The Place of In-Between Part 4 ~ Identity shifts
“The spiritual journey is one of constant transformation. In order to grow, you must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times.” ~ Michael Singer, “The Untethered Soul”
I have been struggling with this installment in this “In-Between” series. I guess I’d hoped I’d be out of the in-between before I had to write it, but alas, no, we are still in limbo with regard to selling our home. Currently we have fingers, toes, legs, and arms crossed, and maybe eyes too, hoping recent repeat viewers will make an offer. And a few new viewings are scheduled this week.
Quite a while ago, I’d written about five pages of ramblings on my shifting sense of identity, and after a few rereads realized I was tired of reading it. And there’s the rub…and the nub…of all my musings on identity right there. It’s all just a story. Who am I? Who am I becoming? Who have I been? All just a story. But I am going to write this anyway, as it always helps me come to some clarity. You can be kind of a voyeur in my journal, and who knows, maybe there will be a nugget that’s useful for someone else here.
Through my studies in the coaching and self-development world I have learned a lot about how we create stories about who we are, and moreover, who we are not, or who we are not (we believe) capable of becoming. We create stories that limit us much more often than we create stories of our own possibility and desire.
When I started the second draft of this installment from scratch again a couple of weeks ago, I had basically thrown up my hands in surrender after a period of not feeling well, asking “What the heck am I doing? Who am I going to be without this place? What should I be doing?” I have been suffering off and on because I have identified with the stories I have told myself about who I am or was “supposed to be” in this life, about the ways I have failed to live up to the “supposed-to-be’s”, how I still haven’t got “it” figured out.
I have made myself suffer thinking that if I change career tacks yet again I will be humiliating myself, much as I had felt humiliated by an old school friend’s hurtful comment to me too many years ago, when I had left the law career and found myself waiting tables for a short period of time. She commented in front of a table full of people (some who knew me) how I had taken a step “down.” At the time it was like a gut punch. A current, kind, and insightful friend has since kicked me (hard) in the butt about even bringing up that story yet again, when I hadn’t even realized I’d told him about it before. I guess that’s how hard I had held on to it. So I am loathe to share it here but for the fact that it might be helpful to someone else. Otherwise, I am dropping it, NOW. This is the LAST re-telling.
As I sat at the keyboard and glanced at the book I have been reading, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, I was reminded yet again of what foolish and disempowering stories I have been continuing to tell myself. The back cover asks, “Who are you really?”, and the insides explore ways we can start to let go of all the limitations imposed by all our mental storytelling.
I don’t think Singer’s work is new. It is, as many texts, just expressed in it’s unique way, and maybe I am finally hearing things a little better. I’ve read Byron Katie, Michael Neill, Ekhart Tolle, listened to lots of discussions of the Three Principles, read about mindfulness meditation and becoming aware of your thoughts, and just observing, not attaching to them. But it seems I still find myself in circumstances where I spiral down into my own stories and it takes a feeling of impending crisis or, lately, seeing the frustration on my dear husband’s face, and his worry about me, before I snap myself out of it. I have all the skills, I just forget, because I still do not have a practice built around them. And that is a fundamental part of my personal challenge in life. And, sometimes, we think we have figured out what all of our stories are, but still miss some of them, until we are called out on them by someone else.
When I set out to write about the identity shifts I am experiencing in this place of in-between, I started out on a ramble about all the things I have identified with in living on this property for the past 12 years, including the things we only thought of doing here but didn’t! How’s that for story-telling? Building identity around things that never happened!
But we are not what we do or what we have or what we earn. As Wayne Dyer had said, if we think that that’s who we really are, then when those things are gone or change then we are nothing. And that’s not the truth of our being.
I’ve thought about how I became a gardener for the first time in my life once I moved here, to the extent of having a lavender farm for a few years, until I realized I didn’t want to produce products, and there were issues around viability and scale and whether it had to become a tourist operation for lavender farming to be feasible. But for the few years that I I did it, many folks started to know me as the Lavender Lady (not my business name, just how others identified me), since I did some farmers’ market selling and became known by some as a bit of an expert in growing the stuff here.
The house we hope to move to in town has, rather than 38 acres of land, a couple thousand square feet in a shaded backyard. No lawn, which is actually a bonus at this point, but a tiny canvas for my gardening urges. It will be a new challenge for sure, but I’m looking forward to seeing what I can create there, or wherever we end up. I need a bit of dirt to dig in and the chance to add beauty.
Also associated with this large land and gardens are the details and vistas I continue to capture with my camera, for which my Facebook friends seem to be an ever-receptive audience. I never realized a multitude of sunset and flower and bug images would continue to inspire others, but of course, they inspire me enough to shoot them, so why not others? So, there are a few folk who have expressed how they will “miss the farm” when we move, people whom I’ve never even met and who have only seen my images in social media. So there’s a little identity piece there, I have become the person who shares all those beautiful images of our land and gardens. But I think that is part of my “mission”, regardless of where I live, to find beauty and to share it. It just won’t be from the farm.
A couple months ago after Edward moved his massage practice back into an office in town, I reclaimed the commercial space here that had once been my gallery for my own coaching office. Also, for two occasions, I filled the walls with all my leftover framed photographs which have been languishing unseen in boxes for years since I closed Third Eye Gallery in 2011. I had an open house and sale, and I have to admit it was really fun and gratifying to see my work hung gallery-style again. It was wonderful to have a couple of my “collectors” return to buy pieces, as well as to see some friends from way back who had talked of buying a piece for years and never had, until then. And it was also great just to have friends show up to look at and enjoy my work without purchasing.
It helped me recognize what I am capable of, creating whole bodies of work, as I continue to doubt my own ability to create something significant or meaningful. When I saw the groupings of the leftovers from various shows I had mounted, I was reminded that I can indeed have periods of great focus, intensity, and hard work, as well as a vision I am proud of. It is especially tangible when you create visual art.
I was also reminded recently at an intuitive painting workshop I attended how much I loved being part of a community of other artists. The coaching world is more spread out it seems, people only getting together in person for educational seminars. In our county, many artists seem to be supportive and friendly, attending openings and events where they collaborate. It feels like it is more possible to be part of a local, in-person community of artists here than it is to be part of an in-person community of coaches, at least where I live.
So as much as I thought I was having a “last hurrah” with my photographic art and feeling that another layer of my created identity was being peeled away, I got an inkling that maybe I wasn’t quite done yet with that world. Am probably still done as a photographer-for-hire, (even though I had trouble purging all my tear sheets from my published work), but perhaps I could embrace the digital realm more fully after all, get some more training on image processing techniques, and find my way to producing a body of work again for a show or a book project. Or maybe I’ll finally learn to paint. And at least get better at the drawing I’ve been doing.
Another bit of the identity piece in this place of in-between has involved ruminating on my continuing or not as a life and soul coach. I found my way to that work a couple years after moving to this land, a by-product of my own spiritual self-development. A big part of that was spurred by moving here, by connecting with nature, and learning about shamanic practices.
I suspect that’s the way a lot of people come to coaching or other forms of alternative healing as a profession, they have some amazing, transformational experiences and then think, “Hey, I wanna do that!” Then they jump into trainings and certification programs so that they can try to help others have the same kind of experiences and new awareness they’ve had.
I did that. I coached myself through Denise Linn’s Soul Coaching® 28-day program with her wonderful book, started reading her newsletters and said “wow I want to go study with her!” So I did, and it was wonderful! She is an excellent teacher and mentor, and in hindsight, after training in NLP and certification by Robbins Madanes Training (as in, based partly in the work of Tony Robbins), I realized I’ve pretty much learned the best of what I have used with clients in my initial Soul Coaching® training.
One of my challenges, as I mentioned above, is that I have failed to create regular practices around the work that is most helpful. Coach, heal thyself. I suppose it’s like acting as your own lawyer (no, I wasn’t fool enough to try that even when I was a lawyer!). Coaches are supposed to have coaches, and I have done so for only brief periods. But it also sometimes feels like the only people who have coaches (outside of say, sports or acting) are other coaches. It is much easier to be objective and insightful about what’s going on with others than with ourselves, and having a coach can be very helpful in finding your blind spots as well as supporting your potential.
But my lack of consistency in practicing what I preached as a coach has led me over time to feeling out of alignment, and having what some might call a “chaotic vibration”, i.e. I was not always in a position to feel confident about the results I could offer someone because I wasn’t always walking the talk myself, either by having been coached regularly myself nor by always implementing the very practices that I knew would be helpful to my own well-being. I did, but often it took my heading towards an inner crisis before I smartened up. (See my earlier post on this site from last year “Climbing Out Of The Dark”)
One of the things I have noticed in my smartening-up in the past year, while considering this move and what dynamics will change, is that, even if I can coach, and have coached, and been helpful to people, I have struggled with whether I really want to be a coach. It is difficult to discern sometimes whether I don’t actually want to coach, and fell into it only because there were things I needed to learn for me, or if I am just disillusioned about it because business is very slow, and maybe I just need to learn to “market” better or get a business coach. There are, it seems, a lot of coaches trying to coach other coaches how to succeed in business as a coach. It feels like a red flag.
As time goes on, and my hubby explores revising our web site to reflect his own changes, including his part of the business moving to town and being in a different environment, I feel more and more that my partnership in Co-Creative Healing Arts is coming to an end. I think I’ve been flogging the dead horse so long perhaps only because I felt so invested, financially and time-wise, in all the courses and books, that I then felt I should keep going. That was where one of my stories came in. “You’ve invested so much” and “It would look foolish to quit.” “Shoulds” are not a great motivator, and those are just my own stories. To be self-employed, you really gotta love what you’re doing. I have loved my clients, but I’m thinking my coaching time is done.
I guess that means I may have to kill off , or perhaps “retire,” Mary Doodle Rural Life Coach, if her inspiration is no longer an actual, rural life coach. I think I might have quietly retired her a long time ago actually. She may be reborn in some other form.
Maybe it is time for me to tie my legs to the chair and keep writing the words that I’ve said I wanted to write for so long, and practice creating the illustrative art I have dabbled in since childhood. Those things, especially the writing, feel easy to me. I love the process. I love creating something and putting it out there. And as much as we are supposed to be detached from the work after that, and ignore the critics (and there will always be critics), I do so love it when even one person responds and says, “Thank you, I needed to read that today,” or something like that. I have been told that maybe my writing is the way I am actually “coaching” people, maybe doing more good by sharing my personal insights on the page than by trying to be a kind of counselor or motivator.
Some say, when faced with a crisis of career direction, to look back at what you loved doing as a child. For me it was in fact always drawing and writing. I even created a “newspaper” for my family and friends when I was quite young. It was elegantly called “The Thing or Whatever” and included doodles and poems and news. I wish I still had a copy. I remember my brother Paul taking me to the Dorval Library to get a few copies made. I’m not sure if those were still on Gestetner machines or the (then) brand new photocopiers. It might as well have been on the Gutenberg Press, the way things have changed.
As a teen photographer, excellent student of English, and editor of my high school yearbook, I was heading to university on a small scholarship to journalism school. However I managed to be deterred in my naive youthfulness by a crusty old journalist-teacher (not his fault) and my own fears that I was not really ready for that world. And I didn’t know yet how to type (yes…on a typewriter!) and felt I couldn’t keep up. And indeed for the world of hard news, I probably was not a good fit, just as I was not a fit for the often unhappy and stressful environment of a law practice, which was the alternate route I took a few years later.
But the love of writing stayed with me (I could write a very clear legal brief, I must say), as did the love of art and photography. So when I met my former husband, the photographer, I had the opportunity to pursue both. While I did have a bit of written work published from time to time, both articles and copy-writing-for-hire, photography eventually took over my focus, and it was a joy to work both commercially and as an artist.
I got derailed in the change over from film to the digital photographic medium at the very same time that I was immersing myself in personal development and spiritual self-discovery after that relationship had ended and another began. The soul-searching that led me to Soul Coaching® and life coaching became my focus. But as I suggested, and others have recently suggested to me, maybe that was only ever for my own benefit after all.
What I do know is that our intended move from this 38 acres of land to an almost yard-less place in the centre of town is not for me to lock myself away in a room all day tapping at my laptop or becoming a reclusive artist. As Edward and I have discussed about this move, we both feel it is our time to kind of “come down off the mountain” of our navel-gazing, semi-monastic life here, and become more personally engaged in community life, connecting not just with one-to-one clients in privacy but connecting with friends and people in community more closely. I am craving connection that neither individual clients nor facilitating workshops nor the internet can offer. Being in coach/teacher role, even in person, is not the same as being a friend or team member in a community or even an employee. My time working at farmers’ markets in the past when I was selling lavender and as a board member and later a wine vendor, have shown me I really love interaction in a more social context, although I also need recovery time alone.
It is not lost on us that we both believe we’ve been monks in past lives (long story for another day perhaps), and that our reunion here on this land was to live out and conclude part of that life experience. It’s like it was easing us into a greater connection with the world. We can each be very content with our own company for long stretches and spend a lot of time almost in silence in different corners of the house or garden. But I do get to a point where I am suddenly feeling desperate to have other people around. Our weekly trips to the farmers’ markets and local cafés, or occasionally inviting friends over for dinner, are currently an antidote to that sense of isolation, but not quite enough.
We also think our time on this property has had to do with showing ourselves what powerful creators we can be when we focus our intention and attention, especially on the things we love. The landscaping we have created and the plants and food we’ve grown have become highlights of this place. And while we didn’t do the major renovations on our home ourselves, our vision for how they would evolve, and the use of feng shui in the space to make it welcoming and peaceful for others, has been a creative process as well. It was like having a huge blank canvas for over a decade upon which to play and create. It has been a lot of fun.
My heart aches some days to imagine not being surrounded by the sweeping vista of forest and garden and the amazing sunset views. And my connection to the woods and the small creatures that live here, from deer, eagles, and hares down to snakes, toads, and honeybees, will somehow have to be replaced by walks in the many parks in town, or excursions further afield exploring our beautiful province. I’ve learned I must connect to nature on a regular basis, both to ground myself and to find my connection to Spirit.
I am now trying to weave together the essence of what it is that I have loved here, and of what has been realized within me, that I can take with me, that does not depend on this specific environment. If it is not what I do or what I have that defines me, what is it about my experience in this place that has helped shape me or maybe helped reveal more of who I am at heart?
I have learned for sure that besides a nature-lover, I am a constant creator, whether it is renovating the house, building and rebuilding gardens, taking photographs, making great meals, arranging flowers from the garden, drawing, or writing. I know I am happiest and most in flow with a creative project. And moreover, I love projects that I can share with others, as we have done both by opening up this place as our work space, and with my creative work. As my coach Richard once paraphrased Seth Godin, talking about the need for creatives to “ship their work,” he used the line, “Here, I made this for you. I hope it changes your life.” That’s how I want to live my life.
It’s time for a new chapter. We know ourselves only in relationship to each other, as Edward always says, so now perhaps is our time to try that out with more humans, rather than just with the plants, the environment, and each other. What will we be able to create with a bigger community? How much more can we become in those relationships? What story will I write for my own life now? I am looking forward to it, despite the uncertainty of when this property will sell and whether we’ll even get the house that we’d like. As I let go of what was, and my stories around that which may have kept me stuck, I am learning to see the in-between with excitement, and an acceptance of the idea that it is not only okay to keep changing, it may be essential.