My quirky feet are happiest barefoot and second happiest in minimalist shoes that stay out of the way and let them do their own thing. Unfortunately, shoes that feel best on me tend to have minimal-to-no treads and my quirky heart is happiest out in the woods where treads come in handy. I spent a lot of money on trail shoes that were theoretically the right kind for my feet, but you know I wouldn’t have described them that way if I enjoyed wearing them.
Tangent: Problems, even dull ones like ill-fitting shoes, are interesting to write and read about—peaceful, satisfying serenity, less so. I haven’t posted here for a while because I haven’t had a lot to say. Life is good. Work is good. Yoga is good. I’m enjoying time with my kids before our lives inevitably diverge. One of our cats is surprisingly good despite (true story) the vet saying his kidneys were shaped like potatoes. We already called him Potato, so maybe they’re supposed to be that shape. The other cat is good. Though also, now that I’m on the topic, a funny thing is that the awkward kidney cat has gotten scrawny (quite un-potato-like) and for reasons unknown, the other cat has become chunky. It’s as if the universe has a designated mass of cat for our home and balance must be maintained. It fascinates me. Oooh, on the topic of fascinating, I’m currently obsessed with Eckhart Tolle audiobooks. I get that he’s not for everyone, but his ideas resonate with me (heehee, that’s a bit of a pun because he talks about the “high vibrational frequency” of your life force when you’re enlightened—I love his vibe, lol). Okay, enough with the side notes. Back to the forest.
SO, I don’t like that I wasted money on shoes that have great treads but limit my time on the trails because ouch. After a few slippery non-trail-shoe adventures, I let the sunk costs go—may the barely worn shoes make someone at the women’s shelter happy—and bought new ones.
My brand new shoes and I just scampered around for a couple of hours in deep mud, icy hills, and crusty snow-covered gullies. If you’ve ever been there, you know I’m describing Meadowlily Woods. I was beaming the entire time. Deep-in-the-soul joy shone out of me as I squished, climbed, and crunched. My feet were happy too. My bum was happy that I wasn’t falling on it. My watch seemed less happy, making unhelpful comments as I slowly shimmied down a steep hill: “Did you stop? Do you want to pause your workout?” and again, a few careful steps later, “How about now? Did you stop? Do you want to pause your workout? How about now? Are you still alive?”, but it helpfully told me at the end that I had climbed 114m. Let’s assume that’s cumulative because I can’t imagine there’s any land here in flatsville that high. I expect that even Boler “Mountain” is lower, but now that I type that, I feel an urge to go hike around the trails there. I should probably clean my shoes first.
P.S. Note to self: Remember not to wear white socks next time.
I’m a fan of meditation: It calms my mind. I sometimes listen to guided meditations just to be soothed by a voice reminding me of the peace we all carry within ourselves. My watch twitches with a reminder (which ironically, I can dismiss without even noticing I’ve seen it) every morning and every evening to take a minute for mindful breathing.
Why did I struggle to stick to a regular meditation practice then? Knowing it was great wasn’t enough for me to meditate with any kind of consistency. After years of “should”ing myself into one unsuccessful daily routine after another, I found it! The answer was, of course, sitting right in front of me.
Well, technically, the answer was sitting right above me.
Every morning, with joy not obligation, I step outside and take in the early sky. I listen for birds and taste the air. I look at silhouettes of trees against deep blue or shapes of clouds outlined by the sunrise. Sometimes I laugh at how high the sun is before my semi-retired self has made it out of bed. 😊
This practice started in a mundane way. I was taking an empty tin of cat food to the recycling bin and caught the energy of fresh air in my lungs. I looked up, and awe struck. I liked it, so I made a point of saving any recycling in the kitchen in the evening so my groggy morning mind could operate on autopilot. Even freezing temperatures feel refreshing and I stand calmly with my breath, present for as long as I need to be. I come inside smiling.
One dark early morning, I was startled to hear my name. A neighbour was saying hello as she came home from a night shift in the emergency department. I realized how funny I must look, in pajamas, standing on my porch, gazing up at nothing. Luckily, I don’t mind seeming eccentric, and I told her the truth, I was looking at the morning sky. She turned and looked. She hadn’t noticed its beauty and she went inside smiling too. Maybe eccentricity isn’t far from wisdom.
It gets better! Cat food tins and backlit clouds were just the start.
A few months ago, I went to a Women On Water weekend held at a girls’ summer camp after the girls had gone back to school. We spent two days canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding (fall-off paddleboarding, more accurately 🙃). I noticed that one of the first things I’d say as I gushed about it was, “I was outside from 7 in the morning till 10 at night – how awesome!”
Shortly after that fun, I visited my mother who lives in the woods on a lake and a friend who’s just moved to a place in the woods on a lake. I wasn’t outside for full days at their places but for many hours, in good weather and “bad” (I love rain and dramatic weather so it’s not really bad to me, as long as I have dry things to change into!).
Being outdoors isn’t always physically comfortable – last summer I floated down the Grand River in a leaky watercraft, basically sitting in sludgy green river water for hours no matter how much I bailed, ewww – but the longer I spend outside, the more I feel myself. I have sun gear and bug gear and warm and waterproof gear, I have hiking poles for adventures in the bush, and safety equipment for the water. I manage the physical so I can bask in the spiritual.
I came home from my rural journeys determined to spend more time daily in nature at home. I live near many parks. I have a car to get me to lakes and bigger, woodsier parks. What do I miss most in the city though? The sky. The horizon is cluttered with buildings here and the world feels small.
My first night home from up north, I went out to my back deck, feeling sorry for myself that I was looking at houses and power lines and listening to traffic. I lay down, heavy and tired from the psychic weight of it all.
You know where this is leading, right?
The stars. So many stars. They may be pale, scattered city stars, but they’re still miraculous reminders of the infinite universe. They gave me perspective. The world was suddenly both enormous and miniscule. The stars touch part of me that can’t express itself with words.
Every single night since then, I’ve lain on the deck. Along with stars, I see clouds and the moon and bats and shooting stars (but not the Starship Enterprise again – they know I’m onto them). I get rain and sleet and snow on my face. I lie there and meditate.
How long can I bask in exploration and indulgence?
I’m coming up on the 6-month anniversary of retiring from my full-time job. The length of time it took me to adapt to not working at TVCC was a good night’s sleep. It felt natural from the moment I woke up on Day 1. What about settling into my new lifestyle though? When would that stop feeling new?
Since January I’ve had ups and downs – i.e., life. The deep difference from before is that I have the time to live better through the downs. I can deal with practical difficulties, sit with uncomfortable feelings, and notice patterns so I can make changes. I have the freedom to explore new everythings and, taking reasonable pandemic precautions, I’ve done that. A lot.
Now I’m feeling satisfied with my experiments and I find myself settling into natural routines, even adding back in self-imposed limits.
When I woke up on Day 1, I’d lost my escape fantasies. Poof! Wide swaths of sparkly rainbow neural pathways – the parts of my brain that do imagination – lay open. Marie Kondo had been in my brain overnight, tossing out all the dramatic getaway ideas I no longer needed. I filled that space with sparkly rainbow cravings and impulses, doing and eating and saying and wearing and buying and going wherever and whatever I wanted. Or not doing anything at all, sometimes for days on end.
I mean, I have two kids and two cats and a house and car to take care of, so I’m not exactly living a wild life, but I think I acted on more whims in the last 6 months than in the rest of my life combined. My “kids” are 17 and 19, so while I am loving being a stay-at-home mom, I do try to remember they need independence (and little treats in their lunches, right?).
Many of my whims are fabulous and will continue – it’s hard to describe the level of joy I get from randomly driving to the beach to jump in the waves – but some were expensive or unhealthy or simply disappointing.
It’s been fun spending instead of saving, experimenting without worrying much about costs, but I reached a concrete limit with that as my savings ran dry. The universe did put the car of my dreams in front of me, at a price I’d never have considered before, and I bought it. I feel the opposite of regret every single day. It’s been 5 months and I’m still awed by my magical luck. I tried different styles of clothes and shoes and, well, found myself back with what I wore before, only with less money in the bank. I got gadgets for home and some were life-changing and others reminded me I don’t like most gadgets. I spent a small fortune on a trip to Newfoundland and I would pay double to do it again, even the hilarious fancy “meal” (four small bites of quail) my niece and I split that was worth it for the story (easy for me to say, she paid for it).
It also took me this long to sort out the balance between getting overwhelmed from taking on too much freelance work and not doing enough work to pay the bills.
As well as indulging whims, I said fuck it to things I don’t enjoy, like having my teeth cleaned and home/yard maintenance. My son cuts the “grass” (dandelions), and I shovelled snow when needed, but otherwise, I let it all go. Of course, when I did decide to give in and fix something that had bothered us for MONTHS (truth: years), it took me 15 minutes to walk to the hardware store and 5 minutes to do the repair. So. Perhaps I’ll stay on top of things a bit more.
That’s where I landed: Perhaps I’ll stay on top of things a bit more. I probably won’t go back to my overly responsible and organized habits, but I am starting to track my spending again, and my eating, and my work time, and my exercise (heehee because another favourite indulgence was an Apple watch). I even went back to the dentist, grudgingly. I have weekly walks with friends – so great – and a few trips planned in the fall. I will start saving for a return to Newfoundland. I will go jump in the waves.
I highly recommend dropping routines and limits for a while. Six months ought to do it. 😀
Before the pandemic, I had a love–hate relationship with the month of May. Filled with activities, work, and travel—all of them fun traditions, none of them seeming “optional”—it was a constant buzz of excitement. For years we delighted in the chaos of May Mayhem, but I started getting sick every June. My body was so overwhelmed the last couple of years that I needed antibiotics, yikes. We’d planned a minor change to lighten the load in 2020, but I was dreading the month and found relief in the covid cancellations. This year, my days full of freedom, I noticed a gut-level rejection of booking anything in May, a visceral fear. I took a deep breath and asked myself: What would I like May to be like? Isn’t mayhem fun? (and in a little voice, What am I so scared of?)
I’ll Start With the Past
When I started listing what used to put the mayhem into May, I got embarrassed as I realized that—of course—most of the events were “optional” even though they didn’t feel that way at the time. Gulp, here goes:
Mother’s Day (the Chocolate Race 5K, a couple of hours away with an overnight hotel stay to enjoy a visit to Niagara Falls), my daughter’s birthday (including a long weekend trip to my mother’s cottage, 5 hours away), a three-day conference in Toronto (with a catch-up with friends from when I lived there, and/or a romantic tryst, and a hangover in either case), a full-day research symposium we hosted here, and two kids’ end-of-year school events. Instead of alternating weekends at their dad’s, the kids were with me three weekends out of four for all the festivities, and my full-time job was well beyond full-time because of the extra work to prepare for the symposium and to make up for the days I was away at the conference.
But running around Niagara Falls and running for chocolate are some of my happiest memories with the kids. The “cottage birthday party” had been my son’s privilege since his birth in August and my heart broke when my toddler daughter asked why she didn’t get one too. With a long weekend right there (her birthday’s near that of Queen Victoria, whose celebration still gets us a Monday off work for reasons unknown), we started a new tradition, complete with making extravagant cakes and swimming in an icy lake. My Toronto fun was unforgettable, and the symposium here had magical energy. I did take the train to Toronto to give my car a rest, but still, I’m getting overwhelmed just listing all this.
I was trying to be SuperMom and SuperDirector and SuperKaren, only to end up SuperSick. No wonder that even two years later, the word “May” on the calendar is still a gut punch. It’s enough to make me consider sitting home for thirty-one days. (I mean, we’re careful about covid still, so I’d hardly be planning many indoor adventures.) It’s springtime though! We’ve been cooped up all winter! Time for all the celebrations! Can May possibly be mellow?
I’ve spent my first few months of semi-retirement revelling in a slow life. We’ve had a few adventures and have more planned, but the not-burning-myself-out adventure is my favourite so far. I’m still in recovery mode from all the years of doing too much, and if I can find a way to look forward to May without fear of getting overwhelmed, I’ll know I’m healing.
Not usually one to dwell on the past, I find myself stuck on, and struck by, how much pressure I put on myself to live that way, believing it was the way to live life to its fullest. I’d never turn down opportunities, I said an enthusiastic yes to ALL THE FUN, but maybe I was afraid to pause and simply be. I don’t regret a minute of it. I may have been exhausted, but what great times I had! If I hadn’t done all of it, maybe I’d feel regret, but I can’t ever know that.
My days now are delightful, and they are filled with emotions. Whatever I buried each May (and all the months in between) is finding its way back up now. There’s a deep satisfaction to it, to having the time to notice feelings and sit with them. I used to book time away, just so I’d have time and space to cry, though of course the tears didn’t work on my carefully planned schedule.
I feel more fragile, but less afraid. What scared me about May? It was the worry that I’d collapse, that all the feels would take over, my walls would crumble, and I wouldn’t be able to do the next fun thing, or anything. The fear was I couldn’t cope. My strength now comes from the fragility. When a big emotion swells, it does take over. I do cry. I breathe, I talk about it, and it floats away. There’s no pressure building up inside me, so no worry about it exploding. I do cope.
What do I want this May? Time outdoors, closer to home (no weekend traffic, thanks), with my kids and friends. Nice meals, ordered in? Maybe a drink or two on a patio. Lots of hikes. Chocolate. My daughter suggested we camp in the backyard—YES!—and I have a surprise planned for her birthday that will be fun even without extravagant cake or icy swims.
A Middle Path
I definitely don’t want a SuperMay, nor will I hide from life. There’s a Middle Path in Buddhism and I may just spend time exploring that. What do you think?
Unrelated Side Note
Because many of you follow and interact with me on twitter: I don’t know (or care, to be honest) what will change on twitter with Musk’s takeover. I do know that many people I respect say they will close their accounts. I won’t miss the random men who think that Being a Woman Online means I owe them my time or attention, but I made soul-warming connections on twitter, laughed at many cats and dogs, and learned fascinating things. I will be sad if those end. I’m not on any other social media, so I guess I’ll have to keep this blog updated to stay in touch. I’ll plan a post filled with cat pictures soon. If you’re a twitter friend and we lose touch, take care and know I’ll be remembering your witty/warm/insightful 280 characters with fondness.
Yesterday was my last day at work for an organization I’d been with for more than 30 years. I’d counted down to that day for a long time, not wanting to wish time away but eager to move into a phase of my life where I’d have more time. I had charts and checkboxes listing my remaining workdays and meetings, and tidy plans of all my to-do’s to wrap things up.
Until it didn’t! Tedious waiting swirled into a flurry of goodbyes and the last week was a blur. I haven’t processed it yet – there’ll be a flurry of activity in my journal in the days ahead – but the last few days were overwhelming in ways I wasn’t expecting (because covid), but there were zooms and gifts and masked chats with so many people (and don’t tell the health unit, but hugs too).
I’ll come up with lots of words (with all my new fountain pens and notebooks) to talk about my next fun activities: I got gift certificates for outdoor adventures galore, and check out www.editarians.com/team/ for exciting professional news. For now, though, I’ll share the goodbye I wrote for our staff newsletter, where I was known as KLo.
I started at TVCC as a naïve young clinician, eager to help everyone and surprised to find myself vaguely unprepared for the real world. I’m leaving now with more wisdom, still getting a buzz from feeling helpful, and confident that no one is ever prepared for the real world, that’s the fun of it. I grew up at TVCC – or at least, I got as grown up as I’m going to get. 😛
I learned that working in an organization trying to be a “world-class facility” was far less fulfilling than one aiming for clients at their best (that’s class). I learned how much more kindness we have in our workplace than others, especially that of the elevator installers as we added the third floor at 779. I did learn some fabulous swear words. The most important lesson was the power of listening, listening for strengths and reflecting those back. I learned to have hard conversations. My teenagers thank you for these life skills (mostly the swear words).
I remember laughter and pranks, shared sadnesses and hugs. I remember the tears of a parent hearing their toddler speak for the first time, both sad and happy tears from others, and magical colleagues boosting kids’ voices and choices. I remember your support as I went through the ups and downs of my own life. I did not remember to remove my “Director of Clowning Around” nametag after Halloween and wore it through a grumpy formal meeting with lots of people in power suits. No one lets me forget that!
There is no (short) way to describe everything I appreciate about you. I’m grateful for your unique views and approaches to life. Even when I was frustrated, I was entertained and fascinated by our varied quirks and humanity. Maybe it’s easiest to say, whatever makes you you, that’s what I appreciate most.
I wish all of you well and will be cheering you and TVCC on. I know I’m leaving things in good hands. Reach out if you want to meet up for a coffee or walk or drink or wild adventure. Thank you for the privilege and joy of growing up with you!
Yup, that’s right, my word for the year ahead is Adventure! I got Christmas gifts (thanks, kids) to help me take, write about, and savour new adventures. As I wrap up my day job, people wish me well on my next adventures, and – after almost two years of rarely leaving my house (okay, neighbourhood) – I am making it official: 2022 will be my year of adventure*.
*This does not preclude every other year also being full of adventures. One year at a time, people.
My adventures may be close to (in) my home, and hopefully some of them will also be further afield. I’ll see how well we can ride the omicron/booster/FFS wave as it grows and crests and crashes along with our angst.
Let’s Start with a Definition
I’m enjoying being a homebody but still want excitement, so let’s consider what defines an experience as an adventure. There’s usually an element of risk, and, well, breathing is risky these days so I can check that one off the list. Chesterton defines it as “an inconvenience rightly considered”, and yes, taking the subway the wrong direction once led me to meet the cutest NYC rat ever, but the defining bit wasn’t the inconvenience, it was the novelty.
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
There is such excitement to seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling new things (I know there are five senses, but smelling new things does not sound good. Then again, nothing matches the delight of salty sea air, so I’m on the fence about including it.) That’s why my default understanding of “adventure” always equalled “travelling”.
Going to new places is the easiest way to satiate for my need-for-new, but I’m learning that it’s not the only way. A simple walk can be an adventure if I add an element of “new” to it. Trying new foods, reading new types of books, and trying new activities are all within reach, no matter the variant circulating or restrictions imposed.
I Cannot Resist
Next, why is adventure so appealing to me? I have a reflex reaction to the word. A restaurant can guarantee I’ll order a dish by including goat cheese (I don’t even read the rest of the menu if they call it chèvre; basic science says it’s tastier in french), and friends know I will join in anything they call an adventure. Resistance is futile. Adventure = yes, please, no need for dessert.
I am drawn to the celebration of any experience. The more uncertain life feels, the more I want to squeeze out of all the moments, making them matter. Enjoying an experience as an adventure means paying attention, feeling present in it, and being grateful for the chance to feel all the emotions it brings. Yes, if you convince me that helping you move will be an adventure, I will be there, mask on, finding the humour and humanity in it while I lug boxes.
❤️ The Results of Adventures
Just before the pandemic started, I found myself doing performance art (!) involving wrestling (!?) with a group of much-younger-than-me people. I was there because the artist said it would be a fun adventure. She was right, of course, and I am thrilled to say yes to the uncomfortable and unknown. I’d met the artist years earlier through her random classified ad for a school project, and I’ve had other adventures through ads (The Joy of Quirky Kijiji) – one favourite started with “Buckle up, this is a weird one,” – again, resistance is futile, bring me the chèvre. You may be relieved (or not, maybe you like drama) to know that I stay off dating apps, can you imagine the trouble I’d get into?
One of my most cherished friendships started on a work-related drive that went wrong, and therefore so right.
What adventures will 2022 bring? Inconveniences for sure, and planned fun too, maybe even a few trips. Because I’ll have more time and flexibility, I’m building routines to include things I like having in my life – family & friends, outdoors, exercise, writing – and the big word I’m taping to the front of my notebook? ADVENTURE. Every day, I’ll find a way to rightly consider doing something new.
You know how late December is always so disorienting? With the changes in routines, and food, and travel, and weird work schedules, and afternoon sunsets, it’s an odd limbo even in precedented times. Add in wave after wave of covid, and it seems like living in limbo is the new routine.
On top of that, I have my own surge of changes ahead, so I feel like I’m living in a sci-fi movie’s broken space-time continuum (or, for fans of The Good Place, on the dot of Jeremy Bearimy). I not only struggle to know what day (or year) it is, I also wonder what time I should be counting: Am I counting down? Counting up? Does “up” mean forward or back in time? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was asking these questions as a 20-year-old (in, ahem, a slightly mind-altered state)?
I’m leaving my full-time job of 30+ years at the end of January. Each day my head and heart are a swirl of nostalgia, immediate pressures (I’m a little overwhelmed by the 10,000 emails to sift through), January wrap-up plans, February plans (spoiler: DO NOTHING), and all the possibilities for my future. During a pandemic. During the holidays. While Mother Earth demands our attention in increasingly desperate and dramatic ways.
Here’s how I’m trying to stay (vaguely) grounded in the present moment.
We have very few social events this year, we’re not travelling, and we’re keeping gifts to a fun few. We’re saving up any cravings for excess to blow it all going wild with our Brunchapalooza – started last year to make up for no family visits or meals, and involving, well, pretty much what you’d expect a celebratory brunch feast to include. The less going on around me, the easier I find it to pause, notice, and savour.
Where I Can’t Minimize, I Focus
My usual strategies for pacing my work out over time aren’t effective when I have such a finite deadline. I have to pick a priority (easier to do when I’ve done my minimizing and have clarity about what truly needs to be done) and then pretend nothing else in the world exists while I work on it. For me, a clear workspace, clear computer desktop and well-fed cats are the secrets to tuning out the chaos. When my mind and eyes see only the one thing in front of me, there is no Jeremy Bearimy, no broken timeline swirling.
Planning Nostalgia Time
I have to do health and safety inspections at my workplace, and honestly, the building is immaculate so there’s time for reflection. When doing this walk through recently with a colleague who was also retiring, we took the time to remember our decades of history there. Saying goodbyes to places and memories and emotions seems to free them, lift them away from being background noise in my head.
This is hard to do, making me realize how important it is. I love the analogue world – I can read, write, hike, dance, meditate, stretch, tidy and do puzzles so happily – but I forget. I feel the pull of google, twitter, texting, email, news, and Jorts the cat, but every single time I turn it all off for a day, my entire being feels grounded and calm. Every time.
Having All the Time in the World for People
Lockdowns and working from home gave me the bittersweet chance to really miss people. I enjoy people and I enjoy being alone and wow did the balance skew too far even for the loner in me. I am relishing my interactions, especially the rare in-person ones, and to truly appreciate each bit of time with people, I give them my all. Undivided attention = infinite time.
Living in limbo is disorienting, and my excitement about my unpredictable future is happy but tiring. The place I find stillness is whatever dot of time I’m in at the moment, letting the twists ahead and behind fade out of focus. My potato of a cat is snoring, the bit of snow on the ground matches the grey-white sky, and my coffee is hot. All that’s missing is you, my friends. I hope you’re warm and well while we share this moment. ❤️
I was cataloguing old photos, the way one does when pandemic-bored, and instead of bringing nostalgic joy, scrolling through years of smiling faces left me unsettled. Look at those Halloween costumes! All those trips! Those marathons and trail races, those work events and school shows, boyfriends and dinner dates. Look at me doing renovations, redecorating, decluttering. When and how did I have the energy to do all these things? Past Karen is intimidating the heck out of Present Karen.
I have some insight into how Past Karen was feeling though, and she won’t mind if I tell you that she found life hard. I know this, I’ve written about this, and yet, seeing how happy she was in those pictures makes it hard to believe, or remember. My inner voice kept telling me that she led a great life, and my current life is a failure.
Here are the ideas that helped me feel good about Past Karen and about now. (“Present Karen” sounds like someone who hands out gifts, right? I can’t type it without picturing boxes with ribbons and bows.)
That Happiness Was Real
This isn’t a case of staging photos for sponsored Instagram* posts; the photos weren’t fake in any way. The smiles were real – if tired at times – and I enjoyed those times so much. A little bit of gratitude for having so much happiness in my life goes a long way.
Remembering How I Chose What to Keep
In my minimalist way, I delete vastly more photos than I keep. I might take twenty shots of a hike with the kids but save only one. On a big trip, I’ll take hundreds maybe, but I’ll delete all but ten or so. It is possible I have a thousand pictures of my cats, but I have thousands more in the trash.
My thought process as I cull the pictures is to first mark the ones that make me gasp with joy as favourites, then justify saving a couple of others to remind me of views or moods I’ll want to return to. I have so very many short videos of waves lapping or crashing, my canoe gliding through morning mist, and wind making trees dance; I use them as backdrops for meditation or to settle me when I’m flustered – but oops, that’s a tangent, not the point here.
Of course scrolling through screens of gasp-with-joy moments will paint a pretty picture of my life.
Remembering What Isn’t There
I have no photos of insomnia. Of messy crying. My gut dropping with fear. Heartbreak. Illness – well, I do have one of my adorably pouty look from that time I was stung twice by a jellyfish and thought I’d been stabbed and would bleed to death in the ocean, but I don’t have one of the rash that rose up every time I shaved my legs for literally years afterwards. I stopped shaving my legs, problem solved.
I do have a bazillion shots of my kids (even more than the cats), and I did take one of my son as a tiny toddler, crying. I kept it for a while (but don’t seem to have it anymore) because I realized that although he spent his days mostly fussing and frustrated, all the photos I had were of his (so very sweet) smiling face. He’s a chill young man now, and I don’t keep ones now if I happen to catch him in a grimace or frown. None of us smile all the time, but why would I keep pictures that make me feel sad or bad?
The Wonder of this Newfangled Technology
Being able to take photos on the spot, see them, edit them and take a bunch more, is fantastic. Ditto for the ease with which we can share them. I remind myself (and my kids when they’re trapped in the car with me) not to take this ease for granted, and to consider how it’s changed the way we remember things. Before smartphones, I rarely had a camera/film/batteries/SD card with me, so did all those un-photographed moments happen? Do I remember them? If I had no photos of my life, would I feel like Present Karen (🎁) was a failure? PFFFFFFT!! No way.
Past Karen would be so very proud of me.
*If you’re wondering what happened to my Instagram account, I closed it – it was just time for me to move on, nothing dramatic (and lol at the idea of sponsored posts, I think I had 50 followers and many of those were random internet men/bots filling DMs with inspired lines like, “Hi beautiful, how’s it going?”). I left facebook years ago too, and honestly, if you’re considering leaving, I highly recommend it. I haven’t missed it at all, and that is one corporation I’m glad to be away from. I freed up all the time and mental energy I’d spent planning posts, wondering how others liked them, and scrolling through mess to find the few interesting bits … well, like I said, if you’ve thought about deleting your account, this is your reassurance that life without it is a relief.
I was feeling sorry for myself about an obvious (though petty) injustice and replayed the offending scenario over and over again in my mind, making it clearer each time that I was the victim, and linking it to all the other times I’ve been mistreated. I called out to the Universe, asking it to explain itself (and to ask its pronouns too, seems likely to be they/them) and its (their?) role in this upsetting situation that is clearly part of a pattern. The Universe replied by sending this letter through my fountain pen into my notebook. They’re clever, eh?
I am writing to you on behalf of the office of The Universe, the omnipresent “What Is”. The purpose of my letter is to confirm what you work so hard to prove: You are right. You have been wronged and it was not fair. You have been misunderstood, devalued, taken advantage of, and unjustly treated.
You no longer need to seek evidence to prove these things to yourself or to anyone else. All your feelings are real and understandable. This letter stands as full acknowledgement of the bad things that happened and were done to you. Read it whenever you need validation.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not call attention to two further points.
The first is that you have wronged others. You have misunderstood, devalued, taken advantage of, and unjustly treated others. It was not fair.
The second and final point is this: You are not powerless. I hereby bestow upon you the knowledge that you choose how to respond to any injustice. You may seek redress for harms done to you, or you may not. You may atone for harms you cause, or you may not (though really, it does seem like a healthy thing to do). Maybe you’ll fight against big injustices, or keep your focus on helping those affected by them. What you can stop doing is trying to prove that your feelings are valid: They are.
We are not staffed with the capacity to keep track or score of what’s been done to whom and who’s made reparations or not – can you imagine the paperwork?! It is up to you personally to know what path to take forward. You are not alone in this; you are a cherished part of families, communities, and all of humanity who will support and advise you. As you know from experience, the warmth of community eases the pain of trauma.
No one can see what lies ahead, but I guarantee there will be further injustices. I do see you becoming ever more thoughtful and compassionate in how you respond to them. On behalf of us all, thank you for that.
With kindness and love,
The Universe (they/them)
ps. Please share this with anyone else who needs to hear it. Not everyone has a fountain pen.
In a couple of weeks, I’m heading out for a few days alone in a rustic cabin in a provincial campground on the luminous Lake Huron. I had ideas about what I could do there, and realized instead, I will use my time to be. I’m giving myself a retreat.
I have a long to-do list well-suited to a quiet cabin, and could easily fill the days with reading, writing, and outdoor activities – I did that with the kids at a cottage in the summer, and enjoyed the relaxation of being unplugged. I *know* though that pushing ahead is not the way for me to grow right now. I can’t ignore all the unprocessed emotions bubbling up every time I pause or hear kind words. Do you have tears close to the surface? I do, and they’re a sign. I’m crying easily and often. Some are tears of joy and connection – I’m still riding the high of those first vaccinated hugs – but I have a lot of shit to process. Old shit, newer shit, future-worry shit, all of it. The mental and emotional clutter is holding me back from the calm stillness where I can grow, expand, and refresh my spirit.
I will be alone at the cabin, but none of us are alone on this journey. I have expert guides and beloved friends who see me.
Here are the elements of my retreat
I will welcome all thoughts and feelings, and sit in the discomfort and even pain that they bring. My guides here are Tara Brach with her book Radical Acceptance and a workshop I did with Elizabeth Gilbert where my fear wrote me a letter (and she often writes letters to Love, who writes her back – such a healing practice). I remember an online event where Jennifer Pastiloff (who wrote On Being Human) had me write a letter to my stomach, and her bounty of love carries me and my body parts forward. Also, I hear almost every yoga teacher I’ve ever had, reminding me to notice each bit of tension or ease in my body and breathe into it.
In practical terms, I’ll make space for all this bubbling up and noticing to happen through meditations, yoga, walking meditations, and letter writing. I’m sorting out a playlist of guided meditations beforehand, with some from Tara Brach, Insight Timer, and Headspace. I will also do my own silent meditations, which I call “commit to stillness”, typically outdoors, and they don’t last long, but even in just a couple of minutes I’m usually swimming in until-then neglected feelings.
When I’ve done this before, I find many emotions, habits or memories are simply ready to go, to leave me. They needed my acknowledgement and that’s it – poof, they’re away. Others I definitely need to sit with for more time. There are usually a few in the middle that I might try to release, and they let me know if that’s going to work out or not 😊.
One of my guides for this is HeatherAsh Amara (Warrior Goddess) with her ideas about “purifying my vessel” (to be honest, that sounds like a feminine hygiene activity, so I use my own, more pragmatic words like “decluttering” and “release” to encompass her ideas.)
My ritual for this is so very close to my heart (I’ve written about it before). I go to water – big water if possible; our local river tries its best, but just isn’t the same – and call out the thing I’m releasing. I send it out into the water, to blend in with the unfathomable volume of other memories and emotions swirling about there. I like the big water as a reminder of how tiny and small all these energies are. I’ve let them grow large inside me sometimes, but they’re each a speck engulfed by the waves. Also, waves are fleeting, existing for a moment then no longer there. They’re a lesson in impermanence and they tell me that those pieces I’m holding onto inside for a bit longer will eventually roll on out too. Mostly, I love the nurturing shushing of the water, mothering me with comforting whispers that it’s all going to be all right.
Like I said, not everything I release stays out there. I remember one habit I was trying to release that the ocean waves sent back and back and back to my feet. It simply wasn’t the right time. The right time did come, years later, for that one to go, so I do trust in the process.
Being Alone to be Better Company
So, I retreat to expand my heart. I’ll return with a clearer soul, perhaps some pain to sit with, but it won’t be trapped or repressed anymore, we’ll get some light on it and breath into it, and my spirit will be a Great Lake of calm peace. If you’re in your own place of trapped feelings or teary-ness or just drooling at the idea of being alone and off grid, know I’m sending my energy to you too. We’re all in this together. Namaste.