After working at a job in human services that couldn't meet payroll, I left mid-year with no job prospects. This is the year of the recession. What was I thinking?
In our culture of Can-Do, you'd think I could make things happen - like find a job or get my private practice to grow faster. After attending a clinical counseling workshop, several therapists told me that it took them 5-7 years to develop their practice. So paying for more strategic planning consultations or spending lots of money in advertising didn't seem to be the answer. The clients I have came from word-of-mouth or prior contact.
As my identity crumbled around my usual "paid work" ways of seeing myself, I found myself more engaged in family life, community, and the creative arts. These are things I have always done. I just had more time and wanted to experience it with less guilt while indulging...
But let me give you an example of how this worked: My husband encouraged me to see my sister after leaving work. Go ahead while you can, he said.
Going to Seattle to see my sister felt decadent since it cost money to travel out there. But it also felt incredibly important. It had been four years since I had been to her home to visit. It was nice not to have the pressure of having only two weeks of vacation at some stressful job and feeling torn about how to spend those prescious days while recovering from burnout.It would also be nice to say I went free from worry. But that would be a lie. I obsessed about the money, finding work, and not being a burden the whole time. It followed me like Pigpen's cloud in a Peanuts cartoon.
Instead of flowing gracefully into the unknown, I found myself in knots for most of the year. My usual reaction is to feel guilty or get upset that I don't have work or somehow feel like I failed in fulfilling some life goal. There were times when I found myself teary and afraid. What if we run out of money? What if time keeps trickling and I find myself alone, poor and ugly. This seems funny to me now, as I write this - especially the ugly part, as if this had anything to do with work. But the feelings of despair grabbed me and shook me senseless at times this fall.
I grew up with the notion that money is the root of all evil and the Calvinistic view that prosperity is a sign of being faithful. Neither of these extremes makes sense.
My problem probably has less to do with money than becoming comfortable in my own skin. And at age 48, what a time for that as I enter into the Change of Life. What an opportunity and a curse!
I still don't have a real income at this point. I depend on my partner in many ways, but also in using our dwindling resources. I am trying to figure out how to make a living. The world is changing faster than I can keep up.
There have been so many experiences of heartache this year that I want to try joy. It has never been a priority. Life has been pretty practical or functional, or about fulfilling expectations - often what I think others want from me.
Our little meditation group had a Buddhist retreat on joy. I attended this about a month before leaving my job. Many participants seemed to genuinely be able to access joy or they were desparately seeking it.
My response to the group was that I was at the session to just focus on my breathing. At the time, I had a quiet sense of pride - there was no grasping, no attachment. And yet, my inner child longed for play or a release from the grinding sense of responsibility an oldest child often feels. Perhaps I could bring this into my adult life somehow. Seeing happy Buddhist teachers is what drew me to this practice to begin (Fruedian slip -wrote being) with.
I love learning and playing the harp. I love writing and self exploration. I am grateful for the times I've had to be with my kids and grandson or visiting friends and family. My grandson's interest in playing with me astounds me. My sporadic civic work has been deeply rewarding. I have loving friendships in my life. My partner's tender kisses are small miracles. The seeds and the roots of joy have been planted, tended to, and now need nurturing.These past several years have been like trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole. I am so done with this, I keep telling myself. I pray to God that I learn some kind of lesson that I can't even articulate because I want to fit, to find ease, to breath, to be kinder to myself and others. I want to be of service, but in a way that is sustaining. There are some plants that need to go.
So while the past few years feel like work hasn't come together, it has created the energy to push me into a new way. And maybe instead of a grinding, life-sucking way, I want to do this in a way that is easier, more relaxed, loving and joyful.
My hope for you and all those you love in 2010 is to find your place, accept your whole self and shine with joy!