“How much are we really going to trust that we take one step and “way will open.” And when way opens, how de we trust that we’ll go that way?”
There is a Quaker saying that we take one step and the way will open. Which we can think of, we may not be able to see the entire path from where we start, but if we take the first step, then the next step will reveal itself. This is not easy for intensives as it involves waiting. It also involves a lot of trust- in ourselves, in our ability to see and take that next step; in our ability to even believe that the path which has revealed itself is the right path for us. And also, a trust in our ability to know when it is time to wait, to rest, to take a deep breath. What is the next step? Where do we go from here? Perhaps, if we take one step- be it a bold one or a tentative one- then way will open.
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 29 January 2024.
Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in.
So over the last few weeks, we've been talking about this stop-go, this tension, and then this, "how do we get out of it?" How do we, as intensives, move forward, especially when we're craving rest.
And of course, you know, I'm going to say that we should always attend to the need for rest. And I am also going to say realistically, sometimes we can't attend to the need for rest as completely as we'd like to. We can almost always do less than we were planning to do, because we're intensives.
And we like to plan to do everything at once. And that doesn't always work. And we can always pick things that are easier, that have a lower resistance threshold for whatever reason.
Whether it's because we are choosing something that's small, whether it's choosing something that's less taxing, whether it's choosing something that's more aligned with inspiration. Whatever it is, we can, we can make it less work, right. We can make it not as hard. But one of the things that often trips me up- Let me tell you the story.
So over the weekend, I try really hard not to work on the weekends. So over the weekend, my brain was being just really mean. I have a long history of depression, and it was kicking up. I had a flare. And so I'm trying to like, just get through my days and maybe not feel terrible, at all, maybe not feel terrible about myself. Like "not terrible" is the threshold I'm trying to reach.
And one of the things that that requires is a certain level of distraction. A certain level of not giving my brain space to get spun up into the terrible stories that it likes to tell when I'm in that state. It's a long survival skill, I have lots of other support, don't worry about me. But this is one of the things that I've learned to do is to keep my brain busy. It is exhausting if I don't take breaks, and it is definitely not my first choice.
As an intensive, I really should be giving myself more space. But sometimes I just can't because sometimes giving myself space is more dangerous than continuing to move. Even if I'm tired.
So over the weekend, I'm having one of those days, and I picked up one after another it was.... So I've been working on this button down shirt, and I got it to the point where the sleeves are in and the shape is all put together just needs a few finishing touches.
I put it on the person I'm making up for and the sleeves are twisting funny. Which is not an easy fitting fix. It's not like oh, I need to take a tuck here. Oh, I need to let it out there. It's some other magical weird third thing. And I don't know how to fix that third thing because I'm learning to be a sewist on the fly.
I'm learning tailoring and pattern drafting and pattern alterations on the fly. And I'm having to learn that because none of the people I'm sewing for have standard shaped bodies. And so not only can we not buy off the rack clothes very easily, but also when we go to buy patterns, we can't buy patterns that are designed for our bodies either. And so those patterns have to be altered. In order for anything to fit us properly.
We can have badly fitting clothes but I know how much difference that makes to have a well fitted garment. I didn't really get it until I completed my first really tailored, fitted, garment. Last year I finished a fitted Banyan which is like a glorified bathrobe.
It's from the 19th century and the late 18th century. And it really- Banyans at the time were a way for, especially men, to show off these exotic printed cottons and things they were importing from India. But they lived in cold houses so they were often padded out, quilted out, so that you would have an insulated, ridiculously fancy garment that you could swan around your house in. And eventually people even had their portraits painted in them and so on.
So I wanted one of these I picked a pattern of an extant garment from LACMA, the LA County Museum of Art. And they have done some incredible work drawing patterns from extant garments. So you don't have to examine the garment in person to find out how big this is or how long that is. There's a PDF you can download off the Internet for free.
So I took one of those and I looked at it. I was like I love the shape. I liked the design. But this was made for someone with a 22 inch waist. My waist is not 22 inches. So there had to be a lot of alteration, a lot of alteration in this garment before it even got to the point of drawing a full size pattern. I first had to alter it like in mini, and then scale it up.
So I did that. I made the alterations, I scaled it up, I cut out a muslin. The muslin was still like entirely not the right shape. So I had to alter it again. Eventually, I got what is essentially a tailored, long coat.
And I love wearing it because it fits me. And I didn't know how much of being uncomfortable in my clothes was just about the fact that they didn't fit. So that made me even more passionate about this business of getting anybody in my family who wanted them clothes that fit. And my father and my brother and my mom, they're all fine, they can buy off the rack clothes that fit reasonably well. But I and my partners can't so.
So I'm working on this project. And I get to the point where the sleeves aren't hanging, right? I don't know why they're not hanging right. I don't know what to do about the fact they're not hanging right. And so I sort of throw up my hands, I need to put it in timeout.
Anybody who knits or crochets or really does any kind of complicated project will know what I mean, when I say putting a project in timeout. Sometimes you just need to walk away and not touch it because you're mad at it. So I was like, Okay, I'm mad at the shirt, what am I going to do instead. And then I had this other project that I can't talk about yet, because its recipient hasn't gotten it yet.
And so I went to work on that. And that was a completely different realm of project, completely different craft. And so I got that one done. And then I went on to try something else.
I watched some videos about how to wind a warp because I am bound and determined to get this loom up and running before it's been in my possession for a year. And I bought a kit and I'm really excited about weaving these- it's a double weave bag. Which is a fancy party trick that you can do where you get twice as much fabric out of a loom than its width would suggest.
Because you weave half the threads as one side of the fabric and half the threads as the other side of the fabric. So you're weaving two layers at once. Anyway, I'm excited to try it. I've known about it for a long time, I've never tried it before. This is a small scale project, it was put together by a really great place. Vermont Weaving Supplies does these kits.
So I got this kit. Really excited to do it can't remember how to warp a loom because I haven't worked a loom since 2013. So I watched all the videos for that. So it's like, and then I had to stop because I had been going all day. I had filled my day with things that engaged my brain in a way that it couldn't go off on its weird tangents. It couldn't be mean to me, because we were too busy trying to figure out, okay, so let me remember again, what a warp cross is and how I create one. Right?
How do I wind to work with two threads simultaneously? Is that worth it? Yeah, probably I need 480 warp threads. Probably winding two at once makes sense. That will save me a good deal of effort. How do I do it if I need to like break the warp and start again.
Because 480 threads is probably not going to fit on the depth of peg that I have. What am I going to do about that. So trying to figure all of this stuff out. Trying to work all of this stuff out. And then... and then my brain was like, done. It was tired enough that I could sleep.
And I did actually sleep. I woke up at five, had a couple hours of anxiety, went back to sleep at seven stayed asleep for another almost two hours.
So I've been really focusing, I decided that my first focus this year was going to be sleep. And so I've been really focusing on what to do about the sleep.
And you might think, okay, but you like completely lost the plot like four times and by, quote unquote normal standards. I did. Right I should have just should have. There's the there's the should.
The should is almost always a marker of expansive judgment that we are imposing on ourselves or that someone else is imposing on us. The should is almost always a marker of expansive judgment.
So by expansive standards, if I were expansive, it would have been much better for me to stick with the shirt, do some deep research, maybe do some prototyping of alternative sleeve arrangements. Or alternatively decided this shirt's not getting any better, we're gonna have to fix it on the next shirt. Just gone ahead, finish the cuffs done the buttonholes and it would have been done.
Like I would be sitting here talking to you having completed a buttoned down shirt. Like my very first completely full on button down shirt. It's a flannel shirt but still like it has buttons it has plackets it has all the fiddly bits.
But no, I put that down and I moved on to the secret project and the warp weaving, the warp winding project. Because I trusted myself. Because I trusted that all of those things were going to lead me somewhere else.
There's a beautiful book by Parker Palmer called "Let Your Life Speak." We had to read it in seminary, it was one of the like, standard everybody reads in seminary books when I was in seminary. And I really enjoyed it, which was remarkable.
Like I really liked being in seminary. I was good at being in seminary. School is very easy for me, relatively speaking. And seminary was great for me because it was about practical application, it had meaning in the real world. I was able, I was advanced enough, I was a master's degree student.
So I was able to do some more pushing of the envelope a little more expanding of the of the existing work, I didn't have to necessarily just repeat what other people had said. I could go out and have my own thoughts. Without getting without getting told I shouldn't have my own thoughts, which was one of the most frustrating things about school ever.
At my lower levels is that people were like, well, you can't have that thought by yourself. I was like, why on earth not? Why can't I have a thought by myself. But that was the standard, the academic standard at the time, it may still be I don't know, that unless you were at least a master's student, you weren't allowed to have original ideas that came out of your own head.
You could only like compile and repeat ideas that came from other scholars. Which makes it very hard to make advances until you've had, you know, 16 years of schooling.
But being in a master's program was great. I absolutely thrived. I also had a lot of struggles, I think most people do. But I really as a as a student, I thrived in a master's program at that level. Being able to do things that were interesting to me that had real world application and really being able to expand.
When I had a thought I just put it down and I said I had this thought. And you know, with supporting research or background or wherever it came from, but it you know, it was, it was finally okay for me to be doing that. Anyway, so I had to read this book, we had to read this book for school.
But it was really one of the few books that we read for school, that was pleasure. It was just pleasure, it was spaciousness, it was rest. It was a text that at least at that time I could lean into. I haven't opened it in some time.
I don't even know where my seminary copy has gone. I've moved so many times that my library has kind of gotten scattered. And I'm having to reacquire a lot of texts that I bought for school and then last.
But somewhere in there is this phrase, he says, you know, we, by whom he means the Quakers, have this saying: take one step, and way will open. And I didn't quite understand it when he said it. But then he goes on to give this explanation.
He says, imagine that you're standing at the beginning of a long tunnel, and you have a flashlight. And you can see far ahead enough to take the next step in the beam of your flashlight. So you take a step. And as you take that step, the next step becomes illuminated. And so you take the next step, and then that step becomes illuminated. And so you continue. And in doing this, you can get all the way to the end of the tunnel, whatever that means. Wherever that might be.
Take one step and way will open. When you take the step that's immediately in front of you, the next step reveals itself. Now, I'm an intensive, and I will say upfront that while a lot of historic Quakers were intensive, Quaker teachings are not particularly intensive-friendly. Quaker teachings are deeply about listening. To yourself, to the sacred within you, to the world. And sometimes we're not that good at that. We want to be we really do but but it's just not our strong suit.
So when I say that this was revelatory, like- It was revelatory, even though it was counterintuitive. It did not feel right in my bones and yet it felt extremely right in my bones. It didn't feel like I could just do that. And yet, once he gave the explanation, once I read about the tunnel and the flashlight, it was obvious.
I don't need the whole path illuminated- I would like the whole path illuminated, right? I would like to know for sure that if I take this step I will come out the other end of a tunnel into the bright sunshine, unscathed. That I will not be encountering any monsters. That I will not be encountering any harmful creatures. That I will not be scrambling, I will just walk peacefully from this end of the tunnel to that end of the tunnel with no curves.
And if the tunnel would please just turn on the lights, I could see all the way through it. But we know from the setup, that that's not the way it is, right? If we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, we might not even feel like we needed the flashlight. We can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can't even see more than one step in front of us. We just don't know.
There's so much that's not knowable. And that resonates for me because I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood as an agnostic. And so this concept of living with the unknowable was really familiar to me.
And that's true also, of my faith practice as a Unitarian Universalist. There's a lot that we just know is unknowable, or we know is paradoxical. And we have to integrate that. We don't necessarily have the power or the privilege or the right to be trying to make it known or make it knowable.
Sometimes we just have to deal with the fact that it doesn't, quote unquote, make sense, right? We're not- we can't impose this kind of Western idea of structured knowing on everything. It just doesn't, doesn't belong. Academia and the Greeks notwithstanding. But sometimes there's just no knowing.
And you can make some guesses, you can make some calculations. But at the end, you look into the tunnel, and there must be a curve or a dip. Or it must be dark at the other end. Something. Because you can't see the other end. You can't get to the other end, you can't, there's no, there's no way to know what's over there. You can't feel a breeze on your face, you can't smell the ocean, there's- There's there are no cues.
There's just you, and the tunnel, and the flashlight, or if you can't see, at any time, then it's you and that like what you can feel with your toes, just in front of you. In Tai Chi, we learn to walk in this way where you keep all your weight on the back foot, and you gently let your front foot alight on the ground without any weight on it. And when it rests there on the ground without any weight on it, then you can feel under your foot, whether it's likely to be a safe place to put your weight to.
Then you shift your weight forward slowly, you transfer your weight slowly, with the intent that at any time, you could pull your weight back. Until it's clear that it can hold your weight and then you transfer the rest of your weight forward. So even if you don't have a flashlight, even if you can't see anything, even if you're blindfolded or even if you're blind, like there's, there's this like, you have a little bit of scope of knowing.
But that scope of knowing is like 18 inches. It's this tiny little throw in front of you. And so if you can't know past that 18 inches, what do you do? You move yourself forward that 18 inches, and then you put your foot foot forward the next 18 inches. And you feel around with your foot and you get something that feels like a solid place to put it down. And then you shift your weight forward.
And if you do that over and over, you'll make it to whatever the other end of the tunnel is. And so it's like that. It's like that with knowing what to do, with where to start. But it's especially like that once you've begun.
Because we can get really wrapped up in like, well if I do this, then I should do that. If I start the shirt, then I should finish the shirt. But in fact, it might not be wise to finish the shirt. If I give myself a little more spaciousness, my much wiser, much more experienced sewist friends, can weigh in.
So far, I've heard that it's sleeve pitch; that the sleeve needs to be rotated in the socket; that it could be shoulder slope. That the person I'm making it for has a steeply sloped shoulder and that pattern wasn't designed for that. And, and that it could be the height of the sleeve head. So there's the top of the sleeve, when you cut it up flat is curved, and that curve might be wrong for this person.
So I have three different options already. And it's only been about 24 hours since I put that project down. So with those three different options, I can make some more educated guesses which I would not have had access to if I had insisted that the plan was to make the shirt and I was going to finish it no matter what.
So there's this this potential, this possibility, this, this additional flowering that we become available to when we open up that space.
But the only way we can open up that space sometimes because we're intensives is to do something else. To do something related, to do something unrelated, to move sideways. To move like a crab. To tack into the wind, like a ship.
So we get to decide how much of that external expansive "Should" are we going to bring down on ourselves? And how much are we really going to trust that "take one step and way will open" and when way opens, go that way. Rather than taking one step, going to take a second step and discovering that we're going to run into a wall. Feeling around or looking around until we see where the opening is. And it's further to the left than we thought.
We could insist on going the way we were going before. We could get out of jackhammer, we could get out of pickaxe, we could, we could force our way through the stone. But that just doesn't make any sense. Most of the time. So instead, we say where is way open? Way is open to the left, and we go to the left. Way is open straight, so we go straight.
You know those old computer games, the very old computer games from I want to say the early 80s? The text based ones where it would say in green text on a black screen, you have entered a cave; exits are to the north, east and south. You see a pickaxe in the corner, right? Like it's like that? Well, okay exits to the to the north, east and south.
That's pretty good. That's all three of the choices that aren't where we're standing. But then maybe we take the north exit, and we're standing in a small chamber. And the only exit is to the north again. We have to continue to the north. We could fight it. But, but why?
So this is really about trusting yourself. About taking that first step, making that first move, going that first direction, and then figuring out what's open, what's possible. Where does the way lead? And when the way leads, allowing it to lead on. Allowing it to draw us forward. Allowing it to tell us when to rest, when to roll, when to walk, when to stop and take stock. And to continue moving.
So once you've begun, this is about not doing what you expected to do, necessarily; or what anyone else expected you to do. But instead allowing, allowing your intuition to take you forward. And for the most part, you know when you're being distracted, and when you're being led. But it's a skill that it never hurts to build, to work with. To know how to know. And to know how to be aware of it.
Even if that means setting an alarm, every 15 minutes to check in to see like just ask yourself, Am I being led in this moment? Or am I being distracted? And if you're distracted, to go back to being led. What is the right thing? What feels like the right thing to do in this moment? I started here, what feels like the next right thing?
Am I tired? Am I thirsty? Do I need to do something different? Even if that is something different to keep your dopamine engaged? Even if that is something different to keep your brain distracted. What is it that you, as a whole person involved in this pursuit, whatever it is- What is it that you need to keep moving forward? And at what pace? And with what supports?
Allowing yourself- allowing ourselves- the opportunity to ask those questions really changes at what pace we move. Sometimes it does slow us down. Sometimes it speeds us up.
Sometimes we discover that we could keep going if only we had a bowl of olives on the table that we could snack on. And so we just go grab a bowl of olives and keep working. Because we're right in the throes of working with the muse. And we know we know that we'll lose it if we stand up but we also have to eat something. And that's the right thing.
And that right thing carries us forward, until we get to the place where the olive bowl is empty, except for the pits. And our brain is quiet except for a couple of notes that we make. And our body is exhausted.
And so then we know it's time not to push forward, even if we'd hoped to finish the next chapter, the next paragraph, whatever. Not to push forward just to stand up, stretch, breathe, drink something and inquire again. What is the next step? What is the next direction?
Where do we go from here?
Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you soon.