– JRR Tolkien
Where I’m Rooted
Deep, deep, deeper
Into the silence and the black
Into the solidness of the earth
The churning stillness
Into the place where the seed rests furtive in the ground
Where it holds all the story of the world in a secret, less than a whisper
More like a warmth than a word
-Feb. 2015, journal entry
It is amazing to me, years later, how something within can go unrecognized for so long. For me, it took silence to find the seed of that “something that needed to grow.” This silence came through a practice called mindfulness.
Mindfulness has changed my life, and as with many decisions to begin a life change, this one came because of difficult personal circumstances.
At the time, my marriage was in trouble; I was lonely and felt ineffective at work in my new instructional coaching position; I missed teaching; and my grandmother was very sick and did not have long to live. Grandma was a soul mate of sorts; I even carry on her name, Rose, as a middle name. We were especially close because my son and I had lived with her throughout the college years when I was a single mother.
For a time, I dealt with these situations in the worst way possible: I was incredibly hard on myself, lost sleep, didn’t eat and drank to excess instead, and took up smoking again years after having quit. My family suffered and my work as an instructional coach did as well. It was the first time as an adult when it seemed I “couldn’t hold it together,” at work or at home.
December of 2013, however, I suffered a severe episode of situational depression, prompting me to enter counseling. After responding in very ineffective ways, that month began the transformation. This did not mean that life got easier. In the very difficult year and a half that followed, grandma passed and my marriage almost ended. The struggle with anxiety and depression continued, eventually leading to medication. All these things were realities, but there was a greater reality, too. Something within had been awakened and was emerging. What was once a whisper lost in the wind had become an aching bellow to embrace a new reality being birthed, a new version of myself.
Mindfulness became a part of my healing practice on March 5, 2014, about three months after the first wave of depression. At the time, I didn’t even call it mindfulness; it was meditation, with which I had much exposure because of my New Age grandma who had always had her own practice. After nights staying with her as a little girl, mornings were spent playing quietly with the amethysts and crystals on the table of her lavender meditation room as she sat on the floor silently, eyes closed.
At age five her actions seemed unusual. Then and for a long time after, there was no one else like Grandma. Twenty-seven years later, only a year and a half before she died at age 75, her seemingly strange practices were a saving force in my own life.
Meditation is part of the healing way of living I adopted; mindfulness is much more than just meditation, though, which is only a form of practice. Mindfulness is more of a conscious combination of ways of thinking and being that help one be “present” in the moment.
Of all the many helping tools used: yoga, reading of texts from a variety of faith traditions, and therapy, formal mindfulness practice was still the most transformative. It began with ten minutes of silence a day, followed by ten minutes of written reflection via journaling, which has transformed and deepened to an extended daily practice that that goes far beyond the meditation cushion and is part of my minute-to-minute existence.
In mindfulness practice there was found an internal wellspring of silence and peace previously unknown. While I couldn’t, and still can’t, be in that place all the time, the practice has shifted the locus of control from outward circumstances to inward perceptions and reactions. The following is a journal excerpt written in August of 2014, six months after beginning the practice:
When I look back on the ‘me’ from December, the me sitting [wrapped] in a blanket smoking cigarettes, the me who couldn’t eat or sleep, who had to have someone, my sister, tell me how to live; when I think of the me who would tear myself apart because of others’ negativity, I feel bad for that person. I see how scared, tired, and generally desirous to please, to do right, to love and be loved [that person was]. That person is a part of me, but a part I am hopeful to have helped set at ease. I need to remember how far I have come… I am so grateful to have discovered a deeper part [of my self], a part that can help to heal those places. I know, I hope, I can stay in this… path of unknowing and just live in this patience and inaction within my own strength, my own truth.
Mindfulness changed me, improved my quality of life, and helped me to be a better person for others. A more attentive family member, I listened with intention to my children and had better control of emotional responses as a wife instead of being wrapped up in thoughts and feelings.
As an instructional coach, there was more empathy and was better able to respond to work demands without becoming overwhelmed by what every success or failure “meant about me.” Most importantly, there was something more genuine in all interactions, something vulnerable and whole, which created deeper connections with everyone.
The hearts of true teachers will continually beckon toward sharing what is most of essence to one’s spirit with others, hoping to see something reflected back. Something that can be held gently in reverence- because who knows when or how it might be seen again. Something that can be cultivated by first calling it forward and then lovingly coaxing it outward, until that something becomes clear enough in the other, becomes apparent to the other, even when that teacher no longer exists.
I am a teacher, and in January of 2015, I took tentative steps into the darkness, further away from the four walls of the traditional classroom. There was a push, one I didn’t necessarily want to follow, into the unknown. This meant I would have to leave my position as an instructional coach. This meant there was a good likelihood (at least I thought at the time) to never step foot into a classroom again.
And yet, sometimes we do things, without understanding why or even how, and these things provide the next necessary step to becoming the person we are meant to become.
As I have heard echoed in the words of the wise so many times, “We must leave who we are in order to travel the road to who we are becoming.” That road is often dark, and in my experience, always difficult.
What I didn’t know when making the choice to step into the unknown is that I would be offered amazing opportunities if I followed the whisper inside of me. I didn’t know that with time this whisper would once again become a bellow, stating my purpose with calm and assured confidence this time.
While I was already on the road to “who I would be,” this was the road of “what I would do.” It has been a fruitful and fulfilling journey of teaching others the same skills and practices that provided resilience during my own difficult times. The long road had led me here, to teaching once again.