All posts by Laurie Davidson

Taking My Own Medicine

Some of you have noted that I’ve not blogged in a long time. Too true. Three days after my last post, December’s Tis the Season, in which I expressed gratitude for robust good health, I got sick. The irony smarted as I succumbed to a nasty three-week-long cold that culminated in laryngitis. But that was only the beginning. I journeyed a total of four months in the intimate company of illness—including COVID—with only brief breakthrough glimpses of wellbeing. Then since my blessed return to good health in April, I’ve been rearranging my life based on what I learned—relearned, really—while I was down and out. Basically, I spent the past half-year taking my own medicine.

I’d like to share with you what that means for me. When I realized I was getting sick, I immediately understood my body was talking to me. (The eloquence lurking in the metaphor of losing my voice being my first clue.) So, flat on my back in bed, or propped-up on the couch, forced to rest, I dropped into stillness, spending time in the fertile garden of contemplation. I got curious, asking increasingly probing questions, and listening deeply for the answers.

I journaled out my thoughts and feelings. I allowed whatever arose to be there and turned away from none of it. I reached out to others—my husband, friends, therapist—for help in deciphering my truth. I read books about what I was uncovering and experiencing. Eventually, this is what I heard my body saying: You’ve lost your way, woman, and I need you to get back on your path. How about rereading your own book? (That suggestion made with a chuckle and a wink.)

Here’s what my wise body reminded me of:

Self comes first, others second. During the final push to publish my book and get it into the hands of those who might benefit from it, I’d let a few of my key practices—mindfulness, self-compassion, yoga nidra—slip into increasing irregularity, weakening my connection to me. (Ironic, as my book is largely about reclaiming the core self that trauma robs us of.) Tending, nurturing, and filling myself resources my service to others and must remain my top priority.

Right doing springs from being. What I do—accomplish, bring forth, create—in the wider world is not as important as who I am. Those of you who’ve read my book know that I believe my purpose in life is to embody love. If that is so, what remains of paramount importance is how I am living that truth moment by moment and day to day, within myself and with those whose lives entwine with mine. The doing takes care of itself when I stay centered in this higher purpose.

Rest is essential. I am not a machine. I am a human animal through whom the rhythms of the natural world run deep, despite what our productivity-focused culture wants to pretend. I need to foster—guard as sacred—sleep and dreams, pauses and periods of true rest throughout the day, and fallow times each year for me to be truly whole and make a positive impact with my life.

Welcome grief. My beloved mother- and father-in-law both died during the four frenzied months preceding publication of my book, and the ball of ache I discovered in my chest while ill contained delayed mourning of their loss. So, I leaned in and let it flow. That ball also contained painful feelings about my son’s upcoming wedding, surprising me only briefly. As Joe Primo, CEO of Grateful Living, reminds us, “Joy is not dependent on grief’s absence. In fact, they exist simultaneously.” So, I let the deep sadness arising in me at the passing of a treasured life phase—signified by the upcoming marital rite—flow right alongside the utter elation at Eric’s having found his beloved Linden and brought her into our lives. We grieve because we love, and that’s something to celebrate, with weeping as well as dancing.

My body had helped me learn these important truths through the wonderfully hard work of healing a few years ago, and I thanked her for bringing me back to them. Back to myself. I also apologized to her for not listening sooner. I’d ignored signs along the way—some dysregulated sleep, for starters—requiring her to speak more forcefully. But I also celebrated with her that at least it only took mild illness and a four-month recovery this time, instead of a blow to the head and a year and a half rehab (see my book) for me to reawaken. Clear progress, don’t you think?

Which brings me to a final truth these past six months reinforced: As does all of life, healing has a cyclical rhythm. Expecting it to be linear—you know, culture’s “feel it, release it, you’re done with it” model—leads to harmful self-recrimination when issues we thought we’d “fixed” inevitably come around again. They do so as a gift, inviting deeper exploration and more refined integration. On the upward spiral of growth, I will lose my way again. But each time I do, I’ll notice sooner and find my way back more easily, becoming more whole in the process. It’s Nature’s way, the best medicine we have.


Tis the Season

I was admiring a heap of shiny purple eggplants yesterday when a forcefully upbeat voice on the grocery store sound system sang out, “Tis the season to be jolly!”, jolting me out of my vegetable revery. One single heartbeat later, a gentle voice—this time inside my head—whispered in response, Tis the season to be. Simply be—whoever you are, however you are, wherever you are. Just like in any other season.

Over the course of my healing from trauma, I’ve been inexorably drawn toward fuller embodiment as exactly what I am: a human animal inextricable from the natural world. In part, this has meant a deeper awareness of the effect of the seasons on my biology. Tricky territory for me. Those of you who have read my book know that pre-recovery, the early-onset chronic dysregulation of my nervous system greatly exaggerated the tug of yearly cycles. Too often plunging me into depression in fall and winter.

Thanks to hard personal work and lots of help from supportive others, though, I’ve now experienced a half-decade of increasingly steadier regulation, of feeling the more natural—sinuous, not spiky—ups and downs of life. So, this fall, as the days grew shorter, the nights lengthened, and the temperatures cooled, I felt ready to lean in. Ready to sense into—without fear—my energy levels dropping, my desire for quiet growing, and my hunger for stillness sharpening. To let it all be. To experiment with embracing the season from within, regardless of what outside influences might be telling me about how I should feel or act.

On this day of the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, I want to share with you some results of that experiment, of following my biological impulses and inner knowing. I trundle off to bed for the night whenever I feel sleepy, no matter the time, sometimes as early as 7:30. In the short hours of delicious velvety blackness between sunset and bedtime, I eschew most artificial light because it feels too harsh to my eyes. Instead, I light a few candles and maybe a lamp or two on their dimmest settings, happily padding around the darkened house. I naturally wake early, bundle up, and sit outside to witness the sunrise in the company of the chittering hummingbirds and rustling rodents who share their space with me.

I decline social events that require amping up my energy in the evening hours since my current biorhythms don’t match that pattern, and I have opted out of the extra chores of “staging” the holidays. (I guess I’m channeling the indwelling spirit of the Whos down in Whoville, beings who understood that embodying Love does not require red and green decorations, icicle lights, or a fir tree in the living room.) Instead, I have opted in to spending any unscheduled time journaling, reading, contemplating, and communing with cherished friends and family. I feel my emotions deeply, weeping easily and laughing heartily, both sorrowing and rejoicing for the world and myself.

I have let go of travel, appearances, and the push of “marketing”, trusting Growing into the Gray to find its way more organically to readers who need it. In the resultant calm, I heard the call to create an audio version of the book, in honor of the oral origin of all stories and in service to those who can’t or don’t like to read, and have begun collaborating with my sound-savvy son on the project. Our shared creative process feels like deep play. And—Hallelujah! —I rediscovered my writing muse. With a growing ache in my heart, I had started to wonder if she had gone completely missing. But it turns out, she was only waiting patiently for me to slow down, get quiet, and make room for her in my life again.

Not all these welcome results of my seasonal experiment were easily come by. Doubt doggedly peppered the months. Once or twice, usually after a moment’s tearfulness, I caught myself thinking Uh-oh, is this depression? Quiet reflection allowed me to answer a calm No to this question. In remembering the agony of that frozen state and comparing it to the fluidity of my experience now, I saw how old fear-based thought patterning was mistaking seasonal attunement for dysfunction. Occasionally, strident voices in my head pontificated at me about how I, as an author, “should” promote my work and what I “ought” to be out there doing—regardless of the season—in order not to “lose momentum”. Thankfully I had the support of the sisterhood in Karen Brody’s revolutionary Working Soft Program to help me quiet them so I could relax fully into flow.

Of course, it’s not my own experiences or beliefs alone that engendered the arising of any self-doubting messages of judgement or shame. The culture I was raised and live in plays an active role in the birth and endurance of that phenomenon. The long-held patriarchal capitalist work paradigm here in the US of non-stop striving, even until-you-drop, contrasts sharply with the gentler approach I’ve adopted presently. And the Muzak blaring at me to be relentlessly merry and bright, internet articles urging me to set the “perfect” table, and acquaintances’ calendars packed with festive late-night parties paint a dramatically different picture of this time of year than how I’m choosing to shape my daily life.

I’d have to be dead not to sense or sometimes struggle with this dissonance between my personal path and the publicly prescribed one. But I wouldn’t trade how well-rested I feel, my near-zero stress level, my robust health, or my baseline state of peace—the deepest results of my seasonal experiment—for any amount of fitting in. Plus, I’m not sure how much longer my outlier status will stand. Almost daily, in my own social rounds as well as in the media, I stumble upon others who are prioritizing human biology over mainstream mandates. The number of souls reclaiming good animality is growing, and I have hope for our culture yet.

Hope is about the future, though, and I wish to return to now, drawn there by a phrase from beloved 5Rhythms and Dharma teacher Lucia Horan echoing through my mind: “Right now, it’s like this.” I suspect that my heightened need for radical stillness and inward turning in this present moment—right now—was shaped by the year I just went through. One in which I shared my home with adult children, adjusted to my husband’s retirement, grieved the deaths of both my mother- and father-in-law, and published and launched my first book while navigating the still COVID-infused world. Profound rest was surely called for. But who knows what gifts and challenges lie ahead in the coming twelve months, or how they will act on my biology and incline me to be when fall rolls around again.

Which brings me back to that quiet download I received in the produce section and my prayer for us all on the cusp of 2023: wherever we live on this spinning globe, may we always give ourselves full permission to be, just be. Tis the season.

The Write Stuff

While the two core activities I’ve shared with you so far are things I’ve loved since early in life, this last one blossomed from the intense personal healing work of my later years. I may have known somewhere deep down inside that I had an affinity for this activity, but that affinity was buried under so much crap it wasn’t until the recent pandemic forced my withdrawal from the bustle of daily life that I managed to excavate it. I emerged from COVID-19 quarantine in touch with my passion for writing, and no one is more surprised than I am. (My closest friends aren’t surprised at all, having waited patiently for me to figure it out.)

Interest in writing isn’t completely new to me. I did keep a diary intermittently as a young person and journaled throughout adulthood in fits and starts, always enjoying the experience but unable to maintain the discipline of consistency. And, of course, I wrote academically too. But, perhaps like many students, I saw it simply as something I had to do to get through school, not as something to relish for itself. During my college years, one professor did suggest I develop my ideas and pursue publication, really dig into writing as a career. But I paid no heed to her.

Whom I was really paying no heed to was me. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I was out of contact with my inner core and shut down to myself, locked in my nervous system’s freeze response to the dangers present throughout my early life. I didn’t know how to read my body, heart, and mind to understand what I loved to do so I could make healthy decisions for my present and future. I only knew how to conform to what close others needed from me, which was to stay small, tamp down my energy, not make waves. So, after college, I plodded off toward what immediate family and much of culture maintained made for a “successful” life: stable, conventional employment.

Stability never figured into it, though. Over the course of my working years, I bounced from one occupation to another, trying out different fields, even, at one point, getting a graduate degree in one of them. I did it all well enough, but never felt truly at home, fulfilled, aligned with my work. Proof that competence alone is not a measure of right livelihood. The closest I came to it was during the six years leading up to retirement when I had a job as a higher ed grant writer, an occupation I found very satisfying at the time. I both enjoyed the work of writing itself and valued making a positive impact on the lives of students in need, and I suspect I was finally—though at that point in my life, still unknowingly—sneaking up on right livelihood, on my purpose.

We are learning more and more about how vital being on purpose is to deep enduring wellness for the human animal—for both individuals and the collective. True purpose is about embracing our own unique gifts and offering them to the world for its betterment. And I love how Howard Thurman expressed this truth when he said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Now more than ever, the world doesn’t need me shut down, turned off, conforming, robotic. It needs me juicy, tuned-in to my core, fully alive, like when I’m dancing and swimming. But also, I discovered during quarantine, like when I’m writing.

In the two years preceding COVID, I’d begun somatic trauma recovery and acquired some key tools for tuning into my body and knowing my own heart and mind. (See Resources and Growing into the Gray.) So, during the hours of forced isolation and quietude, when I turned to writing almost on a lark and applied those tools, this is what I found out: Holding a mechanical pencil in my hand and letting it fly across the page of an open notebook, with no agenda, while I sit cross-legged in my favorite chair exhilarates me, puts me in a state of flow, and opens me to receive profound insight about my life and the world around me. I rise from freewriting more joyful, wise, and energized than when I sit down. And the same is true of the time I spend in front of my laptop, engaging in writing of a more directed, but no less transformative, nature. I found out I am meant to write. To write for myself and others, and for women in particular.

I regret not getting to this awareness sooner in my life, but I’ve decided not to dwell on that feeling. After all, it’s rooted in the past, and I’m here now. So, at age sixty-four, I’m moving forward with gratitude into my new vocation, wondering where it’ll take me in the years that might remain to me on this planet. How about you? Were you one of the lucky ones who found purpose earlier in life? What a joy to know deep inside yourself that you were aligned with your work, and to have that inner knowing to sustain you throughout the inevitable vocational challenges. Or did you chronically struggle as I did, maybe give up on the whole notion of purpose for yourself? If so, take heart. I can say from lived experience that it’s never too late to ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then to go do it.

Warning: To find what you really love, you may have to wade through some difficult stuff first. (And we’ll get to that in future posts.)

Promise: It’s so worth it!

Nudge: The world needs us all.