On Sunday I wrote about cultivating the unexpected, about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC and about courting a life that refuses to stay in ho-hum ruts.
Inspiration begged me to start a daily journal recording Unexpected Happenings during each day. When inspiration strikes me (I don’t know about you) it feels like a fire burning deep inside. It feels like you’re suffused with joy, paddling in the flow of life, deeply in love with the creativity of the spanking brand-new moment of possibility.
However, if you’re anything like me, inspiration has a way of snuffing out. The flame of delight too often dies. You often can’t create a roaring bonfire with one match of inspiration. Somehow you need to keep kindling the baby fire with sticks of dry kindling, coaxing it into a sustaining fire, one that gives light and warmth and toasty marshmallows.
I have a history of huge bursts of creative inspiration followed by fallow fields. Starting in Third Grade I would write stories with no endings. They started out SO STRONG with so much inspiration and by page six, then simply fizzled. Adios, goodbye dear story, where did you go?
In Fourth Grade I did write an epic novel of 148 pages and damn straight finished it. What a success! It was about a little girl named Gretel who escaped the Nazis. She ran and ran and ran, visited castles in Bavaria, and basically got away from the Bad Guys with guns. (I was deeply affected by the Sound of Music and spent the next 40 years dreaming about escaping from Nazis. Who knows? At one time I was 100% convinced I died surrounded by barbed wire in the Holocaust.)
The little novella sits up in our attic in the Little House in the Big Woods even today, along with two hundred once-inspired but unfinished tales.
So, with this history, I have been very interested all week with these questions: What kills inspiration? What nurtures it? How does one invite inspiration to live alongside of you, to keep you wooing the Unexpected hour after hour, day after day?
I think we can summarize the answer to the killing question with one word: FEAR. Fear in its many boring variations. Starting on Monday I watched all the ways the mind began to damper the flame of inspiration.
- This is stupid. Why court the unexpected? Isn’t the expected as OK as the unexpected? What a dumb idea.
- Nothing is happening. Nothing is happening. Nothing unexpected is happening.
- How can I keep thinking about this all day? This just makes me nervous. I have better things to do, like play Mah-Jong Solitare or Sudoku.
You get the drift. I am only listing three arguments from the direction of Expected Thought. There were at least 75 snarky comments from the mind in the past five days.
“I’m scared,” said Goldilocks to the Three Bears, “I simply can not keep up the inspiration of creating this porridge. I must go back to doing the expected.”
As I analyzed and thought and journaled about this challenge during the week, here are a few pointers that seem to be keeping me faithful in my commitment to marry the unexpected.
- Fear and inspiration will walk together. Goldilocks can admit she’s scared and I will listen to her. But we’re still making porridge. We’re still letting the three unexpected bears show up for breakfast, even if they eat the poor little girl. Life is short, my friends! Life is short, Kathy! Let’s more fully recognize fear and make him an ally instead of an enemy. Can we at least give it a try?
- Unexpected things are happening ALL THE TIME! Seriously. They are just usually so little itty-bitty-tiny that they fly under our radar screen of attention. (They can be as simple as a white-tail deer wagging her tail in the woods or the first dandelion popping out so marvelous and yellow and amazing.) But by repeating the intention of courting the unexpected, and by faithfully recording them, they grow like crocuses in spring. I have faith.
- Be aware of the voice of fear, recognize it as a sweet little old scaredy-cat and proceed anyway. Use this exercise of courting the unexpected as an opportunity to Proceed Anyway. When you don’t know what to do next, try two options. Keep walking into the unknown or stop and wait. Learn to trust that the Universe is waiting to share the next step. While it may be easier to soothe the fear of the unknown by playing Spider Solitaire, it’s OK to just sit and actively listen. What direction does Unexpected Life want to flow next? And next, and next?
- Hey, it’s OK to play Spider Solitaire. No beating up allowed. Let’s just gently and patiently look again for the unexpected. Ready or not, unexpected, here I come!
Having thoroughly dived into the swimming pool of analyzing fear–and learned one heck of a lot about how to breast-stroke through some of the mind’s paralyzing responses–let me share some of the Unexpected Happenings that rocked this week (as recorded faithfully in the journal).
- I made curry with the spice garam masala! (Who even knew it existed?)
- Listened to Tom Waites for the first time in this life (Who even knew he existed?) By the time I got to “Hell Broke Luce” video this mouth was hanging open in shock. Wow.Crazy stuff.
- Listened to Prince’s Purple Rain. (Yes, I knew he existed, but never listened before.)
- Cleaned two book shelves. Wow! Have been putting that off since…1984?
- Read Barry’s fishing magazine. Ha, ha, just to shock him, you know.
- Unexpectedly invited one of my best friends to lunch on Tuesday to celebrate her 61st birthday. (Couldn’t even believe the invitation came out!)
- Got annoyed and irritated at a different friend and unexpectedly calmed down–just like that–in less than five minutes–and realized it was just her opinion and not God’s gospel. Seriously, folks, this was a huge unexpected revelation.
- Ate a smoked oyster. Again, to shock Barry.
- Pretended I was 90 years old and experienced a huge revelation. May blog about that someday. (Before I’m 90.)
- Ate fried rice instead of steamed at birthday luncheon.
- Wrote this blog just now–very unexpected.
- Realized I DO finish things as much as I get sidetracked in fear. It’s just that I want to develop a new relationship with that scaredy-cat. You know, take Goldilocks along for the ride.
- There were a lot more entries, but I’m keeping mum on the rest because this blog would be 2,000 words if I keep writing!
And you? Did any of you consciously court the unexpected this week? Did any of you meet the flip side of unexpected, Mr. Fear? Please feel free to share your adventures or discoveries here.