When I started writing this blog post, I thought I would try to do a comprehensive overview of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this western-Massachusetts-dwelling chapter of my life, from 2004 to 2017. On the cusp of moving to the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, it felt important to me to contemplate and summarize what I’ve experienced, how I’ve changed, and what hard-won lessons I’ve incorporated under my skin. I thought I’d tell the stories that brought me to where I am today. And of course I would do all of this in a mere hour, yesterday.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
This is going to be the short version, the Moral of the Story without the story. Because that’s what I can take on right now. Maybe it won’t make any sense without context, or maybe it will spring forth especially vividly without it. In any case, if you find that you really want me to elaborate on why/how I learned a particular lesson, please say so in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do.
I’m imagining these lessons spoken in the voice of my Inner Wise Woman.
What I Learned
Go ahead and jump into strange, new situations. You’re not a born daredevil and it’s not as if you’re heedless of danger; the bigger danger in your life is playing it safe, playing it small, withdrawing, vanishing. Don’t vanish. Show up.
Nothing is more important than love. Nothing. We are our relationships to people, the land, the universe. That driving, creative force of love is the spirit that enlivens us. Love is worth all journeys, those chosen and those foisted upon us.
Sometimes you will be naïve and think that you have a situation figured out, a path planned, a cat in the bag. Then you must gently remind yourself, with great compassion, that you are not in control.
Sometimes people will hurt you terribly. You will remind them of some past trauma, or they will remind you of some past trauma, or both at the same time. You will cry and ache and try to make sense of it for years and years, and with luck and time, the ache fades, the insights come, the larger picture of how we transmit pain to each other becomes clear. Protecting yourself and maintaining compassion are not mutually exclusive.
Don’t trust institutions. Trust the sweet, wild heart of living beings. Trust that you and they can reveal truths, vulnerabilities, powers beyond the scaffolding of artificial systems.
Don’t trust the voices in your head that say you are unloveable, a failure, a fraud, an unmitigated embarrassment, profoundly unattractive, pathetic. It’s a coping mechanism gone horribly awry. Your belief in your own awfulness will not protect you.
The psychiatric establishment and the drugs they prescribe are not your friends. You are healthier without them. You know what you need to be healthy: good food, water, sleep, exercise, love, friends, touch, light, freedom, wandering in nature, meaningful work, meaningful play. Sometimes getting basic needs met in this culture is brutal and despair-inducing; it’s true. Keep trying to get them met. Keep trying to help other people get them met. Your sensitivity and emotional vacillations are not problems to be fixed.
When flattened by despair, perform a small act of service.
Sugar is a substance you need to avoid.
Open yourself more radically than you thought was possible, and love will rush to meet you. Contract and withdraw, curl around yourself in pain, and love will still be there, tender and patient.
You may often find yourself alone, but you are remembered and cherished.
It’s possible to discern when to accept circumstances as they are, and when to go to enormous lengths to change them. A lot of people will urge you to accept when your heart is telling you otherwise. Listen to your heart.
Everything requires about 1,000 times more patience than you originally expect.
You are not obligated to say yes.
Acknowledging the omnipresent reality of death and honoring and supporting grief are sacred acts.
Accessing your deep reservoir of playfulness is a source of exquisite joy and a blessing to the world.
Don’t put off any apologies, expressions of gratitude, or declarations of love.
Stand in your truth no matter the truths of others.
Even when you are stricken with sadness and disappointment, know that not a single effort or moment was wasted.
You are already home, everywhere you go.