Or, How to Heal
For the past few weeks I've been living in another world. I return to reality (aka the internet, Glasgow, etc) and find myself at a complete loss for words. How do I tell my family just how profound and simple volunteering at a holistic retreat has been? How could I possibly capture the weeks spent with healers and therapists and soul-oriented people? I suppose it's time to tell you the truth about me. No fronts, no funny quips. Just me.
Before I begin, I want you to know one thing: I am a skeptic.
When someone says "I can feel energy" I struggle to keep my eyebrows level. When someone says "This will heal you" I try not to counter with we'll just see about that. I'm a "try before you buy" sort of guy. Period.
For the past two years, I have been horribly depressed.
I've hid it fairly well from the majority of the people. Save for occasional breakdowns, I managed. I did what I thought I should do: I took my mind off it by immersing myself in work. In Massachusetts I waited tables and tried to launch an artist studio and trained with a circus group and assisted authors and tried to write.
In Scotland I wrote. A lot. I trained/taught. A lot. When I met with friends, I talked about writing or training or the terror of the future. I woke up and got on the computer and checked email and wrote and then I went to work and then I came home and checked email and tried to tell myself I was okay.
I was not--
by any stretch of the imagination--
Because none of that hard work was paying off. Studios failed. Jobs closed. Writing sucked away at my soul.
I told myself I needed to work harder. I added more pressure. If you get published it will all be better. You'll have money and a path and a purpose and all this hard work will pay off but damn it, Alex, none of that will happen if you don't push yourself past breaking.
And when things kept falling apart, I crumbled to insane amounts of personal pressure.
I wasn't just hitting a brick wall. I was closed in on all sides, and they were caving fast.
I barely registered this.
I've always worked in high-stress states. It started early on in school and it hasn't left. If I don't have a deadline, I make one. If I don't have work, I make it. The motto growing up was 'work, then play.' I just kept leaving out the last bit. Besides, my main job was teaching circus! I laughed! I had a blast! That was surely balancing out the intensity of writing. Right?
For the past two weeks, I've woken up with a stream outside one window and a mountain outside the other. I go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea. Then I work for eight hours. I clean rooms, make beds. When courses are running I work in the kitchen and chop vegetables. At first, I hated the work. I was a writer! A circus artist! I wasn't schooled to make beds and hoover hallways. I should be creating and making and pushing myself and...
you get the picture.
Over time, things changed. I started opening up to the people I was working with. I stopped viewing the work as a chore and saw it as an opportunity. I stopped trying to drown out the time spent cleaning bathrooms with music and just listened to the birds outside. I went for walks through the woods, up the mountain, to lochs. Just being in that environment--a place in the wilds entirely dedicated to healing everyone who walked through the doors--was powerful. But there was more.
There was reflexology, massage exchanges. There was a Reiki session that completely blew my mind. There were talks over meals and tea about everything from sex to Buddha to emotional response patterns and nutrition. Through it all, I started to feel.
The fears and expectations stopped meaning anything. The anger I felt toward people, the judgments I had, all started to vanish when I stopped pitting myself against them and realized we were all there for the same purpose: to help heal others and ourselves.
Now, I'm not there yet. Just being back in the city (and back in my flat with wifi) makes the old habits peek their heads in. Productive much today? Written anything good? I still panic about the future.
But I'm getting there. I'm making space.
And if anything, that's what I'd like you to do.
Your work is important. Really, it is. But it's not that important.
You're going to die some day. Make friends with that thought. There are so many cliche phrases that have lost meaning so I won't use them. Because they didn't work for me. I had to experience it firsthand.
Your path will be different from mine. That's clear. You might find peace volunteering for people or animals. But it's a powerful thing to get out of 'me me me' and help other people heal themselves. Especially when you're able to make that same commitment to yourself.
You deserve it. Really, you do. You deserve it so much that there's no excuse: you can make the time. You don't need any money. You don't have to be or do anything except, well, breathe.
So I ask you: what can you do to create space in your life? What are opportunities to volunteer and help both yourself and the community? How can you get out into nature and just be a body that breathes and bleeds like the rest?
Find it. Follow it.
You're worth the effort.
More next week.