The Thing Is
by Jennifer Paros
So this is how you swim inward, So this is how you flow outwards . . . .
~ Mary Oliver
When I was a kid, I had to have a certain very soft, smooth pillowcase in order to sleep; I was particular about food; if clothing was in any way tight or bothersome, it was wrestled to the ground and rejected. Swimming scared me; putting my face in the water and blowing bubbles was an ordeal. Learning to ride a bike haunted me – I feared losing control. Overall, my personality did not embody the adventurous spirit.
I had deduced that things could make me uncomfortable; things could make me afraid; and things could potentially make me feel bad. In my room, things were known - I liked my room. But out there, life was a veritable potpourri of potential discomfort. I did my best to control what might happen to me, which, to my mind, meant limiting my experience often. But despite the Trying-To-Control-Things-is-Better stance, periodically life was kind enough to help me see things in a different way.
In my neighborhood, I found a friend who became the staple of my summertime activities. With her, during sleepovers, I forgot about pillow case preferences; I followed her lead back to the pool and swimming; I learned to ride a bike (again), and was willing, overall, to do things I never would have otherwise. Because she had an easy relationship to certain aspects of life, I took my cues from her and suddenly things seemed less complicated.
Though I had witnessed how trying to control things never brought me joy and I knew working with life felt better, my default mode was still “retreat.” And although I didn’t understand what the thing really was that was holding me back, I was so certain it was either something wrong with me or something out there, I never considered anything else.
Often in conversation, the phrase “the thing is . . . “ will crop up to indicate a glitch. Two friends talk about going away over the weekend and one friend says, “Yeah, but the thing is my car’s in the shop.” Or: “The thing is I have a ton of work to do.” “The thing is . . . “ is an alert. “Hey wait,” we say, “there’s a thing! We can’t just simply go forward.”
In creative work, there are a lot of “things” that come up. The thing is I don’t have enough time. The thing is I’m exhausted. The thing is I have no idea how to do this. The thing is I don’t know if I can get it published. The thing is I’m stuck. The thing is I don’t know if I can make money off it.
The ancestor of every action is a thought.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
In actuality, the thing is never a thing. The thing we’re feeling is always a thought. The thing is never out there. And it’s not some broken aspect of our history or ourselves, some deficiency in us or our experience. The thing - that sense of problem or obstacle - reflects our attention to fearful thoughts, taking them as reality. That monster of dread, of block, of inability, of powerlessness is not located in experience or conditions. For something to become a problem, it must be thought of as such.
The word Problem is a noun, which implies that problems are like apples or brooms, fixed and set in form and content (as in certain kinds of math problems). But a life problem, by nature, morphs depending upon the person who’s working with it. In fact, a problem isn’t even a problem, technically, until its owner declares it as such. Until then, it is simply an experience with a bunch of moving parts. We’re used to seeing problems as things but they are only processes of thought and the feelings that result from those thoughts.
My childhood friend helped me return to seeing riding a bicycle as just that – peddling, gliding, steering - and swimming as just me and water together. Because she had no story around these things and was not judging, I joined her in her perspective and my behavior naturally shifted. As we allow our thoughts to come and go, our feelings change, our experience of life changes and our behaviors change. And the thing is . . . that life no longer presents as a problem but now as the creative process it truly is and we as the creators we truly are.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.