Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it. ~ Richard Rohr
You can plan for a hundred years. But you don’t know what will happen the next moment. ~ Neem Karoli Baba
The answer to having a better life is not about getting a better life, it’s just about changing how we see the one we have right now. ~ angel Kyodo Williams
Sometime last year, or maybe the year before that, I was floating in the ocean, watching the clouds, and the sun, and the birds, and letting tears run unobstructed, unselfconsciously down my face – salty tears mixed with salty sea, my tiny existence, my personal sorrow merging into the endless blue.
At that moment I was grieving for my sister, Erin, her frail body fighting for life, the murderous weeds of cancer flooding her body, choking out her vitality, pulling her further and further from the safe shores of our expected existence. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She wasn’t supposed to have to go through this. I wasn’t supposed to be mourning this future. Not now. Not yet.
Because there was that too. I am chagrined to admit it, but in that moment I was also feeling sorry for myself. It was too much change, and too much responsibility for me. I had just left my stable life in Seattle, just left my home, my community, the fruits of my work and vision, established over a decade and a half. I had just settled in Mexico, just rented the café, just started getting used to the new reality of my quiet, easy life, of starting on a new adventure with my husband, of creating a new space to build a spiritual community and share wholesome food. I had just had the café painted with the words of Neem Karoli Baba, expressed boldly across the walls: Love everyone. Feed them.
I was ready to settle here. Ready to swim and float and practice and read and write and to slow down. Ready for my family to come visit me, to show them this life I had built, this ocean that feeds me, the neighbors and the sun and the avocado and mango and banana trees that nourish me to my very soul. I was ready to become something new.
But now this. Now my sister was gravely ill and my focus was shifted there. I wanted to be there with her, and I wanted to be exactly where I was, floating in the ocean. I wanted to care for her son, my most beloved soul son, and I wanted to stay where I was, run the café, and live my quiet life. I wanted to be present and helpful and skillful and supportive, and I wanted to pretend none of that was actually happening, and I could just float. I wanted to grow into some new role, but it wasn’t this one that was presenting itself to me.
But on that one day, lying there in the ocean, being lifted and swayed by the soft surf, tears flowing, warm sun on my body, cool water beneath, I had a thought that changed my life. “This is not an interruption of your life. This IS your life.”
The message was so clear, so vivid, so simple, I was instantly pulled out of my reverie of melancholy. I turned over in the water and began to swim toward shore, feeling that unlikely mixture of excitement and deep ease that one might feel on a long distance swim, or in a sturdy sailboat when the wind has suddenly picked up.
This is not an interruption of my life. This IS my life.
The simplicity of this statement belies the complexity, the determination, required to truly live it. And yet, I have found, since being offered this gift from the surf , my life – or shall I say, my experience of my own life, has become infinitely less complicated, and infinitely less anxious.
I recall the first time I watched the Ram Dass documentary “Fierce Grace” and saw him talking to a young woman who had recently lost her boyfriend to revolutionary violence. “You had a plan?’ he asked her with deep kindness. “That was your first mistake.” I remember seeing his face, so full of love and clarity, gently cajoling her, and feeling a mixture of peace and unease. The peace came from the letting go and relaxing into life’s unfolding; the unease, from that same letting go, but with a sense of tension and fear – how could I relax into the unknowing? In that moment, in the sea, I understood. In fact, all of life is one long unknowing.
I thought of the words of French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “It doesn’t matter if the water is warm or cold if you are going to have to wade through it anyway.”
This all moved through me again recently, as just last week I spent seven beautiful days with almost my entire family – 27 out of 28 of us -gathering in the mountains of Colorado to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday, and coincidentally, Erin’s remission and relative good health.
While I am happy to report that the week was relatively drama free, I was not surprised to hear some of the old complaints, the old stories, the old laments of how “difficult” our family is, how “crazy” it is, how this brother, or that sister, or this niece or that nephew, or mom and dad, was acting out, making waves, changing the even flow of goodness toward their own particular wound, creating riptides of disconnection. The ocean’s whisper came to me again, bubbling way up from sea level to the majestic 9000 foot peaks of Colorado. The vastness is the same; the opportunity for expansive thinking is just as powerful.
Sitting at my makeshift altar, closing my eyes and floating away on the spaciousness of my mantra, I heard the reminder. This is my life, curated just for me. This big, complex family is my opportunity for learning. A gift, a study in complexity, multi-dimensionality, forgiveness, renewal, letting go. What if it wasn’t supposed to be some other way? What if this, exactly this, was what I was meant to move through, this, exactly this, was the nourishment, the challenge, the coaxing into my best self that was my own work? What if right here was my opportunity to love everyone? To feed them?
What if, as Ram Dass might say, “ahhhhhh, this is what I have to work with?”
And what if this repetition of stories, this conflating of “family drama” with actual “lived trauma,” these hushed tones of disapproval, of annoyance, of judgment, were all pulling me away from presence, away from the opportunities to grow in love? What if all these stings of accusation and criticism were like the barbs of jellyfish, distracting and contracting me out of the flow? What if, instead of floating in the unknowing, we all were floundering, drowning in the murky waters of belief that things should be other than they are? This is not a call to inaction, to turning away from things that hurt, instead it is a radical call to action – the primary action of being present to what is actually happening, to opening our minds and hearts to the deep complexity of being human, to deep compassion for where each of us comes from, what forces have shaped us, and how we ended up in this moment. From that place, we can start from what is good, what is true, what is actually happening, rather than what we think is happening, or should be happening, and move forward from there, with clarity and purpose.
This family, this life, this marriage, this body, these challenges, these choices, these moments – this is my work. Nothing is wrong. Only my plan, only my belief that things should be different than they are, only my mind forms of what my life should look like, how it should unfold.
What if this is not all “getting in my way,” but instead, it IS the way?
This paradigm shift may very well allow us to, as Richard Rohr says, move away from “thinking ourselves into new ways of living” and instead, “live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” We can approach our life differently by how we live it, rather than how we think about it. In my recent experience, this has been nothing short of miraculous.
Yesterday I was gifted a psychic reading from a beloved friend and former student.* At one point she asked me, “What else would you like to look at?” As someone who had once been her boss, her teacher, her spiritual guide of sorts, I felt almost sheepish responding, “I want to know what I am going to be when I grow up.” She smiled lovingly and sat with her eyes closed – looking at some dimension I could not see. “It’s so beautiful Molly. I feel like I am going to cry.” I sat, eyes closed, palms and heart open. “You are not really going to be anything. You are just going to be you. You are infinitely spacious and expansive and you will just go where life sends you, deepening your connection to God and your own spiritual life.” She paused. “I know that may be hard for you to hear. Please take a moment to let that sit, and let your ego feel whatever bruises it may.”
We sat together in silence, the smell of sweetgrass grounding us – the feeling of a perfect light sheet covering a naked body on a hot summer night. I waited for the bruises. I waited for the story, the feeling that this was all wrong, the mourning of the plan that would never come to be. But I felt only release. I felt only like I was floating in the ocean, watching the clouds, and the sun, and the birds, and letting tears run unobstructed, unselfconsciously down my face – salty tears mixed with salty sea, my tiny existence, my personal sorrow merging into the endless blue. I felt only, finally, at peace.
- looking for a psychic reading, plant spirit medicine, sound healing or yoga therapy in Seattle, Please see Megan Caroll of Seattle based Mother Earth Medicine. Also available for phone readings. I cannot recommend Megan enough, for her kindness, clarity and wisdom.