On Remembering

March 29, 2020 4 min read

This has been a fascinating experiment on boundaries and obligations, especially for those of us who have been living with fuzzy lines around what we feel we are obligated to do versus what we are called to do. 

What has come up in this time is an investigation into my urge to help others versus my human need for self-preservation and the wish to fulfill my own obligations to myself and do my work. When can I be selfish and when should I be helpful?

Some time ago I was listening to Jordan Peterson when something he said stopped me in my tracks. He was talking about the Golden Rule and how we have terribly misinterpreted it. The Golden Rule, if you don’t know, goes something like this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This idea goes back to at least 500 B.C. and has been referenced in some form in many religions. Most of us take it to mean that we should treat others as well as we treat ourselves but the big glaring problem is that most of us don’t treat ourselves very well. We end up treating others better, giving more of ourselves away to them than we give to ourselves.

Peterson explains that the point is not to sacrifice yourself, but instead to take care of yourself first, “make things great for you”, and then bring that to the world.

It takes much awareness to undo this misinterpretation if you’ve lived it for a lifetime. For me, the Golden Rule and codependence are so intertwined that I have had to untangle the strings and pull them apart, millimeter by millimeter, day by day. What is my responsibility to myself? What is my responsibility to others?

These past few weeks have shined a spotlight on the parts that I have not yet swept out of my system, the parts that make me feel guilty for not giving more of myself away; the parts that tell me I am being self-centered when I focus on creating something. I have realized how much I do not need and how much I do not need to do.

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life. –Viktor Frankl

I have relished the solitude and have taken great advantage of it, using the extra time to ponder, to stare at my bookshelf and pull books out that I haven’t read in years. I have been sitting on the floor with them, flipping through to find the highlights and the dogeared pages; the places that meant something to me and still do. I search into these places to be reminded of where I started, what I dreamed of, and what occupied my thoughts. They are like a map of my soul really, pieces of the puzzle.

How did life get inundated with so many things that don’t matter? Are we running from something when we overfill our time? Are we trying to fit, trying to win, trying to be someone? Do we think we must do all these things to be loved? To be good enough? 

But what about the smallness and all the beauty there? In that shitty first draft you wrote. In the song you sort-of played on your new guitar. In the way you sang way too loud while you were putting away the dishes. All the life there. 

What about the trees and the roadrunner and the lizard climbing the wall? What about the smell of the roast or wine time with your love? What about the way the dew settles on the grass in the morning or the conversations between birds? All the life there. 

What about you? What about that fire deep inside of you, the one patiently waiting? What about what life is asking of you? All the life there. 

If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is. - Charles Bukowski

I remember reading this poem years ago and longing to go all the way. But isolation I could not find, while I was easily able to come up with all the excuses of why I could not go all the way. Now we have this incredible and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime gift of isolation and we can use it to listen, to write, to paint, to play music, to delve into the creative parts of us that have suffered from codependence, fear, excuses, and overly filled calendars.

A curious paradox characteristic of every kind of courage here confronts us. It is the seeming contradiction that we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong. This dialectic relationship between conviction and doubt is characteristic of the highest types of courage.- Rollo May

What are you finding in this gift of isolation? When it is over, can you restructure your life to live just the things that truly matter? What can you let go of?

There is something happening right now: a remembering, perhaps, of what we are. It is terrifying and there is a loss, a grief, and it is new. There is also a sort of rebirth, isn’t there? In the quiet, in the retrospection and introspection, in the dreams. Oh, the life that can come from this. Don’t let this chance slip away.

Notes of Inspiration