By Olivia Olson, Community Fellow
“The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”
I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis today while listening to one of his books, The Screwtape Letters, and it really hit home. While listening to this audiobook, I was in the process of dismantling trellises and finishing pulling out dead plants in the Kate Collins Middle School courtyard. Just like the natural world has been winding down and transitioning toward winter and the end of a season, my Fellowship is also nearing its end, with the uncertainty of everything that happens next looming in the future. I’ve been going around in mental circles for months now, and still don’t know what job I want to do next after the Fellowship is over. However, I’ve been considering all the things I’d love to do in my free time, and how I want to live my life, and have found that to provide more clarity and joy than trying to figure out where in the world (both literally and figuratively) I want to work next. Of course, this quote could be used to approach a wide range of areas of life, but I’ve been pondering it particularly in regards to my personal life as I move into the next phase of my life.
I had already been reflecting on the things I was excited about and feeling drawn to lately when C.S. Lewis' quote came and seemed to smack me in the face. Immediately I stopped taking down the trellis I was working on, paused the audiobook, stared off into the distance for a minute, and then proceeded to write down the quote in my phone’s notes app so I wouldn’t forget it. Completely disregarding the fact that the quote was found in the context of some demons working on directing a man on a life path towards hell, this felt like a kick in the pants to actually make some changes with my life so that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time and never doing the things I really want. Even though endings can be hard, and transitions into the unknown even harder, this feels like a good reminder to hold onto as I go, and have a fresh start to make some changes in my life and live more intentionally.
A couple weeks ago, a friend challenged me to take some time that weekend to sit down and draw something – anything – as a way to chill out and tap into creativity. Drawing is never something I’ve done much of, and I don’t consider myself a terribly creative or artistically talented person, but it’s something I’ve been feeling more inspired to take up this fall. I’ve felt a bit of an unusual urge to make things and do more art this season, which I don’t recall experiencing in the past (though my memory could just be failing me here). Fall is probably the most wonderful time of year in my opinion, and having more than a month of gorgeous weather and stunning foliage here in Virginia has felt like the ultimate luxury. (Back in Minnesota, where I grew up, we get about three weeks of fall before it freezes and snow threatens to, or actually does, fall.) I never did get around to drawing anything that weekend, but it’s been on my mind ever since and I have the intention to make that happen at some point. Intention being the operative word here – I have the intention to do and learn so many things all the time, but I often fall short of following through on actually making it happen. And that’s something I want to change.
Lately, I’ve been brainstorming things to do or ways to live that make life much more fulfilling and enjoyable, both for this fall and continuing into the future. After hearing this quote, I am doubling down on creating a way for those intentions to become reality, and to make space to let them evolve and change as life goes on. The current plan is to take my intentions and hopes for life, powered by the feelings they stem from, and roll with that – taking time from here forward to build in things like language studying, hiking, drawing or other art forms, making music, being with friends, creating a living space that continually brings the natural world in, etc. To find ways to get these established before then adding in a new job. If I’m feeling pulled in a certain way, to stand on my back porch to just enjoy and experience the crisp fall air and colorful leaves on the trees – to do that. Mainly, whatever it takes to avoid becoming devoid of feeling from a life of stagnation and lack of action that C.S. Lewis refers to.
I feel like I’ve spent most of the year trying to figure out how to make the most of my time outside of college and around a full time job, and I’ve been told that’s just how life goes. But, it doesn’t mean it can’t be improved on. I imagine many of us have heard the old saying that it takes 21 days to break a habit, but newer research is suggesting that it can take the better part of a year to break old habits, and form new ones in their stead. For context, the 21 days idea was stated in the 1960s by a cosmetic surgeon who found that it took about that long for patients to adjust to their updated body and consequently have new habits from that change. I found this fact rather alarming, and used it as more fuel to work on being more intentional in taking the steps to create the life I’m dreaming of. A sentiment that many of my friends and I share is the need to decompress after work or tackle other projects, which often turns to mindlessly scrolling through our phones which doesn’t feel fulfilling or like a good use of time. That’s one of the first feelings I want to act on and change – I feel frustrated with myself for wasting time mindlessly scrolling, and aim to build habits that include having other easy ways to decompress, like having a mini dance party, taking a walk, drawing, knitting, hanging out with my cat, or just sitting and being present in my space.
The intention setting I want to do going forward seems to revolve heavily around shifting my priorities during the day with the time I have allotted. Then, when I have more time to fundamentally restructure my routine and life, I'll build more of what I’m hoping for. This includes things like taking hikes and walks more frequently, building in time to just sit and be, learning new art and DIY skills, checking in with friends, making and tending a garden of my own, and slowing down to enjoy the little things instead of rushing around all the time. This sort of emotionless, dull-minded world that C.S. Lewis painted in my mind is the main thing to avoid, to get less caught up in the craziness of all the “need-to-dos” and focus on leaning into and doing what feels life-giving, important, and valuable – for myself and on a larger societal scale. To hopefully, in the long run, create spaces and habits that provide room and opportunities for acting instead of being passive, in whatever form that may look like. This might include focusing on an important project needs support, fulfilling my need to spend time outside instead of being inside on my devices, and making time for what’s really important. Essentially, I don’t want my life to pass me by, resulting in disappointment decades down the line because I never got around to doing the things. So, what comes next? I’ll see where I’m being pulled and follow that as best I can. Happy trails, everyone.