I know it’s February, almost March, but I want to talk about 2014.
The last few months, some friends, old and new, have approached me and asked about my writing–which I’m quick to point out, no longer exists. I don’t write anymore. When I was in my 20’s I kept journals, filled with poems and thoughts that were too compelling (in my opinion) to not record. All of the writing I do presently is done with two fingers on a cellphone, and is accompanied by :) or :/ or a rare :D. I guess there’s grocery lists as well, and to-do lists that end up going through the wash.
Here I am, writing.
2014 was a difficult year relationally, because Aaron and I were apart for most of it, about 8 months. When we did see each other, it was brief and one of us was always working. “It’s just a season,” people would say to me. “When I was young, my wife and I did that, and …” etc. The truth was, Aaron and I had actually been living the “seasonal job life” the entire 8 years we’ve been together, so people trying to assure or relate to us seemed to enhance my loneliness. So enough was enough. When I joined Aaron in Williams Lake in October, I had decided that 2014 was the last year we lived like that. When the job postings for the career I had chosen in fisheries came and went, my heart did the equivalent of a big breath out. It felt crappy to pass up doing the job I was trained to do and loved doing, but it also gave me the opportunity to work on my side hustle. See: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=side+hustle More on that later.
During that season apart, I read two poignant books, very different from each other. One, My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman, and the other, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It took me 2 months to read the first book because every page hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m hesitant to say it on such a public platform, but I’ve been struggling with belief for the past 2 years. I would say “struggling with doubt,” but that’s not the truth: I am quite comfortable with the mysteries of doubt. More so My Bright Abyss put into words what I had been silently regarding:
If God is a salve applied to unbearable psychic wounds, or a dream figure conjured out of memory and mortal terror, or an escape from a life that has become either too appalling or too banal to bear then I have to admit: it is not working for me … what I do know is that the turn towards God has not lessened my anxieties, and I find myself continually falling backwards into wounds, wishes, terrors I thought I had risen beyond.
I know in my heart that life isn’t a linear progression, but when I see myself falling for the same lies I did when I didn’t know better, it feels bad. So I had Eckhart Tolle to counteract, counter-build in me what was being razed to the ground:
The ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about other people but also about situations. What you can do to a person you can also do to a situation: make it into an enemy. The implication is always: This should not be happening; I don’t want to be here; I don’t want to be doing this; I’m being treated unfairly. And the ego’s greatest enemy of all is, of course, the present moment, which is to say, life itself.
So I spent the summer writing in my journal that Kate gave me, by the Nechako River. I witnessed the water level rise and fall, the local kids go from swimming across to walking across to the mid-channel island. I took the long way home in the Jeep down gravel roads that sometimes contained moose, geese, sunshine touching down gently on grain fields. I tried to notice. I tried to breathe in and out, speak into the empty spaces. I pulled over and took pictures, of spider webs dripping with dew, of sunsets black with smoke. I sat on Kerry’s roof and watched storms roll in. I went to things I was invited to. And, I stopped watching crime dramas. I had been watching Law and Order: SVU along with Hannibal and other gory, violent shows. A New Earth mentioned that watching TV was one of the most “unconscious” things the mind can do. The mind isn’t making stories, or engaged in a story like when reading: thoughts are being given to us through most TV shows, and we absorb. I got to thinking about the kinds of things I was absorbing without much thought, and what effect it could be having on me. I stopped watching. Was it really helpful for my mind to be seeing rape, torture, murder? But justice was being served! I told myself. Was it, though? So much brokenness, so little healing. I also stopped chewing my nails. I realize that I did it when I was nervous, or bored, so I tried to be aware of what I was feeling when I starting biting my nails, and try to remove the cause of the feeling, or calm down and not put my hands in my mouth. (I’m pretty sure I’ve replaced this habit with chewing gum, but hey, baby steps.)
Living in the present moment sometimes made me feel pretty impatient. Like, trying to read in the sunshine and mosquitos keep biting my feet. MY FEET. Or, heading out for a hike on some local trails that turned out to be, um, ugly. Or, heading home after the gym on a day off, singing my heart out to Katy Perry, not noticing my speed and getting pulled over by a cop. (Hey, Universe–is it Katy Perry you have a problem with, or speeding? I can’t tell.)
This should not be happening; I don’t want to be here; I don’t want to be doing this.
But it was happening, I lived in Vanderhoof, and I was a sturgeon technician, and I made friends. People talked to me at the gym, people had me over for dinner, for pool parties, out for drinks; people cut my hair and gave me their house keys. People gave me their gardens to water, their dogs to walk, their coffee to drink. Community is underrated in the age of Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram. Maybe it’s old fashioned to trade dogsitting for haircuts, or shake hands with the neighbour and talk about the local cat problem, or get paid in homemade wine. But it felt more “present” than “instantly” sharing anything with a Facebook full of people.
I still put too much worth on looking forward to things, planning for the future, but I was becoming aware at least. There was once a season in my life where I had a hard time both sleeping and seeing the future as hopeful, and my counsellor at the time told me, “before you go to sleep at night, lie on your bed and think of two things you’re looking forward to the next day. It can be small, like looking forward to see if it snowed overnight [I love looking at snowflakes], or making coffee. But have that hope be the last thing you think about before sleep.” That practice got me through more than a few nights, and more than a few days, so I hesitate to get rid of it.
2014 started though, with a big refocus on my own bodily health and fitness. It’s easy for me to live in my head and spend time sorting out things internally, but not spend much time focussed on eating good things or drinking water, or keeping my body strong. But that’s for another post too. A final word from Tolle:
Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move: Become friendly with it, welcome it, no matter what disguise it comes, and soon you will see the results. Life becomes friendly toward you, people become helpful, circumstances cooperative. One decision changes your entire reality. But that one decision you have to make again and again — until it becomes natural to live in such a way.