Can't Fight This Feeling (3/30)
Play Like a Champion Today
They say it goes against writing convention to start an essay with a quote, especially a long one, but A) writing convention is lame and B) this is a really good passage.
One of my recently discovered favorite writers, Sasha Chapin, on writer’s block:
Perhaps you’ve complained before that you don’t have anything to write about. That your “mind has gone blank,” that you don’t have any ideas. I don’t believe you. I know that you have mental contents, right? Your mind is constantly moving. You’re always producing judgments, attitudes, opinions, emotions, melancholy, malaise, anger, and so on. You have things to write about. What you do is just put the things in your head on the page, in basically the order they naturally occur. Flip over the rock in your mind, type about the beetles. If you don’t want to do that, it’s because you’re not comfortable with the notion that these are the things that you actually think. You would prefer to have more sophisticated opinions, or, maybe, more reasonable opinions.
I wanted to write about something light and happy today. It’s a Saturday, after all, and the sun is shining (albeit a little too aggressively here in Texas). Yesterday was exhausting no matter where you stand — a microcosm of the past few years, really — and we could all use a break from the heaviness, the seriousness, the intensity.
But I don’t feel light and happy. I’m not thinking about sad things or having a difficult experience or anything. I just woke up in a shitty mood. As much as I wanted to write some observations about beauty or gratitude or simple pleasures, as much as I stared at this page trying to conjure up some sort of positive concept or angle, it just wasn’t there. Anything I might have written trying to disguise that fact would be hollow and disingenuous. You’d see right through it, and I’d feel worse for it.
This brought to light a lesson that I’m constantly having to relearn. I imagine you’ll be able to relate.
As soon as I accepted the fact that I wasn’t feeling cheery and inspired and that I didn’t want to pretend that I was, I began to feel better. The blank page naturally started to fill with words. I felt myself loosen up, and as I write this sentence I’m experiencing the very things that were so elusive when I was trying to force their existence: contentment, levity, gratitude.
This is a fundamental paradox that’s easy to forget. The more you try to fight or resist your circumstances, the more powerful those circumstances become. It feeds the fire by reinforcing the sizable distance between the world you’re trying to manufacture and the one in which you reside. The only way to close that distance is by accepting the reality of your circumstances as they are. Those circumstances will often counterintuitively change as soon as you accept them, because you’ve made the transition from trying to live in a world that doesn’t exist to actually living in one that does.
I remember days early on in the pandemic when I just couldn’t get anything done no matter how hard I tried. The monotony of the repetitive routine and isolation rendered my brain useless. The cycle became predictable: I’d look at my growing to-do list, stare blankly at the computer screen for awhile, get pissed off at myself because I hadn’t accomplished anything, stare harder at the screen, get more pissed, take the dog out, and repeat.
This happened regularly for a few weeks (months) until one day hindsight revealed the pattern and I decided to try something different. The next time I felt that insidious brain fog, I accepted that that day would not be a productive one. I indulged the complacency. I knew by that point that I would be equally as ineffective whether I tried to push through it or not, so I might as well be a bit hedonistic about it.
You can probably guess what happened next. The universe laughed at all my futile attempts to undermine my own nature and rewarded me for finally, again, waking up to the truth of this paradox. The duration and difficulty of the periods of uselessness decreased dramatically, and I was on balance much happier and more productive. The whole experience of the pandemic became more tolerable.
I guess this is what spiritual traditions mean when they talk about nonresistance. Maybe I need to put a big sign above the doorframe of my bedroom with that word in all capital letters (actually, lowercase letters might be more befitting of the theme). I could tap it on the way out every morning like the Notre Dame football players do the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign when they go out onto the field. That would be pretty cool.
There might be days where I forget to tap the sign, though. I’ll just have to remember to accept that.