I arrived at yoga class this morning with the hopes of losing myself in the pause. Of immersing myself in the kind of restorative quiet that is often necessary for the achievement of insight. For the mental clarity required to imbue this post, with which I’d been struggling for the past few days, with meaning, inspiration, and life. As we began in seated position, palms open, breathing steadily, the instructor asked us to recall a particular image that would serve as the focus of our practice today. To think of a person, a situation, or an event toward which we would direct our energies. An alternative, she suggested, was to hold in our minds a single word into which we wanted to breathe life. Though my eyes were closed, I could feel the smile spread across my face. Yes. That was exactly what I needed to hear. That was my moment of insight. 

Pendulum. The word came to me yesterday, while I was reading the final chapter of Rollo May’s Freedom and Destiny over my morning coffee. Considering how I might incorporate some of his ideas into this discussion, which I had, until that moment, every intention of titling, On Being a Work of Art II. (As a side note, for those who are interested, Freedom and Destiny may not be the most famous of May’s works, but I think it’s one of the most energetic, sensitive, and illuminating. A true hidden gem.) Pendulum was to act as a metaphor for balance, self-regulation, and expansion. And, while I sensed the title was a perfect fit for the post I was conceiving of, I found myself overcome by a sudden and altogether bizarre sense of dread. Even disgust. No. I can’t write like this! I don’t want to talk about May’s ideas like a student who’s describing them in a term paper. I want to make something out of them instead.I want to make them mine. Anxiety. A normal state of tension. An ontological reality. A natural byproduct of life. My readings of May have begun intersecting with my interpretations of Jung. Life-force, tension, opposition, and change. The embracing of possibility, even in the face of nearly unbearable tension, as a requisite for creative—even courageous—living. It was, in fact, out of that moment of disruption that I opened myself to the possibility of approaching this topic differently. My intuition would tell me, I reasoned, when I had found the appropriate framework for my discussion. Even though, now, as I write these words, I find I am going marvelously off-script. And, that what I am saying here looks nothing like what I had imagined. Instead of describing the roles of balance and self-regulation in being a work of art, I have chosen, simply, to breathe life into the word. To speak from the soul. Unstructured and unplugged.

To breathe life into the word. To breathe life into the word is to allow myself to be pulled forward by the soul of this project. To breathe life into the word is to instill it with possibility, with force, with the kind of inspiration that is powerful enough to overcome the anxiety and the dread of being one who constantly struggles to teach herself. Who fights with complex concepts until she understands them and who articulates herself—on this blog and elsewhere—imperfectly. Who struggles to persevere on the road to authenticity and is never certain what the endpoint is or where it’s hiding. Who worries in secret that she might not be quite talented enough to hack it—to do the kinds of things it seems ingrained in the fabric of her soul to do. To approach a post like this one with the singular objective of breathing life into the word is to transcend that kind of tension. To temporarily silence the noise. The affirmation of “Being,” as May would call it, with a capital “B.”

dark and red abstract plate

Pendulum. At no point, as I focused my attention on the word, do I recall envisioning a physical pendulum. It was, rather, the movement that captivated me, the vacillation between opposites, the embrace of extremes, the assuredness of a return to center. A concept that I allowed to trace a pattern in my mind. Structured dynamism. I envision Jung’s notion of “psychic energy” as operating much like a pendulum. The drifting of energy from the conscious mind to the unconscious. Progression and regression. A closed system. As do I envision May’s understanding of the relationships between freedom and destiny, being and nonbeing. Looked at differently, it could also represent our suspension in a rootless existence. Outer direction. Aimlessness and distraction. A crisis in values. A failure to know ourselves.

I imagine there is a voice inside each of us that was born to fight our inner tensions. A voice that says, I can. May believes that. He’s right. I only got to know that voice within myself by doing that which I thought I could never do. Climb mountains. Compete in triathlons. Become more extraverted (That was a big one.). I almost didn’t climb Kilimanjaro. I was almost too scared. Jung says when we overcome ourselves that way, the experience becomes rooted firmly in our minds. Becomes an unshakable part of us. It’s a matter of energy and expansion. He’s right. For those of us who tend toward extremes, who, perhaps, experiment a little too recklessly on ourselves, knowing the I can makes all the difference. Because that is the same voice that tells us when we’ve gone too far. That voice is an affirmation of life. It is not simply a call to adventure. It is also a deep yearning for balance. For stability. To save oneself from destruction. To come back to center. Because I don’t think that voice would have any power, any real significance, if we lacked a center. Pendulum. I experience this phenomenon within myself. The thirst for experience, for novelty, for expansion operates in the service of achieving greater balance. I am quite conscious of it. Of the pleasure that some of us take in intentionally molding ourselves. Of tinkering with and refining our behaviors, our appearance, our mannerisms, our intellect, even our habits.

This is the pulse of creative living. This kind of self-regulation. The to-and-fro. The intentional shifting of life from one point to another. Pendulum. I think of my habits regarding food and drink. They are directly related to the traveling I’ve done. I take habits that I like, that I find intrinsically suitable, and attempt to instill them in my existing routines. Is it odd that there’s something of a thrill to it? To feel that I am responsible for adjusting the gradients, the hues of my daily existence? As if I am a moving portrait. To be intoxicated by my own expansion? Because there is no gratification quite like it. To exercise the discipline required to make myself more appealing by my own standards? It makes me feels stronger, more capable, more firmly rooted in myself. Perhaps, the creation of beauty is no different in art than it is in life. And, perhaps that is why the process of designing my feelings—my feminine traits and desires—is so innately satisfying. It all kindles me. It all makes me feel sexier. More vivacious. More total.

I ask myself if, in deliberately crafting of the elements of my existence, I will ever reach a terminal level of satisfaction, of evolution. The answer, I hope, is “no.” May says it is anxiety that stops us. Aggression, hostility, fear, neuroses that stop us. This kind of striving—the desire to create oneself, to infuse beauty into the minutiae of everyday living, to vivify all that we come in contact with—is an expression of freedom. One that forces me face-to-face with the tragedy of my own stagnation. The alternative that is also a partial reality—and one that is too uncomfortable to tolerate. Pendulum. The ultimate expression of life. A refusal to idle, even in the face of absolute stillness.

20 responses to “Pendulum”

  1. The word voice kept repeating itself in my mind as I read. What a voice you have in this piece. All the way until the final word. The energy here is so alive that I felt more present within myself as I read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your words do inspire. Truly. Like you, I don’t want to just repeat the ideas. I would prefer to try to explain to you how your post inspired me to think and relate them to my own experiences. So, another long comment.

    Your post helped me generate my own thoughts about “pendulum”. It made me think about my need to get out and go “into the wild” sometimes. And why do I do it? Often, when I am out there at sunrise, shivering in the cold, trying desperately to get water heated for my coffee, I ask myself, “Why do you do this to yourself, Tim? You voluntarily left a comfortable apartment, a comfortable life, to come out here and suffer like this. Why?”

    Certainly there are moments of pure joy and exhilaration, like watching the sunrise over the snow-capped peaks of my favorite range, but I know that these moments are not my only reasons for going out there. I feel a need to return to my own center – in order to boost my creativity.

    It’s difficult for me to feel creative when I have been too comfortable for too long. I look for a balance. Warm, comfortable, and cozy at home are just that – warm, comfortable, and cozy. Too much of that, and I get lazy…bored. I need the opposite. I need the cold, the difficult, the uncomfortable – if just for a little while. Yet, it is also difficult to be creative “out there” when just the tasks of daily living take up so much of the daylight hours – making camp, cooking, fishing, cleaning the messes, etc. And I begin to look forward to my return.

    After I return from the field, the food and coffee taste so much better. The first shower is the best I’ve ever had. My bed is the most comfortable in the world. And I feel centered again – ready to be creative.

    Was looking out at the African plain from the peak the only reason to climb Kilimanjaro? I believe you may have already answered that in your post. As always, I look forward to your next. Ciao!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, thank you, Tim! You know, there are too many people who repeat others’ ideas. I believe it’s a terribly boring way to think. You’ve got to create with it. Inject your own life into it. Fumble and make mistakes with it. You know?

      Anyway, I love your application of the concept to your own life. It’s interesting the way you embrace uncomfortability—even in the extreme. I am familiar with that urge. There is something that is often “right,” corrective, or cleansing about experiences like that.

      And, it’s funny, at least to me, creativity isn’t necessarily (or often) born out of happiness. There’s almost always a tinge of distress, despair, pain, anger, or sadness. A complex emotional experience. As if the creative act requires its own center.

      By the way, I’m about to start delving into a little Maslow. “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.” I’m not sure if he’ll inspire, but I’ll give it a whirl…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, it’s like the slap in the face. One I guess I feel I just need sometimes. Life isn’t always comfortable. I don’t know if I have written this to you before, and am just repeating it, or if I may have written similar to other intellectual friends of mine…but anyway, I do agree that it takes a spectrum of emotional experiences to be our most creative selves. Maslow is up there on my (ever-growing) list, too. At some point, I also want to reattempt May’s “Freedom and Destiny”. So much to read, and so…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for not finishing that last sentence…my sentiments, exactly! 😬

      So…30 pages in…I love him! I am already asking myself why they only teach us about that pyramid—the hierarchy of needs—in school. He is awesome! Funny, wise, incredibly intuitive, with a bare-bones, conversational style. Keep him on your list.

      It’s funny. I sometimes go to great lengths to keep life from getting too uncomfortable (Don’t we all?), but when it does—and it inevitably does—I find I am relieved in the end. Relieved the thing has passed. That I’ve gotten through it. That I’ve gone through the spectrum of emotions and wound up on the other side. Isn’t that also part of creativity? How we get there? Inspiration, adaptation, improvisation? (I’m already channeling Maslow. 😊) Happy Memorial Day to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, “The Pyramid”. I’ve always had a number of my own theories regarding that, and have wanted to know more about him for a long time. I may finish May’s “Love and Will”, and then order the Maslow title you are reading now.
    “…to keep life from getting too uncomfortable…—I find I am relieved in the end. Relieved the thing has passed.” Relieved the thing has passed? Or relieved that you were confronted with a problem, worked on the problem, solved the problem, overcame, and moved past (it)?
    I have this belief that deep down, we need problems to solve in order to really feel alive. Over the millennia we have solved many of our problems with advances in technology. The downside is – we have solved many of our problems with advances in technology. Example: I am something of a cartophile – I love paper maps. I love to solve where I am, where I want to go, and how I am going to get there. Many people do not know how to read maps anymore. Today, we can push a button, and a calm voice will tell you to “turn right here”, turn left here, you have arrived at your destination, etc. I am not against technology. I embrace it. I have used a GPS many times to get me somewhere when I got lost using my paper map. But, I also understand that there is always an unintended negative consequence to every advance in technology.
    I understand too, that it is all relative. Someone from five hundred years ago would probably look at me and say, “Well, it must be nice to have this map all drawn out for you. I have to break out my astrolabe, compass, rabbit’s foot, and steer by the stars! You kids these days probably don’t even know how to use an astrolabe!”
    I feel that I can even find parallels in May’s thoughts on human love, sexuality, etc.
    Okay, this reply to a reply has gotten a bit wordy. I apologize. I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend also! I am leaving for Houston tomorrow. Cora is graduating high school, and will start classes at UH this fall! :-O

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, have fun! Send my best to Cora. As for problems…I solved the problem, or the thing has passed…tomato, tomahto. 😜

      But, seriously, I think we need problems, too. Challenges. Challenges build character, aptitude, confidence. If you truly feel that way about technology (I agree.), you might think of giving “Freedom and Destiny” another shot. He addresses those topics more directly than in “Love and Will.” Have fun in Houston! But, not too much. I hear there’s this CVS near campus…

      Liked by 1 person

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