“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” -Anne Lamott
I finally watched the movie, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. It was selected by Mindful.org as the “mindful film of the year” and really struck a chord. I’m drawn to stories of people embarking on pilgrimages of self-discovery that involve backpacking through the wilderness, and Wild features a woman who is grieving the death of her mother and decides to hike 1,100 miles solo along the Pacific Crest Trail to reclaim her life, which had been thrown into disarray in the wake of her mother’s death. Unlike my sister, I watched the movie prior to reading the memoir on which it was based. Now I want to read the book!
Watching the movie made me aware of a deep-seated desire to do something out of the ordinary to honor my own grief and rebuild my life. I yearn for a rite of passage – a touchstone for transformation.
Part of me longs to take a backpacking journey – as portrayed in Wild or The Way – or to retreat to the solitude of a simple cabin in the woods for a few months to get some perspective. I just want to stop the world for a little while to take inventory and forge a new vision – because my world changed ten months ago when my mother died, and it will never be the same again. I will never be the same. I want to create something fresh and vital from the ashes and make the most of this “one and precious life.”
At the end of Wild, a voice-over summarizes the woman’s journey:
“But if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. What if I wanted to sleep with every single one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if all those things I did were the things that got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?
It took me years to be the woman my mother raised. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it without her. After I lost myself in the wilderness of my grief, I found my own way out of the woods. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there on the last day of my hike. Thank you, I thought over and over again, for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know.”
-Cheryl Strayed, as quoted in the movie adaptation of her memoir, Wild.
I have some of my own “what ifs.”
What if situations that seem dreadful or unfortunate on the surface teach us something? What if walking through the darker corners of grief is part of our journey? What if people who appear as adversaries are actually helping us to awaken and move on? What if getting pushed to our limit is exactly what we need in order to change?
What if I’m here to do my work in this world by using my particular nature and programming to the fullest, rather than trying to force my nature to conform to incompatible situations? What if my nature/essence/personality is no accident and serves a purpose that I have yet to understand and utilize fully?
During the winter, I prayed for clarity…and received it. And I’m grateful for it, even though the timing feels inconvenient. I have resolved to walk through a door that, for years, I’ve been afraid to walk through, even though doing so still scares me. And that’s why I’m now praying for courage – because not doing it would be too great a compromise. Certainly, there will be other “problems” that arise when I walk through that door, but at least I will not compromise my spirit any longer. That is a burden too heavy to bear.
I think of how preoccupied I was with what “to do” with my life – meaning what kind of work to do. For a long time, I equated work with livelihood but have since come to define it much more broadly, as the energy we give to the world. The specifics of it don’t seem as important as the context in which it is carried out. I acknowledge the importance of being in an environment that is aligned with my principles and values what I have to offer, an environment in which I have freedom to be myself and to release my best, most authentic energy and talents into the world. I’m realizing that if conforming to a system or environment devastates your spirit, you must have enough self-respect and faith to move on. When a situation isn’t compatible with your nature, you owe it to yourself to say, “No, thank you,” and move forward…because it would be a waste of your precious life not to. I think it would be a tragedy to get to the end of this life and see that I wasted time failing to express my highest nature by remaining stuck in something that requires me to be someone I’m not – something that binds my wings and has lost its spirit, meaning, and purpose. Remaining stuck is like clinging to a rotten branch. It’s allowing the lower, fearful self to be in the driver’s seat. It’s not living.
No, thank you. I was made for more than that!
I wonder: Does everyone go a little crazy while navigating the wilderness of grief – each in our own way? Can you ever be the same again after losing your mother? And is “sameness” something to even wish for? Or is it one of the great delusions? (As a photographer, I would answer yes because it is becoming apparent to me that, based on the interdependent nature of this world of form, nothing remains exactly the same from moment-to-moment.)
In recent months, I have been spending time watching the Battenkill River flow. Its movement is much more dramatic than the flow of the Hudson River in front of my house. The roaring Battenkill inspires and influences me greatly and has been teaching me about letting go and dislodging the fear-based belief that my present set of circumstances is the safest, healthiest place to be.
The only thing I know at this point that my mother’s death has awakened me to the gift, opportunity, and brevity of our human life. Status quo appears to be over. And rather than focus on the time, money, and energy wasted on something that ended up not being a good fit, I can be thankful for all I have learned and the ways in which I have grown as a result. No stepping stone on our path is for naught. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without it. But it is not the end of the path. There is more to come.
In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible.” And when it’s time to move on, may we do so with love, gratitude, and confidence.
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