“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.” I said to the pixelated Japanese face at the other end of my Skype call. I could feel the strain in my voice as I struggled to mask the restlessness and frustration inside of me.
He looked back at me with an expression of compassionate amusement.
“You need to learn to live with the reality that you don’t know what to do next. And that you don’t know why you don’t know. Be with the not knowing. Make yourself the quest.”
I could feel the heat rising up my neck. I took a quick assessment of my surroundings.
Here I was, sitting in my new basement bedroom in a co-living house in Berkeley, California. The room must have once been a utility space, as evidenced by the commercial sink built into the wall next to the bed.
Along the counter, an ant infestation was underway. Streams of tiny soldiers marched indifferently across my eco-friendly repellent of cinnamon sprinklings. I spritzed at them half-heartedly with a vinegar solution as they continued on.
Beyond them, in hanging baskets and planters were an assortment of spider plants, golden pothos, and eight or so other air-filtering houseplants. They were providing some peace of mind against my fear of dying in my sleep from noxious basement fumes.
And above my head, the ceiling was for the moment, silent. We had a rat infestation. At night, I would lay awake in the dark, my eyes tracking their scampering back and forth across the room. The thought of rodents crawling across my face while I slept had compelled me to line the room with peanut butter baited electric rat traps.
Only a month earlier, I was a married homeowner, living in a cozy three bedroom colonial in a charming town in the Hudson Valley of New York. I had a husband, the loving support of his family and cultural community, a job, a yard with a garden, and a nice sport boat we’d take out on the river for fishing and relaxing. Now I was divorced and unemployed, my life’s belongings stacked up in plastic bins along the far wall.
It had been my choice, a fact which was currently bringing me exactly zero amount of comfort.
I returned my attention to the former Zen Buddhist priest before me on the screen, Yasuhiko Genku Kimura. I’d enlisted him to act as mentor and spiritual advisor to help me through this very difficult time of transition. At the moment, what I was seeking was direction, not a koan.
“Your practice for this year is ‘waiting,’ he said. It will go against your childhood conditioning and culture, but you must learn this lesson. Give yourself permission to take the rest of this year “off” professionally and see what emerges.”
I thought of how badly I needed that. My grandmother had passed only a few months prior, leaving me an inheritance substantial enough to actually grant such a gift of time. The tasks of arranging her funeral, liquidating her apartment, and settling her estate had been exhausting. I had been her primary caregiver, a burden of responsibility that had fallen onto me after the deaths of my parents when I was in my 20s. Between the emotional challenge of handling her death, my divorce, and the logistics of moving myself across the country all at the same time, I was so due for a break. If only I knew how to relax.
I’d been driven my whole life. By the expectations of my parents, our Croatian immigrant culture, a Catholic upbringing. There was no “waiting.” There was struggling. There was self-sacrifice and duty. There was work.
It was all I knew. Now, at the age of 32, I was independent for the first time in my life, and I didn’t know how to be different. I wanted to live without anxiety. To release myself from being driven by “shoulds” and obligations. To let go of the need to base my self-worth on the approval of others. To set boundaries. To follow the direction of my heart. To allow myself to experience fulfillment and creativity and passion. I knew I wanted to be free.
How to go about making any of those things happen, I did not know, but it didn’t seem likely they’d occur by just waiting. I needed to do something.
“Being a gardener or farmer is not the same as being a general in an army. Growing tomatoes and trees takes time. You cannot hasten or force them to grow,” he said with a smile.
I sighed. This was going to be a long year.
And so began my magical journey of transformation.
Equipped with courage, faith in myself, and a great deal of not knowing, I made the commitment to take full responsibility for my life.
The process would be an alchemical one: Metaphorically described as the conversion of lead to gold, this alchemy was the transmutation of fear into freedom.
I’d embark upon the “trials” of this heroine’s journey – go into my shadows, face the self-limiting demons inside, and claim the gifts of empowerment hidden within them. Slowly, but surely, I would discover my greatness.
I made a choice to live a mythic life.
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next………. The First Trial: Claiming my Inner Authority …………….
this is an excerpt from a story i’m writing about my journey towards a life of freedom