Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

 

By Cindy LaFerle 

   “I was in the midst of a hugely profound change and I wasn’t altogether sure of who I would be when the process was complete.”
— Donna Henes, The Queen of Myself

I finally figured out what I need to do next. The light dawned while I was weeding the small Japanese garden at the rear of our property.

As most gardeners know, a well-tended Japanese garden should serve as a contemplative oasis. Simple and sparse, it is, ideally, the antithesis of a fussy English cottage garden. In a Japanese garden — especially a Zen meditation garden — you must take time to prune what you’ve planted and resist the temptation to add anything new. Less is more.

Earlier this season, however, my own Japanese garden was overgrown, its open spaces obscured by weeds and perennial grasses gone wild. Emotionally exhausted, I hadn’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to work outside in the heat and humidity – despite the fact that this particular garden is my favorite back-yard escape.

But last month, after pushing myself outdoors to pull the tangle of weeds blocking the view of my granite Buddha figure, I realized it was time to weed out my own life as well.

For starters, it hit me that I need to stop berating myself for “not doing enough” — whether it’s caring for loved ones or trying to rebuild my career. I’ve spent the past three years micro-managing my elderly mother’s medical care in addition to my own obligations. I need to take better care of myself — and accept my own limitations.

It also occurred to me that this isn’t the time to pile on new career goals or projects. It’s time to stop pouring my time and energy into dead-end assignments that offer little reward in return. It’s time to clear some space. It’s time to get clear. Period.

Not long after my weeding session in the garden, I stumbled on two remarkable books offering fresh perspective on facing midlife transition and nurturing creative growth. (Don’t you love how some books fall into your hands when you really need them?) I’ll be reviewing both books in more detail later on. But in the meantime, I’d like to share the titles and some brief description, in case you too are in need of a creative jump-start this summer.

The first guide, The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife, by Donna Henes (Monarch Press; $16.95), found its way to me as a review copy. As I began the reading it, I couldn’t help but think of the author as a wise fairy godmother who arrived just in time to sprinkle a few beams of light on my path. (She even wears a crown in some of her promotional pieces.)

I discovered the second book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, by Christine Valters Paintner (Sorin Books; $14.95), while shopping on Amazon.com. Since I’ve always been attracted to books that explore monastic wisdom, this title lured me immediately. The author draws on the insights of Benedictine spirituality to explore the relationship between the monk and the artist, reminding us that we all need time to reflect in our own “monastery” – i.e., creative solitude — in order to reach our highest potential as writers, gardeners, poets, musicians, painters, or simply as “artists of the everyday.”

Or, as Donna Henes writes in The Queen of Myself, “A practice of solitude and separation – be it occasional, frequent, or constant – teaches us that we do not need the approval or permission of any outside source to validate our personal experience or emotions. In knowing who we are, we are empowering ourselves to know what we know and feel what we feel.”

With all of this in mind, I am spending the month of August on a creative sabbatical – the best birthday present I can possibly give myself. If I need more time, I will continue the sabbatical through September.

A creative sabbatical requires a change in attitude and routine – but it really isn’t a vacation or an escape. And it isn’t a fancy permission slip to hang out and do nothing. Often used by corporate management as a tool to prevent burnout, a sabbatical is a time of exploration, inner work, and, hopefully, rebirth. It is a time to stop spinning our worn-out wheels and to approach everything with what the Buddhists refer to as “Beginner’s Mind.”

Of course, the very idea of a sabbatical works against the way I’ve been operating for years. Like most Americans, I was raised to believe that if you “keep busy” you won’t have time to be depressed or stressed; that you must keep all lines moving. Eventually, though, something’s gotta give.

During my creative sabbatical, I’ll work on several exercises outlined in the two books mentioned, and will be seeking additional resources as well. Periodically, I’ll return here to post some thoughts from my journal as well as insights I’ve gleaned from my studies. With the exception of a deadline I’m obligated to meet, I won’t be submitting columns or articles to other web sites or publications.

Throughout August, I will reflect and journal privately on several key questions, including: Why do I write? Why do I identify or label myself as a writer? For whom am I writing and publishing my work? How much is my work worth or what should I earn from it? Should I follow another career path entirely? What other creative avenues have I neglected — and which ones do I most need to explore? What is the best use of my creative gifts, or where and how do I need to serve? What’s really blocking my path? – CL

 

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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