It’s time to let go of the “hows” and “how-tos”, writes Yrsa Daley-Ward in her new book
You remind me of myself—of my uncertainty and anxiety and all the other painful things that I’m afraid to look at. When I catch your eye, I am often alarmed at my own tender reflection.
Fear itself is hardly the enemy. Fear is, in fact, an excellent indicator of where we are and what we believe to be true. It is too much to watch it at work sometimes. It’s uncomfortable to see the fear escaping our lips, reverberating in the space between us. It is obscuring our view, and everything about our lives. And I am tired—and are you tired?
Every single day of our lives, we are sold “remedies”. We are sold all these urgent methods to disguise the fear. So many that we get confused. So many that our heads are spinning, and we can’t tell our own thoughts from those that are coming from outside. You can’t see what you want to do. I can’t tell what I want to be, or care about. Wherever we go, TV and books and advertisements shout out what to do to conquer this fear, what to do to feel more alive. HOW to be good. How to be better. How to survive. How to stay in charge and inside of your body. How to feed and preserve your body. How to dress your body and sell it. How to succeed, leaving others behind in the dust.
These hows and how-tos are everywhere we look, in every place of retail, fitness, worship, and entertainment. These hows are flexible and glossy, know how to live, and keep getting all of our money. They tell us exactly what to buy, and where to buy it. They sound like promises and they look like lifelines. We are obsessed with them, because they are flawless and stylish, fitter and cleaner than us, highly curated, and frighteningly relevant. They are political. They do superior activism, think critically, have wonderful social lives, and they know how to organize. We see pictures of them on their backs in impossible, sun-filled locations. They succeed and prosper, while the rest of us are simply getting by. Just.
They look just like us; that’s the problem. These hows are extremely vulnerable when it pays to be, and tremendously private. Perhaps they bought the house you have always wanted, perhaps they have the partner of your dreams. They are saintly and sexy with hidden limits. They are oh so perfect, and of course, they are a lie.
These hows will evade you, and they are built to do so; to keep you on the outside looking in, impressionable and wanting. They are so loud and fast and distracting that it is impossible to keep up. Every so often you think you find a way into them, but in a matter of time, you are lost.
In a world so filled with voice, how to ever be sure of your own?
We are drowning in so many hows that we cannot find ourselves;
and when all we are told is that we do not know how,
all that we feel is weight.
Extract from The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself by Yrsa Daley-Ward (Penguin). Buy a copy here.
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