Friday, March 9, 2012

"When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready.  The challenge will not wait. ...Time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny."
-Paulo Coelho

Driving down the open road, music streaming through the stereo, a song comes on and I can't help but to turn it up, as my left foot begins to tap on the floor, shoulders dancing. The artist begins to sing, and I join along. Not just a gentle hum, but full on belt, sometimes using my fist as a microphone. As the song finishes, I yelp, whoop and holler.  I feel the wildness, the joy and freedom that the road has given me. Behind me is the the farm. As I get further away, I am filled with a lightness of being.  I never realized how much my time there had affected me.  I had become on edge and stressed, wound up like a tightly coiled snake, constricting the life and fire out of me. But wait, before opinions are formulated and we begin to walk down a path that I have no intention of setting, let me set the record straight. My experience over the past three months was one of gratitude...maybe something I can never put into words, but as the miles tick, and my mind reflects I realize it was a time of great testing. This whole past year in fact, was a journey. And the farm? Well, lets just say it was my final.

While hiking along the Camino, I experienced a great deal of amazing things, some hard, some fun, some scary, and some just bizarre. It was monumental in so many ways. Along the trail, I had time to think about my future, assess the things I want to work on, fix, repair, give and do.  What things I could let go of in my life? What things, places or people do I wish to nurture and put time into?  I learnt a lot about who I was, experienced days of great joy, only to then have days full of tears, loneliness and frustration. Oftentimes, having nowhere to turn but to myself to find the answers.  But each day I grew, and awoke ready for what the next adventures would hold. I felt open, excited for everything that surrounded me, what was in my present and what mysteries and surprises would come down the road.  At the end of my journey, I was tired, content but much had taken place. So many faces, places, languages, lessons that I had learnt and ones that would continue to reveal themselves over the course of a few days, months, or even my lifetime. Today, I am still learning. Somedays there are small reminders, who slip into my mind, propelling me back to a time and place on the trail. I close my eyes and enjoy the moment, a smile creeping across my face. How could I forget? Or even just to experience an 'Ah-ha' moment.  I made several decisions on the trail that I was not happy with, not seeing the gifts or blessings those choices brought. Only now, have I come to truly appreciate where the trail led me and the gifts that were a result: trusting and listening to my instincts, refusing to settle for less, and pushing my limits to see what I am capable of.  I carry these with me always, my little reminders. We can all do incredible things, and the only one to hold us back is ourselves.

Struggles came when I returned home. How do I go from a grand experience back to life? How can I talk to others about what happened out there? What could I say? Even to those who have been in similar situations, I couldn't find the words, and instead tucked my adventure in my back pocket. Adjusting was difficult, and I am not one who can easily open to talk about where I'm at, especially when I don't understand myself what I am experiencing.  This takes a toll on the relationships in my life. For who likes to see a loved one struggle?  Fall came, and I propelled myself back into life, ignoring the nagging voice in the back of my head that I wasn't looking after myself. That I was stretching myself too thin and wasn't taking the time to deal with where I was at.

Isn't it incredible how life sends us what we need? At first it is subtle. Do we notice? If not, then something very unsubtle lands in our lap and are then forced to see it and confront it, come what may. In my case, something very giant landed in the form of Green String Farm. The next three months would be one of the greatest challenges I have faced thus far in life, taking me as far away from myself as humanly possible and then eventually (and thankfully) returning me back to myself.

In life we have these moments in time where we take stock of where we're at: like a personal check in. How am I doing? What's good? What am I needing to work on? You know, those state of the union aspects that keep us all growing, developing, changing. Well say you compiled a list of all the things you wanted to work on. And then say, some person stole that list, and decided to challenge you, so that all those things that you wanted to work on, confronted you, maybe even all at once. The great test to see what you are made of. How would you fare?

 Here is my story.

First. Confrontation is not my strong suit. In fact, if it were a suit, it would be made of nothing, because in general, I would rather ignore the situation, close my eyes, cross my fingers and hope that whatever the problem was, it would "POOF" disappear, and then I could happily wipe my brow away and sigh a sigh of relief. But, be an outdoor instructor or any person really who wants to make things better, ignoring any situation never solves anything. Common sense no? If nothing else it creates further conflict. Well....of all my years of dodging, I decided sometime during my trip, that I would be courageous. That I would use my voice and stick up for myself, what I believed was right, and voice concerns as they aroused. But of course, being mindful of picking my battles. For really, we need to discern between when it is time to speak up, and when it is time to let it go. I was always in awe of one of my friends back in high school, who would stand up for others. I remember at times, watching this beautiful peaceful creature stand-up and fight, face turning red, hands trembling but staying firm, refusing to watch someone else get hurt. My hero....and I would ask myself if I would have that same courage to stick up for someone else when the time presented itself. Sometimes yes, other times no and have sat with those consequences and regrets with a heavy heart. Regardless, the farm offered many an opportunity to use that quiet little voice of mine. Problems with the house, problems with housemates, poor communication, untimely information, unreasonable expectations, weird stuff: a crackled voice soon became clear.  I found a way to start talking about what was going on.  I think in our day to day, we have become so accustomed to smoothing things over, that our voices become rusty, and soon confrontation becomes something scary, but it doesn't need to be. With practice, it becomes easier, and it isn't something about right or wrong or about hurting someone else. It is about expressing something that is affecting you, and that you want to do something about it, whether it is to understand, or make a change, or whatever it may be. Why? Because you care. Because, I care.

I once toyed with the idea of living with a small community of people, where space is shared. Careful what you wish for because I got to experience it first hand.  But lucky for me, it was only a 3 month stint and a valuable learning experience. I lived in a house shared with 11 other people. In one small space, this is a lot. We shared everything, lived together, worked together, ate together, slept almost together and with two toilets who had their own temperments, it was certainly a recipe for disaster.  We were a lucky crew....for who I lived with were all incredible people. We got along, shared experiences and grew together. But for those who need space to retreat to, this was not the place to be. I struggled greatly with I am fairly independent by nature. I found there wasn't often a place I could go to find solace, feeling restless at the house as though obliged to always be doing something. This wore me out and took a heavy toll. I also struggled to make connections with many of the people in the house, finding that I was in a different place in my life, and that I was stretched thin socially. I craved downtime to rejuvenate. I craved connection and deep conversation, but I found none and wasn't always in a place to offer any of this to others. It would take me a long time to feel a connection where I was, and even longer before I would be able to open up and to give of myself.  Eventually, I did find a way to slow down, and look after myself.  There was a time half-way through my internship, where I considered quitting, but I knew that I was there for a greater purpose than just farming, something told me to stay. And so I stayed, and began to face all that I had been running from.  How, oh how, I wondered, did everything become so serious and intense? And how on earth have I landed myself in the middle of all this? This was not life, this was so far from who I am and it was time to get back. If you are unable to recognize yourself, you know it's time to do something about it. Seed planted. Something was changing.  I learnt how to love and see beauty even if it wasn't pretty every day. I learnt to laugh and find joy when life made me want to throw my hands up in dismay. I learnt how focus my energies on that which is positive. I found a way to uncoil.

What I am trying to say by all of this is that I have uncovered a new confidence within myself. Rather than to fear life or to cower behind the uncertainties and instead of carrying around the weights of the worlds, I found that I could put them down.  To know I can laugh at my own follies, or catch myself getting wound up, reminds me that the only one who makes life hard and serious is myself. It is important to stop and listen, to look at the bigger picture and know that everything is going to to be ok. In fact it is more than alright, because I'm alive. Maintain an openess for all that is around, to all people who are encountered, whether they are merely passing through or stay a long long time. To take a moment and be grateful for what is in my life. To count my blessings, because there are so many. I just have to stop and see them. I learnt how to speak up, I also learnt how open up with others. To share rather than to hide. For me it is not easy, I've always questioned if what I had to say was worth saying.  But to open up and begin by saying "hey, here's where I'm at..." and go from there, is about learning how to share a part of myself and discovering that my friends, family and loved ones are there, have always been there. This is how I was able to find my way, to let go and trust...while also being able to see and laugh at my white people problems, finally understanding that they aren't worth the stress. These can be put down at any time and I am free.

Now, miles from the farm, I am able to put into perspective my winter. How did I fare, I wonder? It was challenging but when I drove away I left knowing that everything was going to be alright.  There are no regrets. What lies ahead remains a mystery, but instead of wondering and worrying, I find myself content to be in the present, drinking in the moments while humming a merry little tune. I have a fiery spirit with a will like no other.  I know who I am and am learning how to be myself without apology, hesitation or doubt. Taking it one step at a time.

 Tomorrow, the road beckons me home.  Very soon my long journey will come to an end. Rest and repose? Oh yeah! Maple syrup making? Hell yes! Fiddle practice? Family beware, it's been awhile.  In the meantime, I am happy to say my days of owning a storage unit has met its demise. That darn storage unit!! (said with a twinkled eye and shaking fist)

It's good to be back!