If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you might have seen that I went on a solo retreat last week! Nothing but me, myself, and I and only the trees, king fishers, and waves of the Salish Sea to guide me through each day.
It was pretty lovely!! But also incredibly frustrating! Haha!
Things have been pretty crazy busy in my work-life for the past year and I’ve started to feel like an octopus with twice as many arms and the mental chatter to match.
So on this trip I had planned to unplug from my life and immerse myself in the spiritual practices that normally keep me grounded, in hopes that I could create some massive changes.I wanted to bust through the boulder barrier I’d built around my life into a space where I felt clear-headed, like I had all the answers to where I was going next, and where I could find a gentler, more enlightened way of being.
Really, what I was looking for was a breakthrough…
But while my mornings were filled with yoga, journaling with a cup of tea, and wandering the beach… And my evenings with meditation and spiritual studies in front of the fireplace… After a few days I still found myself going through those crazy cycles of inspiration and joy to unworthiness and self-pity.
It was SO frustrating! I had wanted BIG CHANGE and this just sort of felt the same! I mean, I was having new amazing ideas…. But I was still falling back into that crappy place where I felt undeserving of anything good and stupid!
After three days I was starting to get really disheartened, but I kept on with my spiritual practice agenda and worked on a digital meditation course I’d been taking.
But the best thing actually happened when my computer died… (no surprise there).
As I was standing in the kitchen, waiting for it to get enough juice to start up again, a new book I had brought with me caught my eye — The Tao Te Ching.
This book was written by someone named Lao-tzu, who we know nearly nothing about, but who probably lived prior to Confucius (551-479 BCE). My friend and fellow awesome artist, Chris Slaymaker had posted a quote from it on his story the week before and I immediately ordered it. It is a small book, with poetic philosophical ideas organized as single chapters on a page. My fave.
I decided to open it up and read a random page while I waited:
These words cut right to my heart, burgundy, with their grace and resonance. It was like the universe had just come and smacked me right on the back of the head, or on the forehead, or both.
Waiting until my mud settled was what I had hoped to be doing on this trip — clearing my mind.
Was I remaining unmoving?? Was I being patient? Definitely not. Was I looking for fulfillment, seeking, expecting??? Oh fo sho.
While I had a good intention to do nothing but soul work on this trip, it was in the name of striving for something I felt I didn’t have. It was an agenda. I mean I had a literal agenda with all the fun things I would do. Which is cool — a girl’s gotta plan. But I was acting each thing out as if I was desperately trying to fill my cupped shirt with handfuls of Skittles from the ground — and if only I could get enough I would be satisfied. Satiated. Aka seeking fulfillment.
So really, I wasn’t letting the mud settle… I was more like splashing my hands around in it trying to frantically make the dirt go away and only kicking up more fish poop.
Now, this is not a new concept by any means. Our happiness, clarity, and perfect nature are supposed to be inside each one of us — we just have all this other crap (emotions, thoughts, and habits) covering it up so we can’t see it. And instead, we identify things outside ourselves that we think will bring us happiness (jobs, love, a box full of kittens <—— pretty sure that one’s real tho).
So often, the practice of finding fulfillment, is not about reaching for something, but rather about sloughing off the things that are covering it up and weighing us down. Like dropping a weighted velvet cloak from our shoulders, we emerge as bright and divine as the northern star.
But even though I have heard very similar ideas before, sometimes we just need the perfect words at the perfect time. An idea re-presented to us in a new way for it to sink in and help settle the mud.
As I closed my MacBook and snuggled up by the fire to read the rest of the Tao Te Ching, again and again my mind fixated on the parts about striving. And I realized… I never stop striving. Never. I am always thinking and planning. Always trying to create some future where I will be happier than in this moment… But I never get there. And that’s what Lao-tzu says over and over again — when you want, you will just keep wanting more. You won’t ever be satisfied.
The only path to serenity”. (Page 9)
I gave myself permission to stop striving for a little while. To feel like I have everything I want in this moment. And in that moment, my brain turned off and it was like that same cloak was static curtains around me, and they had dropped with a thud to the floor.
The room looked different and I could see so much more clearly. I was being fully present in a way I hadn’t been in a very long time.
I had thought I was being present before this… But my energies and desires were always still reaching for the future. And when you live only for the future, you can’t ever be happy in the present.
It hasn’t been easy to maintain this feeling of deep peace and clarity I found that night. Certainly not at first. I reread those words the next morning and they were like plaster frosting compared to the juicy peaches they’d been running down my chin the night before.
But I’ve kept at it… And the more I let myself be present, without wanting or expectation… Even for 15 seconds… The more calmer, clearer, and joyful I feel for hours after.
I’ve been especially cautious reapproaching work — to not get sucked back into those same feelings and expectations I have of myself — the normal feeling of work and life. I want to do it differently.
You might say, “Well I have too much to do to slow down. And why would I want to let go of all my ambition and goals”?! I know, it’s like a crazy duality and counter-intuitive thing. But I am telling you, after doing this for a week, I am getting more done with a way less frazzled mind, I’m feeling more inspired, and I’m manifesting things way better than when I was frantically trying to create in my world.
This is a practice I am going to continue and I hope you might try it! Give it a go now, and really focus on it on your next day off when you can get a really good feel for it.
Allow yourself to be fully present without desire, without seeking fulfillment, or achievement. Have everything you want in your heart in this moment and let it soften. Breathe in and out through your feet and root to the Earth. Hold your face to the sky and feel the rain or sun on those sweet cheeks of yours.
Do it so many times this weekend that you can get to that space faster and faster each time. And when you return to work on Monday, go slow. Breathe. Go to the space first thing, often, and especially any time you need to take action. And take action from this space. It won’t leave you listless, I promise. Like any master of their craft who doesn’t have to think about the motions of their paintbrush, body, or spice rack — it will make your actions inspired.
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Here is a link to Tao Te Ching on Amazon! I highly recommend this translation!
Lots of love and presence,