Fireflies: what I learned by watching my thoughts worry by
I was sitting in the car, waiting for my daughter, a film student, to shoot some footage of a rainy carnival, which had appeared, as carnivals will, in the parking lot of our local mall.
And there, as Katie pointed her camera at an empty ferris wheel, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: my mind is filled – FILLED – with absurd and random fears and concerns.
Since I have so often said, “I don’t worry,” this caught me by surprise. Apparently, I do. But in a sneaky, worrying-when-I-am-not-paying-attention sort of way. As if a swarm of lightning bugs had been fluttering around my head in the dark and suddenly, in that moment of quiet reflection, they’d all started to glow!
What the …?
I grabbed my journal and began writing. I didn’t know why this was happening just then – and I didn’t care. I was having a conversation with a part of myself I rarely saw (or allowed myself to see) and, fully engaged, I was listening.
Here is what I caught in my ‘firefly jar’:
- I was worrying that I will not have time time/money/energy to use my life at its fullest potential and that I will die unfulfilled and unfinished
- I was worrying that even if I try, these projects I’m working on will turn out to have been fruitless, pointless, misguided and wrong
- I was worrying that it’s too late. that I should have perfected my body, face, mind, home, wardrobe, website, credentials/education, brand/message, diet by now.
- I was worrying that I should know the exact combination of Superfoods, Smoothies and Supplements to guarantee immortality, glowing vitality and endless energy.
- I was (also, weirdly) worrying that my daughter will be kidnapped and sold into the sex trafficking trade
- I was worrying that my son would die and leave me with a hole in my heart that nothing will ever be able to fill
- I was worrying that my husband would suddenly stop loving me just when I’ve finally figured out how to let myself love him
- and that I would die, slowly and painfully, of grief.
I sat in the car, listening – respectfully, honestly – to my own thoughts, capturing each lighting bug of worry as it flickered up and then faded back into shadow. And as I watched, I began to see patterns and all of a sudden, in my mind’s eye, a word equation formed:
all of this worrying, all of this fantasy and future-tripping about what I could be/should be doing if only I had more time/money/authority/freedom takes me out of the present moment;
the present moment is the ONLY moment in which ANYTHING can happen.
I am not present AND none of it can happen.
I had glimpsed this truth before. I’d even taught it to other people. And yet, it wasn’t that rainy day at the carnival that I’d understood it – thoroughly, hauntingly.
For more than 50 years, I’ve been missing in action.
It was like being punched in the stomach.
And I sat there, watching a freaky slide-show of myself:
not doing my best in high school (because who’d notice?)
quitting college in my last semester (because who’d care?)
all the starting and stopping,
and the jobs I did at half-effort while I waited to be discovered – or caught.
I was half alive; half awake – I wasn’t making any choices. I wasn’t adding or creating anything to the world. All I had to work with was whatever floated by – or was thrown at me – and all I could do with that was react to it.
That day in the car, watching an empty ferris wheel spin in the rain, I saw the truth: Life wasn’t coming for me. There was no secret opportunity vortex waiting for me to find it. It was right here.
And all this time, while I was wishing I could write but not lifting the pen; wishing to be rich but spending my money so fast that it didn’t have a chance to compound, wishing I could love but instead of simply loving, I was waiting for the people and conditions around me to change so that I could.
After all, I didn’t want to get trapped into loving the wrong person, living a life I didn’t want, writing the wrong book, moving so fast that I hurt myself? I didn’t want to, gasp, make a mistake?
- I hadn’t been visualizing, I’d been hesitating.
- I wasn’t waiting for the right moment, I was terrified.
- I wasn’t trapped: I was free.
And suddenly, miraculously, as if a pair of gorgeous white wings had been strapped to my shoulders, I woke up. And I saw the message that had always been there – everywhere – plastered all over the walls of the world:
- You can bring your best self to the party, the project, the kitchen table – and not just when people are looking or being nice to you or paying you. You can bring your best self everywhere.
- You can bring her because you want to, because YOU NEED TO. Because she is who you are.
- You can do it right now. You don’t have to wait til you’re ready. Til you’re not scared. Bring her. Now.
- Be prepared to bring her. Keep the tank full. Have the map handy. You never know when opportunity will arrive.
- Don’t miss the boat (and having a bag packed makes it a lot easier to step onto the boat.)
- If you miss the boat, charter another one. Or build one.
And also, there is no boat – you’re the boat. Step onto the deck of yourself and sail.
I’ve been here ever since – awake, aware. And, oh man, is it hard. Every day, I feel myself being tempted back to sleep, back to forgetting. But once you know something, you never un-know it. And those lightning bugs, they’ve been glowing in my consciousness ever since.
From then on.
I am here. This is it. Now.