Small Steps Toward Thriving
Illustration by Cathy Delanssay

“We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire.”  – George Sands

Last night, I had a terrible time sleeping. I felt excitable but extremely tired. I wanted to write, do more strengthening exercises and create something. But I barely had enough energy to go through my calendar to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything timely.

Where does the time go? Time does not just fly by when you are having fun. It also slips away from when you are focused on accomplishing and getting things done just right.

I remember a time when I would climb the highest pine trees in my neighborhood with my best friend Andy. The sun seemed to be growing larger and redder as it said its farewell. We would watch in silence with our breathing labored from the climb. The evening stretched out in lazy minutes until the blue became purple and then black. Wafting smells of cheesy casseroles and Korean stews woke us from our reverie. Dinner called and our hungry bellies answered back with growling sounds. Laughing, we climbed back down and briefly hugged because we knew we would see each other the next day.

That is how the summer evenings fell when I was eight years old. They were languorous and sweet. I do not want to tear out the pages of these memories. They serve as reminders to enjoy the moments that are slipping by me right now.

This may sound sentimental, but I often struggle with the desire to not just survive but to truly thrive. I have been told many times that I am a survivor. People mention that I have been through hardships but usually come out stronger and wiser. This doesn’t feel true to me. There were times when I was crippled by my lack of hope and had no faith that things would improve. Beyond the initial blows of heartache, financial blows and family crisis, I knew I needed to shed the self pity and move on and move forward. When I could find no hope, my loved ones around retrieved it for me like sea-born trinkets from the beach.

Everyone has struggled and faced challenging times because none of us have lived perfect lives. However, I used to wear this survivor label with a badge of pride. But I no longer want the identity of being a survivor. I don’t want to just tread water and stay afloat, lingering over the same jungle of kelp below me.

Small Steps Toward Thriving
Illustration by Cathy Delanssay

I want to dive below and play in the tangle of the sea. I want to surf over the waves and laugh as they crash in front of me. But how do I do this metaphorically and literally (I love the ocean) when I am struggling to find the time and energy to get the basics done. How do I make room for this when childcare, cooking, cleaning, laundry and exercise have to take the front seat?

I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I know. Approaching my life with some gratitude helps. Seeing my son playing in the sink pouring water from one cup to another with the concentration of scientist helps. Slowing down enough to just witness what has gone right that day soothes me like recalling the red star leaves that littered our walk in the stroller. Watching my son playing peek-a-boo with my elderly parents feels like a precious gift. Dancing together on our tiptoes to Korean hip-hop always heals. Asking for time for myself and reveling in it when I have it is incredible. This means not using the time to answer emails or take care of business unless it is pressing.

Here is what I do want to throw into the fire and follow George Sands advice. I want to burn to ashes the idea that being busy and doing more is somehow admirable. I want to crush and extinguish this Korean work ethic that says our bodies, time and energy are expendable to reach a goal of status, money or education. I do honor hard work and diligence but never at the price of health and happiness.

I want a huge funeral pyre for the obsessive ways that I want things to be clean, orderly and at the expense of my sleep and peace. To put kerosene over the thought that accomplishing chores is more important than sitting and reading some poetry on a rainy day. To burn down the belief that our happiness comes from getting shit done over taking our child to the beach at night to dance while bonfires compete with the setting sun to light up the horizon.

Maybe a great deal of our life story and personal identity needs to burned down to ashes before we can begin to take the tiny steps to thrive. Maybe each day we can throw the damaging aspects of our lives into the fire to make room for what really matters. I agree with Sands in that it cannot be done a page at a time. The story needs to be thrown out along with the character identified to that story. If our heroic journey involves seeing ourselves as warriors, we need to fight and do battle to feel like we are successful. If being a survivor is an important part of our self-worth, we will choose situations of crisis to prove our worth.

My new story is being mermaid-like, surrounding myself with the beauty of the sea and flowing in the natural world riddled with magic. This starts with relaxing into the real and present moments. I find magic in my younger son playing horsey with my dad who just turned 80 years old. The incredible circumstances that allowed me to have another child late in life and the health of my parents to come visit and enjoy their second grandchild. Sometimes, when my son, Niko is sleeping, I sit in wonder looking at his beauty and the life force that streams through him.

Small Steps Toward Thriving
Illustration by Cathy Delanssay

What matters to me today is being able to recall those summer nights when time slowed down not because we wanted it to. But because we were present for what was right before us. There was an incredible sunset, the sound of our breathing and simple awe for the sun’s farewell for the day.

These recollections help me remember to create space for gratitude and to witness the beauty before me with the eyes of a poet.

George Sands was an incredible writer, woman and thinker. To find out more about her incredible life, begin your search here.

 

Please discover the wonder of Cathy Delanssay’s art here.

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