My journey from burnout to grace — Part 3

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

One day, when I was lying in bed, recovering from my burnout, I wanted to write but I did not have the energy to pick up a pen. Instead I recorded the following as a voice memo on my iPhone.

“I feel such despair. Everything I thought I had built in my life is lying at ruins at my feet. My mind is going crazy asking why has this happened, why did it have to happen to me, what did I do to deserve this, why has everything in my life gone wrong?

I tried so hard to build a life that mattered, where I mattered, I tried to make a contribution to the world and yet, it has all been taken away from me and all I am left with is exhaustion, confusion and grief.

The words Fierce Grace are reverberating in my head. I don’t even know what that means!

What is Grace?

And why does it have to be fierce?

Maybe Grace has to be fierce in my life because I have not listened to the still, small voice that has always been inside me, since I was a child. I thought I knew better. I was influenced by everyone around me, family, society, I have tried so hard to do everything that was expected of me. I wanted to be loved and I thought that the way to be loved was to please other people, to put their needs before my own.

Was I wrong?

Now everything has been taken away and I am left here, lying in bed, staring out at the trees, I am so aware of my wee scared self. The fragile part of me that tried so hard to get everything right that she exhausted herself in the process.

She needs love. But the love she needs is MY love. I am becoming aware again of that other voice, the one that I recognise has always having been there, the still, small voice of my true self.

Even in the midst of chaos she is reassuring me that nothing is wrong but I can’t accept that. How can nothing be wrong when everything appears to be wrong? But one taste, one hearing of her voice again, now I am still enough to listen, when I have nothing else to listen to, is lighting a desire in me to know the truth.

Where do we come from? Why are we here? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why have I burned out out twice? I do not know the answers to these questions. I am too tired to figure it out. Please show me.”

I started by paying close attention to my body.

What do you need, my darling?

What is needed to calm that beating heart, those racing thoughts?

In the silence, in the stillness, I noticed I am breathing in and breathing out. Yet, it is not me that is doing it. I noticed I can neither stop breathing when I choose, nor start breathing when I choose. Each breath comes to me as a gift. Sounds reach my ears as gifts, the trees outside my window are gifts. Gifts I do nothing to earn or to deserve. I realised that the only thing that has ever gone wrong is that my life is not as my wee scared self imagined it. I realised that it was my thoughts about how everything SHOULD be that was causing my feelings.

Suddenly, I had a realisation that I have been divested of all my plans to see what is really here. It was as if some wisdom that felt as though it was not me, yet was truly me said “I don’t ask you to trust, I ask you to notice.”

Now, I ask the same questions of you, What is the effect of reading these words? All the objections that rise in your mind, where do they arise from? What do they dissolve into? Who is it that notices these thoughts, who is it that notices the churning in your stomach. Who is it that under all the churning is still, an ocean of peace and calm?

As Teilhard du Cardin said “We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. I misunderstood this for so long. I thought that as spiritual beings we would transcend our humanity, no longer subject to the emotions that are part of our humanity. I thought there was the possibility of permanent joy. But we are having a human experience. An experience that includes illness, death, betrayal, catastrophe.

I have come to know the truth of “there is nothing wrong”. There is a steady sureness that all is well, even in apparent hell. A remembrance, a knowing that the mind cannot articulate, that is felt in the soul. A consciousness that arises that one one level feels impossible to understand and yet is the truest thing I have ever known.

I notice that it is always my thoughts about a situation that cause me pain, not the situation itself. I notice that thoughts come and go. I am learning to let them pass. I know there is an intelligence guiding us, that breathes my body and causes the acorns to grow into oak trees and not sycamores. A wisdom that we all have access to, as our birthright.

This wisdom, this Grace is calling me and it is also calling you.

I wish its ways were more gentle, but for me and for many of us, it seems Grace has a fierce face.

But, with fierceness or with gentleness, however Grace comes, she is always, always leading us home.

In the final part of this series, I write about slowing down to the speed of grace and how burnout can be the gateway to joy.