Lost in a maze
In a kind of meditative state one day, I clearly envisioned a messy, jumbled up pile of ropes. Knots upon knots weaving through eachother in an unmanageable clump. Instantly, I knew that this pile of knots represented my truth. In the middle of this life transition where a lot of what I thought to be true was put into question, or proved to be just plain wrong, I knew that this jumbled up mess was my sense of what was real and true.
"How do I go about untangling this mess?", I asked myself. "Do I just go one knot at a time and take it in manageable chunks?" But the enlightening realization that came to me was that I am not necessarily meant to untangle it. Maybe I'm just meant to explore it; to try to understand it. Maybe not even that.
As soon as I figured that out, the mess of knots morphed in my mind, into a giant corn maze. The maze was so tall that one couldn't see out, and infinite in size, and there were endless turns, corners and dead ends. In the maze were two children: one little boy, and one girl. The boy was curled up on the floor in the corner of a dead end; frightened, discouraged and physically hugging his knees to his chest, rocking gently from side to side. The girl was wearing a beautiful summer dress, running freely through the maze and giggling maniacally. She was having the best time. I realized that she didn't feel trapped or claustrophobic at all; she felt the open sky above her and that was plenty of room to breathe and feel free. Most curiously, she couldn't have cared less whether she found the exit. In fact, she wasn't looking for the exit at all! She just wanted to explore and play.
As she ran at full speed and giggled her way through the turns and twists, the maze began to morph and shift. The pathways moved; the dead ends opening up and the open channels closing themselves off. And she just kept laughing. Actually, she was even more delighted than before. Her goal wasn't to escape the maze. It wasn't even to understand and memorize it. She was just enjoying herself too much, running through and giggling.
At that moment, I thought to myself, "well, obviously I need to be more like this girl. Why would I ever want to be that boy, cowardly sitting and moping in the corner. The girl has it right, and the boy is wrong," and I decided that I needed to figure out how to be more like that uncertainty-loving, adventurous girl. And for a few days after that, I really did feel like her. The uncertainty that I was (and am still) swimming in didn't feel intimidating to me at all. I have been really enjoying my life, soaking it in, and trying to let go of the need to fix, control and understand everything.
I have been trying to allow myself to feel all the feelings, which has been a 6- or 7-year process. I used to think that the emotional goal in life was to be more happy and feel less of the “negative" feelings. I entered each therapy session with a mentality of “I’m struggling with this. How do we fix it?” But I’ve learned that is not what life is about. It’s not about curing or eradicating certain feelings. It’s not about avoiding or fixing feelings. It's about understanding them; about identifying and studying them and experiencing them for what they are. It’s about allowing them to simply be. It's about sitting in them, experiencing them and allowing them to run their course so that you can continue and hopefully move past them. Each feeling has a purpose, just like Sadness in the movie "Inside Out". The truly uncomfortable feelings are where the best work is done. The truly perplexing and unpleasant feelings are where true growth lies. Like a lotus flower growing through the mud, the path to the best, happiest, most satisfying feelings is directly through the struggle of the harder ones, not around them. Especially during a time of crisis, the ups and downs are both essential. The alternative is numbness.
The numbness that I experienced the first few months after my separation made sense at the time, and I went through lots of stages of grief, but now it's time to feel all the feelings. And for the first time, I have been feeling without the goal of "fixing". Super-productivity distracted me for a while; not just getting by but accomplishing and completing projects and tasks that were on my "maybe someday" list, and filling my bucket whenever I had a burst of energy and free time.
But, as with my magical corn maze, nothing stays the same. Changes come and the pathways and channels shift so that parts of my life become unrecognizable again. The light at the end of the tunnel moves out of my sight. Obstacles are thrown at me and I get knocked down. And in those moments, I find myself identifying with that little boy, curled up in a corner just trying to comfort himself instead of running through the maze with glee, or even trying to find his way out. And it's perfectly okay. I can shift between these two personalities, and they both serve a purpose.
Funnily enough, shortly after I had these visions and epiphanies, I took my own (real-life) children into a corn maze at one of our favourite farmer's markets nearby.
It had been quite a morning. Nobody wanted to leave the house. Nobody wanted to put on their shoes. And so, we ended up compromising; going out for the activity I wanted, with both children dressed as dinosaurs (hats, giant dino gloves and all).
The irony was not lost on me that I was trying to rush them through, counting down the minutes until we needed to leave. "Come this way," I would call as I encouraged them to follow me toward the exit; as if getting out of the maze was their goal. Of course it wasn't! They just wanted to run and play and giggle. This wasn't a magically-morphing maze, but they were like my imaginary little girl, running and laughing and never wanting it to end. Their goal wasn't to figure it out. Their goal wasn't to memorize it and understand it. Their goal definitely wasn't to escape. Because they didn't feel trapped! They didn't worry about the passage of time, or the pressure to be productive and efficient with it. They were joyfully exploring every nook and cranny, running at full speed into the unknown, playing hide and seek, and having the time of their lives. Any time I would subtly try to veer them back toward the exit, they were onto me and went in the complete opposite direction. And you know what, after some time I followed them. The 3 of us were running through that maze for way longer than necessary, exploring and re-exploring the pathways and dead ends. It was beyond amazing to have this real-life embodiment of a figment of my imagination, to remind me of what's important and how to let go of what's not.
A few times since then, I have had to consciously place my mind back into that maze. And I'm so grateful that I have not only a mental image, but also a happy memory, to pull me back there whenever I need to be reminded.