There are plenty of milestones we go through from birth to adolescents to adulthood and into the final phase of our lives till we die. Some of them are held in our memories, deep within our psyche, some are unconscious, some are very much active in the control center of our day to day lives. I have a particular memory from when I was a young girl about 10 or so. My mother was sitting in the living room cutting coupons from magazines. She was dressed in her bathrobe having just gotten out of the shower. Her hair was wrapped in curlers. We were supposed to be going someplace. Where, I cannot remember. I heard her crying. In fact, she was sobbing. She was sitting there, in her bathrobe with curlers in her hair, cutting coupons and sobbing in the middle of the living room. At the time I had no way to understand what was going on. I sat behind the door to my bedroom with the door slightly ajar, so that I could peak through the crack and watch the slim movie of this weeping woman from the safety of my room filled with curiosity and fear. She clearly had gone someplace else in her grief, but where? She left my father not too long after that. My older brother and I stayed with him in the big red house on the hill in Beechwood. She went to live in a two-room log cabin in the woods in Sinnemahoning, PA.
I have another memory from when I was in college. I was a freshman, living in the coed dorms of Boreman South. I had had too much to drink. I was sad. I felt lonely. It wasn’t like a loneliness of being homesick or feeling excluded from my friends. It was a deep, painful, dark, foreboding wound that dripped with melancholic young adult angst. A floormate tapped me on the shoulder; bringing me back to awareness of where I actually was, not where I had travelled to.
I was not unlike the woman sitting in her bathrobe in curlers on the living room floor cutting coupons. What would she have done if I had tapped her on her shoulder all those years ago? Would she have recognized she was where she was not where she had gone to? Can I even realize the incredibly profound meaning in that statement? It has been a hard time coming to terms with the truth of this statement. And that young woman, back then, probably wouldn’t have understood all of it either.
We all go through this life, this existence with lingering questions I believe. Some of us are better at hiding our uncertainties than others. It is a deep desire to feel like we belong that drives us to the extremes of our limits. We walk out to the margins of our personalities to find others who think and act like we do so that we can feel like we belong somewhere, even when we’ve gotten too far from the center of who we really are.
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Northcentral Pennsylvania is a rare place. The beauty is almost painful to behold. Yet, the stark contrast of depression and helplessness of residents born to this region give one a sense of deep conflict and confusion. It was a place where economic class was measured at a microcosmic scale. Where those who had power yielded to keep themselves afloat just ever so slightly above those who lacked it. It was the sort of place where young women who had never received an explanation about their bodies could easily find themselves fumbling out from underneath an eager and overly aggressive young man in the dark of night, parked on some lonely, dark, cold road. It was the sort of place that leaves one with any level of self-awareness a subtle sense of longing for something not yet understood. The stars sort of looked down upon you as if they knew your purpose before you even understand your place
It wasn’t like I didn’t recognize this when I was young growing up here. I don’t know if everyone sees the ironic dichotomy or if it is only visible to the ones who accept the truth that they are bigger than this place and that their future is someplace other than here. Their future lies in a place, frighteningly, unknown to them and their families. This can cause its own set of challenges. I certainly faced my own.
And with little savings, a few possessions and a great deal of courage, I packed a suitcase and some mementos. I bought a one-way ticket from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Reno, Nevada. I gladly left Pennsylvania far, far behind me. I went to the very edge of my reality in search a place that I might belong.
Your personal history has a funny way of following you. I soon found myself sitting by firelight in a living room, recognizably alone, weeping by moonlight as it glistened off the snowy covered landscaped outside my window. I felt this yearning, pulling from someplace deep inside of myself. Fear surfaced once again and I escaped to South America where I drowned my sadness, feelings of unworthiness and fears in bottles of red Malbec and late-night raves. And, despite all the exhaustion of running and running, years later, as a mother of a young child, I couldn’t help but recognize the patterns of coincidence as I sat, sobbing inside an empty church, praying for God or whomever to come and save me from my abusive husband.
And you know what? God listens.
I have spent years seeking a place where I felt like I belonged. All the while I’ve studied texts, taken classes, and explored many paths to God. I journeyed far beyond the marginal edges of my personal reality. At times, I discovered deeper parts of myself and then somehow lost all control only to resurface back to some buoyed marker. It was if my unconscious self was leaving crumbs so if I lost my way, I could my way back again.
Pema Chodrin says that when we feel that everything is falling apart that this is the moment that we can trust everything is falling into place. Like a jigsaw puzzle, like Tetris, like matching the coupon to the grocery need, we are able to always meet the challenge by rising to the occasion. The power, the resilience, the awareness somehow resides within us and emerges just at the moment in which we desperately need it; should we choose to allow it.
I can tell you all the things that were ‘wrong’ with the way I was brought up. I can give you hundreds of examples where I was marginalized, oppressed, discounted, excluded, hurt, rejected, abandoned, abused, violated, etc. I can tell you how I survived cancer, domestic violence, rape, miscarriages, abortion, financial insolvency, or whatever horrible thing I can remember that I’ve lived through. I can give you explicit details how my life has been hard. I can show the distances I’ve travelled far from my center in order to somehow attempt to explain or justify my life. But it doesn’t really matter.
I used to think that my physical scars gave me some sort of street credit for the obstacles I’ve overcome. And they do. But…
I ask, what does this all prove? What does it solve? Where does it land me? In the end, I am nothing more than a woman, alone in a room, crying because she feels lost. I find myself no longer present with who I am in that moment but instead burdened with the past’s failures and regrets; angry that I got lost somewhere along the way.
A wise friend said once that our minds are bigger than our thoughts and our hearts go deeper than our feelings. Our worlds are so much more abundant than we often acknowledge.
I like to think of my life how Neil Donald Walsh explains it in his children’s book, Little Soul and The Sun. In order for us, as divine beings having this rather peculiar human experience, we need contrasts to be able to understand who we really are. Without contrast, how could we distinguish ourselves from everything else? Contrast is what allows us to illuminate the shadows and express our unique gifts.
There are many entrepreneurs out there trying to see the five-step method for a blissful revision of your story. But the truth is they don’t have your answer. I don’t either. I am sorry. The answers to your questions lie within in. They do not reside outside of ourselves and they certainly don’t live at the marginal edges of our realities, although those journeys often do bring us some level of clarity.
I attended a workshop years ago with a Unity church. The pastor leading the workshop was trying to illustrate how God works in our lives. He wrote down this phrase, “Clarity, Focus, Ease and Grace.” He said that if we can discover the flow of these four words in our lives, God will act in our lives accordingly. I’ve struggled for decades reciting this phrase like a mantra in hopes that I will somehow find my Grace. But I struggle with clarity and life rarely seems easy. The other day I was repeating this phrase in downward dog position as my puppy happily licked my face (this is her game) and it hit me. What if it wasn’t about finding Clarity first and instead you could surrender into Grace? What if I had had it backwards all along? What if we need to start with Grace, which leads to Ease and then we can Focus to gain Clarity?
It is that kind of epiphany that only comes when we go inside ourselves. It never comes from others or our outer world.
We can never really know what lies ahead of us in life. We can only set some goals and try to achieve them. I think that the key is to experience the experiences and live from them with open eyes and a loving heart; be willing to accept what comes and be grateful for our gifts. And in all of the messiness of life, we have the option of choosing to feel gratitude for everything or demonize it. It boils down to the inescapable truth that God, or whatever you call that thing we have a hard time explaining, is made up of love. There, as Henry David Thoreau says, at the meeting of two eternities, the past and future – precisely the present moment will unfold.