My phone just sent me a reminder. “Just let go,” it says to me every morning at 6:00. Just let go. I am a widely acknowledged control-freak, and some mornings I need that message more than others.
I ran across this photo yesterday morning on Facebook:
Obviously it’s pretty difficult and rather inefficient to go through life with no plan at all, but I think we program ourselves to believe that PLAN = SAFETY. Our intellects know this not to be true. We have a raft of sayings… “The best laid plans of mice and men…” “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” And on, and on. Yet, how often do we catch ourselves saying, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”
We treat our plans as though we were plugging ingredients into a recipe or numbers into a formula. If I do A, B, and then C, I will get result Q. Except sometimes, we don’t get result Q. Sometimes the outcome is X or 42 or purple.
I’ve been working with a team on developing a student loan simulator designed to help give veterinary students and pre-vet students an idea of how their choices after graduation may affect their loan balances and repayment. In the introductory text, we have a bunch of disclaimers to the effect that this simulator isn’t a way to predict your future, it’s just an illustration, etc. And as I have worked on those sentences this week, part of me imagines the students who will be entering their numbers, their visions of their future, and hitting “Calculate.” I’m willing to bet that they have plans. Many of them probably have their future mapped out so clearly that they believe they know what path their lives will follow until they die.
I was one of those students. Yet, at almost every turning point of my life, I have found myself saying, “This wasn’t in the plan.” We were going to have two children, not three. I was going to own my own equine practice by now. We were going to live in our old house until our grandchildren were grown. I went to veterinary school because I would never be able to support myself as a writer. And, the list goes on…
Yet – and this is the reason for the phone reminder – most of the best things in my life have come from letting go of the plan, from allowing my life to flow with only gentle guidance from myself.
I took a watercolor class taught by Caitlin’s teacher last night. Rick Tan is not only a terrific teacher but an amazing artist in his own right. Just check out his blog. We were working with wet-on-wet watercolors in the method the students use in school. This particular technique uses a lot of water, and as anyone who has swum or boated in open water knows, water doesn’t like human control.
In high school, I hated watercolors; the pigment never seemed to stay where I wanted it, so I moved on to oils where I could layer pigment and control my brushstrokes and even the thickness of the paint for texture. The down side to oils is that they take forever to dry, so they aren’t very practical for a two week camping trip in a crowded car in the Pacific Northwest. I took up watercolors as an adult in order to be able to paint on our vacations. Very practical for a landscape painter. Part of the plan. Gradually, I learned to adapt my perfectionist tendency to work with the watercolors rather than against them, but I still used relatively little water so that I could maintain control. This painting of the Awahnee hotel in Yosemite shows the detail of the leaves applied with a very dry brush.
Last night, Rick started by telling us that we were going to play with color for our first painting. He had us begin “with a blob of yellow…” Something seized up inside me for a moment. All of the control voices started shouting at once. “I’m a landscape painter. I paint from life or photos. I don’t do abstract. I know how to paint. I don’t need to experiment with color.” I’ve had some practice with these voices lately and I’ve learned not to argue with them. Instead, I left them to chatter in the back of my head and loaded my brush with yellow pigment.
As soon as my brush touched the meniscus of the film of water coating my paper, the yellow flowed from the bristles and began to tendril out along the page. I moved my brush in swirls, back and forth, in S-shaped swoops. I played with deepening color in some areas, and lifting it off in others. As we added different pigments to the page, I could feel the layers of my emotions flowing with the color – swirling, blending, deepening in some areas, lightening and bouncing along in others. C. Corp-Minamiji, original watercolor 2010
C. Corp-Minamiji, original watercolor 2012
The end result wasn’t what I’d envisioned when I first dipped my brush into the paint, and I think that’s a good thing. A friend of mine fought with her brush strokes during the first piece, her struggles reminding me of my own watercolor battles in high school. “I think most of the trick to watercolors is letting go of perfectionism,” I commented. And as she relaxed into her second work, her painting shifted.
How often do we try so hard to cling to our concept of the way things are “supposed to be?” How often do we say things to others in the hopes of forcing the response that we want? And how often are we disappointed? Yet, it seems, to me at least, that when we let go, let events, people, and feelings follow their own currents, that’s when the richness swirls in.
Try it: “Just let go.”