Or, what to do when your house catches on fire.
One of the key things I’ve realized because of the fire was how important preparation is, and how little the act of wanting matters.
Here are examples: I want to lose five pounds. I want to improve my Italian. I want my house to not catch on fire.
The very act of wanting-ness doesn’t do anything to the object of my desire. Absolutely nothing. It’s a great and necessary start, but then, in many cases, if my wanting comes from a place of fear or greed or longing, the wanting can actually drive the intended goal even further away. I might feel like the wanting takes the place of doing. If I *want* to improve my Italian, the energy to *want* takes up much of the energy I could be using to *do.* But if I have a desire and I prepare — say, buy Italian books and CDs and set aside a night to take a class or practice on my own — all I need to do is stay open. That’s where the magic happens. Sometimes I feel like my body will start before my mind even knew I was ready.
In many ways, I feel like I’d been preparing for this fire for a long time. Of anyone I’ve ever met, I’ve had some of the best luck and some of the worst luck all wrapped up into one small (heh, heh) life. If you would have asked me two weeks ago if I wanted a fire to start below my bedroom, I’m pretty sure I would have said something to the equivalent of ‘No, I’m good. But you know, hey, … thanks for the offer.’ Unfortunately, my state of wantingness/non-wantingness meant absolutely nothing to that fire.
I sat in my bed last Monday afternoon, sick and in my pajamas, wanting to believe that new smell was my neighbors safely barbecuing 2x4s and fiberglass insulation in the backyard and not our living room wall catching on fire. Jen ran in, with the news that she was pretty sure our house was on fire. At that moment, all the wanting in the world didn’t stop that fire.
But then the desire to save my life and what I could of my possessions kicked in. That I’d prepared became everything.
I’ve mentioned this before and I want everyone reading this blog to go through this exercise now: about six months ago, we had a gas leak outside of our apartment. The firefighters casually suggested we sort of evacuate if we, like, had the time and stuff. We took about two hours to leisurely pack up some things, and discussed it at length afterwards. What would we take if we had one arm-full of time? What would we take if we had two rounds to run in? Where are all those possessions, and how quickly could we grab them? What had we backed up on the cloud?
When the fire started, my mind didn’t have to remember that exercise. I’ll try to explain it in a future post, but my brain and body just knew. You hear that about instinct. Someone takes a CPR class in college but enacts it perfectly 26 years later to save a life. A woman lifts a car to rescue her child. I don’t wish a fire or trauma on anyone, but I do wish this feeling for everyone: of having your monkey mind stop and your instinctual mind take over. (The closest description I’ve ever read was Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight, about a brain scientist’s very personal experience of watching her mind go through a stroke.)
Here’s what I want you to do: Hope your house never catches on fire. But be prepared if it does. I’ll write future blog posts about how to call 911, what to look for in renters insurance, etc. But here’s something you can do today: Sit down with everyone you live with. Talk about what you would take. Write a list. Put it in order. Walk around your house and look at each possession. (Even if your house doesn’t catch fire, this is a fascinating exercise in thinking about what really matters most to you.)
And here’s the key: Physically do it. Walk your body through the steps so it can take over when your mind doesn’t have the wherewithal. What would you grab? Where is it? Grab it, and run out of the house. For me, I had a sudden stroke of insight during the fire to throw my items (purse, etc) into a collapsible laundry hamper, which was outrageously easy to run with. If you have kids, make it a fun game to see who can evacuate the house in the safest way possible. Think of it as mental insurance.
And, yes, I just realized that I do *want* to start doing calligraphy again. Sigh.