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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The point of no return

Today's date has been on my mind for the past few months. Ok -- the past year. The reason is that August 8th, 2011 is the date that Immigration Canada chose to type in as the day that my Canadian work visa would expire. When I left Canada over a year ago, feeling a good deal of fear along with the excitement of the journey ahead, I asked one of my best friends Alanna "what if this move does not work out?" She shrugged and said "so you come back to Canada." At the time knowing that I could always go back to my community on Prince Edward Island gave me the reassurance and support I needed to let go of the life and community I had built there and set off for new adventures and lands.

Over the past year I have thought about going back many, many times. But in the last few months I thought of moving back to Canada a few times pretty much every day. In the last couple of weeks the looming 8th of August date had me having thoughts of packing a backpack and dashing back across the Canadian border as fast as I could before it was too late. I laughed at myself, but the desire to make a run for it was entirely heartfelt.

Fast forward to today -- August 8th, and it is amazing to me that I have not only not had a meltdown -- I actually made it through almost the entire day without even thinking about the date. The reasons for this are numerous. One is that I sent off an application to extend my work visa one more year. But I know in my heart that this visa may well not be extended, given the terms under which it was given to me to begin with. The real reason I barely thought about the date once today is that this past week I have come face to face with the wall of my own fear and uncertainty, and after many attempts to go around it, avoid it or ignore it, some part of me finally decided that the only way through the wall of my own resistance and fear is to kick it in.

I have been carrying the weight of my decision to leave Canada around with me for over a year now, and it has been a heavy weight indeed. I have deliberated and dragged my uncertainty round and round in circles, getting absolutely nowhere. I have tried to find the perfect job to give myself something to go forward with and focus on. What I am beginning to realize, finally, is that there are certain aspects of my life that I am not intended to engineer. I cannot determine whether or not I get a particular job or end up in a certain country. I do not get to decide who my community is or whether I will meet my soul mate or have the blessing of having children. I can put the intention out there, and try my hardest, but if the path is not the right one for me at this time, the door is not going to open.

I am listening to a series of CDs right now called 'Clear Mind, Wild Heart,' by David Whyte. It is a set of six CDs that use poetry to illustrate the journey of life, with all its ups and downs and incredible experiences and challenges. If you have not heard it, you should track down a copy. It is truly incredible. A friend of my mother's gave this CD set to her last summer for me. For some reason I took the box, wandered over to my shelves of CDs and added it to the pile. It has sat there for the past year, collecting dust. This past week I had reached the extreme limits of what I was capable of handling. I was sick of hearing my own discontent voice. Sick of my own frustration and discouragement. Then three things happened. One was that I received my friend Louise's CD of music (which I mentioned a couple of posts ago). The second was that I received a letter about spiritual growth from Louise that contained extracts that she had taken from the Baha'i writings that put my entire life experience in a new light. The third thing was that I wandered over to my CD case and picked this series of CDs up and threw them into the bag I took with me to Bosch Baha'i School this past weekend.

It is interesting to me how such small things can have such a major impact on the human psyche, but I am telling you -- the difference between my perception of the path ahead last week and today is night and day. On the three hour drive up into the mountains of Santa Cruz, I alternated between listening to Louise's music and listening to David Whyte read and talk about poetry. By the time I got to the school a deep sense of calm that had settled over me like early morning mist over a meadow.

One thing that David Whyte discusses on his CDs is the reality that as human beings, our role is not to be the engineers of our lives. The only thing we are responsible for is shaping our identity -- the values and spiritual characteristics that define who we are. Whyte explains that as we take steps to consciously shape who we are, we necessarily as also altering how we relate to the world, and how the world relates to us in return. Whyte also explains that when we are living lives that are true to our true nature, or spiritual self, everything flows gracefully and there is no awkwardness or uncertainty about where we are or what we are doing. He uses as an example a poem by Rainier Maria Rilke called 'The Swan.'

The Swan

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the akward walking of the swan.

And dying-to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day-
is like anxious letting himself fall

into waters, which receive him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draw back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

What David Whyte is trying to highlight by use of this poem is that when we stop struggling to figure everything out, just let go and move towards our true nature, everything falls into place, and we find our true grace and majesty. This poem, and the concept that Whyte was using it to illustrate resonates with me deeply. Maybe it will with you too. What spoke to me the most was that the natural progression for human beings is growth -- spiritual growth. And when we let go of everything else and focus solely on this responsibility, and leave the rest up to a higher power, everything starts falling into place.

For human beings, growth necessarily means change, because in order to continue growing, we have to meet and overcome new challenges, which we will not encounter if we continuously do the same things with the same people over and over endlessly. Change, letting go, moving forward and embracing new experiences is therefore moving towards our true nature. Fighting it--clinging to what we know and are familiar with is actually limiting spiritual growth. It is going against the tide. And as I have found over the last year, it is utterly exhausting.

This weekend I was asked to go assist with a class of 24 youth between the ages of 12 and 14. One of the two teachers that had been working with the group had had to leave, and the man who was teaching it was in need of a co-pilot. When I first heard the words twenty-four, a voice in me said -- "Quick! Run! You do not know how to handle 24 youth that age". Children and older your I have more experience with, but junior youth? I immediately started fighting against my nature--the voice in me that knew the minute I was asked that of course I would say yes. The thing is though -- whereas in the past when I was fighting that inner voice of my true nature I did not know I was doing it. Now I have somehow acquired the annoying capacity to see and identify my own fear, and the fact that it is my fear alone that is leading me to want to pull away from what is right, which leaves me with a very clear understanding of what I must do if I want to reclaim my peace of mind and heart. Embrace it and keep moving forward. Which is why despite my initial (and perfectly justified, it turned out) fear about working with such a large group of teenagers, I found myself in Santa Cruz this weekend, working with and learning from said group!

The weekend was an important one. It was full of beauty, but it was also full of awkward and uncomfortable and even painful experiences. It was full of great lessons in humility and resignation, flexibility and acceptance. I was challenged to let go of even the remotest trace of pride or self as I dealt with kids questioning everything I did or said; kids ignoring me, talking over me, refusing to pay attention even when I had asked them to repeatedly. But I also learned to listen better. To collaborate better with my co-teacher, whose ideas and process were very different from my own. And to appreciate the joy, enthusiasm, and purity with which the youth prayed, laughed, and shared with me and with the rest of the group. It was an incredibly hard weekend, but despite all the challenges -- or perhaps because of them, I left to drive home on Sunday feeling a deep sense of grace. As David Whyte says, in these times of personal transformation there is great beauty and also a good deal of what seems at the time like ugliness. Both are necessary parts of growth.

On Saturday evening I was sitting at inspiration point -- a place from which you can take in the view all the way down the mountainside over the redwoods down to the Pacific Ocean -- with my co-teacher Michael and the kids in our class. We were saying prayers to close our class. Despite the chaos that I had felt permeated most of the class sessions, this final session was completely peaceful. As Michael and each of the youth spoke or sang prayers out into the clearing, and the sun sunk slowly down into the Pacific Ocean, I felt that sense of peace return, and I joined them by speaking my own prayer into the spiritual space our class had created in the forest. 

I do not know whether August 8th will be the end of my Canadian visa, but August 8th does mark a very definite point of no return in that I see quite clearly now, in a way I did not before this, that I do not want to be awkwardly making my way along solid ground when I could be gracefully gliding through water. The process may not always be pleasant, but there is a deep sense of connection and confirmation that I feel when I am giving in to my true nature, and pressing forward to meet both the challenges and the joy of the unknown.

1 comment:

  1. How honest and awake you write, Ariana. It is an honour to be witness to this spiritual journey of yours.