This unexpected view is somehow still perfect

It’s time for a mid-year assessment.

Though this is not actually a routine practice of mine, I’ve been reflecting on where I am rather frequently lately — and often emerging feeling deflated.

That in itself is rare, and awkward, for me to admit. In my many circles, I am known for my sunny disposition, unstinted optimism and a capacity to appreciate life right where I am, even while tending to grand, and sometimes fanciful, dreams.

Lately, however, I’ve been feeling stuck, uninspired and fatigued, a morass that any attempts to unravel often end in this question: “What are you doing with your life?”

I cringe to recall how many times a taunting voice has rushed forward with a false and ugly “Nothing.”

In January, I proclaimed this would be my year to “Live Big, Bold and Balanced.” Declaring such an affirmation was my practice of greeting 2011 with some form of intention, of imagining the experiences that would come to shape my life, while savoring the excitement and anticipation that just speaking those words aroused. I had made 2010 my “year of celebration and creativity” and been amazed at how many opportunities aligned with that proclamation. So with equal fervor and joyful expectation, I stepped into a year I was sure would usher untold possibilities, including the fulfillment of several “big” and “bold” dreams.

Except now it’s July, and life doesn’t look much different than it did in January. And while I know my vision for the year won’t happen on its own — as much room as I allow for magic and spontaneity, I can’t move forward without action and discipline on my part, too — I can’t seem to muster the energy for more than what’s right in front of me.

And that, unlike what that treacherous little voice would suggest, is actually a lot: a full-time job here; a part-time job performing weddings (which, depending on the season, can range from doing three to six ceremonies a month); a relationship to nurture; friends and family to spend time with and support; and the still-fresh process of grieving the loss of Lou, my mom’s longtime companion, who passed away in the spring, leaving an aching void not only in her life but in my brother’s and mine as well.

So if I scribble only a line or two of poetry in my journals when I imagined writing enough to publish a book, if I can’t decide whether to become a certified poetry therapist or go for my MFA, if the places awaiting the footfalls of my wanderlust appear as mere specks on a dim, unreachable horizon — it’s OK. This I know logically. And when my entire body contracts in protest at the thought of one more social engagement, or one more person or project needing my attention, as has been happening more and more lately, I wonder how I could ever expect to corral so much restless ambition without completely burning out.

Earlier this spring, even before Lou had passed, I shared with my friend Karen how I was struggling with my 2011 banner and its implied momentum, which seemed, uncharacteristically, to elude me.

“What if you just did nothing?” she asked.

I simply stared at her, flustered and wordless, envisioning the discomfiting indolence of such a proposition.

“What would that be like?” she insisted. “What if you just took this year to take care of yourself?”

When I blinked back tears, I knew she’d struck a nerve. I did, after all, include the word “balanced” as part of my New Year’s intentions because I was well aware of my tendency to move through life at a fast clip, going from one thing to the next. In the last several years, I’d also dived into one big adventure and project after another, as well as a few misguided undertakings.

The year I started performing weddings, I also enrolled in an 18-month interfaith ministry program. Somewhere between there and ordination, I took on two unpaid freelance jobs, and eventually added a third (all have since been jettisoned with the realization that they brought me more stress than fulfillment). There was my pilgrimage to Peru, my writing sojourn in Mallorca and six months spent in a leadership development program, followed by a week learning about integrating the arts in community service, the latter two pursued with the aim of traveling to Africa with my own transformational arts program. Through it all, I’ve maintained an ever-brimming social life, filling even quiet pockets of time, as if to relish them would be to waste them.

My brother, prone to well-preserved periods of rest and reflection, especially before embarking on any new venture, repeatedly reminds me to slow down. And I am constantly engaged with friends, fellow travelers in the fast lane, in conversations about setting boundaries, saying no and making time for ourselves.

When Karen posed her question to me back in March, suggesting that the greatest thing I could do for myself this year would be to luxuriate in ample, uninterrupted doses of “me” time, I knew she was right. Yet it wasn’t until recently that I realized, for all my disappointment that my banner year was not shaping up to be what I imagined, it is actually unfolding perfectly.

Lou’s passing has been one of the biggest losses in my life to date. While I would never imagine or choose such heartache for myself were I sculpting my perfect year, I can’t help but think how it’s forcing me to slow down. In the month after he died, I turned more inward, doing as little as possible, spending more time at home when I wasn’t with my mom, and relegating any social activity to a few carefully chosen one-on-one engagements. When I agreed one Saturday to go to a festival and then spent the morning in alternating anguish and anxiety at just the thought of being at such a teeming event, I bowed out, amid an embarrassment of tears, and learned that those who love me were happy to support me in taking care of myself. Saying no, I began to discover, did not automatically qualify me as a “bad friend / girlfriend.”

But it’s now been more than two months, and I’m again picking up the pace, though I know I am still healing and need to allow time and energy for that process. So what if the biggest, boldest thing I could do for myself really would be to stand still, to embrace exactly where I am, instead of focusing on a rapidly dwindling year still unhitched from my dreams and plans? Instead of worrying about the “nothing” that I am moving toward, what if I took the opportunity to cultivate compassion for myself, to treat myself with all the caring and generosity that I so freely lavish on others? In my self-thwarted pursuit of balance, what if I finally mastered saying no to the things that deplete more than they give, the people and occasions that demand more than support?

From where I stand, I have much to learn, and perhaps now, in this yawning fissure of softening grief and frustrated yearning, is exactly the place to start. In my year of living “Big, Bold and Balanced,” choosing to gently care for myself may be just the path to fortify me with the clarity, purpose, insight and energy to embrace all the bright imaginings waiting around the bend.

– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times