It is far too easy to fall off the wagon. No, I’m not talking about that wagon, at least not this time. Today I’m referring to a wagon of my own shoddy construction, one whose wheels are less than perfectly circular, whose frame wobbles over rocky roads and whose canvas may have a few holes: my wagon of awareness.
Over the last few years as I transitioned away from my fast-paced life in Denver and toward a slower one of travel and searching for meaning, I have learned the value of presence. Several hard lessons have taught me that people and experiences are much more significant than the grind. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my ability to work 50-70 hours a week while also volunteering, going to college, trying to make time for hobbies, having what resembled a social life but lacked true connection…and realizing that that ability was not some amazing capacity to be applauded, but a sick display of poor coping skills and a demonstration of what can be “achieved” when one is completely disconnected.
As I have unearthed these realizations and dug deeper, I have tried to shift how I live. I still struggle to say no in certain scenarios, but I’m learning that just because my boss asks me to cover someone’s shift, it doesn’t mean I have to say yes, even if I don’t have a “good excuse” not to. Taking time to recharge and do what I love and connect with those close to me is more than enough reason to have a night off. I once had a packed daily schedule, and that felt like success to me. As if running as fast as I could from one activity to the next would somehow prove my worth (to who?) and make me feel like I was a valuable, contributing human. Now, I leave plenty of space for things to arise. It’s a nice day out and I’m done with work an hour early? Great, let’s go for a walk. I’m feeling inspired and motivated to write? I don’t have any set plans for the afternoon, so I can do that. Slowing down has helped me appreciate the world around me as it is. When I’m not rushing from place to place, stressed in city traffic, I can take time to walk and enjoy the flowers in people’s gardens or pull over at a scenic spot for a few minutes. These little moments where I can witness the world and find gratitude in simplicity have been integral to cultivating joy and love in my daily life.
Now, let’s return to my wagon analogy. Recently, my road got a bit rocky. I started having some significant health issues that were impacting my physical and mental health around the time that our living situation was in flux and my bank account was running low and I was desperately looking for work. These and other factors coalesced into me mindlessly returning to my old pattern: I took on a second job and was coming home exhausted and sore, yet my mind was racing with ideas and the desire to stay busy so I delved into creative projects and research and learning and– oh. An argument with my partner late one night and subsequently reconnecting the next afternoon left me cracked open. Tears spilling out from seemingly nowhere, emotions welling up, it hit me. I had been living the last several weeks on autopilot and I was completely unaware.
I felt awful. Here was the love of my life sitting right in front of me this whole time, trying to gently nudge me back into myself, and I was unconsciously ignoring him. Life was getting too overwhelming, too difficult to knowingly deal with, so I shut off. I filled my time with activities so that I didn’t have to face the truth that things were getting scary and hard. Guess what? That never works for long. And even though I thought I had learned my lesson, I thought I had carefully constructed my wagon over the last few years, it only took a few bumps in the road to realize that my wagon still needs work. I need to reinforce these habits that I’ve tried to establish.
One cue that I chose to miss was in my meditation. Over the last few months of daily meditation practice, I had worked up to doing 20-30 minute daily, unguided meditations. This sacred time with myself was often challenging, but always rewarding. Recently I have missed meditations a few times, and when I have done them they have been short and I’ve often fallen back on using guides because I’ve been too afraid to really sit with myself
and hear what might surface. That should have been a glaring sign to SLOW DOWN and sit with my feelings, but I chose to silence that alarm and fall into comfortable unconsciousness instead. That is, until I couldn’t ignore it anymore because I nearly imploded a very important relationship while also becoming more and more ill.
I hate that it took such a dramatic and difficult series of events to precipitate this realization, but I am deeply grateful for my partner’s patience and his ability to truly see me, even when I don’t see myself. In the future I hope to stay more attuned to myself through my daily yoga and meditation practices, to feel those cues from my deeper self and listen to them rather than push them aside. Let this serve as a reminder to myself, and to anyone else who needs it, that our paths are not linear. As we learn and grow in life, we may experience setbacks that make us feel like we’ve lost progress. But every moment is an opportunity to learn, to choose to be present and aware and do better for ourselves and for those around us. So keep at it, and know that I’m right there in the trenches with you. We got this.