Navigating by the stars

“Besides realizing that two glasses of wine can make you drunk, I have had this revelation: that you can look at something, close your eyes, and see it again and still know nothing – like staring at the sky to figure out the distances between stars.”

– Ann Beattie, Jacklighting

Sometimes when I look at the night sky I find myself breathless, and dazzled, and then, quickly, dizzy. I look around, trying to focus on the stars, but the sky gets blurry and I feel disoriented. This is what Ann Beattie’s words always makes me think of, and it’s how I feel right now.

The days fold into each other, collapsing into a series of moments both transcendent and mundane. Each evening I have a bittersweet taste on my tongue and a vague sense of deja vu – this again? These same demons, these same questions, these same stars blinking in the black sky, inspiring and elusive at the same time?

I consider myself deeply fortunate to have bumped into Bruce from the Privilege of Parenting out in these wild cosmos. His steady, thoughtful support and insightful comments and emails are nothing short of sustaining.

Today he emailed me with some thoughts, the last of which was this:

You are making your soul. It takes a long time and it’s damn hard work, so hang in there.

I love this image. I haven’t thought about the struggle and the joy that I write about so often this way before. Frankly, I’d always assumed the soul is something we’re born with. Maybe, actually, our soul is something we construct. This makes such sense to me, suddenly. My thirties so far have been a journey of letting go of the assumptions – about right and wrong, desire and duty, direction and velocity – that so strictly guided my first thirty years. The single biggest thing I’ve let go of is my belief in the critical importance of movement, the primacy of having a destination.

The map by which I so surely navigated for thirty years somehow broke as I made my way into the summer of adulthood. This was terrifying. Unmoored and lost at sea, I spent several years in the fog. And, if I’m honest, I am still there. I think, ultimately, that being lost is the fundamental state of life, and that my work is learning to be comfortable with that. What I know now is that the landmarks and lighthouses that marked my way were all evanescent anyway.

Maybe, returning to Ann Beattie’s quote, I’m navigating by the stars now. I’m in the territory of the soul, and it often feels perilous and lonely. It’s slow work, soul-making. I think of something I wrote in January, about the ways that life is both linear and cyclical; it strikes me that the making of a soul is a fundamentally non-linear enterprise. For me, who for so long was such a strictly linear person, this is deeply uncomfortable. In the discomfort lies the way forward, of that I’m sure. So on I go, circling and circling, staring at the stars, blinking, trying not to panic at how dark it is and how unsure I am about where I am.


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13 Comments

  1. Posted September 13, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    yes and yes and yes

    so beautiful.

    could it even be a dance? – while you are making your soul, is your soul is making you? kind of like how a mother births a child but a child also births a mother?

    and of course there is the beautiful paradox that once you relax into “lost is the fundamental state”, you begin to feel right at home.

    xox

    admin Reply:

    Yes, it could, and I believe it is! Thank you for this lovely image, which I hadn’t contemplated before. xox
    (you were on my mind as I wrote this … and now you are the first comment. thank you, universe! – there’s something behind those stars. i know it)

  2. Posted September 13, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey,

    How every word you write resonates in this soul that I am making. I love that image – thanks Bruce! You are making your soul. And the journey is not linear, but spiral. And the only destination is you. And Lianne is right, when we can, even a little, relax into the lostness, sometimes we find home.

    Keep circling around, deeper and deeper. Stop to float when you need to. Dive when you can. There are treasure that wait you in the darkness.

  3. Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    “My thirties so far have been a journey of letting go of the assumptions – about right and wrong, desire and duty, direction and velocity – that so strictly guided my first thirty years.”

    This particular sentence seems so right. Just this year I turned 40 and several of my same-aged friends and I were discussing how liberating it is to be 40. I wonder if this is because of time spent in the thirties shedding those assumptions and learning to live with what is.

  4. Posted September 14, 2010 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    yes movement, though a spiral dance on the infinite. dance as prayer, not as performance.

  5. Posted September 14, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    It is slow work and getting there is full of tumultuous curves. Sometimes they are exquisitely painful and others, resplendent with joy. I’m unsure too my friend.
    xo

  6. Posted September 14, 2010 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Well, my dear, I see you’ve found your words. And I suspect that they were always with you, even if embryonic, forming and bubbling, just like your soul.

    This is masterful. Thank you. xo

  7. Christa
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Lindsey, for once again putting words to feelings in such an eloquent way.

    It is hard, it is long, and perhaps there is no end to this work, but there is no other way for me, and perhaps for many of us. Blessing to you and all of us out there, bumping into each other in the cosmos!

  8. Meghan
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Your post today reminds me of one of my favorite T.S. Eliot’s quotes from Little Gidding of the Four Quartets:
    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”
    We are all on the journey of crafting our soul. xo

  9. Posted September 14, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, What you describe so eloquently and truthfully is where I am now–a month away from turning 52. Which is to say, crafting a soul takes a long time indeed. A lifetime? So I’ve begun to think. I take solace in the words of friends and colleagues like you, at a different stage of the journey yet so truly a fellow traveler.

  10. Posted September 14, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    So true. It’s painful at times, knowing that we are lost and accepting the possibility that we may never be found. Perhaps that is the true essence of living. Living in transition.

    Thanks for your words.

  11. Posted September 14, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    There is so much richness here, so much depth and breadth and breath.

    soul-making
    as dance
    and
    dance
    as prayer

    like the ivory key to the long-lost treasure, these click into place for me.

    I think it is this and more. Perhaps like the sculptor I am carving my soul, freeing its shape that hides until I release it…

    and yet I look to the constellations in a single flower, the oceans in a raindrop, to feel the Vast Mystery reveal the minutiae of her meaning.

    Perhaps it is has always been in here.

    Hugs and butterflies,
    ~T~

  12. Posted September 14, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Your writing and thinking here is stunning. As always.

  13. Posted September 19, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I love, love, love this idea: “You are making your soul. It takes a long time and it’s damn hard work, so hang in there.”

    I had never thought about the soul this way before either–wow. No wonder it’s all so hard. And I also love Lianne’s addition that while we are making our soul, our soul is making us. Lovely. And, at a step ahead Katrina, I agree that crafting a soul takes a long time…

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