In bathing suits he and she stand on the edge of the land, staring at the ocean 10 feet below. “I can’t,” he says. Saying, “You just did,” she shoves him off of the edge. When he emerges from under the water he gives her two thumbs-up. Clearly, just because we feel we can’t do something does not mean that we can’t: Why do we hang back, clinging to fear? Why are we afraid to find out what we can do? Whenever contemplating the unknown, instead of thinking “I wonder if I can?” from deep within we hear the chant of “I can’t, I can’t.” The fact is that what we haven’t yet tried to do we haven’t yet done… so how can we know we can’t do it until we try to do it? It is the willingness to try that takes us out onto the road of our life’s journey of discovery.
When I was in high school I loved art, taking two classes each week, but watching the art majors around me who could do things so effortlessly reinforced my unbelief in my own artistic abilities. While in the monastery I turned 40 and soon after an editor-friend asked me to write a short article about daylily breeding, in which I was involved at the time. Some time before I had given her some finch eggs that I had decorated using the wax-resist method of Pysanky; apparently she thought that if I could decorate eggs I could paint a Mona Lisa so she asked me for some artwork to accompany the article, ending with: “Oh, and by the way, the deadline is in 6 days.” From deep within my heart I heard the old, cold chant of “I can’t”. But then my monastic training kicked in and I was jolted upright by the thought, “How do I know that? I’m not 16 any more; I wonder what I CAN do?” That question has lead to exhibitions, prizes, collectors, a painting in the permanent collection of a museum, illustrations for books, etc.
Day after day we let the sun go down without taking any steps that day to actually pursue our life; we hang back, clinging fearfully to the edge of our dream. Yes, we need to have a dream but in the end it is not enough to have a dream; at some point actual steps need to be taken in the direction of that dream, even if taken while trembling, even if those steps are small and imperfect because those steps take us to where the dream calls us, each step revealing what the next one or two steps need to be. At some point we need to leave town and fling ourselves off of the edge!
“I can’t” often simply means “I’m afraid.” Is that really a sufficient reason for not opening secret doors within ourselves? My guess is that even while we are convincing ourselves that we can’t we are also wondering: Can I?
Can you? Are you willing to find out? How will you know unless you jump off of the edge… today?!