When stay-at-home orders last March yanked all routines out from under our feet, I fell hard. Which makes sense: as an Enneagram 4, my creative spirit both resists and requires routine. Any routine, even as simple as the imposed time structure around my son’s school day.
I don’t do transitions well – it takes me a while to settle into new routines as life offers them – and the pandemic presented an unprecedented transition. It took months for me to begin, gently, to get past anxiety-induced insomnia and eventually develop a routine for myself.
When Enneagram and Coffee suggested that my New Year’s affirmation should be “structure,” I recoiled. Someone else commented, “I didn’t expect to be attacked on IG this morning” and I had to laugh. Yes, I know I do better with structure, but the word sounds so hard-edged.
Always with my word play… I reject “structure.” I tolerate “routine.” I prefer “rhythm.” I adore “flow.”
Some years I have chosen a word to guide me, like beauty or creativity. Last year was exhausting and didn’t think I’d choose a word for 2021. And then forward stepped up, a potential antidote to 2020 – let’s move forward and not look back.
Morgan Harper Nichols posted an Instagram video of so many words and their definitions. She suggested people take a random screenshot and adopt that word for 2021. I played along, twice. My words? River, and Onward. Ooh, this word-lover coos, a nuanced version of forward.
The river flows onward. The river cannot backtrack. It flows in one direction, downhill toward the sea (oh, pour me toward the beach, yes please!).
Another river image that has been life-giving for me comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She rejects the notion of having to “think up” creativity. Like trying to force a plant to grow, forcing creativity doesn’t work very well. Instead, she proposes that creativity flows like a river, and we reach in and catch the fish as they swim past. If we miss the fish it keeps moving, yet another will follow.
That image contains freedom and grace: I am surrounded by the beauty of a rushing river of creativity, filled with fish for me to catch. Each fish is an idea. I will catch some and miss others. The river will keep flowing, and there will always be more fish, more ideas to nourish my own creative flow.
So many months into this pandemic pause, I might actually be thriving within my routine. It’s gentle, life-giving, with just enough sign-posts and flexibility to keep me moving. Just enough rhythm to keep me dancing (a terrible dancer, I try to laugh and enjoy the movement). Enough bank-barriers and current to keep me flowing. When my routine gets up-ended, as it does occasionally, I fall out of sorts, an annoying indicator that most days my routine works for me. On those days, however, I’ve wrapped around a rock, I’m out of flow, and I need to peel myself off this obstacle to get going again.
Forward wasn’t the right word. Because, indeed, 2020 yielded important lessons I ought to hold close. Perhaps they will serve as the life preserver, or better yet the raft, supporting me through the flow of 2021.