“And how do we learn to assert the authority of our own clarity and reclaim an unshakable trust in our own wholeness and deep inner sufficiency?” —Wayne Muller
This is what I know. I am not sure where to start? I have months of journals stacked next to me. Me waking early, coffee in hand, encountering myself on the page. Messy loops and marks slanted across the white blue lined paper. The last 5 months well documented. 5 months of grief. 5 months of anger. 5 months of quiet. 5 months of rest. 5 months of letting go. 5 months of accepting my limitations. 5 months of listening to my heart. 5 months of finding courage. Did I mention the joy? Yes, 5 months of finding joy. So much joy.
Summer has been thick and hot in Detroit. Just like when I was a little girl and the seemingly endless days were filled with bare feet on hot black asphalt, sticky grape jelly and butter sandwiches and sprinklers methodically waving back and forth across the dry grass. Only now my days are filled with bike rides down wooded trails, cucumber and Kalamata olive salads with fresh mint and lemon dressing, air conditioning and long afternoons on the couch reading. I have been busy doing nothing, just like when I was young. Open endless days to wander.
Back in April I was challenged by my therapist to take the summer off from everything but my day job. I gasped. I protested. I justified my busyness. I felt panic rise from deep within at the thought of no projects, no teaching, no side hustle, no deadlines. Nothing, I learned, to distract me from listening to what my heart truly desires. Nothing to distract me from learning how to honor and love myself.
My summer has been go to work at my day joy, come home and do what I want. I can’t remember when I had so much open spacious time in my life. Idle time to fill with what brings me joy. Space to ask myself what I want to do and then time to do it. Whether it was ride my bike, take a nap, read a book, or binge watch Madame Secretary. I think the last time I had this much space and freedom was when I lived and worked on a tobacco farm in Kentucky in the early 90s before my son was born. We worked hard in that steamy brutal sun but then it was long open hours to sit on the front deck drinking ice tea and watch the wild grass sway over the rolling hills.
Accepting the challenge to take the summer off I realized just how compacted my life over the last 25 years has been. How I was literally suffocating my soul with demanding every single moment of my life be productive, or more aptly put, striving to be good enough. There was literally no room for me or spontaneous joy to exist. Even the things I did for self-care, like meditating and writing each morning, where solely for the purpose of keeping me going so I could be productive, aka good enough. This hyper productivity also served another larger purpose aside from trying to prove worth, it kept me severed from my heart, from being kind and compassionate with myself.
This is what I know after 5 months of slowing down. 5 months of space and time to hear my heart—I feel good enough when I make space for my yearnings. I know I feel good enough when I am not constantly striving to better myself, or be in continuous service to others. I know there is no righteousness giving from an empty vessel, only depletion. I know anxiety is not my constant companion broiling in my belly as I have lived with so long. As a matter of fact, joy and peace reside in my bones, always has, I just couldn’t feel it. I know stillness is power for my heart. I know striving and doing is the near enemy self-compassion and kindness. I know loving myself is easy, and in turn, loving others is easy too when I have space and time to open my heart and not have to worry about the next task on my to-do list.
I know I started painting again after almost 4 years away. It feels so good to be back in my studio again making marks and exploring nonverbal expression. I know my days are spent riding my bike, and delighting in my new kitty Neko who is now 4 months old, curious and into everything. I can’t begin to explain the hours spent just playing with this creature or the belly laughs I have watching her. I know I feel joy, real joy, not forced manufactured joy that is fleeting. I feel joy that dwells deep in my bones even when sorrow and pain come by for a visit as they surely do.
I know I that as summer is dwindling and golden leafs are appearing on the trails, I can not return to the siren call of busy. I know I have to let go of my side hustle for now. Allow myself to rearrange my priorities so that they include me and my heart—my joy.
Now I am off to sit with my honey on the couch to drink coffee and talk. Perhaps we will go ride our bikes, or perhaps I will paint in the studio, or perhaps I will simply sit and the watch the cats play.