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Start Again

“Love illuminates matters.”  —  bell hooks


In Samuel Beckett’s brilliant story, "Worstward Ho”  he writes about failure, with arguably the most famous passage being: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." After encountering this seminal work, fail better became a core mantra for me, one that helps me have a kind of stick-to-itness when things feel insurmountable. Over the years, I especially leveraged this mantra so I could stick around when I was engaging collaboratively or part of a collective, in other words, when my staying supported the group. Although, as a bonafide quitter I have often written about the joy of quitting, and still very much endorse that too! Because knowing when to leave is about listening to your gut and trusting yourself to know when to stop something… and to know when it's time for something to go to seed, to allow decomposing to begin and for regeneration to take hold.  


Yet sometimes, when the willingness to stay becomes part of the composition of the many other orbiting feelings and experiences, things can become confusing. I have found that during these tense moments, the only way to stay with it is to embrace being courageous alongside the fear — that nagging and powerful emotion signalling me to run the other way. 


For me, it’s always about finding concrete ways to ground in that necessary courage. I have a few ways that work for me, and one is words. Words have always mattered to me. In these instances they become a beacon, a North Star guiding me home when I’m feeling lost in the darkness and scared. The many words or phrases that come to me often have the power to orient me back to myself and to the moment, putting out the flame of fear while alerting me to  tune into a deep awareness that awakens my resolve to keep going.


These past few weeks I attended an intensive course where the phrase “fail better” kept me very present in one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (I will write about that another time, but for context we were in what is called noble silence). Deepening the daily challenges that arose,  I literally failed every single day, often more than once. “Quit” kept bubbling up in these moments…. It was hard to ignore the call to leave because this time I wouldn’t be giving up on others or our shared projects,  this time I would be giving up on myself. In many ways that was the first time I was faced with that dilemma and I had to muster up so much self-love to stay on the path. No one was going to be affected if I stayed or left — I had to decide if I was worth staying for, and that was hard.


So, I spent those 12 roller-coaster filled days oscillating between a strong conviction of staying and a desperation of wanting to leave. In the end, one of the core reasons I was able to stay was due to words again— two words I heard three times a day:

 “start again."


These tiny yet significant words anchored me to moments where I could feel strength rising up inside me. Reminding me to be non-judgemental to myself. To fail better.  This call to start again was like a balm on an open wound that was often transmitting loudly: “this isn’t for me.” 


Beyond these times, there were also moments during the day when words didn’t help. The chatter of “leave” was much too loud for me to hear anything else. But luckily I had another strategy in my care satchel that I could turn to, one that signaled me to stop and listen to the subtleties rather than the overbearing fear, and that was to look up at the clouds.


Clouds have an ability to bring me into presence like nothing else, and are a wonderful reminder of impermanence… a message I desperately needed. During these sojourns I saw four heart shaped clouds — they never seem to disappoint! (and besides they give my sensitive-to-the-hot-sun body sanctuary). The clouds fill my heart with gratitude! 


Further into the course I realized that I was not there to notice the impermanence outside of myself but instead the impermanence inside myself… This left me feeling even more vulnerable, the kind of realization where you start mining all corners of your mind to see if you are wrong. Trying to escape this awareness, I ran outside and looked up, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky… I wasn’t surprised, instead I felt joyful — a smile from deep inside began to bubble up — a beautiful moment of irony and humour colliding. 


It got harder and harder as the days went on, and at my darkest moments, when I could not get outside, Rūmī’s poetry pierced through the fear:


Come close… closer… even closer!

How long will this hindrance last?


Come, release yourself from this ego.

Live in harmony with everyone….”


Before heading off to this course I had spent a lot of time reading Rilke, so on the hour I would recite a line from one of his more popular poems, though I shifted it slightly: 


 “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. 

 Just keep going.

No Sensation is Final “ 


Sitting here now it does not surprise me that Rūmī’s prophetic words are what would arrive with love during my moments of despair. After all, I truly believe that poets are the messengers of universal and collective wisdom, providing pathways towards love and light… Thank you poets!


And, and, oh! I have so much more to say, but for now I will sign off and go lay under a tree and watch the clouds, where I will recite the wise words of Gautama, the Buddha and Vonnegut, a sage: 


 As it is; So it goes. 


With all my love and kindness,


Originally posted on my monthly joy-letter, July 2023


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