If the world seems busy with eyes wide open, it is equally, if not more so, with my eyes closed. I am participating in a two part course that began last semester called Digging Deeper, for which I have explored the realms of Deep Ecology, Ecopsychology, and Ecotherapy during the fall and am now embarking on a journey involving meditation, mindfulness in nature practice, reflection, and a creative project or which I will invent a piece to build, develop a plan, build this piece, and reflect on the process. This piece may be a memorial to my past life or a celebration of the pain and joy of transition and the next phase of my life.
Sitting still is a rare event in the life of marieke. I tend to multitask and take on more than I can possibly handle sustainably. I have tended to comment on this ironyfor a student of sustainability, but perhaps it is appropriate for where I am in the midst of learning what it means to choose a sustainable, healthy path and how to find the strength and wisdom to choose this path for oneself.
My assignment is to meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening and then build up by increments of 10 until I reach an hour. At the moment, I am struggling with the challenge. I sit and close my eyes and am overwhelmed by emotion, chaos, and the tumultuous nature of the past few months of my life. It is hardly a serene image of ranger m on the mountain, legs crossed, at one with the world, particularly with cats knocking over potted plants or walking across my lap and crying out for attention, cell phone and land lines ringing, and Labradors shifting impatiently and whining.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this is an important element to this process – accepting the chaos and finding ways to be at peace amidst the entropy of life on planet earth as a member of the human species in western civilization. A friend of mine shared with me that meditation is not always about emptying one’s mind but about sitting with the chaos, being present and aware of its place and influence. This exercise may help to make it possible to find balance and peace.
At the moment, peaceful is not how I would describe my existence. Balance is a missing component that I am hoping to find over the course of this semester and coming year. A friend who has become very dear to me over these past few difficult months came over for dinner the other night and asked why I had a bag of pizza on top of my refrigerator. I couldn’t even remember when I had put it there, but I imagine it was an attempt to keep it out of labrador’s reach and then was promptly forgot for what must have been at least a week. She and I had a good laugh over it, but it served as a reminder that any marbles I once had might be hiding in some strange places, the least of which is atop my refrigerator. Should I choose go looking for them, it would certainly be an interesting ride.
This past year and a half have been an interesting journey along the path of sustainability. It began with my first Prescott colloquium in August 2009. 13 students with bright eyes and bushy tails beginning what we imagined would be a 4-year academic journey but which for many of us has metamorphosed into a study of the sustainability of self that may continue for the rest of our lives.
Studying sustainability so intensely through an academic lens over the course of the first year of school, I grew ever more aware of the unsustainable nature of my own professional and eventually personal life as well. During this time, I began taking steps toward what may someday allow for a more sustainable life path. I applied for a new job and was invited to work at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. In migrating to a tiny enclave of Southeast Alaska, I began taking the steps toward what I hoped would become a sustainable life for me and my husband. I formed new friendships, began writing and playing music more often, and bought a home.
Yet every path has its bumps, and there have been setbacks of varying degrees of intensity. My husband and I separated, and I moved to Alaska alone. The darkness of winter, grief, and feelings of low self worth joined forces, and I felt myself slip into that darkness on a path of self-destruction, a far cry from the uplifted, joyful spirit I felt rising within me over the previous summer. I felt a shell of my former self, a stranger in a familiar body.
Who was this person? Where was marieke? Where was ranger m?
I spoke with a professor recently, and when I mentioned that my husband and I had separated, her response was to both congratulate and apologize. It is a pivotal, transitional moment in one’s life that is equally tragic and freeing. As I find myself alone and at the bottom of all things, I can sense clarity like a tiny ray of white light. My entire being is telling me it is time to make a change and to embrace life and the opportunity I have to actually make myself happy.
“There is nothing more precious than the self,” reads a fortune I stuck in my wallet many years ago.
A good friend recently told me, “The nice thing about the future is that it is not a memory but it is a reality.” We each create our own realities and can choose to see the world and ourselves through a negative or positive lens. Happiness may be transient in the great scheme of life for some, but I want to embrace a path that will bring an abundance of joy into my life.
Shantih shantih shantih
* shantih shantih shantih are the words T.S. Eliot used to end The Wasteland. It means “the peace that surpasses understanding”.