Pinned to the bulletin board above my desk is a quote from Jane Austen: “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” I keep this curious sentence in view because I find it an excellent crystallization of a truth I’m learning to live by: that tremendous effort is sometimes necessary to access things that are good for me.
Today, I awoke feeling like I was looking at my life through the wrong end of a telescope. On my morning walk, usually a centering routine, the autumny yellows waving from a patch of aspen seemed dull, the slanting sunlight a reproach.
All morning I reached for another cup of tea or a piece of chocolate to banish the banality. I listlessly moved my to-do list around the counter, half-heartedly starting projects and dropping them, managing mainly to be ineffectual. My mood seemed to buffet me at every turn.
Finally, and with titanic energy, I pulled on my running shoes and forced myself out the door. For the first quarter of an hour the aspen’s yellow still seemed dishwater dull.
But after awhile everything began to brighten. The wrong-end-of-the-telescope feeling diminished. Each stride landed me more in my body, more pax with the familiar world I love. Suddenly, with clarity, I recalled a friend’s text sent many months ago when I was in a similar drifty, purposeless space: “It is amazing the miracle balm that is ACTION on your own behalf.”
This is a lesson I have to learn and relearn all the time. Why is it so hard at times to do the things we know deepen our lives, to adhere to practices that ground us? In the past decade, through a lot of trial and error and listening to my experience, I have learned decisively that everything is better in my heart and mind if I plonk myself at my desk and work on crafting another chapter of my manuscript. Or if I go on a trail run. Or, if possible, both. Though this formula could not be simpler, I still have to talk myself into these actions on my own behalf. Even with years of practice, it doesn’t come easily.
It would be far less complicated, I suppose, if we were just plain good at choosing the things that fill us up, that pay out dividends in our hearts and minds. But, in my experience, these are the very things about which I drag my feet and invent excuses to avoid.
The point is this: it’s hard work, this business of being alive in the world. Let no one tell you differently. The work is real. There are no shortcuts to fulfillment, no arrival at some halcyon space where you get to stay. There are just decisions, day after day, on how to use the time you’re given. Some days those decisions seem easy. Some days they are taken with great effort.
How grateful I am for those times when, pushing through, I write on till I am back in humor with the practice, or run on until I can appreciate the autumn light winking in the aspens.
p.s. My formula for action on my own behalf is a trail run and writing. What’s yours? Share it with us here by leaving a reply below.