Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Purpose of a tree

Purpose or Dharma has kept creeping into my life.  Thinking about my purpose can get me reeling and feeling lost.  So, I've been thinking about the purpose of trees.  I've been using medicinal grade essential oils/ essences regularly over the past year. First to address immunity and then slowly other physical ailments.  They've been wonderful to work with and have helped me so much.  I'm drawn to the fir/spruce essences.  In using them, I've been more aware of their presence around me in the environment. Sometimes I've talked to them during my ski touring this winter, thanking them. It's made me contemplate their purpose.  I keep coming back to the word 'giving.'  They give and give and give.  They are part of the earth ecosystem that allows the air we breath to bring life to so many other beings.  They are homes themselves, resting spots and provide housing materials for us humans.  Their roots hold the top soil for other plants and trees to grow. Their essences are healing.  Everything about them is love.  I'm reminded of the book, "The Giving Tree," by Shel Silverstein. In this book, a tree and a boy become friends. As the boy grows, what the tree provides changes.  The man struggles with his own purpose, confused and the tree gives and gives, all along just wanting the man to be happy.

Trees aren't pondering if they have enough leaves or are tall enough.  They aren't pondering if life is better on that other hillside on that other mountain.  Aspens aren't wishing they were lodge pole pines or spruce trees.  They just are.  Their dharma is to grow and give, to be their part of the earth ecosystem in order to sustain all other beings.  They have been an integral part of the earth ecosystem since life exploded onto earth.  Species of trees have come and gone, but trees and plants continue to sprout forth, being part of the whole, sustaining life.

Trees also have to receive in order to keep growing and keep helping.  They need the sunlight, the rainwater. They also need forest animals to help spread their seeds.  Some need fire in order to open their seeds for the next generation to take hold.  They seasons to go through their cycles of growth and rest.

So when I come back to my own purpose or dharma, thinking about trees makes me wonder about my part in sustaining the whole.  I'm a natural helper and giver, but I know that I can do it in a way that's not sustaining, it's draining and then my system shuts down, unable to give. It takes vigilance, awareness, practice to find the balance between give and receive.  I can't always be the helper and embracing this (the moments it happens) actually helps me to be the best helper, reach higher potential.  When I don't embrace this my body, mental state and spiritual being are all compromised.  The less negative talk and self-judgement, the more space for self-love and compassion, and feeling peaceful, content starts to happen more and more.  I'm learning that purpose isn't an outcome or a destination, it's an ebb and flow...changing but ever moving me closer to being part of the balance of the whole.  For us humans, we seem to be moving further and further from this with our fast paced life, attachments to our screens of every size, and disconnecting more and more from interactions with each other, with nature, with the whole.  We cannot exist without all other beings and we are not superior.  We have our own special part and our purpose is truly to connect with our special part of the whole.

Just like the trees.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Identity Crisis

Identity: “who someone is; the name of a person;  the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different.” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

Crisis: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention.” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

When looking at these definitions, an identity crisis is when the belief or qualities that we define ourselves as “who we are,” are challenged, changed, lost, etc. and our minds perceive this as a highly, dangerous situation (maybe even life or death) that shuts us down.

I had one of these periods in 2003-04.  I was in my mid-twenties and enjoying life. I was an avid rock climber, defining by self as “rock climber.”  “Hi, I’m Twyla and I’m a rock climber.”  I lived to be out on the rock any spare moment, month long climbing trips in the spring and fall between seasonal jobs, I was good at it, it fed me, I loved it.  I loved it because it was just me and the rock.  Having to work through my own thought and emotional ups and downs, facing my fear, working through a climbing “problem.” It felt so good to figure out how to work through moves and make it to the top.  Building trust with my body and my mind.

I was transitioning to graduate school that summer.  Driving from Alaska, where I had spent the winter with my dad and step-mother, and heading to Fort Collins, Colorado.  With a climbing partner in tow, we stopped in Squamish.  Land of granite.  I was so excited.  It was a challenging place for me, not used to slab climbing (using friction to keep your feet and hands on the wall rather than holding and standing on prominent features in the rock).  I also got to try some crack climbing, which I was just getting comfortable with.  A few days into it, I was climbing a harder climb, when I heard a “crunch” from one of my fingers.  I had done something to a tendon in one of my fingers, making it sore and needing to take a break.  I was done climbing in Squamish for this trip.  So we packed up and headed to Idaho, where we met some other climbing friends at City of Rocks.  A couple days had passed and I decided I could still climb, but needed to be more mellow due to my finger.  I jumped on a climb the first day, about half way up, hear heard a “pop” this time. I knew I had really hurt my finger.  I was bummed.  I ended up supporting my friends as they climbed more and I just looked on.  

It was a small injury that started a shift, a transition.  I had to take some time off climbing (really hard), and was able to get back in by climbing cracks, since it didn’t put as much weight on my fingers, but the “awesome climber” I defined myself as, started to feel “not good enough.”  Insecurities making their through the cracks in my identity.

Then, I started graduate school.  I was going to school and working three part-time jobs, one being at a local rock gym.  I was trying to pack in studying hard, working hard and getting in the mountains one to two times a week, a significantly less amount of time than I had been used to doing.  In contact with my climbing friends in Wyoming, I kept hearing about their adventures and upcoming trips that I was unable to join in due to my new schedule.  I was torn between the life I had been leading and loved and the change I felt pulled towards in finding a more rewarding career, working with people.  By Christmas time, I was exhausted emotionally.  I had a fight with my father and it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”  I became depressed.  

I’ve always struggled with some seasonal depression, so with everything added on top, that winter I found myself barely able to get out of bed and function.  I went through the motions, with negativity filling my head.  I started to wonder why life was worth living. There was a part of me saying, “Suck it up!  Just get on with it!  What’s your problem.”  My now long time partner and I had just started dating and I couldn’t understand why he’d want to hang out with such a depressed person, though I was good at hiding how I was feeling to the world.  I went on like this for four months.

On my birthday, all my new friends in Colorado went up to Devils Tower to camp, hike and rock climb with me.  I had wanted to go there for quite awhile.  Four of us went rock climbing, I was feeling positive.  Then, negativity came up in the climbing partner dynamics.  By the time we got to the top, I was filled with a mixture of joy about being on top of such an amazing rock formation and anger at feeling MY birthday climbing experience had been ruined by the group dynamics.  As we descended, I dwelled more and more on the negative aspect of the day and by the time we got to the bottom, I was engulfed by negativity.  I climbed into my tent, curled up in a ball and refused to get out.  My birthday celebration happened without me.  Those who know me, know my birthday has been my favorite day of the year for most of my life.  Not celebrating with my friends meant I was in a bad place.  I finally asked for help and went to a counselor at the university.

It was a little while longer until I realized how much the slow spiral down was related to identity, who I thought I was.  The change that occurred in my life at that time and how I was dealing with it (out of fear and insecurity), kept me from realizing that I’m still ME despite no longer living the life of “rock climber.”  This identity challenge allowed past identity challenges that I hadn’t dealt with come to the surface, feeding the fear and self-doubt even more.  It was overwhelming.

It was a good lesson in how facing the reality of change, allowed me to begin a healing process, that was about healing years of fighting change.  The more we cling to who we think we “should be,” “ought to be,” “supposed to be”...the more misery we create in our lives.  We will always be ourselves...it’s the process of getting through the fantasy we have created about who we really are that can be painful, depressing, overwhelming, anxiety provoking, filled with anger.  When we can come to joy, trust and faith in the change process, while being aware of the fear, sadness, and loss, moving with change happens much more easy.  Plus, we grow and learn so much more.  

Change is ALWAYS happening and we can’t stop it.  Do you choose to embrace it or fight it?

My name is Twyla and I enjoy rock climbing, as well as an infinite number of other things.  I climb for enjoyment, to not prove who I am to the world.  And I’m much more content.