There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly your own.
Mary Oliver, From the poem “Moments”, in the collection Felicity
This is a circular story about caution and courage and following your heart.
In October I spent a week writing poetry in a manor house on the border of England and Wales. The landscape was beautiful. Pastoral. Like something out of a Constable painting. Or the 23rd Psalm come to life. A line from Handel’s Messiah kept playing in my head: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Though the sheep in this case seemed content to graze the green pastures beside the still waters within the protective stone fences that border the fields.
Writing poetry in the valley was headlong for me, though it might not look that way from the outside. I was flinging myself into nature, lightly fenced by stone walls. Into language, given shape by the conventions of meter and rhythm. Letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves (to reference another Oliver poem) without a thought for productivity, profitability or what kind of value I’m creating in the marketplace.
To get to this place, in heart, mind and body, I’d made some bold moves. Sold my house. Invested the profits. Taken a leave of absence from my business. Left my aging mother in the care of my brothers and cousins. Set out on a blow-my-own mind adventure to the volcanic islands of the Galapagos, the mountains and ancient cities of Peru, a riverboat on a canal in central London, and to this valley with its sheep and the big stone house made for poets.
Six months earlier I was in my office working on a business website. Appealing to a corporate clientele in the language of continuous improvement, performance and return on investment. When I read what I’d written it made me sad. It had nothing to do with me, what I value. How I express myself.
I closed my eyes. Spent a few minutes of silence. And asked myself what it was I really wanted. The voice that answered was clear.
“I want to explore the world with curiosity and wonder.”
“I want to contemplate life’s big questions.”
“I want to create something new and surprising”
I listened to that voice. Followed it onto the open road.
But then I got cautious.
Yesterday I found myself in exactly the same position I was in before I left. Labouring over my computer, trying once again to package myself for the corporate marketplace. Taking to heart the advice of a gatekeeper who said that I should take the creativity out, project authority, showcase my credentials and certifications, ask the most impressive of my clients to speak for me. She meant well. Had my best interest at heart. Wanted me to learn how to stand out by blending in. But once again I felt the same despair.
It wasn’t just that I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It was that I was doing it out of fear. It was fear that said I couldn’t be myself. Cautioned me to follow a script. Said that I wasn’t getting any younger. That a holiday was nice but if I left the path I knew and relied on my imagination to create a different future, I’d end up poor and alone – a disappointment to my dead father.
That’s what Mary Oliver meant by pathetic. Imbued with pathos. A quality that evokes pity and sadness and a loss of self respect.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations beyond our control. And then we do what we have to do in order to survive. But this is not a time for caution. This is a time to be brave. By going headlong into the world that I imagine for myself, I have a chance to save my life. Before it’s too late.
You’re So Brave: A Master Class in Courage launches March 6, 2018 and registration is now open. If you imagine yourself in a bigger, bolder, more authentic, more impactful life than the one you’re living now, this is your opportunity to step up and claim it. Follow the link to register.