We have all been there. That place of overwhelmed, over anxious, over worried, over stressed. There are times when it all piles on at once, leaving us in complete distress. As women, we often bring much of this on ourselves. We often take on the problems and worries of spouses, children, friends, co-workers. We want to help. We want to nurture. And we are super women, right? We can do it all and still have time to do more.
News Flash- we aren’t super women, just women who do their best. We are, after all, only human. And sometimes we reach the breaking point.
I had reached that point in my life some years back. It was as though everything of importance in my life was out of control. The burden of stress became too heavy to carry. I slipped into depression and went into zombie mode, going through the motions of daily life without fully being attached to it. I would rise, go to work, come home, and plant myself on the couch, curled up under the heavy blanket of sadness.
But I couldn’t own up to it. After all, I was a mom, I was a wife, I was a business owner. I had to have it all together, didn’t I? And it wasn’t as though it was some clinical depression brought on by imbalance of chemicals in my brain. It was certain issues in life that were sad, scary, and spinning out of control that had me feeling so defenseless, so beaten down.
I wouldn’t bring any of this up to family and friends. It was my problem to be dealt with, not theirs. Wasn’t I a spiritual person? Didn’t I meditate? Perhaps I hadn’t in awhile. I knew about life, and love. I knew about my perceptions of God. Why wasn’t any of this helping?
I laid on the couch frequently, not wanting to clean, cook, read. I rolled up in grief, soaking in my sadness, feeling as though I was sliding down a slippery slope and unable to find anything to grab onto. And I didn’t sleep. Sleep brought on nightmares.
One day, a good friend whom I hadn’t seen in awhile, took one look at me and said, “What’s going on? You look like shit. You look like you’ve been dragged through the mud and stomped on.”
I was taken aback, not because she said I looked like shit, but because she knew that something wasn’t right. She saw right through my facade. So much for my acting abilities.
As I explained my situation, she gave me some solid advice. I needed to bring myself back into balance. I could not possibly help anyone until I helped myself. She suggested yoga. She suggested getting back to meditation. Nothing was going to get better, she said, until I got up and made it so. Balance. I was off balance.
I went home and thought on what she said. I had tried to meditate but my anxiety wouldn’t allow it. I had picked up the bible and looked for some verse that would shed light. Lord knows, I prayed. And then I picked up my book about Buddhism. I hadn’t really read much of it. I decided since nothing else was doing the trick, might as well try this.
In those pages, I discovered what I needed. Chop wood, carry water.
No, I didn’t go out with an axe and chop down trees followed by fetching water from a stream.
Chop wood, carry water refers to putting your focus fully on the task at hand. If you’re washing dishes, concentrate fully on that task, getting the water temperature right, adding soap, picking up the plate, scrubbing, rinsing, placing on the dish mat. Once all is washed, concentrate on the drying. The towel texture. The wet becoming dry.
As you concentrate fully on the matter at hand, there is no wandering of the mind to current worries and struggles. Doing dishes, there is only dishes. Folding laundry, there is only laundry. But enough about household chores!
My way to chop wood and carry water was to plant a butterfly garden. I decided it would be nice to have some butterflies flittering around, spreading their beauty and joy. Yes, a butterfly garden. I researched species of butterflies common to my area, and the plants they fed on, laid eggs on. I went into the yard, found a perfect spot by the fence, and dug my garden. By hand.
Each rip of grass and weed from the dirt was a symbol of ripping out the pain and hurt from my soul. Finally, I was ready for the planting. I planted milkweed, sun daisies, pentas, butterfly bushes, along with parsley, basil, and rosemary. I stuck in a small bird bath and some decorative rocks. Each thing I planted and posed in the garden brought light into my heart. I was rebuilding my soul, one plant at a time.
Then came the butterflies. Monarchs, Zebra Longwings, Swallowtails, Queens. And after them, the caterpillars. Cute, small, pretty little creatures, munching away happily, oblivious to any of the dangers around them.
The swallowtails quickly ate through the parsley, and my husband and I did more than one emergency run to get more. Same with the monarchs on the milkweed. The garden was a daily duty, and dependent on me to keep it from going rogue, from dying out.
I couldn’t control everything happening in the world around me, or to the people I loved and cared about. But I could control this butterfly garden. I could keep it thriving and growing into a wonderment and a sanctuary for butterflies, bees, and a variety of animals.
Then, something marvelous happened. I awoke one day and realized that I felt better. I was smiling. I was happy. While the butterflies thrived, so did I. I had made the world a better place, if only in one small corner of my yard.
My meditation times started becoming more frequent. I began yoga again. My couch grew cold and lonely. I was in the sun. I had found my wood and water. There was a peace in my heart. I could talk to God again.
There are times when people need to seek counseling for their depression. I would never suggest anyone try to deal with it alone, or stop taking any meds they may be taking without speaking to their doctor.
But for most people, I think, if we just learn to chop wood and carry water, we can find purpose. We can find balance. And in finding balance, we can bring balance to others.