It’s been quiet here in this online space, this place where we connect about books and writing and family and...life in general.
But it hasn’t been quiet in my head or in my heart. No, there is a veritable beehive of activity going on in both places. Like the angry buzzing of a disturbed hive, these thoughts swarm and sting, painfully disturbing the equilibrium I need in order to thrive.
As spring continues to drag it’s feet here in Michigan, my spirits drag along with it. For months now, I’ve been in a valley emotionally and creatively- not the lush, verdant kind that peppers the landscape in southern England, but the gloomy lowland that comes with feeling unsatisfied, uneasy, unfulfilled. I wake in the night, restless and painful, and move into the second bedroom where I read for hours before falling back into a fitful sleep just before the alarm sounds. I drink more caffeine and alcohol than I should, because they give me the illusion of feeling better for a moment. I disdain the image I see in the mirror, wear the same jeans and sweaters because it’s easy and I look terrible anyway.
We’ve all spent time in that valley. But for most of us with families, homes, jobs, and all the other responsibilities of day to day living, we keep plowing through the dark times, doing all those things that have to be done, keeping our sadnesses to ourselves. We need to preserve our image of strength and capability. We don’t want the people we love to see our weakness. We’re afraid they’ll misunderstand our sadness.
So we wrap it up tightly and tuck it inside a corner of our hearts. Sometimes I can physically feel it, like another pulsing beat, trapped in that corner where I’ve forced it to go, out of sight and sound of the rest of my life. I let it peek out only in the pages of my journal, my poor notebook taking a beating these days as I write and write and write, pouring my heart out on that page. It’s as if my pen is linked directly to that hurting place, that wondering, aching, worried place that I so carefully keep hidden from the light of day.
There is a healing power in writing. It helps every morning to take that time and listen to my heart, to write those private words.
But lately my heart has felt full to overflowing. It’s needed to spill out these anxieties and fears elsewhere, to share its burdens with someone else. It needs to let go of just a little bit of that tightly held control over my image.
So today, I open it to you.
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Way We Were, starring Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. There is a scene in the movie when Streisand’s character opens her heart. “I want, I want...” she says, her heart’s desires written plainly on her face.
I want to feel better, to feel lighter and brighter and more focused. I want my heart to be lifted, like the branches of our trees in a warm gentle breeze. I want to find new focus for my creative work, I want to have the courage to take forward steps in my life in general.
I want not only to listen to my heart, but to answer it, to respond to what it needs.
This morning while waiting for the coffee to brew, I picked up the copy of Life In General sitting on my kitchen desk. I turned to the end, to those “Guiding Principles” and realize how far I’ve come from every one of them. When I wrote that section of the book, I was happier than I’d been in many years. My situation hasn’t changed that much since those days. But I’ve drifted away from those things I know to be true about myself and what fulfills me. And - to paraphrase an old song - I’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places. It’s not going to come from writing, or playing music, or relationships with other, or even the weather, even though all of those things will be factors in lightening the burdens I’ve been stockpiling.
I know real happiness has to start inside me.
In my heart.
It’s a lot easier to sit back and let life do all the happiness work - to expect people and events and possessions to make us feel fulfilled and satisfied. But all too often, life falls down on the job, and we’re left in the lurch. We descend into the valley, and sometimes we just wallow there.
That’s what I’ve been doing this winter. It’s time to start climbing out.
And I’m letting my heart lead the way.