In less than one week I’ll be on a plane to Cochabamba. Off to immerse myself in language school and get better prepared for the next step on my journey. Whatever that may be.
It’s crazy that I’m sitting here writing in the midst of all that I have to do before leaving, but this post feels important. Important to the journey that I am on. Because it keeps me honest. And vulnerable. And humble. All qualities I need.
I’ve had a lot of alone time over these past several months since returning home from El Paso. Lots of quiet time for reflection. And, as a result, for some painful stuff to show up too. Recently even more so when we had a foot and a half of snow and I really felt isolated in my house in the woods.
One thing about living in the midst of all this quiet — my shadow’s bound to show up. All those painful voices of my lower self that try to keep me small, hidden, and defended. Voices that try to make me believe that what my mind is telling me is true. That this is who I really am. Then my pride chimes in and says, I can’t believe you’re still dealing with these issues. They should be gone by now. Over and done with, thank you very much.
But that’s not how it goes.
I know from my years of studying with the Pathwork Transformation Program and with spiritual teachers of the past and present, like Teresa of Avila (14th century Carmelite nun and mystic) and Pema Chodron (contemporary Buddhist nun), that the secret is not to reject these parts of myself, but to embrace them. Yes, embrace them. And in doing so, find the gift they offer.
I’m still learning how to do this. That’s why I’m exactly where I’ve needed to be. In the silence and the solitude.
Joan Chittister says that “Silence is the gift that throws us back on ourselves. Which is exactly why there are so many who cannot bear the thought of it. Without external distractions, we are left vulnerable to the voices within that demand that we come to grips with all the pieces of the self we have so carefully concealed.” (Between the Dark and the Daylight)
That’s definitely been true for me. I’ve certainly been vulnerable to these voices, and some days it’s pretty challenging. But if I don’t jump up to turn on the TV, call someone, or dash out the door to go see a friend, if I can sit with the feelings and stay with the pain, I finally surrender. In this place of pain and helplessness, I surrender to my absolute need for God.
John Welwood writes in his book Journey of the Heart, which coincidentally is the same title as my blog:
“The profound question love poses is, ‘Can you face your life as it is; can you look at all the pain and darkness as well as the power and light in the human soul, and still say yes?’”
I know that if I am to promote love and compassion “out there,” I must first have them for myself. That means being able to say ‘yes’ to all the pain and darkness. Yes to embracing and loving all the parts of myself.
But in those tough moments, without an awareness of God’s loving Presence, I simply can’t do it. That’s when solitude is a gift. Because in the absolute silence, Love makes me aware that there is nothing I need change or reject. I am the Beloved. I am already healed and whole. And everything is gift.
I watched Life as a House again recently. It’s both one of my favorite movies and a great metaphor for life. It reminds me of my own dream house — this log home in the woods. How it manifested through my imaginings. What happened in the building of it. And of my decision to now let it go.
In the movie, Kevin Kline plays George, a washed-up architect who gave up on his dreams years ago. He’s divorced from the woman he truly loved, has become alienated from his son, and when the movie begins, he is let go from the architectural firm he’s hated for some time. To top it off, shortly afterwards George discovers he’s dying.
That’s when George actually begins to live. He finally decides to build the house of his dreams. A house he knows he will never live in. But a house that will bless all who have a part in it. The building of this house is about redemption. It’s about transformation. It’s about letting go of what you love. Even as you let yourself love more deeply. And that’s where true freedom comes.
I’ve been reflecting on this as I get ready to leave behind my own house.
Soon I’ll be headed back to Bolivia to immerse myself in Spanish language school and improve my options to find work back at the U.S.-Mexico border after I return. By summer, I expect I’ll be gone.
It’s hard to think of letting go of this house. Anyone who’s ever visited has remarked on how beautiful, peaceful, and special it is. That’s certainly true. But even more than that — this house has redeemed me. Through its absolute silence and solitude. Which has been both a gift and a curse. In this house, I’ve come to understand the term, “a deafening silence.” I’ve learned the real meaning of loneliness. I’ve also had wonderful conversations with the moon and spent nights praying under a star-filled sky. And I’ve sought and discovered, out of the solitude, a Love that sustained me even, and especially when, I didn’t think I could support myself.
Before this house was built, my friends gathered in a fire ceremony to bless the land and my future home and all who would come. Anyone who has passed through its doors has felt the energy of those blessings. I truly believe I’ve been spiritually protected here.
Something else that will be hard to let go of — the life I’ve known, the friends I’ve made over the years, my community.
Like George, I’m experiencing my own little death. My own bittersweet feelings as I gather with friends I love and inwardly whisper my goodbyes. My recognition that I am going from what is known and comfortable into the unknown.
And, like George, I am leaving behind a house that is part of me. A house that is filled with blessings and positive energy for those who will come after. A house that has its own life.
But my heart is calling me elsewhere. I choose to follow that call.
Sometimes you manifest your dream, only to have to let it go.
For reflection, I share this excerpt from David Whyte’s poem “House of Belonging”
This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.
This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging.
A couple of weeks ago a black bear surprised me. Showed up on my deck seeking the origin of that bird seed he must have gotten a whiff of down in the woods. It was my fault really. It’s late spring and the thought had crossed my mind that my neighbors, the bears, would be out of hibernation by now. And looking for food. But I hadn’t yet taken in the feeder.
When I heard the heavy thump, thump, thump up my deck stairs I thought my son, who was home from college, had returned home for the evening. But it was only 11 o’clock, so that was unusual. Even more unusual — when I peeked out at the front door, Davis didn’t appear under the porch light. I waited. No Davis. That’s when I got scared.
Although I feel safe here surrounded by trees, this was one of those rare moments when I wasn’t feeling too secure. I turned on the deck lights, phone in hand, just in case. A tall, black figure stood on my deck, facing out towards the woods.
“Someone’s out there,” I thought. “And he’s wearing a black cape!”
For a brief moment, I wondered if a deranged person had found my hideaway in the woods. But then it struck me that he hadn’t turned around when I’d flipped on the lights. I stared just a bit longer before realizing it was a black bear intent on figuring out how to get to the bird feeder hanging from the iron hook extended off the deck. He finally wrenched that hook right off the railing, plunked himself down, and proceeded to take apart my squirrel-proof feeder that had so far survived the jumping and swinging antics of numerous rodents, fierce windstorms, and just about every other force of Nature. That is, until Mr. Bear came along. And Mr. Bear had none of the protocol I use when carefully unwrapping a present, hoping to reuse the bow and paper. Within minutes, he demolished that feeder and made himself comfortable as he feasted on sunflower seeds.
Perched on my spot on the living room rug with its floor-to-ceiling windows I had a wide view of the action. I watched until Mr. Bear finished his meal. Just wanted to be sure he didn’t intend to join me inside after he was through. The thing about it is, it was exciting to watch him. I’d never been this close to a bear. I’ve occasionally spotted bears on my hillside, but always from a safe distance. None of them have ever dared venture onto my porch or deck. Until now.
Once again the writer in me grew curious about the metaphor. I discovered that in Native American culture, the bear has the qualities of being free in spirit and unpredictable. It symbolizes protection, strength, power, courage, motherhood, and discernment — this last quality a surprise to me, but it comes from the bear’s cautiousness. And, despite its size, a bear prefers peace and tranquility and is therefore considered a symbol of harmony and balance.
I recognize these qualities in the steps I’ve taken in this journey of my heart, especially that of discernment. Certainly my days of quiet and solitude here in the woods have provided a necessary time for discernment. Not that it has been easy to spend so much time alone over the past couple of years, questioning my purpose, seeking the next steps on my journey. In fact, at times it’s been downright painful. But I believe that Spirit brought me to this isolated place because it’s where I needed to be in order to seriously question, to truly seek, and to listen to the inner voice of love guiding my heart forward. There are times when going underground is necessary.
Two of my favorite more contemporary spiritual writers, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, valued solitude and considered it a necessary part of “conversion.” Nouwen called solitude “ the furnace of transformation” — a path that offers spiritual guidance in rediscovering “the way of the heart.” For Merton, solitude was a necessity in his hunger for intimacy with God. Through solitude he discovered the path to compassion and empathy.
I believe that I, too, have begun to discover my capacity for compassion through solitude, which led me to discern to serve in El Paso and recently to San Antonio. Could it be these times of solitude have freed my spirit to follow the way of my heart? To gain inner strength and be more courageous in going where I do not know? To simply pray for guidance and follow?
It’s been a hard place to stand — this in-between place — teetering on the threshold of the life I’ve known on one side and the who-knows-what life on the other side.
It can feel lonely to be in that in-between place, not sure where home is anymore. And yet I don’t feel lonely. I feel as though I am waking up to an aliveness stirring within me.
Alive. That’s what I felt living on the border. Alive with the people and the presence, the dirt and the heat, the simplicity and the generosity. Alive in the recognition of my gifts that showed up in surprising ways. Just like Mr. Bear.
Alive. It’s the same word I used to describe my experience in Peru last November. During one of the native sacred rituals I participated in, the first word that popped out of my mouth was “alive!”
And, just like Mr. Bear, I’m ready to venture out. Out of the woods. Out of the dark cave. Awake. Alive. Ready to follow the scent of what feeds me.