(Image by Tiffany Harris)
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
– Lewis Carroll
A friend of mine is trying to organise a workshop. This includes sending invitations and the need to provide information about the purpose and the agenda. She’s in a bind. She is not allowed to set the agenda, but neither has it been determined let alone provided. How can she convince people it is worth being there? What can she do to contribute to something that may be falling over?
I watched a talk today about how many of us end up somewhere different to where we thought we might, and how it’s okay if you finish university and don’t know what should happen next. The take home message was a modification of the protagonist’s aha moment in college that rather than knowing for sure what you are going to produce when you put pen to paper, “sometimes you have to write to work it out”. He now advocates “sometimes you have to live it to work it out”.
Am I fan of this approach? I think I have to be, to some extent, because it’s what happened to me. I utilised my career to work it out. It was the means for working in all sorts of interesting jobs and organisations, some geographical spontaneity and getting out in the world, for moving around the country in search of something.
It teaches you to be light on your feet, to be adaptable, to always be ready to see what’s right and where there is opportunity for making more of that rightness. That becomes your modus operandi. But you need to be humble. The light shining through you is important, but it’s most brilliant when you help to turn it on in others.
I sometimes think my choice to be humble is a choice to be mad. Not in the angry sense. Mad in the Wonderland sense.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Wonderland mad…the option to cast aside norms and expectations, even if just for a while. The invitation to dress up however you like, to try out some characteristics you hadn’t thought to, a preparedness to adventure in your own life. Fall down a rabbit hole. Take a chance to say absurd, profound things. Fall down as a way to stand up and as a way to try something a bit off beat and see things unexpected. It’s also appreciating this in other people and being expansive in your openness to their experience, their way of being, who they really are. Can you get past judgement to just ponder and accept and explore and love – both when it comes to you and to other people?
Steve Jobs said “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else´s life.” I think he’s right, but I think sometimes you need to live someone else’s life…but not just anyone else’s…find the unlived parts of yourself, find the lives of the people you’re spending time with, and be a little like Alice. Embrace what you don’t know, what doesn’t make sense, be humble and learn even if you don’t entirely understand. Watch your personal evolution.
“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”
– Lewis Carroll
It’s not just Alice we learn from of course, it’s the array of characters she encounters on her journey. They are fantastical, but if you think about who you’ve encountered you may recognise them. I’ve met so very many wonderful characters. Those I didn’t really like and those I love and everyone in between. There’s so much beauty in the sameness we share and ripeness for interest and knowing in our differences.
Travelling without a true agenda was too easy in some ways, really hard in others, but ultimately it has been a gift. I’ve fallen down a few rabbit holes in my time. I think it’s been by design. We often learn the lessons we need, at least in part, through relationship with others, whatever that relationship may be. It’s grown my compassionate heart to be in places and with people. Life has been unexpected but that’s allowed the entry of emotions and experiences I could not have imagined.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
– Lewis Carroll
I haven’t come to the end. There are always new beginnings. There are always new paths and sliding door moments that beckon and ask you to choose and act.
So I go on…but…I seem to have come to a point where two things are apparent:
- I want an agenda, to plan, at least some of the upcoming journey so that I can spend precious time now, in the meantime, getting ready, shaping it up, making choices without closing the space to spontaneity and sliding doors.
- I’ve had to put my compassionate heart into my pocket for close proximity because despite my intentions my efforts to “go on” seem to be a lot more like running on the spot just at the moment!
Have I stumbled and fallen down into a rabbit warren that is in fact a time warp?! (I know on work days I have to be careful of the time warps in my shower and near the coffee maker).
“A time warp is a phenomenon which can allow travel through time. Usually only formed through great expenditures of energy, a time warp can be created both naturally and artificially.”
Well there’s nothing artificial about this one, as that would imply that I made it. But it does seem to be sapping my energy and sending me endlessly back a step for every step I take. Or maybe I’ve entered a reverse universe, where the flow of time is reversed? Or maybe I should just own the time warp, confess that I have fallen down right now and it feels frustrating and like I am wasting time. I must also confess, most of all to myself, that it’s okay, it’s just been one of those weeks (or two), that sometimes we don’t see our forward momentum and that anyway, tomorrow we can keep on trying.
“Someone once told me that ‘time’ is a predator that stalks us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because it will never come again.“
– Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek
I do adore Jean-Luc, wise character that he is. Here’s a pick me up if you need one. Time as a companion, I need never feel lonely! And when I’m dragging my feet I can latch on and take a ride. It takes conscious effort to cherish time and self when we’re not quite travelling the way we mean to. Sometimes we should let time take the load.
If we can see falling in a different light, we may appreciate that it offers its own journey and it’s own rewards all in good time. And best of all, whether you have an agenda or not, in addition to taking Alice’s curiosity and confusion, and whomever you meet down the rabbit hole, you are always beautiful you – no matter our intentions, destination, best laid plans, time is in fact with you in the way it’s meant to be and heeding the Cheshire Cat, you’ll get somewhere “…if only you walk long enough”.
If it Were Not Contingent
If it were not subject to chance
It would have happened
If it were subject to chance
It would have happened anyway
The unlooked for fortuity
If its existence did not depend on falling
Would I merely have swayed?
If it were not conditional
Would it have existed anyway?
A hinging on and pivoting to
If the body were someone else’s
I could not be a part of it
If we were not curiouser and curiouser
Time complete me