Immobilizing Fear

I have a history, a story that has shaped and refined who I am, that has given me an ability to speak with gravity on an important matter, because I have been carved by its weight personally. I also have a fear, a very real fear, of judgment and retaliation if I open my mouth about it in a public setting. This issue garnered top real estate in my mind with a recent news story that relates to my past, and I felt my heart rate soar as I considered highlighting awareness through my little megaphone of Facebook influence to a minuscule slice of the population. But even among friends, I feared rejection, judgment, shaking of the head and silent labeling that I’m a pot-stirrer. Also, of course, I feared the moles who will inevitably bring it to the eyes of he who is most affected by me opening my mouth. So I kept quiet. And the dust settled. But a week later, a dear friend who has experienced the same injustice and abuse shared with me a different article that addresses it, and our conversation ignited that desire to speak up again. As I heard more of the distressing details of her abuse, and the even more distressing inaction of church leaders she went to for help, mirroring my own experience, I realized that if I couldn’t get around the fear to speak up for myself, I could find enough courage to speak up for her. And when we considered all of the women who suffer in silence, bound by fear, it was finally time to kick fear in the mouth and open mine.

Shaking, I typed out a statement on Facebook. And waited for a response. What I said was long–an invitation for most to scroll on by, right?–and gave details I haven’t shared except to closest friends and family. I shook for at least an hour, teeth rattling and all.

To my surprise, in flowed a torrent of insightful and kind commentary, words of encouragement, validation and even guilt for not having supported me more during my time of abuse. Many of the people I thought would judge me were my strongest allies. My fears of rejection had been unfounded! Retaliation still may come, but it was worth the price to shine light on a subject that may bring a better outcome for other women, calling past, present, and future leaders to accountability and encouraging a more noble way to handle this crisis than ignoring or turning a blind eye. Memories of that difficult time and experience flooded my immediate consciousness, and for almost 24 hours I was submerged in strong emotions as the scar opened again to be cleansed and healed.

A very interesting thing happened. It’s actually very sacred to me, but I share it carefully and with trust that it may be a source of insight to possibly illuminate a dark time in your life, or give you hope if you are currently in despair. The house that holds my most painful memories is the one I’ve curiously chosen to move back to. It was a difficult decision, a guided decision, and one I wasn’t excited about initially. But as it became clear this was what was best for my kids, for their mom and dad to live in the same neighborhood, I moved forward with the move, and here I am, walking and talking amidst the ghosts of my past. We re-carpeted and painted the upstairs before moving in this summer so it would feel different, and chose creative options for furniture placement. The basement that was constantly locked to keep harmful behaviors private is now a comfortable suite to welcome family and guests. Overwhelmingly, the fears that I had about being in the same space as my nightmares have dissipated by merely facing them, and I’ve found happiness and a fresh start in this home.

In the midst of the deepest pain in that previous life, there is a strong memory of a certain day. My toddlers must’ve been napping or playing in their room while I was subjected to forceful words of abuse and pinned to the bed. The painting that had been a beautiful part of his marriage proposal to me was ripped and torn for effect, and I was told over and over with spittle flying in my face that I was a terrible human being, mentally ill, tearing apart our family with my pride, and was cursed at with vile words I barely knew the meaning of. He left, slamming the door to the small bedroom I’d been relegated to, and retreated to the locked basement. I wept. I shook. I knelt and asked why I’d been left so utterly alone to face this. I cried for my children, born into a vast sea of chaos and conflict. I got back on the bed and looked at the ceiling through my tears, shook my fist and cried aloud to send help; I couldn’t face this on my own. There were many times that I felt lifted and nurtured in moments following abuse, but this wasn’t one of them. It was as if the heavens were burnished brass, and I was bruising and breaking my fingers trying to find a crack in the heavy silence, an escape from the dark hole into which I’d fallen that I never wanted to be in.

Eternities passed, it seemed, as I wept and waited. No answer. Maddening. I longed for death for a minute as a more pleasant option than moving forward in this oppression and silence, with nothing but more of the endless same visible on the horizon. But wait, maybe something…very, very faint…a voice…echoing in the distance? A quiet voice, but one that seemed familiar…urgent, powerful. “Hold on. Hold on, Mary, hold on. Don’t give up, it will get better!” And then it was gone. That one whisper…did I really hear it?…gave me the strength to persevere for one more day, and then another.

Back to this week, as the comments kept coming, I realized that this Depth Day I’d carved out for reading and writing would be repurposed solely to listen to my heart and let the experience unfold. I recently finished Courtney Carver’s new book and loved her encouragement to put your hands on your heart and listen. I felt the pain of remembering details, felt the ache of knowing I was loved and supported, knew that instead of blocking these strong emotions, I should ride them through and learn from them. I got up off my chaise lounge and wandered around the house for a minute, needing to work a broader set of muscles than just eyes reading on a screen. My hand felt the smooth cold of my clean granite counter, the soft petals of surprise roses sent for Valentine’s Day. I walked slowly back up the stairs, around the corner to the laundry area, and paused at the entrance to my daughter’s vacant room. Opening the door with a sudden sense of reverence, I saw in my mind’s eye with surprising clarity the scene I’ve just described: seven-years-ago me, curled in fetal position on the bed, pleading for help. My heart swelled with sorrow and compassion for her, and also a strong understanding as to why she needed to suffer through that trial: all of the refinement, strength, and wisdom that would come through enduring and choosing to be a voice to others who knew the same. And so I reached out backwards in time and space to encourage that broken individual, knowing now the other side of that pain…the opposite joy…and I’ve never felt anything so real than actually speaking to her through my tears: “Hold on, Mary! It will get better! Don’t give up!”

Is it possible that there are moments in your life that a future self, a more mature and experienced being, may reach backwards to encourage? Are there times that you can be a voice to a loved one at a critical moment, say words that can later be pinpointed as a precise turning point?

Fear interferes. It has a way of immobilizing, of silencing and blocking forward movement. That’s the adversary’s greatest weapon, I think, keeping us paralyzed in inaction as we let all the possibilities of frightening things that could happen keep us from taking a step forward. Fear is an emotion we will all experience in this life, and it warns of danger that often is real. But most times, a lack of movement keeps us in the grip of the adversary we fear, instead of forging a path away from it to safer ground. If you can find one, just one motivator strong enough to move that first foot, whether it’s for you or someone else, you’ll find that the dense darkness isn’t as suffocating as it once seemed. With the exertion of moving forward, the air begins to dissipate around you until light can break through, and your timid steps will turn into a path of freedom from whatever holds you captive. Never forget that within you is the power to hope, to hear the anthem of encouragement, however muted, from a voice further down the path that there is strength and peace ahead. And choosing to listen, to NOT GIVE UP, and to move, immobilizes your fear, instead of your fear immobilizing you.

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Polishing the Gifts We’re Given

We’re all born with unique gifts: talents and abilities mindfully given that add to our individuality and serve as guideposts for the paths we pursue. The beautiful thing about these gifts is that they typically have a cumulative effect for good, rippling outwards to lift others up as well as yourself. Does empathy come naturally to you? Or a thirst for knowledge–perhaps a touch of wisdom in the way you communicate? Some have uncommonly refined artistic talents, while others are gifted at being peacemakers, connecting with animals, or analyzing situations and data. The list is inexhaustible, every variation lovely and complementary, spanning out like a spread of all the colors in creation. Some gifts are inherent, while others we can seek to obtain, and yet more arrive unexpectedly at certain points in life when we need them to progress. What I’ve learned about these gifts is that they come from above, typically in raw form, requiring our effort to give them final shape and polish.

My sister has always had a supportive heart. She writes letters, makes phone calls, and saves up to cross the country with her family for special visits to loved ones. She enjoys baking and regularly makes huge batches of goodies for neighbors, local schools, or someone struggling with a challenge. On her recent trip here, she made time to drive a couple hours away to bring cheer and a special present to our aunt who lives in an assisted living home. I think her presence as a genuinely caring individual is so consistent that we are tempted to take it for granted, but I’ve thought a lot lately about the joy she brings to others with her investment of time and thoughtfulness.

A close friend and neighbor is an organist for a renowned organization. I’ve worked with him on many occasions as a musician, and his technique and improvising ability is stellar from years of dedicated practice and study. But the gift I’ve noticed in him that lifts my spirit the most is his interpretation of sacred hymns as a volunteer in our local congregation. He’s put thought into and matched the essence of every verse with an appropriate timbre. Because he is truly communicating the message of the music instead of just playing notes, each phrase is infused with meaning, reflecting quiet reverence, grand glory, and everything in between. When he lets out all the stops at the most majestic moments, tears interfere with my singing, and I am transported to the very throne of God. I am so grateful for the way he has polished his gift.

Which gifts have been given to you, and why? Have they shaped the trajectory of your life? Developing my talent on the French horn that became apparent in grade school eventually determined where I went to college, who I met and mingled with, and the city I’ve settled in. Can you discern how your gifts bring about good and promote growth? Sometimes it’s hard to see them in yourself, but those close to you, I’m sure, would be happy to point them out if asked. I find it extraordinarily fascinating to consider the organized mind of God, who, I believe, coordinates what gifts we need, individually and collectively, in a complicated dispensing pattern that has an overarching genius for design. A topic to further explore another time. But doesn’t it engender gratitude, to ponder how well-thought out and complementary these gifts are? We aren’t all given the same ones, and thank heavens for that! I love variety. Because they require such effort on our part to bring to full fruition, though, over time we may become inclined to forget their origin. It may be one of the tests of life to be able to say thank you for, and report on how you polished your endowments of natural ability. Maybe then we’ll discover how much they truly affected others around us.

I’ve noticed in the last few years that one of my gifts is to occasionally catch a glimpse of future events in my path. A subtle, still snapshot of a moment or idea comes into my mind for a brief moment. It’s almost as if I’m being sent a postcard from heaven as to where I should head next, and I’ve learned it’s less of a novelty and more of an invitation to get to work to bring what I see to pass. For example, years ago I had a sudden mental picture of my extended family on my mom’s side gathered at a national park. My grandparents were both gone at that point, and not many efforts had been made to gather the whole (huge) family, living all across America, in one place. Though I am just a grandchild of that family and was pregnant with my second child, I felt I needed to organize a family reunion at Grand Teton National Park. It turned out to be a lovely affair which created memories we still talk about, and strengthened our bonds as relatives. I’ve often wondered if it was my Grandpa Silver who sent the postcard. 🙂

As I’ve slowed down my life this year to live more simply, and am creating space for deeper thought, my mental postcards have increased to include writing ideas. They’re coming at a much faster pace now, because I’ve exhibited that I’m willing to act on them rather than let them fade into dust in some forgotten receptacle (as I used to). I’m so happy to find such beautiful gifts in the mailbox of my mind! But like the illuminating invitations of future events, they’re only landscape views of ideas, a broad picture or concept that is given without explanation. I have to make a real effort to climb into that picture and figure out the details.

Once I’m sitting in the postcard of an concept, it’s time to explore–hard but rewarding work. I turn over every rock, sit at different points along the stream of an idea, discern answers in the wind as I traverse the hillsides. Slowly, searching under fallen trees and in caves, or sifting through sand, I collect hidden gems until I have enough to make a picture of my own. Once I’m satisfied with the content of my explorations, I sit on a mossy hill with an overlook, putting those pieces together in a work of art. I have to move things around and edit mercilessly until the final product is one of beauty. That’s my writing process–a ticket to adventure! I hope it lifts you, just for a moment.

Consider this an invitation to ponder in the next couple of days which unique gifts you or those around you have been given, and why. Feel free to share in the comments–I’d love to hear about them. Rather than being boastful, I see it as highlighting the creativity and love of the Giver. What type of diligent efforts are required to make them come to life? As you drop those refined gems in the sea of humanity, do they ripple out to gently lift those within reach? And are you buoyed by another’s striving endeavor to find and polish their stones of beauty?

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January Report

This may not be an exciting read, but I’d like to track progress throughout the year on my Depth Year goals. Helps with accountability! Here’s January’s report:

Depth Days to write: 2 that were scheduled, 5 more because of flu; 4 new blogposts

Kids on board: Said no to impulse toy purchases; had several family game nights; watched Lord of the Rings trilogy together; went on one-on-one dates with each child (hike Donut Falls with J, Greatest Showman with L).

Only purchase non-essentials: There were many, many impulse buys that I rejected. It’s educational to notice how often the desire comes, and why! (Instagram marketing is effective, which is why I hate it…) The difficulty for me this month was what to do with gift cards and credits. I had a large credit at Target and decided to get a Rip-stick (skateboard/balance exercise equipment) for J because he’d bought one for L for Christmas and they use them daily to exercise. I felt it was a worthy purchase, but was it essential? No. I’m sure I’ll encounter more of these gray-area questions.

I did eat out less, and ordered water instead of soda. I craved fruits and veggies this month and ate a ton of them!

Only four items of clothes per year per person: L got a hoodie, J got a new jacket, and I didn’t need anything.

Consume media already stockpiled: I acquired a “Best of John Williams” CD last year and finally took the time to listen to it. Amazing to have all of that goodness in one place! “Star Wars” opening chord and “Theme from E.T.” horn lines at the end make me cry every time. 🙂 Also enjoyed watching “Far from the Madding Crowd” with a friend.

Books I own that I read: East of Eden, by John Steinbeck; Beauty; The Invisible Embrace, by John O’Donohue; 1 Nephi. I read out loud from Little House on the Prairie to L and encouraged J to read Sherlock Holmes. The book about beauty has really touched me deeply. The author explores beauty in all its forms: in nature, color, music, movement, art, imagination, love and attraction, the beauty of the flaw, death, and God. It’s a fascinating read (a little dense in the middle, which is why I hadn’t finished it before this challenge) that I will quote and revisit often. Highly recommended!

Existing relationships strengthened: Game night competition with neighbor families; L spent the day with her old best friends; daily Marco Polo conversations with family; another game night with Alaska pals; phone calls with P; went to dinner with H; great talk with C; hosted dinner for B and L, B, and S; compassion to S, whose parents’ health is ailing.

Hobbies we worked on: The kids painted ornaments and door decorations; I practiced piano for an hour last night (first time in years!) and played a gig (paid performance) on French horn in Logan; and we had a cooking challenge to discover new recipes in cookbooks already owned. Come try some delicious ribs!

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The Paths We Follow

We’ve all heard the Robert Frost poem that talks about two roads diverging in the woods. A couple of weeks ago, I heard a different poem about paths that captured my attention and has continued to bounce around in my head since then. I think it fits well with the theme of a Depth Year, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Let’s see if you come to the same conclusion.

(I have slightly changed the formatting for ease of scrolling but you are welcome to find the poem in its original form here.)

The Calf-Path by Sam Foss

I. One day through the primeval wood, a calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew, a crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled, and I infer the calf is dead.                                       

II. But still he left behind his trail, and thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day, by a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too, as good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade, through those old woods a path was made.                 

III. And many men wound in and out, and dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath, because t’was such a crooked path;
But still they followed–do not laugh–the first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked because he wobbled when he walked.

IV. This forest path became a lane, that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road, where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun, and traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half, they trod the footsteps of that calf.

V. The years passed on in swiftness fleet, the road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware, a city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half, trod in the footsteps of that calf.

VI. Each day a hundred thousand rout followed the zigzag calf about
And o’er his crooked journey went the traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led, by one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way, and lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent, to well-established precedent.                           

VII. A moral lesson this might teach were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind along the calf-paths of the mind.
And work away from sun to sun, to do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track, and out and in, and forth and back.
And still their devious course pursue, to keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove, along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh, who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach–but I am not ordained to preach.

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Nor am I “ordained to preach”…but I’ll take a gander at interpretation related to my pursuit of a Depth Year. As those of us following this challenge are limiting extraneous input, seeking mainly to strengthen the relationships with what we already have and are, it might do well to spend a bit of thought on the origin of the paths we trod. Shall we make sure they are not just followed out of tradition, but truly merit our frequent travel? Are there a few to discard? Shall we carve some new paths instead?

A lot of bloggers choose not to comment on the current political climate, because it’s such a maelstrom: a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil. While I won’t voice my thoughts in detail, I will say that the past five years have been a period of tremendous questioning of an affiliation I once held onto strongly. As I unraveled the origin of that allegiance in my family’s history, and evaluated from a new perspective the reprehensible state of current affairs, I’ve cast it off as far as possible and become a different thinker and voter. Incidentally, most of my family has as well. It no longer represents who we are, so goodbye to a crooked highway headed in the opposite direction of where we’d like to go. Closest exit to a back road, please!

Another controversial topic is religion, but it’s probably an example most can identify with. Recently, a childhood friend severed his association with and belief in our shared faith. While I’ll admit this has been painful for me to watch, and infinitely more painful for him as he extricates something that was always a fundamental part of his personality, it’s caused me to deeply explore why I choose to remain committed. This month has been full of heartfelt questions, prayers, seeking. There are cultural behaviors quite ingrained that I realize, like him, I no longer want to support, but the canon of faith is one that still resonates with and guides me, and brings me peace. I have had spiritual experiences I can’t deny, so it is something I choose to continue to follow. However, if I am true to the spirit of independence of thought, I should allow my friend to follow the course which resonates with his soul, without bullying or a withdrawal of closeness just because it’s a different route than I’ve chosen. It’s hard when others reject a path that is so important to you, but we are each accountable for our own journey in life.

The author of the poem above makes a strong case, I believe, against daily grind work that brings you little or no joy. Amen! While supporting yourself/family isn’t typically an optional pursuit, and yes, brings growth and development, are you spending your life on work you love? Work that makes a difference? Work that improves the lives of others? I had a career shift two years ago and put a tremendous amount of research into figuring out the right direction for me that answered those deep questions. Now that my business is off the ground, I find the longtime yearning in my soul to write has only intensified, and because of my Depth Year, am able to carve out time to pursue it.

The last topic I want to address in this vein is relationships. We often find ourselves in a familiar rut of behavior, falling into the creases heavily marked in dried clay whether they’re the best route or not. One of my goals this year is to worry less about finding new relationships and spend more time strengthening the ones that already exist in my life. I want to ask deeper questions. Last week, I noticed that a friend who always calls to check up on me is often sent to voicemail because of the frequency and predictability of her inquiries. Can you relate?I asked myself as I listened to yet another message from her if that was the way to treat a kind, concerned friend. Not really. My excuse of busyness felt trite and tired. So I called her back, and asked some questions I’ve never asked before about her life. Her answers included a few horrific stories I would have never guessed happened in her childhood, and how she overcame them. I was humbled, edified from the wisdom she shared. And our hearts were drawn closer together than they have ever been.

Another friend I haven’t seen in months treated me to dinner this weekend. A couple of years ago, I craved his company and was perplexed when there seemed a shift that created a distance between us. Instead of just going through the motions that have become familiar since then: Hi, how are you, How are your kids, How’s work…I took a deep breath and asked what happened. I explained my perspective, and why I pulled away. He respectfully listened and then opened up in a way I’ve never seen before, answering all my questions and turning my perception on its head with a completely different and valid point of view. I had to hold my face in my hands to steady myself as the seismic shift thrust me from the vista I’d stood atop for years to another with a view of a vastly different landscape below. And now I have a choice of what to do with that information.

All because I questioned the path we were on and got back to the business of creating an authentic one.

What are familiar pathways in your own life that you can see are leading you nowhere? I’m not talking about jumping ship from the hard or banal parts of voyages that will take time and discipline to complete, but rather the calf-paths of the mind that are followed without questioning their origin or usefulness. What is taking more energy than is actually required to get from Point A to Point B? Are you on a road just because your predecessors always traveled it? Do you even like the view? I’d encourage you to stop, evaluate, ask deep questions, and take that exit, if needed, to a fresh new field or grove, one without well-established precedent. Let the tall grass bend under your feet in a brave new trail.

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Overcoming Familiarity’s Contempt

I found my first stumbling block for this Depth Year challenge in an unexpected manifestation. Two weeks ago, a typical work day avalanched into a slippery slope of ill health: muscle fatigue, fever, malaise. As I realized the culprit was influenza H3n2–and there was no way out but through, I initially thought with my Pollyanna self, “Oh great! I’ll get some unplanned Depth Days out of this!” (I’m always craving big blocks of time to spend as I wish at home, because they are a rare treat.) If you’ve had the flu this season, you know what a naive thought that was. Sure, there are sharper pains in the quiver of human ailment, such as the searing kind found in strep throat, or the merciless wringing out of food poisoning, or the pain of childbirth; but nothing I’ve ever faced has been so heavy for so long. It felt like I had been and would be sick forever. Lead blanket on my lungs, energy barely sufficient to crawl downstairs and wrangle up some food, spiking fever thumbing its nose at attempts to tame it with Tylenol. I felt as if a truck carrying tons of water or concrete had run me over, backed up beeping, and flattened me again and again. Thankfully, my kids were at their dad’s for the weekend. And in contrast to the recent bustling glory of Christmas break when my sister and her whole family were visiting from Florida, my house was especially quiet.

I attempted to entertain my mind while my body submerged into purgatory, quickly consuming a book I’d looked forward to reading for an entire year (East of Eden, by John Steinbeck), watching The Crown, keeping up on social media, even writing my first two blogposts here. Day 1 and 2 were tolerable, Day 3 and 4 were miserable, and by Day 5, the straitjacket effect of being locked into the same routine really started to get to my psyche. I wanted out, but it seemed as if decent health was nowhere on the horizon. Venturing outside in a stupor, I stumbled to the home of a doctor in the neighborhood, melting into tears on his doorstep. I asked if he could check my lungs–honestly wondering if this flu might be killing me. He donned a mask, brought out his stethoscope and oximeter, and declared that my lungs and oxygen levels were actually okay and I would turn a corner eventually. His kind wife sent me off with warm chicken noodle soup in a Tupperware.

As I walked home, hands warm from encircling the soup, but coughing deeply from the exertion of exercising for the first time in a week, I could suddenly taste a strong disdain for going back into my house. My robin-egg blue bedroom with its string of white lights around the window that is so cozy and welcoming took on the sheen of a jail cell, and I almost spat with disgust at the book I’d just finished. My bed seemed a coffin. I hated everything in my fridge. The thought of another “Depth Day” in that hell made me want to run to the hills. I realized that everything my illness had touched seeped with the poison of familiarity. There was too much of the same. “Familiarity breeds contempt” flashed continuously in my mind, like a neon sign at a seedy hotel. It may seem unrelated, but I discerned with panic that my whole Depth Year was at stake: if a crash course in spending a chunk of time with only the things in my home unleashed such a torrent of contempt, how could I spend a whole year pursuing this relationship? I was terribly altered by my quarantine, almost cracked in the fevered head. What I needed, desperately, was a cold splash of novelty, something unexpected, a new scent or sight or taste.

Which is what I’m trying to avoid, this year. That craving for newness, the high from the hit of a purchase, the need for novelty. Have you ever felt that worry, when a place, idea or relationship has become so utterly stagnant that you can’t stand the thought of another day of the same?

Well, gratefully, I found my sanity, and a solution. It helped that pretty soon after I was able to leave my home for a few hours at a time. But I also realized that you don’t have to buy things to find newness…you can simply approach the familiar with a twist to give it a crisp, revived feel. The next five days of recovery were spent without breaking any of my Depth Year rules, but they purposefully radiated freshness and creativity sufficient to diffuse the suffocating cloud of sameness. I played a gig in Logan, an hour and a half away, and decided to stay in a cheap hotel instead of commuting two nights in a row. That cured my lingering disdain for my own bed real quick. I interacted with people I haven’t seen in a while, and played my horn with renewed vigor. I meditated at a temple in Logan, which is not my usual place. On Sunday evening, reunited with my kids, we hosted a big competition game night, with the two families we always play games with plus three completely new ones. The new mix of personalities and the unique points system I created gave it a fresh feel and everyone had a blast. Monday and Tuesday, the two Depth Days I had originally scheduled in my calendar, were vacation days from school, and instead of hanging around doing the typical, we had a cooking competition to discover new recipes (from recipe books I already owned) and hiked in a winter wonderland to a waterfall.

The strange aversion I found to such undeviating sameness while sick may not be something you identify with, but I think the solution for exiting the funk can help you get past stuck spots during your Depth Year…or in a stale relationship, job, or place in life. When you start to feel claustrophobic and limited by your parameters, think outside of the box and find new ways of doing old things. Go places. Breathe some fresh air. Set creative guidelines, like only being allowed to read this certain book while in the tub, or teach that old hobby to someone else, or come up with a whole new set of rules for a certain holiday. Our minds do crave variety, but going deep can introduce as much new terrain as going wide. The trick is to keep moving. And go get your flu shot if you haven’t already!

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What’s In a Name

I was sitting in a room with 24 others who had become deep friends for life in just a matter of days. The rain forest enveloped us outside, night sky both hiding and hushing the lush green canopy, exotic birds and cacophony of insects that came to life with the sun as we’d join to meditate on a stone patio in the early misty morning. It was the halfway point of our week-long mindfulness retreat in Ecuador, attended by thoughtful folk from all walks of life and every quarter of the earth, each seeking illumination for living more mindfully, each finding clarity within the confines of a week away from all other distractions.

Our host had set up a special ceremony with an indigenous shaman, the honored holy man of the region, and it was to be one of the high points of an already impactful week. Generations of his family in bright, traditional dress danced to the beat of primitive drums, candlelight casting shadows on their shy but happy faces. As we then danced and waved palm fronds, our smiles followed suit, finally letting go of whatever inhibitions tenaciously remained after days of open sharing. The most memorable moment of the evening came as the shaman spent individual time with each participant in our circle: cleansing our foreheads, blowing new life into our faces with a healthy set of lungs in the form of a special herbal drink, and giving each person a new name in his mother tongue. Thankfully, a translation of the name was given as well, and several were tied to natural elements: water, stone, animal. It was such an intriguing mix of culture, reminiscent of Native American ceremonies in my home area of the American West, but with its own distinctive Ecuadorian flavor.

It was my turn. The short, wiry man paused, bending down and staring into my eyes for a minute. My face was fully misted from his powerful cleansing breath, and I sat forward with anticipation. “Heleni!” he ruptured. “Si, Heleni.” It was a beautiful name, but I immediately craved its interpretation. “Seed of the Forest: Heleni,” he nodded, pointing at my chest. As I turned the name and its meaning in my mouth and mind, I instantly felt it a perfect fit. My name is Mary Wood, I have always been drawn to trees with their natural beauty and nurturing spirit, I feel a vibrant connection with those towering ancestors who have given seed to who I am, and the quest for sinking roots deep while stretching for the light is one I emulate and embrace.

The rest of the retreat turned into quite a powerful experience for me, almost too much to digest. I’d gone to meet a couple of bloggers whose writing and lifestyle inspired me, and over the course of the week and as I began to share my story, they encouraged me to start my own blog. I went home fully fed, thoughts and ideas swirling, but found difficulty keeping the promise I’d made to the group to begin writing. Seeds of doubt crept in. Who needs another blog about simple living? There are plenty out there. Sometimes, if you follow too many, the frequency of notifications start to crowd your own thinking and become paradoxically not simplifying. Further, my core message of hope in the face of hardship has a spiritual element to it…not always well received. And finally, the details which make my life experience compelling are not easily shared, impacting others. How to achieve that tastefully? For a long time, I wrestled with these issues. For a long time, I pushed away the truths I had learned about myself and my inherent need to find clarity and expression with words.

But this New Year, as I embraced with excitement the concept of a Depth Year, I realized that my perfectionism was an anchor keeping me tied to shallow waters. So, despite fears that I’ll fall short on this goal, that my voice will be just one in the crowd, and that some may be offended by my attempts, I’m sailing free to discover the depths. If you find even one tiny seed of inspiration in these pages that helps you along your own journey, the effort will be worth it. I am a Seed of the Forest: Living Simply, Finding Depth, Creating Beauty.

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Depth Year Challenge 2018

My friend David Cain, author of the blog “Raptitude,” wrote this fantastic post.

“Go Deeper, Not Wider”

I met David and some other terrific people at a retreat in Ecuador, which I’ll tell you about later. We keep up as a group and have decided to do our own personalized versions of the Depth Year for 2018. Mine looks like this:

  • Don’t buy any things you don’t need. No stuff. Groceries and necessities are fine, of course, and experiences such as travel or creating memories with my kids are fully sanctioned. But no personal Amazon or online purchases (work supplies okay), no tech upgrades, and a significant reduction in “miscellaneous” expenses per month.
  • Only four new items of clothes this year; one per season. I’ve been curating my closet for several years now, and have gotten rid of a lot I don’t like. I’ll go further. Whatever hasn’t been worn by the end of the year will be donated.
  • No new hobbies, equipment, or books. Explore old ones. I’ll be practicing the French horn and piano more, reading books I already own rather than buying any or going to the library, playing sports with my kids that we already have equipment for, and going camping more often.
  • Eat out only when necessary and don’t order anything to drink other than water. Thankfully, I don’t have a problem with alcohol or soda, but I’d like to reduce my sugar intake while eating out. Bye, Sprite and Chick-fil-A lemonade!
  • Consume media you’ve already stockpiled rather than acquiring more. I did recently join Google Play with my family, so I have access to a lot of music, but when I’m driving in the car I’d like to sift through (and declutter) my large CD collection.
  • Get my kids on board. Thankfully, they are excited about seeking depth this year as well. They will only get new toys or gadgets from me on their birthday or Christmas, and we have planned special activities together: ice skating; Tepanyaki; camping in Capitol Reef, the Rubies, and Logan Canyon; playing catch, swimming, and tennis; cake decorating contests; and visiting my parents in Louisiana.
  • Use money saved to “buy” two uninterrupted days each month as Depth Days, which will be used to write, journal, and explore items already in my home. I’m self-employed, so I create my own schedule, but reducing careless consumption will allow me to actually buy what I want the most: time to write.
  • Write at least one post per month on my experiences buying less and delving more.
  • Host at least four Depth Day Retreats this year. I have room for guests in my basement and would love to bring like-minded people together for a retreat in which we’ll each tackle a project that’s been acquiring dust (literally or figuratively). We’ll have great food, sharing sessions, and I’ll teach a few organizing principles for living a better-thought-out life. Let me know if you’re interested in attending.
  • At the end of the year, anything passed over during Depth Days (still chose not to read that book, listen to that CD, figure out that sewing machine) will get donated on December 31st or given away. 

Are you choosing to do a Depth Year? How do your goals differ from mine? Best of luck and here we go!

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