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Elan Vitae


  • Paige Nolan


It’s an overcast Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles when I decide it’s time. Enough is enough. For the past two months, I’ve allowed myself to become thoroughly exhausted by stressors that are more a part of everyday life than they are particularly stressful events.

I’m using today to lay it down – it’s time for me to release what no longer serves:

like overthinking the middle section of the book I'm writing, carrying around my client’s confusion, worrying about my teenagers’ ability to drive a car, and basically burdening myself with all sorts of indecision about upcoming trips I may or may not take for work, for pleasure, for family ties. It’s time for me to let go.

And so I call upon ritual. I’m going to do it right. I’m home alone and it’s time. I change into my favorite sweatpants and spread out my favorite blanket on the floor of my office that looks out to the back yard. I collect my favorite crystals and light my favorite candles. I set the intentions – and keep a notebook and pen by my side. I like to have the paper ready in case I jot down any guidance that comes to me during or after my meditation.

On this day, I play my favorite shamanic drums album through my headphones and welcome a relaxed state, where I plan to meet my power animal, journey into the deep woods and come out on the other side – with the answers to all of my questions:

How can I better create the arc of my book?

How can my client better understand the reality of her marriage?

How can I trust the fate of my children’s lives?

Which trips should I take and when?

Here we go. Drumming. Drumming. Drumming. I’ve got my walk through the trees with my lioness – feeling all sorts of powerful – and moving along my journey taking in whatever symbols and awareness come my way and then…..without realizing it, I drift off to sleep. I don’t remember anything else of my meditation and when I wake up slowly to the sound of silence, realizing the 46-minute album has come to an end, I notice I’m holding my pen. I look down at my notebook. There are no written answers. There are only three written words:

Clean out closet.

Even though I recognize the lettering as my own, I still have to study the marks closely to make sure my husband didn’t sneak in unannounced and undetectable and forge my own meditation type scribble because this is something he has been asking me to do for three years. We share a closet. It is *very* clear which side is his and which side is mine – and my side is often encroaching onto his side. Because guess what? I hold on to too much.

Clean out closet.

I read it again and again. And I don’t read it a third time because I’m laughing. I got it; I get it. This is how answers work – they can come to us in the form of a directive, an action to take that seems unrelated to the information we seek. But I know better. I saw The Karate Kid in 1984. Mr. Miyagi demands that Daniel wax cars and paint fences when Daniel really wants to learn karate to protect himself against the local bully. We all know the end of the story – waxing and painting is exactly what leads Daniel to his own answers and gives him the skilled practice of karate that he really wants.

With the synth bass line of Banarama’s “Cruel Summer” playing in my mind, I text a dear friend, Lori, who also works as a stylist –

I need to clean out my closet. Can I hire you to help?

Three weeks later, I’m standing in my closet amidst four garbage bags of clothes that will soon be heading to Goodwill, facing Lori in an atrociously stretched out fraying black bra and maroon colored cropped jeans that I don’t even button before she says a quick and confident, “no” that slices through the air like a freshly sharpened chef’s knife.

“Put these on…” Lori hands me some denim, and I slide into a wide legged boyfriend cut blue jean with two holes on the right leg. The back left pocket has lost its bottom stitching so it can’t hold anything – and I can’t argue that the flap of denim hanging from my ass captures any sort of deconstruction that may pass with a thumbs-up from a stylist.

“I love these,” I tell her.

“Do you wear them?”

“YES,” I am sure of it. I step over a bag to position myself in front of the full-length mirror. These jeans hang on me – they have lived 39 lives and then some. I meet the image of myself and these jeans and see, maybe for the first time, exactly how exhausted and unkept we look together.

“How do you feel in them?” Lori asks.

“Like a painter – not an artist, like a painter who would paints houses,” I sort of giggle. “They are comfortable,” I add. “But sometimes I put my car keys or my cell phone in the back pocket and it falls through and that annoys me,” She nods. “I like to write in these jeans – I like working in clothes that are nothing special – these are the ones I reach for the most.”

“But you have these too,” and Lori holds up two other pairs of casual pants that we’ve already decided are keepers. They are black and soft, no holes. “You can reach for these.”

“I forget I have those.”

“I know,” Lori says, “which is exactly why we have to throw out the painter jeans – so you can see what options you have.” She lifts up the black, thin pants, cuffed at the bottom, two side pockets in tact.

“Okay,” I let these jeans drop to the ground and without much ceremony, step out of them, and toss the thin denim that I have loved for 15 years into the latest giveaway pile. It no longer serves me. We are breaking up, and I feel less tired already.

Lori and I go on like this for seven hours – and a pattern emerges. Lori asks me about an item that is clearly outdated, ragged, maybe even falling apart – and I explain the one time/reason I need to keep this item. I have weather reasons (rainy day), sentimental reasons (my mom and I bought it together), superstitious reasons (I can focus better in oversized sweatshirts), and reasons that are not even reasonable.

Lori listens – then she challenges my logic: it doesn’t really rain in Los Angeles, my mom’s presence in my life extends far beyond a tattered 2002 cardigan from the Gap, there are intentionally oversized sweatshirts that actually have a cute cut – and I can focus when I decide to focus, no matter what I’m wearing. This time, I listen. And then Lori offers me that thing we all need sometimes: a moment to reconsider.

She leads me gently into a better choice. And I trust her. I trust the process.

It’s dark outside when our work is complete. We’ve collected 10 bags of clothes that I will drop at the donation center in the morning. These garments will have a new life – and in my releasing them, I know I will, too.

“You have the wardrobe you need,” Lori tells me as she piles empty hangers into a paper bag to bring to the cleaners. “You don’t have to go buy a bunch of new clothes.” I gaze upon the remaining dresses, jackets, blouses and pants hanging along the rod and take in the space that’s been given to me. Each garment has its own place – each one is a good choice.

“You do need new bras….” Lori says as she exits the closet, pulling the door closed behind her.

It has been one week since my time with Lori – one month since my meditation – and my boobs are not the only aspect of my life that has been revitalized.

The mind is a closet. Our thoughts hang upon the rods of our awareness – and little by little, over time, they become old-fashioned, archaic, flimsy, threadbare. The ones we turn to the most no longer capture our essence – we reach for them out of habit, we turn to them because we forget there are better ones – better thoughts, better choices – tucked behind those first impulses.

The act of letting go of the clothes that no longer fit me (literally + metaphorically) helped me to let go of the answers I felt like I needed to find. And instead, be reinvigorated by the Knowingness I already have.

Certainly, clarity can come from new information – but it can also come from releasing old ideas so the truth can be revealed – a truth that was hanging there all along. It just needed to be dry-cleaned.

I decide it’s ok that the exact arc of my book is unclear for now – I can ask an editor to help when I’m ready.

I decide to be patient with my client’s discernment – this is her process and I am here to support it, and trust it.

I accept that my children will live a life – and I don’t know what is going to happen in that life – and the best protection I have is believe in my ability to face whatever comes our way. (*This one will need to be revisited often, but for now, I’ve quelled the New Teenage Driver Parental Angst with a whole bunch of breath work and prayer.)

I don’t have to plan a trip from where I think I should go – I can let a trip emerge from a place of what experience is important and valuable to me now.

These thoughts are the outfits I wear now. And I have to say, I am less stressed.

Is it time for you? What needs to be released? What can you let go? You can go into the deep woods meditation if you want. Or, you can go clean out your closet – and discover a surge of fresh energy, big possibility and better choices waiting for you, beckoning that new life of yours.

Photo credit: Couleur via Pixabay


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