Life Patterns

At UWC-USA Graduation 2013

At UWC-USA Graduation 2013

Marker events in our lives – weddings, baptisms, graduations, funerals – don’t just bring us together in community. These rites of passage often also occasion a life review, or at least a review of that part of one’s life affected by the event being marked. Is my child growing in the way I would hope? Has my marriage turned out as I anticipated? Do I need to make changes to my diet, to live longer than friend John there in the casket? It is a natural human behavior, to make comparisons and to consider not just where one stands in relation to others, but where one stands in relation to one’s own life goals.

There is another type of life review, however, that does not arise so easily, nor so obviously. I’m referring to a bout of unsettledness that descends (or creeps up) seemingly out of nowhere. For me, a recent one definitely came as a sneak attack, catching me in the gut, triggering an upset digestive system not related to diet, illness or any other identifiable external cause. Only stress has, in the past, caused me this sort of physical response. There are no apparent stresses in my life just now, at least not recognizable ones off the widely distributed list of events (including happy ones) known for causing this pernicious dis-ease.

Perhaps that’s why it took me awhile to recognize that what was troubling my tummy lay deeper than a ‘bug’, or too much green chili on my tostada.

For much of the past year I have not known in what direction my life would turn. I left a position I’d held for twenty years, and experienced a huge easing of stress. I’ve gone forward with an open mind, following no pre-chosen path, but rather exploring each option that has presented itself, to see where it would lead. All of the possibilities fizzled out, until I came to writing, which is not a new interest but one that I have pursued in fits and starts over the past twenty years, too frequently allowing it to fall to the wayside as paying work and family demands took precedence. Now, however, I find myself able to give the writing precedence – and am very happy to do so.

I have recently recognized that my life pattern has been one of compromise – and of finding validity for my existence in activities that are of service to others. Teaching college in a prison, working for defense attorneys, running a home health agency and providing case management services to clients – worthwhile pursuits from which I gained as much in learning as I offered in care. The compromises lay in choices made regarding how and where I served – in the U.S. rather than in other countries, as I would have wished to do had I been single and free to go where I pleased. The compromises also lay, unrecognized until just recently, in the subtler realm of belief that I had to justify my existence by some form of service. How many of us are driven by an unstated, perhaps unrecognized, belief that we have no worth until we have somehow ‘earned’ our right to existence? I was startled to realize that until very recently, I did not feel entitled to choose a career on the sole basis that it is something I want very much to do!

I was still a young child when I first came across Robert Frost’s “Death of a Hired Man”, and the concept therein (stated by the wife, mind you) that home is “something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” By that criterion, I have been searching for a home most of my life, and am only just beginning to understand to what extent I have carried within me parental strictures about having to measure up, to prove myself, to earn the right to be thought ‘good enough.’ Finding home, and happiness, as I seem to have managed over this past year, means I have – finally – extricated myself from the tentacles of ‘deserving.’

In my former conditioned way of thinking, I could say that I have worked hard, done what was expected and required of me, for enough years that I now deserve to devote myself to the new career I choose – writing. But I recognize with some considerable surprise that the happiness I am feeling arises not from the doing of the writing, but from my freedom from the need to justify the doing of it. I think I have finally found ‘home’ – a state of being which is independent of the concept of deserving, within which whatever I choose to do with my time and energy will prove to be the right thing for me to be doing.

It isn’t surprising that a major shift in how I approach current activities could cause subconscious stress, and hence digestive upset. I do want to be careful that I don’t use my physical state of well-being (or lack thereof) as a measure of my success in making this transition, since I know that the physical takes much longer to change than does the emotional, which in turn takes much longer than the spiritual. What can be grasped in a moment of enlightenment can take years to fully manifest on the physical.

What matters is that first willingness to recognize that a shift is not only necessary but has in fact occurred. And to allow an unexpected welling of emotion, as well as the uncomfortable gripping of pain, to mark a happy transition from a limited state of (earned or deserved) being, to simply Being.

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4 Responses to “Life Patterns”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Beautifully expressed and congratulations

  2. Jane Foraker-Thompson Says:

    Niki, I relate. It took me several years after formal retirement to realize I didn’t have to stay where I was left after my last job. And because I was married most of my life, I finally realized I didn’t have to stay home just because I was now a “single.” Both of those realizations were events that freed up my mind to think of other possibilities. Now I am doing something I never even thought about, RVing full-time, and enjoying it immensely as it has opened a whole new world and I’m learning and enjoying all the time, meeting great people, having adventures. May you be so blessed!

    • chelawriter Says:

      You’re setting me a great example of how to move forward, whether or not my options ever allow me to take up RVing, which I have imagined doing. I’ve lived in small spaces all my life, so fitting into an RV would not be a big shift. Becoming rootless, free to go wherever would be a major shift – one I’m going to have to contemplate!

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