Friday, December 25, 2009

Over the hill - or turning a corner?

(last visit to Wildflower Garden - click to expand.)

Most of my adult life, I've held a belief that there was purpose and direction to my life, and that there were reasonably dependable ways of tuning in to what I needed to do to move forward. Meditation, journaling, prayer (as in, holding the issue in the Light and waiting for discernment, as the Quakers would put it), consulting with friends, and occasional coin-tossing for I Ching readings have played a part. For many years, a reasonably faithful practice of dream recall and reflection provided an important source of tracing out the underground streams of energy and movement that often were running in opposition to my conscious intentions.

However, recent directions of life change have been less clear to me. Rather than finding the clues and then following them, it's been more that I'm finding myself making the changes, and only then seeing what the new patterns and energies look like.

Over the years, I've chosen to compromise, in many ways, with the underground currents that I discerned. Perhaps I wasn't brave enough to plunge into the Wild Mind to fully develop my writing (see Natalie Goldberg's book, which I'm re-reading), or disciplined enough to develop the spiritual muscles to become a dependable channel of healing energy in the world. I've earned a living, though, doing useful work that benefits society, or at least does very little harm, and I've provided a container that allowed my two sons to stay who they are becoming, with (I hope) not too many nasty recordings of my worried nagging voice looping in their brains. They are both actively creative, too. They will inherit my challenge of how to make a living and keep that creative self alive.

I'm feeling retrospective-ish, right now, because I feel that my recent birthday - turning 59 - marks turning a corner - and, in a way, a decision to start going downhill, rather than continuing to climb uphill in my job.

In my workplace, I shifted three years ago from being an academic adviser with some administrative duties (some years, fairly heavy ones) to doing administrative work entirely, supporting the direct service of my colleagues. In this new role, I have also supervised a small group of support staff. However, I had applied for and had not been offered the "other job" - of directing the advising unit and supervising the advisers. This last August, the advising associate director position was vacated. We've been scrambling somewhat ever since, and I've pitched in to cover some duties, but eventually we got permission (there's a hiring freeze on at my university) to replace this position within a new structure.

Ever since August, I was clear about seeing this advising associate director as the next step for me, and only recently began to question it. By the time the position was actually posted recently, to my surprise, the job no longer felt like it had my name on it. I didn't apply. Why not?

It's really connected to some underground shift in how I perceive myself. I begin to see the value of letting younger people step into positions that offer them a good stretch, a place to grow. But growing in this public, collective, external way seems to hold less appeal for me. And I feel I can let go because I begin to trust I can contribute in other ways than in being the person in charge. I can mentor others without being their boss. I can put more energy into the committee work I'm doing, some of which directly impacts the values of diversity and inclusion that have been core for me in my career.

And I can turn some of my (increasingly diminishing) energy back to my house and home, my family, my health, my own creativity.

In early November, when we stood in line to check out at the Humane Society with Charlie in his brand-new red harness clipped to one of our old leashes, I felt like I was walking through a door into something new. I didn't feel "this is jolly fun" - but rather a certain amount of sadness and even some fear. I recognized this was a somewhat different path than what I had been thinking I was on - one that held me on a leash, too, of needing to re-balance work and home. I knew at some level that this new situation would put limits on me, bring me down to earth. Also, that this new completely dependent curly bit of embodied life-force would bring care, worry, even sadness into my life. But I knew it was a good decision, and I was right. Now, Charlie is firmly fixed at the heart of our family unit (except that Tim hasn't met him yet), and is droll and winning and so danged cute, 24/7. When I wake up, he springs up from his cushion next to the bed ready for me to stumble to the front door to let him out to pee. He tends to be within a few feet range at all times, sleeping or chewing his rawhide bone, or inviting me to pick him up for napping on my lap. He seems to like it here. He gets us out of doors in all kinds of weather. He did a great job at keeping Ben from panicking with his late-semester crunch. Peter has decided our goal for Christmas day is to get ourselves cleaned up and take a holiday greeting card photo with Charlie on our laps.

Well - looking out the window this Christmas morning, I see another onslaught of the three-day-snowstorm is kicking in. Last night, instead of 5-6 inches of the fluffy white, we got 2-3 inches of slush, because it warmed up enough to be rain mixed with the snow. Heavy stuff! We stayed home all day yesterday (except for slogging around the block with the dog, looking at all the picture-postcard houses with festive lights in the snow), and will stay home again today. I'm forced to really see the clutter in the house. Perhaps I'll have some energy to tackle it.

May the holidays bring us all back to what is essential in our lives. May we take some time to breathe in the spark of awakening light and allow it to fill our dark and constricted places. May the new year's path open up us, and may we tread our unique paths gladly and surely, trusting in the wisdom of what we cannot see.


Laoch of Chicago said...

Much love for the fine canine, Charlie.

Fine post. I hope you will find tranquility and peace during this next phase of your life travels.

Personally I find greater value in the smaller things as I get older. I think large changes start with small steps and in the last few years I have changed my focus from thinking about how good might come to all to how I can improve the few.

ellen abbott said...

I'm finding less desire to 'make a mark' on the world and more to 'tending my own garden'.

Mel said...

What a wonderful post! How I've missed your words....

It's very odd to say, I suppose, but I truly feel like I've *known* you for ages....

Like ellen says -- I find myself turning toward the tending of my own garden of late, and by doing so, am having a quieter, but more positive effect on the outer world as well.


Mary Ellen said...

Many thanks, dear friends. I've had an interesting recent experience of "instant feedback" when I deviate from being calm - Charlie gets extremely distressed whenever I raise my voice in irritation (not even aimed his way) - barks and nips at my slippers. It sure wakes me up to the effect my mood and behavior have on my surroundings. If chaos theory is right, little "domestic" actions can have profound effects in wider and wider circles. Tending my garden - tending my soul - tending my household - all things that get eclipsed by the busy work day. These quiet days off from work haven't been as productive as planned, but they have reawakened my desire for a place and time for peaceful living. This will require a great reduction of clutter - one surface, one shelf, one drawer at a time.

Anonymous said...

I love this post - I find it so important to have quiet, "empty" time - it re-charges me and also allows myself to listen to what needs to be spoken by the spirit.

Mary Ellen said...

Good to meet you, Beth! I'll take some time to read your recent posts.

Madame DeFarge said...

Hope all well and that you had a good festive season.

darlin_virg said...

I stopped reading the blogs I subscribe to once I had my baby. As you can tell, I am barely catching up to Dec. 2009. My most recent post on my own blog is similar to yours, in that my life had to take drastic turns for me to shift my focus from work to personal life.

I look forward to catching up on the rest of your year!