Contemplating “Lover of Leaving”

I woke up sometime in February with the phrase “lover of leaving” in my mind. I knew those words were from a line in a poem I had read in the past, but I didn’t remember who wrote it. I searched under Kabir and Hafiz to no avail but soon discovered the phrase was part of a Rumi poem I had read, and loved, many years ago.

“Come, come, whoever you are,
wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.
Come, come again, come.”

Later, I thought about something I once learned from Jean Illsley Clarke, a mentor of mine. She taught me that there are four ways of leaving: come and go, eject, grow up and leave, and stay. None of those ways of leaving are inherently bad or good, and we more than likely do them all. However, the way we leave our family of origin often becomes a life template.

My father was in the Army, so I grew up in a situation where I was surrounded by leaving. Either my family left, or other families left. I believe in third grade we moved three times. And there were only two times where we lived anywhere longer than three years: my first five years, we lived in Sandia Base in New Mexico and we lived in Pirmasens, Germany for four years. Other than those times, I think we moved every year or two.

While my “Army brat” upbringing gave me plenty of experiences with leaving and being left, the style of leaving that became my template was to eject. I was not a happy child or teenager. As a teenager, I counted the days before I could leave home and I unconsciously picked a college that was as far away as I could go and still be in the continental United States. (My family was living in Florida at the time, and I moved to Seattle.) I went home a few times when I was in college, but it was rare. Soon after I graduated, I told my father I was thinking of marrying Al, an African American friend. He made it clear that, by even considering doing that, I was no longer welcome in the house. So, I had not only ejected myself but was also ejected.

The protective mechanisms I developed were to be overly independent and to not bond with people. I tend to separate easily and rarely look back. Over the years, I became much better at bonding, but am still reluctant to give up my independence.

Several years ago, a friend pointed out that I leave events without letting anyone know; people have no idea where I’ve gone. In reflecting on her observation, I realized she was right. But the impulse to leave when I want to leave has been stronger than a desire to do something different so I have continued to do that. I can see that leaving without telling anyone I’m going is a form of ejection.

That doesn’t mean I always choose to eject , sometimes I stay until it is time to leave; sometimes I even stay longer than is in my best interest. I rarely, if ever, come and go.

Al and I married in 1971. I worked at the University of Washington for five years (1974-1979) after I finished my Master of Nursing degree, followed by ten years as a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Swedish Hospital Medical Center (1979-1988). During part of that time I worked in the Maternal-Newborn units. I also helped to organize and run a Satellite Baccalaureate program for the nurses that worked there. Then I became a Psychiatric and Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist and, along with co-therapists, led psychotherapy groups for the next thirty years (1987- 2017). Even though Al and I divorced when our children were young, he and I raised two wonderful children. I still live in the house he and I bought in 1973. I did not eject in any of those parts of my life. That doesn’t mean I never had the urge to eject, but rather I didn’t do it.

The Rumi poem I talked about at the beginning of this post referred to leaving as part of a spiritual process. At first I was going to say that is not an area where I eject, but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t true. I picked a very conservative Christian college in Seattle. I was there during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era. I became very angry, judging the students and faculty as having their heads buried in their Bibles. By the time I left there, I had labeled myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist.

I had definitely ejected from the Christian Church. I maintained that position for the next 20 years. I felt nauseous if I even heard someone say the word God. That changed soon after I met Amma in 1989. When the music started that first night, I felt as if I was Home.

Even though she has been my spiritual teacher for 31 years, I occasionally feel the urge to eject. When I get triggered by something she says or does, there are times I think: “I’m not going to do this anymore” …. “I’m leaving.” However, now I don’t take those automatic thoughts seriously. I may go to the back of the room and pout and/or indulge in self-pity, but I know it usually will pass in a day or two. And even if it takes longer, I know I’m unlikely to ever leave. Amma is still Home to me.

(Note: Even though Amma has been the central part of my spiritual journey ever since I met her, I have also been involved with Christian organizations from time to time. I guess that is my example of the coming and going type of leaving!)

So even though my original style of leaving is to eject, it is only something for me to stay conscious of. I can use my discrimination and embrace coming and going, growing up and leaving or staying; saving ejecting as a form of leaving only for when it is necessary for my mental or physical health or survival.

Writing this contemplation post has been helpful to me. Perhaps once the pandemic is over and we are able to meet in groups again, I will begin to let people know when I am leaving. Leaving without saying goodbye is certainly not necessary for my mental or physical health or survival! I do not need to eject.

Two Tales of Endurance

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Photo Credit: Clipart Panda

For some time, I have been thinking about writing a post about a small lemon tree I purchased during the summer of 2013. My plan was to call the article “A Tale of Endurance.”

Then on Thursday, Sreejit posted his Dungeon Prompt for the week. He asked us to address:

How do you measure up to your eight-year-old-self’s plans for the future?  We all had childhood dreams, or fantasies.  How did you imagine the world as a kid?  When you were eight years old, what did you plan on being when you grew up?  What would that version of yourself think about who you are now?

Responding to this prompt posed a problem as I have almost no memories of my childhood.  My mind went blank when I thought of my eight-year-old self. As I reflected on my childhood as a whole, it occurred to me that that my growing up years could also be seen as  “A Tale of Endurance.”  I wondered if I had that attitude about life by the time I was eight.

I decided to include both endurance tales in one post!

A Tale of Endurance #1

What did my eight-year-old dream of? I have no idea. My only clue is that I know my primary past-time during my childhood was reading. I do remember loving the Bobbsey Twin series. I think those were books an eight-year-old might read. I have no doubt that when I immersed myself in my books I was transported to other lands. It is likely that most of my childhood dreams came from the books I read.

Since I couldn’t answer the prompt by talking about my dreams, I decided to see if I could learn more about my eight-year-old self. I searched for some pictures and found two. I believe I was eight in the first one and nine in the second.

I grew up as an army brat. I was born at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico and lived there for the first years of my life. At some point during the Korean War my father went to Korea and my mother, brother and I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, the city where my mother’s family lived.

I thought I had attended three different schools in the third grade but as I looked through old belongings yesterday, I discovered I had gone to two schools  during the second grade and two in the third.  When my father returned from Korea, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina; I would have been seven at that time.  After two quarters of school in Fayetteville, we moved to Ft. Bragg, which is also in North Carolina. I finished the second grade there.  I attended third grade at Ft. Brag for half a year and then moved to Pirmasens, Germany for the last half of third grade.

I can imagine the difficulty that switching schools so often would cause a child who was a strong introvert. In an army brat’s life, friendships were usually short; either we moved, or our friends did. I have no memory of any childhood friend, other than the cousins we visited on vacations.

I remember my mother saying that my pattern was to have one friend and then if they moved on to another best friend I would be devastated. I can imagine myself developing a “why bother” attitude when it came to friendship.

Yesterday, I also looked through all my elementary school report cards. I probably had read them sometime in the past, but it would have been decades ago. I paid particular attention to the report cards from the years I was eight and nine.

At that time, my teachers described me as earnest, pleasant, a hard worker, cooperative, and a good student who was creative, read well, learned quickly and had a wholesome attitude. In the second half of second grade and the first half of third grade, I received “Excellent” and “Good” for grades.  When we moved to Germany and they used A, B, C, etc. as the grading system, I received A’s and B’s. The area where I consistently received the lowest marks and negative comments were in Writing. One  teacher wrote “Carol (my name at that time) writes large enough but her letters are poorly formed.” Those comments continued throughout my elementary school years. I have no memory of my writing being an issue, although I’m not surprised considering how poorly I write now!

After writing positive comments on my report card, one teacher added- “I’m afraid she doesn’t receive much challenge.” I wonder what she meant?

Other comments that interested me were:

“She is slow to express herself.”  That seemed reasonable for an introvert.

“Carol has improved some in writing but seems tense and not able to relax when writing and other times also. Have you noticed this?”  My mother, who was also a teacher, responded “I have never noticed any tension in her writing at home but then she has an eraser at home (which she uses far too often) and I think her not having one at school may cause the tension. I’m not sure. She is a sensitive child and may be trying too hard to succeed in a subject she knows she’s having trouble with.”

I don’t know how soon my life began to feel like a tale of endurance. As I aged, I became more and more unhappy at home. At one point, I counted off the days until I could leave for college. I hated moving so often and wanted to create a life where I could stay put. Hmmmm. I wonder if that was a dream when I was eight. If so, it was one I created as I have lived in the same house in Seattle since 1973!

I have loved getting some insight into my eight-year-old self. Thank you Sreejit for offering this assignment and thereby prompting my exploration.

 

A Tale of Endurance #2

In the summer of 2013, I bought a small lemon tree. There were several lemons on it when I purchased the tree and I had visions of all of the lemons that were to come. The nursery staff told me to bring the tree into the house before the temperatures dropped, so as winter neared I put it indoors. One by one, the beautiful lemons turned black and fell off. Then most of the leaves fell off. Soon there was nothing left but the trunk (if you can call something that small a trunk) and a few leaves.

Spring came and nothing happened. The same few leaves stayed on, but there were no new ones and there were no buds. I took the plant to a nursery to see if it was possible to save it. They instructed me to use a particular kind of fertilizer. Months later there was still no new growth.  It wasn’t until late August that a few flower buds formed. The plant was still alive but it seemed too late in the season for any fruit that formed to grow to maturity.

As it started to get cold, I once again brought the tree into the house. And again, the few small lemons that were on the tree turned black and fell off. This time the rest of the leaves fell off as well. I decided to leave the tree in the house even though it was just a stalk.

Sometime in late winter, I concluded that the situation was hopeless and put the tree outside on the balcony. I would compost it in the springtime. However, when springtime came and I picked up the container to take it to the compost heap, I noticed there were many tiny leave buds!

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This tree seemed determined to live. Over the next weeks, the leaves grew, flower buds formed and then blossomed!

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After a difficult childhood, my life blossomed and has been filled with friends, adventure and learning. It is interesting for me to see that many of the characteristics that my teachers pointed out on my eight-year-old report cards are characteristics that I am known for now.  I think my eight-year-old would like the adult I have become.

It appears that this year the lemon tree is moving forward on its journey towards health.  Perhaps in time it will even bear fruit that will become ripe!

I appreciate all the ways, past and present, that I am learning the value of endurance.