The Forest, The Trees, and Essential Self Care…

MaitriGatheringBranches3.27.15

It started happening on Friday. I started slipping away from the internet. Outside, gathering branches for wild nature weavings, I realized that I was breathing fully, lungs expanding, body relaxing, really breathing, for the first time in weeks. The pugs ambled around. My arms were full of branches that had fallen over the winter during storms and would be perfect for fiber art pieces, and it pleased me to think that the trees that I love so dearly on my land could have a life past the shedding of their extremities. I decided I would make woven pieces to hang in the cottage and bring my beloved trees inside with me.

I leaned back against a special tree, closed my eyes, the branches hanging loosely in my arms as I relaxed, and that old phrase about not being able to see the forest for the trees kept repeating in a sing-songy fashion in my mind, and all of a sudden it came clear, my life is the forest, the internet, the trees. I spend so much time online that I have lost track of many aspects of my life. In the last post I wrote about losing my writing, and wondered why. I can tell you precisely when it started to peter out. It happened when I got online and started blogging. For a long time I blogged daily, and had more than one blog. It started slowly and built up a head of steam. The more I blogged the further my real writing slipped away. As soon as I thought about this it was as though something in me woke up, like Rip Van Winkle.

Just prior to getting online — one of the last people that I knew to get online and only as if by default because almost everyone I knew had gotten email and stopped writing real letters — I had a small press, The Blue Hibiscus Press, and published a quarterly journal called The Contemplative Way: Slowing Down In A Modern World. I loved it dearly, had 15 writers around the country contributing columns, it was all on blue paper and filled with Victorian artwork and hundreds of quotes, and it was all done by hand in the days of cut and paste. The hundred page journal was printed on a copy machine and my son Aaron and I assembled the 100 page booklets and stapled them together. I now think back on this as one of the happiest times of my life. I wrote in The Contemplative Way that I would never go the way of the people I knew who never wrote letters anymore and were obsessed with the internet. You can imagine all the ribbing I’ve gotten since coming to the place where I practically live online.

I crept online to see what all the fuss was about. And, curiouser and curiouser, like Alice, I fell down the rabbit hole. Before long I had a large website community with 15 Yahoo mailing lists — it was 1999, before Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest — and I just fell in love with the women who came into my Dragonfly Cottage Community. Before long there were 1500 women involved from around the world and what I had created online became increasingly more real than my real life. 1999 was the year my husband and I separated, the year my lifelong preference for being alone, the early signs of the agoraphobia that would take over my life, flipped over into the beginning stages of not leaving the house, and, in the years that followed a couple of disastrous relationships made me afraid to trust anyone, made the little nest that I had created for myself the only place that I felt comfortable. Finally, as if slipping down into a pool and watching the water close overhead, the doors of my life closed, and I left rarely, or not at all.

Too, the profound depression that had colored my life since early on, and the mood swings, would finally be recognized as bipolar disorder, and the inexplicable night terrors plus the inability to sit with my back to open space — I have always had to sit with my back to a nearby wall so I felt safe — and the way that I would scream at the top of my lungs if someone entered a room and I didn’t know they were there, was diagnosed as PTSD. I am like a cat who looks to be asleep but who springs up in an intstant at the slightest sound. My anxiety disorder was crippling, and the world outside became scarier and scarier. With all of this the internet felt like a safe place. I made friends online, and a home online, I wrote online, started blogging online, created websites, and as the years went by with more and more venues where one could join, feel a sense of belonging, and make friends there was no longer a need to leave the house, save for groceries, and trips to the doctor, and I would put these things off as long as possible. My garden was the furthest I would go, and sometimes I couldn’t go out to my mail box across the street to get my mail. I was firmly ensconced in Wonderland, with no desire to leave.

In the last few years I have created a world that is like a womb, my animal companions, the garden, books, and the internet serving all of my needs and I was sucked into the vortex, I should say I went willingly but unconsciously, and then being online took up more and more of my life so that there was less and less time that I was unplugged. On Friday I pulled the plug, plugging in only briefly here and there, and mostly listening to an audio book while re-entering the fiber world that had slipped away as well. I don’t know how it happened, but the minute I picked up the loom and started weaving the soft, silky strands of the raggedy orange yarn the umbilical cord snapped and I re-entered my real life, at least more than I have in a very long time.

Now the thing is that I love the internet and I will always be involved in it. I am seriously agoraphobic and I don’t see that changing. I don’t have any desire to go out into the world and live a big life, in fact with my basket of mental health diagnoses getting up and taking care of my life inside these four walls is challenging many days, but I want to be more alive here, I want to weave the internet through my life and days instead of the reverse. I want to write and weave, and do all of the other fiber arts that slipped away, and paint, and create a more alive life than perhaps I ever have. At nearly 61, and with no idea how many days I will be granted in this lifetime, I want to live my life while I can, even in what seems an odd and peculiar world to most people. I need to extend the self-care practices that I do every day to include unplugging from the internet to live a broader life. And I can only imagine where making these changes might lead, but I know I must make them.

In the last 3 days I have listened to all of Cheryl Strayed’s amazing book Tiny, Beautiful Things and started listening to her other book, Wild, while I was weaving, cleaning house, and relaxing. I have gotten online only to pin things of interest on Pinterest on my fiber art board as I plan the projects ahead, and then back off. I have cooked good meals and spent more time outside with the dogs, gathered more branches and came back in to throw in another load of laundry, and I mopped the kitchen floor. I realize that this won’t seem like a lot to most people, but I have sat frozen and so afraid to even move that doing these few things has made a big difference, not just in getting things done that needed to be done, it made me feel better about myself. And last night I curled up with the pugs here, in The Cozy Room, with such a sense of peace it was blissful, and I did not turn on the laptop, I watched a favorite BBC series I have been watching and fell asleep with two pugs in my lap and the others curled up against me. It is now late afternoon on the third day and this is the first thing I have done online, and it feels good to be here. I have not forsaken the internet, I have simply taken up my life again.

The days ahead will be a close examining of how I spend my time. I will enjoy the time I spend online in an enriching way, and spend more time offline, writing, painting, and doing fiber art. Cleaning my house and cooking. Getting ready to begin spring gardening. And learning to deal with my agoraphobia in a more mindful way. In the last few days I have run out of so many things, I really need to go to the store, but I haven’t been able to. I ran out of milk and had to use almond milk for my coffee. It was a passable substitute but when I had to have it again this morning I felt depressed. The half and half had curdled. There were things I needed to make dinner that I simply didn’t have. I finally went out and got the last three days worth of mail and felt like I barely made it in with my life when I got in the door. I had to sit down for a spell after that but I picked up my weaving and centered myself, breathing instead of quickly flipping on the internet so I could disconnect from the world that frightened me so. I need to feel my feelings and take care of them with other things. I need to meditate more again. I need to live in the real world, my real world, more fully. I have only just begun but I am amazed to see what a difference it makes.

Today I have written this blog post without having 5 other tabs open and hopping over nervously to see what was happening on Facebook, or posting on Twitter, or pinning on Pinterest between sentences. I have one tab open to write this blog post, I will get it up and out, and then see what I am drawn to doing before unplugging again and going back to weaving, listening to Wild, making a good dinner, and kissing the pugs. I really hope that I can run over to the store for a few things this evening, but I’m not sure. Going under the cover of darkness, quieter streets, and fewer people in the store always helps.

I am smiling, I feel lighter, like a weight has lifted, and it is the weight of my own obsessive personality. And as I write this I know that on my hard bipolary days the internet will be a life saver, and I know I will slip back into spending a lot more time online than I perhaps should, but these last three days there has been a clear-cutting of the trees that have hidden the forest from view, and now that I know how it feels I will return, more and more.

I am at peace, for now.

MaitriSz4.4.16.09

Make this the year your resolutions come true!

Make this the year your resolutions come true!

Comments

  1. You are moving in a positive direction, reconnecting with nature. So glad you are looking forward to spring gardening,
    so am I.

    • Thank you so much Lisa honey. Is there anything more exquisite than Spring in the garden? Glorious! I don’t know how your weather was today but oh, it felt so good here. Even when we had a light mist it just felt wonderful to be outside….

  2. Unplug to visit
    your heart’s true longings for peace
    a natural high

    !!!

    then plug back in to let us know how the trees look against the sky, where you’ll put the roses, and how the paintbrush feels in your hand!!!

    sending love and good half and half – flown in on the channels of love

    xo
    ka

  3. I feel your joy, it absolutely sings thru your words. You at peace. A lovely thing to watch.

  4. Olive Appleby says:

    Hi there Maitri
    Another thought provoking post. Yes I spend too much time on the net in all its forms. The days here are now getting longer therefor lighter, so I now feel able to leave the net for a time and do other things. You have to be connected to the ‘outside’ for the type of creating that you do, but being selective. I’m glad you will still let us share your life……. albeit a smaller window. You have to take life on your terms, I realised that a few years and I am much better for it. Just take care. PS love your photo. Xxx

  5. Good to hear you are getting out and enjoying nature. Life abounds in the outdoors. An unpressured life. It can only be good for you. The internet sucks us all in. I can go on to check out something and hours later realize how much time I have wasted. I would loved to have read your Contemplative Way. Ever consider publishing it on Amazon? I would buy a copy. Just a thought. 🙂
    Hugs, Kate

  6. Deborah says:

    Thank you for this post. I saw myself in it and it gives me courage.

  7. “Today I have written this blog post without having 5 other tabs open and hopping over nervously to see what was happening on Facebook, or posting on Twitter, or pinning on Pinterest between sentences.” Wow! I can totally relate! 😉 Lately, I find myself swaying back and forth between the peace and the need for more distraction. There are things sitting there in my mind asking for attention…but sometimes I choose distraction until I’m ready to listen.

  8. Exquisite post, Maitri, thank you. I feel so much resonance here. When I retired from my teaching profession I was so grateful to in the safe and warm container of my home I barely went out at all. Pretty soon I grew an online business and leaving the house wasn’t necessary at all. My online relationships filled my need for companionship. They also allowed me the grace of protecting my energy. I never really understood the plight of the highly sensitive individual until I retired and had only me (and a very independent husband) to contend with. I, too, leave the house on Friday mornings for groceries and errands when I know there are fewer people with whom I’ll need to interact. The interesting dichotomy here is that I, too, grow colossal communities online. In the space of two years I had over 20,000 followers on my chocolate for breakfast Facebook page, over 30, 000 the last time I looked, and I don’t even show up there very much any more because, like you, that adventure took me away from my writing. Last year I began a practice called 365 days of noticing to remind me to be present and mindful of the time I spend online. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your art.

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