Can it be that when we feel the most fragile is when we feel the most alive?
When we ARE the most alive?
Tonight I was reading a chapter from Julia Cameron's excellent, life-changing creativity course The Artist's Way. I finished the course a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't feel like I had done it full-out. Plus it was so life-changing; it was for both of these reasons I wanted to do it again.
So here I am.
And I was reading the chapter for Week Two, and she was describing the way her grandmother paid attention to the beauty of the world around her, especially in her garden. In the course of the chapter, Julia noted that as she wrote about paying attention, she also wrote about pain. As I write about attention, she said, I also notice that I'm writing a lot about pain.
And she made a comment about how the quality of a life is not in success or failure. It's in our capacity for delight, and our capacity for delight is directly related to our ability to pay attention.
And it got me thinking about all the pain I've undergone. The pain of being rejected from graduate school. The pain of voice rest. The pain of change and shift, the pain of learning and of crisis. The pain of curveballs. Comparatively, relative to some people around the world, my life has been pretty cushy -- but that doesn't prevent me from experiencing pain.
(Sidebar: never discount your experiences. Maybe what you're experiencing isn't "as hard" as someone else's life, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter, or that it's not hard FOR YOU. Carry on.)
And I noticed that when I was the most uncomfortable in my life is when I do my best writing. It's when I'm the most fragile that I've written the most beautiful things. When I've been the most exposed and naked to the elements, terrified of sharp edges traced along my skin for fear I would puncture and all of me would be left in a puddle on the floor -- and then who would I be? -- when I feel the most exposed is when I make my best art.
Is that because these are the moments that I'm paying attention? Maybe.
And weirdly, I look back on those times with something like nostalgia. I would not go back to when I was in pain. I live in this kind of semi-lucid state, where I'm half there and half just drowning in the pain of it. And maybe that's the artist in me romanticizing my existence, but I've started to wonder -- I've started to NOTICE -- that when I look back on the times I was most in pain, I remembered what it was like to write during those times. I've remembered what it was like to be a creator when I was in pain. I've remembered what I wrote about; my essays from those times have stuck with me more than any others. I tend to forget pretty quickly what I write about: it's out in the world, and then it's done, and I move on. Not with those.
And there's a quality of life I notice when I'm going through something tough. Each time is different, but there are certain factors that feel the same. And I'm not even sure I know how to describe these factors, but I'll try.
The way the sun feels on my skin. The way the sky gives me the most melancholic hope I can imagine.
The way you want to cry at everything but it just takes SO much effort.
A dull throbbing somewhere in the region of my rib cage (my heart, y'all) as well as somewhere in my brain.
A desperate need for rest.
Crippling feelings of inadequacy followed by a surge in courage.
Now that I think about it, it's in these moments that I learn to give fewer cares. It's in these times that my courage grows. I get a courage growth spurt.
Somehow when I'm in pain I feel more alive than I do when everything seems hunky dory. I think there is a part of me that looks for things to go wrong when they are going well, so maybe this is part of that psychological sadomasochism (say that five times fast). And again, maybe it's the artistic part of me that likes to romanticize my life. But as I sit here writing this, I start to wonder if there's something to it: if when we are vulnerable, we are the most alive.
I think it's true.
There are lots of reasons people encourage vulnerability. It makes you more relateable. It makes you easier to talk to. It makes your story more interesting.
And I think the reason it makes the story more interesting is that it's in those moments of the most exposure that we are... That we are set aflame.
I remember when my friend Kaysha told me I needed to work on my vulnerability. She meant it kindly. She said it kindly. And she was right, yo. I also remember when she told me I had gotten better about it. That she was proud of me.
If I could teach myself anything, it would be that rawness is nothing to be ashamed of. You don't have to be afraid of being yourself, of being exposed, of being vulnerable.
We are terrified of exposing ourselves to the elements. Of being pierced. Of being less than perfect, because if we are not perfect, who will love us?
But fragility, besides making people want to scoop us up and love on us -- it shows that we are human. That there is a beating heart beneath our skin. Beneath the aching rib cage.
It shows that we are alive.
If we are trying to be perfect, we are living in a robotic state. We are trying to attain something that is less human. A robot doesn't go on adventures, either, y'all.
Humanity, as it stands now, lies in some imperfection. In the world as God intended it, maybe it meant something different than imperfection, but I think it's always meant vulnerability.
It's just that when we were perfect, before the Fall, we had no reason to fear vulnerability.
Oddly, more often than not, I've found that all my fears about being vulnerable are unfounded. When I am exposed is when people most come to meet me. When they extend their hands. When I find my traveling companions. When I feel like I'm really living, really alive.
And I want to be alive. I do not want to be encased in plastic.
This, of course, means that I have to throw myself into exposure to the elements. I have to walk into the fire where all the clothes on my body will be burned away and I will be left with nothing but myself.
He sees only me, anyway, none of the extra stuff.
That's what I want to be: just Sara, nothing else. I don't want to hide (anymore, or ever).
I was going to say that I didn't want to be afraid, but that isn't the point. I will be afraid. But I want to be willing to be naked and afraid and exposed and vulnerable, anyway. I want to remember that it's worth the risk. Worth the fall.
I will be caught. I will be found. I will be seen and known and loved.
And I will be alive.