Lost

Photo by Dunamis Church on Unsplash 

When I look back on 2021, I will remember this as the year I lost my way.   

At the beginning of the year, everything seemed to be going along pandemic-fine, thank you very much. And by “pandemic-fine,” I mean I was figuring out how to exist in the world with the constant ebb and flow of the waves of COVID virus. It took a little time, some deep thinking, and lots of creativity, but we had even figured out how to work side-by-side with students without infiltrating their enlarged 6-foot radius of personal space. At the beginning of 2021, I kept my head down, plugged along, and stayed the course.

Things were going along fine—at least… they seemed to be. Until they weren’t.

I had been so focused on what I was doing that I must have missed an important turn. Or maybe I took a turn that I shouldn’t have. Because when I had the opportunity to look up and study my surroundings, I didn’t recognize anything. There was more shade than I’d grown used to. Space seemed a bit warped from what I remembered. And time had a unique way of crunching together while simultaneously stretching out to the horizon. Seriously, nothing looked familiar. And try as I might, I could not figure out how to get my bearings when I didn’t recognize anything.  

For a bit of time, I walked the line between fear and intrigue. How would I find my way back? How would I ever get back on track? And did I even want to? I just couldn’t see how this situation would right itself.

But as time dragged on and direction remained elusive, I settled in to experience the ride and figure out what had happened. Time is a funny thing. And Lost is a curious place. I kept working, hoping for familiar, and a funny thing started to happen. I started to get used to being lost. I started to recognize the unfamiliar, and I became just a bit more brave. I took on tasks I didn’t know I could complete. I made small changes that surprised me. And I forged a new path because no matter how lost you are, you still must continue to move forward.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and from here, I can look back on my journey and see it for what it has really been (and continues to be)—a shift of focus. A readjustment of priorities. And a need to exit the fast lane. I now have a new focus and a new direction.

Somehow, in the busyness of life, I got caught up in what I do, and I forgot who I am. I forgot why I’m here. I forgot that life is short and finite. Losing my way has made me realize I am not where I want to be. I am not living the life I want to live. Somehow, I lost myself when I lost my way. But the disorientation that always accompanies Lost allowed me to reconnect with something deeper. It allowed me to reconnect with the real me and the meaning of life—the meaning of my life, but that also allowed me to find my way back to a better life, a stronger me, and a greater sense of purpose.

Maybe I didn’t lose my way after all. Maybe I just took a scenic detour and ended up traveling in a new and unexpected direction to a brighter and more appealing destination.

The journey from Lost is not over. In fact, this journey—the one that will take me into the new year and beyond—has just begun.

Running Ragged

Lately, I have been run ragged by life. If I were a toy, my seams would be ripped, my stuffing spilling out. It’s funny (or not), but sometimes life does that to you. I have slumped into a funk that I can’t escape. I keep pushing to move beyond this point, so I can get back to the energy and light that creativity brings. And so I am working to develop a strategy to get me through.

I am pulling myself away from noise and into silence. It is in the silence that we can hear what is going on inside our heads. It is the silence that reveals the truth.

I am turning away from busyness and moving toward stillness. Busyness pulls and rubs and irritates, but stillness is peaceful and soothing. Stillness is like the hug of an old friend—warm and comforting.

I am rejecting chaos and clutter for simplicity. Chaos and clutter are a result of the worldly and material taking over as the focus of life. Simplicity brings calm. Simplicity allows us to disconnect from the material to reconnect with the spirit.

Sometimes—often, in fact—you need to reject the ways of the world if you are to see your own light. If you are to spread your light in the world.

Sometimes, you need to be alone in reflection to see where you fit in the world with others and within your own life.

Don’t be afraid to take the steps necessary to care for yourself, to rediscover yourself. Too often, we get caught up in the everyday. We try to live in the expectations of others, of the world, and we lose ourselves. We lose what makes us true and right and unique. We lose our passions.

Without passions and creative energy, our light dims. Our candle burns out. Our life becomes a series of day upon day upon day with no real rhyme or reason.

It is only in pulling back into the silence that we can escape the noise. It is only in seeking stillness that we can recognize the poison that is busyness. And it is only in letting go of all the trappings of the here and now that we can truly find ourselves among the simplicity.

So let go. Find your way back and reconnect with your true self.

Wreckage

My train of thought has derailed. I got caught up in the What ifs of life, and my thoughts were swept away under their own momentum. Remember the Little Engine that Could? That determined little engine used positive thinking—I think I can… I think I can… I think I can…—to pull its cargo of toys and treats up a hill it didn’t think it could climb.

In my case, it is a whole train of negative What ifs that has pulled me off track. In fact, the mantra What if… What if… What if… has been growing stronger and steadier. My train of thought picked up speed going down a hill. It was going faster and faster, and when the track veered off to the right (or the left, I can’t even remember anymore), my train of thought stayed straight and derailed.

Now, I am sitting in a pile of steaming wreckage. Twisted metal rises around me casting spooky shadows against the foggy night sky. All the cargo that was neatly in its place is now scattered across the landscape—a million pieces of life that will never fit back into place all tidy and neat as before the derailment. A million pieces of which I may find only half.

No, sometimes life needs some shaking up. Sometimes, we get too comfortable in our day-to-day, and one thing comes along—be it good, bad, or indifferent—and steps smack into our path with a challenge: “Think you’ve got everything figured out? Try THIS!” And while these challenges force us to re-examine various parts of our life—or maybe the whole thing—seeing life from a new angle can be helpful as we search for a creative solution to a difficult situation or a path to a more productive (and more positive) future.

And so… I sit here in the rubble that was my thinking, my life. I sit in silence, not distracting myself with any of the occupations of life that got me into this situation in the first place. The longer I sit here, the sharper my perspective grows. Of course, it helps that the derailment occurred in the dead of night, and the dawn is slowly claiming the darkness. It helps that the outline of what is left of the train is ever more visible against the faint tint of early day. And as the sunlight begins to poke up over the horizon, beams of light illuminate tiny tendrils of smoke winding their way out of the wreckage. The longer I sit here, the brighter my thoughts become, and I gain a sharper realization of the steps I must take to move forward. The longer I sit here, the more certain I am that I will rise from the wreckage of my What ifs, leave this mess behind me, and move into the future carrying a smaller portion of the weight of the world.

And I’m pretty sure that as I move on and leave the What ifs behind, I will take with me only what is needed for today.

Beads on a String

Years ago, I was part of a writing group in which we often talked about our inner critic. You know the one I am talking about. My inner critic sits on my shoulder and tells me all the things I am doing wrong. She says things like, “You’re not going to write that, are you?”

I can’t shake her.

I could go out and run three miles or hike a mountain, and when I come back into the house and sit down to write, there she is. Still sitting on my shoulder. Still letting me know my ideas are not good enough. My handwriting isn’t neat enough. My typing isn’t fast enough. The list of criticisms is never ending.

I swipe at my shoulder, trying to brush her off. “Go away!” I grunt, batting at her as if she is an annoying and persistent mosquito.

“Your pen is running out of ink,” she taunts. “It’s a sign. Stop writing. You’re no good anyway.”

I take a deep, slow breath in, gritting my teeth as I gather strength to deal with her. Unlike an annoying bug or persistent distraction, this is my inner critic. She is a part of me, the result of too many years of disappointments and all the voices that told me I wasn’t good enough, from school-yard bullies to power-seeking bosses to abusive partners.

Logically, I can piece together all of the experiences that gave her strength. And as I quickly run through each of these negative people and events, I visualize them as beads on a string, misshapen, dull, and discolored. One by one, I pluck them from the string and flick them to the floor. They ping, bounce once or twice, and scatter to the far reaches of the room, disappearing in dark corners and under seldom-moved appliances.

With a now bare and empty string, I can re-string it with ideas, positive thoughts, and encouragement. These beads are perfect in their varied shapes. Their colors are complementary and offer hope for an uncertain future. Together, they create a beauty that is striking.

The more I am able to diminish my inner critic and soften her criticism, the more beauty I can add to this growing strand of beads.

We all have our own inner critic, and mine is not limited to writing. She is always with me, trying to pull me off track. The metaphor of beads on a string allows me to be selective about the messages I keep. By plucking negative thoughts from the string and casting them away, I can replace them with positive ones. I can refocus away from my inner critic’s constant commentary and work on creating beauty—in writing and in life. My ideas flow more freely, and I am able to play in imagination, unencumbered.

2021 – Bring Your Thunder

Recently, I saw this new message circulating on Facebook. It was clearly a post directed to the turning of the calendar, and it said something like, “What is one thing you want to tell me?” And so, here are my thoughts as inspired by that question.

What are the things I want to tell you? I want to tell you that no matter what anyone says, you are special and unique. You have your own individual gifts and talents that make you perfectly you. These gifts and talents, when fully realized, will help you to be the best version of yourself. Don’t minimize your talents because someone doesn’t like who you are. Don’t let someone else’s expectations of you influence your essence.

I want to tell you to embrace your passions because doing so will help you and the world around you. If you are passionate about helping others, get out there and do it. If you love to build things and work with your hands, go find a place where you can build. If you know you need to create beautiful things or generate ideas, find a way to feed that passion so you can nurture your soul. Don’t give up what you want to do because you feel constrained. Look for ways to engage your passions.

I want to tell you to shed unhealthy influences so you can truly live your best life. I am not denying there are things we all have to do that we might not enjoy. However, if you are losing who you are for others or for unhealthy habits, rethink your relationship to that person or thing. Unless the person is a child or elder who depends on you for their very existence, you might consider limiting their influence on you and your activities for your own wellbeing. Work to combat unhealthy addictions so you can move forward unencumbered. Recognize toxic influences for what they are and take steps to let them go.

I want to tell you to set boundaries that work for you. If you are working too much, step back and reconsider your schedule. Are you taking on extra work? Are you constantly going above and beyond expectations? Do you feel you are picking up slack for others in your work environment? Critically evaluate your schedule. Cut back where you can and let someone else pick up the slack every now and then. Time is our most valuable resource. Use it wisely.

I want to tell you to take care of yourself. Time and again, we hear that we will only be our best for others if we are our best for ourselves. I truly believe this is the case. We are given one body just as we are giving limited time. If we do our best to take care of it—in sickness and in health—we will feel our best and perform our best. When we eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep, we have the energy necessary to get through the day and to push through the tough times. Improved physical health can contribute to better mental health and overall attitude. Make a positive investment in yourself.

I want to remind you to be realistic. If you have not exercised in years, you won’t be running a marathon next week. If your living space is full of clutter, tackle it one room at a time (or one shelf at a time, if necessary) rather than all at once. Small improvements will give you satisfaction that will encourage continued effort until the job is done. Being realistic is not telling yourself all the reasons you can’t do something but taking the steps to move toward success.

I want to tell you that a spirit of gratefulness goes a long way to fostering a positive attitude. Create a habit of thankfulness for all that you have and all that you’ve gone through. Each day, each journey—good or bad—contributes to who you are and who you are becoming. Your identity—your self—is made up of every experience, every lesson, and a small bit of every individual you have come across. Be grateful for the richness of your life and experience—past, present, and future—as these things weave together to create the best you possible.

I want to encourage you to move into 2021 with intention. I want to encourage you to focus on all the ways you can bring your best self to all that you do. Despite whatever may happen this year, find a way to look for the positive. Be fully you. Make some noise. As you move into 2021, bring your thunder.

{Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash}