the opposite of haiku

“Michelle, the opposite of haiku.” Someone once said that, describing me. I’m not sure exactly what he meant, but I took it as a compliment. That said, this post is definitely not a haiku.

My mind has been tearing around lately, ready to take on the world and also ready to throw the world out the window.

Anger is an easy emotion. It can get us into trouble, but it can also move us to action.

Seth Godin wrote a blog post recently about disappointment. We disappoint others regularly, and they disappoint us. We also disappoint ourselves.

Theatre has taught me that disappointment is part of life – it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Disappointment comes when we think we have failed (or others have failed us). But failure is a key part of the creative process. It tells us where we are, it gives us an anchor, a wall to bump against (or bang our heads against), and make observations.

And, as Godin points out, the alternative to potential disappointment is to do nothing at all.

I’m not willing to have that little investment in life.

Why is it that sometimes the most important people in our lives are the ones we push into corners? “I’ll get back to you after I take care of this project at work, this paper for school, this acquaintance who “needs” something from me, this “emergency,” my next trip, my job change, my move to a new apartment, my dissertation, my cleaning, my laundry, the book I’m reading, the new hobby I’ve decided to pick up…” Why is it that sometimes everything but the person right in front of us is most important?

We shouldn’t be able to toss each other aside as easily as we sometimes do. But then, I’m relationship oriented. Perhaps it’s true that we live in a commerce-driven world. Perhaps transactions have become more important than feelings, or forgiveness, or latitude, or loyalty, or even love. We try to trade up, we’re always sure the better moment, job, person, or adventure is right around the corner. We want it all. Somehow we miss that the most important moment is this one. Sometimes we miss the fact that the “all” we’ve been looking for is here, right in front of us.

This moment, in this place, with each other (or alone), doing what we’re doing, right now.

“Life is short.”

Several people around me have been using those words lately, and honestly, I’d be happy to never hear them again. I think they can be an excuse. Or at least, I think we need to be honest about what we mean when we say that phrase.

I want to know: too short for what? Too short to sit here and sift through the really difficult parts of being alive, because it’s much easier to go to another bar, another party, a new friend or lover, a new hobby? Suck the marrow out of life by filling it with hundreds of things, rather than going deeper into one or two really important things? Is that really living? What if life is too short to spend it jumping from one thing to the next, always in search of “better?”

We are a nation of people scared of commitment, it seems. (I raise my hand to include myself. A difficult, but honest admission.)

Scared to commit to jobs, to people, to places, to weekend plans. We always want a way out. A friend of mine was commenting today that our technology probably hasn’t helped matters. We can always, so easily, make – and cancel – plans at the last minute. We can be late. We can find substitute plans with the flick of a finger. We can replace the people in our lives, always moving on to what we think will be better, but is it?

Better at the beginning, maybe. Novelty is fun. But the catch is: we bring ourselves with us. We’re always along for the ride. Our baggage is attached, for better or worse.

In my voice and movement classes I do an exercise with squats in relation to breath and voice. We do these squats quite slowly – on various counts, and it can be very difficult to stick with them.

However, the interesting part of this exercise is not the difficulty, and the point is not necessarily to build strength (although that is a nice side benefit). The interesting part is in the journey from standing to squatting and back again.

How does each person start? And end? Is the movement jerky, do they move too quickly or too slowly for the counts? Do they anticipate the beginning? Do they rush to finish? Or can they stick with the process all the way through, even through the hard parts?

And how do they deal with difficulty or challenge? Do they give up? Force their way through? Feel defeated? Angry? Become stubborn? Cry? Laugh? Keep at it until they get it?

There is a moment in the middle of a slow squat – both going down into it and coming back up out of it – when it is the most difficult, especially when we move slowly. Many of us want to skip over that part, jump ahead to the easier, more solid and clear beginnings and endings.

When we really take ourselves on that journey, going through the hard part, feeling it, surrendering to those really difficult moments in the middle, our bodies sometimes shake and ache, and we think we’re going to fall over (sometimes we do fall over!). It is hard, and we know there is an easier way, and of course we can always choose the easy way.

But if we do, we deprive ourselves of a truly connected journey. If instead we can face our demons head on, we get through it and realize we just did something hard, and we didn’t try to run away, we didn’t get scared and try to ignore it, we didn’t get frustrated and quit, we didn’t try to skip the hard parts. We were there, completely present through the earth-shattering, ear-splitting cries of our bodies/minds/hearts saying, “I can’t!” – into, finally, a meditation, a clarity, a success.

Our sense of self expands because we survived. We were committed. We saw it through. We feel a sense of accomplishment. We are better, stronger, more expansive people than we gave ourselves credit for. And the only way we can discover that is to not skip over the hard parts, but to be in them fully and completely, knowing they won’t last forever, in service of the journey, the moment, the relationship in front of us.

We generally have a tendency to want things to be easier. It’s easier to be non-committal. It’s easier to only go so deep, but no deeper; close, but no closer. It’s easier to leave difficult situations than to see them through. Beginnings are easy. Endings are familiar.

But the messy, chaotic middle is where we truly live. There is disappointment. There is failure. Some days, all we can feel is anger, or sadness, or defeat.

This life we live is not haiku. It is not structured or predictable. Compared to a haiku, it isn’t even really that short. It meanders. It has complicated layers. And it has a lot of bumpy parts in the middle we sometimes wish we could edit out – but these are the moments that bring us face to face with who we really are. Complex, beautiful, expansive and strong – all of us. Capable of so much more than we ever imagine.

And I’m enough of a romantic to believe that it’s only when we take ourselves through that fire, fight the dragons, wrestle with our demons, sweating and shaking and fearing that we’re going to fail, going to disappoint – but stay present (committed) through it all – only then do we have the tools to distill life into the beauty of haiku.

A moment of clarity in the middle of the beautiful mess of life.


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