Twenty years ago, when all my somethings seemed to be collapsing all about me, I found myself completely alone and stranded hundreds of miles away from home. A taxi had dropped me off at a Greyhound Bus station because I had no other address to give the driver. No marriage, no home, no job, no vehicle, and very little money in my purse. I was unsure of what the next day, or even the next minute held for me, and my life seemed completely and hopelessly out of control. I found myself grasping for something, anything, that would shine a light into that darkness.
It was then, that I first heard an ancient story that still serves me today. It is an old legend of a Native American Elder sharing an important life lesson with a young warrior in his village. I share it here in hopes it may help another find their way. I had been listening to a recording from a lecture series on a cassette tape, and I remember sitting there in the bus station literally hitting play and pause, play and pause, over and over, on my little Sony Walkman with tears streaming down my cheeks, as I wrote down the story in its entirety, word for word. I recognized a glimmering light in these words. Something called hope.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand Still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
— by David Wagoner
I was so completely lost and untethered in the “forest of my life” at that time and those words offered me a calming wisdom. Even now, 20 years later, I continue to find solace and answers in the stillness of the forest… when I stand still, and am willing to listen.
The message I heard that day listening to that poem in the Greyhound Bus station was that if I just stopped and stood still, completely still, quieting my mind, my thoughts and my emotions, I would no longer be lost. Because “Wherever you are is called Here.” And “Here” is just one small moment in time. Just one moment, to be followed by another moment, and then yet another. It was in one of those moments that day, that I began to recognize and understand the powerful sense of peace that comes from “standing still” and stopping the spinning thoughts and emotions that create what we call fear.
For me, those spinning thoughts and emotions of fear came from my lack of control over what was happening in my life. Or more honestly, my perceived lack over the illusion of control I thought I had over my life… as if I had any power or influence over all those things so beyond my control. The more out of control my life had become, the more I had worked to take care of everyone, and everything. I believed if I just tried hard enough, and then tried just a little harder, and did not give up, I could, and would, make a difference. Ahhh… Yes, that thinking is what I now fondly recognize as my great illusion… “my illusion of control.” I distinctly remember the day when I wrote: “Today, I stop!” “No more Gold Stars!” followed by many exclamation marks in my journal. Again, I reminded myself that I no longer needed the recognition or approval of others to feel a sense of self-worth or happiness.
One of the most life changing and significant whispers my soul shared on that journey in the darkness, was that to be truly at peace, I needed to be responsible for my own happiness. I needed to learn how to love myself and believe I was good enough, no matter what was happening in my life. I needed to love myself just as fiercely, and unconditionally as I had loved others in my life. I was shocked to discover that I had been so focused on taking care of everyone else, I did not even know who I was anymore.
It took years of inner work to once again begin to recognize the self I barely remembered from long ago, instead of the self who had begun to settle for less than. The self who I had gradually and unknowingly neglected. The self who had become hidden away in the day-to-day survival of a dysfunctional life that comes in caring about, and loving, someone who struggles with drug addiction. I had to learn and acknowledge what role I had contributed to that dysfunction, learn to forgive myself, and then learn to love myself, anyway.
Thank you to writer, Kathy Parker, for so graciously allowing me to share her eloquent words from her blog, This Girl Unraveled. Her words speak so tenderly to the heart of that woman I have forgiven, and have now learned to love and admire for her survivor spirit:
A sterling moment of truth occurred one day after my marriage had ended, and I found myself standing in the aisle of a department store staring bewilderingly at a large collage of color. I had needed to buy some bath towels, and suddenly it occurred to me standing there, that I had no idea what color I even liked or preferred. That image has now become humorous over the years, but it was startling at the time. I began to realize that throughout my marriage, I had created a home based on what my husband would like, what would please him. Loving him, making him happy is what made me happy. Or so I had allowed myself to believe. I think that this is common for a lot of woman who define their happiness through caring for and loving their families. However sadly, the truth of the matter is, that when drug addiction is a mistress in a marriage, no one is really authentically happy.
From that moment when I realized I didn’t know what color of bath towel to buy, an archeological dig began, that lasted for several years as I searched to find myself and begin to love her again. Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of one of my favorite books, Simple Abundance, calles this excavating your authentic self. She states, “the magic seeds of contentment are planted deep within us. Happiness that the world cannot take away only flourishes in the secret garden of our souls. By tending to our inner garden and uprooting the weeds of external expectations, we can nurture our authentic happiness the way we would nurture something that’s beautiful and alive.”
I dug down deep and discovered the things I love doing, the things that make me happy, the things that make my heart sing. Creating my own happiness while out working in my yard, or walking on the beach. Hours strolling in book stores and browsing through antique shops. Hiking in the forest, or watching for the first signs of Spring. Cooking on rainy days, or reading a good book with a favorite cup of tea. Losing myself for hours researching history and family genealogy. Spending time with my friends, or spending quiet time alone. With time, my list began to grow, and I found I really could be happy by myself.
And in all honesty, I have now discovered that I really do enjoy and treasure my quiet time alone. That is one of the whispers my soul was able to finally hear in the stillness, while being bed bound for 3 years due to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I have come to realize that I truly am an introvert who had struggled for so many years attempting to portray an extrovert. I have a new understanding of how that struggle only led to this overwhelming sense of never being at peace, never quite finding my groove, never quite fitting in anywhere.
I have learned to love my time alone and to really enjoy and celebrate it. I have discovered “there is nothing more empowering and liberating than rejoicing in your own aloneness.” There is a big heart-felt and soul-felt difference between being alone and lonely. Until I learned how to find my own happiness, I had been very lonely at times, no matter how many people surrounded me in my life.
I truly do believe that each person has to be responsible for their own happiness in this crazy world, and people can’t be dependent on others to make them feel happy or “complete them”… like the movies suggest, lol. I know I will never settle for less than in a relationship again.
I think that’s why many relationships fail. People don’t know how to be happy by themselves first. They are not bringing a WHOLE person into the relationship, but instead are looking for something or someone else to fill them up, to make them feel better, to define their own self-worth. Trying to make themselves feel whole by adding another person’s energy to their own, which is somehow lacking.
It has been an ongoing process, one that requires continuous work. From the darkness much color can fill our lives when we unselfishly learn to love ourselves. With thanks to my incredible health coach Toby Morrison who shared the words below with me several years ago, I have learned to love the perfectly imperfect me. I have learned I am more than enough.
And so it is. And so it is. ~ Michele Marie
Toby Morrison, Author & Founder of CFS Health
Toby has helped hundreds of ME/CFS patients, like myself, in over 36 countries with his Online Program. I will be forever grateful to him for the hours we spent working together, as I began my recovery from this debilitating illness.
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