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Becoming who I really am – a wholehearted story

November 27, 2017

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.

Carl Jung

Becoming

This guest post from Colleen Reagon shows that becoming who we are is about connecting the narrative and listening to our heart.

This is the fourth guest post in our Wholehearted Stories series on Quiet Writing. I invited readers to consider submitting a guest post on their wholehearted story. You can read more here – and I’m still keen for more contributors! 

Quiet Writing celebrates self-leadership in wholehearted living and writing, career and creativity. This community of voices, with each of us telling our own story of what wholehearted living means, is a valuable and central part of this space. In this way, we can all feel connected on our various journeys and not feel so alone. Whilst there will always be unique differences, there are commonalities that we can all learn from and share to support each other.

I am honoured to have my dear friend, Colleen Reagon, as a ‘Wholehearted Stories’ contributor. Colleen is a long-term reader and supporter of Quiet Writing.  We’ve enjoyed regular connection over time via the creative community of Instagram and recently into the coaching realm, where Colleen was one of my first coaching clients. Colleen and I are kindred souls in many ways and I am so appreciative of her camaraderie on our creative journeys.

My sincere thanks to Colleen for the contribution of her story. I am grateful for the original images Colleen shares in this piece – her photography is such a delight. Colleen’s story is a journey around becoming and connecting knowing and doing. It highlights that whilst there are risks in making change and following through on our desires, it can result in us feeling much more aligned  – read on to find out more!

Beginning the conversation

Although the desire to live a wholehearted life has been with me for a long time, I’ve only
recently stepped onto the path to becoming who I really am.

My husband and I have spent a lifetime in Adelaide — bringing up children, renovating our
bungalow, running a business and pursuing a professional writing life.

About five years ago, the children grown and flown the nest, I found myself out of step with
life. I’d drifted out of working in our business and given up my corporate freelance writing
work, with plans to change direction. Creative non-fiction was luring me. I read books,
completed courses and wrote lists. But I was treading water in a stagnant pond with no way
out. Although I was unhappy with my lot, inertia and halfheartedness kept me company.

My husband and I talked many times about changing our lives. We made decisions, initiated
plans, then allowed our comfortable life to float along. We didn’t have the courage of our
convictions. The smallest obstacle was enough to thwart our plans. Life was too easy.  We
lived comfortably, our business moved along without much effort and we stayed in a rut with
our dreams blowing in the wind.

Until two years ago.

Life was brown — that stagnant pond colour. I felt isolated although I told myself that I
preferred solitude, that I worked well on my own. The trouble was that I wasn’t really
working. I was fiddling around the edges with no real plan and it turned out that my husband
was bored with the business. It was a habit which was weighing him down. We began a new
conversation about changing our life and realised that it was then or never. The change
required stamina and energy and if we left it much longer we might not have the energy.

Becoming

First steps

That summer we made a real plan. Sell our business and our house, find a parcel of land in
the country near the sea, build the dream house and live a more creative life. We pored over
real estate advertising, planned the dream house, and imagined how our lives were going to
look. The perfect life — just the right balance of leisure, engagement and creative endeavour.
But reality has a way of sneaking in. It wasn’t so easy to sell our business, the house needed
work before we could put it up for sale, the perfect parcel of land in the country was illusive,
and I still had no plan for my work life.

I was a writer but I felt a fraud. There were no clients. I finished my courses but hadn’t
submitted one article for publication. Heck, I wasn’t even showing up to the page regularly!
The more I thought about being a writer the more despondent I became.

Discovering what matters

2016 rolled around and summer turned to autumn. We were no closer to our dream of a sea-change. The business wasn’t sold, the house was still awaiting its repairs and my life continued to blow in the wind. The dream was starting to evaporate like all our previous plans.

Searching for direction, motivation, a guide to change, a spark, I was reading three books at once. Mark Nepo’s book, ‘The one life we’re given’, was a catalyst. He says that we are all born with a gift, we just need to find and nurture it. As I read, I felt wretched and guilty. There was no need to search for my gift, it was there. Had been there all along. A passion for words and writing — and I wasn’t nurturing it. He says,” The ultimate purpose of the gift is to exercise the heart into inhabiting its aliveness.” Not much exercising going on either!

Mark Nepo says, “Our dreams, goals and ambitions are all kindling, fuel for the heart to exercise its aliveness, to bring our gift into the world, to discover what matters.” Well, the kindling was piled up—enough to light a bonfire of epic proportions—but the spark was missing. I read on, looking for a simple solution, something to quick-start my heart into aliveness.

And there it was. The words scintillated from the page:

Aliveness shows itself in response to wholeheartedness, when we can say yes to life, work with what we’re given, and stay in relationship — to everything.

These words brought an awareness of what really matters.

Becoming

Gathering momentum

The changing season from summer to autumn marked the transition from inertia to action. It
was a busy season.  On our annual Italian journey, I gathered material for travel pieces I
planned to write. We cast our net wider and explored the south coast of New South Wales for
a piece of land, and resumed discussions about our dream plan. We began the work to prepare
our house for market, we put our business up for sale. And I said yes to showing up at my
desk.

We dared to make some decisions and our plan was finally gathering momentum.

Becoming a wild writer

Nurturing my gift of writing became my foremost intention. Paying attention to it consistently however, was difficult. I turned to books again. This time, Stephanie Dowrick’s Creative journal writing: the art and heart of reflection’ came to my aid. The title of the first chapter, “Writing a journal may change your life”, was written for me.

Yes!

Journal writing wasn’t new to me, I’d tried many times but didn’t keep it up. This time however, I felt a new purpose. It was a way to exercise my heart into aliveness.

I bought a beautiful journal, created a morning ritual and sat at my desk every day and wrote. The exercises in Stephanie’s book were liberating. I felt a new freedom to explore what mattered to me, to be creative not only with my writing, but in my thinking about the future. I managed to vanquish my obsession with perfectionism, a hangover from corporate writing and editing days. I became a wild writer. My daily wild writing led me through autumn, in step with our decluttering, repairing and real estate activities. I started a blog and recorded my thoughts as a way to be accountable. I became more present. And I found pleasure in my writing for the first time in years.

Becoming

A shift in imagination

Autumn moved slowly into winter. I observed my nectarine tree from my desk each morning, the leaves changing colour and slowly dropping to the ground and still some clinging stubbornly to the branches. Then one day, the breeze brought the last of the leaves down, a golden-hued carpet covering the ground. And like my tree suddenly surrendering to what is, I too felt a shift. A shift in imagination. Thoughts which had been cluttering my mind suddenly drifted away and I found myself writing a few simple questions in my journal — the most salient of all: “What if?”.

Asking “What if?” opened the door to new possibilities, and the space created in my mind allowed me to begin to write a new vision for my life.

Writing a journal is an adventure in self-discovery and more: clarity, insight, truth, developing my authentic voice and most importantly, focus, are gifts I have acquired along the way.

And the richest benefit, beautifully expressed by Stephanie:

Writing a journal is a way of honoring your own life, taking it seriously even as you open to the energy and spaciousness that creativity brings.

Mark Nepo was the catalyst for exercising my heart into aliveness. He shone a light on what it meant to be wholehearted. Stephanie Dowrick gave me permission to explore who I wanted to become.

Becoming

Following my heart

It was another year before our house was sold, the business as well, and a further three months before we made the trek to the south coast of New South Wales. It was twelve months of stressful activity, uncertainty and at times, doubt about our decision to pack up and close down our life. Adelaide was our home for 25 years and to take a leap into the unknown with just a dream and some fragile plans in our pockets was a scary thought if we allowed ourselves to think too deeply on it.

During that time I continued my journal writing — gaining new insights and developing my intuition. I felt a new freedom to extend my creativity. I took more photographs. I started to draw, a desire since childhood which I thought I didn’t have the talent for. It turns out that anyone can draw if taught some basic techniques. It’s like anything you want to master, all you need is the desire and the commitment to practice regularly.

I followed my heart through my journal writing, coming to the conclusion that this new chapter of my life required me to create a new story. One which honours all aspects of my life — freelance writing, travelling and communication professional. It was time to weave all these strands together into an authentic foundation for the person I was becoming.

Becoming

Creating the new story

I needed help to create my new story and serendipitously another alliance was formed. This time not through books, but in person. Terri Connellan had been busy working on her own major life transition from government employee to coach and writer. As part of her learning, she offered the opportunity of six sessions of career coaching. I believe it was a gift as the result of, as Stephanie Dowrick says, “being open to the energy and spaciousness that creativity brings” — a benefit from writing a journal.

It’s been an invaluable experience having someone to collaborate with, talk over ideas and support me in my quest to find the essence of my new story. I’m weaving the strands of my work life, my travels and my professional writing into this story. It is a strong foundation. When I took the first steps along this path, I was all too ready to discard what came before. Through my journal writing, my reading and my work throughout the coaching sessions, I’ve come to value these rich layers in my life’s story. The process of writing my journal especially, has been fundamental in revealing what matters most to me and has helped me to find a fresh approach to bring these aspects into my new narrative.

Becoming

On the path to becoming who I really am

Winter has turned to spring, a time of renewal and growth. A perfect season for new beginnings. Our life in Adelaide is a finished chapter. We have moved to our temporary home in New South Wales with its green rolling hills, pristine beaches and clear running rivers. Our transition has been fraught with challenges, anxiety and apprehension. However, our dreams are in place and our plans are spread out before us.

I hold dear many memories of my life in Adelaide — our home with its beautiful garden, children growing up, significant occasions celebrated, the orchard whose abundant harvest I will miss this summer and the rich cultural activities which I probably took for granted. But our new life here has begun. There are summer vegetables planted, we are exploring the treasures this region has to offer and the path ahead is illuminated by our purpose.

My wholehearted story is being created every day as I put one step in front of the other, one word and then another on the page. I’m holding onto quiet hopes of celebrations of dreams big and small. I’m walking the path, becoming who I really am.

About Colleen Reagon

Colleen Reagon

Colleen is a freelance writer and editor who loves words and how we use them. A communication professional for 25 years, she helps clients—especially small business—communicate effectively. She recently moved to the south coast of New South Wales to further her quest to live a passionate life. She has bibliophilic leanings, believes she was Italian in a past life and is often found with a camera in hand. You can find Colleen’s personal stories at A passionate life and photos of things that give her joy on Instagram

 

Read more Wholehearted Stories

If you enjoyed this wholehearted story, please share it with others to inspire their journey. You might enjoy these stories too:

Finding my home – a wholehearted story

My wild soul is calling – a wholehearted story

Our heart always knows the way – a wholehearted story

How knowing your authentic heart can make you shine

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personality and story wholehearted stories

Finding my home – a wholehearted story

October 30, 2017

Finding my home

This guest post from Natalie Gaul reminds us that experiences of compassion and empathy – and conscious self-acceptance – can help us find our home and a more wholehearted life.

This is the third guest post in our Wholehearted Stories series on Quiet Writing. I invited readers to consider submitting a guest post on their wholehearted story. You can read more here – and I’m still keen for more contributors if you are interested. 

Quiet Writing celebrates self-leadership in wholehearted living and writing, career and creativity. This community of voices, with each of us telling our own story of what wholehearted living means, is a valuable and central part of this space. In this way, we can all feel connected on our various journeys and not feel so alone. Whilst there will always be unique differences, there are commonalities that we can all learn from and share to support each other.

I am honoured to have my special friend, Natalie Gaul, as a ‘Wholehearted Stories’ contributor. Natalie and I met as fellow trainees, now graduates, of the Beautiful You Coaching Academy life coaching program. We made an instant and intuitive heartfelt connection, recognising in each other a deep focus on the practice of being whole, working to embrace all aspects of our personality.

My sincere thanks to Natalie for the contribution of her deeply felt personal story, including the stunning images she has created especially for this piece. Natalie’s story is a journey through the shadow and light of personality. It highlights the sheer relief of finding solutions and experiences that enable self-compassion and taking personal responsibility – read on to find out more!

The weight of my world

For as long as I can remember, I felt an unease deep inside of me. Like I was living in a body that didn’t quite fit my bones and there was a pulling… to where and what, I had no idea, but it was always there.

I was the little girl who was desperate for approval, constantly wondering and whispering, “please don’t be angry with me”, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong”, “I hope you still love me”. I was the classic over-achiever, the “good girl”, you know the type. The one who never questions anything, the one who does as she’s told, the one who could be pulled into line by a glance or the slightest change in the tone of your voice. I was the little girl who entered this world completely and utterly terrified of it, and most of all, of everyone in it.

I was the teenager who never quite fitted in. Who, upon just witnessing an unkind word being said to another felt it on a level so deep that it kept me awake at night, wishing I could take it and make it happen to me instead. I was the teenager who couldn’t rest or sleep. I was the teenager who still felt that pulling and I wanted it to go away.

I was the young woman in her 20’s, clinically diagnosed with a major depressive illness… or maybe it was bipolar? One thing was for sure, I was far too emotional. I didn’t quite fit into any box, under any label and even in my sadness, I didn’t fit in. And still, that pulling was there, getting stronger and stronger and I pushed back at it harder and harder… I wanted it gone.

I was the woman who met her 30’s with the divine gift of a loving husband and two beautiful children. Children I had fought for with my life, as my own body let me down. A life on paper that was picturesque, but in my internal reality, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Falling into the darkness

It was at this time, everything I had ever thought about myself manifested into words from the outside world … you are so ungrateful, you should help yourself, you are so selfish, there are so many people in worse situations, what do you have to be unhappy about? And so… I stopped fighting. I stopped pushing against the life-long pull and went with it. The pull I had felt for so long was into my own darkness. A place built on generations of extreme pain, hate and hurt. Finally, I was at the place I thought I belonged. Finally, I reached the place I thought was my home.

Words can’t really describe the depths of pain I experienced. I was used to pain, it was my normal but this was at a whole new level. To many, I was still a high functioning woman, a loving wife, and beautiful mother but inside, there was a war at play and it was dark and dangerous.

It was the culmination of 32 years of pretence and now finally I gave myself permission to treat myself how I always felt I deserved. The physical and mental self-abuse was violent and cruel but somehow it was satisfying. I was home, I was right where I thought I should be. I sat in the darkness, welcoming it, letting it consume me, all the while the emotional turmoil increasing in its intensity until finally, I was at my end. I couldn’t live like this anymore, I had to make a choice. I asked and pleaded for help, from whoever created me simultaneously cursing them for making me so broken and abandoning me. What followed, some may label as coincidence. However, on reflection, I know it was the outstretched arms of the universe, waiting for me to ask for a light out of this darkness, all along.

Finding my home

A glimmer of hope

I stumbled across Cathartic Breathwork, having no idea what it was but trusting that deep calling inside of me to find out more. I enquired about an up-coming live-in retreat and to my surprise, I wasn’t made wrong for how I was feeling but rather met with compassion, empathy, and kindness. That was a completely new experience! I left my family six days later, consciously deciding, if I could not find any peace or relief by the end of the program, I would find it with my maker and I wasn’t coming home.

You hear people say experiences change their life. That week not only changed mine but saved it. For what may have been the first time in my life, I actually had hope that I could survive in this body, I could survive on this planet. I subsequently committed to 3 years of intense breathwork facilitation and training. My learning curve was vast and steep and my eyes were opened to a whole new world. I was guided and held in process after process, allowing me to unequivocally and unapologetically be me. As my self-relationship deepened, I started to understand how to relate and work with my physical, emotional and energetic body.

An insatiable hunger for this knowledge grew, intrinsically knowing it was the key to unlocking and unpacking my truth. To say it was challenging is an understatement. It was one of the most difficult times of my life but yet, somehow nothing on the pain of before. Taking personal responsibility for my life empowered me beyond belief as now, rather than being a victim of circumstance, I had choice. I was in the driving seat of my own life.

I was experiencing pure emotions for the first time. My own emotions, my own truth. I finally came to the understanding that doing this conscious work wasn’t about becoming somebody else, but rather being able to stand and hold myself with love, exactly as I am. To find true acceptance of me as a whole.

Finding my home

Stepping into my purpose

The natural progression was starting my own breathwork business. This was a monumental leap of trust and faith, however, I struggled with the concept of it for many years. Who was I to think I could hold space for others? After all, I was still on my own healing journey and I didn’t have all of my own answers. I pushed against this for years. The self-doubt, the lack of self-worth, the slipping into relating to myself with unkindness. Yet each time I pulled away, I somehow ended up coming back. This service and space I was holding was bigger than my thoughts, it was bigger than me. It was my purpose.

My study and exploration of the human mind, body, and spirit continued and my relationship with myself deepened. I learned that I am an Empath (oh my goodness! – how this freed and allowed me an understanding of why I feel everything so much). I learned of energy and intuition and what that “ping” in my body is when something doesn’t feel quite right. I learned to work with it and trust it. I studied massage therapy to acquire a greater understanding the physical body. I worked and continue to work with a Core Energetic, Mind and Body Psychotherapist, developing and expanding my relationship with my inner child. I became drawn to investigating my shadow side. Experiencing, that upon allowing myself to bring light to this shadow, there was gold to be found. It was another key to true self-love and acceptance. I studied life coaching and grounded my knowledge of the power of intention and action.

Every snippet I would uncover and integrate had a flow-on effect, not only in my own life, but that of family, friends, and clients. I was creating an ever-deepening space of empathy, compassion, and understanding. I discovered what resonated with me and what didn’t, I realised that I was actually trusting myself and feeling a level of safety like never before. I was becoming aware and confident of my boundaries and I wasn’t trying to please everybody else at my own expense… I was actually becoming clear and stepping into my truth.

Finding my homeI am home

So here I am now, in my 42nd year on this planet – a concept that ten years ago seemed utterly impossible. I am a woman who reflects on the years I have lived with a sense of gratitude, knowing in my heart that everything I experienced has been for a higher purpose, even if in my head I don’t understand it. I am a woman who, when asked how I work with people and their feelings all of the time, can honestly answer that it is the place I feel most energised and comfortable because masks are left as the door, defences are down and one’s truth is uncovered. It is real and true.  I am a woman who is committed to working with my inner child, growing and deepening and healing my relationship with her. I am a woman who, in my personal and business life has unwavering fundamental pillars of personal truth and integrity.

I am a woman who craves, honest and true human connection but acknowledges that it is still one of the things I fear. I am a woman who is saying “yes!” to my god and universe and flowing with the plan for me with the least amount of resistance. I am a woman who is learning to accept my humanness and meet these parts of me with love and compassion. I am a woman who views my vulnerability as my greatest gift to this world as it provides a permission and space for others to do the same. I am a woman who now knows that I am the perfect person to hold space for others seeking self-connection as I have what cannot be learned in any book – empathy and a lifetime of experience. I am a woman who is quirky, disorganised, insanely witty, emotionally messy and imperfectly perfect in all of it.

I am a 41-year-old woman who finally feels like I am meant to be in this world and this actually is my home.

About Natalie Gaul

Natalie Gaul

 

Natalie is a Conscious Life + Shadow Coach, Breathworker, Creative Artist, Group Facilitator, Writer and Published Author and Artist. She is living a quiet, conscious, and connected life with her family on the New South Wales Central Coast, in Australia, beautifully balancing her client work with her creative artwork. You can find Natalie online at www.nataliegaul.com or on Facebook and Instagram as @natalie.gaul

 Thought pieces

Ask for help, talk to others

Pieces like this are not easy to write and I thank Natalie for her courage and honesty. They need to be written as there is too much silence. And they highlight the importance of connecting with others. I am aware it may not have been easy to read for some people. If anything in this post triggers anything for you, I encourage you to reach out to others for support. Talk to a trusted family member or friend. Or contact organisations set up especially to provide support. In Australia, key organisations for support are Beyond Blue and Lifeline. International support organisations can all be found here.

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You might also enjoy:

My wild soul is calling – a wholehearted story

Our heart always knows the way – a wholehearted story

How knowing your authentic heart can make you shine

introversion personality and story wholehearted stories

My wild soul is calling – a wholehearted story

August 28, 2017

wild soul

This guest post from Elizabeth Milligan reminds us that listening to our wild soul calling can provide important clues to a more wholehearted life.

This is the second guest post in our Wholehearted Stories series on Quiet Writing. I invited readers to consider submitting a guest post on their wholehearted story. You can read more here – and I’m still keen for more contributors if you are interested. 

Quiet Writing celebrates self-leadership in wholehearted living and writing, career and creativity. This community of voices, with each of us telling our own story of what wholehearted living means, is a valuable and central part of this space. In this way, we can all feel connected on our various journeys and not feel so alone. Whilst there will always be unique differences, there are commonalities that we can all learn from and share to support each other.

I am honoured to have my online friend, Elizabeth Milligan, as a ‘Wholehearted Stories’ contributor. Elizabeth and I met through Susannah Conway’s e-course, Blogging From the Heart, years ago now, and have followed and celebrated each other’s journeys ever since.

My sincere thanks to Elizabeth for the contribution of her beautiful personal story to Quiet Writing, including the stunning images from her journey. It’s a journey that has taken her to many new and rediscovered places – read on to find out more!

My wild soul is calling

It’s difficult to say where my story of living a more wholehearted life started.  There was no one dramatic, life-changing event.  It was more of an ongoing unease and restlessness that prodded me awake at night through my twenties and thirties.  A gentle tap-tapping, a whispering breeze, a far-off voice calling my name.  I tried to listen and follow my heart.  I travelled widely and far afield but I never found an answer.  I kept on moving.  I switched careers, jobs and countries more times than I can recall, but still something was missing.  Depression hit me.  Anger.  Despair.  Why couldn’t I just be?  Why the restlessness?  The continual searching?

I arrived at my forties and decided it was stability I needed.  I stopped moving, got a job, met a man.  For a time I was able to breathe.  The elation and euphoria of a new love blotted out all other concerns.  Or did it?  Soon the question of our combined futures was gently raised, and it turned out we were both looking for something other than the lives we were leading.  Ten months into our new life together we jumped ship, left the city and ran away to the countryside.  The plan was to use our savings, take a sabbatical of sorts from life and work in the city and do something more creative with our days, surrounded by nature.  We found a housesit in the middle of nowhere in rural France, gave notice on our jobs, put our stuff into storage, and set off.

Doing the groundwork

It sounds like this was all a smooth transition, but in reality there was a lot going on before any of it could happen.  I’m talking about mind-set and subtle changes that take place through conversation, discussion, self-questioning and research.  Where ideas and thoughts start to become viable possibilities.  I had been listening to Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions and was wanting to take a more proactive approach to my life based on my true values.  I had made my first vision board and stuck it on the wall opposite my bed so it was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing at night.  I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for but I was certain I was looking for something different.

wild soul

I felt like I had spent the best part of my life as an observer and onlooker.  When was I going have the starring role in my own life rather than a sad, out-of-camera cameo?  I could see very clearly where I was in life and to most people, this probably looked like a pretty good place.  A good job in a nice French city, a leisurely cycle to work, regular meetings in Paris, outdoor markets for shopping, and beautiful city parks or the hills of Beaujolais for weekend jaunts.  But in reality, my job was boring me to tears.  It was not who I was and it was not what I wanted.  I felt guilty for not wanting it but I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I realised things had to change and I had become aware of other options.  Instead of constantly trying to quash the panic and feeling of wanting to run, like I’d been doing for so long, it was time to listen to my gut and break free.

Taking a risk and breaking free

So we took a risk, threw everything up in the air and allowed the universe to catch us.  Ever since I read the books of Oriah Mountain Dreamer many moons ago I have wanted to trust in the power of the universe, to open up and surrender to something bigger and infinitely more powerful than we will ever be.  This was my chance.  I knew that we were going on a journey but I didn’t realise, and still don’t fully understand, the long-term implications of that decision we made one warm summer’s evening in our tiny French apartment.

Before arriving at our housesit, an isolated farmhouse sitting alone in over one hundred acres of rambling fields, I had no plan of what I would do every day.  I wanted to see how things would unfold.  I was not going to force myself to do anything.  I was craving unstructured days and freedom and this was the perfect opportunity.

Finding my inner child

Being completely free with no commitments, no expectations from anyone, and no structure in the day is rather strange at this age.  I can see how some people may be uncomfortable with this, but for me it was a wonderful and decadent regression.  I felt like a child left behind in a secret world after all the adults had gone home.

I found a pair of wellington boots that fit me and spent my days in wellingtons and shorts trudging around the fields spotting the local wildlife.  Deer, hares, coypu, egrets, foxes, wild boar, although these I never saw.  I only heard them some nights when the moon was full, calling across the fields with their terrifying blood-curdling screams.  I chopped wood for the fire and foraged for herbs and fruit, making nettle soup, elderberry jam and mountains of quince chutney.  I made friends with the barn owl that lived in the unused kitchen chimney, and the bats that flew around at night, often through the open windows.  I watched the sunrise in the morning and the sunset at night and every full moon I would run into the field behind the barn to catch the first glimpse on the horizon.

wild soul

Feeling like I was finally in my true environment, I became re-acquainted with the little girl inside and realised with relief that she hadn’t left me after all.  She had just been hiding and waiting for the right conditions to show herself again.  As a child I loved cycling and I had forgotten what fun it was to cycle around quiet country lanes.  Using bikes we found in the barn we started cycling to the shops for our groceries instead of driving.  When the weather was warm we would stop off and swim in the river on the journey home.  I felt alive.  I felt in touch with this beautiful planet we live on.  I had rediscovered a missing piece of the puzzle.

Rewriting my story

The next piece of the puzzle I found was regarding personality type.  I was in an online group of women and one week a discussion about personality type came up.  This was new for me so I did an online test and identified as personality type INFP on the Myers-Briggs scale.

This means nothing if you don’t know about this scale.  But what the test results revealed was that I was an introvert.  I had never considered whether I was extrovert or introvert before but the realisation felt like the penny dropping.  I suddenly saw my past with startling clarity.  I had felt like an outsider my whole life.  An observer.  Someone who kept their distance.  I thought I was maybe anti-social.  I had been called shy and quiet at best, and aloof and stand-offish at worst.  Here was something saying I was perfectly normal and not only that, other people felt the same way too.

I realised that if the stories I had been telling myself were no longer true then everything could change.  If I nurtured my introvert qualities and stopped trying to be extrovert like the world seems to want, then I could rewrite not only my past, but my future.  Astounding.

wild soul

Freeing my creative soul

So I started to nurture my newly discovered introvert self.  I very tentatively started to allow myself to enjoy being who I was, rather than reprimanding myself for not being someone I wasn’t.  I tried to stop worrying about all the things I was not and focus on all the things I was.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  But what seemed to help me was the daily pursuit of a more creative way of life.

To document life in the farmhouse I had started a blog and this became my way of communicating my newly discovered introvert self to the outside world.  Using writing and photography I started expressing myself and sharing my journey online.  Later on in our housesitting adventures, I would learn to express myself through art, something I had sadly locked away for years but which thankfully resurfaced along with other creative pursuits as yet another important, and previously missing, piece of the puzzle.

Intuition as a guiding light

Trusting my intuition, although incredibly difficult at times, has become a guiding light on my journey.  If I had planned things out too much I would never have discovered my creative side as I have, because I would have been busy committing to those plans.  I still have a lot of problems trusting my intuition and tend always to look outward first even though I know that only I have the answers to the deep questions I ask myself.  But I’m slowly learning to take the lead in my own life.  Inhabiting my life with my creative, nature loving, introverted self rather than filling the role of onlooker in a life that appears alien to me.

Bit by bit the negative and fractious energy built around the person I thought I should be has dissolved and been replaced by a more positive, gentle, flowing energy that is built around who I truly am.  Some parts of me I am still shy to show to the world, but these things take time and if I continue to trust my intuition then I am sure everything will slot into place as and when it needs to.

The struggle of self-discovery

All of these new experiences and discoveries were not without struggle though.  My demons showed up time and time again in dark moods, self-doubt, fear, impatience and insomnia.  Try to imagine this wonderful farmhouse in rural France in the middle of winter when we have been living in a grey cloud for the past few weeks.  There is no dry wood for the fire and the wind is howling through the badly fitting doors and windows.  The boiler keeps blowing out so there is no hot water and we are sitting there in the kitchen with our demons wondering how long you can spend in such isolation before going completely insane.

wild soul

In dialogue with my demons

This part of my journey I was not prepared for.  But one by one as the demons showed up at the door, snarling at me in disgust, taunting me with their snide comments of ‘not good enough’, ‘failure’ and other such niceties, I invited them in and I sat with them.  Quietly hearing them out until they had no more to say and disappeared off, one by one, back into the mist.  I knew they would return but I felt like it would be ok.  For the first time in my life I had opened up a dialogue with my own mind and somewhere deep inside I knew this to be a turning point and something to learn from.  I am still learning, but I now know that once we let the light in and start to show up every day as our true selves, everything changes.

We never did go back to real life, whatever that is, like we sensibly thought we would after our one year sabbatical, now four years ago.  Our savings lasted longer than we thought and it was difficult to say no to other housesits.  A winter by the sea looking after a tiny hotel.  Another two winters looking after an 18th century château and the resident cat.  A summer in a city apartment in Copenhagen.

The way forward

I’m not sure what’s next and I’m not sure it really matters.  My life has changed from the inside out and although I know I’m not there yet, I’m certainly on my way to living a much more wholehearted life.  Letting go of what no longer serves me and focusing on what lights me up.  Most importantly though, I’m enjoying the journey. ♥

 

About Elizabeth Milligan

Elizabeth is an aromatherapist and quiet creative.  She is currently redesigning her life and work around her own wholehearted values of creativity, positive interaction with nature, and slow and simple living.  You can find Elizabeth online at www.elizabethmilligan.com or on Instagram and Twitter as @libbylibellule.

 

Keep in touch

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If you enjoyed this post, please share via your preferred social media channel. The links are below.

You might also enjoy:

Our heart always knows the way – a wholehearted story

Shining a quiet light – working the gifts of introversion

How to make the best of introvert strengths in an extraverted world

How knowing your authentic heart can make you shine

personality and story transition wholehearted stories work life

Our heart always knows the way – a wholehearted story

July 30, 2017

heart

Frustrated in the quest to find work and a life you love? Don’t despair, the greatest truth is that our heart always knows the way. 

This is the first guest post in our Wholehearted Stories series on Quiet Writing. I invited readers to consider submitting a guest post on their wholehearted story. You can read more here.  

In essence, Quiet Writing celebrates wholehearted living and writing, career and creativity and I am keen for a community of voices to be telling their story of what wholehearted living means here in this space. In this way, we can all feel connected on our various journeys and not feel so alone. Whilst there will always be unique differences, there are commonalities that we can all learn from and share to support each other.

I am thrilled to have my dear friend, Katherine Bell, as the first ‘Wholehearted Stories’ contributor. Katherine and I met through an online course, The Introvert Effect, created by Katherine Mackenzie-Smith. When I talked on a group phone call about my planned transition to a more wholehearted way of life, Katherine reached out to me afterwards, sensing a connection in our stories. We have been firm and amazingly synchronistically connected friends ever since, supporting each other and sharing a love of books and especially of David Whyte, who features in this story.

I hope you enjoy Katherine’s story, poem and exquisite photography. My sincere thanks to Katherine for her beautiful contribution to Quiet Writing.

Starting out on my journey towards wholehearted life and work  

This is not a romantic story. Certainly others found it inspiring to start with—a quest towards a better life is something we can all relate to … for a time. But when the initial 12 months I had planned (what was I thinking?) grew into 18, then 24 … then five years and there were no tangibles like an impressive job title, a book, or the usual manifestations we take as evidence that someone has a successful life … well, cue crickets chirping and tumbleweed rolling down the deserted street.  

Not long after my 39th birthday, with my life in a dire mess, I checked myself into a psychologist. I naively approached this as I would manage a work project, and estimated that I would be fixed before I turned 40. I was about to learn that inner work—deep inner work—is nowhere near linear. My biggest challenge was that I didn’t know what I wanted, despite recognising that I was desperately unhappy. I also felt that something was wrong with me, as the kind of prescribed life my partner of nearly 20 years had envisaged for us—and that everybody else seemed to want as well—was just not me. I felt like the Ugly Duckling, I simply didn’t belong.  

A beacon of hope 

It wasn’t until a friend passed a copy of David Whyte’s ‘Crossing the Unknown Sea—Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity to me around the same time that I recognised a voice like my own for the first time, and dared to hope that there was another way for work, relationship, life— a way that fit with me, instead of my feeble attempts to contort in ever-increasingly painful ways to fit with it. I can vividly recall the night I started to read it. I was in the bathtub (my Fortress of Solitude in those days) again feeling like the Ugly Duckling. But this time, the experience was akin to the duckling’s heart both leaping and aching when he looked up to see beautiful swans—his own kind—flying overhead. I recognised in David Whyte a kindred other who lived at depth, even though I did not quite know what living at depth was at that time.  

heart

This simple, profound recognition was enough to start me on the journey of my own unknown sea. Here, finally, was someone else who had crossed that sea, I recognised his voice, and I knew I belonged in some way to that pilgrimage. Fast forward to the present day, and with a small, knowing smile I say that the recognition was of my own voice. The best gift of David Whyte’s words have not been their beauty, nor their inspiration (as profound as both are) but the validity, the permission, they gave to my own words, my own voice. There was nothing wrong with me after all, I was not a duckling, I was a swan. I had simply been surrounded with voices that did not recognise mine.  

With that first heart-leap of recognition, and the simple permission given by the Wonderful Mr Whyte, I took the plunge into the unknown sea towards work, life and relationship that was wholehearted. I tackled the problem in the only way I knew how to at the time, which was to leave my job, home, partner and city in the same week (not recommended) and take flight to the other side of the world for six weeks. My entire known life was in storage, ready to be dealt with when I got back.  

In this way I jumped into my own metaphorical boat with not a clue (thankfully) of the squally territory that lay ahead, or that I would feel at sea for several years. I say “feel at sea” as in reality we are never truly lost, or alone, it just feels that way, and part of our quest is to be able to endure the inevitable crises of discomfort, discouragement, or despair. It’s a riding out of the storm, knowing that it will eventually pass.  

Allowing our heart direction to emerge 

I think the trip was the only part of the plan that made sense, in hindsight. It gave me the relief and spaciousness I needed—both literally, staying in remote parts of the English countryside and roaming open fields, mountains, and wild clifftops in the rain, and metaphorically, in starting to thaw out from what had been a fraught existence, both at work and home, for long years at a stretch. I felt like I was emerging from a coma and needing to learn what was real again. This was in the smallest of ways to begin with, an almost imperceptible turning of my head and simple noticing of what elicited a positive reaction in me, like surprise at hearing the unfamiliar sound of my own laugh.    

heart

It was a significant shock when I returned to Australia without a home, job, partner or any structure to my life and needed to take the first breath of my new life. I moved to a regional town near my family, embarking on a series of experiments to find work that worked for me. Work, for me, is of central importance, and my experiences with it not working have been as painful as any of my life’s challenges. David Whyte elevates work to the status of a marriage in his book “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” and I agree with it being given this priority. This is especially so for those who are creative types—there is no divorcing ourselves from our work, they are one and the same entity.  

In Crossing the Unknown Sea, David Whyte talks of “having a firm persuasion in our work” (p.5) and that has certainly been the crux of my quest, taking precedence over relationship for a time. I have grappled with finding work that is heartfelt and resonant, and what has looked like foolishness to others from a financial perspective has been a dogged determination to settle for nothing less. I certainly miss elements of my former lifestyle, but in resolutely setting my sail to my own course I can say I am at peace and happy.  

My golden rule is that as mine is the only head to hit my pillow each night, I’m best qualified to set that sail, as long as I am staying aligned to what is true for me. It has, however, been stressful in needing to hold out far longer than I envisaged, yet the alternative—the life I used to live and the work I used to do—is no more an option for me as running a race if I no longer had legs. As Whyte’s friend Brother David said to him “You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers” (p.132).  

Discovering my work  

The only idea I had about what my right kind of work looked like was that I wanted to write. Knowing that I wasn’t interested in writing fiction was at least a start. I stumbled through exploring writerly activities such as creating a blog, writing poetry, entering writing competitions, and applying for a writing scholarship. However, apart from the cathartic blog and poetry, it felt as though I was contorting myself again into a shape that wasn’t quite right. Thankfully, as Rumi says, “what you seek is seeking you”, and I soon had an opportunity presented to write for a research organisation, work which I found I truly loved. All my clumsy attempts and experiments had in fact been my apprenticeship to the kind of writing I love. In revisiting an earlier journal I discovered the prophetic words:  

“My work will be a melange of my heart – not just one thing, it will be a blend of all the things that make my heart glad: writing, thinking, researching; the alchemy of ideas”. 

Here was evidence that my heart had known all along, I had just not been in a place to hear it, let alone respond to it. 

heart

The benefit of hindsight 

Hindsight shows us that all experiences—even the most painful—prepare us for our own particular work. Some experiences are definitive (like David Whyte’s influence on me, foundational stones to the structure of the work which only we can do) and some are transitional, forming the scaffolding we need to emerge ever so slowly until ready to stand and reveal our work to the world.    

If I could rewind the clock and give myself some advice to make the journey easier, it would centre on the following. 

  • There is no timeframe in matters of the heart, especially when needing to find a way back to life after being metaphorically dead as I was. It will take as long as it will take, even if you are just a little lost. Don’t try to plan and control it; it will only cause additional pain. I think one of the most important things is that any emotional or psychic recovery needs to be given the same credence as a physical injury. I have had to constantly adjust my expectations of the timeframe of recovery, likening it to having every bone, muscle, ligament broken and undergoing extensive rehabilitation, and learning to live again being more than a little changed.    
  • Be kind and patient … with yourself. I wish I had cut myself some slack along the way; I was really doing the best I knew how to at any given point, as feeble as that was. 
  • The truth is not that everything will be OK, it’s that it already is. Time and time again I have had to remind myself “all is well”. Even in the darkest moments, the truth is that everything is working for us when we are aligned to our hearts, not against us.   
  • It’s not a journey with a destination. I’m still not there, and I don’t think I ever will be. As David Whyte says, it’s a ‘continuing conversation’. The important thing is that we keep showing up, open-hearted, looking for the Hansel and Gretel trail that leads us ever homewards, crumbs as clues left behind by an engaged and benevolent Hand (whether we understand that to be our God, our Higher Self, or whatever language we use to give meaning and shape to our spirituality). 

From the time I first recognised David Whyte’s voice (and ultimately my own) in the bath all those years ago to now, I trust my little boat, metaphor for my heart, to carry me ever onwards. I have nothing to fear while I’m aligned to it. My only request is that after several years at stormy sea, I’m soon taken to safe harbour for a little respite, perhaps where I can feel the warmth of the sun of friendship and community on my face. Then, as it is now, all will be well.  

Postscript 

This reflective journey has led me back to a poem that I first started to write as I walked the clifftops in England all those years ago, with my own unknown sea stretched before me. Whilst not originally written with the intention of sharing it, it seems to fit so beautifully into my story that I offer it here.  

 

After

It turns out (in the end) that I am far
stronger than we all thought.

Surprisingly,
I chose to be brave at morning’s first light,
however grey and dim it appeared then.

Turning towards the east
to walk ever closer to the Ocean of Who Knows What,
throwing my face and caution
to the biting wind of my vulnerability,
stripped of all pretence and belief
for better, or for worse:
Strengthened
or at last, Ruined.

In angry defiance
—or quiet acceptance?—
I signed up, took the gamble,
declaring “See here?
This, this is my Mark,
my Consent,
my Line In The Sand
of how I will live and be in this world.
And if I die at this brutal hand
well …
at least I felt the sharp slap and bite of the wind,
the driving rain that hurt my eyes and became my tears,
and the aching weight of loss
after loss
—how will I bear it?—
but knowing at last,
This was Me
I had reached Land’s End,
And I refused to go into hiding again.

Standing on the cliff buffeted, yet
Resolute, watching
the cruel sea
Relentless against captive rocks,
I thought “Poor things, they’re just like me…
—pounded and near-drowned”.

Then pounded and near-drowned some more.

In years to come I will know that in
choosing to live
at risk of the Open Sea
I breathed
walked
and dreamed
Awake
Alive
in this beautiful and vicious world
that sometimes despised,
sometimes loved me
(I never knew which it was).

crossing the unknown sea

 

About Katherine Bell 
Katherine Bell
Before turning to the quieter world of writing, editing and research, Katherine worked for 25 years in the corporate sector across multiple industries in senior administrative and strategic project roles. Making a tree-change from Sydney to regional NSW several years ago, Katherine is passionate about promoting research that translates into real-life outcomes. She is currently working on forming an alliance with other corporate escapees who share her passion for making the workplace more humane and sustainable, particularly for those who are introverted or highly sensitive. Co-founder of  The Edit Bureau she also assists academics in Australia and overseas with getting their work published.

Keep in touch

Subscribe via email (see the link at the top and below) to make sure you receive updates from Quiet Writing and its passions in 2017. This includes MBTI developments, coaching, creativity and other connections to help express your unique voice in the world. My free ebook on the books that have shaped my story is coming soon for subscribers only – so sign up to be the first to receive it!

Quiet Writing is on Facebook – Please visit here and ‘Like’ to keep in touch and interact with the growing Quiet Writing community. There are regular posts on intuition, influence, creativity, productivity, writing, voice, introversion and personality including Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

If you enjoyed this post, please share via your preferred social media channel. The links are below.

You might also enjoy:

Creative and Connected #6 – how to be a creative entrepreneur

How to make the best of introvert strengths in an extraverted world

How knowing your authentic heart can make you shine

Creative and Connected #4 – the wholehearted edition