Looking Out

“Let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love.”

Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, page 171.

For the good share of my former life (the past 10 years) I had been looking too much our: toward the things that I thought would bring me happiness, like the accumulation of goods, a house, security in general. Looking back now, I can see I was building a safety net that I thought could protect me. I felt safe. . . but I wasn’t. It turns out I was only buying insulation to protect myself from a reality that I didn’t have the heart to face–I was a partner in a marriage that was failing miserably and I was unhappy, though I tried every day to convince myself otherwise.

So after finally facing these two very powerful realities of my life, I shed (or lost) nearly everything: house, job, partner. . . anything that had brought me a feeling of security. Since then, for more than two years, I’ve been looking more inward than outward; developing a confidence in who I am or who I want to become more of; struggling to survive without all the “things” I thought I needed. I think I’m beginning to feel successful in this area. My life now has given me a kind balance between working a job I honestly love part time and developing my interest and skills in the areas of visual art and writing in my expansive free time. This has helped me find a confidence that had slowly been whittled away. I’ve initiated the practice of seeking what I need inside myself and finding security in who I am.

And since I’ve experienced reaching the end of who I am and what I can sustain, I’ve learned to seek out the help of One Who Is More Than Me for help beyond myself. I’ve learned that this is the only security I can ever truly hope for.

Now I’m looking forward to sharing some gifts with the world–looking out more often while still developing the who that I am. It turns out, I like me and I just never really knew that at the level that I needed to. I never had to trust myself like I have needed to during the last two years of my life. I am happy to have found this reliable friend in myself.

Advertisements

Self-Guided Interview

Interviewer: What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?

Jaqui: When I began my teaching career, I worked at a rural middle school between Albany and Salem, Oregon. The town was so small that the students often felt trapped there, in the middle of nowhere. There was not a lot of diversity so the students grew up with a limited view of the world sometimes. My superintendent charged me with this assignment: teach these students to be good citizens, don’t worry about the test scores.

During my second year, I was privileged to teach a very kind and creative group of 6th grade students so I was able to plan an extensive and creative year-long project called, “The Jefferson Heritage Festival”. Students collected family stories and history all year, and in the spring, we gathered together with exhibits, historical photographs (which a local senior citizen had been collecting for years) and student and professional artwork. I even arranged for a Portland-based group called Ethos Music to bring a double decker bus and a reggae band to perform for the students. The culminating event was a free concert for the entire community by a well-known Oregon band called Misty River. At the end of the event, I felt I had learned to fly!

Interviewer: How do you respond to expectations?

Jaqui: This is a good question I think because it has shape my life in major ways. As I look back on all my career positions and supervisors, I see now that answering this question earlier might have helped me understand dynamics of work more fully. When my first superintendent shared his expectation with me about teaching students to be good citizens, I felt immediate relief because I knew I could do that; it was as if a weight or a worry was removed from my shoulders. I enjoyed working with this supervisor a great deal because I knew I could meet his expectations.

After teaching for various other supervisors with success, I ended my 17 year teaching career with a supervisor with whom I was not so successful. She expressed to me that I was not meeting her expectations which seemed to be: every student needs to be on task during every minute of the class. If they weren’t, she expected me to walk behind them and force their engagement.

Now that I see the beginning and the end of my public teaching career held up so closely like this, I can clearly see why I was so dissatisfied with my final experience at the charter middle school–there was no possible way to meet my supervisor’s expectations.

Interviewer: If we get out of your way, what will you be able to do?

 

Jaqui: That is a phrase I’ve never felt comfortable saying out loud before, but I’ve often wanted to because I feel so inhibited in many areas of my life. In fact, I want to say this to myself sometimes too because I get in my own way.

Without boundaries, I do much better. I am an intensely creative person who cares a lot about others and their feelings. If you trust me in those two matters, you will witness me thriving and doing more than what is expected. If instead you place many regulations and expectations on me, I will try so hard to do what you expect and regulate, but I won’t have any room in my thinking for creativity. For me, this is anxiety provoking and I will shut down eventually.

Marvelous Leap, or Leaving a 20 Year Partner and Stable Job With Benefits for No Job, No Benefits, No Partner

And I said, “Oh, I know! My work is one of joy, kindness, something to live up to.” I said I also cradle a song in my heart. In time it is morning and I look out my window. I prepare for a marvelous leap. (jaqui eicher, 2014)

Most of the time, I don’t think of this “leap” as marvelous, unless it’s used as an adverb and followed by the word ‘frightening’ or ‘awful’. Most days, I wonder what I have done with my “one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says. But on the days that count, I know that something in me awakened and has driven me toward this move. I have become mindful of my hours and days; how I spend my time matters much more to me than it ever did before. In this way, I have taken a marvelous leap toward mindfulness.

So far the journey has been painful and filled with such a powerful lack of confidence that each step further, each day, leaves me with nearly as many questions as answers. Only the more confident voices of my friends and neighbors have grounded me with good reflections and reminders of my better qualities. I’ve covered new territory (that which I didn’t know existed); wild and dangerous terrain. But I’m still alive! And still there exists in me the will to wake each day and take the next step.

Lately I have wondered when this “marvelous leap” will end. I’ve got to land sometime, right? I’ve considered turning back on the worst days, but instead I take the next step forward, toward the distant unknown. William Stafford wrote: “it is legitimate to crawl after the wings are broken.”  So some days I crawl toward the unknown.

Soon I will need some greater force to pull me because I will be spent and have no energy left with which to move–either forward or back.

My path seems to be leading me toward teaching English overseas and I am happy to finally see something on the horizon besides a bank of fog. Recently I heard Sinead O’Connor’s song, “I Am Enough For Myself” and though I’ve never before  believed this, I’m learning that it might be true and I may have to sit with this for a time.