Everyone changes the world.
July, 2008. I was standing behind my block at the olympic trials, on the verge of the last race of a 20-year career. I was thinking about baby shoes.
When I was three, my grandfather died of cancer. But for the last few years of my swimming career, I had relied on him to prepare for my races. He was a marine who survived Iwo Jima, Saipan, Tinian. One of the only memories that I have of him is re-lived as a gaze through the bedroom window of my grandmother’s house, to a pair of tiny white patent leather baby shoes, freshly polished, drying on the step outside. When I go there in my mind, my heart swells with energy and my mind is calm.
This is where you visualize the race. Some athletes refer to this as the zone. I call it grace.
In those races, I would not feel pain until it was over. That day, I swam faster than I ever thought I could. I did not make the olympics. But I poured myself out on the biggest stage I could reach then. I left nothing of myself there.
Relationships of any kind should be synergistic. They should be graceful.
Once in a while, a series of events arrives in such an order as to question your entire understanding of the world. You may even recognize these moments as a chance to consider your life’s relationship to the development of the world.
Oh. You’re not interested in your own legacy?
That's unfortunate since you are leaving one regardless of whether you think about it or not. Opting-out, falling in, keeping your head down. These are decisions. You have decided that the choices you are provided with are fine, even if you don’t feel like yourself half the time making them.
“Scylla. Charybdis,” you’ll say to me in a dark bar one night. “It’s just how the world works.”
If you believe that you are just along for the ride, you’ll consume as you’re told, stay where you’re told. You won’t break any rules. You will stay out of trouble. You will pass. You pick your causes and your candidates. You live in a world that’s binary, and you pick your side. 'They' will handle it from here.
And they will. They are right now.
But to believe that your passivity exonerates you from having to consider the larger impact of your choices is a form of socially-sanctioned denial. The world is not binary. There is no separation between "us" and "them." And we do have a relationship to the world and everything in it.
Moments of grace are a window into the feeling of synergy. They help you find the contours of your relationship to the world and your place within it.
That, darling, is how the world works.
Last august, I found myself heading into a hospital in Beverly Hills, California. I walked myself in alone for a small outpatient procedure. Afterwards, I drove myself to the office of one of the startups I was working with at the time. I had an ice-pack on my left breast. and i sat down at my computer, exhausted, ravished by a relationship I held onto for too long, and work schedule that left no room for question.
I looked around and could no longer make sense of where I was.
The next day, I rented a cabin in Topanga Canyon and spent the week alone. i was on my way out of LA then, though it took me a year to leave. It was the beginning of a long spiritual detox at the end of a years-long period of exorcising the dead parts of me. That week, I purged them, ran them down the canyon, and washed them off in the ocean.
Shed like summer skin on the tide.
Pour yourself out.
Grace is a gift...the catch is that it's a gift that you can only enjoy while you're offering it--and yourself-- up to the world. Staying close to it is the best chance you've got at synergy.
It’s taken a year to grow myself back into those dead spots, like gold bonding filling the cracks in a china plate. This is what I know:
The process is always endergonic. It is not spontaneous.
Your choices are the catalyst. Your environment provides the substrate.
The transition states are unstable, times to shed and build.
There is no end point; there’s just dynamic equilibrium.
The products of each step are higher free energy, closer to grace.
Summer is breathing its embers into fall again and I’m in transition. My hair is coarse and wild. I am as free as the wind that blows through it. Unlike last August, I don't have hollow places to fill. I know where i am. Now, I'm interested in a partner in crime. I mean, business. I mean everything.
As I think of where to take myself, I project my options and ideas into time and space. I consider their effect: How will I be changed? How will I change the world?
Where are my baby shoes?