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.

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Self-Awareness and Depression

I am depressed.

It’s not the first time depression has come to roost in my head and in my heart. My first spell was in middle school, as I struggled with glasses, braces, a perm, and being the smartest kid in class. The second time was in college, when I was being called into a more spiritual life but didn’t have the understanding of what was going on. I just knew that traditional schooling and I were not getting along, and I let things get quite bad before I sought help. It’s come back a few times since then, as well. Usually it was tied to my attempts at going back to school. I suspect there is a message there, but I’m still not sure I’m ready to hear it.

Now that I’ve totally upended my life, I knew there would be a “change hangover.” A person can only take so much. So I tried to take my time and make sure I was taking care of myself. But as the months drag on, I think it’s time to face the music and call a spade a spade. My depression is back.

My energy level is abysmal. I struggle to keep my fires lit to make it through the workday. On weekends I am both restless and exhausted. I could stay in bed forever. As I try to get a handle on the new job, consider returning to school in the spring, and feel called to learn ceramics, I have no idea how I can muster up energy for it all.

My resilience is also shot. Any piece of bad news or a misunderstanding between Neal and I throws me for a loop. Instead of it taking minutes or hours to recover, it takes days.

And poor Neal doesn’t get the best of me. He gets used up me, at the end of the day, and the end of the week. We’re still trying to get our communication styles aligned and it’s been a bumpy road. It doesn’t mean we love each other less. But I certainly don’t feel very lovable or loving.

This time around, I have more tools in my toolbox. I am self-aware and spiritually connected. But it is still very much a struggle. No one would know from looking at me, I’m very good at keeping up my “everything’s fine” mask. (Perhaps with the exception of being at home with Neal, then it slips.) But beneath the surface, there is a very surreal, dramatic, exhausting battle taking place. Most of the time it’s just a steep uphill slog against exhaustion and a gray demeanor. But when it’s bad, it’s bad. Adapted from my journal:

I am close to the edge of despair.

This is how depression works. This is how the illness feels.

I want to RUN. I want to NUMB this pain so BADLY. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I don’t want to feel at all.

I hate feeling helpless, but I know I’m not. I know I am strong, and that I have support.

I wish I drank.

I’m thankful I don’t drink.

I wish I could turn this emotional pain into physical pain, then it might be more bearable.

I’m thankful that I’m too squeamish to hurt myself.

I wish I could give up.

I’m thankful that I’m too stubborn to give up.

Right now I am just trying to accept that it is what is. And I pray, asking my Spirits for help. And I wrestle with how to talk about this with the people I care about, and who care about me. And I mull over whether it’s time to see a professional. One day at a time, I’m making my way. I’m thankful for the little edge that self-awareness gives me.

A Creature of Habit

I took a week off between jobs, to get my car serviced, my hair cut, and have a bit of fun besides. I’ve driven past Tamarack plenty of times, but always when in serious travel mode, so I never actually took the time to check it out. I did so in my downtime, and it’s really cool! It’s like a giant handmade in WV gift store. Some things are pricey (especially textiles and fine art), but lots of things are still affordable. I did the most damage in the book section (books about WV and/or written by West Virginians) and the WV food and drink section (locally made mead, score!). Their cafe also has yummy and affordable food for those on the road and tired of fast food.

A different day I found a cute little clothing store that is close to home, carries my size, and is affordable, a Holy Grail in this rural state. It was a nice little break from routine.

I’ve just finished up my first week at my new job. It may sound like I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but the place is awesome! The perks I’m most enjoying and/or looking forward to are: no snack machine in my building (low willpower); a pretty, walkable, treed campus; the library; the fitness center (exercise equipment and yoga classes); the meditation chapel (24/7 quiet time, and a local Quaker Meeting uses this twice a month, I might check them out); the shorter commute; awesome paid time off; and the tuition waiver. As far as the actual work goes, it’s totally doable. I think I’ll blow their minds with my Excel skills (which I promise are only average, but I’m replacing someone who had NONE). I still have to learn the ropes though, figure out what needs doing when, and how. Overall I’m still geeked, and it all compensates for the underwhelming salary.

Having broken routine for a week, and still learning what my new one will be, my writing has gone by the wayside a bit. Once I get some more miles under my belt and figure out the new normal, I’ll be back to cranking out posts!

Walking the Talk

When I moved from Michigan to West Virginia I knew that I’d be taking a hit to my paycheck. They have different economies with different costs of living, and I’d be starting over with a new employer. (I was with my previous one for 11.5 years.) Since I knew I’d be sharing expenses and I had a cushion of savings, I still went for it.

It took me about 5 weeks to get settled: move, unpack, get all my paperwork and personal information updated, and take care of myself so I didn’t freak out while navigating huge change. I did some long distance job hunting before the move, but after I was settled I could dig into it much more deeply. I landed a temp job that paid $10 an hour less than I made previously and was over an hour away. But it was income, so I took it, and kept looking for something better. That’s when the Universe decided to see if I would put my money where my mouth is.

In the same way that a bad, or even just ill-fitting, romantic relationship helps you get very clear about your priorities, needs and wants in a partner; a bad or ill-fitting job lets you get crystal clear about what you are really looking for in an employer. I’ve had jobs where the work didn’t challenge me, the work wasn’t enough to fill my days, the coworkers were rude, and/or the culture clashed with my values. At this most recent temp job they struggle to keep me busy, some coworkers don’t understand professionalism and what constitutes a work-appropriate discussion, and the apathetic culture is hard for me to deal with. Plus the commute is hard on me, both paying for gas and spending all that time in the car.

Then, finally, 4 months later a prospect! I could be an administrative assistant for a department of a regional private university. It’s less than half the commute. It has great benefits including generous paid time off and tuition waiver (so, one class at a time, I could eventually get my degree). But the pay is low, lower even then the temp job.

I have said that pay wasn’t the most important thing about a job for me. It has to do with a good fit with the culture and feeling like I’m making a difference. And the Universe dished up a position that would be just the test for me to stick to those guns. And while my ego splutters pathetically about pay, the rest of me thinks it’s a great opportunity. Not only for the fringe benefits, but to be in a field that aligns with my values and to be part of a community where I can make new connections. So I went for it. I wrap up the temp job this week, have the next one off to take care of some personal business, then it’s yet another new chapter. It still feels scary and wobbly and risky. And I almost hope the pending application I have in for another job that pays twice doesn’t come to anything, because my conviction sea legs are tired. But we shall see what happens. I remain grateful for the opportunities that come and the intestinal fortitude to run with them!

Community and Support

When I was struck with the idea for this blog I did some mind mapping to get down all my initial thoughts and try to impose some order. As I worked in that medium, I realized it was going to be more challenging to talk about Leaping than Listening. I can identify things that brought me to the place in my life where I was able to take those Leaps, but that actual taking of the big step is still a bit mysterious!

One of the things that has made all the difference in my spiritual path as a whole and in my ability to take Leaps is having a support system and finding my community, my tribe. My strongest circles of support have come to me at different times and in different ways, but they have played a huge part in my development and well-being. Many factors go into a healthy community of supportive friends, and there is no one size fits all.

Even as an introvert, when times were tough I naturally sought out a community to help me through things. When I moved to Michigan I had my partner at the time and coworkers and that was it. It didn’t feel like enough, especially when it came to spirituality. I ended up trying out Unitarian Universalism on for size. While the local church was great, it still wasn’t the right fit for me. Part of that was because I found out that I work much better in smaller groups than in large ones.

Through that church I got involved with classes and small discussion groups, and from there my Women’s Spirituality Group was born. We met monthly for years, discussing whatever spiritual topic was of interest, with leadership that rotated based on desire. Membership was mostly steady but with some changes over time, one of the more recent ones being my leaving due to moving to WV. That core group of women with common interests helped me grow into who I am today, and their encouragement and support on my journey enabled me to tackle the scary stuff, like leaps of faith. Along with my shamanic apprenticeship group and my (spiritual and secular) friends, that small group formed my network, my council fire, my tribe.

Two of the small groups out of the three mentioned above were rather intentionally sought on my part, and intentionally created by their founders. But accidental circles shouldn’t be discounted either. Over the years I have gathered a small but close group of friends. Not all of them are shamanic practitioners or pagans, or even spiritual. But they understand that I am, that it’s important to me, and since they value me as a person, they value my path and experiences.

Even my forays into shamanic practices revealed another layer of community and support. Through my journeywork I was formally introduced to and able to clearly work with my Helping Spirits. Some are messengers there for a specific healing or teaching, but others are around for the long haul, as close to me as any physical person. That deep sense of faith, of Spirit having my back, was a profound learning for me, and I’m so grateful for it.

One thing that didn’t matter much to me was form. How the groups got together and all the other logistics weren’t necessarily as important as their presence. I have done small group work in people’s homes and in Google Hangouts. Groups that meet in person still stay in touch between meetings via email, text, and Facebook groups. Since I’ve moved to WV, the physical distance between me and almost all of my support network has increased, but through the wonders of technology, if I’m struggling I still have those friends to turn to. And they can still turn to me.

Experiment with what community looks and feels like to you. How are you supported? If you don’t feel well supported on your personal path, what steps can you take to change that? If you are willing to try a few groups on for a bit, I think you’ll find the Universe will meet you halfway with a circle that can be your tribe and chosen family.

As for me, I’m still leaning a bit on the technology. I have a great partner, and I’m keeping my eyes out for like-minded folk in my new home state. We shall see what comes!

Take It Easy

It’s a saying that we teach what we need to learn. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a teacher, but I can tell you this post covers topics that still really challenge me.

When you set out to accomplish a goal or walk a particular path, it’s a fact of life that you will encounter obstacles and take some missteps. When this occurs, it’s entirely unhelpful to panic or berate yourself. However, for a lot of us these reactions are solidly entrenched. Here are some practices that can help us break free of those habits and nagivate life with more peace.

  • Self-Compassion – We all make mistakes. And then a good portion of us rehash our mistakes, berate ourselves for making them, crucify ourselves on the altars of If Only, Should Have, What If, and sometimes even I Suck. I know that I am harder on myself than I am on anyone else. In a recent ecourse, when Brene Brown proposed only talking to ourselves in the same way we would talk to someone we loved, it really hit home. My gremlins still speak up often when I make mistakes, and sometimes it just seems easier to give in, but I am able to come around faster and faster to the idea that I am human, and imperfect, and that’s ok. It doesn’t reflect one whit on my worth. (It also doesn’t mean I won’t try better next time.) Show yourself the compassion you would show your loved ones!
  • Patience – We are a hurry up, I need it right now, why is this taking so long culture. But often times, whether it’s waiting on the weather or bureaucratic wheels to turn, some things just take time. You can’t push a river. While striving is definitely important, leave a little space in your plans for the Universe to meet you half-way. Watch how you are spending your time and energy; there will be a point of diminishing returns. That’s where you need to adjust your expectations and actions. Adapt to and embrace what is. Focus a bit less on the future and more on the now, and let your new patient attitude reward you with a bit of down-time. Patience is not one of my strong suits, but this sweet little book cracked me open and let a bit of patience in.
  • Non-Attachment – I am a planner, born and raised. Family vacations growing up were more like field trips, probably because my parents were both school teachers. This means they were educational, which was fine, but also that they came with a strict itinerary. If something unexpected came up (and it always did), it didn’t just mean we had to deal with that event, it meant that we were off schedule (cue gasp of dismay). Now I’m an adult, but when I plan my own travel, there is still an itinerary. However, I consider it a sign of spiritual growth that I only break the days down into morning, afternoon and evening, and I leave chunks of unscheduled time. The most important thing I’ve learned about planning isn’t Microsoft Excel (although I use it for almost everything!), it’s to make the plan, but don’t get attached to it. Know what the expect, and also that the Universe is likely to throw you a curveball, and that’s ok too.

These aren’t so much lofty goals as they are practices. That means you practice, you mess up, you try again. Sure, I am still hard on myself, impatient, and tend to freak out when things don’t go the way I had hoped, but I’ve come a long way. If I can do it, anyone can. It just takes practice.

Striking a Balance

Listening and Leaping do not happen in a vacuum. Everyday life doesn’t stop for us to figure things out or make changes (though I often wish it did!). There are some practices that we can weave into our day to day to complement and support our spiritual paths and the changes flowing through our lives. Here are a few:

  • Humor – Laughter is a great outlet for many things, and lightens what can be a heavy process. Maintain a sense of humor around your life path. Things will do awry, embrace the surprises with laughter! I know that can be easier said than done, so if it’s not coming to you naturally, seek it out. Hang out with people that make you laugh. Watch comedy. Surround yourself with adorable baby animals. Whatever works!
  • Rest – The surest way to turn me into a grump is to short me on sleep. Long gone are my college days when I could get by on 4 hours of sleep, or less. For me, 7 is the minimum, 8 is better, and on the weekends I can sleep in for 10 hours. It’s just what I need. Being well-rested gives me a foundation of emotional stability to let me better handle whatever comes. Give up the glorification of busy. Feed your brain sleep.
  • Play – This is one of the tips that I really need to embrace more myself. As “grown-ups,” many of us have become disconnected from the idea of play. Dr. Stuart Brown has done some great research about why that disconnect is harming us. For me, the one activity that really fits the concept of play is spending time with horses. I rode horses from the age of 10 through 18, and from there fell away from it. It was never about competing, I never entered a single show. But I would sweep that barn from one end to the other and muck stalls until my arms fell off. I did it purely for love and joy. And I miss it. Now that I’m living a more rural life, I hope to find a way to add horses back to my life. What do you do strictly because you love it? Are you getting enough of it?

(Yeah, I kinda have a thing for bullets…)