I am writing this from a cafe where I have spent the last few days working on an overview for a book I just wrote. Every time I hear myself say that I wrote a book, I feel like someone is going to come out from behind a dark corner and call me out. I think who the hell possessed my body for the past four years and willed me to sit down and complete something I never imagined I would do. Forget about what was even going on around me at the time. “The book wrote itself” is what I have heard authors say about how some of their most personal projects got written. I totally get what that means now.
I wonder now how many of us are sitting down in coffee shops trying to squeeze their life work into a one-page overview making sure it includes the perfect “hook.” The overview is for a proposal they tell me I need to do if I want my book to be seen by anybody outside of my circle of friends and family. I thought I could avoid it. Or that somehow I would be immune which is probably a naivete still left over from a life credo I used to carry with me where I fully believed in my bones, “everything will work out” no matter how much shit was hitting the fan. It was a mindset I inherited from my mother and my grandmother who for them, optimism was an orthopraxy. Or maybe it was just a way of disguising rampant denial.
The day I knew I finished the book which I imagine is not unlike what a jockey must feel like as he gallops across the finish line, there was a part of me that thought that the book would find itself magically lifted from the confines of my Macbook Air and sent through the ethers to the powers that be who would ring my doorbell and grant me access to the world of professional writers where I would be carried away from my current career (something for a period of time I might have even referred to as being saved) and dropped into my new identity with artists whom I idolize from afar.
Of course, no such thing has happened yet. Even though I waited like a child waiting for the tooth fairy to appear.
Not that I am calling myself a writer. I have been told by professional writers whom I adore that it is important to “give yourself permission” to say you are a writer. Life coaches speak to this kind of thing too. They call it manifesting. The first or even second time I decided to do this I was sitting next to someone on the plane and when we struck up conversation and she asked me what I did, I hesitated enough with my response to having definitely left her skeptical – I swallowed back “yoga teacher” and said with a directness that surprised me, “I am a writer.” Inside parts of me perked up and shouted from somewhere north of my gut, who said that? Aside from it feeling like I was undercover and at any moment I would be caught with a microphone taped in my bra, I was embarrassingly unprepared for her to follow up question. “What do you write? Anything I would have heard of?” By the time I got through explaining how I spent the past years writing a memoir that hasn’t been published, nor have I written anything that I ever got paid for, I decided that I would have to use that line sparingly.
The fact is that writing a book was unexpected. I never set out to pursue writing as a vocation just like I never set out overtly to arrive at teaching yoga. The yoga pulled me along like a rip tide and carried me into an identity I loved. It brought me to places and community and conversation and I was happy to turn into an actual job. It was part luck. Part timing. And part not thinking about it all too much. At the time I arrived at saying I was a yoga teacher, there was no Instagram or platforms or strategic ways of branding my body, my viewpoints, my systems of choice. It was just me teaching and happy when students selected to come to hear what I had to say and they made me better at thinking more critically about what that responsibility is.
Lately, amidst what I can only describe as a long-term transition, a softer way of saying I might be enduring a midlife crisis or that I am right now relating more closely than I want to be to that feeling Jack Nickelson’s character had in the therapist’s office when he looked around at the other people in the waiting room and quipped, “Maybe this Is this as good as it gets?”
For me to ward off that momentary sigh, I recall a recent teaching. The teacher explained during a meditation that this journey involved three stages. In “this journey” she was referring to yoga, which I have come to see as just another way of saying this life, or this life where your eyes are finally opened. She told us the first stage was to listen to your heart. “Be unwavering,” she said. I was happy I was at a place where I no longer rolled my eyes at that bit of wisdom. Now when I hear the instruction “listen to my heart” I picture diving down within myself, shutting out the noise of the world, and cuddling up with my heart itself – which is there to hold me and tell me what it has been waiting patiently to say.
“The second stage is to follow your heart no matter what the outcome.” My eyes were still closed but his one made me lift my head and look up at my heart with mild panic. No matter the outcome? Ya mean, I listen to you and I might not get what I want, but do it anyway? Reflexively, that made me want to cling onto my heart and squeeze out a better, safer more comfortable option. The option that said I will listen if my heart promises me I will get a book deal with a big publishing house.
“The third,” the teacher said with her hands in prayer. “Make it all an offering.”
Follow your heart. Regardless of the outcome. Make it all an offering. Carolyn Myss once advised, “Don’t dream of being famous,” she said, “Dream of being invisible.” Make it all an offering.
“It” I have come to learn is the quieter invisible work. The work that incrementally brings me closer to why I am here. This has nothing to do with likes and comments on Facebook or numbers in a yoga room or book hooks or publishing deals. This work gets done in the quiet corners of cafes or yoga rooms or classrooms or playgrounds or in kitchens and living rooms churches, temples, woodsheds. The book that writes itself. The hat that gets knit. The class that gets taught. The invisible work is not caught on film nor does it go viral. This is the trembling, often barely audible work that lives within – it’s a more secret life that is burgeoning, and finding its moment of revelation – it’s the one that lights the way for me to write anything at all.