On burning things

Taking a short break from my recent daily writing prompts this month, I find myself rereading things I wrote prior to starting up that daily practice. Longer pieces, poems, essays. Sometimes I am moved, sometimes confused. A year or two passes and it’s easy to forget the intensities of any one moment, and also the wisdom that comes out of those intensities. Some things I read make me wince a little, or smile wryly: “Who is this person? Maybe I should listen to what she says.”

There’s an expansiveness in what I read that is not part of how I feel right now.

This past winter, a winter of daily practice, of discipline, of retreat, I wondered where my fire had gone. I missed it, but also didn’t. I missed the connectivity and expansiveness and energy of a few years ago. I missed the vision. But it no longer nourished me. I could finally articulate it plainly to myself and others: I was burnt out.

A few days ago, I said some of this to a friend, with nostalgia but also with an emerging gratitude. She reminded me that when we met two or three years ago, I told her I wished I could write more, but I couldn’t find the time. I was organizing, collaborating, learning, scheduling, planning, supporting others, driving here and there, expending emotional energy and labour. My labour was rewarded in intangible ways, but certainly not renumerated. I was saying yes to everything, on an energy high, not mindful of the costs.

Now, she pointed out, I am no longer doing all those things, but I am writing every day. I am tending much that I neglected then. I’ve found the time.

Earlier this week I said no to something, as I so often do right now, and I wrote to my closest friend, my constant witness: “I feel like I am going around burning things and then being sad that they are gone, but needing to keep on burning anyways.” This is not a new feeling. It’s been with me since at least since last summer, when I stepped away from a big group commitment that I had worked towards for years. It had been creeping up for some time before that, in departures and unravellings of various kinds. I’ve written before about spirals. But it’s only in the last few months that I’ve been able to fully name the sense of ending. Slowly, gently, to lose my paralyzing fear of it and find the freedom instead.

What confused me for a long time was that I thought I’d already done this, when my kids were born, when I left my job, when I turned away from who I had always expected myself to be. But perhaps I simply found new expectations to impose upon myself.

Or perhaps it’s those cycles again, the cycles I keep finding everywhere I look.

Waldorf educators write a lot about seven year cycles. In adulthood as well as childhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes does the same in Women Who Run with the Wolves. Death and rebirth is a constant in our lives, if we look at them with awareness. Not linear progress. Cycles of death and rebirth. Seasons. Non-linear, non-Western, non-modern time. Last year, at forty-two, I realized that perhaps a cycle was ending.

Cycles of course don’t need to mean full severance. I have been with the same partner for close to twenty-five years now. Our relationship has moved through many cycles. Encompassed joy and grief. Falling in love, taking each other for granted, periods of disconnection, falling in love again, deepening. It has been several different relationships already, and will be several more before we are done. Like an organism bigger than the sum of our two selves, it’s something we need to tend and feed regularly. I am reminded of this often, of how easy it is to disconnect in small ways, to go our separate ways, to not talk about difficult things, to find emotional sustenance elsewhere. Connection is easy to find, but this big project of a marriage of almost two decades, of co-creating a family, of co-creating a home, it’s hard but deeply satisfying. It nourishes my soul and teaches me the biggest lessons.

In the same way, everything I’ve learned and experienced in every part of my life is still mine to keep. As is each connection, each collaboration. It’s all absorbed into the whole, one thread of many, one piece of a puzzle which some day I may be able to see more clearly than I do now, although at each new turn of the wheel it already becomes a little clearer.

I read a book last month called The Joy of Missing Out. It was mainly about technology, and about the exhausting connectivity of the online world. It was about fasting, taking breaks, learning how to moderate our constant contact. But I imagine it also as a bigger choice. At some point in life, we discover we can’t Do All the Things. The cost is too big. Right now, as I have sometimes in the past, I find myself closing doors to make space in myself for whatever needs to happen next. I find myself curious again.

Or as my friend replied, when I spoke – tired, but certain – of burning: “Burning makes fertile ground. Just remember that.” Another kind of fire, with another purpose.

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