November 2016

November 2016

Susan Marie Beaulieu

The Fellowship is flying by! This has been both a journey I dreamed of and one I couldn’t have imagined. The motivation for my fellowship was to focus on my own healing and wellbeing; to learn all I can and gain new tools both for myself, as well as to use my new learning in the work I do. One of the first things I did as a fellow was to set aside time in my calendar to do “fellowship stuff”. This has included: journaling, meditating, reading, taking piano lessons, practicing tai chi, and going to conferences and retreats. I thought the fellowship would start with a big “bang”; instead it started slowly, quietly, and for the first few months, because I wasn’t physically going anywhere for my fellowship, it sort of felt like it wasn’t happening. What I came to understand through talking with the Bush staff was that because I was so used to being judged by my “output”, to not have anything substantive to show for the fellowship after a month felt awful. 

What I really appreciate about the Bush staff is their support and encouragement to step back and look at my thinking in a new way. They never made me feel like I’m “not doing enough” and instead encouraged me to get the most out of the things I am doing, as opposed to doing a bunch of different things but only getting a little bit out of each thing. Having time to process and reflect has been a critical part of this journey. When I do something new or go somewhere through my fellowship, I write about what I did, what I learned, questions I have, and how I plan to use the knowledge. Not only has this reinforced what I am learning, but it also provides a record to go back and to begin to see the subtle shifts in my thinking and ways of being that otherwise might have eluded me. 

Mindfulness is a strategy I have been developing during my fellowship through regular meditation, a silent meditation retreat, and practicing being present in as many moments as I can. One of the things said at the mediation retreat was, “As soon as you realize you have not been mindful/aware, suddenly you are again! Every moment is a new moment to start over.” This really struck me because I have found the practice of mindfulness to be really challenging. Recently, I attended a conference on childhood trauma. It was really powerful because I began to understand why mindfulness was so challenging for me. Dr. Perry talked about a coping strategy some children use called dissociation. Dissociation is the disconnection or separation of something from something else, or the state of being disconnected. As he explained the symptoms of dissociation, it felt like he was pulling back the curtain on my childhood; he was describing me! The realization that dissociation had been my coping strategy explained a lot about me. And because my coping strategy was dissociation, my brain was wired to not be present! A few weeks back I had a huge fight with a loved one and that evening in bed, I found myself planning and thinking of alternative scenarios. Suddenly I became aware in that moment that I was dissociating from my feelings and was using planning as a way to “cope”. So I stopped, allowed myself to feel the pain, I named it and sat with it. In doing this I was able to quiet my brain and fall asleep. In the moment I realized I wasn’t being mindful, I became mindful, and I could make a choice about how I wanted to respond, versus falling into the automatic response of planning to avoid feeling, which would have kept me up all night! As I continue to become aware and mindful of more moments throughout my day, I get more in tuned with my body, my thoughts, my feelings, and my spirit. 

Finally, I’ve recently learned the difference between “being” and “doing”. This emerged for me during the meditation retreat. At the retreat, there was no reading, writing, texting or talking. Not writing was the hardest part for me; writing has been both a way for me to reflect, as well as a coping strategy. Without writing I felt trapped with my thoughts and feelings with no way to release them. The first few days of the retreat were very hard for me, and I quickly realized I have never truly just sat with myself for very long. When I get uncomfortable or bored, I find a distraction. During the retreat, there was nowhere to go but inwards. At one point I recall thinking, “This is stupid! Why am I here and why did I pay for this?!?” As the retreat went on however, I began to settle into myself and I had a realization that even when I’m not “doing” something, not only do I still exist, but I am closer to who I truly am when I am simply “being”. When I am truly present, I am more alive, more content, more me. The fellowship has been an incredible gift, creating opportunities to settle deeper into myself.