I had an interesting conversation today with one of my clients. I was talking with her about navigating the challenge between having deep intimate relationships and living an independent life.
I will say straight off that I am not implying this is the way for everyone. I don’t think there is one way of anything for people, this intimacy versus independence. Yet, it is a very real and lived experience for many, and particularly women.
Well, my brain points out, we are encultured to being social from before we’re born. Our society rewards females for emotions, connection, supporting and serving, and communication from our earliest experiences. So much so that it’s taken much research to try and parse out nature versus nurture in these seeming gendered behaviors. And then there’s the recent history of female emancipation to consider…
So as I see it, in the question of intimacy versus independent genius expressed, the latent consequence of woman’s invisible tutelage is her affinity for the relationship… often (dare I say usually) at the cost of her creative work and her independence in many a life span. Can I say that?
It’s just that I continue to encounter this challenge in women all around me. How do they live up to their relationships, while being on the quest of self to fulfill the passion and genius in their solitary soul?
It’s a worthy question.
But the thing that interests me most is the continual brave new world of creativity and independence that pushes inside many of us (of all genders). It seems anathema to our desire to also have deep intimacy and connection in our relationships.
“What is this?” I’ve wondered since I was a teenager. (Yes. I’ve been looking at this problem for a long damn time.)
And, “Why is this? Why does it seem that both are not possible?”
The truth of experience is that we straddle an intimacy/independence teeter totter. If we go too far to one end of it, the other loses the gravity of our being and hangs suspended and useless in the air.
Have you noticed this? Have you felt that you had to choose between those you love and having your own wild independence? Or your true and continuing freedom to create what is in you to create?
Clearly I have, or I wouldn’t be writing this, would I?
So here are some of my thoughts about this vitally important subject. And why I’m titling it My Pandemic Truths:
You see, while the pandemic utterly curtailed my world-traveling, adventure-living exploits, it certainly did not curtail my creative genius. Sure there were strictures that I had to work with or around. But that is always the case in creative life.
Instead, the pandemic calmed the frenetic global psyche to such a degree that I could be and think everyday without the maddening cultural push for more, more, more. I could meander without fear of bumping into hundreds of others in my psycho-emotional life. My independence had empty streets and parks, skies silent except for birds. Wild animals, like our own untamed selves, showing up in our neighborhoods because everything had suddenly become silent.
And in this unlooked-for freedom, the tsunami of my deepest genius broke land and began flooding every part of my world. It was brilliant. It was relief. It was a gift.
And then there was the global panic of fearing the unseen–this invisible virus that was claiming lives or at least health. The vast unknowns of its origins, transmission, mystery symptoms and possible death.
Somehow, I was not afraid. I was cautious, respectful, taking common-sense measures to protect myself and others. Yet I didn’t fear it. In fact, I likely had covid while studying French in the south of France in January and February of 2020 with a classroom of 16 from 9 different countries. I got very sick twice while there, respiratory illness.
But this fear of the unseen, or you could say the unknown, is how I have lived every day for the past ten-plus years. I have continually challenged myself (or been thrown unceremoniously) into the unknown and inscrutable and have apparently developed quite the resilience. This became super evident to me as everything shut down in a day. And over the weeks and months that ensued.
Strangely, the social solitary life I have lived for a decade made navigating this pandemic quite easy for me. Being inside my home except for walks and groceries for months on end, connecting with people over zoom, was very like my life abroad. I am always in countries where English is not the native language, and in some where it is hardly spoken at all. How does a person live in that kind of solitude?
Quite beautifully, I found. The richness of the world, of people, of experiences speaks inside of me like days-long conversations with a soulmate. Could I have joy in the sunlight playing over little back alleyways I took like a native in Laksman Jhula, with no one else there to share in it? Could I alone hold the joy of a sudden rainbow under a strange sky in Canico de Baixo, diving itself on the far horizon into an ocean so deep blue it flirted with black?
What of the anxieties of finding my way alone in new countries, cities, in the dark of night where I knew no one? Or the occasional terrors of getting totally lost, missing a flight in a strange part of the world, or having all my plans fall apart upon arrival?
A well-practiced solitude is a rainy-day card to keep tucked in your back pocket.
And speaking of back pockets… I pull out Ray Bradbury’s book Zen and the Art of Writing, (one of the three books I always travel with,) and I open the well worn pages to his chapter on The Care and Feeding of a Muse. You have to seduce your muse, he tells us. You can’t call their name and have them come running. (laughing…) And if you do call, they will generally run in the other direction. So how do you get your muse’s attention? Get it to cooperate?
I’ve discovered my muse is always on ride-along when I am flying by the seat of my pants. She is keenly capturing every nuance of me, my perceptions, my emotions as I find myself once more out of my depth or beyond my known.
So she loves it immensely when all that’s planned goes to smash, or I meet the most miraculous people somewhere foreign, or the world itself shuts down for a pandemic. Yes. Strangely, she does.
Which is why this creativity and independence side was in brilliant ecstasies. I have gone long periods without someone in the same space as me, sharing in my days. I have been alone far enough out and long enough back to thrive like Miracle-Grow and flowers in a solitude of spring rain.
And what of the deep intimate relationships?
As Martha Beck writes through her protagonist in Diana, Herself, “All is all, always.” The first and deepest intimate relationship is with myself. That is a muse, indeed. Strangely and unexpectedly cultivated, I am with myself everywhere I go. My own experience of my life is so exquisite and closely regarded (by me) that there is seldom the risk of falling asleep into a routine or a set of expectations.
All other relationships of my life derive their depth and their meaning from the depth and meaning I have with myself. And so, I feel deeply connected every day to those whose hearts I have shared, however long or brief, close or distant.
“On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur, l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” This means, of course, that missing is a state of the mind, and that in the heart we are always together as though no time has passed, no distance separates us.
Seeing with the heart opens us to joy. And joy as we’ve learned, lives in the cracks of life’s many fractures. Were we to pull back to a bird-eye-view, these crevices might appear as a kaleidoscope to us, joy emerging in brilliant colorful bursts at each shift of the lens.
I think learning to be with myself made these joys more evident, though they were always there.
We can get so caught-up in the other person, in the together experience–which is its own compelling wonder–that we lose sensitivity to the tiny ubiquitous joys. The pandemic made us all look more closely, if we cared to sit still in our own minds long enough. And there the joys were.
The creative brilliance that issued from our global community is testimony to this relationship between the deep intimate connections we form and our creativity and independence.
Though you might not seek it as I have, still, your creative genius comes alive when you have enough time and quiet with your own thoughts. So much is possible. So much becomes probable.
Balancing that act became infinitely easier for me through the shutdown. Was it because I was off the hook for all the showing up I do? If I’m honest, there’s a yes in there. But more than that, it made my solitude a given, for a time, a precise mathematical value that all else had to be reconciled to, rather than the intentional consequence of my leaving the country and the timezone.
Excuse, you say? You might be right. Which is my point in the first place. Why would I need a pandemic to find my balance on that teeter totter between intimate connection and fierce independent creativity?
Perhaps it’s the world that’s wrong, all of us running pell-mell down the steep hills of generations compelled toward some elusive progress. Meanwhile the revolutionaries are sitting atop that hill, just painting what they see. Or writing about it. Or ignoring it altogether.
My greatest take-away from you is that you’re damn smart. And it would be a shame for both of us to casually trade off our genius and the independence enough to see it through, for a relationship of lulling comfort. Wouldn’t it?
But a relationship of passion? …That’s another story.