Sometimes You Get What You Need
February 26, 2023
“You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find
You get what you need.” - The Rolling Stones
This week was my “staycation”, which I had earmarked for QiGong, meditation, reading, walking and some relaxation. My primary “rule” was not to use it all up doing chores, even though there are always enough chores to fill the time available (I’m looking you cleaning, cooking and taxes). To that end, I had “scheduled” about four hours/day of the desired activities proposing to let the other stuff fill in around as necessary.
On Monday I threw my plan out the window - and bought a can of yellow paint. For four years I’ve been dreaming of making my stairwell and unfinished basement a whimsical oasis. I’ve even given it a name - “Karen’s Imaginarium”. It seems like the perfect place to throw out the rules and make a space to fuel my imagination. A place I can get to by simply opening the door from my living room and stepping in.
I’ve had ideas all over the map, but never really started because I didn’t have a plan or a coherent vision. I couldn’t see where it might end up so I was afraid to start. What if I picked the wrong color of paint? I knew it would be physically difficult to paint, I didn’t want to do it twice. What would I do with the stairs? Might that change what I would do with the walls? Just how difficult would it be? Could I actually physically do the painting with a pole and a roller or would I start and end up not being able to finish?
The inner resistance was strong, but sometimes there’s a force in me that’s stronger. My inner force drove to the paint store, picked out a color called “They Call it Mellow” and drove home. (Side note - paint is no longer cheap! Didn’t stop the inner force.) My inner force opened the can and started cutting in until I reached the point of no return. She really does know how to get her way.
The inner resistance continued as I started to paint the first wall. It was physically challenging. Not only did I have to use a roller on a pole, but I quickly discovered the paint had to go either at the top or the bottom of the stairs, which meant a lot of trips up and down. (Note: My Apple Watch is pathetic at detecting flights of stairs, it said I only did 2 flights of stairs when I’m sure I did dozens!) I decided I didn’t have to paint all the way to the ceiling. I made the line curve like a sun as the stairs descend. (Bonus: this turned out to be practical, I would have run out of paint otherwise!)
I had to draw on what I’ve been learning about how to move better - bending properly, moving with less tension, moving from my center and not pushing past what my body is capable of. I had to split the painting into multiple sessions. I gave myself permission not to finish it for weeks if necessary to allow my body the time it needed, though I did end up finishing (thankfully it only needed one coat). I was able to do it - and I will be recovering for a little while.
I’ve learned a lot about myself this week. I thought I needed structure and a plan. All those years of indoctrination in “plan the work and work the plan” and “begin with the end in mind” I guess. It turned out I needed to do something spontaneous, without a true plan for what comes next. I needed to take a leap of faith and trust that the next step will appear.
I thought what I needed was rest. Instead what I needed was to give my mind a rest and to remember that my body is still pretty capable despite the recent challenges. I needed to put those concepts I’ve been learning about moving from my center and moving with flow into practice. I caught myself many times moving in the old ways and had to slow down and pay attention so I could move differently. It feels amazing to know I can change in this way. I’m more motivated than ever to keep up my therapy exercises and QiGong.
I thought what I needed was calm. Instead what I needed was to let my imagination be filled with playful ideas. I needed to paint “sunshine” and allow myself to smile every time I looked at it. I needed to search ideas online for how I might make it whimsical and fun beyond the first level of paint. I needed to allow the dreaming to expand and fill my whole being.
I tend to think I know what I need to be healthy and happy, that if I follow the plan - which includes habit trackers and structured days - it will produce joy. I tend to be overly rigid and prescribed, definitely a creature of habit and routine. Perhaps this is why something in me rebels and simply refuses from time to time to do the things I “know are good for me”. Perhaps joy cannot be written in a prescription.
I’ve been rigid in this way as long as I can remember, thinking I can control my world if I can control my schedule. I fight with the universe when it wants to upend my carefully crafted plans. I think now about the times the universe threw me a curve ball - and how those unplanned detours usually turned out to bring the most joy.
For instance, in 1993 I had bought a house, finally had an in-town assignment with my Big 6 consulting firm and was ready to settle into a “normal” life after three years of traveling. The kind of life I grew up in and thought I was eventually supposed to lead. Then the universe decided to upend that and send me to Seattle. I remember crying and thinking I didn’t want to go. That assignment opened me to the most wonderful friends, traveling the world, many adventures and learning that life could be so different than what I had previously imagined. That assignment expanded my world.
I did need to do QiGong and meditation this week, which I did every day. I did need to rest and read and break away from my usual routine. I did need a little bit of structure to keep me from falling down the practicality/chores/but-it-has-to-be done rabbit hole. I also needed to hold it all a little more loosely and let it be a little more fluid.
The lake has been gently teaching me this lesson for a long time. Having the structure to go out (nearly) every day produces the opportunity, but being fluid enough to listen to my intuition about specific locations or even when I need to sleep in and rest also matters. I can’t manufacture joyful experiences but I can show up and be open to heading in a different direction sometimes. I have learned that the cold can produce great beauty and that the most dreary day might hold a surprise (as I wrote about here). Sometimes I forget and need a reminder.
Sending love to all of you. May your week bring you something you need to feed your spirit - even if you’re not sure it’s what you want.
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Wonderfully insightful writing Karen. Thank you. At some point I realized that often, when I felt the need for change, what I needed was to change "how" I was doing (vs. "what" I was doing.) Of course it was easier to change how I was doing some things than others (the most stubborn ones being the things that have to be done regularly which have morphed into habitual movements.) And, of course, when I change my "how" some "whats" just get left at the side of the road. So wonderful that you surrendered to both what you felt was to be done and how you did it. And I love the yellow stairwell!
Very much here for the wisdom in spontaneous urges! They do not get enough credit, imho. The body knows what we need...and that first photo of the sunken ice is so incredibly mind-blowing! Thanks for sharing your staycation adventures. Here for that long staircase to heaven...