What do I mean by element?
Sir Ken Robinson wrote a book on it. Being in our elements is doing the thing we’re meant to do, the thing that deeply satisfies us, the thing we’re naturally good at, the thing that stirs our souls and that we simply can’t live without.
For Adrian Peterson—see last week’s post—his element is running. For Eminem, it’s laying poetic rhymes over a beat. For Dave Chappelle, comedy. A dog prancing through a muddy field is in their element. Well, at least that applies to my dog, Cooper.
On our walk through the park today, the conditions were just right for Coop. Heavy winds gusted across the field. Little kids were scattered everywhere, walking home from school. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. The snow glistened. And there were brief stretches of hilly, hardened grass for him to gallop on.
When I bring Cooper to the park and let him loose, he’s in his bliss. He can use his top-gun speed to fetch a ball, or his agility to run circles around me as he chomps on my leather glove, or he can roll around on the ground, digging his nose and paws beneath the cold snow.
At the park, Cooper’s fully engaged. With a glint in his eye and his tongue hanging out, he bolts toward anything or anyone that comes onto his radar; laughing kids, strewn paper bags. I can barely hold his attention.
But when I don’t take him there, he’s out of his element. He’s not engaged. He can’t run with reckless abandon. Which means he’s moping around at home. He’s sleeping way too much—nap after nap after nap. That gets old for Coop. Eventually he gets restless, dejected, bored. He yearns for the park. He’ll lie down and block the front door, his way of protesting—if anybody leaves the house, they’ll have to take me with them.
This may sound silly, but I’ve felt that way for years—when I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was lost. I’d sleep a lot—life seemed boring, so why not sleep? I was melancholic for most of my life. I hated school, and I didn’t know why. I resented normalcy and conformity, and I didn’t know why. Aside from the occasional pleasures and highs, life seemed deeply unsatisfactory.
And when I did get glimpses of my heart’s desires—which were of a “creative” and “artistic” nature—I’d refuse to take them to the park and set them free (let alone everyday!) I’d make excuses; there’s no money in that shit. I’d keep my dreams bottled inside, where they rotted away without any sunlight, oxygen, or intimate care.
Now, after I’ve listened to those faint, creative impulses, every moment of my life is just a lead-up to when I’m back at my desk writing and reading, just as every minute trapped at home for Coop is just dead time till’ he’s once again racing through an open field.
My soul’s hunger to be creative is like Cooper’s hunger for the park. And if he and I don’t get time to be in our elements, we suffer. We become destructive—cooper looks for shoes to masticate, I become self-loathing.
Maybe that’s why blocked artists live with so many nasty symptoms—depression, anxiety, apathy, listlessness, aimless longing, to name a few. A solution might be to unblock that pent up creative energy and let it flow. It sure worked for me.
All too often, though, we medicate these telling symptoms by, say, flooding our brains with higher levels of Serotonin, before we understand the symptoms. “Why am I having this malady?” That’s the question we should really be asking ourselves, not “how can I blot this out this in the short-term?”
To improve your dog’s wellbeing, try to understand her whimpers, restlessness, and lethargy. They’ll give you hints about what her true needs are. Let your pooch go for daily runs till’ she’s out of breath. Take her on forest hikes, walk her through the city streets, and see if she’s still a lazy, mopey dog.
Likewise, listen to your own soul’s grumbles before trying to prematurely remove the symptoms. They’re a good indication of what’s wrong with your life, what changes need to be made. Then have the courage and faith to make those changes. Let yourself engage everyday with the thing you love, and see if you’re still moaning and groaning. Chances are, you won’t be.
Because you’re in your element.