But this past year, broken, on my knees, I surrendered. My life as I knew it was shattering and I, and a handful of others, were scrambling, trying to gain control, to manage the situation. None of it was working.
One very cold morning, I slunk down into my little hot tub on the deck in my small and lovely backyard. I was so shell-shocked and exhausted from stress and fear and hurt that I felt as if I were on some sort of drug.
Hundreds of times before I had been in that tub on cold mornings when the steam was rolling thick off the hot water but I had never seen the steam and light before that day. As the sunlight filtered through distant branches and onto my face I observed the snow and ice covered needles and leaves. Then I noticed beams of light appear right before my eyes. When the steam blew away they vanished then reappeared as the steam rolled back in.
I realized these gorgeous, vibrant beams of light were touching us everyday; we just didn’t see them. Accompanying the light were rich layers of sound and the silence behind each. The sheer beauty of it moved me to tears. I was deeply, intensely present. My mind was not racing forward, thinking, worrying, and it was not rummaging backwards, remembering, analyzing. It was just right there deeply open to the moment as light danced off icy crystalline branches, hot velvety water and my tired face.
In that instant I realized there was so much more to life than I could ever understand, let alone control. And much of it was so much more beautiful than I had seen before. I felt deeply peaceful.
That experience changed me, cracked something open. I realized there was very little I could control about the external events ripping into my life. I couldn’t control what it would do to my career, my reputation, my relationships. I couldn’t openly defend myself against the ugliness being poured forth.
All I could really control was how I handled myself each day, each hour, each moment. My work, goals and outer journey had been put on pause against my will. I could either remain angry and bitter and try to force some sort of action or I could embrace it as an unexpected sabbatical and lean into the space I now had to work on my inner journey. I chose the latter.
The sense of peace and relief that came with this realization surprised me. As a person who had fought so hard for so long against losing control I was amazed how good it felt to relinquish it, to admit my powerlessness over so much of what took place.
Over the next many months I spent a lot of time meditating, studying, re-engaging affirmative prayer. I began learning to observe my emotions and thoughts rather than just react to them. I experimented with reacting to them in unusual ways just to see what would happen.
Life has sent me many teachers over this past year. Some were ministers, dharma teachers, professional counselors. Some were authors like Eckert Tolle, Pema Chodron, Michael Singer, Christine Green and Mark Nemo. They were not always gentle or easy on me, but they were always kind. I am immensely grateful that our paths crossed. I am in awe of their wisdom and generosity.
Don’t get me wrong I haven’t become all that enlightened. I still have many moments of fear and deep anger. I still live in the future and the past more than I’d like. For example, I am really looking forward to being able to look back on this (and that of course is the antithesis of being present)! However, I am a deeper, calmer person than I was a year ago. I know myself better. I like myself more.
In the process of having control over much of my life wrenched away I was given a profound opportunity to grow and to explore. Putting so much effort into controlling was actually blocking me from tremendous beauty. I am excited about what’s coming next. I want to live the rest of my life from this new place of being present and having faith that spirit has the reins. I’d like continue such growth without needing a crisis to get there, but of course I can’t really control that either!
What I can control, right now, is to take a deep breath, look around at all the beauty and smile. In the words of Ruth Burgess:
“The way ahead is unknown.
It will always be like that.
But having danced in the light
We will look for glory everywhere.”
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