When did you know your life was in danger, your dreams were about to be thrown out with the bathwater, you heart was about to close its doors forever? For me it was when I got the official notice of my rent increase. I had sucked it up the two years before, figuring out a way to pay; convincing myself it was worth it each time I watched the beautiful sunset over Mt. Tam or soaked in the hot tub. But that all dried up in my throat in the late summer of 2014. This time I was gasping, choking in paradise. I wanted to climb up a wall and escape the vice that had been my joy. Taking a few days to settle down, my heartbeat slowed into a rhythm and I considered a multitude of options – apartment mate, cheaper apartment, boat, living with my sister. And then one day my eyes opened, awake with present moment bodhicitta – I no longer needed the panal. I was going to the forest to sit under the bodhi tree and test my life decisions along the way.
What most people said when I revealed I was giving up my ‘palace’ in Larkspur and being intentionally without a permanent address was WOW.
A friend noted I would be going from wild city Giants championship parade horde to monkish, rural Grass Valley in a day. I delight in the contrary combos. Stopping for an In’nOut meal before landing in a seven day silent, vegetarian sesshin. Wearing sexy undies with well traveled jeans. Applying hot pink lipstick before a sweaty winner-take-all playoff tennis match.
In some ways this journey was about failure. Failure to finish my books in the bay area, failure to build my business. Failure to find true love. Failure to build a nest my teens wanted to rest in. Failure to adapt to congestion. Failure to earn what it costs to live here with space and time freedom. Failure to want a job, to fulfill other people’s dreams, to give up my truth to be liked, failure to say what others want to hear. Failure to play small or do what I already know what to do.
What did I do and what did I learn in the early fall of 2014? I released 90% of my ‘worldly possessions’ and drove to Grass Valley to stay with a friend who was recovering from knee surgery and snuggle with her gata, Miss Mittens Marie. The goal was to finish my memoir, develop my speaking and writing life, build my business, and get into great shape in a quiet environment. I covered the barbed wire of fears with a thick blanket of determination and trust and prepared to scale the mountain of prosperity and heightened well being. I found as the days passed I could not fall back on my past experiences and knowledge. The words of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi rang true: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. My mind said I could do it all well because I had so much wisdom. I re-learned to beware the expert’s mind, which can be more dangerous than barbed wire.
I sold my first gen Prius sooner than planned when the battery failed after almost 200,000 miles. I bought and crashed my motorcycle, derailing my get into great shape plan. I sent my memoir to an editor, increased my business skills with no resulting monetary results, and lost and found my faith again and again. I moved to another friend’s home in December and discovered car sharing opportunities. Instead of home and car upkeep, I poured over my calendar figuring out how to get where I wanted to go, both in terms of goals and public transportation, always written in pencil. I re-learned that detours are to be expected, especially if you are atrevida enough to aim high.
I embarked on a series of trips in March, April and May, including the AWP writer’s conference in Minneapolis, MN, a special celebration of Las Comadres para las Americas in Austin, TX, and a family visit in México. I began the arduous process of querying agents about my memoir – finding, among other reasons, that my failure to be famous and/or addicted stymied agents’ interest in representing me.
I re-learned that even if you are on the right path, taking risks means dead ends are inevitable and signal a strategic moment to pause. My reptilian brain kicked in with each rejection, sending triggers to my body and spirit to shut down my love of writing and ‘settle’. My frontal lobe would then kick into creative mode, gather all of my information to create a new approach, and then figure out what other options existed. Being unmoored meant I could go in any direction I wanted and pivot quickly because I was not beholden to a location, person, idea, or organization. My molecules never settled, reminding me that ‘unsettling’ for a buddhist is akin to groundlessness, right where I wanted to be. I was instead required to internally moor myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
I began a month-long house sit with a cat named Jezebel who, like me, yearned to tunnel in the underbrush and tiptoe precariously along the top of fences to explore the great, bright, shiny unknown. Wise people know it is skillful to get help when necessary, so I hired a coach who pointed out I interrupted myself before finishing my sentences, signaling too many balls in the air. His advice was to focus on what I loved and did well – coaching as a steady base to maintain homeostasis.
I re-learned to keep your head up amid the narrow, shadowy zone of 1 step forward, 1 step sideways, 1 step back, 1 step forward. It required me to dance away from ‘how do I’ to trust my inner wisdom and unrelenting persistence rather than sink into comparisons. People were too busy with their own challenges to reach their goals to judge me. In fact, they were still saying ‘WOW’. I re-learned releasing anxiety about outcomes opens up space to connect with your higher self and that of others.
In July I journeyed to Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center to meditate in a sangha, wash dishes, shake compost through a screen, thin fennel, and hike to Muir beach. My emotional and spiritual gas tank filled and I received an email on the second to last day that I was accepted to Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference to begin in 2 days. The stars aligned for me to catch a ride and room with a dear colega de escritura. These brief moments of community were precious in between the constant leaving and joining, coming and going with solitude my constant companion. I re-learned to STAY until the mud settles and opportunities can be seen in the clear water.
In July I rented a room near my Larkspur palace and re-connected with my yoga studio, Toastmasters club, and the beauty of Marin. I queried two more agents, had two essays accepted for publication and coached people through gentle nutritional cleanses. I started a many months process of navigating the bay area after abandoning my 40 year addiction to the car culture. I re-learned that strong bridges wait for your return, like a trusted friend.
The road more traveled has never appealed to me. No one ever believed I would be the settled one. I had the fifteen addresses in ten years, the sixteen soccer teams, myriad salsa classes, the multiple occupations. No one said- Yes, she will find one man, one house, one job, one favorite dress. She will wear a pair of shoes until they fall off her feet, she will have one sports team from birth to death. That was not what was said.
Many wish to be young again with the wisdom of our experiences; that is much of how I felt during my year wandering in the watery forest. I left the harbor and like Mission Impossible, it blew up – I did not want to have the option of returning to my previous life and mindset. Instead, I embraced my focus on possessions that we carry with us no matter where we travel. After a year of no permanent address, I again chose Marin as my home base, living in a ‘treehouse’ cottage with light and a view. It was time to rest. The journey brought back a renewed commitment to the lessons that unfolded and that I carry with me as I continue to roam madre tierra.