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The Tower

In the Tarot, there’s a card called The Tower. It’s traditionally illustrated with a tower falling. The meaning of the card is destruction, chaos, danger, crisis, and unforeseen change. And liberation.

Liberation.

By K Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Some years ago, in the months before I moved from Colorado to Maine, my life unraveled in several painful ways. During those months, I pulled The Tower card from my Tarot deck (78 cards) time after time, though I always shuffle and cut the deck thoroughly before I draw cards. I couldn’t get away from it.

It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I felt for a time as though my life would never be anything else. I would never escape the falling tower. I didn’t think much about the liberation part, because when our lives are toppling we don’t think about anything except surviving the collapse.

I had a crate of odds and ends of wood from building a privacy fence and a deck. I pulled it out of my shed and built a tower on a table on the covered deck outside my front door. I hadn’t played with blocks since my children were young. The chunks of wood were in all kinds of odd shapes, and building the tallest tower possible was an absorbing task.

When my tower was finished, I left it standing for a few hours or a day or so, enjoying it as I went about my life and in and out of my little log cabin. Then, when the time was right and I needed an outlet for my fear and frustration, I would knock it down. Hard. Loudly. I would obliterate it, sending the pieces of wood flying, sweeping the tabletop clear. It was a practice of surrender. If the tower was inevitably going to fall, I wouldn’t try to prop it up. I’d create a glorious, earth-shaking, no-holds-barred collapse. I wouldn’t look away or pretend it wasn’t happening or try to escape or soften the situation. I would face my fear.

After a while I built it again.

And again.

And again.

I did that for months. I built and knocked down more than 100 towers while I pulled the card over and over again.

I had a dream a couple of weeks ago about wandering through a field of rubble from a fallen tower. In spite of the destruction, it was a peaceful, sunny, summer landscape. I felt no sense of dread or doom. There had obviously been a violent and frightening collapse, but it was over now, and all was serene. I found some scattered objects amongst the stone rubble. Some things were intact, but others were smashed to pieces. I was thinking about sorting through the wreckage and salvaging material for a new tower and a new life.

I wasn’t scared. I was peaceful.

I was starting again. I’ve done that before. The fear and anxiety, the feeling of oncoming disaster, were past. The worst had happened and now I was on the other side of it.

I was excited about piecing together a new tower.

When I woke, I thought, “That damn tower!” and smiled to myself.

We are now working with a fifth contract for the sale of this property. That’s right. Number 5. Gas has more than doubled from last year’s price. The cat food shortage goes on and on. Prices for everything are skyrocketing. I just received our power bill, which has doubled from last month, though our usage is slightly less. We are on the edge of war, thanks to Russia.

I remember this feeling of the tower falling.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

But I also remember the liberation on the other side. I remember starting afresh. I remember taking a long journey into health and healing, into creativity, into an entirely new life. In some ways, for the last seven years I’ve been working in a field of rubble, carefully salvaging and sorting the usable from the discards. I’ve thought long and hard about the kind of life I want to build now, and about my needs and resources.

I’m not on the other side yet. One of these days I will be, and I feel that day coming closer, though I don’t know how or when. I lie awake on windy nights and wonder if, metaphorically speaking, the wind will knock down the tower. Or will the rain take it down in the end? Or a spring ice storm? Or a completely unlooked-for earthquake, fire, or flood?

Or will it gently collapse, stone by stone, falling quietly into ruin around me?

Whatever happens, there will be debris and rubble. Some material will be salvageable.

I will start, as I have before, with what I have, with what remains, with myself.

When my last tower fell, I learned two important things. One is that a home, no matter how beloved, is not a life. It cannot keep me safe, happy, and secure for the rest of my days. It cannot substitute for my connections, contribution, or self-love. The place I live does not define me.

The second is that I am not my things. My security, identity, memories, strength, courage, and creativity do not reside in objects around me, the clothes I wear, the furniture I use, or the dishes I eat off of.

Many people new to the Tarot fear The Tower card. Few of us welcome destruction, chaos, danger, crisis and unforeseen change. However, change does come. Towers do fall. And once the terror and tumult have passed, we find ourselves in a new world with a chance to make a fresh start.

We might not have wanted to be liberated from anything. Or, on the other hand, we may have longed for liberation. In any case, we are suddenly dropped into a different life. The tower fell. We take some time for recovery.

Then it’s time to rebuild.

By K Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

New Script

I’ve written before about rewriting our personal narratives. I’m revisiting the idea, this time in terms of rewriting the past.

Pete Walker’s material on complex post-traumatic stress disorder suggests revisiting old traumas remaining in our memory as painful, nonhealing wounds, and rewriting. He talks about it in terms of time travel. One goes back, as an adult, into memories of childhood and enters the scene as a new character, creating a new and different narrative. Our adult selves can defend our child selves, shield them, help them explain themselves, provide comfort to them, and, if needed, remove them before whatever terrible experience occurred.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

Intrigued, I tried this method, and I was shocked, though I know the power of stories, at how well it worked and how much fun it was. Not only has it helped me heal from past trauma, it also strengthens my ability now to automatically stay on my own side and defend myself.

Seth Godin also talks about this concept. His language is “rewriting the script.” Same idea, slightly different presentation. Godin is business oriented, while Walker is psychology oriented.

Godin suggests, instead of saying to ourselves “here we go again,” we simply rewrite the script this time, which means we throw away our expectations and take each experience as a fresh one, rather than another terrible iteration of something in our past.

This is powerful for me as we navigate the process of moving house. I’ve done it more times before than I want to count, and I’ve always found it deeply traumatic, but this time is different. In spite of broken contracts, changing timelines, obstructions and reversals, and the usual financial and physical stresses, I’m managing to stay grounded and balanced. It feels like a rough patch, for sure, but I don’t feel traumatized. I have moments of amusement and even more moments of curiosity. What on earth will happen next? How will this all work out? Where will I be sitting in 6 months?

Old traumas and wounds are just that – old. We don’t have to insist new, similar experiences cut as deeply. It is a choice, although not an obvious one. We could just tear up our old scripts, the ones that hurt us, the ones that never work out for us, the ones filled with fear and heartbreak, and write a new one. Now does not have to be the same as then.

In yet another way to think about this, I came across advice from a writer on how to appreciate one’s progress. She, too, suggested time travel. If we feel stuck and as though we’re making no progress, and never have, and never will, and what person X told us way back when we were children, that we’ll never amount to anything, seems a curse we can never lift, we can sit quietly with ourselves and think back a year, or five, or ten. Stepping back helps us gain perspective and see exactly how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned, how much we’ve grown. What if we went back, in imagination, to cheer on the self we were a year ago, whispering to them of all the wonderful progress ahead?

Scripts and storylines can be changed. We don’t have to give them our power. It’s so easy to forget that. It takes an act of presence and will to change the script and reclaim our power, but we can let go of our limiting expectations and beliefs and allow ourselves a different kind of experience. Not here we go again, but here’s a new experience – I wonder what will happen?

Sometimes all we need to do is shift our gaze from the hopeless and frightening places where we have no power and focus on the places we do. If we can stay there, rest there, live there, the chaos and tumult, though unpleasant, won’t knock us down and trample us. Such times pass by, pass over without traumatizing us, and we’ll come out on the other side more resilient than ever.

Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash

Moving Again

All my life I’ve felt traumatized by how frequently I’ve moved house. My general insecurity makes uprooting myself a fearful ordeal.

Maine Farmhouse and Barn

This time, as we go through the process of selling this old farm and searching for a new place, I’m realizing for the first time how valuable my experience of moving is. My resentment about it is falling away.

I know most people approach finding a new home from the will-this-place-suit-me direction, and that’s probably practical and sensible. I can and have done that many times, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about whether I will suit the new place, and being curious about how I might fit my life into it rather than forcing it to accommodate me.

I do this because, as I’m realizing now, every place I’ve lived has changed me, challenged me, and shown me new aspects of myself. I’ve never had much money and therefore been unable to have a wide choice or completely renovate, so I’ve learned to adapt and adjust to wherever I am. For the first time in my life, I’m seeing what strength and power lie in that kind of resilience.

I’ve lived in homes, apartments, dorms, a trailer, a log cabin, and my parents’ home (as an adult). I’ve rented and I’ve owned, bought and sold, and been a landlady. I’ve lived with husbands, my kids, assorted animals, and friends. I’ve lived by myself. I’ve lived in large places with ample storage and closets and small places with one closet in the entire house.

Now, as I approach my 60s, I think I know a lot about what I need, what’s important, and how adaptable I am. Of course, I thought that at 50 when I came to Maine, but this old farmhouse taught me a great deal more. And the new house will teach me yet more. During my time in this house, I also became a minimalist, which has had a huge impact on my priorities and the amount of stuff I manage.

Leaving the place I know, no matter what this house’s challenges, is hard. I am, at least, familiar with the current problems and challenges. But I also know what I love; I’m already grieving the loss of this beautiful 26 acres, the gardens, the wildlife, the views out the windows, the way the sun comes into my little attic aerie, and the shrill spring song of the peepers in the pond.

I realize, however, that the next place I live will present me with new joys. I don’t know what they will be. They won’t be exactly like what I’m leaving. But a new space holds new possibilities and new discoveries, along with fresh challenges.

The thing about limits and challenges is the opportunity they hold. I’m excited by the prospect of creatively solving problems I encounter. One of the good things about having little financial resource is that I’ve been forced to rely on creative, low-cost solutions. If one doesn’t have money to throw at problems, one has to find another way.

Finding another way has always been a journey worth taking for me, a journey into my own power, ability, and creativity. Without the help of abundant money, it can seem like a long, slow, journey, uncomfortable and occasionally even tortuous, but filled with discovery and satisfaction. The new space and I will work together to make something functional and beautiful. We’ll find out about one another. We’ll take care of one another.

We’ll make a new home together.

Jenny’s attic is waiting for her. Fall, 2014

Leaping

Last month, Seth Godin wrote about The Lifeguard Hack. Being a lifeguard, it made a lot of sense to me.

This week my team (of lifeguards) and I spent some time in the water training.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Just before Halloween, I pulled the trigger on finding another place to live, right around the same time I decided to serialize my fiction on Substack.

I wasn’t ready to do either of these things, and I’m not ready to have to go in the water and rescue someone at work, either.

Wait! Let me think about this some more. Let me prepare. Let me figure out how to do it perfectly.

Except life doesn’t wait.

Godin is so right. When someone is drowning, I’m going in. It doesn’t matter if I have the proper gear, equipment, attire, or level of energy and alertness. The temperature of the water doesn’t matter. I won’t wonder which form of entry to use. I won’t plan an approach. I probably won’t follow the exact script in our Emergency Action Plan. None of us will. I will blow my whistle, and if I don’t have my whistle, I’ll yell. Loudly. And I’ll go in.

I’ve moved house before. I’ve sold, bought, and figured out how to make it work. I’m not ready, because no one ever is ready, at least not if ready means knowing every detail beforehand. I wouldn’t have planned to decide to do this in late fall with winter and the holidays looming ahead. It just unfolded that way.

I’ve been thinking for years about ways to get my fiction into the world. Why Substack? Why now? Especially why now when I decide at the same time we need to move?

I don’t know. It’s time. It’s just time.

We re-certify every two years to keep our lifeguard status, and we train frequently. I have experience with moving. I have a disciplined writing practice and am an experienced blogger.

Performing a water rescue, buying a new home and moving into it, publishing on Substack, are all things I can do. I’ve done them, or something similar to them, before. There will be no perfect time. Rehearsing won’t help me. It’s just a way of allowing my anxiety and all the critics in my head to sabotage me.

While we’re hesitating, afraid of failure or less-than-perfect, opportunity slips away. While we’re waiting for the “right time,” we’re losing the time we have now. While we’re rehearsing how to pull a passive victim off the bottom of the deep end, they’re drowning.

For me, the key is not so much courage, which I have plenty of. It’s confidence, which I struggle with. But a lot of my struggle with confidence is based on old lies and distortions that are not real. I know I can perform a water rescue because I’ve done it before, many times in practice and a couple of times in real life. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t look like the Red Cross training videos, where everyone is calm, the sun is shining, and it’s all by the book. But nobody drowned. Nobody died.

I hate moving. It opens up a lot of old trauma. But we need to move, and I know I can do it. I know liquor boxes make the best book boxes. I know how to show a house. I know how to navigate the legalities. I know where my power is, and I know what I can’t control in the process. It’s a familiar journey. Waiting for nicer weather, for the market to get better for sellers, better for buyers, or more stable in general; waiting for loans to be easier to obtain, or interest rates to go down, or to win the lottery; waiting for the stars to align just right because I’m scared, is not effective. The time is now. We’ll figure it out. Whether we have two years or a month of the process ahead of us, it’s begun and it will play out the way it plays out. It will be stressful, and exhausting, and a chaos of boxes (and cats) and belongings, tape and markers, and things we can’t find. It won’t be perfectly thought out or executed.

On Substack, people will read or they won’t. People will like the fiction, or they won’t. They’ll tell their friends and share it, they’ll comment, they’ll help me build a healthy, interactive community engaged in discussing community, story, and how to live more effectively on our planet, or they won’t. I didn’t start out perfectly. I go back every couple of days and tweak things. I’m figuring it out as I go.

We figure life out as we go. Our friends help us. We learn. We adjust. We make mistakes. We do our best.

So, yeah. If you go down in one of our pools while I’m on the stand, I’m coming in after you, and the rest of my team will be right behind me. I’m not ready. But I’m coming in.

Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

 

 

Accuracy Versus Precision

I subscribe to Seth Godin, who provides me with a few sentences of daily food for thought in my Inbox. This week, I read this link about the difference between accuracy and precision.

Godin’s distinction between the two is one I never thought about before, but I have been thinking about roots.

Photo by Arun Kuchibhotla on Unsplash

Deep roots. Strong roots.

Roots grow toward sustenance. They don’t grow toward, or in, barren soil. Cell by cell, rootlet by rootlet, inch by inch, they spread, seeking water, seeking the soil and mineral resource they need. Cell by cell, stem by stem, twig by twig, inch by inch, trees and plants grow aboveground in search of sunlight.

Trees and plants want to live. They seek the resources necessary to do so. Survival is their simple, accurate agenda. A seed germinates and grows toward successful reproduction, wherever it happens to be.

Exactly how the roots and crown need to grow, exactly where the best sustenance and water will be found, exactly what the quality and quantity of sunlight will be, all these precise determinations have no meaning unless the imperative to survive exists, and can’t be planned ahead. It all depends on context.

The accuracy comes first. Then the precise details.

I’m thinking about this because we are relocating, not from Maine, but from this old farmhouse.

A year ago, I wrote a series of posts about holistic management, and I’ve been reviewing my holistic plan regularly ever since. My intention, my accurate intention, in Godin’s language, is to create a simpler, more sustainable life.

The precise details? Well, that’s a hairball of monstrous proportions that’s currently keeping me up nights.

Maybe it doesn’t need to. I started with an accurate intention and have taken all kinds of steps toward that, not only with my physical living situation, but also with my writing and life in general. The precise details of each of those steps were not visible to me a year ago when I created my plan and started acting. I moved forward, and identified and dealt with specifics as I came to them.

When I was younger, I had an easier time with big changes, because there was always time to adjust, to go back, to change my mind, to make another choice in the future. But now, as my partner and I age, it feels more urgent to get it exactly right and position myself perfectly for any eventuality.

This is silly, of course. The things we agonize over usually never happen, and if they do, they don’t happen in the way we predicted. The challenges we do encounter are often complete surprises we could never have foreseen or imagined.

Photo by yatharth roy vibhakar on Unsplash

Godin’s thought for the day reminded me, again, that life is a journey. It’s a process. It unfolds. Much as I’d like to know exactly where and when, who and how, those precise details are hidden in the future. It’s not time to know them yet. Right now, today, I need to live those questions and steer with my intention: a simpler, more sustainable life.

That’s the tree I planted last year. Now it’s beginning to grow. The roots are seeking nourishment. The plant aboveground is seeking sunlight. When I look back over the last twelve months, I can see how much growth there’s been, but as I lived the last year I didn’t think about growth or progress. I dealt with specifics arising out of my accurate, intentional seed and put one foot in front of the other.

Now we approach the still, dark, heart of winter, and as I take stock, look over my shoulder and raise my gaze to the horizon ahead, I realize afresh movement in the right direction is what counts. The specifics reveal themselves in their own time. Whatever my feelings of anxiety, fear, and overwhelm, I’m also flowing in the current of my accurate intention.

I’m forced to admit I have a choice. I can rest in faith in myself, in my intentions, and in life generally. I can cultivate my curiosity and sense of exploration, discovery, and fun.

Or I can make myself miserable trying to figure out every single detail yesterday and pushing this important transition to go as fast as possible so I don’t have to feel my feelings and wrestle with my panic-stricken thoughts any more.

It’s really not a choice I want to make. I don’t feel I have the energy to fight my compulsion to speed like a maniac through my life right now, obsessing about money, cleaning, and showings, collecting and packing boxes, and checking online every 10 minutes for new MLS listings. In Central Maine. In December. In our modest price range.

But even as I think that thought, I know it’s a lie. Whatever will be, will be. There’s only so much power I have in this picture. What’s really at stake is whether I enjoy the ride as much as I can or exhaust myself, risking illness and injury, just when I most need to be healthy and whole. One way or another, we are leaving this place and necessarily going somewhere else. Part of me wants to throw up my hands and spin out of control, but the wiser, saner part of me sees the choices clearly and knows which ones to make.

Sigh.

Maine Farmhouse and Barn

More or Less

A frequent conversation among my coworkers at our rehab pool facility, as well as our mostly middle-aged and older patrons and patients, has to do with the unexpected places life takes us. How did we get here from there?

Photo by yatharth roy vibhakar on Unsplash

For some this is a bittersweet question, for others an amusing one, and for others a bewildered or even despairing one. Whatever our current reality is, none of us could have foreseen or imagined it when we were young adults.

We can all talk about dreams we’ve had, intentions, hopes, and choices we’ve made in pursuit of the life we imagined we wanted, but life itself is always a wild card. It picks us up by the scruff of our neck, sweeps us away, and casts us onto strange shores.

As I age and practice minimalism, I realize keeping my dreams flexible has never been more important. My dreams, along with everything else, change. What I longed for as a young woman is not what I want now. What I needed in midlife is not what I want as I approach my 60s. Some things I’ve thought of as merely desirable are now essential, and other things I thought I needed no longer seem important.

In some ways I like dancing with change, my own as well as external circumstances. It feels dynamic and healthy. Resilience and adaptation are strong life skills.

In other ways it’s hard, the way my needs and I change. Often, I feel my own natural change and growth are hurtful to others. I try to hold them back. I try to stop myself, make myself quiet and small so no one will be upset, including me!

In the end, though, there’s something in me that’s wild, and sure, and deeply rooted in the rightness of change. It can’t be silenced or stifled, and there’s no peace for me until I begin living true to myself once again, no matter the cost.

The costs are very high. The personal costs of living authentically have been catastrophic for me. Sometimes I feel I’ve paid with everything I ever valued.

And yet the power of living authentically, the peace of it, the satisfaction of shaping a life that really works and makes me happy … How much is too much to sacrifice for that?

For a long time, I’ve thought about balance. Financial balance. Work-life balance, which is a term so nonspecific as to be useless. Balancing time. Balancing socialization and solitude. Balancing sitting and writing with physical activity. The complex balance of give and take in relationships. Balancing needs and power.

Minimalism is about balance. Achieving a simple life demands balance, something hard to find in an overcrowded life. Practicing simplicity and working toward balance take mindfulness, which is a difficult skill to hone in our loud, distracting, manipulative and addictive consumer culture. There’s a lot of social pressure to want more and bigger, to hang on tightly to our things.

But I want less. I want less stuff, less expense, less noise (visual and otherwise), less maintenance, less complication. I want less because I want more. I want more peace, more beauty, more sustainability, more time for loved ones and the activities that are most important to me. Gardening. Animals. Walking. Writing. Playing. Spiritual practice.

I don’t want more than I need. I don’t need more than I can use, enjoy, take care of, or pay for.

I do want to accommodate change, my own, and changing circumstances around me. The simpler and easier my life is, the more space I have to welcome my own aging and wherever my life journey takes me next. I don’t make myself crazy trying to anticipate all the future possibilities, but I want to know I can live well with the resource I have and build reserves for whatever the future brings.

Ironically, it often takes resource to go from more to less. Financial resource. Time and energy resource. It takes sacrifice, in the sense of being willing to give up things valued for the sake of things even more valuable and worthy. In its own way, moving in the direction of living simply is as much work and emotional cost as the endless treadmill of more. It does have an end point, though, whereas more is never satisfied.

Last week I read a post from Joel Tefft titled ‘Abandon, Embrace‘. He suggests daily journaling (which I also highly recommend) using the writing prompts: Today I abandon ___ and today I embrace ___. This is balance in action. What is not helping? What is most important? Abandon something in order to make space for something better.

We can’t find a place for what’s most important if our cup is already too full.

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash

Deciding what kind of a life we want to live and working to create it is a difficult process of choice. It’s difficult because it can be so hard to tell the truth about our needs and feelings. Sometimes we have to give up on cherished dreams and hopes, come to terms with our current limitations. Our choices can affect others in hurtful ways. Sacrifice is not easy. Managing our feelings is not easy.

Choosing, as I’ve said before, involves consequences we can’t always control.

But to make choices, especially difficult ones, is to be standing in our power, as is creating an authentic life that allows us to grow deep roots and be the best and happiest we can be, for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world.