At some point this past year, I just stopped. Trying. So. Hard.
Trying so hard to live up to an arbitrary ideal or expectation of myself.
Day after day, I threw well laid out plans at the wall. I listened harder and more intently than ever before—to my kids, to my friends, to my family.
This past year, a pandemic released me from the endless comparison game I was on as a business owner, a parent, and a partner. Never anticipating what completely stopping life could possibly accomplish, I can say with certainty it was the most pivotal awakening of my own lifetime.
This ambitious inner control freak traded the upkeep of striving to get to somewhere with spending time staring at the reflection looking back at herself in the mirror, the streaks of silver growing in more fully by the week, my new wisdom cap covering my skull.
I appreciated what was staring back at me—those hard-won streaks, mini-trophies of the miles of life behind me, built-in evidence of a hard-won existence. The realizations constantly flooding my awareness: if someone I loved was going to get sick and die, did I really care about the things I spent so much of my time pondering anymore? Preoccupations with what I weighed, what I ate, who I loved, how I felt or expressed myself, and whether or not I was giving or doing enough exited in bundles on the outgoing express train of my mind. It just stopped. I let all the walls down.
What happened next is to this day mind-numbing. Without warning, I was suddenly pulled through a tunnel of awareness extending through time right back to my own ancestral roots. I felt my ancestors poking at me, trying to get my attention through the wavelengths of time.
It was so relentless I erected an ancestral altar in their honor and devoted my spiritual practices to it. And when it was safe, I decided to go home. I decided it was time to walk into the overgrown garden of my life, and start the weeding process. The weeds were behaviors, habits, beliefs, toxic ways of relating to others, fears, and grief. I determined that I had done what weeding I could already; the rest could only really be accomplished by going back to the beginning.
So I obediently heeded my own soul’s calling to go back—to the corners, nooks, and crannies where people I barely or never knew created their own lives, sparked by a dream, running on ambition, love, determination, and hard work, and who struggled with their own demons.
I don’t know what I thought I’d find there, but I knew that somehow the land where my family lived, the graves where they rested, the skies above their old broken down homes, along with the boards of the buildings that once stood erected, might tell me something I needed to know to feel more settled.
I cannot express how magical it was to trek to farmland where my parents were raised, to scoop up the dirt, and share stories with my mom and brother over coffee and a cottage cheese filled German/Russian dessert called kuchen in a rural North Dakota café.
The thing is: I had heard all of those stories before, and yet this time, I felt the hardships deep in my bones; I saw the determination shining through the sun in the sky, and resonated with conditions and circumstances beyond control that surfaced fear, and yes, despair, in the hearts of my ancestors.
I took in those stories from my family line with new ears this time. It was a gift. I would never truly know the realities of hardships faced by life lived on the plains of rural North Dakota, but for the first time in my life, I felt like I touched the hands and hearts of those people, reaching some sort of understanding, achieving a state of deep healing.
It straightened my mind out, loosened my grip on tight timelines and arbitrary deadlines, and I let go of the inauthentic ideals I once held onto so tightly. For once, I could really imagine their worries and found myself meeting mind to mind and heart to heart with their own struggle for survival.
At those old country cemeteries, I wandered about aimlessly taking photos of gravestones, walking around the mounds careful not to step on the “bodies.”
It was beautiful. The landscape stretching out over the plains, the ponds reflecting the sunlight, and the breeze whispering in my ears the voices of my ancestors telling me that there was no real secret to living this life well. That even in the midst of brutal darkness, just when it doesn’t seem a person can go on, the will to live is much stronger.
In my own way, I translated the feelings that moved through me like a wind storm as saying that it was okay to now release things I didn’t need to hold on to so tightly anymore.
In that space of going back, I came home to myself.