I have to change my password at work every four months. Since 2011, I’ve always tried to pick a password that is a manifestation of things I want. At the end of last year, my password was FREEDOM2020. I was anxious about turning 40 in December, so I chose the word freedom to remind me that there was a whole new world in front of me. A new decade for me, a new decade for the world. 2020. In early February I learned that my friend Amy was calling 2020 “a year of balance, a year of vision.” To which I replied, “Yes! love that. Me too! I want those things!”
In pursuit of balance and vision, I got out my fancy Law of Attraction planner that was a gift from my mother in law. She’s a fan of the “woo”, just like me. What is Woo? Woo is my concept of spirituality. Manifesting good, cultivating awareness, and visioning abundance for yourself and all beings. The Law of Attraction is woo but so is nature, so is astrology, and guess what — so are you. You, my friends, can be woo, too. It starts with a change in perspective and for me, that change in perspective has never been more necessary than it is now.
I am a planner. I am a doer. I am a go-getter. I do all the things and then I do even more things. My husband likes to tease me about it, usually out of love and concern for my well-being, but I always take offense to it and defend myself with self-righteous justification. I AM WHO I AM. I am a person who can leave the house at 6 am and not come home until 10 pm and be perfectly okay with that. I have been known to recover myself into the ground with all my self-care appointments. On these days my husband will often question me. “Did you ever think that maybe you just need to rest?” I hate it when he asks me this. Probably because he’s right.
When I sat down with my planner and colored pens to plan out my year, I did not cultivate joy or attraction. It felt more like fear and scarcity. In addition to working full-time, I am a full-time student. I’m a wife. I’m in two 12 step programs. I have two sponsors, three sponsees, and I go to three to five meetings a week. I go to therapy on Tuesday. I try to do some form of exercise every day. I volunteer hours for a peer support system at work. Busy, busy, so busy.
In addition to these essential things, I had a big spring/summer planned and it was all going to kick off with a trip to Madrid this week. I was training to ride a 545-mile bike ride in June, going to Ireland a week later, and going to three different conferences in July, August, and September. Filling up my calendar with all of these events did not bring me joy. It stressed me out. None of it felt like balance, vision, or freedom. It felt like a lot. How in the world would I do all of these things and not burn out? Just looking at my calendar caused burn out. I felt doomed, yet incapable of saying no to any of it. I am always learning, and the lesson is always the same: Just because I can, does not mean I should. I simply cannot do it all.
When the world began to stumble into the reality of this pandemic and things began to slow down, I was forced to reckon with myself and my reality, which is that all of the things that I’ve planned for this year would not be happening. My trip to Spain was the first to go, which after the immediate shock of the first White House press conference, immediately felt less like grief and more like relief. That ugly disease was forcing me to stay home. Phew. Aside from the fear of COVID-19, going to Spain was one thing on my calendar that felt especially foolish given my full-time course load. The Aids Life Cycle ride was next to be wiped off the calendar, and it still hurts. I’ve raised money, I’ve put in hours on my bike. I was really looking forward to it. Still; relief, repose. More space to breathe. An hour ago, I found out that my first conference in July has been canceled. Again, more space in my diaphragm. More space in my heart. Breath. Stillness. Faith.
And so, here we are. I do not know what comes next. But I do know what is here now. I am faced with the reality that I’ve been overextending myself for a long time and I do not cultivate space for stillness or growth. Even when sheltered in place, I am doing ten things at once. I am zooming into meetings but I’m also cooking dinner, texting my friends, or organizing my dresser. At this moment, I’m writing this article from work, where I’m also doing five other things. If 2020 is indeed about freedom, balance and vision…what do I see that is not serving me? What do I see that is causing me to tip my canoe?
Last year, my husband looked at me at least once a month and said, “we need to go camping.” We didn’t go camping. I was too busy. There was too much to do. If this pandemic was not happening right now, I can guarantee you that we wouldn’t be going camping this year either. And now that it IS happening, I’m fully accepting that we might have all the time in the world to camp, but not be able to because of shutdowns and social distancing. We might not be able to go to Michigan, but we can pitch a tent in the back yard, and I’ll make sure that we do.
The space that is opening in my schedule is opening in all areas. It feels childlike. It feels like putting bare feet in the grass or laying on warm cement. I’ve spontaneously danced several times this week. I’ve done more creatively in the last two days than I’ve done in two years. Am I afraid of the state of this world? Yes, absolutely. There is so much to be afraid of and all of the negativity feels like poison when I let myself get wrapped up in it. The Buddhist teacher Tara Brach says that “purposefully gladdening the mind is how we learn to be with the difficult..” Creativity is how I purposefully gladden my mind. Was I sad when my plans canceled? Yes, of course. Am I afraid of what’s next? Duh. Do I have a choice in what I allow myself to focus my attention on? Yes. This pandemic was not my choice. Nor is this forced slow down. But it is my choice to pay attention to what happens when these things get lifted from my shoulders. And it is my responsibility to remember exactly how it felt when it happened so that I can make better choices the next time I have the freedom to make a choice.
A pandemically motivated free schedule is not what I was imagining when I chose Freedom2020 as a manifestation password for this year. But this is what I’ve got. It feels scary, it feels foreign, but it also feels like this is the growth that I’ve been both fighting for and fending off for years. If hope is all that we have to hang on to during these trying times, what if we are able to really let go of what we thought this year would like for us? What if we look towards what it’s having us examine instead? Where can we find the hope in that? For me, it’s looking at serious truths about myself. How am I using my privilege to help others? How am I spending my money? How am I spending my free time? What am I doing that is distracting me from what I really want to be doing? If two weeks of free time have helped to create all this space for imagination, creativity, and inspiration, what will happen if the rest of my year opens up?
I’m still scared of what is next. But I am also holding onto hope that this is part of a bigger picture that allows us all to be free of what has been holding us back from loving ourselves and each other in the ways that we are supposed to.