How a thousand red gates freed me of obsessive thinking (at least for now).
This is my first post on medium, and it deserves a warning: if you are looking for a feel good holiday greeting, this isn’t it. If you’re a knowmad mama making sense of a new year in the wee hours, and you want to drop the bullshit, you might identify.
2017 has been a trickster year for me. People, places and things that I once had so much faith in turned out to be less than what I expected. Others, of which I had no expectations at all, impressed me beyond measure. Anything good that happened was freely given. Anything I ‘efforted’ at refused to give way. Things like volcanoes ( real ones like Mount Agung on the island of Bali, which is where I live, and the ones from deep inside me, like #metoo, which will always live inside me) seemed to appear out of nowhere to make me look very differently at the causes I really care about; what my true business is; what real fortune and true friends are; and what it really means to be an ally.
In short, it was a mind f&#% of a year.
Most of the lessons I learned are ones that come back around time and again, often painfully: that expectations are resentments waiting to happen, and that life never turns out exactly as I plan it, but that if I keep my eyes, ears and heart open, and wait long enough, it often turns out to be better than I thought.
Always, in fact.
And therein lies the biggest lesson of all for 2018. To trust in life. Not that this is easy to do.
If I am being honest (imagine that, in public!) as the clock was turning over the final hours of 2017 yesterday, I was still waiting… willing that sense of trust. It’s been gone awhile. That’s because I’ve been weighted down by the knowledge that 2018 carries with it some major decisions that I am desperate to get just *right*.
What a set up THAT is.
I know many of my friends are facing the same. The paradox of choice. The blessing and the curse of that privilege. The allure of perfection. The need to get it right for everyone involved. The messiness of having multiple selves inside us, all wanting, vying and desperate for different things. The scarcity of opportunities we have to get quiet enough so we can hear that one, small, still voice that understands, accepts and trumps all the rest… who knows ‘the’ answer, because it’s so obvious,
Actually, we know better than that. We know that all the time, resources, education and experience we can muster are no protection against the fear of the unknown, against — maybe and God forbid— making a mistake. The gurus in these parts say: make friends with fear, and decide anyway. It’s only a choice, after all.
To that, I say: I hope they are right. Because here’s just a little of what needs to change for me and my family in 2018.
It’s time for the business, and us, to branch out beyond Bali, where we’ve made our home for the last nine years. Though it should be said, we still don’t know what any of that means, exactly.
Last March I was diagnosed with a neurological syndrome, and I need to get serious about treating it. But where and how to start — with the myriad of allopathic and holistic options on offer— and whom to trust, is becoming a philosophically exhausting question.
I have been feeling a call to study again, to rekindle my love/hate relationship with academia, but I am looking for a program that blends all my passions: psychology, social innovation, organizational futures, knowmadism and spirituality into one big happy thesis. No boxes please!
Big surprise, I haven’t found it yet.
And then there is that perennial question: after twenty years overseas living as a knowmad, with aging parents, kids that want basketball courts and bus routes, frustration over high expat medical insurance, and fatigue over corrupt and inefficient business climates, is it time to go back to the comfort of ‘home’? (As if this place even exists. But let’s call it somewhere in Canada for now).
So ya, my mind was a bit of a mess trying to ‘figure it all out’. Thankfully, my myopic malaise was buffeted by my goofball kids, who have delighted so much in the holiday lights, the 4 feet of powder snow and the plethora of dollar stores in Japan where we have been on vacation for the last two weeks (look! You can get fake poo, fake blood, cheap combs, Pokemon key-chains and Kleenex in all the colours of the rainbow here!) that it was hard not to be happy anyway. Their joy is so contagious. Their laughs, like Anne Lamott says, are like “carbonated spirit”; lifting you like no substance ever could.
On the spur of sensibility (one must also make sure the kids learn something of the culture and history of Japan while worldschooling, after all!) we visited the Fushimi-Inari shrine in Kyoto. Together, we walked through its long, geometric corridors, subtly twisting and turning though 1000 vibrantly red gates. It was like going through a birth canal, but in the company of a large crowd. No blood or gore, of course, just a palpable sense of collective serenity.
And a promise of possibility.
I could not help but recall the gates I had walked though in Auschwitz-Birkenhau just months before. I felt compelled to acknowledge not only the contrast, but the synergy between them; the power that a threshold has over the wholeness and trajectory of our human experience.
Gateways don’t always appear to us as choices, I know. Life forces us though a lot of them. Unexplained illness, business cycles, and impending natural disasters are well beyond our control. And while my life is nowhere near a concentration camp, my mind can often make it one. It was in recognizing this (again! For isn’t all of spiritual discipline really about forgetting what doesn't deserve remembering, and remembering what we have always known?) that I was suddenly inspired to let go of my suffering over it all. It suddenly seemed so voluntary. As Viktor Frankle said of his time in the camps:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
It was time, I understood, to choose another threshold. To walk through the new year and be ‘reborn’ in that birthing canal rather than suffer in the death camp of my own obsessive thinking.
My own way, surely, will not impress everyone. I will leave some people, places and things behind. There will some grief to that. Yet much to my relief, with the acceptance of that fact, my ‘way’ already seems a lot clearer. (More on that to follow).
Though I had started out chatting to the boys about the history and significance of the Fushimi- Inari shrine, as we weaved and dodged our way through the throngs of people who were there, literally, to ‘ring’ in the new year with sacred bells, a quiet slowly fell over us all. Even over my dollar-store carbonated kids! This was not an experience to be explained.
It’s hard to describe what happened next. But none of us came out the same on the other side.
These unexpected moments. Where a shift in perspective takes you by surprise. This is why my biggest love affair will always be with travel. In an instant, my world got much bigger. Much bigger, it goes without saying, than the mind I walked in with could ever have contained, hard as it might try.
I don’t know what 2018 will bring for me, and frankly, it seems a little silly to try and predict. I want to say all those things about love and light and prosperity. But actually, my resolution this year is much more simple, and I hope, achievable, without much ‘efforting’.
I offer it to you now — and only this — as my wish for you, too.
That change will happen, for the better, in an instant.
I’m counting on that for 2018 (without expectation, of course…)
Happy new year from Kyoto everyone.