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In 2003, I went to Ireland for three and a half weeks over the Winterim through a program offered by Mount Mary College. We had to choose one of three courses to take during our stay — I chose Irish Literature, no surprise there. I’d have taken theoretical mathematics and failed it miserably if it meant I could go to Ireland (thank God it didn’t come to that).
I had wanted to go to the British Isles ever since I could remember. And at the start of the semester, I walked into school, and saw the flier taped to the wall: Winterim in Ireland. My heart absolutely stopped. I marched straight down to the office and made an appointment to find out just what I needed to do to get there. They only had two spaces left, and they needed a deposit today in order to hold my place. I wrote a check, asking that he give it a day or two for the deposit I’d need to rush home and make to clear in my account.
I didn’t discuss it with my parents. I didn’t consult my then-husband. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just did it.
I think now and then about all the what if’s — what if I hadn’t had that overage check from tuition socked away in my underwear drawer? What if I’d consulted my parents/then-husband and they’d tried to talk me out of it? What if I hadn’t seen that flier? What if I had and the trip had already been filled? But that didn’t happen.
What did happen was that I told my friend Char V. about the trip, and she signed up. We went together on an adventure that cemented a friendship into a sisterhood. I fought a little bit with both of my parents about going so far away — something they didn’t really like, because they didn’t really understand my need to do it. And then I went out and got my passport. I fought with my then-husband, knee-deep in the ashes of our failing marriage, a day before I left to go, after no protest from him whatsoever for four months. And then, at one in the morning, he helped me finish packing.
I cannot describe to you what it felt like for me to just go off and decide this, to follow through with it, despite all of the opposition. I’d been such a good daughter, and such a good wife. Always looking to please others. Making this decision, and going through with it was the first hammer-blow to the chains I’d bound myself with. I left here a girl, and came back a different woman.
The moment we landed in Dublin, we boarded a bus that would take us to our lodgings for the first week. There was something flapping wildly in my chest — which I thought then was just a reaction to the way that the busdriver was navigating the busy streets of Dublin (he, and everyone else I saw, drove as though they were driving a tank at breakneck speeds on open roads…even when they weren’t).
That feeling wasn’t a result of being imperiled by a rogue busdriver. It wasn’t nerves, or fear. It was the most powerful sensation of coming home that I’d ever had in my entire life – to a place I’d only ever been in my dreams.
The moment we got our room assignment and toted (by hand) our incredibly heavy bags up the two flights of narrow stairs, I grabbed Char’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” To which she replied, “Where?” Anywhere! I wanted my feet on the ground. I wanted to smell the air. I wanted to stand there, knowing I was in Ireland, feeling the fluttery joy of homecoming in my chest.
From that first foray, through the entire trip, I struggled to swallow that feeling. I couldn’t understand it. I’d grown up in Wisconsin. I felt at home at my parents’ house. I loved it there. In the intervening years I’ve learned that some things aren’t meant to be understood. They’re only meant to be felt or experienced, without attaching reason to them.
The president of the college — a woman who I had a bit of hero-worship for – had married an Irishman, and used those contacts to craft a truly incomparable journey for us. At one point, she told me that I looked like I’d been born there, I fit in so well. I’d seen that myself — no one knew I wasn’t Irish until I opened my mouth and my Midwestern accent flowed out, exposing me.
I savored each minute. I took 33 rolls of film. I went to every single talk and presentation we were offered, and went along on misadventures with our smaller group of cronies every night. I barely slept – I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
And there are times now, here, when I walk out the door and something about the day triggers a deep and inconsolable sense of loss and homesickness. Something about the moisture in the air, or the freshness of the breeze, or the quality of light shining through overcast skies. And I could just weep.
I don’t though. I swallow that longing, and store it away. Because I know that someday, I’ll go back. Someday, I will stand on the shores of the home of my heart, and feel that fullness again. Someday, I will stand on a bridge spanning the Liffey, and look around at the low buildings that feel so familiar and know that they’re mine. Mine, whether I’m there on the Liffey, or here in Wisconsin longing for them.
I was feeling nostalgic today. Something about the way the air’s so fresh coming in our apartment windows. Enjoy the pictures. And wish me luck on, someday, getting back home.
Hindsight provides new eyes. (Wayne W. Dyer)
One of my greatest downfalls has ever and always been being too future-oriented. In plain-speak, I think way too much about tomorrow, and not enough about where the heck I am right now, this minute. I’ve been making some headway on that lately, and it feels good.
I’ve been doing the ‘work’ of changing that way of thinking, and being consistent in it — when I catch myself in the act of robbing the joy of the moment in thought and deep contemplation of how much further I need to go, I take a breath. And then another. And I think, “You will not pass this way again, Carolyn. Enjoy the scenery. Smell the roses. Savor the moment.” And like a dreamer pulling away from the lingering tendrils of the dream, I look around and discover that right where I am, now, in that moment, is beautiful. Precious.
It’s funny how I always seem to end up saying to someone else just what I need to hear most. Tonight I facilitated another awesome Reiki Share (that’s not me tooting my own horn — it’s me touting the benefits of Reiki Share *smile*). At the conclusion, we were all talking to a newer traveler about her impatience to get somewhere else on her path.
I turned to her, and seeing myself, I told her that I did truly know exactly how that felt. But having trudged a bit longer, I’d discovered something. That, yes, we do continue to long for some greener pasture, some benchmark that we set for ourselves, no matter how stringently we attempt to live in the moment. That’s part of being human — the desire for more, to be more, to have more, to grow more, to feel more.
But that there would come a point for her, when she’d reached her own self-imposed benchmark and looked backward. That someday, she would look back at this self, this now self, and she would be nearly unrecognizable to who she had striven to become, who she had become. And that even though in the doing it felt like it was taking forever, it would happen in a blink of an eye. A moment.
I am my own worst critic — like most people. I am my own nasty whip-wielding slave-driver — like most people. But I had that moment, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given. I had that moment, where I looked backward down the path I’d been walking and saw myself at the start of the journey, and felt who I was at this point in the journey. And the self I sprung from felt like a fond stranger.
Meeting myself this way, through time and distance, had an unexpected effect. It let me relax. I could finally look at myself and realize that all of that change and growth happened, and I almost didn’t know it. All that way traveled, and me so intent on where I had yet to go, that I didn’t even see how far I’d come, how much I’d changed.
It made me think about all the selves I’ve had. It made me think about myself at, say, nineteen. (I’ve gotten a new perspective on the nineteen-year-old lately, since I’ve been working with some of them, and the proximity has driven home a few interesting lessons about the gifts of time, age, and challenge.) At nineteen, I had the temerity, the naiveté, and the rose-colored glasses to see the world as this big realm of possibility. Overwhelming, boundless possibility.
In some ways, I still do. But the naiveté has been tempered with wisdom, and the temerity with patience and compassion. I’ve traded in the rose-colored glasses for something with a little clearer outlook, and find that I like the view just fine.
The biggest gift? Knowing myself. Knowing myself so, so much better and deeper than I ever could at nineteen. Loving myself enough to stand up for myself in the way that almost none of us can manage to do well or consistently at nineteen. Respecting myself. Having compassion for myself.
Knowing that it starts right there, with me. I didn’t know that at nineteen — that before you strap on that cape and well-meaning smile, and set forth to save the world from itself, you’d better have saved yourself first.
Walking the path of mastery isn’t for the timid. Not if they want to stay timid. For every flat, even stretch of smooth sailing, there are periods of rocky, uphill climbs. Parts where you fall. Times when you crawl. And the whole time, you’re being given a gift — the one you asked for. To be made new. To be formed by life so that you can shape your life.
I’ve got a lot of affection for that wide-eyed gal I was. I love her to pieces. She was so full of illusion and romance, strutting along with a swing in her step and a chip on her shoulder. A saunter and a smile and the godawful hubris to think that she knew so darn much about so darn much.
Without her, I wouldn’t be standing here, right where I am now. And I love now. I love the possibilities I see from this vantage point, which that girl could hardly have dreamed of. I love that instead of thinking I know so much about so much, I realize how little I do know. That I can accept that it isn’t always necessary to know.
Looking back helped me embrace my now, which in turn, will make my future a whole lot brighter. Funny that it seems to have to work that way.
I tend not to write a lot of posts about the stuff I’m actually doing. Not directly, anyway. I tend to write posts about how I’m feeling. And as I sat here in front of the blank screen this morning, I realized that at this moment, life has been more about doing than feeling lately and that’s good and appropriate. It means I’m coming out of the funk that moved in this summer, and getting on with things.
This summer has been about reassessment, about growing into things, about taking out and looking at the pile of emotions that amassed while I wasn’t looking. And what have I been doing? Cleaning house – both physically and emotionally.
I have undergone a whirlwind of transformation in the past two-plus years, but what I realized this summer as I was taking a look at all that’s happened and the way I feel about it, that transformation reaches further back. And in order for me to look at and appreciate the scope of what I’ve done, and chosen, and been through, I have to look back at least five years. That’s when the whirlwind kicked up, and the life that I’d laid so carefully before me was swept away in the gale.
And all this time, I’ve just been grateful that the winds of change swept through my life and helped me birth a life and a self that was far more in alignment with what I wanted. I never looked back and just felt the grief that came with the letting go of what I had thought I had wanted.
And this summer, all the feelings associated with that loss and that grief and the subsequent transformation came hurtling to the forefront, insistent. So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing – dealing with grief over all the things I’ve lost or given away. It came as a kind of surprise to me, actually – I had thought that I’d dealt with all of this in the moment and in the immediate aftermath. And I did, but not in the way I’m dealing with it now.
In the immediate aftermath, I felt the sorrow and the grief as painfully as an open wound, and I processed it that way, with rawness and the hesitancy of someone first inspecting new stitches. And I kept moving, kept growing, kept changing, kept doing.
That initial emotional processing of all that happened to me and because of me did not go deep enough, though. What I realized this summer is that in order for me to go through all those feelings the rest of the way and clean house emotionally, I had to be able to say goodbye to all the ways that I’ve defined myself because of the wounds I’ve borne and hung onto. In order for me to take this down to the next layer, where it becomes more soft remembrance than harsh grief, I need to release some identities that I’ve hung onto.
When it all happened and was fresh and new, my grief was primal and raging and raw, and I allowed myself to feel that, briefly, way back when. Then, I got up and got on with my life, because life was insistent, and because at that time, I really did think I was over it.
This summer has been about revisiting, remembering, and reassessing. About going through and feeling all the feelings that I did not let myself have between then and now – and realizing that if I’d been ready to deal with this before, I would have, but I wasn’t – I was ready now, and so now is the perfect time to go through this layer. I feel lighter, and I’m grateful to know that maybe this won’t be the last time this surfaces for me, but having been to this dog and pony show a few times now, I know it gets easier each and every time.
After reassessment comes a new outlook, a new plan – all done with more clarity (hopefully). Having sloughed off another layer of my own story, I’m ready to write a new chapter. That’s what I’m doing this week, and I’m excited.
You know what? Last week sucked. Indescribably. And, that’s okay.
It was a week full of FOG (as one of my dear friends says – FOG = F’n Opportunities for Growth). Well, it seems to be clearing up now, and I can tell you that even in the midst of all of it, I knew that I’d be grateful for each moment of discomfort…perhaps not just then, but soon – and deeply.
And it’s true. I am. Each day of last week felt as though it were three days long – and by the end of the week, I felt like the world had turned round on its axis a few more times for me than it had for anyone else. And, that’s okay.
Presumptuously, thanks for understanding blogosphere folks, why I’d need to take a few days to let it all assimilate. I am okay – and even though I know this won’t be the last time I have a really FOGgy week, I know that once all the mist fades away, what you’re left with is clarity. And that is worth the price of any discomfort.