My body knew, for weeks, something was coming. Dreams were foreboding. The Power Path reported- September: Crisis.
I assume what is happening is the crisis. I really don’t want to go into it now. But at some point I will. However, I do want to share some lessons I am learning, not necessarily new ones, but occurring in a deeper and more impactful way.
Crisis points: serve many opportunities for healing and expansion.
Patterns: one of those opportunities is noticing psychological patterning. This is important because some patterns at one time served a protective purpose but eventually can and will destroy in one way or another if consciousness is not brought to them.
Stress: fear/anxiety based programming/thinking only creates stress. The answers/wider paths and perspectives don’t live in this superficial, chaotic space.
A quote from Olivia Newton John: Optimism is a choice. I’m aware of the bad; I just don’t choose to tune into it. I am aware of the fear/worry based thinking. At 50 y/o I am very aware of what it creates. I know it is there, I am learning not to engage with it and instead move into the deeper, wider space.
Acceptance: is an important salve to suffering and anxiety based thinking. It creates space for possibilities that could not be seen in tight thoughts and creates space for grieving and feeling what it is we are trying to avoid.
Writing: it helps me slow down the hits of life that just keep coming, to ground, to process and to share and hopefully help.
I travel to this space— a retreat space about an hour from Duluth, MN. A place, I heard Cheryl Strayed wrote a part of her book, Wild. It used to be run by nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the founders of my alma mater. Then, they’d prepare simple meals and leave them in your kitchenette prior to your arrival. Now, with the new owners, it is BYOF. Now, it’s less “we are here to acknowledge and support your retreat” to more “you’re on your own, but here’s the same space.”
There are seven cabins to choose from. Over the years I’ve stayed in three— the smaller ones because I always visit alone. Traveling here began as an escape— to run away from kids, my marriage and suburban life. This is the first time I am not here to escape anything (well maybe the instability of our world right now). Since the world events, my fantasy of a cabin in the woods has increased.
I am in an empty nest now and my marriage is more neutralized and maybe not having anything to escape from is why this visit feels different. This time, I chose The Woodlands, a small cabin that is more secluded within the forest. Immediately out of my car, when I arrived, I was swarmed by insects, and after a short hike I picked off at least 10 ticks. This is disappointing because one reason I came here was to hike the several miles of wooded trails. So far they’ve all been short lived and cause more stress than rejuvenation.
This brings me to where I’ve spent the majority of time so far— the screened in porch. It is modest, rustic and cobwebby. It supplies one small round table and a camping chair. But I don’t seem to mind. I listen to the wind through the trees, watch the sunlight sparkle and fade on their leaves and feel relieved when I hear the loud buzzing bugs have no way in. While I sit, I wonder why I am here if I am not escaping something. I don’t quite know but I sense I need to be, even if I don’t venture far beyond the screened porch.
I brought a lot of notebooks, along with my project calendar and my computer with the intent to write and schedule my summer writing projects. But, so far I’ve only opened my computer to buy a book and to watch Netflix. I just finished J Lo’s documentary. Now there is a woman who knows what she wants and go gets it. I finished it feeling slightly depressed. I went back to the warm porch. I’ll journal, I thought. Maybe draw and certainly finish the book I am reading. Then, I got on Twitter….
I’m sure you did what you could, now do what you actually want.
Instead of bad news, I saw the quote above and it interrupted my amnesia (the whole who am I and why am I here thought pattern) and I burst into tears. This “tweet” is a two-sentence summary of where I find myself— a crossroad I have been on for quite some time, since the kids left the nest. I said: I still don’t know what I actually want. Seemed legit, but there’s more, another truth emerged both silently and loudly: yes you do. That is true. I do know what I want. But I’m playing like I don’t.
There is a comfort in the longing for what I actually want, but not actually doing it. But imagine if J Lo was only longing. I’ve longed long enough, haven’t I….?
If I actually want what I want, it is time to surrender the longing and relax into the doing, being and expressing. And I suppose, also risking and trusting.
It has been a long road of doing what I could, and it was exhausting. Hence, the retreats. But, now, like me in this one room cabin, there is just me now and the naked truth of what I actually want to do and the opportunity to do it.
The transition from what I could do, and did to what I actually want to do has left me wondering who am I? Where am I? There has been enough life, now that I’m 50, where scrambling to figure that out, making lots of missteps and mistakes along the way, is not necessary. Now I can be still enough to let it all settle— what was, what is and what I might actually still want.
This is why I am here at the Woodlands in June, in the heat with the insects— to settle.
I met a woman here, briefly, that was alone, staying in one of my earlier cabins. She stopped me on one of my short walks. I noticed her when I checked in. She told the owner there may be another person joining her, but when pressed she could give no details to when, or even if. Not long after her check in, she was packing up her car and that is when she stopped me.
“Have you been here before?” I gave her my stay history. She chocked up a little and said someone she knows is in the hospital and she might have to leave. “I’m a frontline worker and this is the first break I’ve had.” When asked if it was family, she said it was a co-worker and she’d have to leave to cover their shift. Seemed believable, but I sensed something more: fear.
It is not easy to go on retreat alone, in a cabin with no TV, where at night it is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you. In my younger days I came with luggage full of anxiety, along with all of my OCD traits acting up, organizing my retreat and worrying about what was happening at home. Before I spoke with the woman, I watched her start down a walking path by my cabin. She stood there looking down the path, then turned around and walked away from it. I too have impulses to turn around and instead go where it is safe and known. But, more often than not, I listen to the part in me that understands in order to expand I have to keep walking the path, even when there are insects that might give me Lyme Disease. I understand I have to give myself space to stay in a place that is dark and unfamiliar. I need to be here, even if I am not writing or scheduling the writing. Even if I am not escaping anything.
I’m still not sure exactly why I am here, but what I do know is, this time I did not bring as much baggage. I’m unconcerned about what the husband is doing at home. I took a nap at 2 pm without writing one word. I have not OCD’d my retreat, and the anxiety that was once an intrusive roar is now a dull pant.
I’m okay and I am going to be okay. Also, if what I actually want is to create my fantasy cabin in the woods life, there MUST be a screened in porch. 🛖🌲🕷
An intervention is an action becoming intentionally involved in a difficult situation, in order to improve it or preventing it from getting worse. The Universe is moving to set the ground rules for a face to face reconing, with the assistance of the corona-19 virus, for us humans to take a deep look into the manner in which we have been living our lives. The virus is squeezing and tightening our boundaries, condensing our movements and freedom to the point of straggling our ability to move with freedom and ease within our own neighborhoods, while, trauma, fear, anxiety, and stress has unleashed its destabilizing affects upon our mental health.
This virus has opened and exposed the fact we humans are largely inwardly empty; we are relatively empty vessels. There is no inner fullness from which to give to others, no inner richness of understanding through which we may receive and solve the problems confronting humanity, and thus helping ourselves and others. Instead of unity and understanding there is opposition, strife, quarreling, and inevitable wretchedness, combined with rampant poverty, and unrelenting pain.
In my current home, it is a wooded trail— the Mississippi backwaters on one side and a junk yard on another. I’ve worked to ignore the latter. Although I appreciate the trees and the river, this trail is my least favorite of all the ones I’ve walked. And so I found another one that goes mostly through my neighborhood to a dirt road circling an abandoned lot edged with pine trees. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken to sitting under one of the pines, the one that now has a sign that reads: No Trespassing. Also ignored.
But today I needed the backwater trail. It is a short trail, made a bit longer if I take the narrow, tree root, moss filled one along the rivers edge. I took this route. On my way back to the neighborhood I noticed another trail with fresh black dirt and took steps. To my surprise it extended beyond the trail I have known and further, extended not only my walk but my time with the trees. As it ended in a familiar place, I felt grateful for the creation of a path I had wanted since I moved here.
During COVID-19, other than moving from panic to calm, panic to calm, I’ve observed people in my life and the ones I see on my essential runs, and notice how they are responding to this pandemic. My father, for instance, finds hope in the blades of green grass sprouting in a newly dug out hole in the ground. Another laughs loudly with the gas station attendant saying, “Well you know we are all going to get it.” My mother texts daily from her assisted living facility, “Is everyone at home now?” Or today, “Prince Charles has the virus.” Sadly, others have become more self-centered, ego-centric, individualistic and shut down.
As for me—today, on my walk I found a new path that shows me the life road I am currently on. The soil is fresh. It has not been traveled yet. It comes as a surprise, and yet offers what I have been seeking for a very long time. It tells me if I venture to take a new path, even while things are falling apart and feel unstable, I will arrive in a familiar place, feeling grateful and changed.
I wish for all us to be guided and changed for the better, while knowing there is loss and unimaginable grief, known and unknown to us.
My dad once wrote, inside my Shel Silverstein’s book, A Light in the Attic:
Poems are the purest expression of ourselves. Always be true to yourself and make your life a great, living poem.
This has been a challenging few weeks for me. There have been many shifts and changes. As I find myself in the space between here and there, when one way of being has ended and before a new way begins, I resist the urge to create from a space of urgency and distract from discomfort. Instead I remind myself to be curious, open, and to listen and lean in to what is before me, even if it only feels like empty space and nothing new is here for me.
This morning, I did not stew in my bed with my unhealthy thoughts. Instead I did two things: I yelled at my Higher Self (something I have never done) and said: WHERE ARE YOU? YOU SEE ME STRUGGLING! WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING ME? DON’T JUST SIT THERE AND WATCH ME SQUIRM! and then I went on a walk. As I made my way on the path, my Higher Self said: Listen. And I did. What I heard is below. The opening to my Higher Self begins with this trickle of water:
Hello September! It is the time of the In-Between. Have you noticed where you are in your life often aligns with the seasons of the year, and the transitions between them? Do you pay attention to the signs in nature that a season change is coming? What about you— what are your signs that change is coming? What’s your expression of change?
Signs of the In-Between
Yesterday, I planted mums while my hibiscus still bloomed. I hung the fall wreath on the door, added the fall lawn ornaments outside, and decorated the inside with ceramic pumpkins. I did this while the air outside was hot and muggy. This is the time of the In-Between.
Here, in the Midwest, where the signs of the new season peak through and life continues to exist in the season that is leaving, can be quite vivid. The first sign I notice are the sounds during the day of the Cicada, the Locust and the Cricket. It occurs to me this is their final chorus before the air turns cold. In the In-Between, there are days that require a sweater or a light jacket and then back in shorts and a tank top. When the heat returns, there is an abundance of bugs: bees, boxelder and lady bugs— their final jaunt before the cold is here to stay.
It is the time when the deep, green leaves fade. Some begin to turn to their autumn color, and others dry up and fall to the ground. The grass does not grow as quickly, the sun does not shine as brightly, yet still brings warmth on one side of the body while the wind feels cool on the other. The days grow shorter, which initiates a sadness of the summer that is ending and the dread of a long winter. But before this happens, there is the excitement of fall and all that it brings: back to school, pumpkin spice lattes, walks in the woods— stopping to take pictures of the colorful leaves, taking a tag off a sweater that was too warm to wear in the summer, a trip to the apple orchard and making apple crisp, and the anticipation of the holidays that follow.
I am in the In-Between in my life. I am middle-aged. I am transitioning from a life of homemaking to a life of working outside my home. I graduated from college. After 3 months, I did find a job, but it is a temporary job. I am working, but also not for long. I am married, but I have changed. He has changed. We have changed. We find ourselves in the same bed at night, but little else is shared. It’s enough to still be welcomed to our in-laws, and enough to have a short fight. But it’s not enough to feel as in love, or as connected and fully together as we once did. We are in the In-Between.
The In-Between is difficult, and full of possibility. The In-Between means change. The activity of the squirrels, who run through the grass and up the trees, remind me it is also the time to prepare for the changes ahead. The squirrels understand the necessity of storing their food in various places to be retrieved in the winter. The In-Between cannot last, but sometimes it can feel like it will never end. Sooner or later, new life does unfold. The changes we desire and the ones we fear do occur. Our body and soul know this. They also know if we are prepared for the changes or not.
If you feel like your life mimics the time of the In-Between we are in, take a moment to tune in to your body, to your self, your soul, your life. Are there changes you want for yourself? Are there changes you fear coming? What does this feel like in your body? Do the changes, the unknown of this time in the In-Between, make you feel anxious? Excited? Calm? Do you feel you are prepared? If not, how might you prepare?
My Expression of Change
I have been anxious during this time. I feel the anxiety in my belly. I experience myself gripping and clinging, as if I’m trying to stop the changes from happening. I notice my thoughts, which try to control and analyze what is occurring. I also know these patterns. I have been here before. I know change is coming, and it’s coming fast. I know letting go and allowing is the antidote to the clinging and gripping, the controlling and analyzing. I know the transition is happening as it should and soon I will be in new territory. I take deep breaths, get still and consider some of my anxiety could be an indicator more preparation is needed, that I must gather my nourishment for the winter to come. I then begin to seek and gather this nourishment to prepare.
Soon the sounds of the Cicada and Locust and Cricket will fade. The landscape will be less green, and instead flourish with gold, brown, red and orange. Fall will be here. I will gain knowledge and new understanding. I will find resources through relationship and experience that will awaken and strengthen me in this new space. The nourishment I gather will be plenty. Eventually, I will thrive. Just as the snow will accumulate in January, so will my confidence. And in the Spring, change will come again.
I wish you wisdom and serenity during the changes in your life and in your self.
If you feel a need to have assistance and guidance during your time of transition, please contact me @ email@example.com. Together, we will create a space of support and a plan toward greater awareness and understanding. For a list of services, visit here.
My latest article as the Mental Health writer with The Volk Magazine (3 min read):
In the current state of affairs, it is all too easy to wake up empty and frightened. To wake up this way is often also an experience of people experiencing mental illness. The past four years I have lived and breathed social work, learning in school about mental health and social justice. The learnings have made me even more aware of the issues facing humanity, while creating a certain kind of rigid mind set needed to manage the academic work in order to attain a degree. I’ve also stayed up nights and woke up mornings reading one troubling news story after another. This combination has caused anxiety, and at time bouts of depression, making it difficult to, as Rumi says, take down a musical instrument. Taking down a musical instrument is a metaphor, which invites us to seek the beauty, even in the struggle. Continuing this article, I will share two experiences where I lived Rumi’s words. The article will conclude with suggestions of how you, the reader, can find your beauty in the struggle. So come along toward the Beauty Way.. Click here to continue.
In Rising Strong, Social Scientist, Brené Brown says, “Depression and anxiety are two of the body’s first reactions to stockpiles of old hurt.” Further, according to Brown, depression and anxiety, although have “organic and biochemical reasons…unrecognized pain and unprocessed hurt can also lead there.”
There was a time, many years ago, where I began experiencing intense anxiety. Eventually I was having daily panic attacks, sometimes several a day. This was making life difficult to enjoy. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, which only made the anxiety worse. In a way, the anxiety was fuel for me to figure out what was wrong. This led to years of inner work where I experienced sadness and pain and discovered patterns that were connected to my childhood. There, is where I dug deeper into my unprocessed hurt. The more I dug, the more I understood the unrecognized pain and released the unprocessed hurt, which eventually led to less anxiety.
So, what is unprocessed hurt and further, if it has anything to do with our childhoods, why would anyone want to go back there? Who has time, right? I think this might be a tough sell, but I am going to try anyway: go back there. And, here’s why: many of us are there anyway, especially emotionally. Let me give an example. We are at work, or in my case, a classroom. There is a large group discussion. We raise our hand or attempt to speak up, but our instructor or boss doesn’t listen or respond to us. We quickly put down our hand or shut our mouth and look down awkwardly. How are we feeling— rejected? Embarrassed? What are we thinking— no one cares what we have to say? My ideas aren’t valuable?
Now, it could be that the instructor or our boss just didn’t hear our voice or see our hand. Yet, we have a story that says we’ve been rejected. This story gives us certain thoughts and feelings, and very often, anxiety, which moves us away from the present moment where we might see that we just weren’t heard or seen because of a simple mistake by the person leading the discussion. It wasn’t personal. If this is relatable, maybe we can think of similar experiences as an adult where we felt rejected or ignored. Maybe we notice a pattern. What if we went deeper? Are there any childhood experiences where we felt this way? At school? At the family dinner table? Maybe we notice a connection to experiences now and experiences then. Maybe this connection makes us feel sad for the child that felt this way. What if we felt that?
This is inner work. And yes, it takes time. But more so, it takes a curious mind and the courage and willingness to go a little deeper beyond our stories, in this example, a story of rejection. When we begin to move our attention beyond our stories, the story of rejection being a common one, we find patterns and make connections and begin to recognize our unprocessed pain, and we begin to feel the unprocessed hurt. The more we do this, we might notice our anxiety dissipate. When anxiety dissipates we are more present. When we are present, we see more clearly and breathe more freely.
Now, this is just a theory of mine. It comes from years of inner work, along with years of learning and reading about self-help, psychology and social work. This theory does not discount the organic and biochemical reasons for anxiety, some of which are often treated with medications. It also doesn’t dismiss the varying environmental and social issues that can cause anxiety. It only serves to offer another perspective, one similar to the psychoanalytic framework, which considers unconscious forces that affect our behavior and emotions. In this way, connecting current emotional and mental patterns to childhood experiences and other unconscious pain, gives another potential cause of anxiety and how it might be relieved.
To engage in more inner work, I suggest beginning to notice your thoughts and feelings in your day-to-day life. I would also suggest using a journal to record experiences in your day that brought up noticeable thoughts and feelings. After a while, see if you notice patterns or triggers, which prompt noticeable thoughts and feelings. Be present with your self-inquiry and see where it takes you. There is a passage from the poem, The Sunrise Ruby by the Sufi poet Rumi that can be used for inspiration on the path of self-inquiry and discovery:
Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.
Submit to daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.
~Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi, p. 101
*Article originally published: The Volk, Fall 2017
I wrote these words— and then I had a panic attack.
For five days I was in a dark space, consumed by the ailments of my middle-aged body. High blood pressure, irregular menstrual bleeding and apparently a pulled muscle from participating in new activities to combat said, high blood pressure. The pain immobilized me, thus the five dark days. For two of those days I popped muscle relaxers and waited for lab results from my doctor visit. Any thought of doing anything normal like cooking or walking or going out to eat was met with fierce resistance. The light of day and of my life became darker and smaller. I was trapped inside my own worry, fear and pain.
Thankfully most of my test results were normal, but the pain continued. I took myself off of the muscle relaxers because I was dizzy, groggy and sleeping too much. My body needed to move. I did small things at first then, I went for a walk.
The sun’s brightness overwhelmed me. To seek protection, I walked to a forest path near my house. The trees did protect against the sun, but not against my thoughts. Before I left the house I was itchy. It felt like gnats biting. It worried me. The constant attention on my body and not trusting it over the past few months was destroying my peace and taking my joy, which wasn’t much to begin with.
Then, I began disassociating—the experience of feeling I was not where I was—that I was unreal or the world viewed through my eyes was unreal. Then I began to itch more, and my limbs felt weak and tingly. My heart began to race, my breathing became labored, my mouth, dry and I thought: I am going to die right here. I walked faster and faster so if I were to die it would not be in the forest where no one would find me.
I was having a panic attack (I used to have them daily) and called it out of its destructiveness and deceit: Goddam panic attack!
I walked out of the forest and into the sun. My breathing slowed and some saliva returned to wet the inside of my cheeks. I listened to the cars pass. I read a sign: For Sale. $75 with a ladder underneath it. I made eye contact with a man in a car. I needed these signs of life. I needed to know I was still a part of it. I began to think about the past few weeks of summer while not working and going to school. My intent during this break was to focus on my health and my mind.
I began this process by calling my dad who also has high blood pressure. He says anxiety is a major contributor, and so I began to work with my anxiety. I know it well—every morning greeting me before I open the shades. But I usually don’t work with it. Instead I fight it or I am so used to it I think it’s normal and move on with my day. One morning, I sat with it to pinpoint its location inside my body. It helped itself to the inside of the v-shaped area where the abdomen and ribs meet. Working with this, along with my breath I felt something release in this area, as if someone came to take away a chunk of my anxiety. In that moment I felt no resistance inside my belly. I could breathe full, round breaths.
Also during this time of focusing on body and mind, I signed up for the Oprah and Deepak 21-day meditation challenge. Every day I repeat a mantra and sit in silence. I’m also reading a book by Katherine Tingley, The Voice of the Soul. She speaks of our divine nature and the “path of self-directed evolution.” She writes:
You must be true to the inner quality of your own nature—the divine spark, the ray of Universal Life. Be true to that, and all other good things will come to you…..
The path of self-directed evolution is evolution directed by our own higher nature….
I am absolutely assured of the essential divinity in man, of his power to conquer conditions and make the whole world over again.
I read these words and many just like them every night before bed. I’ve no doubt they, along with the silence of sitting in meditation, stir something within. One morning I woke up knowing I am safe. I am okay. I have something indestructible inside of me—and its everything.
Then, that pain—followed by that panic. Is the pain a part of adjusting to the space inside of me where anxiety used to hide? Is the panic a part of adjusting to the truth that I am safe?
In this culture we tend to make everything a medical condition and do not consider we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Anxiety is a battle for most, and it is rare to recognize it as a symbol of transformation or at the very least an indicator that a shift is needed to serve us on our “path of self-directed evolution.” Therefore what we call panic attacks may be a sign of spiritual transformation and what we call pain could be a result of something emotional in our bodies being released or needing to be released. When we ingest something new the old must break down. Surely there is a consequence to this.
In the sun again, after declaring a panic attack, I ask, through tears: why does change have to be so scary? I don’t want to be scared anymore. But, the truth is I feel unsafe. I feel unsafe. This was the truth of the moment and I declared it. Instantly this truth set me free—at least for the time being—and opened me to another truth I felt just days ago: I am safe.
Sometimes we need to call out what is in the shadows and bring it to the light before we can fully embody a new truth. I went into the light of day after days of darkness and feeling unsafe and the light overwhelmed me. I went to the forest so it could protect me, but nothing outside of myself can protect me from my own mind. Only I can free it. There is a promise and a practice to adhere to: Don’t be afraid of anything. Be at peace about everything.
Am I addicted to contemplation? Have I watched too many movies where the actor stares out into the abyss with a look of longing while music plays in the background? If I give up contemplation then what takes place? This I contemplate while staring at the waters of the Mississippi.
I think I know the answers—yes, yes and action toward all those things I long for when I contemplate. And, if neither happen—the action or the contemplation—then anxiety and depression settles in.
The lesson: I need to be more active toward what I long for to restore balance and inner harmony.