All posts by Julia Swancy

About Julia Swancy

writer, shaman, seeker, radical homesteader, unschooling mother of three, life learner, local food advocate, unabashed treehugger, herbalist, pontificator, farmwife

Learning To Rest

Every day myriad fleeting thoughts and half-formed ideas vie for the elite position (tongue firmly in cheek) of becoming this day’s post. Somewhere along the way I learned to be comfortable with leaving the unchosen on the cutting room floor… I’m not sure how or when that happened, only that it did, as I no longer have the paralysis in the face of sitting down to the page that I once had.

For the past few days I have had some form of upper respiratory shenanigans going on, and yesterday it just won out. I took the kids into Atlanta for the last day of the Go West! exhibit at the High Museum (if you ever visit Atlanta, it’s worth a visit) and at the end of the day I chose to simply go to bed.

But.

I felt guilty. I have been posting every day recently. I broke my stride. What will happen tomorrow? What if I have fallen off, like so many times before, and I don’t get back on for months or years? I am running out of time!

Well, tomorrow has arrived, I am here, I am posting. Look at that. Sometimes it’s not just ideas that need to be left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes it may be a mood, a belief, an opinion, an assumption… perhaps an entire day (because let’s be honest, some days suck). If we can leave those things, let them fall where they fall, we free ourselves to move on to the next thing. I can let myself rest when I need to without worrying that it means anything about what I’ll do next– except that most likely I’ll be less tired :)

If you need to rest today, but you’re struggling against it, I wish you a lovely nourishing nap from which you wake refreshed and rejuvenated… and guilt-free!

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

Facts. Sometimes useful, sometimes limiting, but by definition, always immutable. It is, for instance, a fact that the earth revolves around the sun; it is a fact that the sun is a star, that the earth is not, and that the moon, also not a star, is a satellite of earth. It is a fact that two of my children are in the next room playing together in this moment. It is a fact that this chair under me was once part of a tree or trees, with the exception of its metal feet, likely some nails or screws, and possibly the varnish (although that too may have once been part of a tree).

Those were easy. Teasing out fact from opinion gets complicated when we start examining our minds and emotions. So much interpretation is completely subjective. How do we know what is true?

We all respond to the outside world based on our inside world.  No one makes us feel or think anything. Thoughts are not facts. When I experience discomfort, whether within myself or with another, I desire a return to comfort, so I seek a solution to a problem. Already I have made a decision: I decided the discomfort was a problem. What if that, my very premise for starting this investigation, is false?

Here I pause and reflect. What can be objectively identified as true within my perceived conflict? I am mother, wife, daughter, friend, enemy; my days have no shortage of conflicts. When disagreement arises, what is fact, and what is my reaction? From where does my reaction arise? What do I believe about this disagreement, about myself in this moment? Do I need to be right, to win, to prove something, more than I need to be happy, to feel peaceful? Can I even, objectively, discern “right” over “wrong”? We humans love to think we know things, but to know a thing we have to believe our thoughts about it first, and sometimes our thoughts are simply not accurate. A litmus test for truth would be lovely…

To be continued… :)

Begin Again

My investigations this week have centered around living my passions, dreaming big, envisioning myself arriving where I really want to be. What do I want my life to look like? What could happen if I free myself from everything that has gone before, and instead begin again, give myself a completely blank slate?

A conversation with a friend brought up phrases I have used against myself throughout my life: “I need to admit I’m never going to…” “I just can’t…” On one hand, it’s important to be honest and realistic, something that is highly unpopular with the positive thinking gurus the interwebs are brimming with lately. I, for instance, will never, in this lifetime, become a gymnast. (Really. Not ever.) I may or may not ever become a best-selling author, as there are factors involved in that process that are beyond my control. On the other hand, just because I can’t yet see how doesn’t mean I can’t free myself to envision the what. There are some things I am highly unlikely to accomplish at this point, and there are many doors that have permanently closed; no matter how hard I may beat against them I will never get them open again. But there are just as many wonderful and amazing things that I can yet accomplish. However, nothing is possible– NOTHING– unless I believe it is, so if I believe I can never become a best-selling author, guess what? (Those positive thinking gurus have some things figured out.)

We can’t change our past. (If someone finds my lost key to the TARDIS, let me know.) But the rumors of the limits imposed by our story thus far may be exaggerated. It’s our interpretation of our story that needs questioning. Who am I, what am I capable of? What if I answer those questions from the center of my being, without much concern for where I’ve been or what I’ve done in the past? How will tomorrow look, if I wake up in it unaddicted to yesterday? What will I say then?

Discernment

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”

Maria von Trapp, The Sound of Music

Doors sometimes close, other times open. Choices perch on thresholds of portals. Deciding what to do with that choice is all on us, but fear of making the wrong choice can prevent us from taking any action at all. If life is unfolding as it should, do I accept this door closing peacefully, or am I supposed to push back? If an opportunity presents itself am I obligated to jump in with both feet, or can I let it slip through my fingers? Is this a test? Am I failing or passing? How do I know?

There arises the agitation again, that striving, that aching to know I have the right answer. It is my mindfulness bell now, my reminder to get still, to sit, to watch the breath. I may never know if any of my answers are right. There may be no rights or wrongs, only choice after choice carving a pathway to some invisible destination. One foot in front of the other…

Immersion

It is quite late where I am, after a long day, and I have an early morning tomorrow. I am not complaining, but observing… I debated a bit on whether to just wait for more inspiration, more time. But something happens when you keep the heat on the pot, when you keep tending and stirring the cauldron. It may not always look or smell lovely at every moment of the process, but consistent progress is only made by persistence, so I chose to sit down, log on, start typing.

Something happens, too, when we immerse ourselves in a process, doesn’t it? Have you ever made a commitment and seen it through– both times when it was easy and times when it was hard to keep going? The transformation is nearly never predictable, but it is steady and assured, the way a river will certainly wear down rocks over time, but we have to stay in the river to be changed. Stepping in and out along the banks will keep our feet wet perhaps, but we won’t develop strength from the challenges of the current; we won’t give enough of ourselves to the water to become someone new. I have spent much of my life to date as a dabbler. This is perfectly fine, necessary even; clearly it is part of my story. But I also desire the depth I may develop from persisting through the many cycles of doing just one thing, instead of dipping my toe into first this, then that.

Of course, to succeed in not quitting, I do have to silence the demanding perfectionist in my head. I require permission to be imperfect, too brief or too verbose, too pointless, too focused (since it’s writing I’m talking about here). What permissions do you need to go deeper with a worthy process? Does your desire to “do it right” get in your way of doing anything at all? Can you set that requirement aside, if only for a moment, and try on a different thought? You can always judge yourself harshly again tomorrow! :)

Blocking the Door

The only person standing in your way is you.

This is by no means news. But sometimes a concept that has been rattling around in your head will abruptly drop itself into your gut, WHAM, and your breath is knocked out of you by the force of finally “getting it.” That’s me, and that sentence, this morning.

I am, whether by nature or obsession, a seeker. I can’t turn it off (I’ve tried), and I concluded some time ago that I don’t need to. I read, study, investigate, pontificate. I feel chronically on the brink of enlightenment. Just one more process… almost there…

Nope. It’s a labyrinth up here in my head, and all this striving toward leads me away. What is blocking me?

I AM.

Isn’t there some ancient proverb about “Stop seeking without what can only be found within”? If not, I am totally claiming that one :) Time to go sit, and be.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

I am forty-one-and-a-half years old, and I still do not know the answer to this question.

The generation before mine, characterized in many ways by their strict cultural rules and limited choices, had this sorted out by age twenty. The children of that generation (read: me) may have noticed this, and felt an intense sense of urgency about not knowing (here I go with the not-knowing again!). Add to these feelings an explosion of opportunities and some lurking awareness about not wanting what went before, couple that with being an outlier in some way, and ta-dah! You’ve got a foolproof formula for never getting an answer!

I want to tease that out a bit… it seems there are several pieces to pick up, examine, turn over in the mind here. One piece requires laying to rest the expectations of the previous generation. For some, this means burning bridges with those who suppressed or outright oppressed them, those who overtly and willfully hurt them for failing to conform. This may be the right action for some, may be the wrong action for others, and in either case, is only the beginning. Whether we maintain relationships or not, the real work lies inside our minds, where all those expectations became our expectations for ourselves, the yardsticks by which we see if we measure up. Frequently figuring out whose yardstick it was in the first place falls in that “journey of a thousand miles” category– we’ve internalized the message so deeply it can be difficult to discern that it doesn’t even belong to us.

But here’s my favorite way to turn my brain upside down: what if I’m not even supposed to know? What if all my attempts to answer the question at all are misguided, another remnant of that old yardstick I thought I discarded?

Now my eleven-year-old is waiting to use the computer, as I have taken all morning to write this much, between unloading and reloading the dishwasher, getting everyone through breakfast, attempted homeschooling, cleaning the kitchen, starting the laundry… so rather than striving for some perfect wrap-up, I’ll embrace my perfectionism and self-consciousness and just. Stop.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

I started out this morning thinking about self-acceptance, in particular as it applies to body image. Then, life happened, my battery died, and I lost all but the title. So, being me, I’m taking that course alteration and instead I’ll just say this:

Whatever journey you are contemplating today, no matter how long and impossible it may seem, remind yourself that you don’t have to make the whole trip at once. Just one step today, the smallest step you can take… that’s all. (And resting is a step along the way as well.)

I’ll try to remember too :)

Answers Before Questions

This delightful, if bittersweet, post from Miriam inspired my post this morning. I suspect this is something programmed into our reptilian brains from the bygone days, before the dawn of Homo sapiens. We fear the unknown. While we can think (with our fancy, modern prefrontal lobes! Yay!) that the unknown may be just as marvelous and exciting as it might be frightening and dangerous, our survival center still knows: danger may lurk around any and every corner, in the shadows, behind the rocks.

So what do we do? We make up the answers before we ask the questions! If we think we know what happens next in our story, we can push fear out of the way. I can put one foot in front of the other when I can see the path. Take away the path, or simply my ability to see it, and suddenly I have no idea where to put my foot. In reflecting on parenting and how very-much-not-like-I-thought-it-would-be it has been, I have often said we humans would be extinct if we knew what we were getting into in advance. (Hm, so perhaps this power of self-deception also contributes to the survival of the species… hmm…)

But peril awaits when we think we know more than we do. In scientific study, this is such a problem that it has a name: “confirmation bias.” In life, when we declare, This is The Way! when we don’t actually know, we may end up at a very different destination than we hoped for, and may lead others astray in the process… especially if we are prone to that type of loud and forceful persuading that sometimes is born from insecurity.

And there is another dilemma. Knowing all the answers leaves us with a preselected path, and has a very powerful door-closing (more like slamming) effect. We fear not knowing, but resting in the not-knowing allows space for magic to happen. The not-knowing is where the Universe flows, where spirit expands, where that which some call God resides. To allow miracles to occur, we can’t always know what happens next.

Today, may we find ourselves not knowing, and settle into it. I’ll meet you there :)

Anger

Emotions interest me. Our brain and nervous system can’t talk to us with words, at least not at first, and besides words can be misleading and ridiculously ineffective– and slow!– as far as communication is concerned. Emotions, on the other hand, travel at the speed of nerve signal conduction. Amazing things, emotions!

But then we start talking to ourselves about them. (Yeah, here I go, talking to myself. Again.) We decide we like this one, but not that one. This one is okay, this one, meh, that one, omigoddonteverevengothere. We layer on meanings, stories about ourselves, around these emotions. Before we even realize what we’ve done, we’ve spun this crazy kaleidoscope of a cocoon around signal molecules that originated in our bodies with a purpose. Now we find we can’t access all of our information, and then we whine about that!

But we are the ones who deprived ourselves of our knowing in the first place! We are the ones who decided, “Anger is bad, put that away.” We are the ones who put these elaborate mechanisms in place to avoid certain feelings at all costs (fear, anyone?). We just didn’t understand what that cost would turn out to be, in the end.

Emotions are signposts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go driving and pass judgment on the green and white sign telling me this way is Knoxville and that way is Atlanta. Bad sign! No biscuit! Emotions are the same. When I am angry, it is a sign indicating direction. If I suppress, ignore, or otherwise mutilate my anger because I have an aversion to it, I effectively damage or even destroy my map to my life. If, instead, I sit with my map undamaged and study it, I’ll figure out what my anger is telling me and know at least something about what to do next. I can properly alleviate the anger, address the underlying need it is trying to talk to me about, but only if I don’t destroy it in my desperation to avoid it.

I am angry today. I am not yet to the bottom of it. My goal for today is to allow my anger to exist, and to listen for its message. I have no idea how long this will take, or whether I can sit with it through all my inner efforts to wriggle away… like a small child who is bored in church, trying to not get in trouble, sitting upright in the pew, all the while wanting to get down on the floor or go outside, anything to escape the dreadfully boring grown-up droning on and on. But I will sit and listen, for as long as I can.

What are your feelings signaling today?