I was stuck. Stuck again. In one of my decision-making spirals of doom. You know the ones? Spending weeks agonising back and forth on a single decision that somewhere along the line you have decided is the single and crucial crossroad to all potential success and happiness in your life. If I get this wrong, I will be doomed forever. Of course it’s a ridiculous mindset but well, the mind is rather ridiculous if you ask me. After 10 days of this saga I didn’t even care what decision I made anymore, I just wanted to choose anything. I wanted some clarity, a sign or clue, anything to push me one way or the other – anything but sitting in this pointless middle-ground.
I booked a session with my therapist and, thankfully, along with many other things that happened that day, it did provide the ultimate moment of clarity. One of those rare moments where I was able to hold all the complexities of my feelings, where I was able to put words to them to better understand them and where I was able to find meaning in the difficulties I’d been enduring.
Ahh, what a relief.
Soon after the meeting I found myself scrambling back, trying to remember what we said, what was it precisely that made me feel better? Desperately trying to claw my way back to that most glorious place of clarity. But it was already gone.
I remember listening to a favourite podcaster of mine speak about that once – how difficult it can be to let go of those moments of clarity, or to be in them with the knowledge that they will – at some point – disappear.
So, as much as I really want to explain to you all that we spoke of and all that it meant to me, I’m coming to learn that part of the process, part of maintaining faith, is trusting that those words and thoughts, though initially so grounding and comforting, can be as mystical and fleeting as the birds (bare with me…)
The first time you see a new bird is this most magical, entrancing experience. As if you have been frozen in time, frozen in profound connection, separate from everything apart from what you see in front of you. It is quite simply impossible to think about anything else but this new creature who you are meeting for the very first time. An utterly precious moment. You are consumed by its beauty – a beauty to which, before this moment, you were completely ignorant. And that’s it. You watch. You look. You really see it. If you’re lucky and it decides to stick around for a while, you may even have the opportunity to examine it in greater detail; the scales across its feathers, the colour of its eyes, its posture, its song.
And then you go home. And you think back to it. Perhaps you decide to consult your bird book or look online to try and identify exactly what it was. And more often than not – even if you got a really good look at it, even though moments a go it was right there in front of you, clear as day, consuming all of your senses, your presence, your spirit – you may struggle to remember even its most pronounced features. You may struggle to remember for certain a single thing about it. And with every attempt at travelling back in time through your memory to access this moment, you reimagine a slightly different version of events, which takes you, frustratingly, further and further away from your original sighting. Or further and further away from a sense of confidence in what you saw. With every bird you look at in your book or online, trying to make a match, the memory becomes muddled and it fades and, yes, it can feel as if it is gone. It can feel that, although you know it happened, that you have forgotten any relevant details.
And that feels a great loss. That feels a great shame. And it can be puzzling to understand how a moment that gave you so much life, a moment in which you felt so alive and so completely there can slip away so easily, without your noticing.
But, in truth, it doesn’t matter. Because seeing it for the first time will undoubtedly make it easier to spot the second, and the second will make even easier the third and so on. The difficulty is that there’s no telling when that will be. There is only trusting in what you saw and moving forwards, remembering always that you will never see the bird you want to see if you’re looking too hard (trust me, I’ve tried it, a lot). You will meet again only when you are both ready, and often when you least expect it.
And when you do, you will recognise it without a shadow of a doubt in your mind. You will land again on an island of clarity as you see it once more in plain sight. And with every sighting – however brief – you will become more and more likely to see it again, as you gently build a sense of familiarity around it. And with every sighting you will build a more lucid memory of it, something more concrete, that you can return to in your mind’s eye whenever you wish. You may eventually identify it, pinpointing its unique features for once and for all and putting a name, a description, words to it, building a scaffolding of understanding around the memory. Or it may remain a mystery. Something more vague – a vague sort of clarity – that you are not supposed to interrogate any further. That is enough as it is, that you can find contentment in, even if it remains inexplicable.
And so, with this rather unexpectedly long analogy, I let my thoughts and words, the memory of that conversation, go, albeit still a little reluctantly but safe in the knowledge that although I can’t exactly remember the name of the island I found, neither do I have the directions for how to return, I will no doubt stumble upon it again and when I do I will recognise it that bit easier for having visited before.