Branches on the path

Branches fall on well-chosen paths, too; and other lessons from my year of self-kindness.

I want to share something really personal with you. It’s the image I conjure every single time I (try to) meditate.

I’m in a forest. There are trees on either side of me, I brush them with my hands like they are the shoulders of old friends. I feel the canopy overhead making the air grayish-green. I am surrounded by every shade of green imaginable. I’m walking a rustic, ancient pathway lined with damp, moss-covered, well-trodden and ancient storied stones. I look up from my feet, glancing ahead warily to see the pathway rises up a small hill and I can see it begins to turn to the right, breaks out of the trees into open, sunny sky.

I take comfort from this image because I love the forest. I’m a walker and I can see the way forward is clear. I can see that if I plod along, not letting fear get the better of me and bolting to the clearing, I will get to that big, blue sky soon. In no version of this visual, which I’ve used hundreds of times, does it get interrupted by me tripping over a branch, wrenching my ankle, falling flat on my face with a Harrumph! and wailing like a toddler who dropped her ice cream out of the cone.

But that is pretty much what happened this month. I went down hard. A tornado’s worth of debris has blocked my path. I can’t see the stones anymore.

I had a plan. The goal was to take 18 months, write three manuscripts and completely dedicate to my writing. I’m a project manager, meticulous navigator type. I had plotted my course for months in advance, thinking through all the ways that my progress might be thwarted…but I couldn’t control things like the real estate market, political will or public anxiety. The house I needed to get sold, didn’t sell. All of the reasons are outside of my control and have nothing to do with my house (or me). No amount of mapping could have guided me around this obstacle. But the branches, tree limbs and whole fallen trunks got blown in front of me just the same. A new visual image has appeared and in it there is no way forward except climbing, crawling and hauling my exhausted body across every single bit of crap that has been blown onto my path. I can’t see the path anymore.

It’s hard climbing over downed tree limbs and storm-blown debris. I’m not young anymore and I’m not in good shape either. I lost sight of the path. And Anger, once a stranger to me, has crept out from the filthy, dark cave where I had it locked away and it is not pretty.

This is where the self-kindness came in. I’m trying to learn the word PERMISSION. Last year I had to learn the word BOUNDARY and that one is still a work in progress, so I’m guessing that giving myself permission to be pissed off, cranky as hell and frustrated beyond words isn’t going to be something I grasp quickly.

I had a well-conceived plan for embracing my writing life in a whole new way. You know what Robert Burns said of “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” – they go awry.

I wanted the context to be simplified, pared down and financially well-provided for. But it didn’t work out that way. I was walking the challenging and ambitious path of leaving all paid work behind in order to pursue three manuscripts. But guess what? A lot of debris has gotten in my way. Now the goal is to believe that the footpath is still there.

Committed to self-kindness, I still go to the desk everyday and stick to my writing schedule. When I can’t, I take the time to rant and feel sorry for myself and then I go back to the desk anyway. I cling to the writing schedule like a sailor who has nothing but flotsam left of his ship…because he still loves the sea.

And my visualization – it’s adjusted, like the focus button needs to be pressed. But I keep putting one wary foot in front of the other, stepping over and around, climbing what I must because I know the path is under there somewhere and the blue sky is still the reward at the end.

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