“Caring is at the heart of the hard work of knowing.
And good teachers know that caring is at the heart of the hard work of learning.” ~ Parker Palmer
What is your difficulty?
What feelings arise?
How is the difficulty affecting you?
What is your part (participation or connection) to the difficulty?
What are you learning—about yourself, others, the difficulty?
How can you shift your feelings or thoughts to gain a new perspective about this difficulty?
How do you choose to work with this difficulty?
How might you use what you learn in the future?
Almost three years ago, I found myself stopped in my tracks by the paralyzing immobility of depression, something that has surfaced periodically in my life. My usual sense of possibility and optimism was once again replaced by the black of hopelessness, uncertainty, and self-imposed isolation. I felt a lot of shame because the episode was prompted in part by the stress of a new job I had decided to take, despite some misgivings in my gut about the structure of the position.
In the past, while I have often experienced a surge of energy and curiosity after I emerged from a bout of depression, I would use that energy to get back on my horse and ride as quickly as I could away from the dark place. I was determined, largely unconsciously, to show that the depression was finally behind me, that I was just fine.
But this time, I did not get back on the same old horse and gallop in the same direction. For a few months, I worked very part-time as a substitute teacher. I had a welcome chance to slow down and live more deeply into an understanding that my job is not the measure of my value—a rather radical thought for one raised in an upwardly mobile middle-class family. I came to the perspective that experiencing an episode is not some kind of failure on my part, an event that could have been prevented with better planning or more self-care. Rather, those dark nights of the soul are just a part of the way things are in the ebb and flow of my particular life. The darkness comes, but the light has always returned. And in experiencing each time in the dark, I have continued to learn important things.
This time, I emerged from this episode of depression in my early 50’s rather than my 30’s or 40’s, and the episode heightened my sense of what folk singer Carrie Newcomer describes as “the curious promise of limited time.” With this new lived recognition about my own mortality, I found myself gravitating to opportunities for meaning, connection, and spiritual sustenance rather than pursuing the quest for accomplishment and “success” in the way my family had defined it.
My less overly full life left space for a range of experiences—including more time in nature, meditation, and prayer. These experiences led me to a growing sense of being connected to the forces of love and light in this world–and beyond. My sense of gratitude deepened–for my renewed health, for the unending support of my husband, and for the acts of loving-kindness extended in my direction while I was in the dark. And that gratitude has prompted me to focus more on cultivating kindness—both towards myself and others facing the kind of pain or grief none of us escapes in the course of a rich human life.
~Gayle, The United States