Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon I was washing dishes as I listened to Patti Smith narrate M Train (her new memoir.) I love Patti Smith, for the same reason I loved The Smiths (the 80’s rock band) when I was a youth. Both are a little depressing and have an ongoing message of the ticking bomb. I get closer to this ticking bomb as I get older. I’m also reminded of this ticking bomb when I’m stunned by news of a death, like David Bowie’s passing on January 10th.
As I listen to Patti describe years passed, I listen to the tone of her voice. It’s low, well used, it sounds tired. Spent. She’s always had a grit and grime aspect to her (which is why she’s always been fabulous and greatly admired), but this time it feels more surrendered and earthy. More open and revealing, like exposed roots in soil. It reminds me that there isn’t much time left. Not for her, not for me, not for anyone. We are all just defenseless ticking bombs. When I hear Patti talking about her now deceased husband Fred (Sonic) Smith, I’m reminded that loving relationships and opportunities for growth are precious. I’m reminded that holding up a facade is only a waste of time and energy. I’m reminded that hiding under the blanket of playing safe is like digging an early grave.
It’s so clear to me that we have to get closer to the mystery.
What is real to me is that which can not be touched, only known. Not known by the intellect, known by the heart, by the soul. This knowledge has no death. This is why I think it’s important for us to challenge ourselves, to reach outside of our box or comfort zone. We must do what scares us. When we do this, we get to know ourselves (and life itself) on a deeper level.
I remember when I went through a phase in 2009 of wanting to fast on water. No food, just water. I wrote about it in a blog post titled Eating My Tail. In the post I said that I was going to try fasting for 10 days, I ended up fasting for 18 days. (I could have went longer, easily another 7 – 10 days. I was fine and completely comfortable. I was content and happy not eating. But people close to me were scared for me, because the idea of fasting seemed scary for them. I stopped my fast only because of the fear around me.) The point of me mentioning the fast is; I thought food ruled my world. I couldn’t imagine myself not eating for a day, or even missing a single meal! Since I was a child I was always chubby, always loving to eat, always dreaming up my next meal. How could I not eat?! It seemed impossible, unimaginable, especially for a person like me. But there I was, day after day — no food, only water — just fine. It blew my mind. It made me wonder what else I was believing and living that might be a lie. It made me wonder where else in my life I might be limiting myself, or wrapping myself very tightly and neatly in a small box. After that fast, I never looked at food (or myself) the same. My life was changed forever. I no longer trusted my idea of myself, or my stories of what is possible for me (or others) based on predisposed limitations untested.
Back to Patti Smith and the idea of exposed roots in soil…
I think it’s so important that we do what scares us. It’s this vulnerability that sets us free and grants us immortality. And you can take that statement any way you like. Whether it’s telling someone you love them, or singing your most private song in public, or sailing around the world — do it! Expose yourself. Set your soul free. See what happens. See if you experience a mini death. (Which is how the French describe orgasms and Buddhists describe enlightenment.) When you open and empty yourself in this way, it creates space. And this space creates possibility. And this possibility creates an aliveness.
If you ever get to the point in yourself where you feel a perturbing lull or dip in aliveness, it means you have spent too much time under the blanket of playing safe. (Trust me, I know. This is why I can speak and write about it. I live it repeatedly.) We are all no different from autumn trees, or maybe I should say leaves? Change is inevitable, change is life. It makes no difference if we are uncomfortable with change and would like to stay the same, life will boot you out of your comfort zone. So you might as well do it yourself. Kick your own damn ass. Get yourself out of bed. Light your own fire. Do what it takes to experience the mystery and test the unknown. Don’t leave soul questions unanswered.
One way to keep things interesting and fresh (alive), is to return to a childlike or youthful nature. Be curious. Test boundaries. Love, give and trust freely. See life as play. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Make friends easily. Look at the world from new eyes. Write your own story (or sequel.) What do you have to lose?
Life is meant for the living. How can we be living fully if we don’t feel alive? And how can we truly be alive if we aren’t willing to be vulnerable? How can we live with excitement and curiosity in our hearts, if we don’t give life a poke? It’s like when you see a glob of something on the ground, and your first inclination is to grab a stick and poke it. You want to see if it moves, you want to see if it’s alive. That glob is us! Comfortable, steady, settled — and sometimes stuck. If we don’t poke ourselves to see if we are still alive, the universe will do it for us. I’d rather poke myself. My guess is you would too.
Time to get moving.