The Heaviest of Topics…
About a month ago, I was given a writing assignment as part of a group to write about a topic that felt ‘heavy’ to me, in a way that was light. No further explanation; no direction whether it should be personal or global, nothing, nada. Just the instruction.
I didn’t love the assignment, in fact I kinda resented it, but, being the good student I am, I immediately found myself creating a checklist of topics that came under the ‘serious’ banner…
- My crumbling back (although it’s fun to have conversations about the good drugs.)
- Brexit (soooo not caring about Brexit!
- My neighbour’s building work that feels like he’s knocking holes in my wall (interesting how I only remember the noise now because I wrote it down a month ago.)
- Money, if we’d put money into pensions instead of private schools we could have retired millionaires (yeah, you didn’t, so what.)
- Is my teenager going to be roofied in a university bar (idea put in my head by a TV drama. Felt real for a few minutes and the cold grip of an ‘OMG he could die like that girl on the Silent Witness!’ thought squeezed my heart. Yep, he could, and I could think about it now, or not. It’s the TV, it isn’t real, I don’t need to be scared of the TV.)
- Do we exist? Am I part of the great nothingness, or do I have little atoms of consciousness bouncing around my physical form (seriously? get over yourself!)
- What have been my biggest career achievements (so far)? (I was asked this at a party the previous weekend by a serious young man. I’d laughed but a momentary thought of ‘were all my ‘big’ achievements behind me?’ floated through my head until I realised it wasn’t a real question, even if the serious young man intended it to be. Oh well. Again, interesting that I only recall it because I wrote.)
- Will my dog ever stop licking lady dog’s bottoms and is it the right time to have him castrated (of all the things my mind meandered over this felt the most ‘real’ at the time, the thing “I” had to figure out rather than leave to resolve itself. It’s curious, or not, how almost a month has gone by since I wrote this and it’s 90% less of a problem. Could it be that he’s doing it 90% less of the time, or maybe it just bothers me 90% less than it did…?)
And then it hit me, the thing that was heaviest of all the things I was checking off my mental list was this. This assignment.
The fact there was something to do — some performance that I could do better or worse, some standard I wanted to measure up to, some ‘judgement’ that would be passed and where I didn’t want to be found wanting.
Ahhhhh, so that’s what heaviness feels like! Of course it does. Those other things on the list are meaningless in comparison, the easy stuff of life, the things that other people might take seriously but which don’t feel serious to me, in this moment.
Ah you idiot, Cathy!
I saw something in my studiousness, my ‘efforting’, my ‘doing’, my thinking it was on me to get it right.
I stopped writing, stopped making my lists — I’d had a true Homer Simpson slap on the forehead moment.
Lightness Isn’t a ‘Technique’…
Lightness isn’t a technique. It isn’t something we do to polish up heavy topics, to pull meaning from them, or perhaps to make them more socially acceptable.
Lightness is the seeing that something really isn’t as serious as other people, or ourselves see it to be in certain moments.
Yes, of course, sometimes the talking, or the writing, can be the exploration of ‘heaviness’, it can be a sharing, an observation, a storytelling.
But all those topics on my list seemed to have a translucent quality to them — a lack of solidity — a greater or lesser clarity that would allow me to write about any of them in whatever way I wanted. I could pick at them and pull them apart and explore my own shifting perceptions.
Sure, I might do this differently on different days, and I might be able to read back and judge my writing as ‘heavier’ or ‘lighter’. And then edit if I felt like it, ideally taking some of the ‘taking myself too seriously’ out of it.
The moment of deep realisation, though, was that the heaviness exists in how I’m thinking about something; how it has created itself in my mind. That when I don’t see that what I’m thinking about, or doing, is play-putty in the fabric of my imagination, then of course it’s gonna feel serious.
As soon as I see that I am not my back pain, or my dog’s testosterone rush, that none of it is on me; not that there isn’t something to do, just that I don’t have to do the doing.
When I see that, then I start to get a twinkle of the light beyond the curtain of seriousness cloaking my perception.
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
At that point, there is no need to do anything more.
I can pull back the shades if I want to, write about what they’re made of, if I want to, but I don’t have to. I’ve seen what I need to see and my behaviour adjusts accordingly.
Which is why I didn’t feel the need to respond seriously to the serious young man’s question at the party.
Which is why my puppy hasn’t been for the snip yet.
Even though I can feel ever so slightly, or even seriously bothered by something, I know the bothering is not linked to the light that guides my action.
As with this homework — it took me the month to submit because, in the moment of insight, I didn’t feel the need to go any further.
And yet I did submit something. I submitted without attachment or caring.
I realised that I don’t have a ‘job’ to write, I have no responsibility to submit homework, if I don’t have anything to say, then I can say nothing.
I don’t have to find my ‘voice’ through this writing programme, I may never find a thing that feels like a voice.
And sometimes I might put words on a page and float them out into the world just because I can and because I want to in the moment.
That’s feels like enough for me.
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in human-centred leadership and transformative change. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support impact-driven individuals and organisations to improve their performance, leadership and peace of mind to enable them to make more of a difference with the work they do.