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Posts tagged ‘wisdom’

Brushing Up on Life

The last few days, I conducted an archeological dig through a bunch of my old writing–some of it from as far back as 7th grade. It proved to be an emotional roller coaster–thankfully not the kind that go upside down, because I’m not puking as I type this. Yet, it sure yanked my gut around. It was like reading a piece of literature where the audience knows something the character doesn’t. For example, the irony I felt when I found the blog entry where I’m rationalizing my choice to stop taking my anti-depressants. Writing about how healthy I felt, I knew I wouldn’t fall back into the depths of despair I’d been in. I had learned too much about the illness to let it take over my life again. Keep in mind about six months after I wrote that, I was in an even deeper depression than I could have imagined. Reading it felt like I was watching a scary movie where the killer was hiding in the shower, and I wanted to shout, “Don’t do it!” while the character turns the knob to the bathroom. God, I hate that type of movie.

While there were plenty of embarrassing parts, I also felt compassion for my younger self. Some of my young reflections really impressed me. I was sharing excerpts with one of my best friends, and she said, “Geez, no wonder you were a lonely kid. Who thought about these things at those ages? My God, who are you?” I laughed, but felt validated in a way that I never had been. I think that is why I’m so quick to favor children I observe off alone and thinking a lot (when I work with children in the summer). I understand they are extra sensitive and perceptive, so I try to love and encourage them with everything I have. It, hopefully, helps them gain confidence while also helping me make peace with myself as a child. As a child, I had overwhelming amounts of guilt and self-hate. It’s a shame to think about, because I’ve recently realized what a thoughtful and sensitive kid I could be.

The most shocking of my old writing was a poem I wrote in 7th grade. It was an assignment for an English class called, “I Remember.” We had to start each line of the poem with “I remember…”  The poem itself is not any good (I mean, let’s be real, I was like 12?) Yet, there were several things that shocked me. First, I talked about how time was moving too fast, and I felt like I couldn’t control it. I also reflected on how I complained of being bored as a kid, but I would give anything to have time to be bored. The real kicker comes when I talk about how I used to be afraid of failure and hated how hard it was to succeed. Apparently at the wise age of twelve, I’d realized that failure is necessary to succeed and success only feels rewarding because it is so challenging to attain. I read that, thinking, “My God, Child, you aren’t gonna even BEGIN to know that in your heart until everything you’re terrified of happens when you’re 21.” This realization made me accept that despite having “failed,” or at least having failed in the eyes of my old self, I’m still afraid of failing. Why? Apparently life is a series of cumulative exams. Just “knowing something” once isn’t enough. When I feel anxious about the future, I will have to pull out the flash cards I’ve been studying since 7th grade. Brushing up on life, preparing for the next test.

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Fighting Negativity

It’s finally starting to hit me that I live with nuns. When I tell friends or family stories from my day, they all comment on what a “weird” and different life I’m living compared to most people. Overall, I’m happy with my decision to do this. There are certainly hard times. Lately I’m struggling with a lot of negative thoughts about my writing. I’m getting kicked down by thoughts like, “You’re not disciplined enough to write a book,”  “You’re not talented enough to publish a book,” or worst of all “No one cares what you have to think or say.”  Needles to say, it’s hindering my productivity. That sort of negativity is a downward spiral. It prevents me from writing as much as I’d like, but then I feel bad about my lack of writing, so the thoughts get worse. It doesn’t help I get a lot of comments like, “What do you do there?” when people ask me how writing is going, and I answer honestly.

The other night, it all got to me. It’s a good thing Laura, one of my best friends, is down-to-earth and patient with me. I complained about my lack of success and said, “Maybe I am lazy. And I’m probably not disciplined enough to write a book. What DO I do here?”

She answered rather quickly, “Well, this week you did: an hour of yoga every day, attended daily mass in addition to a separate daily prayer time, got trained to work at the front desk, worked at the front desk, reflected a lot, blogged, stayed in touch with people, read insightful articles and books, had 3 meals a day every day– which involves socializing for extended periods of times with people 4 times your age, AND you still managed to write some. I think that’s a lot.”

When she put it like that, I felt better. It’s hard for me to remember I’m living a completely different lifestyle than I’m used to. It’s not the sort of life where I am conventionally successful. It’s teaching me to look for value in other things, which is proving to be great for my healing process.

I’m reading all sorts of deep thoughts that I’d never made time for. It amazes me that more people don’t read. I feel like I gain so much wisdom by having access to thoughts and life experiences by some of the greatest minds of all ages.

The grounds I live on are phenomenal. When I’m blue or lonely, I remind myself I’m living every writer’s dream. In fact, I recently found out a brilliant writer/nun, that I’d once heard speak on NPR, stayed on these same grounds for 6 months to write a book. This inspired me to check out more of her work. I’m reading one of her latest books called Welcome to the Wisdom of the World. She takes texts from five major religions and uses it to reflect and advise readers how to live a spiritual life. I’m a bit star-struck that this woman, Joan Chittister, stayed here to write. She’s such a wise individual. I’ve been writing quotes down as I read (normally I underline them, but I’m borrowing this book from the library, so I actually have to write them out).

Here’s a thought that stopped me in my tracks. I’m doing a lot of reflecting on it:

“Life, we think, is simply a series of tasks to perform, a list of things to do: get the job, buy the house, finish the degree, have the children, do the work. It takes years to figure out, if we ever do, that life is not a task at all. Life is far more difficult than that. Life is the process of coming to see what is not seeable, to hear what is not said, to become what we are but never knew we were” (Chittister 45).

I learned this, without being able to articulate it, after my three hospitalizations and two separate partial hospitalizations due to depression. Losing my health (and mind), made me realize I’d been working my ass off all my life without knowing why or what for. I’d been under the impression that if I got those degrees, published a book, got married, had and/or adopted kids, and just lived life according to this imaginary plan, I’d be happy. I’m thankful when writers like Chittister can help me articulate thoughts I didn’t know how to express before. In retrospect, it’s interesting, because I read insightful articles and listened to wise people speak long before my hospitalizations. I technically knew that life is supposed to be about the journey and not the destination, but somehow I couldn’t believe it with every part of me. Glad to know my head and heart are starting to agree on things.

Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number?

I’m officially living with nuns. Not just any nuns–retired nuns. One of the sisters said the average age here falls somewhere in the eighties. After volunteering in a nursing home for almost two years in high school, I developed a pretty solid understanding of age by eighteen. Eighteen years is not enough to appreciate the depth of aging, but I at least had enough wisdom to laugh at my parents for calling themselves old. My friendship at the nursing home with a 96-year-old woman quickly helped me realize that the many middle-aged individuals in my life who feared getting older were wasting lots of time and energy being consumed by fear instead of just living life to the maximum.

The grounds I live on are beautiful. I’ve seen deer three different times in the past 24 hours. My cell phone doesn’t work inside here. It’s frustrating, but it forces me to go for a walk if I want to call anyone. Today I had to laugh in the middle of a voicemail to my friend, April. I described the beautiful scenery around me and told her about how I had deer on both sides of me. Then, it hit me that it probably sounded like I’m living in Narnia. This experience is probably rather surreal for most. I’m always surprised at how people think about nuns. People think of the Pre-Vatican II nuns. The nuns I know don’t wear habits, never hit kids with rulers, and believe in love not judgment.

In fact, the poet/nun who got me connected with this place is actually one of the coolest people I know. She’s 75, and breaks every stereotype about nuns and 75-year-olds. She has been a social justice activist forever, jailed for her beliefs, and even drank straight whiskey with James Baldwin. That’s only scratching the surface of her stories! She’s a phenomenal role-model for anyone regardless of age or religious background. I love to tell people who fear aging about how she says each year of her life gets better than the last. She loves getting older and that every year is the best year of her life. I can tell she means it, too. I’m grateful to know her. It would be a lie to say I’m not just like most foolish youth. I certainly have the occasional fear of aging that my friends complain about. Sometimes I have to sit down and wait for logic and the wisdom others have shared with me to kick in. I could do an entire blog entry about stepping back in order to allow logic to take over feelings. That was a huge part of my partial hospitalization program. They always said, “The feelings are the last things to change,” meaning we had to go through the motions of health–even if it felt fake–before we could see positive change. I try to apply that in situations like this where I’m overwhelmed with fear, but know I’m in the right place.