(I have found that communicating in the public forums of social media and blog comments do not foster depth of communication for me, so comments are turned off. I would be happy to talk to you via email though.)
This year is dedicated to the memory of Ehren Starks, whose music broke me open in a new way in 2014. Providentially, one of his albums is titled The Depths of a Year.
Thanks also to The Anadromist, whose videos have helped to reconnect me to the more human, less cynical part of myself that I thought I had lost, but thankfully it was just misplaced. The depth year is a way for me to return to living in time in a less mediated and less propagandized way.
There once was a gal, middle aged
Who from life had become disengaged
But she’ll see what life brings, doing everyday things
‘Stead of being online and outraged (see Depth Year Alphabetica below, letter L for Limericks)
Believe it or not, beginning a new personal-development scheme wasn’t even on my mind when I stumbled across the idea of a Depth Year. I had kind of unofficially sworn off personal development altogether – though I admit, I was kind of bored just living my life without playing lab rat for my controlling Inner Behaviourist (she and I have a kind of Stockholm Syndrome relationship). But I was also discouraged and exhausted from what she told me were my many failures in running previous self-improvement mazes. All I wanted to do was guzzle cocaine water from my feeder bottle and lay in the corner of my cage.
Then I came out of my narcotic haze and remembered I wasn’t a rat, and that honestly, even though I have indeed failed sometimes in my lifelong quest for a “somewhat better life now” (my definition of which will become more defined as I write through the year) there have been some surprising (to me haha) successes as I have jumped onto a few “intentional living” bandwagons over the past half-decade. I have imperfectly but noticeably integrated into my life:
- What I thought was minimalism but which I now consider to be more Swedish death cleaning
- mindful awareness
- intermittent fasting and
- being “disconnected” from the media propaganda machine and social media circus.
That doesn’t mean that there is no longer any need for serious tinkering with my life and/or personality and/or psyche. I have certainly NOT “arrived” as an enlightened being and I never expect to do so. But now that I am 51, I am ready to stop identifying so strongly with my failures and my many negative qualities. I really have learned some things over the years which have stuck, and my FAILED personal engineering experiments taught me a lot. Habits and skills that eluded me for decades have finally developed a bit, often in ways I didn’t expect or envision.
Stephen Covey writes about the Personal Integrity Account, which is where you either deposit or withdraw from your trust in yourself. My PIA is overdrawn and has been for years, and you know depressing and scary it is when any of your accounts (tangible or intangible) get low – and it feels more so as I get older. But with my newfound Early Crone wisdom I can see that many withdrawals of the past came from my own unhealthy tendency to make plans and/or goals that work against my real temperament, which was just stupid. I unconsciously set myself up to fail.
I also have been too tied to results rather than process, and too motivated by the desire to create a persona that was intelligent/interesting/talented/creative enough so that I felt like I was a worthy human by my general impressiveness-to-others factor. That persona has crashed and burned, and providentially I have kind of Phoenixed out of there. But Phoenix Me limps, is blind in one eye, and my left wing is immobile and featherless. So I have had to pare down to the bare essentials of who I really am and what I want to do with my time.
Enter the Depth Year.
I was looking at something totally unrelated when I came across the Depth Year idea. I guess it originated with this article, which points out how we can be like crows collecting baubles, even though that appears to be a myth. Anyway, we flit from one interest to another, never delving deeply into any of them, and often spending a lot of money in the process and accumulating “stuff” that doesn’t really enhance our lives.
(That isn’t fully true of me, there are several things I do in depth and have for many years. But I do get obsessions and interests that fade away and/or I overspend on and overconsume new (and not necessarily improved) information about my established pastimes).
So, at first I thought a Depth Year would just be mostly about my creative-type pursuits. But as I was using the alphabet as a scaffold to brainstorm my possible depth year, I saw that “depth” conjured up not only hobbies and interests I had neglected or abandoned, but also some important time-bound tasks (meaning that my death draws ever nearer) and life changes that I have been unable or unwilling to make but for which I now feel “ready”, and also things that would be called “inner work”.
Depth Year Alphabetica (also my blog topics for the year)
A: Attitude, mine & Acrylic paintings in small Bible
B: Bookbinding for Etsy, bedtime reading & Bible copywork
C: Christian Focus Sundays
D: Death planning, delayed gratification & differentiating myself from those I admire
E: Exercise and eating, sustainable
F: Finances & Frugality
G: Guitar & gifts, handmade
H: Handlettering & Household management
I: Integration & congruence, personal
J: Journal signatures, bind completed from late 2017-2019
K: Kids, steward a learning/creative practice
L: Lunar Tracking, Limericks & Library curation
M: Minimum maintenance
N: Noble Eightfold Path Lite and Path of the Superior Person
P: Prayer beads and cards, make & piano
Q: Questions, live the
R: Raw meals, repair what is broken & replace beloved children’s books
S: Snail Mail
U: Uncomfortable feelings/situations, face & Undone projects, complete
V: Vitamins/supplements, video skills & vanity
W: Win/win, waiting on the Lord, wu wei/work clean & watercolor projects from Ana Calderon books
X: eXcavate through books/courses etc. that I already own
Y: “Yesterday’s” photos of the past, print
Z: Zine, at least one in 2020
I am flooded with relief as I look forward to a year where a lot of my decisions are kind of pre-made, within delineated boundaries that I have intentionally chosen. Decision-making on a day-to-day level is exhausting and I don’t necessarily trust myself to make “good choices” in the moment. I am still very much ruled by impulse. I also like that about half the things in my Alphabetica are more “practices” which don’t have “products” attached to them, and therefore don’t need to have hands-on time “penciled in” to a to-do list or schedule.
And yes, yes (my inner productivity junkie is poking me) a year is enough time to make “progress” without having to fit too much of anything into any one day or week – which for me is a trigger to rebel and say screw the whole damned plan. It was pleasantly surprising to see how far I had gotten into my two devotionals (The Mockingbird Devotional and Nailed It) just by reading one devotional each (most days) with my cafe latte. At the same time, getting through one-third of two devotionals in about four months is not very impressive in our get-more-done-in-less-time culture. But it really is a “deeper” experience for me, not rushing through the books in order to move on to the next one. I notice more in the text and think about it longer. That feels nourishing after 20+ “internet years” of shoveling “information” down my gullet so fast that it can’t be digested.
I keep thinking of the cliche, Hindsight is 2020, because this is 2020 and hindsight is part of depth. In hindsight, I see that the neurotic side of my intelligence has led to me thinking and overthinking everything to DEATH. That keeps me from enjoying things and is so bad for my nervous system. Mary Pipher wrote in her book Another Country that people are least alike in their thinking and most alike in their feelings. I do believe my thinking-focus and the attendant emotional repression developed as a necessary coping mechanism – but it has outlived its usefulness and has led me into ever more isolation from other people and from life.
I put up barriers between myself and others (in my younger years mostly) by starting unnecessary and potentially divisive debates with people about my pet subjects (of which there are many haha). Social media made that way too easy, of course. I used “intellectualism” (ironically I now admit to never really having an impressively developed intellect anyway, despite a fairly high IQ) as a way to protect myself from my wounds, my shadow, my vulnerability and from love. I have missed out on a lot in human terms because of being so head-focused. So hopefully my depth year will be an organically evolving time of living life rather than overthinking about it. If I drew a caricature of myself to show my “imbalances”, I would have this huge head which could no longer be supported by my small and neglected body (body of course representing the totality of my humanness and not my level of fitness or the beauty of my physique).
What I am discovering as I get older is that life itself is way more interesting than the IDEAS I have always had about life. Ideas for their own sake are starting to bore me and can never encompass what life really is. For me, living is somehow more enjoyable and more profound AND paradoxically, I am also more “effective” (in the ways most important to me) when I am just Hanging Out In Life (making and drinking my coffee, cleaning the kitchen, interacting with the actual humans in my life, learning things – basically tending to only what is within my circle of influence) instead of focusing overmuch on the philosophical “meaning of life” as put into words and/or on What Life and People Should Be Like In Order To Best Please ME.
Here are some quotes that have stood out to me recently, which hint at what I am trying to get at with my depth year:
“Notice the way God does things; then fall into line. Don’t fight the ways of God, for who can straighten what He has made crooked?”
- Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT
This means that I am tired of bumping into reality. Reality always kicks my butt. I am ready to work with and not against: the human condition, my personality and all that entails, and the people in my life as they are and the circumstances of my life as they are.
“You have strayed from the path of the superior person. Reflect on your inner state and your external situation to determine how and why this digression has occurred. When you identify it, gather all your inner reserves to turn back to the path of light and abundant life. You will never be sorry for having strayed from the path or for returning to it. However, if you fail to turn back, you will sincerely regret it.”
- Hexagram 24:5 The i ching workbook by Wu Wei. Interestingly, Wu Wei is not a person but an idea which means “natural action, or action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort”.
Of course, as a Christian, I know I have strayed from the path of the superior person – that’s why I need a savior. I have made an idol of personal development and like every idol, it really hasn’t delivered despite all my sacrifices – and I don’t have any more hearts to rip out and throw down into the pit. And I know from His word that the true God has prepared in advance good works that I should do (Ephesians 2:10) – so I am going to assume that I will indeed do them, despite all my faults, without struggle or excessive effort (this doesn’t mean that nothing will be hard…I’m sure I will elaborate on this as I write throughout the year). It’s an odd thing to say – don’t regret straying from the path – but straying from the path is what reminds you that you prefer to be on the path.
“In Zen we speak of living in vow. This means we attend wholeheartedly to the activities of daily life. When it is time to get up, we just get up. When it is time to wash the dishes, we wash the dishes…living in vow…is to carry out your routine with no sense of attempting to satisfy your individual desires. Under all circumstances, beyond your likes and dislikes, you have to carry on…the changes that occur through spiritual practice are not really your business. If you make them your business, you will try to change your life directly. If you try to change your life directly, no matter how long you work at it, you will not satisfy yourself. So, if you truly want to change your life, you should just form the routine of doing small things, day by day”.
- You Have to Say Something by Katagiri Roshi
And finally: “Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not created in the image of God for nothing.”
- Robert Farrar Capon
I don’t yet understand how these ideas will play into a depth year or maybe a deeper experience of life as a whole. I do know that I am overthinking this post haha forgetting that I have a whole year (at least) to flesh them out in writing. Stay tuned if you want to “live the questions” (Depth Year Alphabetica, Letter Q) with me during 2020.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke