Recently, I doodled in my sketchbook AND lamented to a friend that I was abandoning a hobby I call “celestial quilting”. It’s something I’m quite terrible at, as time and again, my attempts end in explosion; patches of colored fabric everywhere, bits of thread, all efforts at assembling a nice pattern wasted. What IS celestial quilting, you may ask? It’s that nasty habit of trying to figure things out, usually before they’re finished. My life so often feels messy, meaningless, full of holes and unanswerable questions, that I sometimes become desperate to figure out WHY. If I can make sense of the pieces, if I can find a unique purpose for each one, I can justify the pain, the confusion, the failures, the mistakes, the wild miscalculations; and I can feel better about the idea that it will “all work out someday”. That my life won’t end in disaster, that it won’t be “wrong” forever.
But I have, even more recently, come to a few conclusions, all of which will help me quit this habit once and for all. What I said to my friend was that every time I think I’ve figured out the pattern, and start reaching for it, start rushing to put it together, it explodes in my face. He pointed out that, while unpleasant, that is also a pattern. I’ve noticed this before, this repeating explosion (repeat being the keyword for any and all patterns), but I’ve not been able to look at it from all angles. I had a desperate moment, near tears, operating a cash register at a smoothie shop, at the end of last summer after a particularly ugly explosion. I vowed to quit my celestial quilting habit then, certain that the universe didn’t give a fuck about any of us (I still don’t believe it does), and the only person or entity in this universe that could shape my life into what I wanted was me. I was done believing believing in any kind of mysterious architecture, or that there was any purpose hiding behind past mistakes or past hurt. There was no reason behind anything.
It was a bad time. But as soon as I accepted that I was alone in the universe, I felt sad, but also remarkably free. There would be no pattern, I’d decided, and I set forth trying to assemble something new, something I’d never been able to imagine. Old habits die hard, though, and on occasion I still find myself gunning for the gold: that shining emblem that makes sense of the mess, that proves that I, that we, aren’t alone out here in the vast and dark space, that scintillates at the edge of something hidden, a pattern shimmering in and out of view as the curtain moves.
Because I can’t lie to you: I still hope to find it.
But I’m no longer going to look. What the exploding pattern DOES reveal is that looking is futile. Whether or not there is some great mysterious pattern, what is certain is that jumping the gun rarely serves us. What I need to cultivate is greater patience, a willingness to sit through the storms, through the ugly mess, through the senseless times. While I strongly believe that there is a lesson in everything, I also need to accept the fact that sometimes: we just fuck up. We make mistakes and we have to live with them. They don’t all point us toward some glittering jewel we don’t know exists. Some of the mistakes are minor, easily fixable, forgettable even. But some change the course of our lives, some hurt us for a long time, some make things difficult for us for years, some we must look back on as a mistake–however trivial or grave–and not some roadblock that redirected me toward a superior destiny. It’s wishful thinking, and, for me at least, it’s too easy. I’m rarely partial toward what’s easiest.
The truth is, though: there are plenty of patterns in my life, but as none are terribly glamorous or evocative, I tend to ignore them in search of something better. Here are a few of note, especially lately.
- What surprises me tends to be better than even the most glorious mental projections I’ve come up with. The things I don’t try to forecast or fantasize about or arrange into a pattern are the parts of my life that give me the most. What I spend a lot of time fantasizing about usually flops in real life.
- I repeatedly set myself up to get hurt by giving a lot of myself to others without much prompting. I believe that their desire for connection matches my own, but as I am an individual with a tendency toward the deep deep, I often feel badly when I realize they don’t want the kind of friendship or relationship I thought they did, or that I wanted.
- I have this tendency to overemphasize the positive qualities in others while also rationalizing or glazing over their negative aspects. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it often lends toward my getting hurt. See #2 for additional details. It’s often because I don’t want to be judgemental–hey, none of us is perfect!–but I need a better system for identifying the types of flaws that are truly detrimental when I’m befriending someone new or relating to someone who’s been in my life for a while.
- There is a lesson in everything. Every opportunity, no matter how bad or good it might be for us personally, is always an opportunity to grow, evolve, and expand as a human. I usually feel most grounded when I search for this structure in the midst of a problem–asking myself: “how can I learn from this?” Instead of “what is the reason for this?”
- Most people are good, or at least, they want to be, even if they don’t know how.
- When I begin to feel overly critical of others is often indication that there’s something in myself or my own life that warrants a critical (but loving) eye. Instead of focusing on others, I need to examine what I’m not tending to in my own life, or what parts of me might require a little dusting or polishing.
- When I begin to panic or fret, it usually means I’m going against my intuition, or, that I need to slow down whatever I’m in the middle of and be more willing to let go. Whenever I try too hard to control things, I inevitably feel totally out-of-control, un-grounded, and anxious.
- Whatever I think or fear I can’t get, I usually do not get. What I decide I’m not capable of I struggle with. How I feel or think in any situation often decides the outcome, even if it’s not representative of the actual truth or reality.
- Life is brutal, messy, unpredictable, gorgeous, shocking, painful, sublime: I’m not sure there is any kind of grand pattern. If there is, it’s not revealed easily, nor early. If there isn’t, then it’s beautiful enough without one. We don’t always get what we want, but sometimes we do.
- The most important pattern: whatever I chase after tends to evade me. Whatever I grasp shrinks from my reach. Whatever I think I need to “be happy” is held out of range. What I am learning slowly is to loosen my grip on the controls, to learn to be truly and deeply happy despite what I may lack, and to honor and trust my intuition to do these things. Because, letting go, choosing to not chase after things, those choices are really, really terrifying choices to make. I mean think about it: there are many things (not material items) that I want to happen in my life. We all probably have very little control over whether or not we get the things we most want, but chasing and grasping certainly makes us feel like we do. While I may in fact need to put myself out there, work hard, be of purpose, and do what makes me happy, I also have to do a bit of allowing: things, people, places, ideas, to come to me.
But I need an additional pattern. Something regular that I can return to everyday to take note of these aforementioned patterns, and my thoughts and feelings, my behavior, my progress on any given day. A daily practice of some sort. I think I’ll call it “cosmic quilting”. This differs from “celestial quilting” because “celestial” denotes other-worldliness, heavenly or even god-like properties. “Cosmic”, on the other hand, denotes size. Something “cosmic” may well be from space, but it’s vast, immense, maybe even unfathomable. Life can often feel that way. In quilting cosmicly, I’m breaking down vast, unfathomable expanses into chunks I can see, examine, understand, and learn from. (Let’s be clear, though, I’m not actually doing quilting of any kind!). I need to set aside time, every day, for this purposeful reflection and thought. Maybe I’ll sketch, paint, write, or even ride my bike, take a walk, or run. I suppose it would depend on the day–the time I have, my energy level, what I feel I need the most. It won’t be an attempt to find a hidden pattern that explains all the pain in my life, rather, an attempt to learn from that pain, to put it to good use, to build a better life, and work toward something lasting and beautiful. What? I don’t yet know.