I wrote this at Rev. Mugo’s prompting back in 2003. Clearly, it takes awhile to step back from the intensity of a career. I hope these words will be of some assistance.
Several years ago I read an interview with a well-known American author of novels and short stories. He said that when he wrote novels he built up such energy and momentum that, when he finished, he had so many stories in his head that the short stories demanded to be written.
I’ve found my recent retirement from a stimulating and creative social services job to be quite similar. This job required such a mental and emotional readiness to respond to difficult circumstances that, in its absence, my mind and feelings simply carried on with the habit. When going to the hardware store for plumbing parts, I found myself screening the environment for the crisis I just knew was going to develop.
I found that the author’s comment about these energized stories in his head was an accurate description of what I was facing when I sat down to meditate or felt restless in the garden while weeding or mixing worm castings with compost for fertilizer. There I was with a new found opportunity to unfurl from the responsibilities of what felt like, and at times literally were, life and death decisions. What slowly emerged were impulses and thought patterns which, when allowed to just be, seemed to be sparks of habit energy left over from the need to “manage” the world of conditions and to protect myself. Rev. Master Mugo described me as being one who had recently returned from a ‘war zone’ with my boots still smoking!
I found that I simply could not trust my impulses and thought patterns as long as my boots were still “smoking”. Fortunately, I could at least recognize that acting on an aroused mind and nervous system focused on the world around me was apt to lead to entanglements that were simply no longer necessary.
And, of course, new and enticing invitations (always tied to some financial incentive or, worse, honor) came along for me to rejoin the fray. Fortunately I have many valuable allies, like my wife Nancy, with whom I can take refuge and sit back down without acting too much on impulses or thoughts. Frankly, the refuge taking has, at times, consisted of a firm hand on the shoulder.
In describing these leftover habits, I don’t mean to disparage the work that I did. I imagine that every profession or way of surviving in the world leaves potent vestiges. I also know that I did the best I could, did the least amount of damage possible, and, on occasion, worked with others in a way that loosened the “knots” we found ourselves in. Generally this happened in the little things, the daily civilities and compassion that were not a program, curriculum, or intervention – more like having a cup of tea at the right time.
I’m quite grateful to have done the work I did; it was a great crucible for my spiritual training. I’m now equally grateful that the conditions ripened to allow me, with ample coaching, to uncurl the unconscious fingers of duty and responsibility and move on.
Oh, sure, I have projects and occasionally do some consulting work; if it seems good to do based on reflection rather than duty or being driven. I still frustrate myself in my old ways by being too ambitious with intentions or distracted by brilliant ideas, but to a lesser degree.
And, yes, there have been some intense eruptions of doubt, depression, and cynicism. I figure that, since I don’t have to be as controlled as when I was working, the deeper human concerns of fear and isolation are freer to emerge. However, I find that just letting these concerns be when they arise, rather than getting into some sort of “analysis paralysis” because of their darkness, allows them to depart on their own.
So, the remnants of old work habits don’t seem quite as strong as they did several months ago, though I am making no forecast of their comings and goings. I’m just taking the next step, taking Refuge, and spending more time just chatting with folks. For now, there just seems to be an easier flow to things, like having a cup of tea at the right time.