Retrospective Revelations

I’m not sure if it’s because of all the change I’ve been through in the past 18 months, or if it’s because I work with college students, but lately my introspection has been mixed with a sizable dose of retrospection. I’m looking in and looking back, at who I’ve been, what I’ve done, and how I’ve grown and changed. None of it is bad, though not all of it is good either. Mainly what strikes me is how unplanned so much of it was, and is, and how malleable my ideas for the future still are.

Right now a couple of things are really coming home to roost. Seeing those college students, I think of myself when I was that age. Everything that I thought was important then, isn’t important to me anymore. Some of the things that are important to me now, I couldn’t even fathom then!

Even the me of today has shifted priorities and plans compared to the me of just a few months ago. The book Hippie Homesteaders is partially to blame; I picked it up on my Tamarack trip because I wanted to know about my people (hippie non-natives) in my new home state. It is a marvelous book that weaves together individual stories to really examine the back to the land movement in the 1960s. It also opened my eyes about what is really possible when you choose a principled lifestyle as the impetus for your life.

I’ve recently found that my thinking about the future has shifted from what I want to DO with my life, to how I want my life to BE. On a daily basis; on an annual basis. I was thinking a lot about what to major in, now that my work affords me free tuition and I can finally get my degree. That I could focus on Environmental Studies, with a side of Sociology, Political Science, and Appalachian Studies. But where does that lead? To work that I could believe in, yes, but that has me in an office still, from 9 to 5 or maybe longer, or out in the field busting my butt in all conditions, probably for pay not much better than I make now.

Now I think it’d be nice to take up ceramics, to make something with my hands out of the Earth and offer it to the world.  It’d be nice to have some land, with woods and a log home and cats and a dog, and with fields to hold gardens and orchards, horses and goats and chickens and bees. To spend my days tending the animals, plying my craft, selling my wares online and through local shops. To have time and energy for my partner and tend the land with him. A daily rhythm as soothing and regular and meditative as the spinning of the pottery wheel. To have my year to tied more to the land and the seasons, punctuated with occasional trips, for leisure and study and work.

Some of this is a bit outlandish, I know. I haven’t touched clay since middle school, though I intend to enroll in a local class next month. But the inspiration has struck. My dreams are more earthy, humble, simple. I’m not sure what this means; perhaps that I no longer have anything to prove, to my parents, or my partner, or myself. But it feels good. I’m not ruling out college, just back in pondering mode. And I’m excited to get my hands in the mud and play.

Practical Preparations

Through your Listening practices and your dreaming, eventually that vague sense of impending change will start to crystallize into specifics. Once that occurs, the time for unplanning shifts into the time for the more traditional sort of planning activities.

Ok, I’ll admit that I find research rather comforting. When faced with the unknown, I try to research it into becoming the known. While others might not find this as soothing as I do, it’s still a good way to prepare for a Leap. Gather all the information, spend time with it, sort through it. Balance it with your gut when making decisions. A well-informed Leap is a little less scary than a blind one!

Most big changes will require some kind of logistics. I found it very helpful to break things down into smaller steps. As a whole, making a drastic life change is freaking intimidating. Breaking it into steps and sub-steps made me feel like I could tackle it. The truth is I’m sure I could handle it either way, but making it feel manageable means less energy wasted on anxiety. Action steps, a timeline or calendar, and a sense of your expenses all go into formalizing your plan.

Speaking of expenses; time to get comfortable with the idea of parting ways with some cash. Be smart about it! When I was looking at moving trucks, I was blown away by the difference in prices among the major companies, and that it directly tied to how close or far my destination was to one of their facilities. In the end I went with the middle option; I was willing to drive an extra 45 minutes to save hundreds. On the other hand, money is there to make things work for you, however you define that. When I was looking at my furnishings, to me it was worth buying new pieces from IKEA, moving them unassembled, and putting them together at the new place instead of wrestling with my large, mismatched, worn-out existing furniture. Sure it was a splurge of a few hundred dollars, but it made moving easier and it made the new place feel like way more of a home than my old place ever did.

Remember, plan, but don’t get too attached to the plan. Things will come up. Have confidence that the world doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle one way or another. And you can handle it. When our moving truck’s windshield washer fluid lines were frozen and Neal (who was driving the truck with the stuff while I was driving my car with the cats) couldn’t see, we had to get creative, with me positioning my car in front of the truck, using my windshield washer fluid, and him making use of the blowback to clean his windshield!

Unplanning

I am a planner, born and raised. I have used spreadsheets to determine what car to purchase, to organize party details and to plot a vacation itinerary. I like to know what my weekend will look like ahead of time, and if things change I tend towards grumpiness. As I have mentioned before, when it comes to spiritual matters, making sure you aren’t overly attached to your plan is a great help to your sanity. Because try as you might, these things have their own sense of timing.

That said, when you start to get the feeling that there is a Leap on your horizon, the sooner you mobilize the better. This might not look how you’d expect, however!

In my experience, things start off very nebulous. I had the vague feeling that change was coming for over a year before I got an inkling about just what that change might be. But I knew it would likely require me to make a Leap, because that is just how life works. At least for me. So I started to lay the very root of my foundation:

  • Accept and Embrace Change – If you are looking to make changes: to live more authentically, to add joy to your life, what-have-you; you are going to have to accept that your Leap will require actual change. It might seem obvious that change means change, but humans are deeply resistant to change and have an amazing capability to turn a blind eye when faced with something scary. The longer you spend with the idea that change is coming and it’s necessary for your goals, the more willing you will be to face the scary bits when they come. Change is a fact of life that is best surrendered to and embraced. It will make your pathway smoother and reduce stress.
  • Dream and Incubate – Dream about what this impending change might look like. Fantasize about it. Ground it in reality and maybe some fun research, but let your imagination go crazy. Listen to your heart and your soul and let them spin you a deeply sensory portrayal of your dream. Invest your hopes in it. Cradle it, nurture it, protect it. Be flexible, too. It’s OK to let it evolve, or to have a few different variations on a theme. This not only helps you keep your energy and inspiration going, but it lets Spirit know that you are serious and that you are ready for It to meet you half way. I’m not big on the Law of Attraction working in isolation – you can’t just dream and wait – but there is some truth to it when used in combination with more practical strategies!
  • Squirrel Medicine – Taking a Leap often leads to an interruption in the status quo, and a period where you develop a new normal and settle in. That can mean you have an interruption in income at the very time when you are running into unusual (and possibly higher than normal) expenses. Start squirreling away as much money as you can, as soon as you feel that a change is in your future. Look at your lifestyle and trim the fat where you can. Look at your expenses, are there some you can reduce in other ways, like paying off a car or credit card? You might even consider adjusting your retirement savings to have more cash in hand for a while (consult a professional). By the time that Leap comes, those funds will definitely come in handy.

For me, part of accepting change was talking about my feeling that something was coming with my support network. Not only were they able to empathize with the feeling, they were able to encourage my pursuit of the mystery of it, and weren’t surprised by things when they started to take shape. My dreams were a bit scattered and meandered over time, but I knew that I wanted to do work that aligned more closely with my values, I wanted to live in a rural environment that put me closer to real wilderness, and I wanted to create a deeply satisfying home life. (Two down, one still in progress!) Having a bit of a nest egg saved allowed me to pay off my car (eliminating that expense entirely), cover moving expenses, and pay my share of the bills while I looked for work, while not having to use credit cards or borrow from my retirement account.

These aren’t the whole picture, of course. Once things started to reveal their form and the pace accelerated, different tools were called into action. We’ll talk more about those next time!