Today I'm thinking about locks. Not locks with keys, but locks in canals, you know, the way that water is controlled over uneven ground.... The boat floats in at the lower level, the lock closes, the water is let in from the higher level, the boat floats up, the second lock is opened, and out it floats at a higher point. For those of you who may not have a canal nearby, a lock looks like this:
I'm thinking about locks after an email conversation with Jools Rixon. I was commending him for being so open about his own personal experiences and he said:
I love sharing all the aspects of my inner journey. I find it really useful to hear other people's experiences and there are no secrets as far as my own are concerned. It's been such a long journey to arrive in a place where the opinions of others don't affect my own journey. My family think I'm a bit strange but, love them as I do, I just have to do my own thing.
When I read that, I started thinking about the locks. That when you keep all your important observations, your vision, your experience, private and closed up inside yourself, you're like a boat sitting outside the lock at the lowest level. You want to flow forwards, but you can't, because there's this big block of wood in front of you, and nothing is moving. You keep it all locked away inside because you fear that if you share it, you may be laughed at, or judged; that people will mock you if you tell them how you see things, or what's happening to you. Who am I, you say to yourself, consciously or unconsciously, why would anyone want to know what's happening to me?
And as you say that, you cut yourself off from two things. Firstly, the kindness that you owe yourself, which could be nourishing you and sustaining you. Secondly, you cut yourself off from all the other human beings around you, many of whom are also feeling stuck in front of an immovable wall. But nobody's saying.
When I first started writing this blog, I felt exposed, raw, vulnerable, at risk. But my instinct told me that if I wanted to learn how to begin to flow freely as the flawed, simple human being that I really was, I had to step out from behind all the stuff I had been hiding behind for so long. I had to accept the kindness of my own attention, and I also had to risk being ridiculed or dismissed by others.
I couldn't have been more surprised at the results of such a move. Of course, most of the world carries on oblivious, not even deigning to grace me with criticism or ridicule. But that, in itself, is an important point. No-one comes running out of cyberspace to point and mock. Actually, pretty much nothing happens at all. It turns out that you can write deeply personal things, risk all sorts of reports and stories, and the world doesn't so much as blink in your direction.
The really great miracle, though, is that every now and again, someone does come out of the ether, and they tell you that they connect in some way with what you've written. That they feel less alone, less underconfident, perhaps, in some part of their own process, or more hopeful. My risk leavens their bread a little. And their telling me this leavens mine in equal measure, or more.
Little by little, as I've moved out into this (albeit limited) public space, the sharing of experience becomes less and less momentous, less and less of a risk. The fact that even one person comes forward to make contact is riches beyond all of my previous understanding of what was possible in the world.
When I was thinking about this as I was talking to Jools, it occurred to me that as you increase your capacity to risk openness, so you also reduce your sense of distance, in terms of the differential between your 'inner' experience and the 'outer' social world. There are all sorts of boundaries involved in this subtle business, but if the necessary boundaries are more or less in place, my experience, at least, is that I feel less and less fear, and more and more connection. By taking and sustaining my risk, I seem to have been stealthily lifted up on the rising water, and have suddenly noticed that the huge wooden door has begun to open, and the water is beginning to flow.
Perhaps this is true for art/music/singing/comedy/writing/making of whatever kind. Keeping yourself entirely to yourself serves no-one, neither yourself, nor the humans around you - who need your art, and your uniquely flawed humanity, just as it is....