The Art of Nothingness
Just as the world is opening up again for travel and gatherings this summer, I’ve elected to close my world back down by opting in to a surgery that I knew would leave me completely dependent on others. I have what’s called Hallux Limitus, which is a fancy way of saying “big toe doesn’t bend upwards.” I’ve been struggling with this degenerative foot pain for too long to admit and threw out all of my high heels years ago, but never wanted to take the time to have the surgery. So why now? Well, my head would say it’s because all my deductibles have been met this year, but my heart knows that I needed some forced down time after the last tumultuous six months of life. If all goes well, the recovery will take about a month. Just one week into my healing, I’ve realized a few things:
- It’s super hard for me to ask for help.
- It’s even harder for me to relax and allow others to do things for me.
- I have missed out on a heck of a lot of TV over the past year.
My foot wound is physical, but apparently there’s another much deeper wound that needs to be healed as well.
As a 2 (“The Helper”) on the Enneagram personality chart, the question that we need to continually ask ourselves is “Who am I when I’m not helping anyone else?” That’s the question that I’m trying to answer on this journey of self-discovery. A few other questions that I’ve been asking myself as I’ve been tethered to the couch have been “Why do I feel like I’ve always got to be doing something? Why do I feel like I’m being lazy while others care for me? Do I feel like I don’t deserve to be the one being cared for? And why on Earth did I not realize that there’s a whole new crew of “Queer Eye” guys?”
My quick response to most of these questions is because I don’t think I really know how to stop, or perhaps even more truthfully, I don’t think it’s OK to stop doing. As a yogini and an active meditator, it’s hard for me to admit that I really am uncomfortable with the idea of “doing nothing”, because even when I’m doing yoga or meditating, I’m at least doing something that feels productive. There’s something deep down in my being that fuels itself on the validation of a job well done and absolutely adores gold stars and thank yous. I’ve spent so much of my life serving others and I feel like if I’m not doing something then I’m not living up to someone’s standards…who that someone is, I don’t know. This wound has been around for as long as I can remember. As a young girl I wanted to please my parents and earn their affection and approval, then it was my teachers and friends, then professors followed by co-workers and students, and finally my husband and children. I’m a people pleaser and whereas that can be a beautiful trait at times, there is a shadow side which puts too much value on helping others and not enough value on loving themselves just as they are. My “doing something” wound tells me that watching TV is a waste of time. When was the last time I just binge watched TV or spent an afternoon watching movies while dishes sat in the sink? I can tell you that it was over a year ago, when I was living and grieving in the Antler Den with Grace and Frankie on Netflix. And before that? Who knows? So perhaps my soul knew something that I didn’t realize when it aligned all the stars perfectly for me to take this summer as an opportunity to let the light shine into this wound.
Enter Jack T. Colton
He’s a sharp-dressed hippy with an artistic soul. He is clever, funny and a grilled cheese master. He’s adventurous but also knows the importance of nothingness. He’s an Idaho native who’s returning to his home state after 15 years of big-city life with his own baggage to unpack as he recovers from the divorce of a decade-long marriage. He’s a man of many nick names who has been known to suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome, but is starting to face adulting head on. He is a movie enthusiast with a huge heart who has been showing up time and time again since I first met him six months ago, and I am so very grateful to have him in my life at this specific place in time and space.
“Jack” would be the first to tell you that we were boyfriend and girlfriend long before I knew it. I was so stuck in my own mess that I couldn’t see this incredible human that the Universe put in my path at the exact moment when everything was about to take a sharp downward spiral. How many people do you know would ask for a second date after, on the very first date, you admit that your son just got out of a behavioral hospital after a suicide attempt? Oh, and then it happens again. And you’re on the phone with him crying and scared with your son in the ER, and instead of hanging up, he teaches you the Ho’oponopono prayer, a prayer of healing and forgiveness. And then a few weeks later you call him crying again, this time from the Veterinary ER because your dog is so unresponsive that you think it’s surely his last day, and even though he had other plans, he shows up to your car in the Vet parking lot (COVID times!) with two Rustler IPA’s and a can of wasabi almonds. Really? He’s still wanting to hang out with me? Ok, let’s keep going: it’s now late January and my son is checked in to a short-term mental health facility, followed by another longer term facility, and then my dog comes home with diabetes, which of course he helps me with. He administers insulin shots and sings “Sweet Baby James” to my dog, showing a depth of love for all beings that has me dumbfounded. All the while he sends me songs via text almost daily and will stop by after work to arrange flowers that he bought for me while making a masterpiece out of whatever salami, olive and cheese leftovers I have left in the fridge after my kids have gone back to their Dad’s. Fast forward to early April and my dog dies which is immediately followed by the placement of my son at a long-term therapeutic boarding school. The impact of this double ending was a tremendous blow for me and through it all, my Jack T. Colton was there, patiently supporting me, encouraging me and reminding me that it’s all going to be ok. And if all of that weren’t enough of a courtship, at the end of the most tumultuous year of teaching, I voluntarily sign up to be crippled for a month. And that brings us back to the art of nothingness.
What does Jack T. Colton have to do with nothingness?
So first of all, for all you Romancing the Stone fans, you’ll notice that my boyfriend’s name isn’t really Jack T. (Trustworthy) Colton (nor am I The Joan Wilder), but on one of our first dates I told him that’s who he reminded me of, so we’ll go with that for now. And let me tell you, “Jack” is a master at enjoying the moment exactly as it is. He doesn’t believe in “should-ing” on yourself or on feeling guilty because you didn’t accomplish everything on your checklist. In fact, I believe that he sees checklists as mere suggestions, not actual deadlines. Me, on the other hand, I’m the sort of person who will put something I’ve already done onto my checklist specifically so that I can cross it off. We are a yin to each other’s yang, helping one another heal from our marriage wounds. We balance each other beautifully and over this weekend he taught me how to enjoy my forced downtime.
He saw my injury as an opportunity to take a staycation on the couch with me and some of his best-loved films. And since the only thing on my to-do list was to ice, heat and elevate my foot, he made me a giant bowl of popcorn and fired up the first movie of our film-fest weekend: The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson. I know! Who knew that these three icons made a movie about Bird Watching? So funny. Next up, Captain Fantastic (please, please watch this film!) followed by 500 Days of Summer (best dance mob scene ever) then Midnight Run (classic De Niro) and Almost Famous (moved to a top 10 favorite film of mine). We sprinkled in some comedy shows, grilled cheese sandwiches and trips out to the backyard to do some real life bird-watching. While watching the movies and chatting with him on the back patio, I never felt judged or that I wasn’t living up to his expectations. Instead, I just felt loved. I realized that I often judge others who aren’t “doing” what I think they should be doing. And who am I to judge? Perhaps the person I judge the most is myself. This is a trait of mine that I want to transcend because I have to say, it felt incredibly refreshing to just BE with someone without judgement and I want to offer that same grace back to him and everyone else in my life.
At the end of the day on Sunday I said something to the effect of “it’s still hard for me to do nothing.”
To which he replied:“Nothing? We watched some of the best movies, spent quality time with each other, ate some delicious food and enjoyed the moon and stars in the backyard. Don’t underestimate the power of the sloth. It’s good for you” –My Jack T. Colton
It’s the paradigm shift that I needed. I was doing the best thing for myself that I could: resting to heal my injury. And he was the perfect companion to share in that experience, because he entered into it with me. I needed someone who would sit down with me and reassure me that this is exactly what I needed to be “doing” and someone to remind me that a day well spent doesn’t mean that every item is checked off of your checklist; that’s called a productive day. This weekend I was brilliantly reminded that we don’t earn people’s love by DOING, but instead just by BEING. I know that in the future when my foot is healed, I’ll be eager to jump back into action and want to have productive days. And I know that my strength in productivity will be there to help him to organize and establish his new home. As Jack T. Colton and I work together to heal our wounds, we have found a beautiful space somewhere between the being and the doing.
Which brings me back to the question “Who am I when I’m not helping anyone else?” Well, I’m someone who loves to laugh and gaze upon the moon with my telescope and ponder the meaning of life. I’m someone who loves to listen to loud music with the windows rolled down on a road trip. I’m someone who loves her family, friends and students fiercely. I’m someone who still has work to do in the area of asking for people to help and not “should-ing” on myself. I’m someone who is fully engaged in becoming healthier, both physically and mentally. I’m somebody who believes that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” (Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist). And I’m somebody who therefore believes that the Universe sent me Jack. And right now, I could use somebody like him. And that’s more than enough.
Who are you when you’re not doing something for others?
Share your thoughts!
I LOVE this my friend! You are a breath of fresh air, a conscious, hard-“being” human and I love you deeply. I’m so happy you have found your Jack “T” (emphasis on the T = trustworthy) Colton. Can’t wait to meet him.
Beautiful essay! So much truth and wisdom, I relate a lot to feeling the need to be ‘doing’ all the time. Good to let go of that and just be. Happy the universe is sending you just what, and who, you need 😘
I think it’s such a transition in our lives as our children age too. We do so much for everyone that it becomes our worth. I was raised a caretaker too so it feels so selfish to take care of myself or not be attending others. I am heading into a transition in my life similar to yours. I am hoping to continue growing and learning as well.. thank you for being so open and honest and I’m so thankful you found the wisdom nugget in your moments of doing nothing…
Just getting around to seeing what I’ve missed while under my stack of school books and assignments. I’m sorry you and the kids have been through so much over the last year+. My heart goes out to you all but I’m grateful to learn that Jack has appeared and brought a heaping plate of “happy” with him!
As a dear friend once told me(while gifting me with a toy push-button that says “no” in 10 different ways) it’s ok to say no and put myself first (that friend was you!). I’ve been working so hard on doing that for the last MANY years. I’m happy to see that you are stopping the rapid spinning of your world long enough to take in some simple joys….and some love. You deserve it all!
Courtney!! I miss you, my friend! Thank you for your lovely words, and yes! My foot is my personal “no” button for the time being. Love that you have that button (Ironically, I have a “yes” button in my house!)