As I worked from home full time when the pandemic hit, like most newly remote workers I carved out some geography in my home for my day job. My place is pretty small, but it’s beautiful and I love keeping it clutter (and paper if possible) free. I was juggling so much and didn’t want to cover the place with papers and printouts, so I applied a large white board adhesive poster to the wall right in front of my desk.
This poster (it was a actually more like half the size of my wall) replaced the one I’d used at my office. It allowed me to track “hot” situations that needed immediate attention, manage upcoming dates, meetings, projects and anything I needed to keep front and center. I already had 5 active Outlook calendars I was managing virtually, but as a ‘pen to paper’ person I also needed a way to prioritize in a way that I wouldn’t miss anything.
It worked great.
But when I retired from my position, I no longer wanted it there. I didn’t need it for personal use, it was literally there to help me focus on my day job. So I decided to remove it.
I tried first to pull from the sides and the corners, hoping not to leave a mark on my wall. But each time I peeled back a portion of the adhesive, the paint came with it. A few times I got frustrated and imagined I would just come back to it when I had more time.
Weeks later, and I don’t know what happened right before my decision to pull the whole damn thing off of the wall, but I went all in. Again, I started at the sides and the corners. But with no ability to protect the wall I ended up in one focused, physical and determined effort to remove the whole thing, paint and all.
So there the wall sat: Rough where bigger chips of the drywall also came out, oddly colored with only some of the paint coming off, no where to hide or way to be covered. I’d planned to get a painter in here to fix it.
But then something in me shifted as I received an insight about the metaphor of this wall, being something like myself. Something about pulling bandaids off slowly, and not wanting to leave damage reminded me of my own emotional journey. The cycle of returning to try and do it without leaving marks that needed repair, again and again, with no success also reminded me of trying to pull my personal adhesive covering off again and again, but abandoning my efforts because I couldn’t do it “cleanly” without leaving “marks” or removing my own “paint” which would then need repair.
As this shift occurred, I walked up to that white board poster adhesive and began to pull it down unabashedly. I no longer cared what was happening to the wall. I pulled and yanked and made a mess of the wall, and my floor, as I let go of the slow removal of the bandaids and just let it rip. It felt great. I threw it in the trash and all the work stress and challenges that went along with it.
But weeks later, that wall remained exposed (aka vulnerable) which looked terrible and was also in need of foundational, not just cosmetic, help. I moved from the idea of getting a contractor, and decided that fixing it myself might be a healthy exercise for several reasons.
First, I have no skill set when it comes to “DIY” anything. So I would have to do some research and learn a new skill. Second, I would need supplies: Spackle, paint, a sander and a drop cloth. Third, I’d need to take my time and fix it slowly over time instead of trying to get it all done at once and not doing the excellent job that I am committed to.
This began to remind me of when we pull off our emotional coverings, and I mean really pull them off in the sense that we can try to do it slowly for years, decades even, in a way that does not disturb the paint. We may pull back a corner of our emotional outer covering here or there, but when the paint comes with it, we abandon that project and go to the movies. Or have a drink. Or eat a cake.
We may come back to it many times, through therapy or self-reflection or chats with friends. Again, making small attempts to slowly remove it, but walking away when it seemed impossible to remove it without significant damage and the need for foundational and cosmetic repair.
But our spiritual journeys are not neat. We don’t get to pick and choose which corner of the covering we will remove and when. There is nothing easy or casual about exposing our foundations first to ourselves, and then others. Once removed, the wall, and “we” require intentional, patient and loving repair to restore what was damaged or lost.
This is a process of intentional commitment, going back and smoothing the edges, sanding the exposed wall until it becomes one with the surrounding walls once again. When we are really making emotional progress we know there is work to be done, but we also have a vision for what the future looks like: Perhaps a beautiful new wall that gets painted our favorite color, or maybe one that becomes so strong and integrated that no one but us knows it was ever in complete collapse.
Whether we are looking under the corners of our outer shell and running away because they look too destructive and overwhelming, or we are ripping the whole thing off to go “all in” on getting to the heart of the damage and repair, we need courage. We need humility. We need patience.
And we also may need to learn a new skill set. We may need supplies. We may need time. We certainly need courage. But it’s all ok. We can choose our own pace. But the critical component is that we don’t just keep writing on that whiteboard and pretending there aren’t major components of the underside that are also part of us.
The more we pile on to it, the harder it will be to remove it. When we inevitably pull it down ourselves, or the world takes it down when our child dies, our job ends, a fire destroys our home or a relationship ends what is there is there. Covering doesn’t make it not so. Our only true decision is whether we want to rip the thing down and get to the heart of the matter, or we want to go slowly and try to minimize the damage.