I wrote this paper as an assignment in my Spirituality & Counselling course in the fall of 2020 as part of my Masters in Counselling & Spirituality at St. Paul University, Ottawa. This paper contains some minor mistakes but I have done my best to reference my ideas correctly using APA format. You will find references listed at the end of the piece.
Many have taken on the task of trying to identify, classify and illustrate the spiritual journey of humans in a way that is applicable and relevant to all of humanity. Thus far, these attempts have led mostly to linear approaches that have the individual moving from one stage to the next as they seek love, oneness, God or spirit. Although popular, these stage models face extensive critique as one recognizes the human experience is far from linear, nor is it so easily divided into a neatly staged procession (Jastrzębski, 2020; Ozorak 2003; Ray & McFadden 2001; Reich 2003). Feminist critique argues that the limitations in these models are due in large part to the lack of diversity among their architects. As they see it, the linear perspective is simply a symptom of the larger issue: that these spiritual development models have all been the work of men, and white, educated men at that (Ackermann, 1989; Ray & McFadden, 2001). Carol Gilligan (as cited in Ray & McFadden, 2001) critiqued Kohlberg’s Moral Stages directly as being a white, male, upper class perspective and all stage-based theorists as blind to this narrow viewpoint.
With such a singular cultural perspective, we are sure to lose vital aspects of the human spiritual experience and cannot assume these models fit everyone. Reich (2003) found that culture had a significant impact on the experience of religion, noting that the same religion can be practiced very differently from one community to the next. He concluded that the stage models “characterize the main shared features of the person-God relationship of a ‘similar’ group of people,” (p.232). Thus, knowing that stage models of spiritual development have been the work of such a limited demographic of humanity, one must recognize that these models are missing important and valuable perspectives of the spiritual experience, namely those of women. Furthermore, not only are women’s voices largely absent from the conversation on spiritual development, their experience of spirituality and religion are vastly different from the experience of the men who created these models. From her study looking at gender differences in spiritual development, Bryant (2007) observed the following:
As women have historically struggled with religious inequalities, it is logical to assume that their conceptualization of spirituality has been impacted by perceptions of, or direct encounters with, oppressive circumstances in a way that men’s conceptualization of spirituality has not. (p. 844)
If men and women experience such striking differences in religion, how can we assume that a model designed by men is representative of the spiritual experience of both (all) genders? Ochs (as cited in Bryant, 2007) observes “since traditional spirituality has been male-centered, it has been regarded as an extension of the male maturational process that emphasizes individuation – coming into selfhood. The new spirituality… is an extension of the female maturational process that emphasizes nurturing – coming into relationship” (p.836).
To expand this further, in an exploration of her personal spiritual experience as a white, Christian woman in South Africa, Ackermann (1989) emphasizes how her place in the world directs her spiritual path:
My doing of theology originated in my need to reflect systematically and in an informed manner on my experience of domination and oppression as a woman… I do not see liberation as some sort of personal soul massage but as multi-dimensional, embracing politics, society, culture and our religious life… Being freed is not merely an individual experience – it means, I believe, being freed into a community where love, solidarity and creativity can flourish. (p.76)
In search of a design that would be representative of the female spiritual experience, Ray and McFadden (2001) reviewed Jane Goodall’s spiritual autobiography, an anthology of African American women’s writings about spirituality and two qualitative research studies of older women’s spirituality. From their work, they conclude that the stage model is based on an individualistic, solo, usually male experience and not the relational spirituality more commonly experienced by women (Ray & McFadden). Across religions and cultures, it is common to find women at the heart of the religious community. Rosemary Radford Ruether described the role of Catholic women in North America during early settler times as “the mainstay of the faith, gathering the family for prayer, educating children, observing the rounds of feasts and fasts” (1995, p. 20). Women’s experience of spirituality is pointedly communal. Ozorak (1996) contends that women focus more on personal connection with God and their religious community, whereas men focus more on the power and judgement of God and spiritual discipline. In her later article, Ozorak (2003) suggests that the individualistic culture of the Western world limits our capacity to see ourselves as integral and inseparable from the community and that a more integrated perspective is required when designing spiritual development models.
As alternatives, Ray and McFadden (2001) propose two metaphors to illustrate spiritual development: the web and the quilt. For the purposes of this essay, I will explore the quilt as a model for human spiritual development that honours the relational component of spiritual growth. This is not an uncommon metaphor. Again and again, quilting and weaving terms are used when discussing spirituality, by both women and men. Pargament describes spirituality as “interwoven into the fabric of everyday” (2007, p. 3). Whereas Plaskow & Christ (1989) use it in the name of their second anthology: Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, with a patchwork pattern as the background of the book cover. The quilt metaphor is strikingly used by Ackermann (1989) as she describes her not always positive experience with Christianity as “a rag bag, a red bag, full of remnants of cloth, of different shapes, designs and textures, some a bit tattered and faded but still precious, others quite pristine and others whose colours don’t appeal to me” (p. 74). It seems the careful craft work most often associated with women is a strong symbol for the complexity of the spiritual experience.
Proposing the quilt as a model for relational spiritual development, Ray and McFadden (2001) narrow in on the quilting process. They observe that a quilt is made up of many unique blocks of fabric and often put together by a group of women, sometimes for someone in their family and other times for someone in need. Ray and McFadden recognize these as key components of women’s spirituality: togetherness and care for others. As for the use of the quilt, it shifts and changes over the course of a lifetime, sometimes used daily and other times put away in the top of the closet for a while with only a few squares of fabric showing (Ray and McFadden). The stitches, done by the hands of many women, are considered by Ray and McFadden to be relational patterns that although they may not always be easy to see, are fundamental to the structure of the whole. For Ackermann and her tattered fabrics, the thread that holds her quilt together is her personal spirituality within the larger, patriarchal religion which does not always represent nor fulfill her spiritual needs. For its complexity, originality and community essence, the quilt can be used as an effective model to illustrate the relational and diverse experiences of women, as well as community-oriented spiritual seekers.
But do we simply face another limited perspective when we put on the gendered glasses? Can those who take the solo spiritual journey see their experience in the mix of colours and patterns of a quilt? Perhaps. Ray and McFadden (2001) described how some quilts would be well organized and symmetrical, others unorganized and seemingly chaotic. Maybe there are linear quilts with only a few colours and patterns that more accurately represent an individual, stage-based spiritual journey. Or perhaps that is itself a limited perspective of the complex inner workings of the solo journey. Ultimately, with such variety available in the crafting of a quilt, as a model it could serve to illustrate the spiritual journey of all, should we think to do so is even possible.
Although all models may ultimately be incomplete and limited in perspective, women deserve a model that reflects their own experience. The oppression so often faced by women in the church has not been a deterrent to their spiritual quest and their spiritual experience warrants representation in our understanding of spiritual development. Among college students, Bryant (2007) found women to be more committed to religious practices and spiritual growth than their male counterparts. Kanis (2002) takes that further, maintaining that “Our bodies have everything to do with our interpretations of religion and religious experience, not only because of what we experience in our differently gendered bodies but also because of how we have been taught to understand ourselves as gendered beings” (p.1867). Kanis and many others make the important connection between women’s bodies and spirituality, with their bodies creating and holding sacred space through birth and lactation – the most simple and vital relational aspects of the human spiritual experience.
So, can the quilt be used effectively as a model for spiritual development? Based on the ability to create quilts with different shapes, colours, designs, textures and sizes, it seems that we could assume the quilt model would be able to encompass all spiritual experiences. But those who walk a solo, spiritual path with defined steps may not see their journey within the colours, patterns and stitches of the quilt. Ultimately, our attempts at defining the spiritual experience are always limited by our personal perspective of spirituality and how it plays out in our life, be it functional or ontological, immanent or transcendent, individualistic or collective. Thus, we must conclude knowing “All models are false. Some of them are useful” (Jastrzębski, 2020). There can be no singular model that represents the entirety of the human spiritual journey. With the sacred in all of us and in everything, there are as many unique paths to connection and development as there are humans. However, when attempting to structure a model of spiritual development it is imperative that the voices of women and their relational experience of spirituality are included. The ways of women are deeply sacred, and they must be woven into the fabric of our spiritual understanding.
Whether you walk a straight path or sew a complicated quilt or even find yourself walking a forest path with a warm quilt around your shoulders, your spiritual experience is beautiful and unique.
Ackermann, D. (1989). An unfinished quilt: a woman’s credo. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 66, 74–78. Retrieved October 6, 2020 from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000820071&site=ehost-live
Bryant, A. N. (2007). Gender Differences in Spiritual Development During the College Years. Sex Roles, 56(11-12), 835-846. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9240-2
Jastrzębski, A. (2020, October 6). Development: Spirituality and Psychology [Lecture notes and PowerPoint slides]. Brightspace. http://uottawa.brightspace.com/d2l/home
Kanis, (2002). Theobiology and Gendered Spirituality. American Behavioural Scientist. 45(12), 1866-1874. doi: 10.1177/000276402128753887
Ozorak, E. W. (1996). The Power, but Not the Glory: How Women Empower Themselves Through Religion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35(1), 17-29. doi:10.2307/1386392
Ozorak, E. W. (2003). COMMENTARY: Culture, Gender, Faith: The Social Construction of the Person-God Relationship. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(4), 249-257. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1304_2
Pargament, K. I. (2011). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the sacred. Guilford.
Plaskow, J., & Christ, C. P. (1995). Weaving the visions: New patterns in feminist spirituality. Harper.
Ray, R. E. & McFadden, S. H. (2001). The Web and the Quilt: Alternatives to the Heroic Journey Toward Spiritual Development. Journal of Adult Development, 8(4), 201-211. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011334411081
Reich, K. H. (2003). INVITED ESSAY: The Person-God Relationship: A Dynamic Model. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(4), 229-247. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1304_1
Ruether, R. R. (1995). Catholic women in North America. In R. R. Reuther & R. S. Keller (Eds.), In our own voices: Four centuries of American women’s religious writing (pp. 17-60). Harper.
It’s quiet. They’re gone. It’s just me, a glass of pinot grigio and my laptop.
I do love my kids, so very much. And yes, I often miss them when they aren’t here.
But also, I so very much love my time alone.
I love the quiet. No interruptions. Following my own rhythm through the moments, the days. No one to cook for, no argument to resolve. Yes, I very much like my time alone.
But it is more than that. More than a craving for the previous, pre-kid life when my life revolved around, well, me. It’s more than that.
It’s more than being tired after years of sleepless nights with littles.
It’s more than being bored of preparing multiple meals a day.
It’s more than a need for a reprieve.
Yes, this pull to be alone is much more than all that.
I think I’m different than many, but not all. It is our society that tells us that being alone is wrong, unfulfilling, something only one would want should they be damaged goods.
50 year anniversaries are what we’re taught to aspire to. Forever. Happily ever after. Always.
But I never wanted those things. Forever didn’t sound good to me. I was pretty sure I would change my mind about this, that and the other thing sometime between now and forever. How could I commit to happily ever after? How could I know today, or 10 years ago for that matter, what I would want every day after?
All I knew that I could depend on, all I knew to be true, was that I would be forever with my own damn self. That I would be spending every day, every moment, with me.
And that kind of forever, well it gets me all a-flutter. That kind of always feels juuuuuuust right.
I want my life to be my own. I want my days to be filled with my priorities, my dreams. I want to read when I want to and do the dishes later. I want to feed the kids cereal again and eat yet another bowl of kitchari. I want to be first in line. I want to be my own number one.
I know when I do this, I am filled with more joy.
I know when I do this, I have more energy.
I know when I do this, I mother a thousand times better than before.
It’s not easy, in a world of couple-privilege, to choose to be alone. To tell the world, no, I do not want a husband. And yes, I do own this house.
No, they don’t need a step-dad. And yes, I’m rocking this on my own. Thank you very much.
Because I got this, this alone thing.
It’s everything I always wanted.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love, that my time is so preciously mine that there’s no space for friendship and romance and community.
In fact, my life is FULL. Really full.
I’ve got good people. Ones to laugh with. Ones to call in need. Ones to help and ones to care for. I’ve got people, same as I’ve always had people.
And now I can love them the way I’m meant to. Now I can give them my best.
Because my best only shows up when I follow my own rhythm, when I make my own moves.
My best comes from the quiet, the solitude, the rest.
My best comes from the afternoon reading, the lonely kayak down the river, the hour on the deck with wine and my laptop.
I’m meant to be alone. It is not something I wish could be different. It is something I chose.
Yesterday was a hard day. I muddled through the morning well enough, no yelling to get the boys out of the house early for my oldest son’s piano lesson before school. I had hoped to then be able to walk my other boy the 5 blocks to kindergarten but I got pulled back to my bed, needing a few minutes rest and then we weren’t ready in time. So like every day, we drove.
My next hope was to walk downtown to my appointment with my counselor, but for that too, I went too slow, ended up sitting on my bedroom floor wasting ten minutes scrolling Facebook and again, wasn’t ready with enough time to walk.
But I didn’t get angry which is progress. I didn’t beat myself up for not being able to stay focused and get out the door on time. I was, however, disappointed. Disappointed that it feels like it’s too hard to be me these days, so hard I can’t even walk my kid 5 blocks to school the one day it’s an option this week.
Counseling was excellent though. Big, huge, insightful connections made. Yes, I do feel the need to adjust myself to make others happy. And I mean everyone, at all times, always. I can see how hard I tried as a young girl to make my parents happy, to never cause a fuss, to be perfect. Maybe even perfect enough that they would be happy.
I thought I had that much power.
As children do.
But my parents’ happiness doesn’t belong to me.
Nor does yours.
My logical brain understands that. My traumatized brain does not.
When I got back from counseling I decided I would let myself rest. This is always my debate: Do I need to rest to care for myself or am I being lazy?
Usually the answer is the former but for most of my life I’ve beat myself up believing the latter. Almost every time I’ve “rested”, I’ve had a tape on repeat in my head telling me I should be doing more, trying harder. I tell myself I should be active or catch up on cleaning or do some damn work. But the PMDD holds me down. Keeps me cuddled and cocooned on the couch.
But what came together at counseling today, the realization that I’ve spent a lifetime adjusting myself to fit the needs of others, has shown me that I am exhausted and rest is exactly what I need. Along with the PMDD, all signs point to Adrenal fatigue too. So yes, I need to rest. I do not need to use my time to be what I think others want me to be, think I should be.
I need only use my time to rest and heal.
Which sometimes often means an afternoon on the couch, a little stoned, watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy.
I think I’ve discovered why I love Meredith enough to rewatch the series too many times. She is wonderfully imperfect. She drinks too much, rarely communicate well, makes an endless number of “mistakes”. Yet she is brilliant, talented, respected. She is a horribly imperfect woman who is powerful, smart and strong.
The imperfect woman. Not often allowed. Rarely celebrated.
Yes, the imperfect but strong woman may often be described as intimidating.
But my favourite internet meme of 2018 says it all:
“You are not intimidating, they are intimidated. There’s a difference.”
We are shifting, this world of ours, from seeing women as intimidating to realizing rather, that we, the societal “we”, are intimidated. We’ve lived a hundred lifetimes in a world that fears women, that fears them so deeply that they have been pushed out of every leadership position. Out of religion. Out of politics. Out of medicine. Into the home. Into motherhood.
But then still, the power of women as mothers is too scary so we medicalize birth, pull it away from the midwives, promote formula and send women back to work. We push them away from the feminine that is connected and powerful, intimidating.
I believe I am someone who intimidates others and I’ve spent my life thinking it’s my responsibility, my duty as a woman, to not do so. To always acquiesce, to always bend myself for another’s comfort. No wonder I’m tired. No wonder I’m sick of it.
No wonder I like watching an imperfect woman learn to own her fierceness and become someone who most definitely leaves many intimidated, and better for it.
So when I get off my couch, when my rest is done and my hormones are finally balanced again, I plan to love my own imperfect fierceness and leave in my wake a wave of intimidated men.
My sweetie, two kids and I are one of the many families that sold our way-too-expensive “family” home in Metro Vancouver and headed East. Way East, all the way to my little hometown in Ontario.
It wasn’t an easy decision despite the clear financial benefit. Like anyone living in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, leaving is tough. It means saying goodbye to the mountains and ocean – the meeting of which truly do create one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It means leaving the mellowest Canadian climate, with winter temperatures that rarely dip below freezing. It also means leaving the very liberal mindset which is one of the biggest attractions for Canadians that are fed up with some of the conservative values more likely to be found east of the city.
For us it also meant leaving family since my sweetie was born and raised there – the family that had been there for the birth of my boys and every milestone after. They were, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to.
But before I tell you what led us to our decision to leave, I want to back up a bit and share a bit more of my story…
I moved to Vancouver nine years ago, at the end of August 2007. When I booked the plane ticket I was only planning on staying for a few months. I was a bit of a wanderer back then, usually spending winters in Costa Rica and summers in Ontario. But when I got to Vancouver, it didn’t take me long to realize my wandering days were over and I had found a place to stay.
I remember walking north on Commercial Drive from Broadway that first day. The busyness of the neighbourhood, the groceries with their food out on the sidewalks, the gorgeous mix of people… I was enamored. In the days that followed – filled with yoga classes, hanging out in the park, chilling on patios and wandering the small organic grocery stores – I felt like all the parts of me had finally shown up in one place, with the majestic North Shore mountains watching over everyone.
And I decided, I would stay forever.
I met my love about a year and a half later. Our lives were typical Vancouver lives – we would head up to Squamish on the weekends for rock climbing, perhaps Pemberton for a romantic getaway. Winter days were spent snowshoeing on the North Shore. Life was beautiful from the tops of mountains and rocky crags. The beers at the Howe Sound Brew Pub after climbing The Chief on my 28th birthday were the best beers I ever tasted.
Then babies entered the picture and a few years later we found ourselves with a hefty mortgage, two kids in daycare and no time to play in the outdoor playground that surrounded us.
We tried. We really tried. We watched our budget. We made sacrifices. We understood that eventually it would be easier. Eventually we wouldn’t have the costs of daycare. Eventually the kids wouldn’t be so little and we would have more free time. We knew that was coming and we were waiting for it.
Then last summer, things started to shift… After years of dealing with serious body pain following a rock climbing fall and undiagnosed concussion, I had a major back spasm that kept me in bed for weeks. And despite the love I received on Facebook, no one showed up to help. I was barely able to walk and still had to manage all the day to day responsibilities of motherhood. Thankfully, my mom flew in from Ontario and got me through the last weeks of that horribly painful time.
And I don’t blame people for not being there for me. Rather, I see that as just a reality of life in the city. People are busy. It’s hard to support one another when there are big-ass mortgages to pay off and too many kid drop-offs and pick ups. On the path our lives had taken, our “people” were spread out across the Lower Mainland – from Squamish to White Rock, Kits to Coquitlam – a common occurrence when family life forces you out of the cute city neighbourhoods. So quite literally, there was a traffic jam between their houses and mine.
And as a small town girl who was used to community, I realized that this wasn’t OK for me. This wasn’t how I had ever wanted to live my life – disconnected, isolated.
Fast forward a few months and it’s Thanksgiving. Growing up it has always been my favourite holiday. In Ontario it means crisp, cool air, and nature at its best with red, yellow and orange leaves filling the landscape. After big family dinners as a kid, my mother and I created new traditions with great friends when she separated from my step-dad. It was always a big table. Always filled with love and laughter. People I had known my entire life would come together to celebrate, to connect, to eat.
But on this rainy Thanksgiving day in Vancouver, people were once again busy. And my little family was sitting at home, just us. I sat down to read my boys a book – Franklin’s Thanksgiving.
The story goes something like this…
Franklin’s grandparents, who traditionally come for Thanksgiving dinner, write to tell Franklin that they can’t make it that year. Franklin is devastated but in the days that follow he gets the great idea to invite others from his community to his family dinner. Unknown to him or each other, both of his parents come to the same decision and when Thanksgiving dinner rolls around their guests are so plentiful that they need to move the feast outside. And there they sit to eat, surrounded by community. Surrounded by love.
Reading this to my boys, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I thought of my community back home, sitting around a table together to feast and I was struck with one simple question:
Why aren’t we there?
Suddenly, with the biggest emotions since the birth of my children washing over me, I realized that I had to go home, that I needed my community. I realized that waiting around for the mortgage to become reasonable and the kids to get a bit older and new friends to become old friends was ridiculous. I needed my people. The ones that had always been there. I needed them to be happy, to be the kind of mom I aspired to be, to create the life I wanted. And I wanted my children to grow up with the same sense of community that I had been blessed to know. I wanted them to be raised by a village.
Six weeks after my tears fell upon Franklin’s Thanksgiving we sold our house and four months later, our plane touched down in Ottawa on a Friday evening. We were tired and pretty weirded-out by the fact that we had packed up our lives and left the city we thought we’d raise our boys in. My mom picked us up at the airport and we drove to our new house, in my old town. We pulled into the driveway and there it was:
Community. On our back porch, waiting for us.
After nine years away – I had fallen in love, had two children, changed careers – there they were. With food, drink and helpful hands. With smiles. With tears. With love.
In this moment, as the snow blankets the world with its pristine whiteness, I crave curling up with a good book, a hot chocolate and a roaring fire. I crave simplicity. I crave comfort. I can clearly see that a busy life is a wasted life because we miss the moments that really count.
I’ve just started editing a new manuscript and it’s going to be a beautiful book, one I think I will order multiple copies of and send out to every woman I love. It’s a sweet mix of self-care, Ayurveda and our strength as women. It’s like magic for my soul right now. Allowing me to sink in and uncover the love for myself that can get hidden in the mess of appointments, difficult children, volunteer tasks and grocery shopping, along with the many many other things that have me running around fairly frantically on a day to day basis.
And this mess, it clouds my mind so easily. It hides the truth of self-love and soul-contentment that I desperately wish to be led by each day. But that is life. At least for me. It is a constant shifting from hustle to peace. From external to internal. There is no perfection available on this path. I need to keep bringing myself back to internal focus and strength – to a place of pure self-love. Whether it’s a particularly powerful yoga class or a reiki session with the amazing woman that I’m blessed to have in my town, or a beautiful book, or a good long talk with a girlfriend, I always need something to bring me back. Again and again. To remind me that I don’t need to get stuck in the busy, in the mindlessness.
[Tweet “A busy life is a wasted life. You miss the best moments.”]
And maybe the snow does that too. It requires us to slow down, to cuddle up and look inward. Yes, we can fight it and our modern culture often requires that of us, but when we don’t… when we see it as an opportunity to step away from the hustle and make soup while drinking tea with rosy cheeks after building a snowman… that is the gift it gives us.
We’re all about to go down the road of holiday craziness… and my dear American friends, you kick it off hardcore with Thanksgiving (and that very weird phenomenon called Black Friday). But no matter which country we call home, the next six weeks will be filled with parties, shopping, baking, decorating. Families will come to stay. Friends will stop by. Children will eat too many cookies and stay up too late. And it’s beautiful. I adore the holiday season, especially this year back in my hometown with hopes that it will be white. My town plays Christmas carols out of the town hall, filling the downtown streets with music. The street lights are decorated with wreaths and shop windows are decked. It’s true Canadian Christmas magic and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s just the extra glass of wine…
Or the 3rd late night in a row…
Or one more party with a dessert spread to make every sugar addict sink to their knees and thank the universe/lord/Allah/Jesus for the blessing.
Those get me. They throw me off. They push me away from this centre that I feel so good about when I’m in it. And so I need another reminder, another pull back to conscious soul-contentment: the right book, yoga class, a sweaty afternoon snowshoe. An experience. Because inspirational quotes flying past my eyes on Instagram just don’t make the cut. I need more, a stronger touch point.
So I’m starting the season with a proactive approach: I booked myself in for 3 yoga classes this week and aim to attend at least 2 each week through the season. I messaged a friend about a lunch date. I’ve got a plan for a women’s snowshoeing afternoon brewing in my head. And a lovely little Secret Santa potluck with some of my oldest besties. One of my holiday rituals, Molly Mahar’s Holiday Council, is on my calendar for 3 hours of serious me time to reflect and dream. I’ve signed up for a restorative yoga + vision boarding workshop just before New Year. I’ve told my sweetie that at least once a week I want to spend the evening just hanging out with him, talking or playing a board game. All that’s left is to decide which evening I cuddle up on the couch (solo) and watch Love Actually.
Amidst the to-do list, I’m choosing me. I’m choosing to honour this time. To treat myself well. To claim the space for my soul amidst the hustle and bustle because you know what? Inner peace/soul-contentment/self-love…. whatever you call it, it doesn’t just happen by itself. Nor is it something that happens once and then sticks around. It needs to be nourished. It needs to be cultivated.
That also means that when we lose it, when the hustle and bustle takes over, we can get it back. We can trust that it will be there waiting for us if we create the space and welcome it in. This holiday season, put your soul on the agenda too. Claim the space for it.
[Tweet “Gift yourself some serious self-love this season. “]
If you follow me, you know that my family and I recently left Vancouver BC, and moved back to my hometown in rural Ontario. If you’re new around here, that’s all the background you need to know to understand this post. With that said…
Here I am, living in my hometown.
I was gone for nine years – fell in love, had two children, changed careers and started my own business, suffered through and healed from an incredibly devastating physical injury, and also found my way through years of perinatal and post-partum depression. To say that they were formative years is a bit of an understatement.
I am not the woman I was when I last lived in this town.
It’s a powerful thing to live away from the place where everybody knows who you are. Away from the people who know your stories, who know the wins and losses that shaped you. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with it, an opportunity to leave behind the parts of you that no longer fit so that you may unearth the parts of you that will take you forward.
Because the roles you grew up playing, the boxes you did or did not fit in – they can hold you back. Keep you stuck, stagnant. Your opportunity for expansion, for growth, can be limited by the patterns and habits you associate with home, by the expectations of those who have known you forever.
[Tweet “Sometimes we need to be away from everyone who knows us to find ourselves.”]
I think this is why so many people feel the pull to leave their hometowns, particularly when they are small towns. There is a need to discover what life is like without everyone you’ve grown up with – without the teachers that watched you grow, the friends who you made all your dumbest decisions with. We need space to be ourselves in a more pure form, without falling back into a default self.
This is what I know to be true about my time in Vancouver: I lived a big life, full of joy and sorrow, and I managed each moment on my own, figuring out, day by day, exactly who I am. Living in a big city on the other side of the country I got to be whoever the fuck I wanted to be. I got to reinvent, to rediscover, to CHOOSE how I’m going to live in the world and do it without anyone asking why I’m so different or what happened.
And then I moved home… and the expectations of others, the old habits, the boxes I fit in or didn’t… they were all here waiting for me. With a thousand visual cues too… biking through the same streets, seeing the same buildings, even the same faces… I have moments these days when I feel like those nine years didn’t even happen.
Which causes me to freak out a little, because I don’t want to lose what I gained. I don’t want to go backwards. I don’t want to shrink.
But in your little hometown, it’s hard to not fall back into everything that you were before.
I think that’s why so many people never move back home. They’ve finally connected to a sense of self that feels true to them, a sense of self that they never want to lose and they fear that going back, to the same place, to the same people, will erase all the change. Because it’s hard to be different than you were in a small town. And if the you that you’ve become doesn’t fit in, it may feel impossible to return. I can think of one wonderful friend who now lives on the other side of the world, rocking a beautiful mix of city and beach culture… living in bikinis by day and heels by night…. How would she ever return here? To a town where tractors drive down the main street and you’ve got to jump on a plane if you want to catch some surf.
Sometimes “home” just doesn’t fit anymore. I get that. And that was my biggest worry before we moved.
And now, 5 months into living here, with the care-free days of summer behind us, I find myself pulled to re-navigate… to take time to assess Who am I here? These past few months I have easily sunk back into this life, telling people regularly that it feels like I never left. That it feels normal. But I’m realizing now, that I’m not OK with that. I can’t let my past become my present just because the streets and faces look the same.
I know I can live a life with more peace, with more compassion, with more nurturing than I used to offer myself a decade ago. I have worked so hard to develop a truer connection to self, a more conscious existence in the world. I can’t give that up. I have shed so many tears for that growth. I have written so many words to uncover my desires, my dreams, my wisdom. Deep breaths, meditations, beach walks and mountain summits – each a moment for reflection and growth. Each one making me more me.
We gain so much self-knowledge when we find ourselves somewhere no one knows us. We are gifted with the precious opportunity to start fresh. And when we choose to move home, because we so dearly miss our people, we must choose everyday to keep all those experiences in our heart, to maintain and continue our expansion. To show ourselves that all that we learned about ourselves when we were away, is true.
And then perhaps we will arrive at a true peace, one in which we integrate all of it. We accept and respect our past while continuing on our new path. We acknowledge that we are a sum of all our experiences and that our truest self, our purest wisdom, comes when we feel whole.
I’m Parrish Wilson, and I’ve been working and writing in the field of mental health for over twenty years. Weaving together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality, I craft introspective and transformative writing experiences for groups and individuals.