Find Yourself in Everything
by Jennifer Paros
"Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it."
Years ago, I had just put my youngest son to bed when I heard tell tale sounds, ran in, and found him throwing up. Excepting the desk and the walls, there was much to be tidied. A bit rattled over where to start, I cleaned the child first and set him out of the fray while I stripped the bed of everything. Awkwardly scooping up bedding and clothing, I headed for the laundry room, still fueled by my emergency mentality. But while crossing the living room, I stopped – perhaps to reconfigure my load – and something happened. In a moment, I went from concerned and agitated to… a happy person. All of a sudden I felt grateful for being able to take care of someone I loved, for having the son I did, for all of it. No longer did it matter that I had initially judged the conditions as unwanted. The details of the experience itself didn’t matter; I was feeling love for the opportunity of life.
This moment has remained with me, a reminder that if I could feel authentically happy and blessed in the company of a vomiting child there is something in me so smart and loving that the specifics of my experiences never matter to it as much as the creative act of living itself. And since 100% of what I worry about are the specifics of what might or might not happen – as though my happiness depends upon those details – I am left to wonder why I am worrying when I’ve already been taught that that is simply not true.
When I judge something in the negative I withdraw from life in order to protect myself and prevent feeling bad. On the surface, this seems sound, but the truth is being present for the whole of one’s life is what enables us to feel fulfilled and capable – regardless of the content of the experiences. Too much retreating makes us feel like we’re always on the lamb and never really safe. And then retreat, which we intend to use as comfort, ends up frightening us more than life ever could.
At fifteen years old, in the throes of high school, I did my best to completely retreat from my life. Having judged almost all of it, including my physicality, as unworthy, bad, boring, or potentially uncomfortable, I closed door after door until I was left renting a tiny corner of the basement of my psyche. There I stayed, hiding, waiting for the unpleasantness to wrap up so I could finally step forward. I spent many hours in fantasy during that time – imagining a different me, different circumstances, different thoughts and feelings, envisioning scenarios I believed I would feel happy showing up for.
What I didn’t understand is that if I had softened my judgments upon the components of my actual life, it would have made showing up a lot more comfortable. And if I had shown up for my life, my life would have opened up for me.
"To the question of your life you are the answer, and to the problems of your life you are the solution."
When I started writing my first (to be published) children’s story, I actually thought it best if I didn’t show up completely for the process. I judged myself as a somewhat problematic, emotional being with a tendency towards complicating projects and I wanted to write a simple story- easily. But what happened was I wrote a story that editors encouraged me to flesh out. Soon, I had to bring myself into it more and more, for the very self I thought would muddy the process turned out to be the one I needed to make my story come to life. When I started acknowledging myself in the story is when I found the story. And the small, inadequate self I had judged me to be turned out only to be a phantom byproduct of how much I had limited myself.
In life as in writing, every effort to distance ourselves from possible pain or complication makes us feel diminished and actually makes things harder. When we start showing up in all the experiences of our lives, our lives expand, and so do the gifts we have to offer. And then we start finding the full, rich stories we are all intended to live and to share.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.