As writers, we may avoid the page because we fear the fatal sting of failure, but falling into the pain will free your imagination and allow your creativity to thrive.
If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. Rumi
I’m sure you’ve heard the urban legend of the drunk who fell off a ten-story balcony and survived with nothing more than a scratch. Usually, a little moral will be tacked on to the end of the tale, contributing this lack of injury to the total relaxation that overcomes you after one too many Long Island Iced Teas. As the theory goes, supposedly it’s the tensing up before impact that leads to injury. Children, drunkards, sleeping passengers ejected from crashing cars all meet similar fates; protected as their bodies fly, supine and relaxed.
They bounce when they hit the ground.
As I contemplated the wisdom of the invincible alcoholic, I began to think about the power of letting go. What if we relaxed into the agony instead of trying to protect ourselves from it? How much more damage are we doing, not just to our bodies but to our psyches, by trying to encase our entire lives in a kind of preemptive prophylactic? If Newton’s Laws of Physics guarantee a reaction for every action, we can expect heartache to accompany joy, failure to follow success, and pain on the heels of pleasure.
But the opposite is also true. It’s why we’re advised to keep an eye out for the windows that open when the doors slam shut. It’s why everyone’s always looking for the silver lining, the upside, the unexpected victory snatched from defeat.
Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. Joseph Campbell
The other day, a heartfelt “I’ll miss you,” was met with silence. I waited to hear the expected response, “I’ll miss you too,” but with an impish grin, my cohort stayed silent, smiling as those milliseconds raced like storm clouds across my face.
“You’re going to say it back, right?” I asked; eyebrow arched to the sky.
“Nah,” he shrugged, “I think I’ll withhold my affection.”
And then he did the exact opposite.
It was a snarky little moment that ended in laughter but got me thinking about what we routinely withhold not just from others, but from ourselves. With a too-cool-for-school attitude, we sometimes tamper down our enthusiasm, reject an indulgence, and rein in our emotions. We do it out of instinct or because we’re following the advice of some well-meaning friend who only wishes us the best.
We do it to protect ourselves from the injuries we know are waiting when we hit the ground.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. Hermann Hesse
Perhaps we should ease into it instead. What if we followed the advice of Buddhist monks and Disney princesses and simply let it go.
Because I tell you what… we distract ourselves by trying to proactively thwart discomfort. All that energy directed towards avoiding a catastrophe leaves us exhausted, frustrated and unsatisfied. We wonder why we can’t enjoy our planned for vacation, or that glass of wine we’ve been thinking about all afternoon, or that new love that just peeked out around the corner and took us by surprise.
We focus so much on protecting our fragile egos; we forget the strength of our hearts.
You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. Laozi
It seems to be a universal truth that whatever you put out into the universe you receive tenfold in return. It’s why we’re all advised to think positive and avoid the circular trap of expecting a horrible outcome and then watching helplessly as worst-case-scenarios rain down upon us. It’s not such a big leap, then, to conclude that our protective stance and withholding spirit only results in the exact heartache we’re trying to avoid.
What if, instead, we just gave in? Instead of focusing so much on trying to “win” at of life, maybe we need to face the reality that the game is rigged. When we keep score, everybody loses. When we only play defense, we will never score.
“Withholding distorts reality,” writes Cheryl Strayed, in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. “It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel.”
“So release yourself from that,” she advises. “Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.”
For it is in giving that we receive. Francis of Assisi
In the end, we are all going to end up six feet under, or up on the mantle or wafting away in ashes on the crest of a wave. Holding on tightly to what matters is the easiest way to lose the things we love. You can scoop sand loosely in your hand and fill a bucket in minutes, or you can try to grasp it in tight fists and watch it all just slip away.
I believe that if we face our desires with an open heart and a generous spirit, we will get not just what we want, but what we need. If you’re holding back on your writing, let your imagination take the wheel and see where it takes you. Don’t avoid the canvas or the notebook because there’s a chance you’ll fail and look stupid. Embrace your faults and accept the impossibility of perfection.
If you’re keeping yourself from engaging in the world – maintaining a distance and cultivating a cool, indifferent air – in a misplaced attempt to save yourself from feeling hurt or angry or unloved, now’s the time to try a different strategy.
As they say, it’s the effort that counts in the end.
Make the effort. Be positive. Let yourself hope, dream, and love without condition. Live life with no strings attached.
You’re writing will be the better for it, and so will your soul.
Cover Photo by Risto Kuulasmaa via Flickr
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