December – Into the Void
Remember in June when I mentioned jumping naked into the void? Well December was a chance to explore that void. In months prior my goal for the month had just popped into my head, but for December nothing was coming. I texted with a friend who helped me realize that this unknown place and to be there and still trust might be my December theme.
“When you come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step into the darkness of the unknown. Faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will be solid ground to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” –Anonymous
So “the void” and how best to describe it? Well, it is not about “doing” but far more like watching and sometimes from a place of stillness without much structure. After December 6th my social calendar came to a very dull roar. People who had read my blog were asking what my next adventure was and I barely had anything to share in the near future. One approach to this dilemma would be to start filling up the space, but something inside me said “no.” It felt like a lesson lay underneath this uncomfortable feeling. And so I dove…into the void…to see what was there.
I think winter is actually a time where the body wants to climb inside and be more quiet, but our culture has a tendency to ramp up versus down during this time of year in which we are called to buy, shop and party. When I made the decision to retire I knew at some point confronting who I am separate from what I do would come up and this was the perfect circumstance for this to surface. Everyone dreams of time off to rest, vacation, do something, do nothing. But what happens once you have lots of that?
Last Spring I took an online class “Cultivating the Sweet Life” which had me exploring successes and challenges in my life. I uncovered a big “aha.” I had been pouring myself into my work nearly my whole life because I somehow imagined that “If I work hard enough, people will love me.” They would see my value and offer their friendship and support in kind. And that is pretty much what I experienced, but because it is a faulty belief based on fear, it had no bottom to it and when job demands picked up, I only hit at them harder. If working during the week won’t get all my goals accomplished, then I began to work weekends. And if that wouldn’t get all my to do’s done, then how about working 10 hours or even 12? Then people will REALLY love me…right? Well, not really. Out of that aha, I saw that if I continued in this pattern I would die with a nice sign on my grave that would say “She worked very hard” or “She was real busy.” I instantly knew this was not what I wanted. So that aha, my trip to India and the fact that I was the ripe age at which one can first consider retiring…lead to the decision to step off the roller coaster of work-life as I knew it.
It is one thing to speak of the Protestant Ethic…it is another thing to go into your own DNA and find out where this belief resides and take it out and look at it. Even Google+ has my profile as only 90% complete because I haven’t filled in my current occupation. I tried to fill it in with “letting the cat in and out” but it wanted to know the company that I worked for and my cat didn’t seem to be accepted when I typed it in. It doesn’t seem to see retired as an occupation.
Add to my slow social calendar a big dose of “no motivation” and this coming from me as someone who is normally pretty motivated and a self-starter. Once again I knew I could put together a new “To Do” list and pull myself out of it…but I wanted to know what was underneath it. Is doing things what gives us value? Is checking off our accomplishments what will give us satisfaction when we face our final breath?
“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.” ~Swami Vivekananda
And so for December I spent a lot of time being with the “nothingness”, on Facebook, watching TV, petting my cat, cleaning house, reading and reflecting. I listened to some great music old and new. I got caught up on correspondence. I saw some rather obscure movies that no one ever heard of before on Hulu such as “The Pill”, “The Go-Getter” and ”12 Dates of Christmas.” I collected quotes to ground me and to try to put this experience into something I could share with others. And of all of these “activities,” I can say hands down that the reflecting in-between all those other things was the most valuable. It is that space between things when one confronts who they are separate from the rest of the world.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.” – Paulo Coelho
As a side-bar, yet part of this lesson, for Christmas I decided to make my own gifts for people. Some of this was because I am still waiting for my first pension check to arrive and some was because I had the time to spend and I value gifts with a personal touch. I put together a collection of my favorite songs from the year (something I just couldn’t muster the energy for in 2011). And after seeing an idea on Pinterest, I picked up some river rocks from my yard and grabbed my colored pencils and began making unique runes as gifts. I had the sense of “no time” as I sketched whatever came to mind once the pencil made contact with the smooth rock. It almost felt like a form of meditation and was very pleasing. I also came up with fun names for each rune adding to the pleasure of this experience. I don’t think I could have made the runes or their fun names had I not had this vacuum of time for my creativity to flourish.
At times I faced my aloneness…sometimes embracing it as a dear friend I love and other times from that sense of being uncomfortably single in a world of couples. I was reminded of breaking up with Bryan back in 1990 and playing that Level 42 song “It’s Over” again and again. He was by far my toughest break-up I ever had to go through, but even then I knew to keep playing the song until I got through it. There is something about going through it versus avoiding it. It is that very vulnerable “underneath” part where the lesson is. What I would say from my experience in 1990 and now, is that even from the discomfort, I became clear of my desire for connection with both self AND others. There is power in knowing that I can be alone and not self-combust…that I live on to tell my story…to share my experience.
And so thanks to December, I peel away that which I am not. I am not my work, nor even my past. I am not my to do list. I am not the collection of my accomplishments. I am not my friends or enemies. I am not even my family. While I recognize that all of these are a part of me, they do not dominate who I am in this moment. They are a reflection in the pond versus the pond itself. I am merely a person living day to day, allowing in the experience that life provides to nourish me. Open to learning. Open to growing and not taking the path of least resistance.
“Become more authentic and you will have a flowering. And the more authentic you become, by and by you will feel many things are falling away – of their own accord. You never made any effort to do it; they just fall of their own accord.” ~Osho
I’m so glad I took the time to read your entire blog before this last entry. Clearly you can write well. What struck me most of all is the sense of leaving and the subsequent mystery of next. In a completely different context, it’s a great theme in my life right now.
For years I lived at the edge of life, preparing myself and my family for my death. Even up to a year ago, the Grim Reaper has been walking in my shadows. That experience is so distilling, so exciting..so ultimately freeing. But I did not die.
My new heart failure and transplant team has taken a totally different approach to my terminal illness. They have given me clean physical paremeters within which I am TOTALLY free to do anything I want. They calculated my mortality and I went from 50% chance of living each year to 2% chance of dying. 98% chance of living is what I heard inside my head.
This last entry touched this place within me most powerfully. After the dizzy years of surviving and letting go, I am free again to live and to embrace. My illness will eventually take me down, as life does every one of us. But it’s not imminent.
I have heard “live in the present” and “live as if this were your last day…” Which I have for years. So in reading your story, in this moment when you’re floating in between the now and then, I’m recognizing a similar place.
Part of mine is a physical change in existence. Another is spiritual, inasmuch as I have worked my entire life in christian church as minister and find myself in this new place away from it.
I suppose this is a bit more than a comment… Maybe it’s conversation to have with you.
Thanks. Very good writing. Powerful transparency.
Thanks for your rich sharing on facing that void in your own life. This was not an easy month for me to experience or write about. That being the case, I wasn’t sure how it might be received. I appreciate your candor and am grateful that you are outliving the odds and living your life fully! And that void does make life richer in it’s own way.
I love to read your blog- Into the Void. My English is not good but I need to say I enjoyed reading your blog very much. I feel touching and I have the same feeling
in your live experience.
Expected your next Blog.
River, It is nice to know that this human experience is shared across the globe including with you in Hong Kong. Thanks for reading and commenting. Your English is better than you realize. Kathy
Great post Kathy! Seems that you hit all the right buttons. Self reflection with the right amount of time to find what your looking for is always time well spent. Everyone should do it often enough to purge what doesn’t work anymore in their lives. Heartache is the tough one that takes awhile to heal though and take it from me, when your not looking for your soul mate, he or she will turn up. So maybe you still have some work to do on your own?
Thanks Hollis for reading and sharing your input. I trust that what I am experiencing is perfect even when it isn’t easy.
I started with the latest blog becuz I read email from most recent backwards. I’m guessing that your leap into the void will actually get you out of it sooner! Do you remember once telling me that sometimes you have to let yourself become a little bored in order to become your most creative!? (Encinitas 199?)
I especially resonated to your void becuz all week I’ve been “shoulding” on myself; should be setting up my next Haiti volunteer mission, finding contract work that will actually pay well, etc.
I could only counteract this with two other “should”s:
1) “Right now i should rest and recover from the months of preparation for “Come Back little Sheba” which FINALLY closed the week before Xmas
2) If I remember anything from that grueling process, let it be that the purpose of life is balance, not exhaustion!
So much love from your former enabler who “made” you apply to KP
Well said Paula. Keep noticing the shoulds and looking underneath them for freedom. I will do the same! And thanks for reminding me that back in the 90’s I had some good advice. Be well and soft hugs to you!
It was so intersting to read your latest blog. Thanks for getting down into the depths of feelings and putting it on paper. It also made me to realize that even though I thought I really knew you there is much about you that is yet unknown…..maybe unknown to you also. I love the balance I experience in my life which consits of having a rich social life and a rich life of solitude. I need both so it is a blessing to feel balanced. We may not agree on this but I find that each day is a success since I depend on the Lord to lead me into what He has for me. So that means that as long as I am in tune with Him I am doing exactly what He has for me. He directs my path so I am right where He wants me to be.
I loved the part of your blog where your job is to let your cat in and out. Isn’t it interesting that cats love being in control of “their human”. Dogs are much different and willing to let you be the controller.
Awaiting your January 2013 blog. You do a good job at expressing yourself.
Thanks for taking time to read my blog and then to comment and share your own views on life. I suspect there is a lot about each other that we have yet to discover. Thanks for sharing the journey. I am so glad to have you in my life Mom!