Tag Archives: NaBloPoMo

#NaBloPoMo: What I’ve Learned from Retirement (so far)

Trees against a blue sky with clouds

from our walk

I had a long conversation with a friend on Sunday about what it’s been like for me being “retired.” I always feel like I have to put the word in quotes, because even though I quit a job I’d been at for 19 years and I’m in my early 50s and I’m not working much right now, all key signs of retirement, I don’t intend to quit working altogether. I still plan on teaching and writing, hopefully making some sort of a living, a life, as simple and modest and small as it might be. After talking with my friend, I thought I should come here and share what I’ve learned. I don’t mean to say any of this would be true for anyone else, but this is what my experience has been.

1. Burnout is real. I thought I’d take the summer off like I had for the past nine or so years, and in the fall I’d be rested and ready to begin. My body in particular, along with my mind and heart, said “nope, we need more time.” This is frustrating, and a bit scary (what if this is as much energy as I ever have?). I’m trying to be patient, to trust myself, to honor what I need. I remind myself that technically, because I’d had summers off, I’ve only been retired for three months. It’s okay to take my time. It’s okay to pace myself.

2. Things take more time than you think. Because I knew what I wanted to do next for work, have classes and workshops all planned out already, know the effort required to create the foundation for those things to happen, and I’d been planning this for at least the last decade, I thought it would all come together very quickly. Again, “nope, we need more time.”

3. The things you run from will catch up with you once you stop running. I knew this very well from my meditation practice, but somehow I wasn’t applying this awareness to my life. I didn’t realize how much the speed and stress of my CSU work was distracting me from the other things that were going on. Now that I’ve stopped, slowed down, 19 years of accumulated and unprocessed things showed up, requiring my attention.

4. You have to balance your workload with your energetic needs and limits. I wish I had learned to somehow manage this while working for someone else, but there was constant push back, resistance, and in the end I couldn’t make it work. Now that my effort isn’t being directed by the interests of others, I’m able to be more honest about how much I can actually do. As a teacher, I hold space for people who are making themselves vulnerable, and as an introverted hsp, that requires I hold space for myself as well. As a writer, I make myself vulnerable, contemplate things that are hard, and engage with readers, and again, as an introverted hsp, the effort and ease required to manage that in a way that doesn’t compromise my well-being is huge.

5. Being a practitioner can make decisions like leaving a job more complicated. I am speaking from the perspective of a Buddhist and a yoga teacher, someone who is working towards personal enlightenment, who wants to ease suffering in myself and in the world. From this place, it can be hard to know when to move on. Every situation presents itself as an opportunity to wake up, to learn, to become more compassionate and wise. Practice asks that we don’t run away from things just because they are uncomfortable — in fact, the first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is uncomfortable, that we will suffer. As a practitioner, the way out of suffering isn’t to reject or resist discomfort and cling to comfort, but rather those habits of aggression and attachment are seen as the root of suffering. From this perspective, it can be hard to know when it’s right to leave a situation that’s no longer workable, which can keep us stuck in things that have run their course, where what we have to offer is beyond making any sort of difference, where we are only generating suffering by staying.

6. The decision to quit won’t necessarily come with fireworks. There may be no light bulb or a-ha moment. I was waiting for that, often wondered what the straw that broke the camel’s back moment would look like, hoped it wasn’t something that would be dramatic, where either someone would do something awful to me or I’d break down and freak out, having a “take this job and shove it,” burn it all down exit. In the end, the decision was quieter, calmer, cumulative, and came after much contemplation and conversation, a deep sense of peaceful awareness that I’d come to the end of the road.

7. Sometimes you want to quit or know you should long before you can. Honestly, this is something I’d been planning for at least the last 10 years. I’d been talking about it to friends and in therapy, writing about it, preparing for it, but it wasn’t until this past year that all the pieces came together and made it possible. Also, I could only make that choice because my husband has a full time job he doesn’t plan on leaving, I could get on his health insurance, we own our house and have a really low mortgage, we could pretty easily modify our spending habits, and we don’t have kids. It’s a choice I could make because of my privilege.

8. It’s a BIG transition and you have to give it space to be what it is. Having your life framed by your work for almost two full decades and then quitting is a huge shift, a monumental change. It’s like turning a cruise ship around. You know you want to go another direction and you calculate what it will require and put in the effort necessary, but then you have to be patient with how much time is actually required to make the full shift. Every big change I’ve ever made in my life has taken three years to complete, to fully embody. This one will most likely be no different.

9. Leaving a full time job is like a break up, even if the decision is mutual and there’s no drama. The reality is you are leaving and the relationship is ending. Your life will be different, your relationship to that effort, that place and those people will change, maybe even dissolve entirely. Even if you leave on good terms, a chapter of your life is over, a big part of your daily experience has come to an end, and that involves a similar grief and disconnection. So many things have already happened that I’m not involved in and not a part of, even though for so long that was the center of my life. It can feel a little weird. I have NO regrets upon leaving, but it still can be strange to have left.

10. You are replaceable. I was awesome at my job and the people there adored me, and yet, I have been replaced and am not really missed. And that’s okay, even as it should be. I guess what I really mean to say is don’t let your sense of being irreplaceable, important or necessary, keep you locked in a situation that no longer fits.

11. If you are any version of an introvert or hsp, you won’t miss the chaos of the workplace. When I first started talking in earnest about quitting, Eric worried I’d be lost, lonely, even depressed if I wasn’t working at CSU. Nope. Not at all. Going to a department full of people on a campus full of even more people to do work that overwhelmed me is not at all something I miss, ever. Being able to stay home in my pjs with my dogs and take a nap whenever I need to and do the work I want is the best thing ever. From this place, I can make conscious and careful decisions about when to get involved in the world, when to make an offering or connection, and when to step back, when to rest. I’m so much happier, so much healthier.

12. Being “retired” isn’t so much a sense of total freedom as it is relief, acceptance. I feel more connected to myself, more clear about what I need and want, more centered, more balanced, more stable, more grounded. Even when I’m locked in an anxiety spiral or feel stuck, even when I’m too tired to do anything at all, even when I’m uncomfortable, I feel like I am embodied, connected, and alive. I feel like I’m fully HERE.

 

#NaBloPoMo: I Forgot

Henry the baby corgi doing his version of “downward dog” in yoga this morning

I forgot to post something on Sunday. Well, I didn’t exactly forget, it’s just that I was pretty busy all day and by the time I remembered I needed to post something, it was 8 pm and I was already in bed, reading a book and too tired to get back up to make a blog post.

One thing I did on Sunday is take a walk with a friend who is considering leaving her job, retiring early, and wanted to check in and see how my retirement was going. I realized after we talked I should do one of my What I Learned posts about that topic. That was what I had planned for today, but here it is already 3 pm and I’m feeling a lot like Henry in this picture, so I think I’ll wait and write about that tomorrow.

But before I go, it’s Ringo Blue’s 6th birthday today! He’s the only dog we’ve ever known for sure when or even where they were born, all the others we had to make up a birthday, and it’s easy to remember because it’s the day right after my birthday. The first time I heard about him, I felt a flutter of knowing. The first time I saw a picture of him, I knew. The first time I held him, I was sure. Happy birthday, Little Dude.

#NaBloPoMo: Questions Worth Asking

Five years ago today, I took refuge vows. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche described them this way, “In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom.” During that ceremony, I was also given my dharma name, which translates to Space Dancer. I still love how that name marries spaciousness and intention.

This past year has been a confusing one for my Buddhist practice. My primary sangha was in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, introduced in the west by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and continued by his son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I’d initially had issues with the lineage because (among other things) I had questions about Chögyam Trungpa as a teacher and student of the dharma whose answers didn’t sit right with me, but his teachings had made such a difference in my life. Pema Chödrön had been one of his students and Sakyong Mipham seemed to be an honest, generous, wise teacher, so I moved past my doubt, chose to trust, to invest.

It turns out my trust was misplaced. The more I learn about what has been happening, the more my original doubts arise and solidify, and there seems to me no repairing the situation. Which means I am suddenly without a sangha, at least not in the same way I’d experienced it before. The deeper lineage of the tradition is the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism, so I’m optimistic I’ll find a new teacher, a new sangha. For now, my sangha seems to be those of us who feel a little lost, who put our trust in someone or something that turned out to not be trustworthy, who stay on the path and continue to practice even when it feels like we are without company, even when we are lonely and our questions seem without answer.

Working my way through my email inbox today, two things in particular jumped out at me. In Jena Schwartz‘s newsletter, she asked, “What if it doesn’t have to be such a struggle? What if you could choose ease?” and in Julia Fehrenbacher‘s most recent newsletter, she asked, “What if you stopped making it about good and simply focused on being authentic and true?” As I continue to sit with my confusion, wondering who to trust, these questions are good reminders, a way of grounding my contemplation in wisdom and compassion.

#NaBloPoMo: Unsolicited Advice

This morning I took on one of those “never get around to” chores: taking out all the plastic lids and containers to match them up, recycle the extras. Official count: three containers without lids, 28 lids without containers. I cannot figure out HOW this happens. When I posted the above picture to Instagram, I made sure to add “The goal is to slowly replace all the plastic” because I suspected that someone would either criticize my use of plastic or give me advice how to replace it, and I didn’t want a critique or advice.

This has happened before. Once I posted a picture of a snack, and a person I barely knew commented to tell me there wasn’t enough protein in it. Another time I posted about Ringo being sick and even though he’d already been to the vet and was getting better, I got a comment and a direct message about things to watch out for, ideas about what might be wrong with him. I’ve even gotten advice when the original post I made specifically said I didn’t want advice.

I get it. If I’m not careful, I catch myself doing the same thing. People mean well, are just trying to help, and yet if I haven’t specifically asked for advice, the offer can actually cause harm. For example, the paperwork from my last doctor’s appointment had a whole “Tips for Healthy Living” section which essentially was a list of dieting tips. Then today, I got an email from my health insurance company announcing “Build healthy habits for real life with this FREE program from WW (Weight Watchers® Reimagined).” I am someone who has/had not one but three eating disorders, who will never be “recovered,” so this kind of “advice” and “help” is at best irresponsible and at worst super dangerous.

And often times the “advice” isn’t even good. In an article I read today about taking a mental health day, in a part where the author was talking about how to relax, they included a list of “what not to do” that wasn’t just what not to do but “what NOT to do.” It was super judgmental, including a few things I do regularly to relax. It was making the assumption that while everyone should “spend time doing an activity that you find relaxing,” some things were inherently “bad,” such as binge-watching TV or “overeating unhealthy foods.”

The other place this happens is with experts and specialists. Everyone has a pill or a plan or a program to endorse. For example, I got my teeth cleaned today. At one point, the dentist seemed to recommend that brushing twice a day, as well as flossing with regular floss AND with a waterpik was a reasonable thing to expect from the average person. A nutritionist would most likely recommend cooking homemade and “healthy” food for every meal, a dog trainer would suggest your dogs have multiple “enrichment” activities a day along with a long walk and nutrient rich food, and a physical fitness trainer might prescribe a diet or supplement or particular exercise regime. When you add it all up, all the life hacks and ways that you can optimize your well-being and maximize your success, just putting together the list is exhausting. It’s unrealistic and out of reach for most people.

What I mean to say is we can trust ourselves, even though all the external messaging seems to say we can’t. Only we can know how we feel and what we need, what will work. Often times that means a lot of trial and error, effort we need to make space for, be patient with. Sometimes support is helpful and when that’s the case, we can ask for it, seek it out. In the end, we know best, if only we honor our hunger, our longing, our need. And as compassionate beings, we need to offer others that same respect, and give them the space they need, until or unless they directly ask us for help.

#NaBloPoMo: Resilience

From our walk this morning

Yesterday morning, it was 6 degrees. This morning, it was 50. Life is exactly like that, constantly shifting and changing. You never know what’s around the next corner. I was talking to my new therapist yesterday about resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness, or the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. I was telling her that I’d always assumed that the more hard things I experienced and survived, the stronger I’d get. Kind of like how lifting weights makes your muscles stronger. However, I explained, I feel like my experience has been the opposite — the more difficult things I live through, the less tolerance I seem to have for difficulty, the less able I seem to be to bounce back, the more worn down and weak I feel.

I also explained that my baseline now seems to be “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” I don’t experience joy or ease very often, but am rather waiting and preparing for the next bad thing to happen. I’ll be honest, part of that is because of my increased awareness of our current culture and climate, and my growing sense that this could get so much worse before it gets better, and that “better” isn’t something that even seems possible most days. Part of it is after leaving my CSU job after 19 years, I am suddenly confronted with all the things I’ve been able to avoid, hard things that happened but I haven’t fully processed yet.

Some days it can feel impossible, overwhelming. I thought I’d been doing the work, practicing and studying and evolving, but for all the work I still feel pretty unstable, unprepared. My therapist shared a theory she has, explaining there’s no research to support it, that it’s just an opinion from years of living and working with other people and their issues. She said she thinks when it comes to resiliency, we are like rubber bands. At first, we are supple and strong. We can stretch to our limits and snap right back into shape. As we are exposed to the elements, our experience, we lose our elasticity and can even be stretched to the point that we break.

It reminded me of something I wrote in a Wild Writing class. This is the relevant part:

“Bend and let it go over you.” I keep coming back to this when I’m teaching yoga — that balance isn’t about finding a fixed point and sticking there, stable and still, but rather it’s about all the tiny (and big) adjustments we make to keep from falling over, to stave off collapse, and how even collapsing, giving up and going over, is part of balance. We fall over, we soften into it, and then, if we’d like, we get up and try again.

It reminds me of the story Pema Chödrön tells about her teacher, how she asked Chögyam Trungpa in a moment she was having a really hard time what she should do, how to handle it, and he told her it’s like standing in the ocean, how each wave crashes into you, knocks you down, takes you in and under, but you get back up. And in time, you get stronger, you learn to move with the waves, and instead of feeling like you are drowning, like it’s so bad and so hard you are going to die, you are able to move with it, to meet and ride the wave. Bend and let it go over you.

This is one of my favorite things about blogging, being a writer. I so often find the answer I need, the wisdom I seek, the love I’m lacking in my own words. Some previous day, I took the time to write down what I was thinking or feeling or what I’d learned, and while it was relevant in that moment, sometimes the greater need comes sometime later. On some future date, I find exactly what I need, something I already knew but had forgotten. Today, these words I wrote were exactly the reminder I needed. Even more importantly, they remind me that the magic and the medicine are inside me, that the foundation I thought I’d made for myself is there, that I can trust myself to move through this.

#NaBloPoMo: Anxiety

We had a bit of a scare with Ringo last night. We were watching TV and he was sitting on the couch and I realized he was shaking. He wasn’t cold and he’s never done that before, so I started thinking maybe he’d eaten something he shouldn’t have. This is not unusual for Ringo. He’s always eating something gross, something that isn’t food, something he shouldn’t. We once had a vet recommend having him wear a muzzle on walks. My anxiety spiked, having heard stories of dogs starting to shake, then having a seizure and dying within 20 minutes of their first symptom. I put him and Eric in the car and drove to the emergency vet. They checked him out and drew some blood, determined he’d somehow tweaked his back and that’s why he was hurting. He has been running a lot the last few days and also playing frisbee in our snowy backyard, so he most likely just overdid it. He’s on pain meds for the next few days and luckily I have a direct connection to a physical therapy clinic for dogs, so I’ll be taking him in to get a fuller exam and some treatment. Honestly other than the 10 or so minutes of shivering, he’s fine.

I’m not so fine. I don’t know how much I’ve talked about it here, but I’ve got pretty bad anxiety. Developing complex ptsd only seemed to make it worse. As soon as I realized something was really wrong with Ringo, my jaw started to lock up and my teeth started chattering. This is an anxiety response I get that can be triggered by sometimes something small, and it really hurts. It’s essentially a panic attack, just with atypical symptoms. It only lasts about 5-10 minutes, but the tension it causes in my jaw and head usually lingers.

Once we got home, we gave Ringo his pills and went right to bed. I normally take 10 mg of a THC gummy at night (with the pain in my knees, it’s the only way I can sleep), but I skipped it. I wanted to be “present” if something came up with Ringo during the night. I was having hot flashes all night but also freezing cold so I slept terrible, constantly too hot or too cold or both. My stomach was also a mess. Everything was fine, but my hypervigilance was in high gear. This morning, I feel hung over.

I meditated this morning. Eric did what he could to make me feel better and Ringo is clearly fine. I taught a yoga class. We laughed a lot. One of the vets I teach brought her new puppy, an eight week old Corgi named Henry. I texted some friends and made dinner plans with some others. I’m going to make myself a yummy breakfast bagel and watch a little TV, maybe take a short nap. Later I have therapy. It’s a strange thing — to be a total wreck and also completely fine. To think that things will never get better and to know I’ll be okay, that it will all work out. To want to give up and keep going no matter what. To feel like the world is an awful place and be surrounded by nothing but love.

#NaBloPoMo: Day of Rest

from our walk

I love challenging myself to posting here every day for a whole month. I appreciate how it wakes up and strengthens my creative energy. When I know I am going to write and publish something every day, I look at the world differently. I look for the moments, the stories, the signs, the patterns, and the deeper I get into the month, the more clearly and easily I can find things to write about, the more I understand and accept my own experience, the more things make sense. It also takes the pressure off — if I’m posting something every single day, I can’t expect every post to be good. I let go of expecting ANY of them to be good, and rest in a sense of freedom and spaciousness, a state of peaceful awareness. This is the magic and the medicine of a writing practice, if we can just get out of our own way.