It’s been a while. The cold hard truth is my life turned upside down and I ended up in what Martha Beck coaches call Square 1. It’s that uncomfortable hinterland between the death of life as you know it and the birth of your new way of life and it’s often pretty darn uncomfortable.
If you’ve ever been through a life transition perhaps you understand. As seemingly unrelated events that changed the way I viewed myself, our country and my life piled up around me this past fall, I did exactly what I tell my clients to do; I winnowed my life down to the bare minimum while trying to trust the process.
So as I sat on the porch sipping coffee in the cool of the spring morning wanting to start a project I was thrilled. It was the first sign of Square 2 rearing its head. This phase always follows Square 1 but usually much slower than we desire. It is often so long in coming that it can feel like a first rain on a parched and tired soul. It’s the phase were we start to re-imagine our life.
The project I picked seemed promising, one tiny corner of the garden in need of a good weeding. After months of neglect there was much that needed doing around the house and yard but I was looking for something manageable and this fit the bill.
A mere10 minutes in my gardening gloves came off, proving themselves too cumbersome for the exacting task of separating the groundcover from the vine-like-weeds and I realized this was going to be a much more difficult task than I initially thought.
A couple hours later, deep into an incessant internal monologue, I realized I had unwittingly chosen a project that mirrored my life of the past 8 months.
When pulling the things I didn’t want I had to be careful to leave the things I did. Sometimes the two were so entwined I couldn’t pull the roots of the weeds and had to settle for just taking out the part I could easily see and deal with. Other times I was able to dig deeper and extract the root. However, I still didn’t know if I had gotten the whole thing or if there was more I couldn’t see or feel. And throughout the process I knew that some of the weeds would grow back and it would be my responsibility to get to them quicker next time, before they overshadowed the things I wanted to keep and nurture.
My wandering stream of consciousness had covered, in no particular order:
- Denying the actual complexity and size of the task,
- Resisting taking on the responsibility,
- Anger that I was the one responsible for such a thankless job,
- Bargaining with myself about how I deserved to be rewarded for such selfless and valiant behavior, and
- Resentment that others weren’t doing more.
And it wasn’t until I finally got around to having the conversation with myself about how it was…
- My choice to spend time weeding the garden,
- That I could, at any time, make a different choice, and
- That I could either be the person who weeded the garden or not, as long as I was at peace with my choice since I was the only person I had to look at in the mirror,
…that I finally arrived at acceptance, peace and even joy in completing my weeding project.
I get how hyperbolic this sounds given I’m talking about gardening. After all, a well-weeded garden is clearly not a big deal in my everyday world.
But for me, on that particular day, it felt analogous to my life over the last 8 months. It mirrored the struggles I had faced as the primary caregiver for my mom as she negotiated the space between a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and death. It reflected the frustration and loss I felt as my daughter left the nest, our nation elected someone who shall not be named and I imagined life without my mother.
And it also mirrored the acceptance, peace and joy I eventually experienced as a caregiver and in my life when I was able to focus on my ability to choose what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it and who I wanted to be in the process.
And now, as I look out at that one tiny corner of the garden I smile at how it’s sometimes the simplest things that can help us find meaning and strength in life’s big transitions and endings.