Life is constant change, right? We all know this. Sometimes change comes of its own accord and sometimes we just make it happen. This happened to me last year when I was given the opportunity to take early retirement from my job in the Scottish Government and I decided to go for it. The idea was to retire at the end of March 2011, so from last October until then I duly counted off the days waiting for ‘the big day’. What I hadn’t bargained for was that my life was to change even more than giving up work I had done for nearly 30 years. My sons, who are in their mid-twenties, also decided it was time to fly the family nest and find their own place to live. So, by the end of April this year I no longer had a job and our house was emptier by two.
Maybe I should explain that I was one of those women you see rushing around in a panic because there are not enough hours in a day. My life (until April) was spent working, shopping , cleaning and sleeping, not much more. Sleep was my ultimate joy because I didn’t have to think or do anything, although sometimes in my dreams I found myself running, running after something I could never catch. As a Buddhist I jealously listened to people talk about their retreats and ‘practice’. I wondered how they found the time for such luxuries but instead I gave any spare time to doing more; I helped organise travel schedules, I edited transcripts; I published books, I looked after bank accounts. Anything that needed doing to help the teacher, there I was. I decided that if I couldn’t find time to practise that at least I could ‘do’ something. Because ‘doing’ was what I was good at.
But, by April, all that changed. At first it just seemed like another holiday. When people asked (and everybody asked) ‘Well, how is retirement?’ I usually admitted that it was too early to say. But, those first few weeks were euphoric. I was euphoric and felt free and full of some sort of crazy joy. Suddenly there seemed so much time to do anything I wanted to do. And everyone told me ‘Oh, you’ll be okay, you are always so busy, and you’ll find something /lots to do’. So, why, after returning from a week in the sun, did I wake up one morning and think ‘Well, what now? is this it? Is this the rest of my life?’ And there was no answer.
So, for maybe a month, that was how it continued. I would wake each day wondering who I was now. I would take out my list of ‘things to do’ and then put it away again. I would take out my carefully written ‘practice plan’ and then put it away again. Then I would watch TV, or sit on my bed and just watch the sky. When sleeping I was no longer dreaming but instead would wake up in the wee small hours and wonder who I was. What happened to the too busy running woman? Where had ‘I ‘ gone? I wondered if I had made the biggest mistake of my life, should I have stayed on at work?
But, one day, very recently, I sat on my favourite spot (on my bed ) sky-watching as usual, when a memory came back to me. It was of a very small silent child sitting watching the sky, and it was me.
I was born into a large noisy family. If you wanted to be heard you had to shout! But I never could shout quite hard enough so I usually found sanctuary and peace alone in my shared bedroom, yes, just watching the sky. Why I developed this habit I don’t know. But, this was where I felt really at home. Whenever I felt lost or afraid or lonely, the sky was always there. So, over fifty years later, here I was again, sky-watching. And when I remembered this it all fell into place and I was happy. I listened to my heart beat and life flow through me and I was happy just to ‘be’.
There are no great revelations here. I have no answers as to how we deal with big changes in our lives, and we can’t escape change. Maybe, like me, it’s when you no longer do the work you have given your life to, or your children leave home. It may be that you become sick and you just can’t carry on as you have before. Or it may be that you lose someone you love and there is an empty space where there used to be someone you needed to be in your life. There are many ways of coping with and accepting change. Most people, when they lose either a life’s work or someone, try to fill up the loss with something or someone else. This is what I thought I would do when I retired and my sons left home. I had a ‘plan’. But what I hadn’t counted on was that, although my head had a plan, my heart and mind wanted something else. It took some time to understand what that was. It took time to realise that when life as you know it disappears and there is no ground under your feet, that there is suddenly a spaciousness that you can jump into instead of filling it up with something else. And if you can carry that spaciousness with you as you gradually find a new life or a new someone, then that is a very precious gift. Maybe there is no need to be someone but just to ‘be’.
Now, I think it’s time for more sky-watching!
About the Author:
Margaret lives in Scotland and has been trying to understand and practise Dharma for about forty years. She has been a student of Ringu Tulku since 1993.