Life can move quickly, and it can get a bit confusing at times. My own personal issues and aspirations aside, it’s hard not to feel beaten up by factors outside one’s control living on the southern coast of California this last year. So many lives have been affected by both the Thomas fires and the resulting mudslides last week it’s been a very overwhelming time to live here, particularly as an empath. These are times when both my own angst and that of those around me can be heavy, cause me to dramatically overthink things. Fight against the stream of things, to rally against fate, timing, and nature. So this morning I’m centering on rocks, streams, and natural order to get a grip on it all.
When a rock and a stream confront one another, the stream always wins through its persistence, not its strength. No matter how solid, strong, and resolute the rock may be, constantly running water will always mold it slowly into what nature intends. Water will never be impeded for long but find a way around, over, through any obstacles, wear down that rock, find it’s path forward. For a long time I’ve focused too hard on being a constant rock in a ever-flowing and changing world. These days I’m trying to respect the stream around me more. The difference is astounding.
Although I was raised in a Methodist home for the first 17 years of my life, I discovered Taoism during my college years and it started resonating deeply with me. I’d long struggled against the dogma and structured thinking of organized religion, and felt that there was a simpler, more direct way to explain and express my inner faith and beliefs- and in the writings of Lao Tzu I found it. Taoism helped me transition from an awkward twenty-something musician who had long been influenced by external factors into a determined twenty-something musician who stopped taking shit, fighting bad situations, looking outside for comfort and strength. And evolved very quickly, I might add.
Lately I’ve looked in the mirror and found myself missing that man. Over time, I’d lost my focus and center in the interest of duty and responsibility. The irony of the situation is that I’d lost my center by focusing too hard upon it. By becoming inflexible and too resolute over time to my inner vision without accepting realities around me, changes in life, even changes in myself. We can all get a bit caught up in our own image of who we are, who we should be.
I was spending too much time trying to reclaim my vision of the person I was, without taking into account the shaping that had already occurred and the person I’d become. As responsibilities and duties built up around me over the years, my mindset slowly shifted from being flexible and open to more resolute and fixed. I began to worry about protecting what I had become instead of honoring and having faith in what I could be. Although I thought I was accepting the change around me, I was far too fixed on that old snapshot of who I was, and looking backwards instead of forward.
Now sure- you can’t just let life lead you in random directions and take every punch that comes your way, but you do need to always be open to the possibility that your fixed vision of the future is like trying to take a snapshot of something that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve written in the last year or two about becoming really clear about who I am and what I want, but am only now coming to terms with the fact that I was even then viewing it all through a lens of who I was before the flood of everyday life had taken it’s long-term effects.
It had a huge, negative, regressive effect on my own self worth, and self esteem.
How can you really become something new while you’re judging it against your past self, your past achievements? It’s a no-win battle for one’s soul to undertake. But I’ve been doing it a lot until recently.
It all came into focus recently when I had a pretty serious cancer scare at the end of last year. I had to have a small cyst removed and a short round of chemo to shore up the surrounding area. Everything happened very quickly, at a time when I was desperately trying to move past my prior physical trainwrecks and start a new chapter in my life. The effect was devastating, completely destroying any self-esteem I had at the time. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, but needed to do something quickly. All I could think about was how it was taking away from me, destroying the life I thought I had.
I didn’t deal with this well. I shut myself off from those around me, made excuses for my ex-wife to take my son for 10 days while I dealt with the horrid effects of a quick (and ultimately successful) round of chemotherapy. I did it all through different doctors and facilities than usual in a different town, trying to hide the emasculating fact that yet again, my body had failed me. I shaved my head proactively – stating that I was trying a new look – instead of admitting what was really happening. The effects were even more devastating than the cancer itself, which ended up clearing itself rather quickly and definitively. I was trying desperately to return to who I was, instead of accepting my reality and letting it become part of me. It blew up a lot around me.
Oddly, the chemo treatments went so quickly and positively that I didn’t lose any hair (well, at least what was left of it). But every time I looked in the mirror I still saw that sick, broken down person who was hiding from the world. Who tried to avoid admitting who I had become. I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Yet as devastating as it was, this was the final break I needed from my old life. Instead of trying to see the old me return in the mirror, I started noticing someone new, someone who has made it through a shitload of trials and disasters over the recent years – yet was still standing. I was forced to look at this new person in the mirror and recognize him instead of expecting the old me to be looking back. Began owning who I’ve become and moving forward internally instead of wrapping myself in dogma and new-age pretenses that weren’t really addressing the core issues inside.
(Side note: I’m completely clear now- we caught the lump early enough to definitively squash it, thanks to all the batteries of tests I had to run for my longer-term kidney rehabilitation. You can read the story of the original accident that started this flood of physical trauma here.)
All this time I’d been trying to be the resolute, stoic rock amidst an ever-flowing river around me. Yet I wasn’t accepting the changes life had and was making to me, or that change was inevitable. I was still expecting to see that old rock in my reflection, and fighting the natural evolution of my self. I didn’t respect the river of life but viewed it as an external agitator, a negative influence in my life that was trying to alter my sense of stability and purpose. And once I came to that conclusion, I started to like the person I saw in the mirror. I didn’t see the old me at all, I saw someone different, changed. Better, even.
It feels a lot better, too. It makes me look back at the last few years with very different eyes, and realize that my life is still totally under my control, even if the current around me might push in different directions. I can now accept the changes that life has subjected me to, even if I don’t understand why. The core of me and my values remains the the same, but I can now see a path forward that isn’t clouded and anchored to my past achievements. It’s meant I’ve had to let go of a lot of attachments I didn’t realize I was holding on to – old goals that don’t suit me anymore, relationships that don’t serve me anymore, even material things I surrounded myself with that I wasn’t really using or needing anymore.
And I’ve started feeling strong again. Like a rock in the stream changing slowly over time, instead of fighting that change. I started getting excited about what shape I might take next, instead of trying to hold myself true to an old, outdated vision of myself. Stopped looking at the river as a destructive force removing parts of me, and started viewing it as a healing, centering force that could keep me grounded in reality while streamlining me, sanding off the rough edges that no longer served me. Feeling myself get smoother and more comfortable in the stream, more rooted, more connected.
It’s meant I’ve ended up a lot more isolated than ever before. As a very social person, this was also difficult to accept. I’ve had to protect my energy from those that would take it and become comfortable with clearer emotional boundaries. But I’ve also had to accept that what will be will be, and the true connections in my life will accept and support these changes. And my vision of the future is now more focused on the journey I’m taking than any specific destination. It’s odd how progress seems more free now that I’ve let go of these fixed visions of myself and more on keeping centered as life evolves me.
I may not know what shape I’ll take next, but I know this attitude feels a whole lot better. And that I’m a bit better off letting natural order smooth me out as I just concentrate on being the most solid rock I can be.
That picture hasn’t been painted yet. I can’t wait to see what it becomes. What I can become now.