This post is part of the Time Machine Blogging Challenge hosted by Linda Litebeing…
When I reflect on my life, the realization that emerges is that I’ve been guided in ways both more subtle and far-reaching than I would have imagined were possible in the moments when I was grappling around within the question of it. That’s not to say my past isn’t peppered with opportunities to have lived differently. There’s a business or two that didn’t work out, a Gettysburg Cemetery of missed opportunities to have been more vulnerable and more open around others, and a fear of falling down that spikes like a natural frequency the closer I come to crossing one of those arbitrary, yet sacrosanct boundaries we set for ourselves who knows when, to keep ourselves safe.
I’ve no doubt a line of experts whispering in my ear could have managed the gifts I was given to alternate now’s, and most, if not all of them would be marked by greater statistical evidence of success than I possess currently, but then I’d be just as lost as I ever was, dependent on a coterie of advisers. My insides would still be caving in. This is where grace comes into play.
We used to go to the Birmingham Public Library when I was little, and somehow I’d discovered the sport of soccer despite living in an (American) football-crazed south. That somehow was at least partly a father’s reticence to see eight-year-olds suit up for a morning of collisions before bodies were developed and motor skills acquired. At the library I found a book called How To Play Professional Soccer. That afternoon, in the squelching summer heat, I was doing stretches and calisthenics on the floor of my tiny bedroom with the furniture pushed up against the wall. I ended up writing a hand-written letter to the American Youth Soccer Association, which had an address in one of the appendices, because I read they had travel teams in different places. A few months later I was at a try-out for a U12 team in one of the suburbs– the only one there in sport-agnostic patterned shorts and plastic cleats. But it worked. Playing sports became a stabilizing force for me all the way through high school. I look back on that story, and how much playing soccer meant to me for the next ten years, and chuckle at how fragile the path to it seems to have been.
Now the self who navigated those ten years has shed that skin. To a certain extent my focus and commitment on training were a postponement of the inevitable. Playing soccer was the identity I could fall back on when things were most uncomfortable. I could retreat into that world. Later I realized it wasn’t a retreat that was tenable indefinitely, and I simply shifted focus. When I say that I was guided, it is the emergence of a particular ensemble of feelings and intuition that precipitated a decision to which I refer, and that I find most intriguing. It always felt at the time like “I” was making a decision, but I cannot account for the changing internal spectra of knowing and uncertainty that propelled me to tack in a new direction. Something was given to me in those moments. The wind changed at sea, and I moved with it, but I cannot explain the changing wind.
So I swung from one rope to the next, and despite being plagued by doubts about my educational path finished college and graduated. I relocated across the country to move in with my (now) wife, but found myself in a new world without any past connections. My new family was a small group of people who participated in Native American ceremony together, and this transition both geographically and personally triggered almost-debilitating fears about finding how I fit into this world. Looking for a job felt like clawing my way out of a dark hole. I was hidden down there– and safe in a way maybe– but also coming apart. Sending out a resume and not getting a response, or getting no for an answer merely affirmed the futility of my finding solid ground. My introspective personality wasn’t exactly a boon during this time, but big picture, this wasn’t the time for me to be on solid ground. It was the perfect set of conditions for my continued unfolding.
Coincident with these secular difficulties I was facing, I was also feeling pulled to develop a stronger spiritual foundation. I decided to do vision quest as part of this community I had found, and that began as a complete standoff between the feelings in my heart and the voices in my head. It was like watching two huge forces tear each other to bits on the playground through the classroom window, only they were both me. Every little step felt heavy and difficult. I went into the woods a lot and found big trees to lean against and cry. I made all of the preparations as well as I could, uncertain about each one, feeling the power of the path and a certain crushing doubt vie for supremacy at every step. Wasn’t this supposed to feel like a loving experience?
No… Looking our difficulties in the eye is never easy. Not for me anyway. We pick up a lot of strange notions out on the periphery, and returning to the center strips them away, churns them up, and puts them on display all around us. We move through a world of image, temptation and danger. The first year I did vision quest nothing happened quite as I had hoped it would. Or so I thought. All the preparations I had made and hopes for that moment vanished– and I sat there alone, in the darkness, my confidence eroding until it was completely gone and I had no ground to stand on. A few days later the gift I was given became clear: I walked away knowing I was simply not capable of dealing with the demons inside of me on my own. This I could be certain about.
I’d found the bottom.
I call it grace because it was exactly what I’d asked for day-in and day-out for months, just not in the mind’s conjured form. I’d prayed for some evidence of the truth of myself, some ending to the difficulty of floundering in painful uncertainty. It came, just not the way I had asked or anticipated. It came without any sparkle or glitter, without visions to talk about. It came as a one-way ticket to the bottom, while I was trapped by my commitment in the safest place on earth, right at the center. A month later another book found me, and I began to study A Course in Miracles. Step by step the foundations were laid for seeing clearly, and eventually peace emerged and stabilized. Life has become enjoyable and sweet.
The world would have had me doing so many other things those past couple of decades, but the wind never blew me in those directions, and that is how I know I was steered, or carried along. Because the pressures are there. That, and I had my best friend in the world beside me along the way– my wife– cracking jokes and bursting my balloons of self-importance and heaviness. Looking back in the Time Machine, I’m absolutely certain we are given just what is needed when we are ready to receive it. We could never heal on our own, of our own power or prescriptions. There is a wisdom to what is given that leaves me dumbfounded, and looking for a tree to water with my tears…
Next up is Mary on the 16th!