The difficulty of sustaining things (Part 1)

I promise this post isn’t about New Year’s resolutions. Ugh.

It’s about energy, which is cyclical in biological creatures. Last few years there has been a lot of noise about the importance of sleep, as if the Productivity Culture had finally noticed that people aren’t machines that can be worked like a flax mill. We all underestimate how much rest we really need because we live in a culture that equates exhaustion with heroism. The term ‘regenerative culture’ has been floating around, too. I first encountered this idea in the work of Clarissa Pinkola Estés, although she didn’t call it that. She simply spoke about the Northern Hemisphere seasonal cycles of nature, and how there is a rising and falling of creative power that is a natural phenomenon to be harmonised with rather than fought.

For a lot of years I have tried to work with this idea of cycles, and I’ve found it to be generally sound. But no person is a closed system, and our inner seasons are influenced by many factors outside of ourselves. I don’t know whether the times we are living in are more turbulent than our ancestors’ times, but it seems pretty clear that the technology that binds us and then rends us apart is being calibrated to cause maximum turbulence (for profit) and so it’s hard to be online and not feel storm-tossed. Just as physical weather patterns are a mess thanks to changing systems, so too is emotional weather. That’s what I feel for myself and that’s what I see when I lurk online.

So, how to keep anything going? How to make a spiderweb in a monsoon? When there are teams of people getting paid to disrupt and divide our communities and our inner equilibria, how do we get on with our lives without adding to the problem? I think about it when I have my hands in the dirt and when I am running.

I guess most of us work best and are happiest when connected to some meaningful purpose. The trouble with me has always been that I don’t get on well with the dominant cultural drivers, and I don’t find meaning where I’m told to find meaning. I know I’m not alone in this regard, and yet very often I feel alone and to some extent I cultivate solitude. As humans we conserve energy in groups. We need each other. We can also drive each other batty–and ironically, we can enter a group of people because we feel we will be sheltered there, only to find that this microcosm of people with lots in common is still having pitched battles within itself. So, what was accomplished? It’s frustrating and discouraging, and sometimes very draining.

So how to get anything done? First we have to take care of basic needs, and then after that or maybe during that we have to resist or somehow negotiate with the demands of the dominant culture, and then after that (or maybe during that) maybe we can get something done that calls to us. This all takes a lot more energy than going with the flow of   work   shop   die. It helps if there’s a synergy between basic needs and resistance and creativity, but most of us can’t work on the front line of whatever cause or desire we hold in our deepest hearts. There are compromises and limitations.

Since having a family I have found that there’s an additional load of trying to figure out what risks are acceptable to take with them and what risks are not. It’s different to be 25 and unencumbered and pushing back against the system versus being 50 and having dependents who are looking to you not only for support but observing your example for how to live. Again: I know I’m not alone here, but I rather suspect that many people around my age just don’t have the energy to start new things because at our age we are inherently tired!

Yet we are all subconsciously gnawing on problems and dreaming dreams of something better. And at any age, there is an energy that comes when an inner knot has finally worked out how to release itself and allow trapped thoughts to flow freely. You feel an urge, you get an idea, and suddenly acting on this impulse feels more important than anything else. For kids these impulses come multiple times in a day. If you are older, maybe it was underground for years before it welled up. So you set out to take action, and there’s a burst of joy that you are doing what you are meant to do. But almost always, after the initial impulse, you run into trouble and it sort of dies away. Or something happens externally, and you can’t seem to keep it going. Or your energy just runs down, because that’s what energy does.

Learning not to give up is the big learn. It’s easy to say ‘don’t give up’ but nobody tells you how to not give up. I suspect that’s because nobody really knows. I don’t know, and I’ve been wrangling creative work my entire life. But I have a few ideas for good practice.

I’m engaging in one of them right now. I gave myself an hour to get some thoughts down, and I’ve now run over by nine minutes. So I’m calling this Part 1. I will write Part 2 next time. See you then.