I joined a writing class recently, and one of the exercises was to take a decade of your life and compress it all into a single page of three-word sentences. One page. Only three words per sentence. It takes a lot of thought. What do you put in? What do you keep out? The point of the exercise is to summarize your life experience as compactly as possible. To remove anything superfluous and discover what is truly important to you.
Before embarking on this exercise, I read, and was inspired by the writing of many others in my class. They made it look so easy. Through this exercise, you could quickly see the focus in each of their lives. There is something about the three word sentence that leaves no room for prevarication. It’s simple and to the point. It makes things crystal clear.
But when I compressed my own life into a single page of three word sentences, I was struck by how sad it was. The previous decade of my life has been filled with mountains of all sizes. Lots of climbing. Lots of sorrow. There were plenty of times when everything seemed completely lost. Hadn’t I reached bottom yet? How was it even possible for more things to go wrong? Was anyone else finding life this hard, or was it just me?
It’s funny, but I began the last decade thinking that life would now be easier for me. That it would be on an up-swing from that point on. I figured I had served my time as a daughter, wife and mother. My children were growing up and starting to make their own, adult-sized decisions. I decided that the next decade would be just for me. For the first time in my life, I would focus on myself and my own growth.
Well, I did grow, but not in the way I thought I would. I look back now on the woman I once was, and I can see how naive she was. I can see how much she still had to learn. I can see all the painful moments that she will soon be facing, and I can think of no way to warn her. On the other hand, I can also say that, even knowing what I know now, I would still have made the same choices. I may have been naive, and I may have made some mistakes along the way, but I knew what was important to me, and I was willing to fight for it. I stayed true to myself. There is a certain peace that comes from that.
What all of this boils down to, is how proud I am of myself this month. That long decade of pain and sadness, all those years that I struggled to summarize in my writing exercise, did end on a bright note, after all: I was able to realize a long-held dream. Since I was a young mother, I have loved the practice of yoga, and dreamed of one day becoming a yoga teacher. However, I doubted my ability to complete the gruelling 250 hour yoga teacher training that would be required, especially after I became sick with CFS. I wasn’t sure my strength would hold up. I wasn’t sure I would have the energy. Well, this past year, I finally did it! I actually completed the training! It’s hard to believe. Not only did I complete the training, but I have now taught my first two classes!
If I were to give a message to my former self – to that woman of ten years ago – I think I would tell her to persevere. During those long, dark nights of the soul, I know that is what she most needs to hear. I might warn her that the next decade will be more challenging for her than anything she has experienced yet. But I would also tell her that she will be OK. That she has all the support she needs, both within herself and around her, to get through it. I would tell her that, even though there will be plenty of days when things seem dark and hopeless, there are many people who love her. And I would tell her to lean into that love.
I would especially tell her to soften towards herself. To show herself more of the kindness and care that she regularly shows to others. One of the big lessons I learned over the last number of years, is that the people who love me don’t care if I succeed or if I fail. They don’t care what clothes I wear, or if I’m rich or poor. They just want me to be happy, and they will do everything in their power to support me in that effort. I’ve been humbled by their care. My heart may have been broken into a million pieces over the last few years, but these people have also helped me put it back together again. I’m incredibly grateful.