Maybe it’s all these years in tutti-frutti Northern California, or the decade spent in the cycle of New England seasons, but I’ve become very susceptible to the notions of renewal and rebirth. I love the idea of starting over, wiping the slate clean, and creating rituals around de-cluttering, deconstructing, de-stuffing my life and trying to get back to a state of purity, simplicity, and ease.
At the same time, I’ve also become enamored with states of in-betweenness. The places of not quite and almost. These are places of occasional mess and upheaval, disorder and dilemma, and they can be wonderfully creative landscapes to play in. I say “play” because I think there’s a misconception about what being in a state of in-betweenness means, and it could be a lot more interesting (and certainly more constructive) if we stop seeing it as a way station between here (where we are) and there (where we want to be).
In a few days, I’m leaving for a week-long bicycle journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS/LifeCycle event, which raises money for AIDS research and supports people living with HIV/AIDS. I have spent almost 6 months training for this 7-day, 545-mile trip, but despite this fact, I’ve had a million thoughts of “I’m not ready.” Like I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t trained enough, hadn’t prepared enough mentally. I was concerned that the miles and heat and grueling hills would prove insurmountable. And it was only the other morning, in the middle of a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, that I had an epiphany. What if there was no such thing as “hot” or “windy” or “freezing?” What if it was just called “weather”? What if I stopped thinking in terms of miles and used the word “space” instead? And what if there was no such thing as “uphill” or “downhill” and it was simply called “the path”? When I let myself relax into this place of non-judgment, of neutrality, I began to forget about the way the wind was whipping me around on the span, threatening to topple me from my bike. I stopped noticing the cold, how I should have put on another layer, maybe covered my ears. I could ignore the traffic, and even the fact that I’d left my bike shoes at someone’s house and had to manage on my pedal clips with my tennis sneakers. I forgot about how far I was going. And I found myself edging away from that potential discomfort and unease and moving, instead, into a feeling of being completely okay. It was just weather. The distance was just space. I was just on a path.
What does this have to do with rebirth or renewal, or for that matter, with states of in-betweenness? I think it’s easy for us to think that if we clear enough space and create a ritual around simplifying our life, something new will open up and we will be able to identify and advance toward what we want, what we’re meant to be. And yes, sometimes it’s true – we really need to slash and burn in order to get down to what matters, to get back to ourselves again. But “starting over” can also be an illusion, a distraction, a way to get out of touch with where we are. It can make us think something is wrong with our present tense, or more specifically, that something is wrong with us. That we need to make grand, sweeping changes in order to reconfigure, recharge, be reborn. But where we are can actually have lots of information and instruction for us, lots of color and shape and wisdom and opportunity. It can be a place to spring from, not escape, a launching pad rather than a dead end.
We are so hard on ourselves, trying to be superheroes all the time, expecting enormous things to happen so quickly and efficiently and perfectly. We get impatient, think ourselves inexpert, foolish, graceless, wasteful, doddering, tedious, afraid, weak, less than. We forget who we are. We forget what we know. And we forget what we’re capable of, exactly as we are with exactly what we know. Maybe we can learn to be a little gentler on ourselves. To stop telling ourselves we need to change so much so soon. This is the weather. This is space. This is the path we’re on. It’s expansive and gorgeous and rich with possibility, and best of all, it’s ours. Why would we want to start anywhere else?
how to climb a mountain
Make no mistake. This will be an exercise in staying vertical.
Yes, there will be a view, later, a wide swath of open sky,
but in the meantime: tree and stone. If you’re lucky, a hawk will
coast overhead, scanning the forest floor. If you’re lucky,
a set of wildflowers will keep you cheerful. Mostly, though,
a steady sweat, your heart fluttering indelicately, a solid ache
perforating your calves. This is called work, what you will come to know,
eventually and simply, as movement, as all the evidence you need to make
your way. Forget where you were. That story is no longer true.
Level your gaze to the trail you’re on, and even the dark won’t stop you.