After this…

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Returning from the land of Pessoa some weeks ago, and now as I think about inertia and the desire to do anything/nothing, I can only borrow his words:

“From any trip, even a short one, I return as from a slumber full of dreams – in a dazed confusion, with one sensation stuck to another, drunk from what I saw. I can’t rest because my soul’s not well. I can’t move because something’s not right between my body and soul. What I lack isn’t mobility but the very desire to move.”

It’s always the statement, the promise – to oneself or to others – that “after this, I will do this…” or “once this is complete, things will go back to normal”. Is this just self-deception?

I crash into this promise again and again but have learned never to believe it. Usually, the chaos is the norm, and only in subsiding or disappearing would things feel abnormal. I don’t know if this approach is optimism or excuse-making. Either way, it’s not really my style, that is, being so out of touch with myself, my life and its patterns that I fool myself and others into thinking that things will be drastically different at some unknown point in the future “when things calm down”. Some people are not meant for calm, and they never will be.

I am not one of those people, even if I, too, find myself making excuses – as we all do. Some excuses more damaging than others. I reread Pessoa’s words, which he applies to returning from a short trip, but which could be any situation that feels like a “slumber full of dreams”. Initially it made me think of a moment in recent time, how someone else must have felt. Thinking that I could put words to or start to understand his confusion comforted me. Weeks later, I thought, though, that this was not entirely new to me: years and years earlier, the roles were reversed, and I was the confused one.

Even decades after a moment like that occurs, followed by the “dazed confusion”, the memory of the excuses that inevitably accompany the ‘aftermath’ sticks with me. Almost 20 years ago, a confessional evening spent with a friend, candlelight in a terrible storm: the moment, the evening, was “one sensation stuck to another”, sort of drunk from being caught up in the experience, in being enveloped completely by that immediate moment. But returning to reality from it, the very desire to move robbed from me – a swirl of conflicting emotion – including a kind of love and admiration for her, a guilty desire not to hurt her, but a much stronger feeling of needing to start concocting excuses for why this would never work.

In Gabor Maté’s book on addiction, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he writes: “if you want to find liberation in your commitments, your word needs to be freely given or not given at all. Don’t make promises to reform out of a sense of duty or to appease someone else. If you don’t know how to say no to other people’s expectations, howsoever well meant or valid those may be, your yes has no authenticity. This is what I have learned.” This applies not just to addicts but to everyone, myself included.

In trying not to disappoint people or making ourselves appear superhuman, to be all things to all people, most of us overpromise and underdeliver. But shouldn’t we be striving to make promises (not to reform, in the case of the addict of the quote) that we freely commit to keep? The expectations of others can weigh heavy, but that inadvertent and slippery giving of false hope that making empty promises creates weighs much heavier and hurts more in the long run – for everyone involved. Perhaps, though, it is that people are unable to be honest with themselves (maybe it’s where the optimism comes in: “we’re doing our best” and “maybe things will change”).

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