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Spiraling Along, Breaking the Pattern of Overwork, and Resting in the Ecological Self

This post is excerpted from Leilani's email newsletter to the community. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter to hear from us in your inbox twice a month. We share current reflections, fun and intriguing things we've come across recently, announce events and courses, and talk integration, harm reduction, healing, growth, and spiritual development.

Like so much in nature, the journey of healing and growth moves in a spiral. The spiral sometimes widens, sometimes narrows, at times works its way deeper in, and at times speeds forward. (Like the planets in ​this animation​ by DJ Sadhu of our solar system spiraling through space.) Maybe you've noticed this, as you've come round and round again to familiar wounds and even familiar medicine, but meeting them differently each time.

Today I'd like to share a little bit with you about what's coming up in my personal spiraling-along process, and some words of insight from Sister True Dedication, of Thich Nhat Hanh's community at Plum Village in France.

I recently started working with a coach who, like Sylas, practices Internal Family Systems (IFS). These sessions have been mini-catalyst experiences for me, offering a shift in consciousness and bringing me into contact with two points on the 12-point Integration Compass: "Contrast" and "Insight."

One sign for me that deep change is taking place is that the process has surprised me. I didn't know I would be working with the themes that I am, but here I am. It feels worth celebrating that after a decade-plus of healing from some more obvious trauma and restoring a sense of safety and sovereignty, I find myself touching much older, more subtle patterns and tender places. The process has also been ushered along by my current studies with Dr. Aviva Romm in women's integrative and functional medicine. She teaches about the problems we can develop in the HPA axis and the thyroid gland, when we live with patterns like perfectionism, people-pleasing, being a martyr, and FOMO (fear of missing out). Needless to say, I recognized myself in much of what she described. (In my process, I locate these studies on the point of "Resource" on the Integration Compass.)

I realized something about myself this week: A livable biosphere and a life-sustaining society - for the rest of my lifetime, for my children's lifetimes and for generations to come - are things that I want really badly. I want these so achingly much, and it feels vulnerable and painful to admit that wanting, because along with that rises my understanding and my grief about what's unraveling. Plus, it brings me into contact with my feeling of helplessness.

So, all together, I'm finally finding an answer to something I've been holding at the point of "Inquiry" for quite some time: Why have I felt stuck in a lifestyle of overwork? Why, when I knew I was doing too much, and when I so value grounded presence, slow attention, connection, and my own physical health?

It seems I've been driven by a custom-made tangle of climate anxiety, perfectionism, people-pleasing, aversion to conflict, and good old confusion about what's really going on here. Moving forward, I'll continue to do what comes from love, and also be willing to say, "that's enough," free of the fear that I'm failing the world.

I can honor the boundaries of the regenerative capacity of my body, just as our Mother Earth needs us to honor hers.

Here's where a sense of my "ecological self" feels so good: Knowing that we're all biologically and spiritually part of one larger being, I get to rest into the awareness that right now, part of me is working on regenerating landscapes, on showing up for the emotional and spiritual needs of people in hardship, on adaptation and resilience, on delivering humanitarian aid, on fighting to halt harm, and so many more expressions of care. I'm grateful for all of these parts of us.

I have always loved and respected the way Thich Nhat Hanh used simple language to communicate piercing insights. These teachings abound in the book Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, which opens with a discussion of the Diamond Sutra. I'll close with a quote from this book, in the simple language of Thich Nhat Hanh's student, Sister True Dedication. She writes:

"We may feel immense pressure to save the planet in this lifetime, and we may be afraid that we can never do enough. The stark truth is that the planet doesn't need to be saved only once, it needs to be saved countless times, for eons to come. It's impossible to save the planet once and for all, or on our own. That the planet can be here now is a miracle, born of countless favorable causes and conditions over billions of years. And the planet will continue to need countless favorable causes and conditions going forward. This realization is good news. We belong to a stream of life, and this moment is our time and our turn to do our part, and to do whatever we can to pass on what we learn to future generations, so they can do theirs."

Sister True Dedication's words re-orient me to my place in the web of life, and in the web of time.

I also notice that everything she says about "the planet" could also be said about "my health" or "my children's safety" or "my marriage," or anything else that a person cares about deeply and feels the impulse to rescue or protect. Every one of those relies on an ongoing stream of favorable causes and conditions.

How do her words land with you?

I'd be so interested to hear. Let's connect at a "Work that Reconnects" Community Circle​, and practice together around the spiral: rooting in gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, perceiving in new and ancient ways, and then going forth.

For more resources and companionship in your own journey, you’re welcome to join us at any of our ​upcoming events​​ that would be supportive for you.

Nothing on this site should be considered medical or legal advice. We don't encourage or condone any illegal activities. Consult medical and legal professionals if you have medical or legal questions.


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