you do not have to be a fire
every mountain blocking you.
you could be a water
soft river your way to freedom
- nayyirah waheed
I went on a run today, for the first time in over a year and a half. Okay, it was more like a 67% walk, 33% jog, but still. I was proud of myself. Proud of myself for listening to the tightness of my body and its yearning to move, for honoring my heart’s desire to get out of the house and absorb the extending light of these imminent summer days.
On the loop back towards my house, I took a slight detour to the Berkeley Marina. Headed down a narrow offshoot of a dirt path, got as close as I could to the water without clamoring down its jagged shore. Found a bench and sat, taking in the expanse of ebullient water, the Golden Gate, the city of San Francisco hovering off amidst the fog. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and began to meditate. Felt my body tall and rooted against the pressure of the aggravated wind.
There has always been something compelling to me about vast bodies of water. Their host of contradictions, serene and agitated, methodical and unpredictable, familiar and unknowable all at once. Never either/or; always both/and. The Bay was feisty tonight, its entire surface cast in vigorous ripples as far as the eye could see. As I watched the waves coalesce and rise and crash against the rocky shore, I saw the water transform from an elegant, smooth, dark mass to a mess of foamy white, splaying itself over and between the crevices of that which stood in its way, only to settle and reincorporate itself once again. Changed, yet still the same.
I sat and meditated on the effortlessness of waves. The way they are never anything but themselves, moving always with grace and sometimes immense drama, separating and reintegrating endlessly. I thought of their poetry, and then of the poetry in nayyirah waheed’s words. Wondered how I can better soft river my way to freedom, too.
I often wonder—in a very doubtful kind of way—if this blog will ever lead to anything significant for me professionally. If it will ever touch the tender hearts of large numbers of people and inspire them to be kinder and gentler with themselves, to find a bit more softness and joy in the often challenging minutiae of living. If the recipes I create and share will make it into scores of kitchens that are not my own. I wonder if my writing is too wordy, too heavy or dark. I wonder if and how I will ever stand out in this insanely saturated industry of food and wellness. And not having resolute answers to these questions makes me wonder if it’s even worth doing, when the goal is to achieve those things and they all, for better or worse, feel kind of impossible.
I struggle with myself a lot sometimes. Less than I used to, but there’s still a lot of self-doubt and negative talk within me. A lot of feeling like I’m not where I “should” be by now, especially professionally. Worrying that I’m never going to get to where I want to go. And yes, there is trust, too. The kind of trust that comes from the experience of making big choices that have been potentially risky yet always aligned with my intuition—choices made from a place of trust rather than fear—and witnessing them always work out. Or work out so far, anyway, in their ways. I am trying to lean into that trust more, to grow my patience more, but I’m going to be real with you: sometimes it’s hard.
This self-criticism and self-doubt recently brought up a question, while in conversation with a close friend: How do we change our personal barometers of worth in a society where the success = money = happiness model is so pervasive that we end up believing it’s true—and that it is what we truly desire? How do we keep showing up for ourselves in our passions and creative pursuits—especially if they are also the things we wish to become our livelihood—when opportunities for comparison and, by extension, self-judgment abound?
As these ideas surfaced, Alicia offered a potent musing: What if, instead of collectively aspiring towards successful lives, we aspired towards meaningful ones? Or if we redefined “success” as measured by meaning rather than professional/material gain? Our entire world would be different. Success, she astutely observed, is most often a self-centered pursuit; we seek personal achievements, be they money or status or other forms of external recognition. And we grasp for these things, believing that the having or lacking of them is correlated to our worth. Meaning, on the other hand, is achieved most often through a selfless or connective energy; we make offerings, sit in wide eyed curiosity and compassion with one another, commune with nature and give ourselves over to awe. And it is truly in this giving of and connecting to ourselves, others and the world around us that we grow. Become full.
In vocalizing my frustration and slight resignation around the potential of the blog to Alicia the other day, she challenged me by asking why it has to lead to anything. Why it can't just be valuable for the process of its creation. For me. And I know she is right. That I do it because I enjoy it and love creating the recipes and taking and editing the photos and writing, even if it is hard. But it is also, and has always been, an externally facing endeavor. Created for the purpose of connecting with and inspiring other people and hopefully, eventually, serving as a springboard for a career. And so, yes, it is difficult to detach from that aspect of it—from the yearning for it to be successful on those terms.
Detach. In Buddhist thought, attachment is taught to be the root of all suffering. So what if I wrote Pollinate with the wholehearted intention of creating beauty and growing my own self, in both skills and thought, and with the hope that it might resonate with some people but not attached to the idea that it must? What if we pursued the things that make us full, savoring the process of them rather than being motivated by an idea of what they might bring us in our unwritten future? What if we were water, fully and always only what we are in any given moment, coalescing and differentiating when tides rise and waves crash, moving around boulders with deft grace rather than resistance and self-doubt? What if we trusted our hearts and paths enough to exist fully in the present and, ultimately, get out of our own ways?
We may find a bit more freedom in that, I think. And a bit more happiness, too.