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.”
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.