Sunday, March 24, 2013

When We Feel Overwhelmed by Our Problems

Two springs ago, leeks and onions, which I'm planting now.  Below is an excerpt from my non-fiction book, Pushkin and Chickens, about my farm and my life in Moncure, written in 2004.

I wanted to create an island of sanity and love.  Actually I wanted to change the world so that we earth-dwellers did not destroy our planetary village out of carelessness or hatred for each other.  The place to begin, I decided, was with myself and my home here in Moncure, with what I could do, the love I could show, the work of my hands and my shovel, my ingenuity for solving problems like the disintegrating burn barrels in my backyard, where the neighbors had burned their trash before I moved in.  I had tried to get them moved or removed.  Finally, I started pulling their burned trash out, only to have the barrels collapse.  I asked my neighbor to take them to the recycle center, but he couldn’t seem to get around to it.  Finally, his son-in-law did it, and I planted flowers there.

There is always a problem and always a solution, no matter how elusive, how tantalizingly out of reach.  I never like the problems, but looking back, I see that what I have now is the natural consequence of the problems I have had.  My life is woven from the solutions I discovered or invented.  The fabric that holds my world in place and me in it is anchored by people who have helped me or whom I have helped, or both.

I hate the dark times when I can’t see, when I hurt and the problem feels huge and blinds me, seems to take away all my usual resilience and confidence.  Then something nibbles at the darkness, and Light enters as if It were determined not to be kept out, as if Light and I were partners in a very old human struggle, and no sooner did I feel bogged down and stuck in a dismal, grim place, than Light began to find the cracks I had not noticed and to enter.

Even a little gleam of light will overthrow a big darkness, and I know that another transformation has begun.  Maybe that is my main gift: transformation.  It isn’t recognized.  Men conquer.  Woman transform.  Most women don’t understand this.  I do, but I forget every time things go dark.  Which comes first: the Light returning or my remembering that such dark times are always part of transformation?  I don’t know.  For years–thirty at least–I’ve loved the idea of “eating darkness to make light.”  What does it mean?  Is that what happens?  That, when I feel overwhelmed by the problem, something in me begins to work on it, a piece at a time?  

Is this related to the many myths in which people were cut up and put in a boiling pot and came out of it whole, better than new?  I think so.  We feel divided from our usual confidence, hope, good judgment, intuition.  We feel the opposite of resilient.  We feel under instead of on top of.  Our usual sense of our resources deserts us.  We don’t want that which we are learning to be true, and we feel without any way to stop things from going from bad to worse.  Separated from our true selves, we feel anxious, alone, powerless.

Then that little gleam:  I can’t do everything, but I can do something, even if that something is merely hanging on, watching for openings.  They come sometimes when we least expect them.

To live creatively then and closely aligned with the principle of transformation is to live unswallowed by the darkness and in tension with it, alert for openings where Light may enter us or leave us in order to enter others.


  1. I often feel overwhelmed, Judy. My sister, Elaine, thinks I need to simplify and let go of my many activities and projects, etc. Clean my house and my life, so to speak. However, I'm not ready to get rid of my ponies nor eliminate most of my gardens or quit my book clubs and writing groups or stop delivering Mobile Meals. We each have our own priorities, wants and needs and they usually don't coincide with others. She wants to travel more. I want to travel less. She likes TV shows and talks about them to me all the time. I neither have nor want cable and prefer to listen to music and read in the evenings. One thing that brings stress are long phone calls, and yet I don't want to be rude and cut family and friends off, either. They have their needs and someday, I may have the same needs of having an ear to listen to me and my problems. You and I are both lucky, Judy, in having our little bit of land to connect us to what is real and important. And now on to the next problem in my life - trying to read that gosh awful gotcha or whatever it's called to leave a message. :-)

  2. I think being creative automatically give one such a good outlet for frustration. Well said! I nominated your blog (well, you and your chickens) for a Liebster Award this morning. Details, if you'd like to accept, are at