There are two chalkboards hanging in the Lory Student Center at Colorado State University. They are based on the work of Candy Chang, a TED Fellow, urban planner, artist and designer. “It is the same concept as Chang’s other walls: a chalkboard with the repeated line Before I die, I want to… Anyone can walk up, grab a piece of chalk and write their hopes and dreams — serious or otherwise,” (Rocky Mountain Collegian).
At this point, the boards are kind of a big mess. People have written over the top of each other, and the boards haven’t been cleaned after being erased and smudged so there is a thick layer of chalk dust, which makes it difficult to read. There’s really no place to write anything new, to add a dream.
Candy’s story about why she created the original board is familiar, she lost someone she loved dearly, and it make her reflective, caused her to contemplate what she wanted out of her life. “Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.”
Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people. In our age of increasing distractions, it’s more important than ever to find ways to maintain perspective, remember that life is brief and tender.
I have been contemplating this for the past four years, considering what I’m truly hungry for, what I want and what I have to offer, how I can ease suffering in myself and in the world. For me, this inquiry was also inspired by a loss, two actually. That grief, that radical shift in how things are, that direct and brutal encounter with impermanence reframed the way I see everything.
The harder part for me has been what do I DO now? I have worked hard to repair my relationship with myself, which was abusive and damaged, to love and care for myself so I can do good work from a place of sanity and strength. I have altered how I spend my time, who I spend it with. I have fully committed to practices that help me along my path. And yet, something still isn’t right.
The way I’ve lived and worked for so long clearly wasn’t working–allowing overwhelm, people pleasing, attempting perfection, denying and avoiding reality, smashing myself to bits, thinking I had to earn permission to do what I loved, that I had to prove that I was worthy of love. And yet, when I began to focus on my heart’s work, I found that I had brought some of those same habits, those ways of being along with me.
Recently I’ve been considering what I really want, how I want to feel, what I want my experience to be like. I’m aware that while I want to be connected, to help and be involved, to be accessible, I want a small, simple, quiet life. I have ambitions, but my deepest longing is for freedom, stillness, space, ease, clarity, surrender. I want to live deep in my heart, while keeping it open to the world.
Yesterday, I watched this interview with Susan Piver, part of the Tea Talks series with Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco.
As she always does, Susan said some things that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, that make so much sense, that are so applicable to the shift I am making. At one point in the interview (around 26 minutes), Jesse asks Susan if she has any advice for people who want to do what they love, strike out on their own, and she replies:
“By doing one small thing, whatever it is… It has to be an action, not something you think about, and not trying to change yourself, not trying to become different, not thinking ‘positive thoughts’ or attracting things–none of that. Just do something.”
One small thing. That’s it. Just start. Stop thinking about it, stop wishing for it and start. Embody your intention, follow your instincts. Susan explains a bit later in the interview that the most important thing she learned from her days driving a cab, being Chapter Leader of the Boston Guardian Angels at only 19 (seriously people, she’s a rock star, superhero), was to “Trust your instincts.” She explains how you do so this way:
You can’t learn to uncover your instincts and then act on them. It’s through actions that you uncover your instincts, so it’s going towards what attracts you, starting to work with it and see what happens. And then following that impulse, and that impulse, and that impulse.
I hear this, have found this to be true. This is how it’s been for me. There hasn’t been a clear master plan, a practical or even rational series of steps, no program or method I could follow entirely. I simply had to show up with an open heart and allow what happened, surrender to my longing. And that can be incredibly frustrating. So many times I beg, bargain with the Universe, “I just want to know where this is headed, what’s going to happen, how this will turn out, if I’m doing the right thing.” Instead, I end up having to trust in things I can’t see, believe in things I can’t know for sure or prove, be patient and curious, present.
Near the very end of the interview, Susan shares the most important thing.
The only advice I could possibly give would be please relax, please relax, and observe the world around you, observe your own impulses, and soon you will start to observe how those things are constantly colliding and intersecting, and they will instruct you on how to build your life… if you are attracted to a more adventurous life, a more creative life, you have to slow down.
I have found it to be true, at least for me, that even when you are moving too fast and making too much noise to hear the message the Universe is trying to send you, it will find you, it will find a way in. For me, it’s often something I encounter online, in the thick of complete distraction and overwhelm a space opens up, a clear voice speaks, and I am touched. First it was Candy’s chalkboard. Yesterday, it was Susan Piver. This morning it was Christina Rosalie, one of my favorite writers, bloggers, artists.
Recently Christina’s been blogging about productivity, the creative process and doing less, and it’s been exactly what I’ve needed to hear. In her post today, How to Find Your True Velocity: Do Less to Achieve More, she said, “Yet we also know somewhere in our heart of hearts, that doing more isn’t the answer. Doing less is.” As I told her, when I read this, it touched a place so tender, my hand flew to my mouth to trap the sob, tears stung my eyes. I read it over and over, “we know somewhere in our heart of hearts,” letting it sink in, sinking into that deep knowing that is already there, waiting to be heard.
In a response to my comment, Christina said “I’ve heard you mentioning this longing, this desire for a smaller, simple life Jill. What would that look like, tangibly? What needs to shift?” So today, my one small thing is to answer that question, to consider what I want to do, how I want to be, to make one small shift, and to “remember that life is brief and tender.”
P.S. My answer to Christina’s questions:
Say no when I mean no.
Don’t apologize for or be afraid of who I am.
Show up and keep my heart open, allowing what is, surrendering to reality.
Do one small thing at a time, giving it my full attention.
Let go of needing external validation or permission.
Instead of “please love me,” “I love you.”
Quiet, space, clarity.
A tender heart.
Let go of my agenda, judgment, control.
Invite ease, eat whole food, get lots of rest.