Jumping Ship

Lately I have very mixed feelings about the time I spent as a counselor, working in a community mental health agency. While I’m glad I was able to help people, and the profession helped me grow as a person, I’m realizing that I gained very few marketable skills in that job. It’s strange how something that requires a master’s degree can have so little translation into any other field. When I started my current job this summer, I didn’t even know how to schedule a meeting on Outlook. Part of this is probably due to the small size of the lovely, family-like rural mental health agency I worked at. If you wanted to meet with someone, you just knocked on their open door!

Yet part of it is deeper. I do feel resentful of the years I spent training for, and pursuing a field that gave me so little in return. In grad school, a professor told us that the average cap salary in our field was $42,000 per year. Given that I started at $31k, you can see that the potential for advancement is dismal compared to other fields. Yet counselors are liable to be sued for any number of reasons, and are able to diagnose much like a psychologist. It’s sad but true, that this young profession bears great responsibility, but receives little recognition. Furthermore, the skills we learned and used were mostly soft skills… listening, conflict management, etc. These are invaluable at a personal level, but they exclude many of the skills that one would include on a professional resume.

And even deeper still, is that the work drained me. I am an introvert, no doubt, and spending so much face-time at work, I found that my social life suffered, as I had very little left over for my friends or family. I spent a lot of time in recuperation mode.

Now that I’m working an office job, I find reserves of energy, creativity and goodwill that I didn’t know I had. I guess the key for me is protecting my energy, and creating a lifestyle that works. The contrast between “me” these days, and “me” before is stark and stunning.

I only wish I had figured it all out sooner. Personal growth takes time, and that I don’t regret. It’s the sense, though, that those early years of my career are gone forever, that bugs me. At 34, I’m learning the basics of working in an office… things I could have, and should have learned before. I’m also having to pay off credit card debt (again!) and rebuild my savings, as the salary of a counselor did not afford for me to save up for any kind of life transition. So it’s as if I’m starting from scratch, despite having worked so hard as a full-time helper of others. Those who still work in the field, my hat is off to you, and you deserve a 200% raise, across the board. Someday I hope our society will wake up to the actual value of mental and emotional well-being, as a crucial keystone to the health of society as a whole, and honor this profession to the fullest extent. Until that time, I advise anyone with doubts: it’s OK to jump ship! I absolutely don’t regret it at all!

Minimalism Ep. 1: Wardrobe

20150927_103746So I’m not doing a “capsule wardrobe” in any formal sense, but in taking the basic principle of “don’t own more than what you use and need”, I’ve found a lot of enjoyment in a minimalist sense of fashion. It started when I looked at my summer clothes and realized I was wearing the same things over and over again. I made mental lists of “key pieces” and got rid of the rest. I’ve bought new stuff since then, but I’m extremely careful about it.

20150927_103319The result is incredibly FREEING. Though I’ve been working on de-cluttering for awhile, taking this process to my wardrobe was a big task. As a former thrift store addict, I had so many things that were “one-offs” that I wore for a season and then grew tired of (or they grew too threadbare to wear!). Of course thrifting is possibly the least environmentally harmful shopping habit. It’s buying things at cheap stores like Forever 21 that I’ve really come to rue. My rule has become, “if it’s not beautiful and won’t last more than a year, don’t bring it home.” I’ve come to view new clothes as a liability… Another thing to tend to, and eventually be thrown away.

20150927_103909My new-ish habit of meditation has reinforced and fueled this. Space and stillness have become precious to me and instead of thinking, “oh, what if I need this”, I’ve quickly acquired a taste for “Yay, one less decision to make!”

I don’t know whether or not guys can relate to this. It seems they have a natural sense of minimalism when it comes to clothing. (Though I would still remind any guy who poo-poos women’s excess, that if it were not for our multiple pairs of shoes, we  couldn’t look so good in dresses!) I celebrate the variety in women’s clothing, but I recognize it’s one way that we are distracted from more important issues in life. As an example, debt repayment is quite a challenge when one is dropping several hundred a season on new clothes.

Anyway, I find the “capsule wardrobe” trend fascinating. Is it a deep yearning for a lighter footprint and more efficient lifestyle? Surely – but another benefit, it gives you a chance to really showcase your personal style, without being swayed so much by trends. In any case, it’s empowering and I highly recommend it.

Falling gracefully

freefall Toma Flickr
Image: Freefall, Toma, Flickr

In 6th grade, my class took a field trip to Washington, DC in January. It was so cold and windy that we all took special care to bundle up, and not just because the teachers said so. While we were walking from one monument to another, I slipped on a patch of ice and fell on my bum. A friend who was walking with me, giggling, said, “Andrea, I’m just laughing because you even fall gracefully!” Then she helped me up.

This moment has come to mind poignantly over the years, as I remember how embarrassed I was, and angry with myself, yet my friend smiled at the grace with which I fell. How could this be? It reminds me that often we are at our most beautiful when we are vulnerable in others’ eyes. Sitting there on the ice looking up at her, expecting ridicule, I was met with love.

I think falling is something I still resist (or perhaps, failing). In the practice of Contact Improvisation dance, I’ve been lifted dozens of times into the air, and learned to land gracefully. But there is a difference between landing and falling. Landing is something you plan, falling just happens.

When I moved to Toronto 2 years ago, with plans to start a new career, I did everything I could to ensure a smooth landing. But 2 years later, all my careful planning hasn’t yielded much, and I’m now having to drastically re-draft my idea of my future. In this sense, the landing is turning out to be a slow-mo fall – a fall precipitated in many ways, by lack of awareness that I was falling at all.

When we resist our vulnerability, or resist sinking into the “ground” of the present moment, we can so easily miss opportunities to be lifted by circumstance in ways we simply can’t plan or expect. Moving to Toronto has been a free-fall in which I was offered various opportunities for support. Some of them I took, and some, I passed by. Looking back, I could have used them all. But it was my lack of awareness of my need for support that let me miss out. I thought I didn’t need those arms to catch me.

Still, now that I’m admitting how scary and vulnerable it has been to move to this metropolis and try to make a living here, the web of support has appeared and it is so abundant.

In this life, nothing is certain. We are bound to risk, to fail, to fall. But perhaps in admitting we are falling, and admitting how vulnerable we usually are, we can learn to be lifted, and perhaps, even, to bounce back.

The light of appreciation: Equinox dance, 3-21-15

Last night’s Equinox-centered Conscious Dance Party at Yoga Village held a bright moment of inspiration for me. The guided visualizations of “becoming sky” so I could “see” (and hold space for) my sisters, really tuned me in to the uplifting energy of appreciation. While I’ve always been a perceptive person, I err toward noticing flaws and shortcomings more than I like to admit. While I only want to protect myself and others, this kind of thinking can be a heavy burden that holds me back from truly supporting inspired action.

Last night, the energy of appreciating others pierced my heart like warm sunlight as I looked around and saw my brothers and sisters sounding with heartfelt ferocity. It brought back a feeling I’d had about a month ago at another event. I was watching pairs doing contact improv, their dancing especially poignant at the moment. I thought, “who doesn’t yearn for love?” This thought cracked my heart open and I felt a new spring in my step, wishing that everyone, including me, could receive the love they need – if even for a moment. Even if it just means being fully present to another, or to oneself, which dance helps us to do.

When we can suspend the critical mind even for a moment, much of what we see around us is just love and the need for love. Last night, it showed up as the sounding of 80 people, howling at the equinox moon, howling – among other things – a howl of yearning, a howl of affection, a howl of love. I found it pretty inspiring that given total freedom, this is what we choose to express!

This dance also gave me grounding. This week, I needed a lot of it! My life is changing and I’m ever more aware of just how changeable it is. I’ve learned that my mind isn’t much use to me in that regard, as it wanders into realms of over-planning and worry. There are times to settle in, to ponder what’s important; and there are times to get up and move. Winter lifts its veil and suddenly the earth is firm, bare, ready to be trod upon. It’s time to march, to roam, to put your feet down, down until you reach this knowing: that there is nothing to hold onto in this life but the ever-changing flow of now.

Dig your feet into the floor and feel its support. Feel the lightness of surrender. Breathe in the sweetness of appreciation and let it fill you up, all the way up.

Jan. 31, 2015

sunset january

The other day, watching the sunset glowing gold and smoky violet in the sky, I feel such a deep love for winter. I suppose I’ve tried so hard, year in and year out, to love it, that I’ve succeeded… each year I enjoy the pale colors and deep rest more… I find it so very soothing. I wondered then, if we were able to love a season down to its bones… to really let it soak in, perhaps we would tire of things less easily… and perhaps come August, instead of saying how we hated the heat, we’d be letting it lie on us like an old mangy dog, knowing its time had come to leave us, and soaking it up till the last minute… because we had felt its fullness, and been taken in, taken, by its colors and its moods, as if by a lover.

The buoyancy of self-love

Scarf blowing in the wind
Photo: Scarf blowing in the wind, Rachel Patterson, Flickr

In yoga class, listening to the teacher’s lilting voice and staring up at a 100-year-old vaulted ceiling, I thought, am I entering the realm of magic? Where the wild fluctuations of self-isolation and wild, desperate clinging, give way to a finer vibration, like a silk scarf waving in the wind?

How many yoga classes I have attended, feeling strangely tense. How many gatherings I have driven to, afraid I might say something wrong. All of that heaviness disappears amidst the upward buoyancy of self-love. The opening of the heart, and the steady commitment to accepting what is happening, every single day.

Am I entering a life where the roughness I once knew, gives way to a soft flow between inner and outer, guided by a well-loved rhythm and purposeful intent? The fingers pinching the scarf, feeling the pull of the wind, holding on just so it won’t blow away.

We will melt (Osho)

Rocky ocean shore at sunset
Image: Kim Seng, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“To go and take a jump into the sea is dangerous.  And remember, we are all men of salt as far as the ocean is concerned–the ocean of life and death. We are men of salt, and we will melt into it because we come from it. We are made by it, we are of it. We will melt!

So the mind is always afraid of going into the ocean – it is made of salt, it is bound to dissolve. It is afraid, so it remains on the shore discussing things, debating, arguing, creating theories–all false, because they are based on fear. A courageous person will take the jump, and will resist accepting any answer which is not known and experienced by himself.

“But the mind is afraid to take the jump, because mind is made of the same stuff as the universe; if you take the jump you will be lost. You will come to know, but you will know only when you are not.”

Osho, 2012. Fear: Understanding and Accepting the Insecurities of Life. New York: St. Martins Griffin. pp 89-90