As I sit snugly toward the back of my favourite, local cafe and look out to see an increased number of layers that each individual has to remove before sitting down; I am reminded that the year is eminently drawing to a close. Then again, I must also confess that I have allowed for my favourite jazz album by Helen Merrill, that’s been seductively whispering through my headphones for the last half an hour or so, to soothe me into a more reflective state.
See, my past year has been like no other. It has been a year that, in its entirety, could be seen: as a dark, complex cocktail. The kind you would not have pictured yourself ever ordering, but due to the nature of evolving circumstance, you do so.
It arrives. Served cold. Almost numbing to the touch. You look at what’s been placed in front of you, and question your decision. You look around to see the smile of others at the bar, content with their servings, quickly transitioning into a pleasant and familiar conversation. Yet you are still struck by your apparent choice. Grasping it tightly out of fear, you bring the drink close to your lips. The smell gives up very few clues of what’s to come. Your acceptance of this comes not from some clearly defined positive force, but rather of the necessity to move forward. Here we go, I guess!
You take your first sip. The lips share nothing as they freeze up. In seemingly slow-motion, the apparent variety of flavours attempt to sneak by as they enter your mouth. You diverge your attention over every one of them. You do so for a while. Nothing. Despite your best efforts, you struggle to intimately understand the complexity.
But then, playing a new tune, a special tang suddenly bursts onto the scene. Following this, just like Dorothy, your world fills with colour. Every flavour that had previously splashed past – suddenly becomes recognisable. Hints of lemon. An Italian aperitivo. Even the conspiring pair of amaro and whiskey steadily make their way to centre stage. Now, your cautious intrigue turns to excitement.
As you allow this now-familiar combination to flow, your sense of awareness deepens. You then look down at your glass. Although you’re still not entirely sure what the drink actually is, it now feels right in the hand. Everything remains exactly the same, and yet everything has changed.
For as long as I can remember, whilst still full of surprises, each year carried with it a confident feeling that told me to trust it – a strong banister to hold onto as each slab of maple wood is neatly placed above and in front of my previous step. But this year was different. Whilst every footstep landed, the ground beneath felt shaky. I was filled with hesitation.
Over the first half of the year, I began to get a sense that the weight of my previous year’s decisions was overpowering my psychological narrative. I had: made the largest leap of my career thus far, instigated 2 breakups, moved city, and began laying the foundations for what is becoming to be my most ambitious work yet. I both let go of so much and demanded so many new commitments from myself all at the same time. I knew this had affected how I saw myself earlier this year. And despite being someone who had always acutely understood the consequences of things we set in motion; I couldn’t quite grasp how I had got to where I was.
What preceded was months of simply going through the motions. I was startled by the absence of feeling. But I pressed on. Never once letting the numbness take away from my momentum. When I told friends that things were going great, it’s because they were. But in my mind’s eye, I was in the passenger’s seat. Disconnected from it all. Watching my life, rather than living it. One of my closest friends would later recall this period of mine as one of isolation, a time when I studied myself like a naive scientist would a lab experiment: lacking in patience and perspective.
I questioned everything. Journaled my every thought. Thinking some great insight would give itself up upon assertive interrogation; I relinquished my every resource and pushed hard for answers. But what I got instead was a period of heavy jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and subsequently: vision-imparing headaches. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I was actively being punished for doing, what I’m sure I’ve been told to do since a small boy… trying my best.
There is, of course, only so long that the effects of this kind of relentless effort is contained on the inside of any individual. It was obvious to any onlooker, that I had begun fraying at the seams. And so, on the timely advice of my mentor and business partner, I took some time off away from my work and, thus, the place where my mind fought hardest.
For the following week, my action plan was simple. To demand little from myself and to do next to nothing. It was a non-action plan.
My first attempts at this were futile. I tried to escape to the more structured worlds and narratives of my favourite films, but my headaches begged for my return. I tried to immerse myself in my favourite books, but my stress screamed for my full attention.
Luckily, over the rest of the week, my symptoms began to fade. But still, I knew things weren’t aligned. I needed to not do anything with intent. To do even less. To let go.
So, I finally did just that…
On one of the final evenings, in what appeared to be a seemingly insignificant moment, something significant came to be.
I had decided to take a long walk along the river near my home. It was a walk that I had done many times before. Nothing was different about this walk. I noticed the same things I always did. The same unkempt plants blocking the pathway, the same hungry swans, and the same pairings of fast dog and slow dog-owner. But where I had always taken the walk with a more confident stride, that week, I was tired and dragged my heavy feet. So as I approached the more natured part of the walk, after the local river turns to join its big-city brother; I sat down on the grass, close to the water as to avoid being on the path of other burnt out wanderers.
This is when the sun slowly began to bow behind the trees opposite me. It painted the scenery with an elegant, final glow. I stared at the slowly flowing, purple river and listened to its edges caress the ground close to my feet. Just sheer calm. A moment of clarity. A presence that resided in stillness. This moment lasted 20 minutes, as I sat and gave way for the late afternoon to turn into evening. Before I knew it, I had returned to my life. I could breathe in it. I could feel it. And it was here, right at this point in my most confusing year, that I began to see why I could not access the kind of stability I had yearned for previously. For in tirelessly busying myself by trying to understand the night’s darkness; I had failed to see the stars. To see the harmony that hides in plain-sight within every moment of the human experience.
Whilst this moment had a kind of poetic quality to it for me, there are really many moments like this when we sit still. I have found it again many times in a simple meditation which I now practice every morning before my workday begins. I do very little to attempt to make sense of these moments, I simply let them be.
Toward the end of this year, I have found my footing again. I am now making the kind of strides I always saught to make. I might even make a bold move and say I’m really quite happy. But more importantly, I see now that this year was one of the most meaningful. It made me more empathetic, gave my work greater depth and gave me the tools to access a true sense of connectedness and alignment.
To my overthinkers, for I know there are many of you, remember there is a difference between analysis and awareness. Trust yourself in your qualitative use of both. Alan Watts once said: “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.” No matter what decisions you made in the past and whatever paths lie ahead, know that you will only find harmony in the present. Trust that you have done what you can and return to the world you have in right front of you and let it show you its beauty.
PS. Please forgive my absence from this site this past year – I do plan on posting more regularly in 2020! I’m excited to say I’ve got lots of exciting things lined up. A new website design, a secret-project unveiling, and lots more that I’ve been working on. Please enjoy your quiet time during this winter break and I’ll see you all in the new year!
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