transformation. part three.

Is the end of the cocoon like the falling off of a scab? Wanting to be healed, pulling off a scab before the skin underneath is strong re-injures, re-reddens the skin underneath, flaming it back into the need for another growing temporary tough covering. Does the cocoon fall away when the butterfly becomes bigger than the place that holds her?

When I was teaching young children, back in the days of gathering sticks and leaves into small hands, bandaids keeping small hurts together, I purchased a butterfly kit, a small caterpillar that would morph before our eyes.

The caterpillar ate the leaves we gave it, moving in little circles in the sphere it was kept in. The cocoon was woven in slow time lapse, shifting without us noticing, coming back from being in our own homes, there would be another layer of change we hadn’t noticed the day before. The time came for the butterfly to emerge, we saw its wings inch out toward the light coming in from hand-printed windows, and then, nothing. It stopped partway out from the dim interior of its den, and died.

I didn’t know what stopped the final push into new, higher territory, what ceased the struggle to break out of the mummified, turning chamber that held its dissolution into wings I could see, wings never used.

I wonder if the closed plastic case was part of the reason, if reaching out past the caterpillar life into more of the same stopped whatever alchemy was happening. I wonder if I would have opened that closed jar in a nearby shaded tree, with fruit and wind and spiraling seeds, would the new life have burst out easier, the forward joy reason enough to break out, fully formed?

Or did it happen too soon, the wings underneath the scabbed cocoon not strong enough, injured in its trying to be free of the very house that was growing it strong enough to leave?

Healing is a process, unhurried, methodical and painful in its slowness. There is a trust built in, once you have been through this transformation a time or two, that life folds and unfolds like a clean sheet pulled from a sun-warm line. You will know when the time comes to leave what you have been healing under, because it will fall off when it is no longer needed.

When the sky is its own shade of blue, and the nearby leaves dance in a wind made just to carry you, you will reach up and realize you have shifted without noticing.

transformation. part two.

“It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.”

Cheryl Strayed

I wonder what the first thing a caterpillar does when it winds it’s last sinuous thread, closing its senses off to the world of leaves and rain and birds looking for crawling things. I would imagine it exhales, once, twice. Its body no longer inching toward the next thing, does it know that if it rests it can never be the same?

I believed that the period of time I was feeling burned out, dried up, and spent, was part of the trying of a caterpillar life, but now I see, it was part of the dissolution of that life. We live in a world of trying, a circled, spinning, kaleidoscope of new books, videos and quotes to pull us to the next level, a culture of self-care striving, believing that taking measures to feel better will bring you back to when you felt something.

We want to feel the way we did when we hoped what we learned through myths and legend was true. There was a list somewhere, one naughty, one nice, and if we worked really hard we would earn gifts on a snow melted brown morning instead of coal. No one we knew actually ever got coal, but it was possible—the story powerful in its threat of not getting what we wanted, what we asked for, after twelve months of being watched by a man in a different shaded and felted red suit each year, depending on where you saw him.

This myth of earning beautiful things nearly ruined me. And yet, it was part of the necessary giving up; the exhale, once, twice. Right after I wound a last sinuous thread, a many months long respite from the noise of living. It began with signing out of all social media, stopping the news, no more magazines, or documentaries of unsolved murders and pretend tragedies, acted and scored to create danger, suspense and the locking of doors and windows against what might be out there.

I stopped shopping, for 40 days and 40 nights, the cease fire of credit cards and online wallets biblical in proportion. There was no more seeking the next color and shape of clothing to cover me from rain and wind, I wanted a new way to feel hooded and veiled. I wanted to be quiet, silent, warm.

I put my phone down, and then walked away from it. I silenced the ringer, changed the settings to not show the numbers of comments unanswered, and I remembered what it felt like to be unreachable.

And then, in this unreachable state, I rested—not knowing that I would never be the same.

(to be continued)

transformation. part one.

I am fascinated by life cycles, transformation, changing from one into another, shifting shapes and forms into something better, cleaner, finer. The idea that if you work very, very hard in one stage, you will earn the next, a graduation of a lesser self into a higher one. Safer. Less predatory. I believed that action created station, that leaning forward created the next stage, the next swift climb into a cushioned space, noise blunted and sweet.

Endurance was essential. Never letting up; the trying was the way to reach the elusive place of peace. When I became tired, it was a weakness, a thing to be healed, strengthened, fortified, all so I could keep trying to be well, keep doing the thing that made me tired, ill, unwell.

When I was somewhere in my late 30’s I became very, very tired. I was sick all the time, a rash on my skin, pale and pregnant feeling, without proof I was growing anything in my body except weariness. I went to the doctor, thinking it was mono, the long slow illness of fatigue and loss of normal. A blood test revealed a low thyroid, very low in fact, how am I still functioning they asked me? I wasn’t, I just hadn’t stopped trying.

After medication and further blood tests showed I was now healed, all well, I still was not. I slept, rested, napped and lay through each day, and asked to test my blood again. Again, the tests were normal, but I was not; something was not right. For many months, and maybe a year, tired and still a rash, now and again showing up–an unknown stigmata, a morse code of attention. I did not know it was wheat slowly weighing me to the ground, my immune system fighting and fighting; trying to be well, while I kept doing the thing that made me sick. Soon, my joints began to ache, swell, keep me awake at night, my head hurt, my skin felt tight and stretched, and always, always so very tired.

When the idea that this was a food allergy, an autoimmune response to a sweet and savory poison I was eating every day, the suggestion was to stop, just for a week, and then eat it again. The eating it again was a birthday cake, 7 days after none, and that night, the rash came to celebrate.

It would seem simple, then, just to stop, but it was not. There was another year, maybe two, of debate, argument, struggle, followed by a quiet acceptance and a new way of living, not chosen, but necessary. I missed so much, I yearned and grieved my not-normal-ness. Slowly, I began to feel better. What I had consumed was no longer consuming me.

I began a job a few years after this recovery, a new stage, the next stage for me in my career, and endurance was essential. When I became tired, I persevered, that weakness un-allowed; I kept doing the thing that made me tired, ill, unwell, always trying to do it better. When I became burned out, I kept trying, trying to find the cure, the wellness as elusive as the riddle of my earlier illness, and because I did not know the cause I kept doing the thing that was making me sick, burned out. Soon, my fatigue turned into lethargy, my head hurt, my heart ached into dullness, and I no longer cared about healing. I no longer cared. I wanted escape, to be let out of this never ending spin of trying another way to work in a job that was like the bread I used to be able to eat, and could no longer tolerate.

When a butterfly lays an egg, she does so on a leaf that will be its first food, the hatching of it creating such an appetite, the resting place needs to be its first sustenance. The caterpillar is born, with its first and only purpose to consume; it eats and eats and eats its way through each day, inching along branches and leaves, stringing itself on invisible threads to new trees, new sources of green and growing nourishment. As it grows, its skin becomes tighter, and it sheds, up to four and five times, it’s exoskeleton left behind, as it inches again, ever expanding. The last shedding is done higher up, sometimes under the leaf that fed it, hidden and hung by the silken tie it created itself, it spins, alone and quiet, and for a moment it could be seen as an unwell caterpillar. But thats not it, is it? It isn’t unwell, it is unbecoming.

When I learned this, I understood something I did not know before, the consumption was the cause, and the illness; what I had consumed, was consuming me.

(to be continued).

burnout.

Being burned out in this world as it is, feels like the last slow steps of a march that has brought me to stand in front of a tangled map, the ‘you are here’ emblazoned in the middle of winding ways, no clear path to get out of the maze of quick fixes offered in this endless wandering for a cure.

Coming to a place of burnout is not the end, it is many staggered ends. The sparks from a fire lit so long ago, fueled by beliefs about worth and how to earn it. The pace of life and how to keep it. The measure of life as the next step, the bigger step, the finish line always pulling farther out. Burnout is the flickering light of this is not enough, of chasing the tide of the right to be in this place, and then trying to fit in. It is the pressing of who you truly are under who you wished you were.

But what if burnout could be the blessed fire of the end of all this? After almost three years of this intense and consistently exhausting way of living, this is what I now know. Burnout is saying yes when you meant no, it is polling the room to see if what you want to do is what they want you to do; it is the insidious repetition of things that don’t work, not because you needed to do them better, but because you needed to do them differently. And then never did.

Burnout was my life saying ‘you’ve worn a pattern in the rug, stop pacing.’

Somehow, in the living of our days, we have learned to be beholden, to be traced, tracked and our location known, our life smaller and endlessly available. We have come to believe we owe others our predictability and an explanation for any variance, and in so doing have wound our lives into ever tighter circles. The change forward is radical, needs to be radical; it is not finding a new ‘you are here’ on a map, not running away from the pull of the old tide— it is the parting of your own Red Sea, a crossing into a land unknown and uncharted, a place you have never been.

So how do you avoid burnout? You don’t. You run toward it, raise your fist, shake your hair and yell your biggest ‘NO’ into the winded waves. Then you stop, still, and cast the spell of your new life. The one growing like new pines reaching through the charred forest floor. Green, brave and new; radically growing in the direction of what you have been dying to say. Every inside, unsaid no.

I won’t ever let the fire of this burnout die. I will keep a small flame alive and carry it from camp to camp, to throw in it the things that have stopped working. It will always tell me when I cannot keep walking the same way, the endless way.

Being a fire keeper, a truth teller, and the wild author of my own life is uncharted land; and from here, I can see the shore, brave and green.