From Darkness to Light Day 15 by Karuna Poole

Living Life My Way

by Karuna Poole of Living Learning and Letting Go

 

by Abel Escobar from Pixabay

 

I’ve had plenty of dark times in my life. When I looked at what has most consistently led me into darkness, I concluded that it was over-doing, particularly if the over-doing was combined with over-thinking.

The first time my tendency to be busy was pointed out to me was when I was pregnant with my son, Sreejit. I was studying for my Master of Nursing degree at that point. I felt so exhausted. I remember my thesis advisor saying, “Did it ever occur to you that the exhaustion is your body’s way of telling you to slow down?” No, that had never occurred to me, and hearing her words didn’t cause me to change my behavior.

I live life my way.

In fact, even though I was seven months pregnant when I finished my Master of Nursing degree, I immediately started a new job— as an instructor at the University of Washington. I only took a three week leave after Sreejit was born. In my mind, I had chosen to accept a job offer when I was seven months pregnant and taking a longer leave would have been inappropriate.

On work days, I drove Sreejit to a baby sitter in Ballard, which was at least a twenty-minute drive, and then drove to Swedish Hospital in time to be there by 7 a.m. when my students started their shifts. That probably was another twenty-minute drive. That seemed crazy to me at the time, and even more so now, but I did it.

A little less than three years later, Chaitanya was born. My husband and I separated soon after her birth and divorced several years after that. Neither of my children slept through the night until they were five. I was so exhausted.

In autumn of 1979, I took a job as a Maternal-Newborn Clinical Nurse Specialist at Swedish Hospital. After a few years, I helped to start and lead a satellite Baccalaureate degree program of Seattle Pacific University for Swedish Hospital nurses. For a while, I did both the Clinical Nurse Specialist job and the Satellite Baccalaureate job. Around 1982, I started a PhD program in Nursing Research, dropped to part time at the hospital and dropped the Clinical Specialist portion of the job.

I was certainly mired in over-doing, but it didn’t stop there. There was a time during those years when I was not only parenting, in a doctoral program, and coordinating the satellite Baccalaureate program, I was also running a very small business and participating as a partner in another one.

In my first draft of this post, I wrote that during this period I wasn’t doing a good job of anything. But on further reflection, I came to a different conclusion. My life was full, and there were times that were dark, but I was doing a lot of amazing things. I loved my children. My ex-husband and I provided them with opportunities to have many life experiences that went far in preparing them for being the wonderful, healthy, respected adults they are today.

I live life my way.
I choose to live my life fully.

The next area I added to my life was psychotherapy. By doing my personal therapy, my parenting and my self-care improved. When I realized I had NO interest in pursuing a career in Nursing Research, I decided to drop the doctoral program, even though I had completed my coursework.

I put a lot of energy into my psychotherapy, so much that I ended up turning my tendency to overthink that direction, meaning I continually thought about my therapy process… and all the other things in my life. In time, I felt like a computer that was about to explode.

I had been exhausted for a long time but I started experiencing an exhaustion that was far beyond anything I had experienced before. I was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I was living in a mental fog. It was difficult to get to sleep at night and felt even worse to wake up in the morning. I dreaded the relapses that came so often.

I remember being so tired that at times it was hard to lift my head from my pillow, and the thought of walking to the refrigerator to get some food was overwhelming. Through it all I powered on. I took care of my kids, did my therapy and my job.

When I look back at that time, I wonder if I was sick because of years of over-doing or if it was because I worked in an office that had previously been a laboratory that was said to have used Epstein-Barr virus in their petri dishes. (The Epstein-Barr virus may be the cause of CFS.) I will never know the answer to that question. I also wonder if I had had CFS for many years and didn’t know it.

At some point, I started volunteering as an assistant in two therapy groups. Soon, I realized I loved my volunteer work much more than my job and began working towards becoming a psychotherapist.

The model of therapy we practiced was developmentally based so, with the course work I had done in my master’s and doctoral programs combined with what I was studying through the Corrective Parenting Institute, I was able to take the credentialing exam to become an Adult Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Specialist. (Corrective Parenting is a form of Developmental Psychology that helps clients learn to parent themselves in healthy ways.) I started my psychotherapy practice in 1987. I loved that work so much and continued in that role for the next thirty years.

I live life my way.
I choose to live my life fully.
I let my life unfold, taking advantage of opportunities that come my way.

The next major change in my life was meeting Amma, a humanitarian and spiritual leader from India. I had gone to a conservative Christian college from 1966 to 1970 and had left there angry and disillusioned with the church. For almost 20 years, I had described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. I had truly “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”

The person who invited me to Amma’s programs had told me it would take some time for me to adjust to the cultural differences. However, when Amma and the swamis started singing, instead of feeling as if I was in a foreign culture, I had the overwhelming sense that I had come Home. I felt as if I had been starving for a life time and that every cell in my body was opening to take in the nourishment offered by Amma and the music. I fed and fed and cried and cried.

The same weekend I met Amma, I attended part of her Seattle area retreat. Six weeks later, I was at her New Hampshire retreat, and six months after that I made my first trip to her ashram in India. I have attended some of her North American programs every year since then and have gone to Amritapuri, Amma’s main ashram in India, at least 30 times.

When I met Amma, I had a strong internal sense that I should not connect with her through “doing.” Even though part of me wanted to volunteer to coordinate her Pacific Northwest programs, I honored that knowing.

Whenever I sat near Amma, or when she or her swamis sang, I went into deep meditative states. Sometimes they would last for hours. There were times that I felt as if a part of me was somewhere the conscious part of me wasn’t invited. I sensed that that part of me was in ecstasy.

Amma teaches that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. When we’ve been craving chocolate, we experience bliss the first moment we taste the chocolate. If the bliss was in the chocolate, then we could eat more and more chocolate and feel more and more blissful. That obviously is not the case. Amma says we feel blissful because in that moment our mind is silent. And in the next moment another desire emerges and the bliss ends. I believe that I experienced ecstasy/joy in those early days in part because when I went into those meditative states my mind was silent.

My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome began to shift after I met Amma. I still had relapses but I didn’t dread them as much because I was clearly getting better. I sensed that being in her presence was healing my body, mind and soul.

At first, I spent my time with Amma watching her and/or singing. After several years of being immersed in that way, I began to help with the work it took to host the program. That seemed like a natural progression to me at the time but before long I returned to a state of over-doing and over-thinking. After assisting with Amma’s Pacific Northwest tour for several years, I became the tour coordinator and stayed in that position for about 15 years. I was also one of the leaders of the local Amma satsang.

In addition to parenting, working with my psychotherapy clients, being a tour coordinator and satsang leader, and traveling regularly to India, I wrote three books; and made hundreds of tiny dolls that were sold to raise money for Amma’s charities.

I also led work parties that changed in nature over the years. For example, work parties to make Christmas ornaments that were sold at Amma’s bookstore, crocheting afghans for people moving from homelessness into transitional housing, crocheting hats and scarfs for the homeless, crocheting plastic bags into reusable grocery bags and other items. Once we started the PNW Litter Project, I led litter pick-up work parties. About the same time, I started coordinating the monthly PNW GreenFriends Newsletter. Even though I was doing a lot, I loved each of these projects.

The biggest stressor was the tour preparation. It had become a year-round job. Because the tour grew from year to year, before long the department heads wanted assistants; and then the assistants wanted assistants. As the layers of staff grew, we were no longer able to fill many of the worker shifts before the tour started. Even though they filled once the programs began, I was very stressed by the uncertainty. Once again, I felt like a computer that was about to explode. And again, I started having physical problems, this time primarily related to my blood pressure.

There came a time when I had no choice other than to cut back in a major way. I withdrew from the tour coordinator position and that helped a lot. I also started saying “No” when asked to take on new commitments. When I lapsed in my resolve to not take on new things and said “Yes,” it usually quickly became obvious that I had made a mistake, and I would back out on my commitment. I HATE to back out on commitments, so I learned to stop saying “Yes” until I had time to think about what was being asked of me. I never stopped being busy, but the number of things I did decreased.

During my personal therapy and in my spiritual process, I learned that holding on to the past and/or to desires leads to pain and darkness. I also learned that resistance to life lessons may lead to that dark place. Letting go and surrender can lead to light. I discovered I have endless opportunities to choose between to holding on or letting go. It isn’t a right or wrong decision. I can learn from whichever path I choose to take.

I live life my way.
I choose to live my life fully.
I let my life unfold, taking advantage of opportunities that come my way
I take responsibility for my choices whether they lead to darkness or light.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.” I believe that is an attitude that Amma embodies. She lives every minute of every day in service. She has said her only wish is that her hands should always be on someone’s shoulder, consoling and caressing them and wiping their tears, even while breathing her last.

Many years ago, I wrote a prayer. One section of it said, “May my hands always be in service.” I have lived a life of service and it has given me much joy. I dread the day when my body isn’t able do the things I love to do. Until that time comes, I choose to live in this way.

I live life my way.
I choose to live my life fully.
I let my life unfold, taking advantage of opportunities that come my way
I take responsibility for my choices whether they lead to darkness or light.
I choose to be thoroughly used up when I die.

The year before I retired from my psychotherapy practice, I began doing forest restoration work in the Greenbelt behind my house. Since then that has become a major part of my life, and my passion. I am being challenged in ways I never expected.

I find it interesting that early in my nursing career, I taught students from the University of Washington. Now, in one of my last stages of life, I’m working on a project where most of the volunteers have been students from the University of Washington.

I love doing the Greenbelt work. I love that I’m teaching college students again. I love clearing the land of invasive vines. I love planting native plants. I love watching the plants flower and grow. I love working with our group of team leaders and the other people who volunteer to help with the project. I love that this work is like a meditation and my mind is becoming quieter. I love being in service to Mother Nature. While there are times of darkness even in this experience, I, for the most part, feel surrounded by light.

Greenbelt Entrance

***

When I started writing this post, I was convinced that doing so much was the cause of the dark times in my life. As I have written, and thought about what I was saying, I’m not so sure. While over-doing may have contributed to the darkness, the reality is that everyone’s life has times of darkness and times of light. That is part of the human condition. Physical challenges also come and go. I believe we are in this world because we have things to learn, and we have the opportunity to learn from everything we experience.

While I do believe that there have been times in my life when I’ve taken on too much, what is equally true is that I have spent my time on this earth doing the things that are important to me, things that I wanted to do. I’ve experienced light in a myriad of forms. I have amazing adult children, which now includes my daughter’s husband Akshay, all of whom I love dearly. I also have many supportive friends in my life, including my former husband, Al. I wake up each morning, excited for what the day will hold. I know I have lived my life fully. I am truly blessed.

I live life my way.
I choose to live life fully.
I let my life unfold, taking advantage of opportunities that come my way.
I take responsibility for my choices whether they lead to darkness or light.

I choose to be thoroughly used up when I die.
I live life my way.

 

Karuna Poole is a retired psychotherapist who had a private practice in Seattle for more than 30 years. She is author of the Getting to Joy series. She now spends her time doing forest restoration work in Seattle’s Greenbelt; and organizing and writing for the monthly PNW GreenFriends newsletter. You can learn more about her from her blog Living Learning and Letting Go.

 

 

 

Written for the From Darkness to Light event.  If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here.   But first, leave a comment and let Karuna know what you think about her words, and be sure to visit her over at Living Learning and Letting Go when you’re done.

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “From Darkness to Light Day 15 by Karuna Poole

  1. Karuna, enjoyed reading this post…remarkably I was looking through some old pictures of Momma’s this week and found the one of you, Al, and Sreejit as a baby that you used in this post. 💗

  2. Hi Karuna,
    I enjoyed learning so much more about you and your fascinating life path. I appreciate what you said about chocolate, bliss, and stillness of the mind. This gives me pause 🙂

    Namaste,
    Linda

  3. Mom, I’m so glad that I got to read the many variations that this post took, so that I could enjoy how you owned your power and your path in what you eventually came up with. You have to do it your way and we are all grateful for that!

    1. And thank you for your subtle comments throughout the process. They, sometimes indirectly, got me thinking about my life in different ways. I am grateful for you and for this event.

  4. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your truth. Somehow I believe the “yes” gene to be ingrained in many of us, perhaps our upbringing in a certain era. I too have learned, sometimes the hard way, to say no and it does often lead to more light. However, as you so succinctly state, life is comprised of both light and dark. It’s up to us to manage it! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    1. That is true. There is no doubt in my mind that my mother role modeled it to me and my guess is that she learned it from her parents. And since we were a military family, there would be that influence as well. I think that learning lessons the hard way is probably part of the human condition! Thanks so much for reading my post and commenting.

  5. So interesting to hear of all these phases of your journey. And wow, I thought my early life was busy — you REALLY stay busy! For me health issues forced me to slow down and learn how to live more quietly but as those problems wrap up you’re inspiring me to look for more to do.

    1. It takes health issues to slow me down too. As I get older I am slowing down naturally. No choice in the matter actually. I don’t seem capable of multitasking anymore! I think it is about finding balance. I believe I can still stay busy and productive without overdoing.

  6. Really enjoyed reading your story, Karuna. I was drawn to this line ‘Letting go and surrender can lead to light,’ as I prepare for this evening’s Yin yoga class, very much about surrender, letting go, and acceptance.

  7. So cool to be a part of your amazing story, West Palm Beach to Amma and the Green belt plus two great children. A great journey indeed!

    1. Yes, you have been part of my story since 1968! I cant believe it has been 51 years. I had to pull out my calculator because that didn’t seem possible, but it is right!

  8. All I can say is.. This post seemed like a little documentary of your entire life running before my eyes❤. And I’d like to ask you sometime. Where’d you get all that energy from ? It’s inspiring..

    1. I agree, it is like a documentary. It was a difficult post to write-what to include, what to leave out, how much detail to give so the post didn’t get too long. Putting 70 years into a reasonably short essay was a challenge. I’m glad it felt like my life was running before your eyes!

      I think the energy comes because I do things, for the most part, that I love and that have value to myself and others.

      But exhaustion is a theme that runs through my life too. Doing nothing usually ends in me feeling more exhausted and I think for me would be a road to darkness and death so the challenge is to find a workable balance.

      1. I am sure it must have been hard for you to squeeze 70 years worth of stuff in one single blogpost. And somehow, I feel the same when I am in inaction. But the fact that you still don’t let this spirit of staying busy die out is remarkable.❤

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