We are lucky here in this part of the Shenandoah Valley - frost has not yet hit us. It has been around us, but not yet here at our home on the James River. I am glad, because the tomatoes and peppers keep producing along with the basil and the beautiful zinnias. In fact, it appears that the zinnias like these cooler temperatures. They are still growing and blooming, offering their beautiful colors and smiling faces.


We continue to live closely here at our country home. Our ages have my husband and I being particularly careful to not expose ourselves to the Covid virus. I know that I have been enjoying this time together as I wrote about in my previous blog. And we each are also honoring when we want to be away from each other. Our separateness usually is in the form of being in different places in the house or on the property.


Honoring the need for the other person to have time for themselves is very important to good mental health and balanced relationships, thus this second living-together suggestion: Honor Separate.


I teach relationship dynamics through the use of circles. In this case of two individuals, each person is a circle. In a healthy relationship, the two circles have a dynamic relationship where the circles can intersect each other as much as is agreeable to each individual. They can completely overlap. And when one person wants to separate and have time for self, that person is able to slide their circle away from the other person’s circle without an issue. Mutual respect for both the relationship and the individuality of each person makes this possible. Trust does, too.


So when my husband goes to work on his writing or is busy with notes he may be jotting down for his work, I respect his space. I try not to interrupt, not to insert myself in what he has going on. He has not left me. He is just doing things which are part of who he is and what builds him as a person. I leave him to his thoughts and work and trust that we will intersect again and again in natural ways as the day moves on.


Honor Separate works both ways. Not only do we want to be in a relationship which honors each person’s needs for time alone, we want to be able to offer this same opportunity to our self to take time away from others and activities. I know that when I step aside to write or play in my gardens, I become calmer and more centered. When I go for my walk, I prefer to go alone so I can be quiet and appreciate the sights and sounds of the world I am traveling through.


Allowing our self to have this separateness can be a challenge. We may feel selfish not inviting the rest of the family to walk with us. We may feel guilty taking time to look through catalogs or read a book when our child is waiting for us to review their homework. We may feel too pressed to get other things done to allow our self to stop and step away.


My experience is that I can always put these obstacles to Honor Separate– these thoughts and feelings - in my way. It’s not that someone else is stopping me from exercising, watching a show, or napping. It’s me. My recovery often has me noticing such self-imposed obstacles and making efforts to remove them. Things that help me to do this include creating a pause in my activities to notice if I would do well to be on my own for a bit, tuning into what I would really like to go do for me for these separate moments, and reminding myself of how restored I feel from time alone.


Looking at the photo of the zinnias still growing in my garden, we see beautiful color and form. Reaching to the sun on their strong stems, each zinnia has its own distinct life and character. The flowers are separate and yet they are all rooted together. Separate and rooted together. What a masterpiece!

 


Those of you who have worked with me know that I am visual. I like to draw diagrams and illustrate things I am teaching.  I still use a flip chart in my workshops and retreats. If you look inside of the 2nd edition of Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else, you will see what has been described as “a visually appealing book.” It has my lists, illustrations, and diagrams interspersed throughout. They are there to help teach.


So it will be with this blogs series on “Living Closely – Indefinitely.” As I said in my previous blog about my COVID garden, that sweet kitchen garden has been productive as have some of my thoughts on how we do this living closely indefinitely. I have four suggestions: Celebrate Together, Honor Separate, Expect Less, and Respect Different.  As we look at each of these ideas, I will be using photos and metaphors from my COVID garden to explain how these ideas may be helpful to us.


Celebrate Together suggests that since we are in this situation of increased time together and more shared everything, we choose to appreciate this as an opportunity. Yes, I know we can have too much of a good thing, nevertheless, I suggest we choose to see this as a time to really see, listen to, and understand each other more fully. It is a time to enjoy meals together and various safe forms of entertainment. It is an opportunity to cultivate patience and calm within as we are with others. It is a time to practice compromising and limit setting.  It is a time to practice the Serenity Prayer – sorting what we can and cannot control and letting go of what we cannot control.


It is not likely to be a good time to discuss major issues with each other or make decisions about whether to leave an important relationship – unless we are in danger. In the same way that in early recovery, we are advised to not make any significant changes in our lives for the first year, so it is with learning to live with this pandemic. We are adjusting to many changes in our lives at this time, and Celebrate Together - learning to be with who we are and who we are with - can help bring needed stability and growth.


I know I have been glad to have more time at home with my husband. Our time together in this life is limited.  I was becoming more aware of that as I ran in and out of the house to work and activities, always on the go with a calendar full of things to do away from the house and away each other. This pandemic has me at home almost all of the time with him.  I am plenty busy still, and I am glad we are here together – not glad every moment – but most of the time. I am trying to Celebrate Together in the ways I write of above and consider this time together a blessing.


The photo above is from my garden. The cherry tomatoes are clustered together on the vine. Side-by-side they grow, sharing the nutrients of their vine. If that vine breaks, none of them can grow further and over time they will each rot. Day-in-and-out these little tomatoes hang out together allowing space for the growth of each other and sharing the benefits of the soil and sun on their  precious spot on this Earth.

             


By March 16th, 2020, I retreated to my home with my husband as we entered quarantine-for-all here in the US. We bought our groceries, I got what I needed from my counseling office, and we came home to stay for a good while. I cleared a space in our daughter’s former room to make my home office, and I began my new career in teletherapy.


I also settled deeply into gardening. Now don’t think big; think sweet kitchen garden with 4-6 tomato, pepper, squash, and broccoli plants mixed with basil, zinnias, and marigolds.  Just the previous fall, we had some trees taken down that were threatening our house; they also had become so large that they shaded what had been our backyard garden many years ago. So as March and April presented themselves, I took to preparing these raised garden beds for their new life. My time hoeing the soil, learning more about fertilizing and mulching, and planting these beautiful green seedlings was centering and soothing.


Now in mid-September, my garden is full of restored sweetness. My plants grew well, producing color and vegetables. And I am repeatedly amazed at how the desolation of taking down the trees last fall – a very upsetting day for me – has turned into this beautiful little garden that calls to me each day to come out and enjoy!


Covid Gardens. Many of us have Covid Gardens. People who sell garden supplies and plants have told us how popular gardening has been during this pandemic - and for very good reasons.  In my story, my garden has been a great revival project. I never expected to ever again have enough sun in my yard to grow things. I was clearly wrong. The distress of the tree removal and the tremendous piles of dying brush that lay in our backyard, has – through our efforts – become a welcoming spot on this Earth.


And as my garden has grown, so have I. During this planting and growing season, I have also been busy with the release of the 2nd edition of Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else.  Offering radio interviews and on-line articles, I have often been asked to discuss how the tools in Disentangle can be applied to these pandemic times – which they easily can. Entanglements are often about trying to control what we cannot control. These pandemic times offer us daily opportunities to sort in this way: what I can and what I cannot control.


“Living Closely - Indefinitely” has become both an assignment and essay for me. In the same way that I have been tending to my garden, I have also been tending to our simple life here together and learning what helps in these restricted times. As of today, I have four suggestions for “Living Closely - Indefinitely”:

                            

                                                Celebrate Together

                                                Honor Separate

                                                Expect Less

                                                Respect Different


I hope you will join me over the next several weeks as I offer a blog on each of these ideas for “Living Closely – Indefinitely.” My Covid Garden has taught me many practical and spiritual things. Living closely has, too.


Now, out I go to those bright pink zinnias and green peppers shining in the sun waiting to be picked.