Building a Better Mental Ecosystem: Part 2, Burning the Overgrowth

I was talking to an acquaintance about last week’s blog – which clearly touched a common nerve with many of you – and she had some interesting observations. For many women, she noted, motherhood is a huge part of their identity. From the moment we give birth to that first child, we spend decades balancing two selves – the woman and the mother.

Then suddenly, our children are grown and the mother part of us – the part that has made up so much of who we are – is no longer necessary. In it’s place we’re left with an empty space. We’re no longer the women we were pre-child, but we’re no longer mothers we were either.

She noted that I also spent much of my motherhood years working toward the dream of being a published author. I’ve achieved the dream, but it no longer fits quite as comfortably as it did a decade ago. Based on the number of notes I got from fellow writers, others are in the same boat.

No wonder we feel out of sort.

When I mentioned going fallow, my acquaintance – okay, my former therapist – made an excellent point. Before a plot of land can go fallow, it must be cleared. She likened it to the practice of burning the thick overgrowth prior to letting the field lay fallow. The fire brings the nutrients needed for the post-fallow growth.

Made me realize I needed to do some burning. Not just of the big, negative overgrowth, but of my inner weeds. (Yeah, I know, I’m killing this farming metaphor.) Then I can focus on what truly nurtures.

I sat down and started two lists. The first was things that gave me pleasure. (More on that another time.) The second was things in my life that caused irritation and/or depression.

To my surprise the list broke down into two distinct categories.

The first group was the obvious, big-ticket items that left me in a continual state of annoyance — social media, the manipulation of news headlines, political hypocrisy. These were also the easiest weeds to pull. I deactivated my Twitter account, I made the decision to avoid opinion websites, I silenced my friend’s overtly political posts (sorry friends), and I bookmarked a website that gives me the important news headlines without editorializing.

The items in second group were far subtler. Some were relationships that needed re-evaluating, and some, when I took a second look, were reactions that needed examining. That is, I needed look below the surface, to why things caused me so much angst. The root of it all, if you will.

That’s when I realized that the first group of items– Twitter, politics, etc. – was a list of distractions. To keep beating my metaphor, they were brush fires. Fighting them hijacked all my attention and kept me from doing any kind of deep, controlled burning needed for real change.

I hope that makes sense, because for me, it was a real revelation. Kill the distractions so that I can focus on the smaller, deep-rooted plants. It’s only then that I can clear my land and make way for the new.

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