I recently joined a writing class called Write into Light run by Martha Beck. write-into-light
My first submission was a piece bringing together some of the things I have been writing about on this blog.
The SIP: Anything but what is.
I have recently become aware that my whole life has been a self-improvement plan. (Hereinafter to be referred to as a SIP). Lying on my bed, in 1982, age 20, devouring Helen Gurley Brown’s newly released “Having it all”, I determined that I would become a souped-up (SIPped-up?) version of myself.
No area of my life was left unimproved. I prided myself on my constant search for tips on how to excel. My house is filled with self-help books on every conceivable topic: weight loss, yoga, writing, gardening, simple living, luxurious living, meditation, parenting, business, blogging, emotional health, physical health, psychological health, spiritual health. Everything I know I learned from a book, a course or a retreat. Everything I know I learned from someone else, my success always located in some imagined future.
The more prescriptive the SIP, the better I liked it: “10 steps to inner peace and thinner thighs” was my idea of heaven. Follow the plan, do the work, bask in the accomplishment. I was very good at these plans. I did them so many times.
Why so many times? Because the effects never lasted. Left to my own devices, I floundered. I literally forgot who I am without a plan.
When my reading moved on to topics such as living in the present moment, I, of course, wanted the “Enlightenment in 10 easy steps” version.
Of course, you know it doesn’t exist.
Instead, we are advised to love what is. Wait a minute, love these thighs? This messy imperfect life?
I started to realise that in choosing the SIP I had rejected myself over and over again. I had rejected the reality of this present moment, in all its perceived imperfection for a fantasy future that does not exist.
Let that sink in: I have completely and utterly rejected myself and my own precious experience. I was too busy to smell the roses (something I learned in a SIP that one must do daily to be well-balanced). I was much too busy reading books on how to change my husband into a man who would bring me roses.
Dear reader, I burned out.
I came to a screeching halt where no SIP could save me.
I am writing this now, in my pyjamas.
I don’t have the answers, no 10-step plan for recovering from burnout.
But I do notice my fingers tapping the key board, I notice my hair needs to be washed after another night of hot flushes.
I hear the ticking clock, notice the light streaming through the window.
I notice that I don’t have the energy for any more SIPs. I wonder if letting go means resting in this present experience or if it means giving up on trying. I wonder if they are the same thing. I notice there remains a longing for a book or a guru to explain this to me. I want to know how to do it. But I can no longer abandon myself for someone else’s wisdom.
Unless it is Rumi:
“Last night I learned how to be a lover of God,
To live in this world and call nothing my own.
I looked inward
And the beauty of my own emptiness
filled me till dawn.
It enveloped me like a mine of rubies.
Its hue clothed me in red silk.
Within the cavern of my soul
I heard the voice of a lover crying,
“Drink now! Drink now!”—
I took a sip and saw the vast ocean—
Wave upon wave caressed my soul.
The lovers of God dance around
And the circle of their steps
becomes a ring of fire round my neck.
Heaven calls me with its rain and thunder—
a hundred thousand cries
yet I cannot hear…..
All I hear is the call of my Beloved.”