Finding Sanctuary in Times of Change

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Times of transition are like hurricanes. Confusing, loud, messy and intense. There is uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness that directly affects our peace and sanctuary. Some of us deal with the changes with decidedly more grace than others. Some are rocked off their foundations, never to be the same again.

The point is that no one is safe from change. And why the hell would you want to be?

Change is the great motivator. It is the one unequivocal trait of the progression of human life. Without it we are stagnant lumps. Change breeds invention and new ideas, it sparks, hopefully, encompassing understanding and empathy. Compassion even.

What happens though, when we have too much change? When we are in a constant state of upheaval. When everything in life is a transition?

It is proven that children who suffer chronic instability (experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes their norm) can suffer from toxic stress.  

Toxic stress increases the risks of several physical and social problems including but not limited to increased risk for cancer and diabetes, heart, lung, and liver disease, increased risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression.

While a normal amount of stress can be good (it stimulates healthy growth, promotes resilience, and helps us to learn coping mechanisms), constant stress and insecurity in our lives actually causes the body great physical and psychological harm.

The effects are more pronounced in children but adults are not immune. Just ask the millions of people living with high blood pressure, depression, cardiac disease etc. We are in over our heads.

So how do we balance the change and transition? How do we grow and push our boundaries without breaking apart our safety net?

Balance seems a cop-out idea. Of course balance (*eye roll*). That’s like asking “how do I write a novel” and some smart ass saying “Just sit down and write”.

True…but too general. Writing, like balance, is not a one size fits all idea. What is balanced for me is way too much for someone else. One woman’s six, 50,000 word romances a year is another’s one 38,0000 word novel every seven.

How do we find our balance? How do we find the right amount of change? I think the answer lies in retaining sanctuary in our lives. Now I’m not talking humpy-backed bell swingers walled up inside the cathedral, sanctuary. I’m speaking of it on a more personal and sometimes mental level.

Are you safe in your own mind? Do you have a place to go, in your brain, where you can let go, remember to breathe, where your shoulders can drop away from your ears and you can feel at peace? Or is it all hell-fire and disaster, 24/7 from the moment you wake from stress-induced nightmares to the moment you’re knocking yourself out with Melatonin just to escape?

We all need peace. We all need change. How much of each is dependent on who you are.

One person may be content taking 15 credit hours, while raising a family of six and working part time for the PTA. Another may be perfectly happy chiming into an online forum on bee-keeping once a week and counting her reading in hours not minutes. One person may be at home living from a suitcase, jet-setting to all parts of the world for a story and a perspective never gleaned. Another may never leave their childhood hometown and yet still maintain contentment in the smaller world around them.

I’m not here to tell you how much change to accept. I’m here to tell you to accept some change. Pursue some change. But if you find that all you do is change, and you can’t recognize yourself or the people you love anymore, then it’s time to come back home.

Use that one word…what is it? Shoot, I’m not very good at this word, though I’m learning to let my lips form it’s simple monosyllabic music…it’s… NO. The word is NO. If you’re genteel you may even tack on a “Thank You” at the end.

NO is a great place to start. No I do not want to go to that party. No, I do not want to volunteer sixteen hours a week when I’m barely getting my chapters written. No I don’t have time to bake seventy-two cupcakes for the basket-weaving club…would you take a donation instead?

Conversely…don’t forget your YES button in the gleeful mania of refusing. Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, it’s been too long! YES I would love to take a weekend class in basket weaving. YES, it would be an honor to help out for five hours a week. YES, I’ll go to Italy with you, tall-dark-and-handsome stranger…(*guffaw* still waiting for that one to come around).

You know you best. If you aren’t sleeping. if you’ve bitten your nails to the nubs and can feel the bonds of your family life deteriorating. If you’ve sacrificed what you’ve loved to do what you “should” for too long, then its time to take a long hard look at your hurricane and find a graceful exit from the storm.

If you’re still in a dead end job because you’re too afraid to throw caution to the winds of the hurricane blowing outside, do yourself and everyone who loves you a favor and chase that storm. Live a little for goodness sake. We only go get so much time! Don’t waste it wishing for something better, when you are perfectly capable of hunting down the something better and taking it back to your sanctuary.

Tightrope

“Let us be kind and compassionate to remove the sadness of the world.”

 

This is a brief blog today. I’ve got a lot on my plate this week and I have to boil down the process. First, thank you for sticking with me through the new changes and I hope some of you are enjoying the writing exercises on Thursday.

In the next few months I’ll be walking a tight wire, wobbling side to side in the effort to stay balanced and I am committed to making sure my writing is still something I carry with me, despite the extra weight it sometimes brings.

So today, in honor of some of my new obligations and the every-moment-filled reality I’m currently living in, I wanted to drop a gentle reminder.

This world we live in is unbalanced and filled with sadness. Each one of us carries a weight that no one else can completely understand.

Each one of us is on a tightwire.

Sometimes it’s razor thin and sharp. Sometimes it’s wide and steady.

But the drop is all the same.

I urge you, in whatever cycle of the wobble you’re in, to remember three things:

  • Breath. In, Deep and full. To the very tops of your lungs, plus one sip. Exhale, heavy and slow, to the very bottom of your belly. At least three times, three times a day.
  • Go out of your way to be kind to others. It costs nothing, not even much of your time in its truest simplicity. But it can mean the difference between that razor edge and solid footing for someone else.
  • Be kind to yourself. Not one of us is perfect, and we’re not meant to be. Give yourself grace, to wobble, to tumble, to rest and retry.

 

On Thursday I’m going to start the blog off with some fantastic first lines from contributors as well as my own. I hope you, and your badass kind self, can join me.

Oh…and about that Poetry Anthology…Thursday. I promise, something on Thursday (she said, wobbly and arms outstretched).

Roller Coast

Writers, man.

We live deliciously. And when I say that, I mean that we often tend towards the magnificence of highs and lows. I’ve always been more partial to the belief that artists, musicians, writers, poets and the like tend to live life on the shorter wave-length side of things.

Imagine life as a string. We all get the same length of string. Pin it down to one side of the desk. Now, give it a nice, soft undulation of a small lake and see where it lands. That’s a good example of a typical life.

Take another string, same length, same starting point, and make those undulations like the waves of the ocean, impressive highs and catastrophic lows.  The ocean string runs out far before the lake string. This is the life of a creative.

Does that mean we die sooner? Not necessarily. In some extreme cases (think Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix) death was aided in his cause by the use of drugs or alcohol. But it begs the question, why do such creative geniuses seem to expire sooner?

I have an unsupported theory that living in a creative mind isn’t easy. Often, it’s a discombobulated place, filled with wild fantasy, grim darkness, and a dash of bipolar tendencies. The fantastical neurons are on overdrive and move in spiraling thought storms that are often uncontrollable or at best frustratingly elusive.

That’s not an easy brain to live in.

We may scoff at Hemingway’s whiskey or Stephen King’s cocaine but it’s hard to make quick judgments when we’ve all had to deal with voices in our heads, characters doing whatever-the-damn-well-they-want, plot failures and to top it off, the cycles of elation and rejection that line this path we’ve chosen (willingly or not).

Writing can be hard on the heart.

We get diagnosed with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional disorders or other mental health issues. And I’m prone to believe that part of that comes from a society and educational system that values the boxed in test score measures than the immeasurable brain power involved in creative and critical thinking.

When we’re standing at the precipice of throwing our work into the world, firing out the query letters, calling editors and agents, pitching novels, or even entering contests, the mountains of hope and valleys of despair can be wretched chemical surges that amplify the already swirling thunderstorms in the creative mind.

No wonder we are driven to seek out the numbing magic of fermented fruit or dried poppy milk. We’re seeking to elongate the valleys and peaks.

Unfortunately for the human body, those distractions are just that…distractions. Bandaids over too deep a wound.

My point is this, writer, creator, artist with vividly full skull… you are a colorful, magical, beautiful soul, who’s gift comes at the cost of a little sanity. You will see things and know things the world at large is not ready to see or know.

They may call you a dreamer.

But you’re not the only one.

Surround yourself with people who get it. Who know when you need to pontificate in unruly and unrelated thought strings out loud once in awhile, and who understand when you want to stay quietly tucked into a corner avoiding eye contact. You know… other vividly full skulls.

Find your weirdos and keep each other on the gentle undulation side of things, so that when your mind and talent have created in the frothing whirlwind, you can bring your ideas, books, poems, articles, and novels, to the world while standing on solid ground.

When you are in the fire of creating, let it burn.

Then cull your flames with rest, and good food, and time away so that you have the fuel to burn for a long, long, long time to come.

Distance

Distance. One word with a myriad of attached ideas. The space between two points, the play between perspectives, and how it can shift the way we see the world.

As a mom, wife, friend, co-worker, volunteer, writer, runner, kenpoist and all the other shit I personify in life, I get really bogged down in how the world sees me.

We all have responsibilities and I know that I talk about this a lot. But I think that part of the beauty of being human is trying to find a balance between what we have to do and what we want to do in terms of how we create artistically.

It’s generally agreed upon that the have-to’s rarely help out the want to’s. That is, when we are so embroiled in buying groceries and appeasing children, and working the hours, and mopping the floors, we have very little left of brain and body to contribute to our art.

wood fire hot glow
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Maybe some people don’t have this problem and the fire in their core burns bright enough to fuel all of their endeavors whether they are necessary or casual.

But I ain’t one of those people.

In our world today we’re seeing a startling trend of human beings snapping.

 

I think it’s the fast pace. I think it’s the constant technological interconnection and human disconnection. I think it’s the noise that barrages us, nonstop. I think it’s the expectations, and the anger, the powerlessness that often comes when we realize how fragile we are and how big the world’s problems can seem when they’re looming over our heads.

All. The. Time.

No wonder we medicate. No wonder we drink. No wonder we take out our aggression on innocent bystanders and make scapegoats out of whatever group we think could be the root of suffering.

It isn’t right, it isn’t just. But our poor little lizard brains can’t contemplate or find order under such constant distress. Most of us, aren’t self-aware enough to stop and gain perspective on it all.

 

And that brings me back to distance.

 

Distance and perspective are fraternal twins. Borne of the same womb but different in their nature. We need one to have the other. Both are vitally important to our survival as a species.

 

Distance as an artist can be hard to gain. It means dropping the roles we are pegged into, permanently or at least temporarily, in order to have hour proverbial hands free to create, to problem solve, and to ease the process of gaining proper perspective that will, eventually lead to healthier choices, lifestyles and hopefully communities at large.

 

So stop. For a day. For a week. Hell, for an hour. Disconnect.

woman looking at sunset
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Leave behind the have to’s and make it okay for yourself to let go.

Let your overactive, overachieving brain know that this is the time to not.

To not think too much, to not make lists or plans or organize the day. Let your brain know that there’s no shame in stillness. In staring out the window at the snow, or sleeping in. Or writing just to write, and not feeling obligated to anything else. To paint without interruption unless you feel like getting out for a walk.

How many of us have ever let our bodies and brains do just what they wanted, just when they wanted?

Not many. We always have too much shit to do.

So drop the shit. Let it go.

Be okay with just being.

 

You’d be surprised the calm that will find you. And a calm mind is a happy mind.

A creative mind

A forgiving mind.

An open and accepting mind.

It can become all of the things our world needs.

 

So go find some distance. Get out of town, get out of your cubicle, get out of your head.

 

So you can get back into your soul.