Neat and tidy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This thought has been orbiting around my brain for a while now…for years. Ever since a dear friend laughed at me for ironing dish towels, my husband’s boxers, and just about anything with a wrinkle in it, I’ve been thinking about the wrinkles. Life’s wrinkles.
Can I live with them or not? The short answer is: yes, yes, I can.
This internal questioning played out recently while I was walking my puppy. I was loaded up with a leash, poo bags, and training treats and hit the trail, ready to do some serious puppy boot camp…but instead of walking along the edges of the meadow we cut diagonally across the field. I don’t know exactly why we changed tack. It doesn’t really matter. Maybe I didn't want to white-knuckle our time together. Maybe I just sensed that my dog and I would have more fun walking in the middle, not following the straight lines and groomed shrubbery lining the path even though it was easier and already clear of snow and ice.
It’s been a warm winter in New England and the field was thawing in February. The lumps of dried grass were bumpy and uneven, crunchy in some parts and oozing in others. You’d think an easily distracted puppy would be running all over the tantalizing center, but he stayed by my side and proudly trotted to my left – no zig zags, no walk-abouts. He was content and we were a team. I didn’t have to ask him to do a thing. We just walked together. And our silence was golden.
As I looked out from the center of the field to the edges lined by the cut path, I had a new point of view. I suppose my dog did, too. The choppy field smelled different to him and the feel of it was rough on his paws, not smooth and flat like the path. There was something for him to grab on to.
The field, unlike the well-trodden path, was alive with other living beings - different beings, other-dogly creatures, curious heartbeats and brain waves. He was padding over patches where resting deer leave dents; where fox holes hide; and where all sorts of critters scramble or remain, abandoned carcasses and feathers and bones. Yes, it's definitely messier in the middle.
I looked out from the center of the meadow to the path dotted with benches under trees, each with its own stone marker and a word etched in – Grace, Gratitude, Joy, Courage, Forgiveness, Comfort, Healing, Hope – and was struck by how certain words define us all, carry us like a vessel, and contain us like the perimeter of a field.
It is true that each of us could as easily be carried by Love as by Hate, by Light or by Darkness, but whatever it is that is carrying us at any given moment, and whatever words are lining the periphery of our proverbial field, they are just labels, definitions, markers on the path. Life changes and markers get moved, knocked over and taken down. Yet the periphery still remains the key, a lexicon holding us together while allowing us to break free and redefine ourselves [not unlike a cell membrane]. It’s all part of a natural ebb and flow of our personal evolution.
When we move off the pathway, we move away from definitions, labels and the status quo, and we move into the center. It’s messy in the middle, but this is where the real work can be done; the work that truly defines who we are; the work that brings us closer to ourselves, to our own center.
This kind of work is not predictable. It is not done on level ground. The terrain is goopy and messy and not very smooth, which makes it unsettling, scary. We fear that being in the messy bits might break us…but the opposite is true. When all our systems say ‘go’ and we move from the “safety” and convenience of the periphery and into the unknown – that place in the middle - we are not broken there. We are born.
It’s never neat and tidy in the middle. There are no labels, no straight lines and no neat boxes. It’s more like primordial goo - muddy, mushy, stinky and tangled - but that’s precisely where life is most verdant, and where we can thrive, bursting with authenticity and knowing …because at the center of it all, that is where we are real, and free to be ourselves. It’s here in the bubbling alchemy of the center that we find our balance as we search for and accept the truth about ourselves and others. Mixed in with all that seemingly ugly goop we discover Beauty in the form of Understanding, Forgiveness and Acceptance…and most of all: Love. Love for ourselves and love for all others.
When we go to the center we have so much more breathing room, because we let go of the things that constrict us - the expectations and labels - and create new space in which to breathe. We are, in effect, redefining our own periphery, shaping a new vessel to carry us, and letting new air and Light in. Like spring cleaning or an ocean breeze, we are filling that gorgeous space with breathing room. It’s there where we will find our heart resting, waiting to be uncovered and released, so that it may flow with Life’s tangles, navigate its knots, and jump over its ditches and hurdles. It's there where we surrender.
But to do this, we need to practice. practice. And practice some more. We need to do the work, not just look in from the sidelines. For those of you working towards wellness and maintaining your health through Self-Care and Self-Love, you know that the work is when we take the time to unravel the question who am I? When we journey to the middle we can untangle messes and knots so that we may learn and understand the root causes of our illness and dis-ease. But we also journey there to learn how to be comfortable in the not knowing, how to have patience and trust in the journey, and how to accept the mystery of who we are.
When we have the courage to take this journey, we inevitably change along the course. Knowing the truth about ourselves allows the words that define us to change, too. And so our periphery changes and shape shifts to allow us to shed unwanted labels and to take on new meaning.
So if we’re angry, jealous or bitter, we need to ditch the confines of that particular periphery and walk inside the meadow, to go inside ourselves to unravel and untangle and find the source of our darkness. If we believe that we are loving and kind, then we still need to go to the center of the meadow where life is sticky and challenging. Despite the wounds we may suffer there, we learn to embrace them for the lessons they bring and we learn that above all else, we must practice kindness …over, and over, and over again to know that we are, after all, made of Love. Nothing but Love.
If you looked out from the middle and asked yourself what words surround me? What would those words be? Be honest. Are they words of darkness, judgement, bitterness and anger or are they words of Love, and Light, Compassion and Understanding? Or a combination of the two? Whatever the words, there’s never a bad time to journey inside, to go inside the meadow, to get to the ooey-gooey bits of you, beautiful you, where despite all the tangles and bumps there is balance and flow.
The journey to the middle, no matter when we decide to take it, ventures beyond rhetoric and postures, beyond the should-do’s and must do’s, and beyond Duty, Expectation and Fear. It lives beside all those peripheral symbols as it pushes us to find balance in the midst of all hardships. When we do this, we find Happiness. And Happiness is just another word for Love.
So when Love and Happiness come to you - and they always do - they have probably come from the most uncomfortable, unappealing places – beautiful offspring of the middle, where life is tangled and messy but gives us something - the one thing - we all need to grab on to: Love.
And just for the fun of it, here is some related word play: Coeur.Core.Cure. Go on, Good Girl get to the heart of your matter. Get to the Coeur. Work your Core. Find your Cure. There is no better work.