my life slowed down for a while. Every April, there is a community of poets who participate in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) by committing to the 30/30 challenge – that is, they write 30 poems in 30 days. I decided to try my hand at the challenge, and so for thirty days I spent a lot of time wandering around in my mind, making observations and putting together verses of rhyme. I’ve always found the act of creation deeply satisfying, and I decided to keep the challenge going for myself even after the month was over.
It became a habit of mine to come up with short poems and haiku when I’m in the shower, usually something about a favourite moment, tableaux or lesson I’d learned that day. I’d fall out of this habit sometimes, but eventually I’d return and start writing again.
In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp explains that each person has a lens through which they view life, each with varying levels of zoom. This is most evident amongst artists, where we can note the two extremes. There are those who view the world from a distance – they like to take in the whole image at once, snapping thoughts through a wide angle lens. These are the painters who make abstract art, the photographers who capture a whole city lit up at night. Then there are those who focus more on the details of living, utilizing their sharp focus 100 mm lens. These are the choreographers who are inspired by the gait of a single person’s walk, the writer who creates a character so real you’d like to go for coffee with them sometime. They see all the little things others miss – the twitch of a hand, a fallen rose petal, a look passed between two secret lovers.
I have always been the later of the two. Poetry, for me, has become a means of slowing down and being grateful for the simple moments in my days. I am in the process of learning to be more present, to accept who I am in this moment, of seeing my strengths and accepting that I am enough – no strings attached.
Because sometimes life is messy and complicated and painful, but sometimes life is oh, so beautiful, and I want to remember that.
We all need to slow down sometimes. Recently, I’ve been blessed with a slower pace of life. I’ve stood in my kitchen almost every day to write during these last two weeks, the first two weeks of spring. There is this huge tree across the back alleyway from my apartment, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch it explode, from a mass of barren branches with barely visible buds to something whole and green and bursting with life. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed the tree’s incremental progress until it was in full bloom. Most of us don’t. We complain about the winter, until one day we look up and everything is green.
It’s so easy to loose sight of the joys in life, to forget the reason that we do things. I love to write and yet sometimes, I let it become just another thing I have to do. But that’s wrong. That’s when so much of life becomes a burden. When I wake up in the morning, I get to choose what I do with my day – I don’t have to do anything.
I get to write, to cook and breathe and live, and that’s a gift. And that’s enough.