It’s been a tough month, one of those squeeze points in which life throws a number of curveballs. I can juggle like the best of them and am reasonably adept at managing the difficulties that hit from time to time. It’s hard, though, when they come all at once. Without offering too much information, the recent wave falls into the arenas of health (two recent surgeries) and personal crises (let’s not go there). Either would be challenging. But in the span of a few weeks it has been a lot to navigate.
Over the past few days I have conducted something of an internal review since I have needed to strengthen my foundation, engaging in grounding and extra care.
I remember a time when my notion of self-care involved getting a good massage or enjoying a meal in a favorite restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m first in line for either of those things. (As a matter of fact, I’d take both of them today, thank you). They just don’t cut the long term mustard when it comes to the bedrock I need to keep on keeping on.
During a time of trial like this one, I go through something of a check list and it’s not frivolous – it feels like a choice between what is life giving or death dealing. Eating well? Check. Sleeping, at least as best as possible? Check. Therapy? Nah, it’s been wonderful and helpful in the past, but it’s not needed now. Meditation and exercise all in good order? Check.
I get up early and have a steady morning routine. I made a commitment to a daily set of spiritual practices about a decade ago and although it shifts through the seasons in a sweet sort of rhythm, it also has a consistency about it. I’ll start with a period of meditation, prayer and two readings, one from a beautiful almanac given to me by a dear friend, and one online by a spiritual writer I’ve come to cherish. Sometimes it’s also just sitting there looking out the window at the dogwood branches nodding in the breeze. After sitting, a long walk each morning, so by the time the world is waking up, I’ve had a couple of centering hours to ease into the day.
Early on these practices brought a pink cloud and a fervor that I sought to ‘helpfully’ offer to those around me. I cringe at remembering how I’d yap about it to anyone who might listen. (Passion and a desire to share with others? Check. A hearty dash of ego? Check, check, check).
Looking back, I think I was seeking something of a mystical bliss train, hoping to find the magic bullet that might make everything turn out alright. Over the years, though, the morning hours have become the not-to-be-compromised foundation on which the rest of life sits, there to support these times when the going gets tough.
A friend of mine once told me that she asked our mutual mentor if he had a daily spiritual practice. He told her, Yes, I do. Every day I try to be honest with myself. At the time, I thought, what? That’s all? Now I’m smiling, as I realize how challenging that really is.
In the midst of this time of reflection and mindful attention, if I’m going be honest with myself, I fall into a couple of serious and consistent traps that are just below the surface and pretty much always there.
One is that of being afraid of losing a loved one. Although it isn’t unfounded, it also isn’t very helpful. How many teachers through the millennia have addressed the negative consequences of living in fear?
The other trap is that of sliding into a mode of if only, or if I just. It’s related to that first one, surely; somewhere along the lines, I got the idea that if I (fill in the blank) then I’ll find a solution to whatever is ailing (fill in the blank). It may not sound like a revelation, but there are serious flaws in that very human logic. Really: I’ve got it figured out? The lives of those around me depend on my management? I control the outcome? Seemingly one small deception and yet the layers of missing the point are staggering.
So where do I go from here? As I continue with that checklist, am I leaning on my husband? On good friends? Maybe a pastor friend or two? Check, absolutely. But too much of that is – well, too much. I don’t want to be that girl who goes on and on about the trials of her life to the exhaustion of her loved ones. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t important to be vulnerable and yet there is a fine line between sharing and bending the ears of those close in.
Navigate life’s changes
with the support
of a circle of trust
Journeying with Grace
through Seasons of Transition
January 11-13, 2018
Van Etten, New York
During this time of deep difficulty, I come all the way back to what I already knew all along. We are not entitled to a particular outcome and sometimes things are hard. One of the most vital, life giving things I can do – for myself, for my health, and ultimately for my family, community, and the world, is to return, again, to a circle of trust. I’ve got monthly gatherings of folks and some upcoming retreats to look forward to, although even the word retreat doesn’t fully capture just what that powerful experience is and can be.
I need to follow that Mobius strip and sink into some wayfinding, tracing the threads that take me into solitude, alone with others, deep into my interior, where the noise settles. There in that quiet, I can finally hear my heart speaking. It isn’t an extra or something nice, it’s something I need as badly as air and water. And as much as I appreciate that daily morning practice, the quality of silence is different somehow when there are others in the room with me. There is solace there which is hard to capture in words.
After I gain some access to what lies within, it helps tremendously to have kindred souls to ask me some honest and open questions – those questions that might eventually lead to clarity, insight, or simply, a moment of peace in which I can nod and acknowledge – yeah, this is a tough one. I’ve been here before and I’ll move through it again. But here in the midst of this quandary, what lessons are waiting for me? What new perceptions and discernments is this time meant to bring?
Then, there is the looping back out to take the learnings from that time into the world since this work has never been about navel gazing – it’s about taking a deep breath and returning to the world of family, community, work – to what needs to be done out there. Roll up my sleeves and dive back in (for what else is there to do?) only now, renewed, and with some ballast under my feet.
At the end of the day, the circle of trust is the most tried and true outlet I’ve got for moving through these challenging times. It’s on my list to seek out next. A massage might be nice, but sitting in a circle is more lasting. I’ll feel the positive effects of it for months.
And it may sound over-simplified, but in the words of a friend and mentor, this shit really works.
Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a Courage & Renewal facilitator and a university horticulture educator, who has devoted most of her professional time to bringing people and plants together, whether students in the classroom, online learners around the world, or community members from New York to Belize. The recipient of national teaching and writing awards, she presents internationally and has authored numerous publications, book chapters, articles, and recently, a book of poetry – So Much Beauty.