It's been almost five months since I began my year long journey to re-immerse my life in the delights of gentle domesticity.
I thought it was going to be easy, you know?
But it hasn't been.
Not because I wasn't committed, because I am, wholeheartedly. But because I did not realise how deep my personal neglect of self had gone.
The last few years have seemed to me like living in a fast moving train with only glimpses of the life I desired as it sped past; little snapshots of yearning and delights that could never be touched for long enough, leaving me with an increased longing for the train to slow and eventually stop.
The pace of business, family responsibilities and trials, health and home; they all took time and energy, and they all kept me running.
I'd been planning A Year of Gentle Domesticity for months and when the sun rose on January 1st my plan was to begin 2015 by taking time out to rest each day, to build up my physical and emotional reserves by re-visiting the me I used to be and stepping back into my own skin, exploring the many domestic arts I'd neglected for so long but which I knew would take the over-burdened emphasis off work and bring creative and domestic balance to my life, and generally 'go home' with my whole heart.
Last week I pondered how this plan was progressing, and for a few days wallowed in self pity that things weren't where I'd hoped they would be by the end of May.
But then I sat outside and examined our ailing Mock Orange tree and had an epiphany.
I live in the tropics of North Queensland, Australia, and every year we have a wet season from around November to April. It didn't happen this year. We had the driest wet season in over 70 years, and the landscape which is normally green, wild, and lush by May is dry and brown and dying.
Like our poor Mock Orange tree...
Like so much of our garden it has become malnourished and dehydrated from the lack of seasonal rain and a broken home sprinkler system (this is a rental home and the owner will not fix it).
Looking at my tree that morning I realised that was how I felt too - not from lack of water or soil nutrients, but from lack of self care. From personal neglect.
Mr E and I decided that we needed to save the tree, and if water was what it needed (a lot of water), then we'd do what we could, without waiting for a miracle from the sky or our landlord.
So we put the garden hose on a gentle stream right at the base of the tree so the water would slowly sink deep down to the roots and not run off over the parched and hard soil.
For three hours each day we followed this plan, and after a week we noticed that the leaves were 'lifting' instead of wilting, and new growth had appeared...
Excited, as though this was a child we were nursing back to health, we continued with the plan.
This morning I opened the front door to let Bob-the-dog outside and was greeted with the most incredible fragrance from the BLOOMS on our tree!
Next weekend Mr E will chop away the dead sections of the tree as now we know it can be saved and removing limbs will not cause more stress to the plant. You see, the first time we cut away some of the tree it got worse, but it's gaining in health every day now...
So what have I learned from this tree?
That neglect - whether from circumstances (like the drought for my tree) or from doing too much and forgetting to say no - will dry you from the inside out. It will empty you of spirit, health, peace, wisdom and joy.
It will leave you as the passenger on a fast moving train catching only a glimpse of the beauty around you and never truly nourished in spirit, mind and body.
I see this now, and the lesson is embedded in my heart.
Reflecting on these first five months of my year of gentle domesticity has taught me things I may not have understood without walking the journey...
* an understanding of how important emotional and physical healing is to my growth as a person
* how slowing down allows a wider view of my life and clarity to see what truly matters
* patience is required to bring positive change, and for some things patience simply means 'rest'
* it's not selfish to say no when life is already full or I know it's not right for me or my family in the big scheme of things
* saying no does not mean I'm a failure - oftentimes it means I've gained wisdom
* filling my emotional tank gives me a healthier measure of love to share
* it's okay that I'm not a social person, but someone who loves time alone or just with my husband
If you feel like my tree before we took the time to care for it, then maybe you need to join me in re-acquainting yourself with the gentle art of personal rest and renewal?
Stop and consider your life and your responsibilities.
Are you over-burdened?
Have you committed to too many things?
Do you say 'yes' because you fear you'll be rejected if you say 'no'?
Have you forgotten to spend time doing things that give you joy?
Are you tired, weary, lonely?
Do you live your life 'clothed' in a personality not your own but one you believe others expect of you?
Dear heart, what are you missing?
Where did you take a wrong turn and stop caring for, and being, your precious self?
I don't mean selfish care - I mean doing things that fill up your emotional tank, that allow you a good dose of laughter, that rest your body and your thoughts and bring renewal and refreshment, that truly reflect the lovely person you naturally are and always were.
My mock orange tree is healing and blooming in a season of renewal but it took time and care and thoughtfulness on our part.
You and I are no different to the tree. Maybe, like me, you need to give yourself time, care and thoughtfulness too. Be patient, nourish yourself from the inside and renew in strength before you begin cutting away debris that may require emotional effort. But the small stuff, yes, let that go now.
The Big Guy upstairs is there to help you too.
"You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures evermore."