Ten years ago this spring I was laying flat on my belly on the deck of a Nicaraguan ferry boat for a twelve hour journey to a coastal island. No one else was laying flat on their bellies. In fact, most of the other passengers were veteran seafarers who gazed empathetically as I lurched to the back of the boat every so often to puke over the railing.
This spring I am navigating a series of new experiences. I’ve enrolled in Marie Forlio’s B school– a fabulous online program for women entrepreneurs, I’m travelling on Thursday to a retreat with Parker Palmer — my all time favorite author and teacher of soul wisdom, then next week I’m headed to Boulder for an Enneagram Intensive, and I am designing my first full weekend retreat (with friend Tara) to be offered this fall. And yes I’m simultaneously aiming to love my husband well and parent our three small children with kindness and build an authentic coaching practice. All at the same time.
In my good moments I remember to breathe and ride each moment as it comes.
In my not so good moments I feel like I am back hugging that deck and praying for the impossible—that the ocean might stop rising and falling so I can keep my lunch.
Yet I’m starting to make peace with the pattern of my experience during this time of growth. I certainly still feel the highs (moments characterized by buoyant hope) and the lows (when I slip into overwhelm).
At first I thought of these experiences as little “mountains” and “valleys” in my day. But now if I look deeply I recognize their true nature: waves. Moments of overwhelm and moments of inner spaciousness are all part of the same salty water—a rich briny brew capable of facilitating some deep transformative work.
As we come to identify and even dismantle our habitual patterns (which is what the power of the Enneagram is all about!) then life comes flowing into parts of our interior space which have long been shored off, buttressed, and overprotected.
This can feel and be kind of intense. But trust that it is all for the good and that through it we can learn new ways of living out of and returning again and again, to center. Center is not a static state. It is more like floating on and trusting a much bigger source.
We cant make the ocean stop moving—but we can look around us for seasoned travelers and take heart in their capacity to calmly ride the waves. One day soon I totally expect to be able to lift my head off the floor, sit up straight and see a new land on the horizon.
What waves are rocking your world right now?
How are you riding them?
Hiking 1100 miles alone through woods, desert, and mountains Cheryl Strayed loses six of her toenails to ill-fitting hiking boots yet manages to find her inner resources for life. A young woman adrift after the untimely death of her mother she embarks on the trek in the hope of leaving behind heroin and destructive relationships and finding a way to hold her grief. Strayed chronicles the journey in Wild: From Lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail (follow the link to watch her uplifting trailer.)
Part of the pleasure of reading Wild comes from the rich description of the natural environment and its perils (bears, rattlesnakes, ice-covered trails.) Yet much of the memoir is about the inner journey, something each of us experience; whether or not we push ourselves to this kind of extreme.
I love how Strayed ends one chapter half way through her journey: “I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too (234).”
Even as we taste suffering we each carry deep inner capacities for learning, growing, and healing. And as Strayed articulates so well… how we manage to “gather ourselves up” along the way matters a great deal.
We might not be hiking solo across three states, but I believe each one of us is navigating a Homeric-like quest to move through our particular life’s challenges and to connect with our courage.
And finding and living out of our center is work which we do alongside the other work of our lives. It is the work we do which allows our ideas to gain traction so that we might act on them in the world—whether that be launching an urban farm or tending well to our families. Whether it is directing a community preschool or navigating a big (and maybe unexpected) transition, such as losing a job, having a baby, or simply acknowledging a lingering sense that we have lost contact with our passion.
But how do we gather ourselves up?
I wonder if it is not the simplest things which have most impact, things like conversations with friends or other supportive people, yoga, reading, gardening, music, meditation, creative projects, quality food and enough rest. The particular practices depend on our temperaments and phase of life but our need to maintain open channels for self care and deep listening do not.
Gathering our resources is not a one time thing or even a linear process. Strayed describes the experience of walking the trail as akin to knitting and unknitting a sweater– it feels like you are going up and down the same mountain, and yet somehow in increments which are invisible to you in the daily process– you are moving forward along your path.
Each of us has the expertise to knit together our fragmented experiences into a coherent story which we can both live into and out of. And in the process to identify and draw strength from the parts of us which are whole, healthy, and expansive.
What gathers you up inside?
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I envy people who experience dramatic “aha” moments in their lives. For example, a leadership coach whose work I enjoy talks about a particular moment, when packing for a business trip and debating whether or not to include a swimsuit, that she declares “no more!” to her own inner critique about her body. And it would seem that she really did turn a corner that day—never to return to those same self-defeating patterns.
Now I’m familiar with the experience of a flash of inspiration—a connecting of the dots which excites and opens a new door in my thinking or creating. But do those things really happen in spiritual life? Are there levels in the process of cultivating an awake consciousness from which we don’t backslide?
I’d like for this to be true.
My own process as I observe it tends to be much more organic and unfolding: a spiral which feels as though I travel again and again over the same ground—circling like a camper who has lost her way out of the forest.
Now likely there is something to say about this camper and the spiritual journey. Something about how we circle, not exactly in the same place, but on a deeper register over the lessons we most need to learn. So that what feels like being lost is in fact– what? If not being found exactly then at least walking with the knowledge that ones steps are not in vain.
But today I wonder about these aha moments because I think I had one last night. Flipping through a magazine passed on to me on a recent trip I come to the final page—a lovely photo and reflection by Kimberly Button, an Orlando-based green consultant. I read her bio and discover she has also written a book called The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home.
“Oh—what a great book!” I think. It sounds like exactly the kind of book I would like… and I’ve never heard of it. And then, without any reason, an “Aha” moment is born in me. And something true settles deep in my heart—the realization that, quite simply, the world is full of people doing interesting things.
I recognize that this is not such a mind-blowing observation. But woven within it for me was a sense of release, of freedom almost, as I meditated on the many, many people working in a multiplicity of ways to enhance our world. And my part then becomes much easier– just sharing my little piece of truth.
To that end, I have been getting more serious about writing (next month’s agenda in my 2013 happiness project) and dreaming about book contracts. And I realized that, without even meaning to, I was holding out a little bit of self-satisfaction for if I manage to do that. (The Everything Guide to Crafting Home Rituals!)
And I realized, that’s not the way it has to work—nor the way I have to live. Even if I get a book published, I would just set a higher goal and shift my attention to it and hold out on feeling really really proud of myself till I reach that goal.
My aha moment was an invitation off this carnival ride— The Carousel of Delayed Happiness. Instead I want to soak up the joy and meaning in all that I am currently living. To notice the shadows in my office as the sun moves behind clouds and out again. The sound of wind on this unseasonably warm day and the way it causes the heart mandala Perl and I made together to sway. And the satisfaction I find building a new venture one relationship at a time. And in the process to notice and nod to my impatience toward all that is unfinished in my life even as I unwrap its fingers from my lungs and take a deep breath.
Now only time will tell as to whether I am able to hold onto this aha sentiment and continue to live out of it. I’d like to.
Wondering what “aha moments” have found their way into your story and how you might hold onto them?