“Acute crises and dysfunction always precede or coincide with any evolutionary advancement or gain in consciousness.” —Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
The bones of my primary bathroom stood naked and exposed for two weeks in October. No work. No changes beyond ridding the space of the unwanted items – a non-bearing wall, an extra sink, part of the cabinetry and all of the tiles and accessories, even the toilet was removed as it would be relocated. Nothing stood but the beat-up drywall, studs ornamented with pipes and water line hoses and wires hanging from the ceiling from light switches no longer in the wall that encased them.
At this point, work on the house was now in its fifth month. The guest bathroom now finished (tour it here), and the final project had begun. But for those two weeks, the project stalled. And for good reason. Covid struck – first my contractor who had been careful and diligent about bringing few people into my home for the past 15 months (he also worked on my kitchen last summer – see the post for the tour below), and checking to make sure those who did entered were healthy (if not, we waited or found another subcontractor) and then, I too was forced to rest and heal and self-isolate as Covid found me as well. While vaccinated in January and February, no doubt my immune system had been weakened by the emotional strain of saying goodbye to my pup Oscar just three weeks prior. Another unexpected and unwanted surprise came when the illustrator I had worked with for ten years told me due to circumstances beyond her control, she would not be able to work on our project together for TSLL’s 3rd book (set to release in Spring 2022). Unknowningly, my stress levels rose along with more than a touch of fear.
First and most important, was my contractor okay? Thankfully, yes, but not until after quite the scare and a week+ in the hospital. Next question turned my attention to TSLL and the projects I had long been working on, not wanting to sacrifice the quality I had envisioned in my mind with regards to the illustrations that will play a significant piece of support to the written content. And then of course, will my bathroom be completed?
In the middle of all of this uncertainty, I returned to books that had spoken to me in the past couple of years. Upon my initial reading, I observed their wisdom but now know I did not understand the full intent, the full message, and how it may materialize in one’s daily life.
One of the books I returned to was Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. I reread it for the third time earlier this month.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could spare [yourself] from all suffering? No, it wouldn’t. [You] would not evolve as a human being and would remain shallow, identified with the external form of things. Suffering drives you deeper. The paradox is that suffering is caused by identification with form and erodes identification with form. A lot of it is caused by the ego, although eventually suffering destroys the ego—but not until you suffer consciously . . . Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of the ego . . . As long as you resist suffering, it is a slow process because the resistance creates more ego to burn up . . . The fire of suffering becomes the light of consciousness.”
Admittedly, it may be difficult to accept Tolle’s wisdom in the above quote. After all, who wants to suffer? And especially knowingly suffer? But here’s the thing, when we remain aware of our suffering, we are awake to learn, we are awake so that we can witness what caused the pain, our role in the pain that was inflicted and free ourselves from attachment of any identification we feel we must be, have or create. Tolle writes far more eloquently than I in his book, but one of the many takeaways I am trying to add to my life is to not only hold myself in the present, but also engage fully with it, removing negativity, doubtful dismissive comments and going where the door opens, and making sure to bring my full self with me as I cross the threshold.
As life often does, the everyday events parallel the metaphorical lesson one needs to learn if only we would witness, observe and acknowledge.
On Friday October 29th with my self-isolation period having concluded, the contractor’s family (a family full of contractors themselves), introduced me to a new contractor from out-of-town who would oversee and bring to completion my primary bath. Having worked alongside him for two decades, they held in high regard and without question, trusted him. Due to my primary contractor’s health on close watch at the hospital, this now out-of-town contract said yes without hesitation even though it would require him to drive back and forth three hours each way, each week as he also had his work where he now lived. His willingness to sacrifice his time spoke to the respect he had for my contractor and reminded me of the power of human connection, helpful exchange, respect for one’s work ethic and cultivated trust through a long period of comradeship and teamwork.
Progress on the project resumed on November 1st. New walls began being put up, pipes and water lines relocated, drains put in place, and the tiler scheduled.
What I am about to share may not make sense at first, especially if one of two things is true in your life: (1) You have been living your truth, aligning your career path with your unique gifts since you were able to work; or (2) You are extending yourself exhaustedly regularly and without end in sight, believing you cannot live any differently because to dare to step toward what calls you would put your ability to survive (forget thrive) in jeopardy.
For nearly 20 years as I taught and then began writing TSLL blog as well in 2009, ever since dedicating my time entire to both teaching and the blog along with the podcast and books, I have been searching. Searching for love, searching for peace, searching for understanding, searching for enjoyment, searching for the courage to be wholly Shannon.
Gradually, pieces of me, pieces of inner strength were learned and embodied. As the blog began to unfold, more and more enjoyment was experienced as writing, sharing, connecting, traveling and exploring energized me, and I began to listen to this truth. Peace rushed over me when I gathered up the courage to pay witness to the truth I saw in my life when pandemic lockdown measures were enforced in spring 2020. I finally had time to sleep deeply and without rushing to school and searching for hours that didn’t exist to finish both of my jobs. It was during this time I recognized one cannot find love if one is not love in their lives. This is not to say I was unloving, but I had no time to connect with others outside of my work life. I had no time to be what I wished to welcome into my life.
“When you can’t stand the endless cycle of suffering anymore, you begin to awaken.”
When I began to work with my counselor during the lockdown period in 2020, to finally be honest about my feelings with another human being who did not judge, who observed and witnessed the truths I shared about myself and what lifted my world up, I began to listen to myself and trust my truth.
“Some changes may look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge. There may be a period of insecurity and uncertainty. What should I do? As the ego is no longer running your life, the psychological need for external security, which is illusory anyway, lessons. You are able to live with uncertainty, even enjoy it. When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibility open up in your life.”
In evidence to Tolle’s quote, in the road bump of not being able to work with the illustrator I had planned on being part of the 3rd book, I reached out to a trusted artist who immediately came to mind and inquired if she would be interested in bringing my ideas to life. To my delight and absolute glee, she said yes, and as she and I are moving along the journey of each illustration, I quickly realized, she is the right illustrator for this project, without a doubt and more in alignment with TSLL’s message and in particular the book’s content.
Often when we cannot let go of something that needs to be shed, the universe takes it away from us, and while we may kick and scream and ask why, it is because we have grown or outgrown where we held ourselves comfortably, but not congruently in alignment with what and who we now are.
In some ways, letting go of teaching, the identify of a teacher, was the most difficult part. It was what I knew and what I called myself for 20 years, but that is just the problem. As Eckhart Tolle points out, all I-dentities are vehicles of the ego. When we associate ourselves as anything – any label essentially – we are letting our ego take a bigger role in our lives, an unhealthy role in our lives.
The pain didn’t directly come from leaving teaching. In fact, the final three months of my teaching career were some of the most joyous moments of the entire 20 years solidifying my decision to bring to a close one chapter and pursue fully another great love, and I am grateful to my students, colleagues and parents for their celebratory words and gestures. The pain only indirectly had anything to do with leaving teaching. The pain directly came from knowing I would have to say goodbye to Oscar and that he could not live forever. Having been his doggie mama for nearly 17 years, I didn’t know life without him. Norman didn’t know life without him. And so I began to control what I thought I could: the bathroom remodels and TSLL’s 3rd book and all the details that creating a book entails. Of course, trying to control one thing that has nothing to do with the other you consciously know you cannot control yet quietly hope you can only makes it all the more frustrating when you hit a road bump with the project that you think you (and you do) have more of a voice in.
Small road bump after small road bump kept being hit during the summer and by the time September rolled around and Oscar’s health was not improving, my impatience was painful. I didn’t voice the impatience outloud in the same manner I was feeling it within, which means I held it. For a while I suffered unknowingly by doing this, until I realized I needed to be fully conscious of my suffering and why I was suffering – what role was I playing in this painful period of my life?
I was trying to avoid suffering.
I wouldn’t have admitted this truth at the time because I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to have to feel what I only imagined would be excruciating pain when Oscar died. I didn’t want to suffer. But to suffer, as Tolle points out in the quote at the top of today’s post, is the opportunity to begin living fully consciously. In other words, to deepen your human experience, to deepen the connections you forge, to find the gift of being vulnerable when you cross paths with someone else who as well chooses to be vulnerable in your presence.
Suffering doesn’t have to always come from dysfunction, of clinging too much to the ego and any identity we give ourselves; it can also be ‘acute crises’ as he defines them, events you cannot predict or did not have control over (in my case, Oscar’s death). It is when we don’t let ourselves feel the suffering that we cause ourselves more pain, and by fleeing the pain, we embolden the ego.
The truth was that Oscar’s death was more excruciating than I could have ever imagined, but I did let myself feel it wholly and entirely and I had support around me (TSLL community’s love meant more than you will ever understand fully – thank you) and I know in my heart he lived a loved life his entire life. In caring for him, I was reminded of the power of vulnerability. Granted, yes, he was my pup, not a human, but life lessons can come in a myriad of forms and mediums and heartbeats. I also learned that love takes on many different forms, and as well, it can arrive in our lives in the most unexpected ways. Our job, our #1 job for living well is to let love in.
For sooooo long I have put up barriers because I did not want to suffer again through another romantic heartbreak of which there were more than a couple over the course of 25 years. Some of the barriers I was aware of, but until now, too many I was not. But I didn’t want to suffer. I didn’t want to feel the pain of loss, no matter what that loss was. In fact, it was far easier if the loss was early on in the relationship, even if the relationship didn’t materialize at all, less pain to feel!
But life without love, any and all forms of love, real, honest love, and yes, in the above instances, romantic love, is not worth missing out on when the opportunity, the possibility crosses your path.
As I shared in my first book, welcoming Oscar and Norman into my life was not planned, was not expected, but without hesitation, the two best decisions even though filled with uncertainty in my life journey thus far for believing in love and the possibility of good things.
The momentary pause with the primary bathroom remodel gifted me with the time to check myself when it came to trying to control too much. Trying to control anything beyond myself. I began to acknowledge even more fully my suffering and the role not doing so played in the pain felt and the actions I took to indirectly avoid acknowledging the depth of the suffering. Realizing that such pain was not inevitable and by paradoxically acquiescing to the suffering was the only real remedy to rid feeling the pain, I began and continue to witness beautiful, unexpected and positive moments with others.
My job now is to take down the barriers that have been entrenched for so long because they are no longer needed. I can protect myself by being my whole self so long as I hold myself in the present moment fully and engage with whatever or whomever I meet.
As I look forward to concluding a year abundant with transition and unexpected and some unwanted events (some caused by the choice to transition, some not), I am grateful to have had the opportunity to make the choices I did. And I am doubly grateful I had the courage to grasp the opportunity.
In the spring of 2022, TSLL’s 3rd book will be released. Part memoir, part daily meditations for a full year of reading on how to welcome and cultivate true contentment in our everydays. What you have read today is a sampling of the more personal glimpse into my life you will find on the more than 400+ pages along with inspiration for you to live your most fulfilling life and apply it to your everydays. I am excited to share it with you and hope that you too can live and experience a life that opens you up and gathers up your courage so that you can experience a life you may now only imagine might be possible. A life full of real and abundant love felt and expressed in a variety of avenues and relationships that make up a healthy social well-being and a grounded and true self.