“We…share with God in creating the truth of our identity. We can evade this responsibility by playing with masks…and this can appear at times to be a free and creative way of living….It seems to please everyone. …To work out our own identity…requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention to reality at every moment, and great fidelity to God as He reveals Himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.” – Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
I didn’t intend for this blog to be so philosophical. But it turns out that when you’re restarting your life, you tend to think a lot about your life.
It’s not just sitting on a beach thinking how nice a vacation from work this is. This is not a vacation. It’s not about escaping from work. (Sometimes I wish I had a 9-5 job from which to escape.) This is about relocating myself in every sense of the word…philosophically, spiritually, emotionally, and yes, geographically, although physical place is not what this is all about.
When I left everything, I was quite literally left with nothing. And when I have nothing, there are no distractions. When there are no distractions, I am forced to feel and process sensation – emotional sensation and physical sensation. My body tells me things about myself. So do my emotions.
I have noticed a settling of my emotions. That is not to say that my emotions are peaceful and quiet and all positive. What I mean is that they are more acute and less scattered – easier to identify and acknowledge and address. Previously, I would have to process through many thoughts and feelings in order to identify what exactly I was really feeling, what my body and mind and soul were trying to tell me. Now, after just a few weeks, there is no mistaking, say, specific grief from a general sense of melancholy; or contentment from excitement; or fear from anger.
The hard part is that this doesn’t make feeling any easier. Just more precise and efficient. Like an Xacto knife versus a shotgun.
Reclining in the hammock the other day during a rainstorm, looking at the tropical flora, smelling the sweet magnolia-like fragrance carried by the rain, I felt peaceful, but I felt grief. An intense sense of loss. And it hurt like hell, and it felt good. It felt healing just to really feel without distraction. This was a very tangible moment, almost like an epiphany of some sort. And I felt truth digging into my gut when I read a sentence, in my Thomas Merton book, about God revealing himself “obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.”
[I’ve considered myself agnostic for the past several years, so my definitions of God are nebulous. But I feel that whatever terms we use – God, universe, whatever – It all means the same, for me at least.]
I am in a painful post-divorce situation. I am alone, a newcomer, in a remote area. I don’t know what my next step will be in terms of a home or income or companionship or anything. And this is all new to me. A new situation. A mysterious situation that I haven’t practiced for. It is so weird. And it is like surgery.
And I am at peace. Although part of me wants to run – run back to what I am familiar with, what is safe – the bigger part of me wants to stay and sit with all this. To observe, appreciate, and participate in the unfurling of new fleshy petals in my life.
I was chatting online with a dear friend of mine recently. I was telling her how I was on the verge of tears and feeling so much grief and all sorts of things. After my rant, she wrote simply, “You are so alive! And it’s beautiful!”
I wanted to punch her. And hug and kiss her. And I said something like, well, it sucks. It hurts. But it feels really good. And it was incredibly encouraging for her to tell me that, to have external confirmation of an internal truth that wanted expression but was muffled.
The pain feels good because it reminds me that I am (still) alive. And so I want to let all this take its course. I want to give it time and space. And perhaps that’s what a big part of this experiment is all about: Not merely moving to another place. But paying close attention to reality in every moment. Reality as it is, now. Not how I wished it could have been or how I fear it might become or how I think it is obligated to be. Creating the truth of my identity, not masks. Being a participant in the mystery of each new situation. Not running, but sitting with it, listening to it, and learning. And being. Alive.