Today I am pleased to open this space to a special writing guest: my wife, author and illustrator Jennifer Paros. I cannot think of a better companion for the journey that is parenthood than Jen. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did when I first read it.
Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it. ~ Lily Tomlin
When my youngest son was three years old, at the suggestion of his concerned preschool teacher, we agreed to a state assessment of his “needs.” But after the evaluation, the specialist’s observations sounded like a scientific field log – as though she’d been in the bushes with binoculars. The subject thumped his chest repeatedly and ran back and forth. The more she shared, the clearer it was that the observed facts were only leading her further from understanding him.
What I learned in the next round of evaluations was: if my son was disinterested in doing what was asked of him and opted not to do it, the observer concluded he was unable to do it. I learned that what he did at home, he wouldn’t necessarily perform during a test at school. I learned that the observer and the observed have an influential relationship on each other that affects results and data. And I learned that, though his behavior seemed to be the problem, observing, labeling, and trying to alter that behavior did nothing to serve him, because the focus wasn’t actually on him, it was on identifying what was wrong with him.
I grew weary of the facts, and of the conclusions drawn from those facts. Beyond observation, there was something more important about my son and his story that would never be grasped through a pair of binoculars. I felt confounded by the contrast between my knowing sense of him and external evidence of his behavior. The process of “facing reality” was leaving me out of balance and feeling unstable – not because I had a son with a diagnosis, but because stability comes from the inside, and all my attention was on the outside.
There is an exercise for improving one’s balance. It involves standing on one foot with eyes closed. This is challenging because a big part of what we usually use to stabilize ourselves is the visual field. This exercise, in which observation is eliminated, is said to build the greatest balance. It’s been my experience that the only true way to regain my emotional and mental balance and stability involves no longer trying to use external reality to stabilize me but in finding it within myself – eyes closed.
Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.
~ Edward Hopper
If I think about how others might perceive what I’m doing – or me – I lose my footing in what I want to create. There is no quicker way to get confused in the creation of anything than to look outside us (reviews, “likes” on Facebook, editors, spouses, experts . . .). The guidance we need to create whatever we want comes embedded within our drive to create. No external feedback can ever be as relevant as our personal vision and feeling of connection to our work. This personal reality is the necessary litmus test for all incoming commentary, advice, or constructive criticism. We are the ones who know our (inner) worlds. It is up to us to align with those realities. And when we don’t, our equilibrium is compromised, for it is investment in our inner reality that balances our perspective on our outer experiences.
J.D. Salinger, famous for his writing, reclusiveness, and dislike of publicity, said “There is marvelous peace in not publishing . . . Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” Salinger didn’t like fame, the concept of which focuses solely on the attention of others; he didn’t want his attention out there, and so strove to block out anything that might inspire his focus to stray. In his way, he did his best to “close his eyes” to the world and find balance and stability from within.
We don’t have to hide, protect ourselves, or seek externally to find balance. Balance is achieved through deliberate attention to our personal truth. It took me a while, but I came to understand that what was distressing me wasn’t the reality of my son’s behavior; it was my own lack of attention to the experience of my personal reality of him. The feeling of instability always cues us to close our eyes and find our center where it actually exists. The seed of what we want is present in here where the vision for our creative work – whether a project or a relationship – always exists first.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.