“The first step shall be to lose the way.” -Galway Kinnell
When 2016 arrived, I didn’t ring it in with champagne and party hats. I wanted to sleep more than anything, so I celebrated by going to bed about 9:00pm. 2015 wasn’t a bad year, but it was an intense year, and even though I got a decent night’s sleep as the world said farewell to 2015, I was ready for a nap within an hour of waking up. I’d been feeling that way for weeks, and the first day of 2016 was no exception.
I got sick within a few days, and it was a bug that made itself comfortable in my sinus passages for a solid three weeks. It wasn’t until the end of the month, when I got in my car for the four-hour drive north to Big Sur for a long weekend with seven soul sisters that the exhaustion finally began to lift. I made sure of that by turning the volume up on my sappiest playlist and letting myself cry as hard as I could for the first hour of the drive. (Thanks, Adele!) I was tired of being sick. I was tired of feeling so tired. I was tired of feeling like I was in a constant race against time.
During those weeks of feeling like I was moving underwater, I felt like I was missing out on all the fun everyone was having sharing their word for the year. All that excitement! All that energy! Everyone fired up and eager to make 2016 the best year ever! I was still recovering from 2015 and wasn’t ready to decide what I most wanted to manifest in the wide open space of the new year. What’s my word of the year? I’d ask myself. Nothing. The cursor in my brain just kept blinking idly, a reminder that in this particular endeavor—making a declaration for my life—I was a failure.
Now that we’re almost five months in, I’ve got my word—not because I decided on it once I started to get my mojo back, but because it keeps showing up on days like today, when I wrap up a big project and I automatically ask myself OK, what’s next?
I used to thrive in situations when someone would ask that question, or any variation of it—When is your next show? Where is your next retreat? What will you write about next? I prided myself on always having an answer. I’d have my next show lined up. My next retreat would already be on the calendar. A book proposal would be waiting in the wings. Being able to confidently, immediately answer the question “What’s next?” meant I was a mover, a shaker, a woman who made things happen. But over time, it also meant I was a woman who was tired, and frequently left wondering why I felt like my time to rest was always just beyond whatever my answer to the question happened to be that day. Right after regaling my listener with all the impressive feats I was about to accomplish, I would—without fail—follow it up with, “And after I finish that I’ll finally have some down time!”
The word that keeps hovering in my periphery is discernment. Defined as the ability to judge well, I see this word drift through my awareness every time the question of what’s next pops up. If “What’s next?” is in neon, “discernment” is like a fog, trying to reduce its harsh glare. It is a reminder to choose carefully, and that the best answer might actually be “Nothing.”
I’ve been having a conversation with someone this week about recognizing that although we are artistic, creative beings we are not, at our core, defined solely by this. We actually do ourselves a disservice by trying to make our sense of well-being and contentment contingent upon this. I can make artwork, organize retreats, and write books and connect to my core or I can do none of those things and still honor my soul and spirit. If my answer to the question, “What’s next?” is “Nothing”, I am still me. I am still whole and worthy and enough.
This is where discernment comes in, as a quiet whisper that doesn’t just tell me it’s OK to loosen the reins on my Very Important Things To Do list. It is also letting me in on a secret I am only beginning to understand, which is that by spending so much time and effort keeping my bag of answers to the question of what’s next full, I might actually be missing out on the most potent opportunities to tap into my core, my soul, my deepest sense of creativity, presence, and joy.
I talked about writing the book I just finished for many years before finally sitting down to write it. What was it that compelled me to finally do it? The sound of my own voice saying, “I just have to write this book!” too many times. I decided it was time to either write the book or stop talking about it. That was more than two years ago, and yesterday I sent my book to the printer.
I feel the same way about the proclamation that always punctuates my answer to the question of what’s next, the part about having some quiet time once this is wrapped up or that is finished. I’ve heard myself say it enough times to know it is time for a change. It isn’t about literally doing nothing, but about creating time for myself to explore and see where the wind takes me. If I’m always deciding ahead of time exactly what I want to work on, I’m missing out on all the discoveries that await me on the detours. I’m eager for some aimless wandering. I’m ready to let myself get lost.
About the Author: Christine Mason Miller
Christine Mason Miller is an author, artist and guide who lives in Santa Barbara, California.
You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.