Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Towards Paris

"Do not fear slow progress, 
but do fear stagnation."
 - Chinese proverb

Slow progress used to seem so, er... slow to me. I often convinced myself that pursuing that which is meaningful to me must be done with as much force and zeal as physically possible. I thought that unless a dream or pursuit was given your complete and immediate effort, it could never really be attained. I thought the same about love, too.  I'd like to think at times that I've been wise to this Chinese proverb for years now but I think it is a lesson that I must remind myself constantly. 

The other day, as I was just starting to decompress from a hectic few weeks, I started to scribble down some things I've been wanting to blog about for some time now. Without giving it much thought, I wrote down "Towards Paris." Those two words have lingered with me since and interestingly, LBR used those same two words in a recent correspondence with me. We were considering the many times in my life in which I have wanted to go to Paris and in which I was convinced (both by myself and people around me) that doing so would simply be running away. But LBR reminded me of the difference between running away and moving towards. That notion of running towards seems daunting at times... it makes me feel that I am going to miss something or lose sight of something by running. And really I think it comes down to allowing that common all-or-nothing notion to plague me too often. 

Moving towards Paris, towards my dreams, towards that which is meaningful... it doesn't have to be an all out sprint to the finish line. I remember last year when I didn't have a car for most of the year. Instead of jumping in the car and making a quick trip to the grocery store or to get coffee, I had to walk. And to get my coffee, I would walk through this beautiful park and part of campus. Having to walk made me slow down and enjoy things around me that I had previously sped past. I would often sit in the park, stop by the quaint art gallery, swing at the playground, stop to pet a dog. Pursuing our dreams, our bliss, our happiness... should be a journey not a marathon. 

Just as this proverb reminds me that small steps can still be progress, it also comes with a poignant caveat to fear stagnation. Although our steps may seem small and insignificant on their own, we cannot stop inching forward. Progress is really only measured on a personal level. Are we truly moving towards that which is meaningful to us or are we waiting for significance to find us? We don't have to be sprinting towards something, but are we at least inching forward?

As with just about everything in life, there seems to be a delicate balance here... a balance between pursuing that which is important to us and letting things unfold along the journey. I don't necessarily perceive of it as a tightrope act, either. We fear that vulnerability of being on a tightrope but even on a tightrope, it only really becomes scary when we stop and look down, when we doubt our movement. I think achieving this balance primarily (and simply) requires our consent. For me, it is also a mantra that begs repeating daily, lest I should lose sight of what those small steps can really lead to or what letting go of those small steps can bring... stagnation and mere existence. 

So, thanks to the reminder this proverb brings, along with all the great reminders from friends and loved ones as of late (my sister gave me this proverb on a postcard for Christmas). 


Take A Year Out said...

i love savoring and being grateful for the smaller things in life...

on this theme, did you ever get around to 'living the wisdom of the tao', by wayne dyer?

it explains beautifully how those moments can have a profound effect on life.


La Belette Rouge said...

That image of the view from the Eiffel Tower (is it?) almost made me cry. This on the heels of the Paris, je t'aime movie clip and your email made me see this photo in a totally different light. The message I see in the photo is : Must follow the calling of our hearts now or be in regret like the woman in the film. (will write you more about that later)

As you say, I believe there is a big distinction between running away and moving towards. I am starting to see how much we would lose if we got what we wanted instantly and easily. There is something delightful and expansive in the act of desiring. I know I have become more than who I was through trying to have a baby. Just because I didn't get the baby, I didn’t lose all that I became in the process.

I don't think progress or dream fulfillment is a linear process. We take two steps forward and one step back. The contraction can be as important as the forward movement. I had a moment, just today, when my Paris plans seemed self-indulgent and unimportant. That was a moment of contraction. In that moment, I heard another voice that challenged the authority of the claim and stood firmly in the absolute importance of moving forward--inch by inch.

Let me continue with Quotefest 2007 and quote Samuel Miles:"Progress, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” And the final quote of the day, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “ None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”

As always, inspiring and thought provoking post. :-)

Anonymous said...

I too have planned to "move" to France for many years only to put it off until next because someone people couldn't follow me or didn't want to go. Not now. I must hope that with careful planning my fiancé can come with me. Otherwise, I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.

However, year after year it was the same thing. My parents frequently ask me why I would move to a different country and although my answer is always the same they continue to ask over and over.

So 'moving towards' also means leaving behind. And in my case, might mean leaving behind someone I love. But I have hope in myself to support him and I and go to university. *sigh*

Another thing. I've never been up the Eiffel Tower in all the times I've been to Paris. I think I'll save that for my move.

b said...

TAYO... The small things (including steps) seem the most gratifying, don't they? There is not some great expectation placed upon them, and therefore no great pressure or disappointment. No, I have not yet purchased a copy of Living the Wisdom of the Tao but I think I will order it online right now! I am looking forward to reading that, particularly based upon that statement you made about how beautifully "those moments can have a profound effect on life."

LBR... Yes, it is a view from the Eiffel Tower that I took when there at sunset last October (2006). In posting it, I was very much thinking about that Paris Je t'aime short you forwarded me. I know... I am trying to stay focused and inspired. I too had a strong pang of contraction today as well. Not that I am happy to hear that you feel that way at times as well, but I take comfort in knowing that others who share a similar dream also feel that occasional and inauthentic stab... as you perfectly deemed: a thought that our plans for Paris are "self-indulgent and unimportant." I couldn't have said it any better.

The progress does not seem linear at all. If I were to draw it on paper, it would look rather chaotic! And yes, I think that goals/dreams hard won are often the most fulfilling. The things that come easily are forgotten and left aside easily. I have to remind myself this endlessly on days like these, where I just long to be "there," to skip the struggle. But I know better.

Thank you for the quotes. No doubt 2008 will take the Quotefest to new levels! :) I really love quotes and very much appreciate these. I think I will write them down and put them up someplace. Thank as always, my friend. I don't know what I'd do without you!!

Colleen... Oh, how I can so relate to all this! (I'm so fortunate to know you and commiserate!) I have repeatedly wanted to go to France. When I got divorced, I wanted to move there for an undetermined time. My family and friends made me feel that I was being foolish. And not to shift the blame on others, as I heeded to the cynicism (much of it self created). I've planned to go many other times and received the same response.

I still go through the same thing with family and friends. I see the eyes roll and I more than pick up on their lack of interest when I talk of going to France. My parents also ask me why I would want to leave. But they all fail to realize that moving towards France means doing that which is meaningful for my life. Yes, we do leave something behind but we gain so much more if it is what is important to us.

In retrospect, when I think about staying after my divorce, I wouldn't have left anything behind. My family is still here. I can always come back. For me, I appreciate my family and friends fully when I'm with them, so going to France does not make me feel that I am missing out on something here. They know I love them and give them my all when I'm with them. But a person's birth family is not their destiny, their calling, their personal legend.

Your relationship with your fiancé is another thing. Is his only condition for moving being able to find a job/sustain a living? Otherwise, he is willing and eager to go?

The Eiffel Tower is touristy, for sure. But I love being up high and enjoying an amazing view. And the Eiffel Tower is so worth seeing! It is a great experience!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments. I too am divorced, but this one I'm engaged to now is a keeper.

Oh yes, he wants to go and is supportive. That is for certain, but he is hesitant about making a living, learning a language he doesn't want to learn and the whole culture shock thing. I worry about him because he's not a traveler by nature and he's not keen to go back to college. So, I hope that everthing will be fine and who knows he might find he element in France.

b said...

Colleen... Wow, yet another similarity and a huge one at that. I am happy to hear that your fiancé is a keeper. I hope for that myself.

It is great that he is willing to go and wants to be open minded about finding his element there. If you don't mind my asking, what kind of work is he open to doing?

Anonymous said...

That's the kicker, he doesn't know. Maybe teach English, but frankly I don't think that is his gig. He's one of them intellectual English Lit types who is a bit of a tree-hugger hippy. *laughs* So, in short, he doesn't know. My ultimate goal would be to support both of us for 3 months until he finds someting to do. There's large American and British expats everywhere in France. (Remember that we won't be living in Paris.)

Randal Graves said...

Mere existence is a gift wrapped in hell. How's that for a thoroughly not profound and extremely short follow up to all the great comments above? ;-)

To follow up on what LBR said, what exactly is self-indulgent, though? Who judges that? Our relatives, our peers, society? If this is something YOU want to do, hard work or not, grand investment of time and money or not, any qualifier you wish to add, do it. Ugh, that sounded like an evil Nike ad. Even a sweatshopped squirrel finds an acorn now and then. :)

Regret will gnaw at your bones until the day you die.

Richard said...

Soem people (most people?) seem blessed with the ability to pursue things - even if only for a short time.

I just expect htings to eventually happen.

Feeling stagnant is a horrible feeling and the only cure is to do something different - but, it has to be balanced against being true to oneself.

I sense you are very psyched about going to Paris. I hope you can maintain the enthusiasm and not get be consumed with doubts as the moment approachs.

La Page Française said...

Moving Towards rather than Running Away From, what a great revelation!

b said...

Colleen... I wonder if he could find some kind of semi-permanent freelance work here that he could take over there? Or would he be interested in writing about his experience there for publication that has been prearranged? I know those seem like idealistic options but I do not think they are far-fetched if he has some time now to prepare. Freelance jobs are hit and miss for sure (at least for me they have been) but they are available and offer the best opportunity to work remotely. That won't solve the visa issue right now but once he gets over there, he would at least have some work to help sustain a lifestyle? Just thinking out loud here, really!

Randal... Amen to that! "Mere existence is a gift wrapped in hell." I'm most definitely writing that quote down and putting it up someplace! I think it is more profound than you realize! ;-)

Yeah, I don't know where that self-indulgent feeling comes from. LIkely our peers but definitely an inner voice that has stored all that criticism away for a very long time. The self-indulgence doesn't get me as much as those pangs that this is unimportant. But even that is fleeting. I know that I don't have all my happiness and hope locked into this next trip to France. So, what then? Sheesh... just typing this makes me feel ridiculous about having those thoughts at all!

We all have our acorns but how many of us choose to plant them and put faith in their growth? Instead, we seem to hoard those dreams, stash them away and then forget where we put them or return to find them decayed. Okay, enough with the acorn? :)

Thanks for the encouragement!

Richard... I still toy with this notion that the ability to pursue is innate. I don't know. I think I used to be a person who waits for things to happen in their own time. But in the last few years, I've shaken that behavior up considerably in my own life. And as turbulent as it has been, it has been really rewarding and I think I broke through the most challenging layer.

I feel that I let the pendulum swing a bit too far, though. Sometimes we pursue things too forcefully and I've done (or tried to do) that a bit in the last few years. So, right now... I think I'm balancing out... truly appreciating the need to pursue, take action but embrace the slow progress, enjoy the journey, step by step. I'm not running to some arbitrary finish line but I'm also not standing in one fixed place with my head down.

I absolutely agree that stagnation is horrible and change is the only way to shake that up. But yes, that change has to be meaningful to the individual and true. And again, it doesn't have to be a huge change. It can even be the first few steps, as small and insignificant as they might initially seem. If those small steps continue, we will find ourselves further from that stagnation.

Yes, I am very psyched about this next trip. I do not foresee myself doubting the trip itself. The only true obstacle is financial and even that is only an obstacle if I let it be one.

La Page Française... I'm happy that you consider it such, given that you are now in Paris and made that move with your life. You've obviously been a huge inspiration for me!

La Page Française said...

Thank you B. Your decision and determination in following your personal legend and seeing your goals through is a great inspiration to me as well.

carra said...

There is one Lithuanian proverb that is also appropriate here: Don't rush and you will always come first. Even though for some reason we are made to believe in most of our lives that we have to act in haste to achieve things, and even though I believe one has to act now to make things happen, there is a happy medium in all that. You can act now, not only by doing something, but by thinking about it. No matter what it is, all our thoughts come true if we want them too. I always think for days before writing an article, because that way it is well cooked by the time it lands on paper, it is the same with dreams. I cooked my dream of leaving Lithuania for ages until it actually happened, but once it did it was beautiful no matter how hard it was, I found many little pleasures along the way. Because I was working on it, and that before something happens is one of the greatest pleasures.

b said...

La Page Française... Thank you so very much. I cannot tell you just how grateful I am to know you and how much inspiration I get from your blog. You are such an authentic and lovely person!

Carra... I really like that analogy of cooking. I too find myself cooking up my dreams. However, I find that I only like to pursue those visions slightly, so as to really enjoy the element of surprise that awaits me. But, I am really starting to appreciate the idea of pursuing my dreams step by step and not treating it as a marathon. There is much relief and fulfillment in that acceptance. And those little pleasures you speak of are truly what make life exciting. However, I am convinced that those treasures are best when found in pursuit of one's dreams.