the bookendsI was struck with the sheer irony of my life today. I had a mirror thought to a thought I had around this time last year, and realized how remarkable a year it had been and how I really had come to a book end- one of those perfect dual moments.
Last year, I had just retired from my short career of teaching high school and was crossing the corner of 5th and Pike to catch my bus. Suddenly, I heard some of my own thoughts and remember remarking that it was really the first time in 3 years that I had actually heard myself think. My life was finally quiet enough to hear my inner dialogue.
Sadly, I only really distinctly remember that my thoughts were terribly ugly, self-deprecating, and toxic. I was oppressed by thick boughs of guilt, shame, despair, isolation, hardness, and judgment. This disgusted me even further...that my only real inner thoughts in three years would be so unlovely. I thought I hated my life, but what I really hated was myself. This thought, this single cognition, made me decide to being attending therapy.
I had many, many more thoughts after this, a year of thoughts, actually – and today was the first day that I metacognated about my thought life again...and my thoughts were kind, philanthropic, soft, challenging, self-accepting, and rich. The sharp contrast immediately stabbed my tear ducts, and I inwardly jolted....so this is what joy means. I had no idea...no idea at all. Joy is something embroidered on a pillow or trumpeted from angels, nothing for me. But it’s true – I feel deeply inspired, romanced with life, and satisfied to be me. I asked myself what could possibly have happened in one measly year to mark such a stark contrast. It can be summed up in one hyphenated adage: self-care. These are my musings: pardon the list form.
•Counseling. Despite what is/isn’t dealt with in my sessions, I now have a platform by which to be heard – and I don’t mean by my supportive friends and family. I mean I now have room to be heard BY ME. In all of this extra space, I was forced to stop repressing and imploding, and thereby eased my soul into the work that would face me in the year.
•I started really examining/observing myself socially, becoming aware of my community and influences, and how I interacted with those. This year I came to realize that I needed a lot more alone time than I was giving myself. In addition, the people in whom I was investing beyond appropriate boundaries were not the people I was inspired to love – they were the people I felt a compulsion to save.
•I started taking care of my physical body. I started weight watchers, but I discovered much more about myself through the process of loosing weight than I thought. I became interested in wholistic healing, organic living, and treating my physical body well in the hopes my mind would follow. It feels good to have gumption about my body.
•I stopped going to church and started my religious life. The not going to church really made me examine my spiritual intake. I started relying more on my entire week to provide the sacred – not just Sunday. Thomas Moore indicates that we should view our lives with imagination and try to incorporate our daily habits/errands/events into something spiritual and sacred. In this, none of my behaviors changed...but my focus during those behaviors changed. Instead of a nightly bath because I was cold and my body was stressed, I continued to take those baths and focused my mind on letting the ritual (much like a ritual of praying before a meal or any other religious behavior) become a time of spiritual refocus and rebirth....to mediate, to quiet my mind, to be alone with the divine. Taking the mundane daily living into the sacred realm has been an exercise of the mind, but one that has enriched my life immensely. I can now see a future of recovery from “church” wounds and attempt to walk into another church full of life already...with no pressure or expectations placed on that community.
•I read Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. This book opened my eyes to the beautiful shadow inside. I have constantly had a melancholic side, and instead of suppressing and feeling ashamed about this, Thomas Moore gave me practical and challenging paradigms to put my “shadow” at rest.
He explains that humans have seasons, just like the earth. We have times of death (fall) and rebirth (spring), hot (summer) and cold (winter). If when our shadow comes around (our “death” season, our “fall”) we immediately hide from it, suppress it, and torture ourselves for having it...this season will PUSH itself on us in its natural course - it MUST be recognized. Just like the autumn, it will come whether or not we “will” it away. It is a naturally occurring pattern of the earth, just like our personal seasons of death are also naturally occurring. Many people have chosen to medicate through this pattern (and many really need the medication) but if we continue to run from our shadow, it will continue to PUSH on us – thus elongating a season of darkness for torturous amounts of time. Instead, once we sense our shadow surfacing, we should instead embrace it through that which feeds our soul - for me...arts, theatre, journaling, spiritual meditation, catharsis. Thus, taking care of our “shadow,” nurturing it when it comes around, engaging it so that we can understand ourselves wholistically, to really examine what might be “wrong," alleviates the elongated periods of unnatural depression. It’s a strange concept, some might call it self-indulgent, but I have termed it self-acceptance – to look at onseelf with an honest eye, embrace even the worst of toxins, engage them, ask them why they are present, and ALLOWING yourself to just be YOU. Once that happens, it’s amazing the beautiful rebirth that happens towards you and others you love.
•The confines of self-definition. Once I was aware of and embracing the aforementioned self-care, I came to another journey. I realized how staunchly and unfairly I was attacking creative impulse in my life. If I tried to paint or write, I hated it and defeated myself. I was so painstakingly trying to define and qualify art for myself that I didn’t let the natural impulses just take on their own life. This is a rather new revelation, and I am still very much processing it, but I have recently painted something that I was surprised to discover that I liked...and this did my soul so much healing.
Warning: homily to follow:
Pardon me if you have known me this past year and I have been stuffing self-care down your throat – but it’s just like a good wine, when you find one that changes your life, you must share. In all honesty, I have seen immensely beneficial trickle down effect from this philosophy and I will continue to preach it.
It is not possible to be a woman, to be what we were created to be, unless we start learning the benefit of self-nurturing and demanding time for empty, creative space by which to recharge and restore.
Thus my year has two perfect book ends – I have observed my seasons well.