“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”
- John O'Donohue
I have been wanting to write for months now about my retreat I took in August. There is just so much to talk about though that I thought trying to cover it all in a single article would not give it justice. What I learned and experienced could not really be put into just a few words. It is a big deal to take the time to slow down and just be a human without distractions. I can only say that if you can, you should! The retreat really did allow me to look at myself, my life and my thinking. I had challenging days of sadness as well as deep days of happiness. I lived simply with good food, natural silence, and the loyal friendship of my dog "Fezzik" there to keep me from going totally bonkers. Yes, I did get to do some fishing too. I even found new waters.
Coming home from the mountains after 20 days, I continued my retreat from home. It was a great way to transition back to my life. The contrast of living alone in my hermitage in the mountains to being back in my house was quite noticeable. I went from having virtual silence and nature to the overt man made noises invading what we accept as "quiet" in even lightly populated areas. I miss getting up in the middle of the night to let the dog do his watering of small pine trees and being floored by the sky full of stars that made me humble. At home, I still get up at night to let him out but even the blackness of night seems more of a dark grey that isn't quite black and the stars are muffled by ambient light of neighbors who decide that they need a floodlight on in their enclosed backyard. I sometimes believe I could read by that porch light if I needed to.
Even when our lives are going well though we may become oblivious to the places that begin to build up and become cluttered. As with any river when too much stuff is flowing down it, it tends to get jammed up. We may not notice the water backing up behind the dam of extra stuff we carry, own and collect. Eventually the pressure builds and we find ourselves in a state of feeling we are a little over our heads in the water. Eventually the dam has to break. But are we going to be part of the reason it does?
December was kind of a breaking point for the dam that was building up and keeping my life from moving forward. The cracks in the dam showed up first while I was busy in my woodshop. I had work for both my own shop as well as things for my wife who was participating in a holiday sale. The dam cracked in the form of a shop accident that nearly took out my index finger. I had a mishap with my chop saw and a piece of wood I was cutting. The blade hit the wood and the wood splintered sending a shard of hardwood across my left index finger knuckle. It cut deeply and just barely missed the tendon. Emergency room visit and eight stitches later I had a lot to consider. Was this the end of my woodworking?
My work as a professional magician is pretty important to me. Losing a finger as a result of a woodworking accident would be a real life changer. I started to question my life as a wood worker a bit too. It was a preventable mistake that would not have happened if I hadn't been rushing and trying to do so much. Having the down time I was able to focus on what I could have done differently. I decided that I need the break and embraced it. I put my Etsy store on "vacation mode" and refunded the uncompleted orders that had been made. So much for my winter spool sale?
Thinking back about the feeling of happiness I had on my retreat, I decided that I really needed was a place at home similar to what I had found on my retreat. A sanctuary from the busy world and a domain dedicated to living slower. Many times the best way to get a new perspective is to just start with a clean slate.
...So, I cleaned the slate alright. I gutted out my woodworking shop.
Transformed the shed into a space for my tenkara, meditation and trip planning. I am avoiding the term "man cave" but looking at it instead as a backyard retreat hut. I can quite easily do daily meditation, have in town retreats, read books, plan trips, tie flies and just let the outside world drop away.
One observation through this process was that change is one part letting things happen and one part guiding those changes in the direction you want them to go. What was I going to keep and what was I going to let go of?
Was I going to shut down the shop for good? Was this the end of my wood working? It almost could have been. Once I had moved into and created a new space with the shed, I couldn't think of where I was going to do my woodworking. Our small, one car garage really was the only real option I had left. But it had become a storage pile for everything in our house that didn't have a home. Fortunately, my wife convinced me, in spite of my aversion to the idea, that we could rent a small storage unit. I don't like the idea of paying rent to store stuff I own. But we certainly had stuff that needed to be kept and the space in the garage needed to be worked over.
Sometimes we really just need to make space in one area in order to free up space for another. The process of cleaning out items in the garage was a good one. I discovered that we had a lot that we were storing that we didn't need.those things went to charity or were recycled. What was left was actually not as much as I had thought. So, for the short term I am good with the decision to store some of our stuff in the storage unit.
The back half of our little garage is now nearly ready to be transformed into a workshop for me.
What I noticed through this whole process was that there is a flow to all things. We can fight the flow of life as it comes at us or we can help it move along in a direction that is productive for us. We can drift with it and see where it takes us.
I have to credit making the sacred space for myself for also breaking free the other places in my life that had kind of gotten blocked up. My writers block, my creativity in my shop, my need for a place to call sanctuary.
I am happy to say that I am in the process of looking not just as the places I have created for myself but also at the life I want to live, the work I want to do and the things I want to accomplish. This new blog format really is the result of that breaking free and going with the flow of life.
I look forward to seeing where the life of this river flows.