The Frontier of Change

The past year has been a dark one for many of us. Change seems to be in the air, kicking us out of complacency and into transformation, whether we like it or not. My life has been bombarded on many fronts, incurring financial, physical, mental and emotional havoc. And yet, out of this chaos, a new life is emerging, awakening me to a fresh awareness of possibility. As time passes, I become more aware and more appreciative of the necessity of chaos in approaching the frontier of change.

My ordeal began with the loss of a job that afforded me a comfortable income and the luxury of a part-time private practice in psychotherapy. In my “old” life, I did not have to worry about the ebb and flow of clients, knowing I had another lucrative income as backup. In addition, back then I had sufficient time, energy and opportunity to develop a creative life and share the outcome with others. What was so brutal about the loss of the job was that it came unannounced, and carried with it a sense of betrayal. Having lost that foundation, I was forced into marketing other career options at a time when I could ill afford it, financially or emotionally. My “safe” world had been shaken to its core.

Since the business of marketing alternative therapies is a rocky road in the best of circumstances, the road I traveled was an unwelcome challenge, littered with ragged potholes and confusing detours. Unwilling to abandon either my practice or my creative life, I opted to seek part-time employment in order to meet expenses. This led to low-paying jobs that often taxed my physical and mental faculties. To further complicate matters, I was experiencing menopausal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, fuzzy thinking and irritability. I began to question everything about my life up to that point, including my sanity.

Since I have been in the business of teaching others how to cope with change, my greatest challenge came from trying to implement the very concepts I’d been sharing with students and clients for many years. I had started my life over on several occasions before, and had the “muscle memory” of being able to regroup and advance within a two-year time frame. In fact, much of what I share in my classes has grown out of the lessons I’ve learned while making difficult life transitions. However, this change felt different somehow, and its hallmark was a constant state of confusion. Why was this happening to me? Why was it happening now? It simply made no sense…but then, change has more rules of disorder than of order, and trying to make sense of chaos is absurd.

Rather than fight against the ambiguity that now defined my life, I decided to burrow into its hazy cocoon and let it guide me forward. On an impulse, I applied for a job at a greenhouse, and was hired to do manual labor there. At a time of year when the world outside was still cold and gray, I was witnessing growth and life in a very elemental way. It was my job to transplant, nourish and attend to thousands of small seedlings, until they blossomed into full flower. In contrast to my role as a therapist, this work afforded me the opportunity to be nourished in return by those in my care…I was fed everyday by an abundance of oxygen and riotous beauty. Because my physical and mental energies were at low ebb, life in the greenhouse was often trance-like, and I had the distinct impression that I was incubating, with the plants as my caretakers. I was learning something fresh and new, life experiences that my previous routine could never elicit. In addition, my co-workers were people accustomed to coping with life’s struggles and making the most of them. I came to understand how isolated I’d been in my private practice, and how much I enjoyed working in the company of others. I became a student once again, surrounded by burgeoning life, learning what it means to grow. Little by little, my strength and courage returned, and a new structure of life began to emerge from the chaos.

In the greenhouse, I did not need to be wise or wonderful…I wore sweats and sneakers to work and played in dirt every day. I let go of left-brain processing and indulged myself in visions of bright colors backed by rich green foliage. I listened to the voices and songs of the plants and grew with them. There was no need to interpret or analyze the growth of the plants in proliferation around me…I was simply there to encourage and witness their growth. It soon became obvious that I was there to learn about simplicity, to learn the art of BE-ing. It was in the greenhouse that I became grounded again, and developed the roots that would steady me in the changes yet to come.

Since the greenhouse work was seasonal, it ended in mid-summer, and my financial struggles accelerated. My greatest fear was that I would have to abandon my creative life. I was most reluctant to give up the writing venues that were beginning to develop into another career option. This creative life continues to emerge with a grace and flow that nourishes and sustains me more than financial security ever could. Moving out of the incubation phase of my creative process, I found the courage to make a firm commitment to my creative life, knowing it might well involve a continuing struggle, marked by ambiguity and an unstable income. I was fortified by vivid memories of tiny seeds developing into outrageous beauty, and I wanted to offer similar life-affirming nourishment to my creative potential. As a result of this commitment, my life has become a creative process of its own, as I find ways to balance the ebb and flow of clients, manage part-time employment and continue to expand my writing career.

One benefit of this new life is that everything I’ve learned during this change has better attuned me to the struggles of my clients. My personal experience with life’s challenges is more immediate than before, and the rewards more certain. I feel more deeply empathic with clients and more committed to effectively helping them find their way through changes of their own. In addition, my trust in synchronicity and intuition has become more resolute. I’ve recently been offered a position that will enable me to share my ideas with a larger audience, and I feel ready to accept this challenge because of what I have learned in the past year.

Another unexpected development of this journey of change is the challenge of sharing my life with a new love. At a time when it seemed I had reached the depths of despair, and working on relationship held little appeal, love walked in and made itself at home. It was not love in the form of the elusive, distant partners of my past...no, this love is present, considerate, and willing to engage in committed relationship. This man shares my vision of creative, spiritual and planetary growth. Even so, engaging in relationship at such a chaotic time adds more layers of complexity to my life…more elements to balance and integrate.

In the first weeks of this new relationship, a compelling image emerged into consciousness – the image of a white calla lily, wet with dew, glowing in the morning sunrise. And from the lily, I heard a whispering echo of these words: “Follow through…follow through…follow through.” These words have become a mantra, guiding me through many months of continuing struggle, elation and change. Love has become more of a constant in my life, but even love takes getting used to. The lily and its echo beckon me to keep on keeping on, to mind the flow more than the form of my life. For in that flow, I realize that my life is already rich…with friends, family, talents, beauty and love. By attending to these riches, I am creating a more malleable structure for my life, one that encourages expansion wile remaining simple and centered at its core.

This year I was invited to return to greenhouse work, and I eagerly accepted the offer. Since January, I have been in the company of my green friends, renewing the community of sharing begun last year. Their influence now extends beyond the greenhouse, into my home and my yard. With my new love, I am learning the art and science of vegetable gardening at his country home, and enjoy the prospect of being nourished in both body and soul by the green life around me. Quite often, I hear the plants singing their own version of the lily’s song, reminding me daily to follow through…to listen to the seasons of my heart and let them guide me in the choices that await along the frontier of change.

©1997 Marybeth Bethel