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Monk in the World Guest Post: Noelle Boughton

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Noelle Boughton’s reflection, “My COVID Transformation.”

In early 2021, we’d been hearing for a year that COVID was a global time of transformation. That was certainly my sense going into it the previous March, and I was so excited to see how it would transform my life and that around me. In fact, my spirit was dancing with the possibility of what could be! 

Then I smacked into reality.

I was working in a congregation that had never been online, and suddenly had to mount Lent and Easter. It took time to learn the tools, but we did it. Then I was conscripted to start leading prayer groups and spirituality workshops on top of my frenetic communication job.

By then, both my mom – diagnosed with dementia just before the pandemic began – and younger brother, diagnosed soon after, were going sideways 2,000 kilometers away, in a place I couldn’t go because of lockdown. Two weeks into it, my mom suddenly had to move – and I was thrust, long-distance, into the medical/support system of stabilizing and moving her into care. Just as I was sorting that out, my brother disappeared. The police finally found, and hospitalized, him in a COVID hotspot 800 kilometers further west. His kids and I scrambled to get him to their home and line up the care he’d need for his growing list of health issues. 

It was a wild and crazy time, and I was exhausted. Every time I’d hear that COVID was creating a “global pause”, I’d grit my teeth and snarl: “What pause?” The lives I was responsible for – since it no longer felt like “my life” – were rocketing out of control. Privately, I rued the fact that the pandemic would be over before I’d see any transformation in my life! 

I found a Meet-up hiking group and grounded in long forest treks over a few Saturdays. Then, the morning after Mom was ambulanced to hospital for a potential heart attack and I spent half the night connecting by phone with the medical team since no family was allowed in, I broke my ankle in a pothole while walking in my local park. Suddenly, I was sidelined, too!

It was sobering.

I spent most of my holiday reading under a tree, which I hadn’t done in 50 years! Shoved out of my schedule, I even started writing again. And, one day, sitting in the summer shade, it dawned on me that I finally had the COVID-pause that I’d been craving for five months.

It was the beginning of my transformation. I’d started working with a great life coach just before the pandemic – and she was now calling me into myself. Not the less exhausted, pre-COVID version, but the one with a deep sense of call, which had been ramping up for years as I still felt I had a purpose to fulfill before I died, even though I was still trying to figure out what.

I had some clues. Thirty years ago, I’d been feeling misaligned in another communication job while walking in an urban forest. It was a bitter winter day, but I remember shaking my fist at the sky and yelling at God: “What’s my life about?”

Back came the answer: “Write, learn, teach, and heal.” I’d kept it on my do-list since then and noticed those always put me in “the zone”. But, although I’d trained as a spiritual director and become a published author, I’d been working in communications – and seldom felt soul-satisfied. Now, ruminating under my tree, I realized that living how I’d been wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go. I had to learn to do things differently. 

My coach was imploring me to live by my intuition – my feminine flow – rather than my masculine “doing”/thinking mode, at which I excelled. I’d relied on my intuition to buy peanut butter or choose a direction when lost, but never to make all of my life-shaping daily decisions. 

As I began to consciously live into my flow, I could feel what I intuitively needed – more meditation, yoga, and sleep, and to get on with my call. We discerned that was returning to doing spiritual coaching and workshops, so I started building an online presence. I’ve now returned to writing, too, as it feels like a fundamental cornerstone.

I’ve also started embracing my limitations, which is oddly freeing. I can’t change life for my family. I can’t interest myself in another communications gig. I can’t even hatch a five-year plan if I want to live by what life coach Martha Beck calls my “north star”. It’s scary – letting go and letting flow – but, as American singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer sings, “If not now, when?”  

Parker Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak that we can be guided as much by the ways that close as those that open for us. I feel the closed doors behind me even as I start gently pressing again on the ones ahead of me to discern where I’m to go next. I’m very much living as a monk in the world now, awaiting Spirit’s alms, which always illuminate my path as it emerges from the fog. Fulfilling my call is still a work in progress, but I’m dancing, again, with the possibility of what life can be.

Noelle Boughton, author of Margaret Laurence: A Gift of Grace, A Spiritual Biography, is a spiritual alignment coach and workshop facilitator who helps mid-life women learn body, mind, and spiritual techniques to tap into their inner wisdom, clarify what will fulfill them, and clear obstacles to achieve it.

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