Thursday, December 1, 2011

A new chapter

It's been approximately 16 months since I last wrote - dedicated, faithful blogger I am not. I have meant to write, have wanted to write, and goodness knows I've had plenty to say (when do I not?), yet I've been unable to get myself to sit down and say any of what's been on my mind.

I believe that everything happens in its own time (for those of you who've attended Sunday School and/or listened to The Byrds you will recognize from Ecclesiastes 3 or from the song Turn, Turn, Turn, “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven..." Anyway, I've noticed over the years, for example, that certain books will sit on my shelf for months or years at a time, unread, until one day I’ll suddenly pick up the book and devour it. I’ve found that for me, writing is like this. I will be inspired to write great swathes of material every day or every week, then suddenly stop writing for months or even years. And so, 16 months have passed since I last updated this blog.

I’m writing now because the need to write has been growing on me recently. It is a difficult feeling to describe – it started as a sort of random, fairly infrequent, thought that I really ought to start writing again or an idea that would come to mind that I should share. Then those random thoughts coalesced a bit, causing me to feel that I really have had a lot going on and I should be recording it all while it was fresh. Sometimes I got as far as sitting down at the computer to write, but I couldn’t get any further than that. Over the past several days, I’ve had the sensation that the time of writing was rushing toward me like a train. And now it’s here.

I won’t give you a detailed account of what I’ve been doing the last 16 months. I suppose it’s possible I’ll do a version of the annual Christmas letter to family that gives an overview, but that’s not what this post is about. Instead of an account of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, I am going to try to share what’s been on my mind lately – which, in essence, is the why as opposed to the what.

Those of you who know me well and/or those who followed this blog when it was still being updated regularly will know that one of my struggles in life has revolved around judgment and approval – I’ve had lots of the first, and needed lots of the second (clearly, these two things are related…). I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life based on what I thought other people would think of me. Leaving my job at the union was a monumental decision for me – first, that I actually managed to make a decision, and second, that I made a decision that had nothing to do with other people’s opinions – one, even, that could actually disappoint other people or lead to disapproval. Not my usual modus operandi. (For the record, no one I’ve stayed in touch with has ever expressed disapproval that I resigned my position, but happily, many of my excellent and esteemed colleagues have told me they were disappointed for the simple reason that they miss me.) The fear of evoking disapproval or anger or disappointment, the fear of loss of love, frequently causes me to be paralyzingly (is that a word?) indecisive.

Way back in February 2010, I wrote a blog post called “self-affirmations” (you can read it here It was (almost) the first time I’d ever really opened myself up so publicly – a private journal entry published on the internet! What’s next?! Amazingly, I didn’t lose my entire readership. In fact, some of you even told me you liked the blog better when I started sharing more of my real self. It was astonishing for me and oh-so-affirming. And yet my fear that others will judge me as harshly as I judge myself (and, I’m sorry to say, have judged others) has still prevented me from opening up about what’s been happening in my life all these months. Actually, that’s not really true. The problem isn’t so much my fear of the judgment of others, since I have already established several times over that I have a whole lot of loving support out there. The problem is that I doubt myself and have been struggling to accept the path I’ve set out on.

Tangent: I’m afraid this post is going to be a bit random, tangential, disorganized and might not always make a lot of sense. But if James Joyce can write gi-normous books using stream of consciousness, I can write a blog post that way.
When I first embarked on my leave of absence from the union to travel, I wrote this:

"I was just thinking about how to articulate what I'm looking for in this journey, and I discovered that I can't articulate it at all. I just know that I need to go. I have lost sight of what the meaning of my own life is here at home. I am tired. My work and activism no longer have the significance, the excitement, the sense of justice and purpose that they used to have. And so I am setting out to learn something new about the world and about myself."

Over the course of my travels in those months, I wrote about my need to find meaning, to learn about what I’d been fighting for as an activist, to learn to be less judgmental and more compassionate, and to allow myself to experience the deep sense of spirituality that I’d been hiding for such a long time. Part of that process was a need to disassociate from my life as a political and labour activist. Honestly, I’d completely lost faith in the ability of my activism to effect any change. I was completely burned out – but at the same time, full of optimism at the potential for positive change via my spiritual path.

This past year, while gloriously fun in many respects, has also been quite frustrating as I’ve attempted to find some kind of balance in my life. I resigned my position at the union a year ago. I embarked on another journey south, but somehow didn’t achieve the same sense of personal or spiritual fulfillment. I came back north thinking I would re-integrate into “normal” society, settle back down, find work, and find meaning in that process. But the truth is, that just doesn’t work for me anymore. It’s true that I haven’t put a huge amount of effort into finding a job – and there’s a reason for that. I don’t want one. I don’t think that I’m supposed to be participating in normal society right now. I think I’m supposed to be following a path that diverges from the norm and that some people may not understand. And that is where my fear of judgment and need for approval fits into this puzzle.

There is a part of me that has been desperately homesick this year. I have missed my family and friends. I’ve missed having a home. I’ve felt out of sync with the world because I don’t fit into the life I left in January 2010 and I haven’t figured out what I’m doing with myself. I worry about money. I worry that all the people I love and who love me worry about me and that I could alleviate that concern by coming home and getting an apartment and a job and … and what? Go back to being normal, but unhappy? I’ve written about my struggles with depression and I don’t want to go back to that. But what do I want? I go around and around in circles, but what I know to be true is this: when I am connected to my spiritual path, when I am living my life as a compassionate, loving person, I am happy. When I start worrying about money and about what other people might think and about what I “should” be doing, I am not happy.

I had a great conversation (via Facebook) with a good friend recently. I was telling him about trying to write this blog post, and how important I felt it was to share my ideas and experiences, but that I also was finding it really difficult to be open when my life path is so different from the norm. We talked about how life for most people is a linear progression – birth, school, graduations, marriage, children, retirement, grandchildren – and stepping outside that linear progression can be really uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me – after all, the norm is normal for good reasons! – and it can be uncomfortable for people who feel challenged by those who step off the beaten track.

I am a person who likes to be comfortable, physically, emotionally, mentally. I need a lot of encouragement to meet my challenges sometimes. It is hard for me to step outside my comfort zone – even when my comfort zone is being mopey or dependent on others for validation. It feels safer to come back to BC, find an apartment and job, be close to my support network. Why wouldn’t I be happiest surrounded by such amazing, loving friends and family?

The answers are all those things I learned on that first trip south: I am never apart from my friends and family. Geography is irrelevant. Spirit is NOT irrelevant. When we listen to that voice of wisdom inside ourselves, we will always be pointed in the right direction. Call it your higher self, call it spirit, God, the Universe, the aliens, or the little birdie that told you so – call it whatever you want but listen to it. It’s never wrong. I also learned on that trip, and am regularly reminded, that my friends and family are amazing! Whenever I start believing that no one will understand what I’m doing, whole heaps of you jump up and prove me wrong. Not one person in my life has expressed disapproval, or even confusion, at my choosing this path. No one has ever demonstrated discomfort or that they feel challenged by my choices. Only me – and trying to project that onto others is patently unfair.

I’ve spent the last year running around not listening to that truth inside myself, losing sight of my journey without even noticing. It’s a lot like the time in first year at UVic when I was walking back to my room in residence after a class. I had my nose in a novel as I was walking, totally absorbed in my book, when I suddenly looked up and found myself completely enmeshed in a hedge by the student union building. There was absolutely no clear path in or out. I had no idea how I got in there in the first place, but it was a real hassle (not to mention embarrassing) clawing my way back out. (That is a true story, by the way, but fortunately, I left no witnesses.) Well, I’ve recently looked up and found myself in the middle of another hedge.

Because I just really like being comfortable, and I don’t like things to be hard, and I got kind of lazy, I buried myself in a novel (both metaphorical and literal, actually). And in doing so, I stopped listening to that voice of wisdom inside myself and got lost in the hedge. So I’ve been really uncomfortable but haven’t wanted to accept responsibility for my own actions or feelings. I haven’t written anything lately because I’ve been all a-muddle and unfocused and convinced myself that it was because no one would understand my great spiritual journey. One step forward, two steps back.

Inevitably, being so conflicted in myself has led to the expression of that conflict within my relationship. It is far too easy to lash out at the person closest to me, and if I’ve avoided responsibility for my feelings by conjuring up the ol’ fear of judgement with the rest of you, it’s been doubly bad for my partner. Of course, there are two of us and therefore two sides to every conflict, etc. I have thought a lot about the idea of personal relationships being mirrors, where we see ourselves reflected in another person (not just in partnership, but any relationship). In fact, I think that is the point of most relationships – to see ourselves reflected and to learn from each other. It is not surprising that those reflections will sometimes bring us conflict, when we’re challenged by what we see, and other times great love and joy. We get what we bring. I am so glad to have a partner who believes, as I do, that by allowing ourselves to express both love and conflict, and by continuing to face those reflections even when they’re uncomfortable, we can transform ourselves and our relationship into something more and more beautiful.

So now I find myself back where I started from in January 2010. I am starting yet another new chapter. I have a new backpack, a new sleeping bag, a new lightweight cook set. I have a renewed commitment to my partner and a renewed sense of purpose. I have a (hopefully) resuscitated blog.

This time, we are going to South America. We are starting in Colombia and working our way south from there. We have no return ticket booked. We don’t know how long we’ll be gone, or what we’ll see or do when we get there. But we do know that we both have changes to make in our lives and in our relationship, and we want to do that work together. We choose to travel, to learn about ourselves by experiencing other cultures, to grow as individuals and as partners by participating in and building peaceful, sustainable, spiritual communities. We choose to express our commitment to social and environmental activism and global harmony by “being the change we want to see in the world.” We choose to express our activism through our belief in spiritual interconnectedness – by becoming positive, vibrant, loving, compassionate beings, we will create a world that reflects those qualities. In these choices, we are not so different after all.

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