The River Can Wait

ontheroadtosimplicityUncategorized  February 20, 2020 1 Minute

And the solid, straight path eventually led to a small boat on a calm river. But, what lies beyond that cloud in the distance?

Solid ground. That’s my thing. Hands, and feet, in and on the earth. Rivers, lakes, streams, waterfalls, and the ocean are treasures for my imagination. But, when I’m actually IN the water, something significant changes. It’s like that dream of driving a car, from the backseat, with no brakes or steering wheel, and you’ve got kids depending on you. Usually I get through it, or the dream ends. 

But, this, well this is something else. Rowing a boat down a river would be heaven compared to the uncertainty we are facing now. Regardless of the challenges ahead, I know there is always a winged creature watching over me. An angel? Maybe. A fairy? Perhaps. A bird? Most likely. Somehow I think I would be more brave and comfortable flying through the air than floating on the water. Strange, huh? 

One day I will get in that boat and calmly start rowing toward the horizon. But, for now, the earth is my sanctuary, my sister, my reliable friend. She calls me when I don’t feel like working. She whispers in my ear, “You know you will feel better if you come outside and connect with me again.” The river can wait. 

Saying nothing, says a lot

Silence–the great healer.

For the third time since I was coerced into “joining” Facebook, I’m quitting. Probably not forever, but, for now. Because “now” is all we really have, I’ve decide to deepen the spiritual path that I’m on.

Of course, being in this haphazard quarantine has given us all time to reflect on what we truly need in order to live a meaningful life. What I need is MORE time alone, MORE time outside with the birds and the flowers and the trees, MORE fresh air and more time to reflect.

Facebook has its benefits, like staying connected with friends and family who are far away, or in their own versions of quarantine. It’s the politics that disturb me. It’s the reposting of hatred and disgust with others that gets into my heart and belly and pollutes my thoughts. Am I one of those empaths who has no filters? Or are my filters just clogged up with all the pain and suffering that flow like murky rivers through my consciousness? I don’t know. What I do know is it’s time for change, BIG change. Internal and external. Facebook is a muddled mess of distraction.

Call me weak, or self centered, or just head-in-the-sand-lazy. But you would misunderstand the purpose here. I want more discipline, more introspection, more growth. I guess I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to isolate. I do not take it for granted. I just want to make the most of this unique time in my life.

Because I am primarily a writer, this will be my outlet, for now.

Everyday changes. And Every Day changes.

I have been keeping a list of things that have changed since we’ve been staying home, avoiding exposure to the Coronavirus. I have divided my list into two categories: less and more.

Less: driving, spending, interacting, dirty clothes, using less toilet paper because we have to conserve what’s in the cabinet; less going and getting, less eating out, less frustration with rude people on the freeway, and less delight at watching other people’s children…

More: cooking and eating at home, waking up with the birds, quiet time in the back yard, creative bursts, more mindfulness in daily activities, more pictures of the natural world, more deep conversations with loved ones, more connection to others…remotely, more planning for a new, simpler normal life, and more sitting (unfortunately for my back and my active mind)…

Those are some of the everyday changes I’ve noticed in the last six weeks. Seems like such a long time, but it is just a blip in the larger scheme of things.

Then there is the fact that every single day things change: the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, who’s to blame for the virus in the first place, the plan (or lack, thereof) for finding a cure, the lates insane advice coming from the vast, vacant ether, stimulating how to stimulate the economy while helping the unemployed, how and where to get more testing and equipment, and developing a vaccine for this “invisible enemy,” not to mention the current president’s inability to think logically so that he says one thing and does the opposite, or the way the 24 hour news channels determine what the “BREAKING NEWS” will be for the day and then hammer away at it until the next big event. Every day the changes are momentous. Earth shattering. Almost too much to bear.

It feels like a whirlwind of chaos and confusion on top of a life-threatening situation that could leave half the population dead when all is said and done. And maybe that is not a bad thing.

There. I’ve said it. It is impossible to pay attention and not notice that this virus is most definitely connected to the overpopulation of certain parts of the planet and the over-production/over-consumption by the humans who inhabit certain parts of the planet. We have reached our maximum capacity for all that going and getting and living as if there is no such thing as too much and no such thing as tomorrow. The earth (and God?) have other plans.

In nature every day does change and that is what keeps life flowing and moving rather than becoming stagnant and life-less. As many wise folks have said, “The only thing constant is change.” Well, here we are. Big Change is staring us in the face.

So, those everyday changes I mentioned earlier will inevitably become the “new normal.” Either that or we will all die with our toilet paper and other “necessities” stuffed under our mattresses.

End of rant. I need some yoga now.

Why Haven’t I BeenWriting?

Every day I ask myself, “Why haven’t I been writing?” I’ve been home mostly. With this quarantine and the ever-present fear of “being infected,” I should have time to write. I know I have ideas and inspirations. In fact, it feels like I am inspired fairly constantly these days. So, why haven’t I been writing?

Well, I’ve been busy. Staying home for me does not mean sitting on the couch watching tv all day. For me, staying home means doing all those things I put on my New Year’s Intention list: read, write, practice more yoga, work in the yard, clean out closets, continue to downsize, organize, make more artsy stuff, cook more healthy food, etc. I have been doing all that, except the writing.

Maybe it’s because the actual process of writing requires me to sit still for good lengths of time. I like to move. I need to move. I begin to perish when I sit for more than an hour. So, I continue to do this, do that, do a little more until my body simply stops. Then I sit. And think of all the things I want to write about.

Guess I better keep my laptop handy for those brief moments of sitting, just in case….

Every day is a new day…to simplify

Finally, I have time to do all the things I’d planned to do “someday.” Finally, I can continue on my road to simplicity.

There’s that word again. Simplicity. I guess it took a pandemic to help me and thousands of others get to this point of renewed commitment to simplifying. Less running around, going and getting, planning and doing, meeting, greeting, comparing, commiserating, wishing, dreaming, wondering. More doing–cooking, sewing, gardening, reading, writing, yoga-ing. How about just be-ing?

I read a famous quote by Thoreau today that I thought might fit here. But, ironically, it was fairly complicated. He can be quite wordy, and, to my irritation, does not use gender neutral language. Here it is anyway:

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen…In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and the thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify. Simplify.”

As we know Thoreau did, indeed, simplify. He went to extremes to have less, do less and take up less space. Is the life he created at Walden Pond even possible any more? Is that our future?

Today's Image of Simplicity

Sleeping Baby

Being socially distant comes easier for some than others. I like being alone, mostly. I enjoy silence. I find crowds to be overwhelming, mostly. I figure, if this five day old baby can sleep peacefully in the middle of a field surrounded by humans with cell phones and cameras, then surely I can find that place in me that is calm and unaffected by all the chaos in this world.

Simplifying our thoughts is also a process.

Now what?

So, now I am staring into that vast open field toward the horizon, only waving grass and blue sky in front of me. It’s amazingly peaceful, yet also frightening to not know what is coming next. Writing, yes. Yoga, of course. Gardening, till it gets too cold. Traveling, yes, even when it gets too cold. We can always head south….

This reminds me vaguely of the time we decided eight years ago to close our mental health business, sell  what we could and get into that RV to explore some wide open spaces. What a journey that was! It brought us here, to this seeped-in-history, magical town filled with old people and oblivious college students. It’s been a good place to live and I am not done with it yet. There is still more to see and learn here. I am at a junction, sort of like the heart chakra, between the lower and upper chakras. A place to stop and process before moving on.

A coworker made an unexpectedly profound statement when I told him I was leaving. “You know, there is a great big world out there.” I knew that, of course, but this statement came from a guy who never really understood me, or so I thought. Guidance and inspiration come from surprising places sometimes. Am I ready to start walking into that field?

Field of Possibilities

Originally written on October 10, 2019. Updated, January 2, 2020

To the tree? Or to the hills? Or to the horizon?

Two and a half months ago I finally did it. I quit my job as a therapist/yoga instructor. Unlike the “old-timers,” I had only been there for five years. It took that long for the ones who were waiting to retire to accept me as someone who might just have something of value to share. I worked hard to create a yoga program for patients. It was somewhat successful for a while. I attempted, several times, to create a similar program for staff, but to no avail. “We can’t provide something for free here when staff can go across the street and pay for it there.” Huh?

But I carried on, teaching and learning, connecting and disconnecting. I could’ve stayed for another 10 years but realized that there were too many road blocks, too many excuses and too much stuck in the past behaviors. I could’ve continued with the intention to simply ignore all the dysfunction in the system and focus on helping the patients. I could’ve. Maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t.

Working in a psychiatric hospital is not easy, for anyone. You have to be tough and tender at the same time. You have to know your boundaries and be able to play games without sacrificing your personal safety. You have to make friends with mental illness. You learn to observe pain and suffering from a very close distance, but you can’t let yourself fall into the traps that are set all around you.

I tried to push through all the negativity and sense of going nowhere. After five years, the worst thing was that there was no safe space for me to gather the parts of myself that became scattered around the hallways and group rooms every time I was there. Like the patients, I couldn’t breathe inside those buildings. I needed a “fresh air break.” 

I made the decision several months before I actually made the announcement. It was a graceful exit with some tears and many promises to “stay in touch.” I loaded my car with tubs of art supplies and handouts and books on yoga and mindfulness and creativity and trauma. I left with all the evidence of my time there in the back of my car. I hoped that the patients who had become part of my life would remember one small thing that I taught them, and that that one small thing might make a difference in their recovery. I left them with part of my spirit infused into theirs. I hope I did anyway.

The day after I left, the air outside changed. A fresh, cool wind came in from the north, bending the trees, breaking small branches and blowing dead leaves off, and filling my lungs with new life. I sat on the deck, just breathing, and feeling the soft sensation of new air on my skin. It felt like transition.

Simplicity, Revisited

Simplicity. In the seven years since I started this blog, I have concluded that:

1. Simplicity is not a place. It is a mindset.

2. Simplicity appears, then disappears.

3. It is worth finding again and again.

I’ve been missing this theme. We are no longer “on the road,” and because we are settled and grounded in a “real” house, with a “real” yard with “real” responsibilities, simplicity has eluded me. Five years ago, I went to work, started making money, felt my ego grow, and allowed myself to become attached. While that was happening, the clutter grew, both in the physical world and in my head. One day I realized I had abandoned “the road to simplicity.”

After traveling around this country, living the free and easy vagabond life, I needed some grounding. It started off fine. Go to work, teach yoga and creativity, listen to life’s many complications and tragedies, empathize and process. Come home, work in the yard, cook food, eat and sleep. It started out simple. Then the road made a hard left turn and I lost my way.

I enjoy my work, mostly. I have been told that I bring unique skills to my job. I am allowed a broad range of possibilities. Yet, there is congestion, and confusion, and conflict. Some days I feel as if I am navigating a boat through an endless field of sticky mud. And the demons hover in the corners with their sarcastic grins, waiting for me to give up.

Last week I did, almost, give up. It felt like the time to walk away, take my toys and go home. I did, quietly, but with the intention of maybe going back. It hurt to imagine life without meaningful work. It was frightening to see an open field of tall grass in front of me. No obstacles, no demons, just grass and sky.

I’m still looking into that field, waiting for my courage to catch up with me. It’s time for this new perspective. It’s time again to simplify.

Expanding and Contracting

Something happens when a loved one dies. Those who are left either wake up or go deeper to sleep. I woke up, again. I realized that, in honor of my mother’s life as a passionate writer, I need to get serious about my own writing. She always encouraged me, even when she disagreed with what I was writing about. Writing has been my therapy longer than anything else, even yoga or gardening. It has been the solid rock that my “self” is built upon. Sometimes it looks like a messy purge; other times it is an eloquent and other-worldly expression of my feelings. I could go on, of course, but I won’t.

The point is this: From now on, I want to make a difference with “my writing.” It is said that a writer should “write what they know.” What I know for sure, is that life is unpredictable, there is pain and suffering, and there is also unexplainable beauty everywhere. I also know about yoga, meditation, and creativity. I guess I could say I know a little bit about gardening too. These things come naturally to me and are my “side therapies.” So, that is what I will write about now.

This means the “road to simplicity” has served its purpose. It was a six year chronicle of an adventure that brought me to this place of pure focus. I had so many highlights and insights along the way. I would not change a single minute of that journey. And I will do it again, one day. But, recently, I found myself at an intersection–the past, the future, and everything in between, staring me in the face. I looked out and saw the expanse in all directions. I closed my eyes and felt the minute details of my life inside me. I knew it was time to be still and simply write.

At some point, when I figure out how to save the “good stuff” from this blog, I will shut it down. But I am already building another, more educational, perhaps inspirational series of articles that I hope will help someone else dig deeper and find the parts of themselves that are waiting to be expressed. The journey is not over. It is never over. I’m just pausing to integrate, fine tune, look back and forward, expand and contract. 

My new blog is called Mind, Body, Spirit Connections. I hope you’ll join me.