Tuesday, 30 September 2014

.004 Sometimes Making the Decision is the Hardest Part

I'm standing on the edge of a new threshold right now; the kind of place that knits fear and possibility together and smudges expectations. My future direction, the one I had so clearly laid out in my mind, has warped once again. I'm in a messy place full of decisions and I spend so much time wondering if I will do the right thing.

My sense of adventure and my sense of fear is split right down the middle right now. I'm taking a crazy step forward. I'm taking a calculated risk that could return great reward, but the road to that place looks tangled and ambiguous from this point of view.

I'm reminded again that I fear what I don't know, or what I think I can't do, and I wonder how often I've allowed this fear to govern me and cinch me into a place that was comfortable, but not necessarily right, or vice versa. There are many places that might not necessarily be noticeably damaging for us to live in, but it may not be the best place: the one we thrive in, the one where we are challenged and stretched and embraced and alive in.

In this place, I'm realizing that deviation and sketching out a new, and perhaps unconventional, path for myself is daunting.

Am I making the right choice?

Will I regret this?

Regret. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don't often deviate from the norm because I'm ducking away from potential regret. I cringe away from mistakes. They are uncomfortable. They uncover weakness and often force me to admit I was wrong. Past mistakes have a way of sneaking into everyday thoughts like a constant hum in the background, and sometimes they rise up and pinch.

What I'm learning here in the process of making decisions is this: everything leading up to the decision is often the most exhausting part. Flopping between "should I?" and "shouldn't I?" is mentally exhausting. I catch myself in the tension of whether to listen to my head or my heart. I run in circles with my thoughts, trying to uncover the "magic" solution.

Sometimes all of that back and forth confusion is a sign that you just need to make a decision. You might need to go to a quiet place and and get really honest, or sleep on it overnight, and then ask yourself "what do I really want on a deep, real level, even if I know it is hard or crazy or unpopular?" or "is all of this back and forth just fear?" You might actually know what the "right" decision is, but you may not be admitting it to yourself because finality is weighty and commitment is just scary sometimes.

What if you regret it?

Sometimes it seems easier to stay in that place of back and forth because you're afraid of making the decision. You're afraid that going ahead and taking the step might be the wrong thing to do when, really, the restlessness you are choosing to live in is the very signal you've been praying for. It is the sign that is telling you that this is the wrong spot. You've grown out of it. You're restless because you aren't content here.

Maybe it is a sign that you need to make the very decision you thought you would never seriously consider.

Maybe it is a sign that you just need to make a decision and stick with it.

I often find that when I brush up against uncomfortable situations or issues or choices in my life (especially if they come up repeatedly) it is almost as if God points and says "ok- we're going there. I didn't make you to shrink away in fear."

That could mean staying where you are or diving into a completely new space. That could mean taking responsibility or handing responsibility over to someone else. That could mean dusting off an old dream or saying no to a new one. That could mean sticking it out or it could mean letting it rest. That could mean saying yes or it could mean saying no.

Sometimes the road to the decision is the most difficult part but the actual decision, even if it seems like the hardest way, might surprise you with freedom and beauty and possibility. It might offer blessing in the last place you expect to find it. Yes, it might be hard. You might wake up with huge questions and a wave of fear might roll over you from time to time. It might even seem like the "wrong" decision sometimes. However, there is a long, scenic road ahead and someday the knots will be kneaded out. Someday you'll look over your shoulder and notice the difference between here and there and, perhaps, you may even feel grateful for the journey.

Monday, 22 September 2014

.003 Work:Rest

This week has been pent up with stress and work and somehow we're still smiling over here.

It might have been the extra course (or two) that I took on this semester, but I'm suddenly finding that my workload has exploded and I'm applying to jobs for co-op like nobody's business and I'm attempting to have some kind of social life beyond my isolated desk chair at the risk of losing touch with the substance and beauty of the outside world.

Yesterday I took a walk in the sun, absorbing as much natural vitamin D as possible before winter closes in and really locks us indoors, and it felt indulgent and freeing and human in a centring kind of way.

I think that is what I'm re-learning this week. There is a balance of work and rest in life and we're called to both. Investing in work and detail is essential to finding purpose and meaning in life, but when that work:rest ratio becomes distorted, so do you. So does perspective. You will feel it when something inside feels a little bit shaky and restless and your thoughts start to circle and tighten up like they are being squeezed into a space that is a size too small. You'll feel it when the knots in your neck remind you that you've been staring at your computer screen for too many hours in succession without a break. You'll feel it when something about the day starts feeling stale or blunted, as if you've overstayed your welcome.

We know this, but we all need a reminder, too, now and then. We can't continue to produce high-quality output without investing in rich and fulfilling input. This is a lesson I've had to re-learn multiple times over. Somehow, I always forget.

A friend called me yesterday: a friend I haven't seen or spoken to in far too long. I had been working all day, sunk in details and resume building and thinking too much about myself, when my phone rang unexpectedly. I was pleasantly surprised and I picked it up and we had a simple, honest conversation. We were filling moments rather than letting them slip past, unnoticed. Redeeming time. It was like a breath of fresh air. When the conversation ended and I turned back to my work, I had a fresh vision and a little more energy to run on.

So, when you get to that stuck, stale place, go take the occasional walk in the sun or talk to a person or water a plant. Read something that isn't required or play a musical instrument and don't forget to laugh about nothing sometimes.

Remember that mindlessly looking at your phone or scrolling through Facebook or whatever probably isn't the best way to re-charge. Yes, it isn't work, but it isn't actual life, either. We reclaim and refill through experience and brushing up against what is real and true and substantial, not by tapping glass or gazing at a screen. What will probably fill you more is engaging with life, somehow. Aim for active, not passive. Tap into an emotion other than stress or seriousness. Massage some of those knots out of your neck.

I was talking to another friend today about how physical space and mental space are so easily intertwined. In school, it is easy to get stuck in my room all day long: studying all day, and then sleeping. We were talking about how we want our rooms to be places to go back to, places that indicate rest rather than all the work we've done that day. To separate work and rest in our minds, we need to separate work and rest in our physical spaces. For me, this means finding other places to work during the day, to avoid holing up in my room for hours on end, and let it be a place to unwind and shift away from assignments and rubrics and required reading.

I'm still learning how to keep my work:rest ratio in check. I'm still a little more stressed than I'd like to be and sometimes I forget to stop being so serious, so concerned, so self-focused, and to look outward more often. It is coming, though. The more I remind myself, the more I remember, and, slowly, I steal back my time.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

.002 Creating Space

It has become a routine, now, that a friend and I meet in the chapel three mornings a week to pray.

Eight-thirty. The sun rests at the optimal height to stream through the stained glass windows, throwing colour all over the carpet where we sit.

We sit down, maybe read some scripture, share some joys or worries we're experiencing, and then we end off with prayer. This whole process takes all of twenty minutes, but it shifts the entire tone of the day.

The reason we began doing this stemmed from a conversation about carrying our faith over into university and how to live it out practically. There are choices, time constraints, assignments, voices telling us who we should be and how we should conduct ourselves, and other noise to wade through daily, constantly, and in the juggle and balance of it all it is easy to let faith blend into the din. It is easy to become distracted by all these other things to the point where priorities and perspective warp and prayer becomes an afterthought.

I've made a conscious effort this semester to be responsible with my time. First year I went to bed late and slept in late. I procrastinated too much and chose social activities over work priorities more often than I should have. This year, I wanted something different. I wanted to use my time and resources well. Part of this decision included intentionally and consistently getting up earlier, and this morning chapel prayer offered a meaningful reason to do that.

It is one thing to pray on your own, but praying together is enriching in an entirely different way. Faith is a journey, and not one to stumble through alone. These morning prayer sessions are a connection point, a crossover of two journeys and a way to acknowledge that we're walking together; we're not in this alone. We pray for each other and people we know and we wrestle with the question of how to live with purpose and mission where we are here as students.

This "lesson" really is a journey of creating space. Carving out time to be still and connect in a meaningful way, even if it is for only twenty minutes, or ten, changes me in subtle, small ways that stack up into bigger change. I find myself a little more focused, a little more hopeful, a little more peaceful, a little more content, and slowly my perspective shifts.

There is really no planned structure to this morning prayer and the time length varies, but it allows for a kind of inner breathing room and an openness with another person. We share hopes and worries and truth and we learn through this process. We've learned that sometimes God says "no" to things we think are good for us and opens other, different doors for us to explore. We've learned that sometimes finding God's will looks a lot more like taking a step in faith than searching for banners in the sky.

So in answering this question of how to live with purpose as a student, I'm learning that one of the starting points is how I view and capture my time. I have influence over how I fill it, whether that be the specific task or activity I engage in, or simply the attitude I walk in with. Time is my canvas and this purpose is found in how I choose to colour it in.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The World Isn't as Bad as You Think .001

School has started and I'm venturing into another four month stretch of study. Normally I'm all wrapped up in the newness, squinting at the blank slate with so many plans of how to fill it.

This year, though, I'm strangely indifferent. I'm in a bit of a "been here, done that" mental state and excelling academically isn't my driving goal. Another term, another essay, another assignment: they blur together into numbers and lately I've been thinking of new questions. I'm scratching out some of my lists and reorganizing some of my priorities.

How do I live with purpose as a student?

I know that I live as my best self when I'm serving or caring for other people. In that place, my motivation is sharpened and I live with more meaning and intention. As a student, though, it is easy to slip into the rut of routine and due dates and hashing through abstract questions in stuffy classrooms.

I know I'm investing in my future and I enjoy what I study, but I need more than that to fill my days. I need something to spark my imagination and challenge me to grow and offer meaning in a place beyond myself.

How do I get there?

My challenge to myself this semester is to live with intention and awareness. There are so many creative ways to extract meaning from the day. I want to use this space more often in that process of untangling.

One of my broad goals this semester is to legitimately learn something new, if not every day, then at least every week. This could be classroom learning or life learning, but I want to open my definition of education and glean as much out of this university experience as I can.

Maybe I'm making assumptions, but this exercise shouldn't be difficult. Often it is just the practice of noticing and naming something that pulls it up from slipping between the cracks and often that is enough to tilt perspective or refresh vision or offer purpose to an otherwise empty or flat day.

Lesson .001

Last week I was running to class and uncharacteristically stopped at a bulletin board to skim over the explosion of papers stapled haphazardly all over the wall. I moved one piece of paper and found this note hiding underneath.

It caught my attention and I smiled. Sometimes the very truth we need to hear is stapled to a bulletin board and we rush past it because we're locked in on time and responsibility, or we're too focused on the crazy mass of advertisements and other notices vying for our attention to see the honest humanity of a scribbled note.

The world isn't as bad as you think. Collect those bright spots in your days, in your weeks, and cling to them like treasure. Yes, the world can be a dark and scary place. Yes, the world can wring your heart and leave you with wounds and questions, but there is beauty and good as well. There is meaning to be found. The more I learn, the more I find that this is a truth. The more I learn, the more I understand that this truth is often difficult to find.

However, sometimes all I need to do is stop for a minute and look at a bulletin board.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Pinch Space

After an extended writing hiatus, I've finally returned to this space a few months older and maybe (debatably) a little wiser. Summer had its own lessons to teach me, and they may slide their way into this place when I've had the time and distance to untangle it all.

Right now I'm standing on the threshold of a new season: that vaguely foggy, uncomfortable middle gap that collects time and I always get a little restless in this place. I'd rather not let go of the old seasons I walk though. I'm the one who, once that ship has sailed, stands on the dock and watches until it disappears beyond the horizon and then I wait a little longer still, just in case a wave might raise it up for one last glimpse. In this case, I'm shifting from summer and work back into university for my second year.

It might be the period of life I'm in, but I'm a bit of a nomad. I feel as though I'm always living out of a suitcase, flipping between homes and cultures and communities and as much as I love it, the uprooting never fails to pinch, somehow. That pinch, though, is becoming more familiar and less scary as our paths cross more frequently. It is almost an acquaintance to me at this point. We meet again.

I guess I appreciate that pinch, in a way. It reminds me to be thankful for what I've been blessed with in the seasons passed, and it forces me to look ahead with a sense of adventure and a perspective of possibility.

I've also found a bit of a rhythm, or a strategy, if you will, for surviving the transitional period:

  • In my world, there is nothing that spinach can't fix: Or kale. Or pears. Or peppers. Essentially: eat as healthy as possible. I want to eat all the ice cream in the world when I feel a bit adrift, and sometimes I do, but I know that I feel infinitely better when I eat healthy and take care of myself. That is just motherly advice from me to you.

  • Resting space: I'm beginning to see this middle space as more of a gift and an opportunity to reflect and gather myself before diving into my next season. As chaotic as it may be, I take it as a chance to fill myself in small ways. I listen to really good music, pray, read my favourite books, write, bake, etc.

  • Look foreword: Personally, I always need a goal or a challenge in life to work toward, or my motivation and demeanour will flatline. The pinch space is always a place where I set some new goals, pick out some new things to get excited about, dream a little. I always pray about these things, but part of the process usually involves lists and Pinterest, on occasion.

  • Talk: Sometimes an honest conversation or two with a wise person can be the most healing medicine. Conversation has a way of kneading out little fears or insecurities I didn't even know I carried, and speaking those into open air, to another person with doubts and worries just as human as my own, has a habit of dissolving their weightiness. Tea also helps this process.

  • Debrief: I try to extract as much meaning out of life as I can. When a season ends, I usually look back on it and try to nail down what I learned, how I grew, or mistakes I made. I also try to carry that gained experience into my next phase of life in order to apply it in a new context. The pinch space is where I sort out some of those lessons and ask questions about myself, life, God, relationships. Some questions have answers and some remain open ended. Those open ended kind are the ones I carry with me into the next season to view in a different light, and they are often the questions that shape me the most.

Rather than idle time, I'm learning to view the pinch space as a bridge or a connection. It is a gift I can use to collect myself, to transition into a new season with a clearer vision of where I came from and where I am going. It is a season in itself, and it can teach me and shape me and possibly heal me as well, if I allow it to. I'm learning to use it, to say thank-you for it, and to appreciate the unlikely gifts it can give me.

Thank goodness for the pinch space.