I confess to a strange sensation amid a world in the panic of epidemiological meltdown: I feel relief, a curious lightness of spirit borne not of sangfroid, but of surrender. To be sure I am gravely concerned for all of us in this COVID-19 nightmare. We are all in it together, and we are all responsible. But as I sat yesterday erasing line after line in my calendar (paper and pencil, quaint, I know), of speaking appearances, book signings, a TV shoot, a working trip to Europe, a vacation, and a considerable amount of money, I couldn’t help feel the kind of conflicted joy that might accompany a string of stay-at-home snow days: a pain in the neck but also an opportunity (a painortunity?) A sort-of vacation, but minus the anxiety of what you left undone… because you haven’t actually left, and probably won’t anytime soon.
As I emailed participants about postponing our spring painting trip along the Camino de Santiago, I thought about the gift of found time. I thought, as perhaps they did, and you might, about having set an intention, and made a plan, and watching it go “poof.” There is a Japanese haiku that says, “My barn has burned down, and now I can see the moon.”
The Camino de Santiago, which I’ve walked parts of three times now with my friend and business partner Hollye Jacobs, and others, is a storied and beautiful trek across the north of Spain. For many who walk it, it is also a spiritual pilgrimage. How great was our excitement this year to combine the walk with sessions of sketching and painting, yet another way to connect to the earth, to our divine gifts of creativity, to one another, and perhaps to the divine itself. And now, pfffff.
Or maybe not.
There are many ways to be a pilgrim. If a pilgrim is one who journeys to a sacred place as an act of devotion, then there are endless routes through the metaphor to arrive at the desired destination: transformation. Big or small, inward or outward.
Me, I’m planting a new garden. No big deal, but it makes my heart sing and means the world to me. Allowing myself to do something that makes my heart sing, is a kind of transformation. Why don’t I do that more often? Why do I do so many things that do not make my heart sing? Why do so many of us? And I’m not talking about paying the rent here. I’m talking about agreeing to chair the committee that you don’t even want to be on, let alone chair it. Why do we do so many of those things?
Later, instead of flying to Europe I’ll fly to the East Coast (when advisable), and I will deal with the furniture and things in storage that have bothered me for years, years. I know I’m not alone in this debilitating preoccupation with STUFF, and enough has been said elsewhere about the subject. But that is what I’m doing, and the project feels every bit as daunting and exciting as the Camino. It is my “meanwhile camino,” and I am thrilling to it. Even as I dread it.
It will also feel like burning down the barn, what with the history and the sentiment all those stored stuffs carry. But after three years of writing morning pages (see The Artist’s Way) and a mortifying percentage of them containing phrases like “Bring Mama’s chair to ranch” and “Give sofa to Jacob” and “Jettison the sofa,” I realize I am not going to move forward in my one precious life unless I clear the way.
Entering the next decade, I am keen to embark on my next chapter, except that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS. I’ve got to burn down the barn so I can see the moon. Maybe I have to burn several barns. I HAVE NO IDEA. But I’m starting here.
What about you? Have you got a barn blocking the moon? I’d like to hear. I bet we all would. Just like with the damn virus thing, we are all in this together, and the virus is a powerful reminder of that. We are all connected.
Other than that, at the end of the day we HAVE NO IDEA what’s going to happen in our lives, in our medical labs, or in our financial markets. So think about this: Having no idea is having every idea. When you have no fixed beliefs, no impossibility, no yes/no, black/white, Democrat/Republican, then you are open to every possibility. The Buddhists call it “don’t-know mind,” an elevated state of awareness.
I believe profound and positive things can and will come of this global health crisis. The storms of disruption are awful, but then the rain stops and the rainbow appears. The same is true in our personal lives, if we will allow the simple “what-is.” Our circumstances now, today, might give us the space in which to pause from our infernal busy-ness (speaking of pandemics) and to re-connect with ourselves, our loved ones, and our community—safely of course. We might, in moments of fear or stress, decide to look past our conscious thoughts and catastrophic what-ifs and simply allow the what-is with a don’t-know mind. We might consider the possibility, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “to see through a glass darkly, and then face to face.”
Y’all be careful, and stay well.
P.S. And hey, it’s a good time to curl up with a great cook book 🙂 , fire up the stove, and gather small groups of friends and family at home. Just a thought… And if you are interested in joining our trip on the Camino de Santiago, or other Frollye adventures, leave a comment letting us know and we will put you on the list.