Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Doing-ness and the void, or, How to get your mojo back after you leap off a gigantic cliff

I should have a bumper sticker that says, "I’m not panicking. I’m staring into the void." 
I think I'm starting to freak people out. Not everyone. But some people.

After all, the first and safest call and response pattern we define our identities by in this society is, “What do you do?” And in an insidiously creepy kind of way in this conversation, what we DO silently morphs into who we ARE, as illustrated by our answer: “Oh, I AM a [fill in the blank].”


Those of us who have been in transition, sometimes for years, have already rubbed up against this conundrum many times -- the cultural creatives, the chronically unemployed, the alternately employed, the full time mommas and daddies, the survivors of dis-ease, the multiple hat-wearers, the serial entrepreneurs, the corporate kids who also hold down dayjobs, and others -- we know this dance as intimately as we know our own skin. 

Just because we DO a thing, it doesn't make us that thing.

Yet, we're still uncomfortable at a 10 when trying to declare ourselves to strangers or shout our stories the universe and we don't have an answer to the DO question that we feel really solid about.

And that’s what’s secretly magical.  

I love to hate being uncomfortable. For me, it means I’m Alive with a capital “A”. It means I'm doing something right. Fortunately, there is something about me that is ever-so-slightly askew, as if I am always on the outside looking in, plus I'm empathic, highly sensitive, and not occasionally neurotic. So, I basically get to be uncomfortable pretty much all the time.

So, this week I was staring into the void, reflecting on life as a void-starer, and the tenuous dance I’ve been doing since I shared with my broader network the news that I quit The Job. I went through the process of grieving personally and then publicly sharing how I’m feeling after three weeks of having made the decision, but it hasn’t really lessened the wonderment or unease. 

I am not going to sit here and politely pretend I have the first fart of a clue what I’m doing right now.

Yes, I made a plan. Of course I made a plan! I’m a Virgo for gosh sake. I made a plan, and if I do say so myself, it is an Elaborate Technicolor Dreamcoat kind of a Plan.

I even drafted and illustrated the Elaborate Techincolor Plan on my white board using a rainbow of fine-tipped dry erase colors the day after I turned in my notice in a kind of elated-half-conscious-totally-panicking-feeling-all-is-well state of mind. 

In some ways the Elaborate Technicolor Plan seems exactly right. 
In others, it seems ridiculous and foreign. 
It was either written by my most brilliant me, or by someone who is no longer me and maybe never was nor will be. 

Its wild ambitions and sophisticated three prong strategy feel both like an archive, a remnant of a life I put great emphasis on for twenty years, where things like strategic plans on white boards and powerpoints were desired and demanded and extremely useful. Where they were truly magical tools to get you out of any jam. If things were not going well, or a manager had posed a challenge to me, or I just knew I was about to totally f* something up, I’d default to strategic planning. I’d draft a document full of purpose and poignancy, taglines and tactics, goals and measures, graphics and charts. I’d solicit input. I’d seek consensus and approval. I’d considerately position resource allocation needs and ramp-up timelines. All my energy would calm down once the plan was on paper, or whiteboard, or laptop screen. Feeling a little bit alone, but much more secure now that I could execute based on a plan, I would be able to move forward. YES!

Over the last two decades, and really over my entire life, I have longed to be part of a powerful, thriving community of strong, creative, nurturing people who surround and support one another. For all those years, I stared into the void, terrified and siloed by its pure feminine creative energies, trying to create this community and feeling my energy languish when it lapsed. I filled the hollowness of aloneness with masculine, straight-lined strategies and structures. With DO-ingness. With declarations about my DO-ingness. I lived in the valley of the echo, where I could speak and hear only my own voice returning to me for days on end. I came to both love and hate my strategic side. I have known for some time, if I was going to really thrive, it was time to make a change. To add on. To stare into the void and embrace my inner goddess wisdom, my shamanic path, my calling as a ceremonialist and designer of ritual spaces.

When you make a big change, most people will assume you have it all worked out.

They will ask you for your plans and they will ask you to spare no details. It is as if there is an unspoken understanding in our culture that somehow details, even if they are made up ones, have the power to magically make both the one who is changing and the one who’s yet to change in some related area behind feel better about the yawning void spanning suddenly before them. I would suggest I’m not the first to posit that this fear of the deep dark void is most likely due in part at least to our legacy of living for so many years in the bright light of a Western, paternalistic, hierarchical society where a clear map from A to Z and angular articulated boundaries defined not by water and air and earth and collaboration but by oil and money and aggression and competition is valued far more highly than the sacred feminine creative trajectory that takes the actor from A to Q to Z and back to a whole new version of A to birth something wildly different all over again. Oooooh, look at me getting all feminist. Yowza. That's a whole other post.

Here’s the point I’m making today:

In trying to to figure out a soundbyte to appease my inquisitors about what I am going to DO now that I have made this big declaration to not be DO-ing The Job, I've realized there are only a handful of things that even feel right in my gullet. And that the nature of their DO-ing feels totally different than ever before, and really, there is no use even pretending that the DO-ing matters as much to me as the BE-ing.

The white board strategy reads more and more like hieroglyphics as the days go on. In my mind’s eye, I see myself taking a picture of my white board like an archaeologist might do for the sake of posterity and then wiping all the words off with my empty palm. I write four words in the void that has emerged: “WRITE AND MAKE ART.” 

I am profoundly disturbed by the implications of this vision. Everyone with a monkey mind knows, “You can’t make any money writing.” Except that once upon a time, I did exactly that.

Haunted by the vision, I re-read the content of my whiteboard and realize that monkey mind or not, all of it underlines the message, "write and make art". I have documented the emotions I want to feel, the goals I want to achieve, the timelines I'd love to achieve by, and those also still feel right still. It’s just that the “DO-ing” is buried under a million words and pictures. It feels overdone, forced, corporate-y, and hey, I’m not ashamed to admit it, desperate and built out of scarcity consciousness.

So I decide to suck it up, take a deep breath and embrace the void. I pull out the Windex and a rag. I erase the board. I do not take a photo of the hieroglyphs. If I could write it down once, I can trust it'll still be hanging around somewhere inside me if I need it later. 

I grab the first pens I see, on orange one and a blue one that have fallen on the ground.

And I leap into the void.