Karen's Quest with Karen Smith
I left off last time having concluded that retreating into my faith is my best option for survival. As lovely as it felt to write that, it threw me into an intellectual/spiritual tailspin for a few days. I felt uncomfortable about the slippery way in which I worded things. (And there goes my future in politics.) So, in the spirit of due diligence, I have collected around me all my doubts and fears and questions for what has begun to seem like my religious coup de grace. What I claimed is that Christ is overflowing. And, while it’s true I pray when I get overwhelmed, and it’s true that my background is in the church and with the Bible, therefore giving me Christ as a cornerstone of those prayers, I still felt dubious about making that claim because there are some things about Christianity that I ignore altogether in the name of ‘mystery.’ But I left it at that, feeling it would smooth itself out somehow. It didn’t. And I was overwhelmed yet again. And then I remembered something.
As a child I was a worrier. I worried about everything, my family, kidnapping, fire, making friends, even getting rounded up by the Gestapo. (In grade five I wrote an essay about the Second World War and never really recovered.) I carried the weight of the world and every person that I loved. And I loved everyone. Your pain was my pain. I couldn’t differentiate. I once knew a girl in elementary school who was unspeakably dirty. I don’t know if she ever said a word to me, but I wanted more than anything to invite her over for a bath. I never got up the nerve and for that, I felt guilty. (Makes you wonder, what sort of society are we living in that a sensitive child feels awkward about inviting a stranger home for a bath? The shame.) I’m mocking myself, of course. The point is; I was motivated by a hypersensitive conscience but was helpless to act on it or to express it. I was just a kid.
This is my way. I push myself to my limits and forget to seek balance. Some people are so keen about heeding their own needs that they find balance easily, maybe only feeling their needs questioned or tested by external forces (like maybe their wife, for example). I see my needs as questions. If I’m hungry, I don’t automatically eat. I automatically think ‘really?’ And the more complicated it gets, the heavier it gets. If I feel lonely, I don’t automatically call someone. Instead, I think ‘really? Am I lonely? I’ll just pray.’ And then I’m not just lonely, I’m depressed, and so on. (Just imagine the fun I get up to.)
But, for a time, in my teen years, I was free of this. I was around 12 years old, and we had lived in Wallace for about a year. I was in my room, simultaneously reading and fretting, as usual, and my parents were out visiting. I was mentally rehearsing the typical fears of Mom and Dad not making it home, playing out what would happen and wondering who might take me and my siblings in and what kind of job I would have to get, when all of a sudden I saw that nothing mattered but what was true in that moment. And in that moment everything was fine. Something bad might happen, I suppose, but what could I do but…experience it? I no longer felt compelled to care about what may or may not happen, and the weight vanished. The burden was gone. I was no longer responsible for everything and everyone I knew. I was free. I was free from all kinds of fears and pressures, especially to fit in. All of a sudden I was having fun wherever I went, with anyone who cared to join me. I was present. I was living. It was glorious.
This sense of peace and joy came like a switch had been flipped. I was detached from my life in the most pleasant way. And it stuck, until I got married. At that point, I returned to the same childhood feeling of worry and responsibility over a loved one. Overwhelmed, again.
The more I think about those years of freedom and the subsequent years of searching I’ve come through recently; I wonder if letting go is the way. Yet, in the Dao De Ching it says, ‘the way by contraries proceeds;’ which is the grandest and most all-encompassing way of saying ‘life is a balancing act.’ E.g.: first I was fearful and tense, clinging until I could cling no more and then I let go. My spirit opened its little wings; I went out into the world, and plummeted. The world tested me and I was weak. So, in fear, I looked to Christianity and held onto it as hard as I could, trying again to cling to something for protection. The stakes seem higher now than when I was 12 years old, but can I do it? Can let go again? (To be continued.)
Karen Smith is on a quest for personal truth and boundless consciousness. She feels lucky to live with her family in Truemanville. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.