hearing my heart

My alarm sounds, and I am giddy. I stand and stretch and smile. Words are calling me; it is time to write. It has been too long since I have went to bed with words swirling in my mind, followed by a magnetic pull to write the next morning. For too many rotations of the earth, by the time I stretch, pour a cup of coffee, read scripture, and journal, the desire to write has been swiped.

Not today.

Today, as I moved through my favorite routines of the first hour of the day, the want to write was replaced with a need to write. I giggle as I pull my laptop onto my knees.

I breathe deeply; it is cleansing.

I still do not know what to write. This doesn’t bother me as much as it did a few days ago. Perhaps, like many other things in life, it’s not so much about the outcome, but about the process. I used to believe writing was simply built on a series of habits. The process was unlocked as the habits unfolded. Therefore, I could always write, because I simply carried out the habits that lead to writing. There reached a point where the habits that led to writing failed. The act of opening my computer did not generate words.

Now I wonder if there is another process for my writing life—a process of releasing the tension inside of my heart in order to hear the refrain of my stories. I didn’t realize how much noise was in my ears until I began stacking words last Sunday.

When humans experience high states of stress over long periods of time, it becomes difficult for them to settle their minds and hearts and souls. The body expects chaos, and stays in a heightened state of stress. Too much stress has negative effects on the mind and body.

This is not new information. Knowing and understanding the way the brain works was one of the main factors in my career choices. It is fascinating to me to understand learning styles and emotional intelligence and the way trauma changes the brain.

For many years, my energy has been in helping young people overcome childhood trauma, and helping teachers know that their influence is essential in this quest to help heal children and teens from dark disruptions that plague too many childhoods.

Passion, curiosity, and love can propel us into doing good work, but it doesn’t protect us from stress and fatigue. I am not a psychologist, doctor, or therapist. I do not know all of the biology behind the way brains work and the effects of stress. I do know I am reading more and more about compassion fatigue. I do know that it has been a part of my own life.

I think it is plaguing professional educators.
I think it almost got the best of me.

Compassion fatigue comes from helping others to the point where you are overwhelmed from being exposed to the trauma of others. Few of us are prepared to recognized compassion fatigue; even less of us know that it is a serious issue that needs addressed. Hindsight is always greater, and I can see that the way I responded to compassion fatigue in my own life wasn’t as helpful as it could have been. Yet, I did the best I could. Maya Angelou says—

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou

I hunkered down, as is evident from my sparse blog posts and Instagram feed. I sat still. I tried to focus on the essential tasks of each day: dishes, laundry, meals, movement, showers, sleep. I wrapped yarn around needles and knitted precious stuffed animals in the hopes of giving them away to bring joy. I showed up at sporting events and boy scout banquets and family celebrations. These were all good moves.

I couldn’t discern what stories were mine to tell and what stories were best left untold. It felt complicated to find the kinder truth in the midst of ugly situations. Things were heavy, and I didn’t want to make life heavy for others. So, I sat on the couch and watched the snow swirl and the buds form and the hummingbirds flit.

And the whole time I wished I didn’t waste time. The outside story I was living looked like one of self-care, taking life in stride, and being wise. The inside story was one where I brutally beat myself up for not being enough.

I know better now.

In this fast-paced world of grind culture, where shadows lurk and swipe at joy, it is easy to feel like we are not enough. It is easy to be fatigued. When your heart is soft and you want to cling to the good in the world, it is unsettling when it seems like there isn’t energy to look deeply enough to find the best in every situation, in every person. When chaos roars and lies are hurtled, it is hard to cling to peace.

I know now that sitting still is not a waste of time, and watching out the window is not a lost cause. I know now that slowing down isn’t failure. I know now that some things take a long time to learn, and this is okay.

As I clear the noise of not-enough from my ears, I am beginning to hear my whole heart. It feels like a gift of discovery as the words begin to slowly tap out of my fingers. Perhaps it is possible to live a slow and quiet existence even as the world attempts to convince us that hustle is essential and busy is prestigious.

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  1. Learning to live a quiet, slower life sounds like the best kind of self care. I do hope this giddiness about writing will hold you up.

  2. Your story felt really powerful to me, especially what you say about compassion fatigue and how you are using stillness to recover.

    I’m holding on to your words, turning them over in my mind today.

    I’m really glad you’re writing again.

  3. A story that would be helpful for everyone to read and to remember.

    “I know now that sitting still is not a waste of time, and watching out the window is not a lost cause. I know now that slowing down isn’t failure. I know now that some things take a long time to learn, and this is okay.”