"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Joseph Campbell
I have been a caregiver for 14 years. By caregiver, I mean mother. For 6 years I have been a single mother of 2.
And this summer, I got a 6-week break.
My longest stretch to be just with myself in over a decade.
Let that sink in for a moment. It is a HUGE paradigm shift.
Heading into the “me” time, I knew what I needed most was to hunker down and go into “the cave” as I called it. Because I have been so long in survival mode, reacting to the needs and to do’s that seem to be never ending, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water.
That’s a lot of time to be barely breathing.
So as much as I missed my kids, I had an extended period of time to really regroup and reflect on what I truly want and where I am going next.
I realized as I spent more time alone that my vision was really clouded and I could no longer hear the still small voice.
I was in total and complete burnout and a perpetual state of overwhelm. For years.
Honestly, I would say it took 4 weeks to feel somewhat human again.
Nobody else to cook for or care for, no one to tell to do their chores, no interruptions from others’ needs, no one else to entertain.
So what did I do with all my time?
I spent the majority of it alone.
After an incredibly blissful week in Northern WI with friends who have known me for over half my life who looked me in the eye and said “You are finally back!” meaning that gigantic piece of soul that was missing for over a decade, they could actually see it had been retrieved.
Because I have been doing a lot of deep healing work for the past 4 years. On myself as well as others.
And after the staunch realization that I am more introverted than I thought and that my recharging is done alone, I got to work getting into my cave.
So many full circle turns. Just before I met the father of my children, I was actually one step from entering an ashram. To live. Forever.
Instead I chose the life of “householder” which for me has turned out to be the most challenging path of all.
So re-entering the cave to meditate and find solitude is actually a sanctuary I had long forgotten.
Who and where would I be now if I had never become a mother?
Or if I had never become a mother who was also impoverished, more importantly. Because it seemed as if so many opportunities flew past me the fewer resources I had.
Poverty in the country of plenty is a soul thief.
My children are the greatest blessing of my life. But enjoying them has been second to making ends meet with little to no help.
The stress has been ever present and thick as quicksand.
That last part, the sticky heaviness of stress, had me in a fog for what seemed like forever.
I couldn’t think straight.
I forgot that I love to be alone. I love to journal and read and write songs and poems. Somewhere in the midst of surviving and raising children, doing the work of multiple people by myself, I lost vital and important parts of me.
I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. I am immensely grateful for my life and the people in it. I love being a mother. I love my work. And I also know that this time in my cave was intensely therapeutic and desperately needed.
Here are the main lessons I have learned on my parenting sabbatical, in which I luxuriously spent hours upon hours in meditation, alone.
1. Close the Loops of Habit and Obligation
As soon as I started spending time alone I realized how much internal pressure I feel to please others. Out of habit, I have perceived obligation to my community--once I started saying no to social outings, volunteering, and random meetings that didn’t align with my goals I realized that I mostly say “yes” out of habit or a sense of obligation. I am obligated first to my health, my family, and my work. And closing the loops on my perceived obligations has been a huge restoration to my energy. Also cutting out relationships or behaviors that don’t serve me or drain me was a huge revelation. I have taken this inventory before but it really hit home this time to help with burnout.
2. Confront Yourself
In the cave I got lonely. And bored. And scared. I was afraid of missing out or being forgotten. Rinse and repeat. I confronted these parts of me that were so used to constant stimulation or constantly being needed. Questions like: Who am I if nobody needs me right now? What happens when I am not giving all of myself away in every moment, will people still want me and love me if I am not giving to them or listening to them or being there at a moment’s notice when they call or text? Am I worthy of receiving the same kind of love and caregiving I so freely give?
3. You are enough and you do enough.
“Never enoughness” as a feeling has haunted me for ages. But especially as a single parent struggling to make ends meet, when many weeks there is literally not enough for food or rent, I have been in direct confrontation of this concept. In the cave I got to assess the amount of energy and resources I have been outputting for years and really got to acknowledge myself for everything I have done and do. I am enough. I can rest. I am enough. I am worthy of the things I receive and I am worthy of my desires.
4. Smile, Think Positive, Dance
When in doubt, always these things. And a daily gratitude practice helped me to see the amazing blessings despite my feelings of loneliness or fear.
5. Reflect on Your Life Lessons-Take Inventory
They say at the end of your life you have a life review. This is the moment where your whole life flashes before your eyes and it all makes sense. In the cave I got a glimpse of what this moment might look like for me, and since I just turned 41 years old I feel like I get at least another 60 years before that full life review happens. But I started looking at everything I have learned from my own life experiences and I am really damn proud of myself! I also started writing my life story/memoir for my own revelation so I can more clearly see the amazing growth I have done in my life.
6. Trust The Process
When you set a goal like spending 6 weeks in retreat mostly alone (outside of work obligations because I actually added a part time writing gig to my already full schedule) you have got to trust the process. There were days I felt a lot of emotional pain and turmoil from the choice I made to restore myself in isolation. I wanted to go out and see people and engage in the things I usually do but I knew I needed to stay the course. And each step of the way it was perfect for me. I can see how making the tough decision in the moment to forego gratification and stay in my solitude, stay with my emotions, enabled me to have powerful breakthroughs.
7. You are Sensitive for a Reason
Growing up I spent hours upon hours alone in my room journaling, writing letters, playing music and my guitar. It was where I got away from it all. My parents’ fighting, the intense feelings I had around other people. As I grew into my gifts as a clairvoyant over four years ago I came to understand that there is a reason for my sensitivity and I only need to honor it. Make space for my unique gifts.
8. Find Your Center, Build Your House on that Rock
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell
If I have learned anything in this season it is that finding my center and being true to my needs is my first priority. I am more powerful than my distractions only when I am grounded in my own center. In this time I have created my new vision for my life without the constant interruptions or input from others. Each morning I spent a couple of hours in meditation, journaling, and other practices that helped me put on my armor for the day. From that place of clarity, I feel fortified and able to make decisions from a place of my highest good.
9. The answers lie within you
The truth is, everything I need is right here inside of me. All I need to do is take the time to connect to it. Spending a decade or more disconnected from myself may have required a 6-week jumpstart to finding my center again, but I can attest to the fact that getting in touch with my own heart and my own needs is what putting my oxygen mask on first looks like. And I intend to continue this daily practice of tuning in.
My kids come home soon and I am ready and excited to share my renewed sense of purpose and power with them. I missed them like crazy but I needed this time to myself more than anything. And as they say--”ain’t nobody happy if mama ain’t happy”.
May we all find ways back to our inner world when the demands of the outside become overwhelming.
Here is to your cave, whatever that may look like.
I love you,