It’s interesting – being a blogger and author and speaker and public person. It’s fun to watch your book break the top five on the New York Times list. It’s exciting to take on big projects and be recognized and hugged by strangers. It’s an experience to field daily praise and criticism. It is all something. Really- just something.
The problem, as my wise new friend Lissa says, is that there’s no THERE there.
You think there is, you really do. You start writing and you think- okay. If I just get a book deal – then I’ll have arrived. I’ll BE there. But then you get there. The finish line. And somebody moves it. Now the goal is to hit “The List.” And so you get there- the finish line. But then somebody moves it. Now the goal is to stay on the list. And now it is to write another book that does better than the first.
And everything else is like that, too. The speaking. The blogging. The finish line keeps moving and moving. Any sort of celebration for any sort of “success” lasts three minutes and even those celebrations feel like pressure. Because over every celebration hangs the question,“so, what’s next?” And so there is no satisfaction, no peace. It’s never done. It’s never good enough.
And this is why it is so important for us to take the time to define success for ourselves. Because if we let the world do it for us, the world will keep moving the finish line again and again and accidentally suck us dry. And we might do something awful like make ourselves sick or quit doing what we love to do. The world will NEVER say to us- “Enough, sweetheart. You did well. Relax and take care of yourself and your family and your friends and your dogs. Forever, if you’d like.”
And that’s okay, because it’s not the world’s job to say that to us –it’s our job to say that to ourselves.
During the past year I’ve learned that there is no THERE for me in the world’s idea of success. But thank God, I’ve also learned where the THERE IS in my life.
THERE are the things I do just to do them. There is no NEXT after these things. No THEN WHAT? No striving. No expectations. For me – THERE is on the beach at sunset. There is puttering around my house, straightening things – God I love that. There is writing. Not posting and waiting for responses, just writing. There is in yoga class- when my only job is to breathe. There is sitting in the pew at our church. There is smack dab in the middle of a philosophical talk with Chase, Tish’s bedtime lullaby, or a tickle fest with Amma. Right now, THERE is at a marriage therapy session with Craig – practicing listening and really getting to know the man God gave me to love. THERE is on the floor listening to a few girlfriends talk. Just talk – not about anything important, necessarily. Just listening to real live women laugh and talk. THERE is feeling the weight of my puppies on my legs at night –grounding me while I fall asleep. All of that really sinks in. It makes me who I am.
Those things. I feel good enough in the midst of those things. I feel like all I have to do is be me. Nobody needs anything but the real me. And so there is a THERE, there.
I’m signing off of the internet for 40 days.
I feel something or someone calling me away. Calling me to rest and be still. Begging me to stop producing, stop striving, Reminding me that: what good is it to gain the whole world if you lose your soul, G?
This someone, God maybe, keeps reminding me that one of my favorite things about myself is that I’d give up a million whole worlds to keep my soul.
This morning I was prepping the kids’ lunches and dancing in the kitchen to the Grateful Dead. I was happy. I am always happy when I’m about to take the kids to camp.
And I sang this part really loud: “first one’s named sweet Anne Marie, she’s my heart’s delight.” I love that line. Heart’s Delight! Anne Marie! And I started thinking about what a precious name Anne Marie is and how much I just LOVE everyone in the whole world named Anne Marie. And then I said a prayer for all the Anne Maries in the world. That they’d have a few brilliant moments today in which they’d feel wildly and completely loved.
That whole Grateful Dead/Anne Marie thing took about five minutes. That five minutes made me so happy. There was a THERE there. Because that was my soul, there dancing and praying for all the Anne Marie’s in the world. I love that wild, nonsensical part of me. I need some time to get back in touch with her- to invite her front and center again because I want HER to lead me through this life. I choose HER- even if she makes no sense to the world at all. She says to me- WHO FREAKING CARES ABOUT THAT THING YOU’RE DOING? COME DANCE! THE ANNE MARIES NEED SOME PRAYERS! DON”T ASK WHY- JUST DANCE AND PRAY!”
The internet, I think – is turning into a compulsion for me. I’m starting to look to it for my own worth. I’m looking to it for comfort and as a balm for loneliness. I’m using it to hide a little from real live people. And I’m using it to numb my feelings. To zone out. All of this scares me because these are all the things I used to use booze for. And these are the things I still use food for sometimes.
The internet is not bad any more than wine or food are bad. But we can use all three in ways that dull our spirits. If we’re looking to find THERE in anything other than within – we will have no peace. We will be folks in a race in which the finish line just keeps moving till we die. There will be no time or energy left to dance or pray. What will the Anne Maries do?
Every once in a while, I need to silence all the thousands of voices coming at me through the internet so that I can hear God in me. That is the only voice, the ONLY voice, that I can trust will never lead me wrong. And that is the voice I hear in the quiet. It’s time for some quiet for me. And then after the quiet it’s time for some real conversations with the people I love. Sometimes with our access to so MANY people, we end up serving our outer circles instead of most inner ones. Sometimes we’re so busy responding to strangers that we forget to respond to the people right in front of is. And we forget who we are a little. And instead of feeling grounded into our real lives we start feeling untethered, like satellites out in the cyberworld. As if we actually ARE our profiles and our worth actually COMES from how many “likes” we have. No. There is no THERE there. There’s not and there is never, ever going to be.
The people I trust the most are the folks who feel and respect the rhythm of life. Nature tries to teach us how that works. Like the ocean waves – how they gather power and then roll in, and back out. In, and back out. And how the trees respect life’s seasons. How they blossom and then go dormant. They know that creating beauty is not about pushing through. It’s about respecting the seasons. I don’t think the trees spend a whole lot of time worrying that if they rest – if they go dormant for a season like they were made to- that they’ll become obsolete. They know life will go on without them for a while and that’s okay with them. They will blossom again when it’s time. Trees have faith.
But we don’t. When our bodies tell us it’s time to rest – we pop pills and chug more caffeine. We think something’s WRONG with us. We push through. At a cost maybe.
In twenty minutes, I’m going to publish this essay and then I’m going to disable the internet on my phone and my computer. No blog, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no email. I’m going to drop out of my online life so that I can drop fully back into my real life. It’ll be hard at first. I’ll get nervous and twitchy and I won’t know what to do with myself for a while. That’s okay- I’ve made it through withdrawal before. I know how to sit with the discomfort of being disconnected to the identity I’ve clung to so tightly for so long. And I know that sitting with the discomfort of releasing a false identity is the only way back to my real-est identity. Which is a child of God. And as a child of God- I don’t have to produce a damn thing to be worthy. I just AM. I just have to remember that. That truth is uncomfortable at first – and then it turns into the only lasting comfort on Earth.
Like my new shero Pema Chodron says:
“So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.”
Carry On, Warriors. See you in 40 days.
PS. Anne Maries – if you have an extra good day, you know who to thank.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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