Today, sitting around our home, still in my robe and slippers at nearly noon, with not a thing needing to get done, I realized how much my interior state is still one of having to do something to feel purposeful. Just sitting there (oh the judgment with typing “just” and what that connotes), looking out the window, sipping a coffee, and I’m feeling this pressure, this nagging urgency to get going, get doing.
“To do something to feel purposeful.“
As a kid, it was always about staying one step ahead so as not to get in trouble. Hyper-vigilance became my m.o. and like most qualities, it has its double edge. On one hand, an ability to quickly scan and sense into the field, to notice, to decide, and act, or not. Very helpful in lots of places. On the other, an ever-present heightened awareness that can quickly become anxiety. Not so helpful when it takes over and leaves me lagged and jagged in its wake.
Then as an adult, both in my professional work, and spiritually seeking nature, I read and espoused tomes on finding the elusive work-life balance of purpose, meaning, values aligned engagement, so on and so forth. Titles, many of which remain on the book shelf, and which continue to attest to its selling and seductive power. Still doing something to feel purposeful.
Now, it seems those very words, phrases, steps and stages to which I aspired are backfiring as I sit in this new now place of having an expanse of wide open time and space in which to do, to be anything I wish to do, to be. I realize it’s always a matter of interpretation, and I’ve truly appreciated the authors and thought leaders from whose books and words I’ve gleaned much, but I’m wondering, yet again, the extent to which this too, is conditioning premised on a core belief of being flawed, and not enough, just as I am? Of not trusting a deep inner balance beyond myself? I wonder how much this is a ruse we’ve all bought into, the striving that becomes driven, the discipline that shapeshifts to bullying. The way we keep ourselves and others in line making, doing, getting and growing.
“All day long you do this, and then even in your
sleep…pan for gold.
We are looking to find something to celebrate
with great enthusiasm,
wanting all our battles and toil and our life to make sense.
‘I found it, I found it, I found it!’ a hermit once
began to shout, after having spent years in solitude, meditating.
‘Where?’ a young shepherd boy near by asked.
And the hermit replied, ‘It may take a while,
but I will show you. For now, just sit near to me.’
All day long we do this with our movementsHafiz in Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz, 2011
and our thoughts…pan for gold.”
It’s been over seven years since I “retired.” Never was and still not comfortable with the word, I didn’t miss a beat before quickly launching myself into a consulting practice. I admit my drive was in part fear driven. Within two weeks I’d designed my professional web presence and had contracts. While still the fall to early summer rhythm I’d been used to for twenty-five plus years, it was more spacious, and seldom was I driving in lousy weather. I continued working with people I loved, offering myself from the place of vocation, best described to me by Frederick Buechner and John O’Donohue:
“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” ―Frederick Buechner
“That edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”John O’Donohue in Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life, 2005
If taxes are an indication, 2018 was my best year ever. And then with provincial budget cuts, contracts suddenly weren’t, and others were curtailed, so that by late last fall, work as I had known it came to a sudden halt. While not surprising, even feeling an almost secret deep gladness, I realized this seven-year cycle of work post “retirement” had come to completion, and would look different here on in. I wouldn’t be “hunting” for work. I’d be content with what came my way, trusting in enough. I’d use that refined ability to scan, sense into, notice and follow the energy to God knows where, even if it was to nowhere and nothing.
While my head was making sense of it all, in December, my body responded with a month plus systemic virus, infecting my physical senses, sinuses and lungs. “Perhaps I was detoxing?” offered a wise friend. Yes, and resting.
“In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s uncoerced, un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and take, the blessing and being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between the inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.”David Whyte, “Rest” in Consolations, 2015
Hesitant to give over completely to Whyte’s synthesis, I know intimately the truth of his first and second stages. Resonating with “slowly coming home” given my 2020 word. Reclaiming myself from the bullied over-riding of my body’s need and knowing. Rediscovering trust. Restoring faith. *Recalibrating, again, into this new now. But first, to pause and rest.
*Recalibrating – In 2011, friend gifted me this word to describe my inner process when I returned home after three months in Europe. It’s a recurrent life theme about which I’ve written or referenced over the course of those years since: