As I’m writing this, it’s mid-November, 2017. I am sitting on a plane at 30,000 feet on my way to San Francisco. My entire life is about to change.
As most of you know, I am moving. The guidance that led me here was undeniably clear. My heart swells with joy every time I am on the Northern California coast. When I went out to West Marin in May to celebrate the completion of my dissertation I had an ecstatic connection with the Point Reyes National Sea Shore. It was post rainy season and the hills were a lush, deep green, the ice plants were flowering magenta, and the waves were wild as they crashed on the rocks. As I drove down the road to the lighthouse and looked out over the rolling hills of the coast, I felt like I was meeting a long lost beloved who was welcoming me into his arms. The synchronicities and messages on that trip were undeniable. I was being called back home.
That was before the fires. Before the contractor I hired to remodel my Colorado home mistakenly attached the dishwasher incorrectly and caused a black mold fiasco. Before my insurance refused to cover it. Before my renter fell through. Before my new car started leaking transmission fluid. Before the company that I hired to rebuild my kitchen mistakenly charged my debit card an extra $2000. Before my new landlady in California refused to give me a lease. In other words, before the sacred obstacles appeared.
I know enough about the ways of Soul to know that these obstacles were not coincidences or bad luck. My new landlady (the same one who refused to give me a lease) is a bit of a crazy mystic. When I told her about the challenges I was facing in my attempts to extract myself from Boulder she called it a “high threshold.” Apparently, there are temples in Thailand where it is difficult to distinguish between the outdoor space and the holy inner chamber. So, in an attempt to invite the visitors to wake up as they entered the inner temple, the monks built a series of high steps at the threshold. If the visitors weren’t careful at these thresholds, they’d trip.
Leaving Boulder has been a particularly high threshold. I have been invited to wake up and pay attention every step of the way. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t trip. Several times.
As much as I love the ocean, I am also cautious of her power. Like all Great Mothers, she is not to be underestimated.
A couple of years ago while in Mexico with my women’s group, I had a run in with some waves. The water was rough that day and the drop off just past the shore was steep. I almost didn’t enter. But felt the call to adventure and so dove in, seduced by Soul. By the time the first wave hit it occurred to me that I may not have thought this through. I was pulled under, turned upside down, and slammed against the ocean bottom. I popped up just in time to get some air before being taken under again. And again. And again. After several rounds of this I managed to swim to shore and dragged my body out of the current.
My friends tell me that as I left the water the expression on my face was ecstatic and open, as if a powerful lover had just ravaged me.
I didn’t feel ecstatic and open, I felt worked.
Because I have a history of traumatic accidents the impact from the waves was harsh. My head swelled for weeks afterwards and my spine responded as if I had been rear-ended. And in a way I had. But I can’t really blame the ocean. I did something in those waves that made everything worse—I braced.
There’s a line from an old Ani DiFranco song that keeps running through my head these days: “What doesn’t bend breaks.” She was talking about what it takes for a bridge to sustain an onslaught of wind. Although it’s not exactly the same thing as a body being tumbled in the waves it’s a similar concept—when we try to brace in the face of change, we are more likely to snap than if we yield. The world’s been asking me to yield a lot lately.
And not just me, us.
We, (the cosmic “we”) are in the midst of a major dismantling. Without the old structures to hold us in place we are faced with some very real challenges and an essential question: what do we root into when everything falls apart?
I am a fan of stability. I lived in the same house in Boulder for the last 15 years. I ran a successful, in-person private practice for the last 10. My hair looks pretty much the same as it did when I was 20 years old. When I told my friend Kelly that my move to California had me shaken up, she replied “Of course. You have a slow change clock.” It’s true. But when I change, I change.
In the last six months I finished my dissertation, completed two trainings, closed my in-person practice, sold most of what I own, rented out my house, rented out my office, said goodbye to my land, my friends, my women’s group of eight years, my students, and my life. And followed my Soul to the ocean.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that when Soul speaks, you best listen. Even when she leads you onto shaky ground.
The packing process took several months. I sold much of what had filled my 3-bedroom, South Boulder home, gave more away, and packed what I decided I didn’t want to live without. When I checked for guidance on the process I kept picking the same oracle card: “Simplify Your Life.”
Purging my belongings was a deep teaching. At one moment during my moving sale, I paused and looked around—there were about 40 strangers in a frenzy picking through my beloved clothing, books, and art. It felt odd and strangely ecstatic, like the corpse of my former life was being picked clean by vultures in a charnel ground.
Out of things I was taking with me, I packed my altars last. I like having my sacred objects around. They keep me sane and remind me of who I am.
I didn’t realize I had taken for granted how much my structures were holding me up until I went about the business of dismantling them.
My work, my clients, my teaching, my home, my sacred objects, my women’s group, my exercise classes, my time in the mountains—these created a rhythm and a consistency I could depend on. With these in place, I didn’t have to effort at reaching for the Divine; life was taking care of it for me, the life that I had very intentionally created.
But now I was going about the business of dismantling that life. I’ll be the first to admit that it has taken me a while to get the memo—to realize that all I had taken for granted was not holding me up any more.
A couple of weeks ago, during a particularly stressful phone call with my new landlord in which her crazy began to show and she hostilely promised me, once again, that she’d get me a lease on “Monday,” it occurred to me that things might not unfold exactly as I had imagined. The idyllic little house in Muir Beach overlooking the ocean that I rented sight unseen might have a shadowy underbelly that I couldn’t see at first glance.
That phone call led to a rip in the metaphoric duct tape I was using to hold my psyche together, a small panic attack, deep sobs, chocolate, and a conversation with my friend Jonathan in Santa Rosa who had just been through the fires.
“What would you tell one of your clients to do right now?” he asked me, talking me down off the ledge.
Oh right. “Feel my feet. Remember my resources. Look around the room, and find one thing in the present moment that brings me joy to look at.” And so I did. I immediately felt better. I had been operating from my reptilian brain ever since the phone call and had forgotten that I had a pre-frontal cortex, let alone practices that I could reach for.
Feel my feet. Breathe. Ground. Dance. Cry. Pray. Do Qigong. Spend time in nature. Connect with Source. Right. Now I remembered.
Things fall apart, the poet Yeats famously wrote. The center cannot hold.
This is why we practice. Because the Divine/God/the light or even our own pre-frontal cortexes don’t always feel accessible when we lose our center. We need the well-worn neural networks that get grooved by our practices to sustain us during the dark times so that we can call on them when the light is hard to find.
Are these the “dark times?” The jury is still out on that one. But one thing is certain: the old structures are falling away, the earth is speaking loudly, and all of our hackles are up. This is not a dress rehearsal or business as usual on planet earth.
Now is the time we have been practicing for. Life is issuing us a grand invitation to go beyond grasping for stability in the outer and start to reach for our connection to Source, that which holds through the chaos. To unplug from our thinking minds and let our lives be led by Soul instead.
Fast-forward a few weeks: I have now arrived in California. The sweet little two-bedroom house by the ocean that I rented sight unseen is, as I suspected, not my home. The eccentric/mystical landlord is actually bat-shit crazy. The house smells like mold. There’s no lease. No locks on the doors. No shower. No washer dryer (all promised). The landlord is MIA and unresponsive to my texts and calls. In other words: I followed a Soul call and dived, head first, into the waves, and am now upside down and being slammed against the bottom.
I spent three sleepless nights in the house on the floor on an air mattress. I could hear the waves from my window. The dream was so close. But the house was not right and the energy was dark, even after several rounds of clearing. So I followed the “small, still voice” within, stopped the moving truck in the middle of the street with all of my sacred objects in it, put my belongings in storage, and left. This was not an easy choice.
I have no proof that this will all work out. Perhaps I would have saved money if I stayed in the house (having already paid for the month). I may never get my security deposit back. I may be homeless for a while. But it felt like I didn’t have a choice. I’m devoted to the path of Soul. Sometimes it’s tricky to hear what Soul is saying, but this time, I think she said, “Get out.” Or was that my reptilian brain? Hard to know.
Over Thanksgiving I reconnected with an old friend. When she asked me how I was doing I told her my story—the Soul call, the sacred obstacles, the crazy landlord, the empty state of my bank account, turning the moving truck around midstream, the whole thing. When I was done she looked at me and grinned and said with delight (the way only a fellow Priestess/Underworld guide can): “Oohhh….the Goddess is stripping you down.”
F***. Shit. Yes.
Soul/the Goddess/the Universe/God/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, is having its way with me.
I know enough about the path of Soul to know that when you say yes to it, there is no guaranteed outcome. The path is the reward. I may find another sweet house on the ocean. I may not. I may stay in California. I may not. I have no idea what will happen next. Caroline Myss once wrote (and I paraphrase) that when we pray sincerely, whatever happens next is the answer to our prayers. The perceived object of desire is not the point. The house is not the point (although dear Universe, make no mistake, I do want a house by the ocean!). The ocean is not the point. Learning to surrender to the waves is the point—the sacred opportunity, the answer to my prayers.
It’s not always easy, the path of Soul. But it can be, deeply, worth it. What we get in the end if we stay open is not the “prize” we thought we were after, but something so much more precious, a deepened capacity to trust and to love. A life of depth. The ability to serve. A carving of the bowl.
That said, this moment isn’t the end. So who knows what comes next. I’m still holding out for the perfect house. Or the perfect-for-me house, anyway. So for now, I’m staying with friends in the Bay Area, and learning to surrender to the waves.
What doesn’t bend breaks.
A dear friend left me a voice message yesterday. She’s in the process of a divorce and is being stripped herself. She ended the message by saying:
“So here’s to the dissolution of Self. Here’s to letting go again and again.”
I leave you with a similar thought: Here’s to riding the waves of change, to reaching for our practices when everything falls apart, to the path of Soul, and to learning how to bend.