Interrupting Patterns Can Feel Like Dying
I’ve been in the competitive fitness business for twenty-five years. I’ve coached many fitness, recreational, national and one Olympic athlete in all those years. One of my favorite mottos was, “You can do anything for three minutes!” Another, “You aren’t tired, keep going!”
I found both of those to be true. The mind starts telling a story of can’t and too tired and the body is told to quit. Pump it out, do ten more, override that mental chatter, the creeping fear stories that keep you stuck in the same rut for the rest of your life. The truth is, those long minutes interrupting the mental stories is a form of dying.
Recently, I stepped away from the fitness business and retired to a small seaside town to get back to my writing. I joined a community well-suited for this pursuit. Lots of others here my age and older, retired, looking to stir up and strengthen rusty passions. Many told me, “Don’t go at it too fast and hard, it takes time to appreciate the rhythm of this new lifestyle.”
I chuckled and nodded and pushed ahead into the logistics of making the initial move happen. Packing and canceling services, locating a new home, signing over the business to an eager new steward, asking for help, feeling nervous and feeling the rightness of the action moving through me like a surf. Sometimes crashing and sometimes mellow. Braving the digital unweave, changing my email, tracking down all my accounts and updating — I sweated that out sitting side by side a trusted techie. Couldn’t have done that on my own. She strode confidently into the maze and I did my best to keep up, ten staggering steps at a time. Finally, our last session, and she shook my hand before returning to her life.
The enormity of the change I had set in motion hit me hard. For the first day, I didn’t even realize it. The hours progressed slower than the turtle that swims around my rest, carrying my mistakes on his back without judgment. I played online Mahjong, focused on seeing patterns, pushed myself to see them faster, empty the mental chatter that got in the way. My body tensed up from the pressure and the push. Then I remembered the wise retiree’s words — “Don’t take it too fast and too hard. Slow down, feel the new lifestyle.”
And, slowing down felt like some kind of death. I realized I was barely breathing, felt hunched over, gulping small, shallow breaths as if hiding from someone. Fortunately, writers like that kind of stuff. I split into my two self, the one leaned over the hunched one and asked, “Who are you hiding from?”
The hunched one never uses actual words, I think because the hunched one was developmentally stunted as a baby. He lives in an underground chamber, and those times the hunched one comes roaring out from his hidden wallow and makes a mess of life, I disappear, disassociate. The hunched one spews his despair, his anger, and his wisdom before retreating down the long hallway of angst and absolute feel bad. Then I regroup and do what I can to clean up the mess.
Recently, I figured out maybe I had better follow him down, find out what was going on down there. I didn’t realize how he lived, how split off from me he was. The descent down went hot to damp to freezing cold to frozen. I couldn’t understand how he could live in such conditions. He puttered about, oblivious to me, sorting and re-sorting huge files — papers, objects, ideas. I grasped, then, the immense wisdom he had accumulated over the years, whereas I had done all the cleaning up, trying to put a good face on everything.
Sitting in my new cottage, staring out at a much-weathered picket-style fence, grey and green, wood and moss, I registered I was dying from the old pattern, living a split story, and was slowing down to enter the more unified story. Slowing down doesn’t necessarily feel good. In fact, I constantly confuse it with feeling bad. How did my body get so tense? How did I come to be a shuffling old guy? The answer is coming clearer — the hunched one is the researcher, he has the material for a thousand great stories and books. I need to join in with him and provide the environment for this material to emerge and take shape.
Now, I spend a little bit more time with him down int the lower chambers. I have helped him wash his hands. He has remarkable hands, and he suffers spells, like Macbeth, appalled at what his hands have done. They have dared to touch and hang onto the ugly and the wretched moments of life so that he can feel in his body what the experience is. And, now, it is my duty, my job, to suffer the death of interrupted patterns, to join up and live, once again, the writer’s lifestyle.