Weigh anchor, and we were cast upon the blue suede of the Pacific, rolling and bumping our way out of the harbor off the coast of San Diego last week for a whale watching trip.

On an ocean so vast and incomprehensible, I thought of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure….Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?”

How willing are we to dig beneath our own surface to find our most inscrutable parts, and are we fearless enough to stand and hold what we find there and turn it around in our mind’s eye without flinching?

About six months before I began my journey to reunite with the most essential parts of my character—a journey that began in June 2012—a friend of mine and I were talking on the phone. She had already begun the journey to find the peace on the other side of the fear. She asked me what I was afraid of finding if I walked directly toward my fear instead of avoiding looking at myself more closely, of staying close to my surface. It was the artful way S.J.Q. asked this question that made me remember who I had been at sixteen and seventeen when I thought possibility and wonder and ambition bubbled over and out of this container called Life, without limit. I remembered that self. She was hungry for all of it, set goals for achievements that mattered, and often laughed while walking along the paths of her life sheerly out of inexplicable moments of mirth at just being alive. I was content at 32, but was contentment passable? Or is it necessary to have a bit of hunger, too? In elementary school teachers sometimes selected “Character of the Week” awards. The two I received were “Contentment” and “Eagerness.” In my adult life, I had been fostering my contentment, but where had my eagerness gone?  It would be another six months or so, or even a year, before I would connect my friend’s question with the necessity of my transformation. At this point, my journey has become so much more than one about my weight, or even my running.

What makes me the most afraid? It used to be a fear of failure and a fear of disappointing others in my life whose respect I wanted. But you know what I have learned out there on the pavement? That I am dependent on only myself for my fire. There is no perfection in running. We have PRs one day, and a sucky run the next. We hate that hill, and we want to walk, but that’s the moment we decide to push harder. It will never be easy. My stride might never be perfect. On really bad miles, I am practically a crazy person running down the street and coaching herself out loud, “Fight for IT! Get up there. Go. Fight!” It’s that fight inside that makes it possible to let go of fear. And if I fail to achieve what I am hoping for on a run? Well, tomorrow is a new day, a new fight. Just like all of life. You learn how to roll along. To ride the waves. To look at yourself without anxiety and say: Try again tomorrow. Tomorrow you will give your best again. 

As I have learned to tell my kiddos when they are having a hard day: life is full of up-bumps and down-bumps. It is only ourselves we need to please, ultimately. We earn our own respect for ourselves, and yes, while it is a gift of life to be admired by people we cherish and admire in turn, what matters most is living in accordance with our ideals.

My new favorite Disney character, Elsa the Snow Queen, captures my inner voice lately in the best song from a Disney film, arguably, since Ariel’s “Part of Your World” in 1989:

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free…

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone…”

And she concludes by standing in the light of day and letting her storm rage on, without fearing it and seeking instead merely to understand all the power beneath her surface, all that almost-unknowable magic.

We have to dive into that unfathomable sea; to climb that snow-capped mountain; to run wild in the morning dawn and sail with the wind; to drink life to the lees.

Who knows where our inner light might lead? Does it do to stay contented on the docile earth? What lies beneath the surface always calls, until we pursue it.

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We often celebrate contentment; at least, I do. Like standing on the shore, however, and never plunging into the water, contentment alone may not be enough. Perhaps we need a keen craving, as well: an eagerness to explore and turn ourselves inside out, to pursue novelty and experience, and to challenge ourselves to become more than we are.

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