I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kathleen Maci's reflection on restful wandering.
“I would never have known,” the HR representative confided to me in our meeting about my age of 63. I had been teaching at a university in Beijing, China for a couple of years and had just received the news that I was ineligible to apply for a Z visa allowing me a yearly work and resident permit. Anyone over the age of 60 is now ineligible to apply. Just like that – no job for 2016-2017 school year. No big deal, I thought. I had been saving and planning for a six-month self-funded sabbatical for two years. Contemplative living is my ongoing journey. I counted this piece of news as a sign that it was time. I needed the time to reconnect with all my unfinished projects. I needed to figure out what next.
Giddy with excitement as September approached – I took the time to travel and visit my son and grandchildren. I took a much deserved holiday with my significant other. Days flew by; then weeks. I was three months into the sabbatical when I began the online Advent Retreat — and when asked what word or phrase spoke to my heart, all that kept coming up was “restful wandering.” I got the wandering part. I’ve always had a vagabond’s heart. But restful? What did that mean? How does one restfully wander; especially in unfamiliar places?
Time is an illusive animal. Just when you think you have a grip on time it slips away. I started recognizing just how much I connected productivity to my self-worth, to my identity. My age is a marker of time. Even my travel marks time. Yet, as a monk in the world I made a commitment to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations. My gift has always been teaching. It’s something I have always done to make a living even though I never imagined that I’d be a teacher for my career. It just “happened.” Maybe it happened because I had a mentor in my life that could see the teacher in me when I could not. I never acknowledged limitations. But now, was one of my limitations age? I did not believe this. I refused to believe this.
Ongoing conversion and transformation means the willingness to commit to spending time in that “liminal period” – facing the threshold I’m about to cross; and it’s the unknown of the crossing that gets my attention. That might be why it’s so difficult to rest. A threshold needs silence to recognize. I do not have a mentor at hand telling me what I would be well-suited for. Maybe my mentor is the heavenly father and I need restful silence to hear. But my busyness keeps the silence at bay. I must be willing to commit to deeply resting. And I had no idea how challenging deeply resting could be; but my sabbatical “time” is teaching me.
To restfully wander means to me that I am in a unique position to follow my heart and explore – just don’t commit to anything yet. My instructions are to listen. In other words, be at home where I am planted and enjoy what is at hand. This has meant several months in Arizona living with my dad, joining a long overdue exercise regiment, hiking; signing up for a writing pilgrimage in Ireland; joining a labyrinth gathering in Indiana, and hearing dog assistance training. I don’t know why my heart leaps at these certain experiences. I often find myself saying, really? Dog assistance training? Or, a labyrinth gathering? I am realizing that I need to stop fighting the process and accept the strange formlessness of restful wandering. It is in relinquishing my will to see the situation as I want it to be that I will discover my own transformation and live at large as a monk in the world. Life coach Martha Beck writes about “the still and curious of the threshold . . . to sit with the nothingness until your fear fades.” That’s what I am working on.
I am now approaching seven months of sabbatical. All the things I have deemed so important – those unfinished projects have all gone untouched. And I focus on each day, one at a time, restfully wandering.
Kathleen Maci is a journalist, anthropologist and teacher whose home varies by season. She teaches writing to adults returning back to school for DePaul University’s School for New Learning. You can read more about her explorations at www.writingyourwaytoadventure.com. Her website is a work in process.