Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dark Night of the Soul

I've spent the past few weeks since graduation in a bit of a funk trying to figure out "what's next"; I'm referring to it as my "dark night of the soul" period, because the polarity of living here in this unfinished log cabin in the woods and the life that “was” back in “The City” bares little to no resemblance of my life today. 
The few similarities that exist in my life here and now and my life then are: my family, friends and my passion for running and writing.  These lifelines have made this process of moving here, sitting with the unknowns and uncertainty, and finding a way to fulfill the destiny I believe I am here to meet, possible and notably less terrifying than they would otherwise be.  

       “One dark night,
          fired with love's urgent longings
          -- ah, the sheer grace! -- 
            I went out unseen,
            my house being now all stilled.”
                                - Juan de Yepes y Alvarez
         St. John of the Cross 1578-79

Despite having several good ideas that inspire and move me, I hadn't discovered "The One", and have been searching endlessly.  At times the search has felt desperate, but mostly I am learning to sit and be, to accept the uncertainty that each day in all of our lives brings.  Back in November I set my goal to "write my way through" whatever this is.  At the time I was writing more than I ever have in my life.  It is possible that I wrote more in the last three months of 2013, than I have in my entire life, but I don’t think that’s the case, it just feels that way.  In any case, I have been writing frequently and about several very different things that are both intimately connected and independently wandering the universe of my heart, searching for a home.  

Something that moving to The Moose Lodge has taught me is faith. In order to pull this off it took faith, which to be totally honest is something I have never fully understood, but the beauty about faith is that you don’t have to understand it in order to have it.  Back in August I felt the need to figure out, upon arrival to this wild place, exactly why I was here.  What was my purpose for so radically changing my life? In order to justify this move, at the very least, to my self but also to those that have loved and supported us on this journey despite all reason.  

Then I opened The Anchorage Press and read my horoscope for the week and it said:

“You’re in a phase when you can thrive by being a gatherer of information of everything that attracts and fascinates you.  You don’t need to know yet why you are assembling all  the clues, that will be revealed in good time” - “Gemini” Rob Brezsny 8/2013 

Say what you want about horoscopes, but Rob’s interpretations of my current personal dilemmas, thought processes, and upcoming challenges are generally spot on, profound, and have at the very least given me something to think about.  I used these two sentences as a guiding light in the months that followed, by not limiting ANY possibility. If it interested me, I wrote about it.  Since then I have written hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages and while I have a little something to show for it, until this morning I didn’t have “My Big Idea”.  You know, the one I am here, on this earth and in this wild place, to write.  

“The artist is by necessity a collector.  He accumulates things from the sea and from the scrap heap.  He takes snapshots, makes mental notes, and records his impressions on tablecloths and newspapers.  He has a taste for children’s wall scrawling as appreciate as that for prehistoric cave painting.” - Paul Rand 

It must have been the Kick Ass coffee my father-in-law, Gord, or “Dad” as I generally refer to him as, sent us for Christmas (a follow-up to last year's inaugural gift of Kick Ass, which quite literally kicked my ass into gear), but a certain kind of magic overcame me this morning and I found the energy to open a book I bought back in this clue gathering process.  

During my “dark night of the soul” moments in the past few weeks I managed to slowly thumb through the first fifteen pages, also referred to as “The Introduction”.  Generally I take an idea, run with it, sometimes very far and often without much vision because I feel the pressure to make a decision.  Typically I would have delved into the book head first, wildly reading through the chapters, spinning my webs tossing ideas in their general direction, waiting to see what stuck. 

“The inspiration comes while you write.” - Madeline L’Engle 

Last spring I conducted a series of interviews with former Native Youth Olympics athletes for my Senior Project at Alaska Pacific University.  At the time I was living in The Labrador House, content and set on living a life in the suburbs, and raising our children in the community I was raised in.  In the interviews I conducted I had the honor of interviewing one young individual who expressed their cultural values and how they are tied to placing an emphasis on the importance of being.  Just being.  Being human. Being still. Being quiet with ones thoughts.  Just be.  The experience moved me. It changed me. It made me realize I did not know how to be.  

The participant identified much of their ability to “be” through their relationship to their culture, which is tied exclusively to the land and all things that the natural world represents.  He pointed out the simple fact that our (American) society encourages us to make quick decisions, and to always move forward, even if it is in the wrong direction.  In the months that followed I transcribed these interviews, an exhaustive process that took hours and hours of focus, careful dictation, and thought.  I found the process harder than I had imagined because it was impossible to separate myself from the raw data.  It consumed me, I found it hard to think about anything else, yet at the same time it was impossible to write about it, a process I needed to do in a set time frame in order to graduate after a decade long journey to complete my “four year degree”.  The words, thought and feeling shared in these interviews wrapped around me, drawing me in, and ultimately pulled me in an entirely different direction.  

I needed to learn to be.  I came here to learn to be.  In the (almost) five months since I have been home I have come to realize that I am very much the same person who set out on this journey, because I am busy with my thoughts and anxieties and worry over what’s next.  The past few weeks in particular have been especially confusing.  Paired with the intense darkness and cold (ten days ago it was -38 F), it has been hard to find the mental energy to delve into some of the ideas that I need to, in order to move forward. 

Or so I thought.  

I kept writing, though at a less intense pace with even more ambiguity and lack of direction.  I let myself cry.  I bordered on wallowing and stopped myself short confining myself to bed, accepting a wintertime hibernation as par for the course in living a wild life that in a five months will be transformed into an endless marathon of daylight and the summertime activities that will consume me.  Then I talked. To Parke. At length. Exhaustively. And he listened.  I’ve been moody and intense.  Sad and happy.  Inspired and lost.  And he has been with me every step of the way.  Sitting with his own sort of confusion, helping me to help myself, to find the way.  That my friends, is marriage. 

“Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” - The Avett Brothers  

While I haven’t yet learned how to “be” I am learning how to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and uncertainty that this path has put me, and my family on.  Driven by passion and faith we have found ourselves here in this wild place, unsure of how we are supposed to move forward, lacking a blueprint or plans.  This is not typical for us. 

My husband and I are both known for our extreme Type A tendencies and we always have a plan, a vision, goals, and a timeline in place.  When opportunity came knocking, we had no time to sit down and write out a timeline, identify concrete values based goals, and action steps to accomplish them.  We had to conjure up faith from a spiritual source beyond ourselves.  This is not easy for two control freaks, but somehow (I suspect with a lot of prayer on part of our mothers) we managed to find the faith to do the things that terrified us more than anything in the world. 

Following our dreams.

“You have to climb to reach a deep thought” - Stanislaw Lec 

The one overarching statement nearly everyone says upon hearing about what we have done is “I’ve always wanted to do that.”.  Indeed.  Many of our friends, family, and acquaintances have this vision of moving to a little log cabin on the edge of nowhere in search of a simple life surrounded by nature, solitude, and peace.  

“Author Eliane Scarry defines “the basic impulse underlying education” as follows: the “willingness to continually revise ones own location in order to place oneself in the path of beauty.” - As quoted by Rob Brezesky, 9/13 

So why is it few people embark on such a journey?

Because it is terrifying and in order to do it, actually make it happen, you have to let go of everything you have worked for, built up, and cultivated in your life and exchange it for uncertainty.  It’s like that saying about holding sand in your hands.  If you hold on tight, it slips between your fingers and you are left with nothing.  If you hold it loosely, relax, and learn to be - the world is at your fingertips.  

You have to become comfortable with the unknowns.  Through this process I have realized we all live in this terrifying state each and every moment, of each and every day.  Your bank account is likely bigger than mine, your life more clearly defined, and your path more fully detailed. But the reality is we all live in a constant state of vulnerability, uncertainty, and risk.  All it takes is a moment, a single moment, and your whole life can change.

In August 2012, a good friend and colleague of my husband returned home from a work trip, late on a Friday night, to his wife and two sons.  He went to bed that night, happy to be home with his family, and I suspect with plans for seeking out the wild places that Alaska has to offer, sharing in the joy of the great outdoors with his two sons and wife during the weekend that laid out before them.   

Sometime late in the day on Saturday I was on Facebook and came across an odd comment on his wife’s Facebook page that came up in my news feed.  When I first read it nothing made sense.  I didn’t even understand what it said.  There were words and in my mind all that I could see were question marks.  On her page there were photos of our friend, out fishing, with his boys and touching photos of he and his wife together, happy.  I kept reading the words, over and over.  I stood motionless in the kitchen of our rented house, on shaky legs, still unable to comprehend the simple words that were written explaining how their life had changed in a moment, a single moment, early that Saturday morning in August with a weekend spread out before them and adventures waiting to happen.  

That morning our friend Kelly died unexpectedly at home in his bed, next to his wife.  He was 43 years old and in good health, active, full of life, passion and adventure. His life had ended and his family was left in a state of shock. There was no rhyme or reason. It happened. It was awful. I still grieve for his family because I cannot imagine the loss, pain, and hardship they have had to endure without this great man in their life.  I felt blessed to have known him as a friend and know that the time he and my husband worked together, shared mexican lunches at Hacienda, and talked of adventures had and adventures yet to be had, made a difference on how my husband viewed his future.  When he met Kelly he was a single guy with limited interest in having children, or even in being married.  When I met Parke in 2006 our second date was a “Shack Warming Party” at his recently acquired cabin in Eklutna.  Kelly and his wife Denise and their boys Dylann and Brennen were there, and I looked at their family with such admiration.  Committed to living a life of adventure, having left their home in North Dakota in search of wild adventures in Alaska and an experience for their two young boys. 

“Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will.” -Gandhi  

I shakily walked over to the living room and sat down next to my husband on the couch and paused a few moments, tears began to fall and finally I said “Something happened this morning, I don’t know the details, but Kelly died, he’s gone, I am so sorry”.  Then I began to cry.  I cried hardest for his boys, knowing the father he was to them and the loss that his passing represented in their young lives.  Parke sat there and looked at me with the same puzzled and bewildered look upon his face that I had when I was reading the words that made no sense.  Then he demanded to read what I had seen, because clearly I was confused and had misinterpreted something and the world had not in fact changed in such a profound way for Kelly and his family.  

In the months after Kelly’s death Parke had a few dreams where Kelly came to him, in subtle ways, but his presence and the heaviness of his passing gave these dreams a sort of magic, and created a sense of urgency.  We started discussing the life we were living compared to the life we wanted to live.  We asked ourselves what we would do if we knew it could end at any moment?  Because it could. At any moment.  We had the evidence to support that belief, it was as real as ever.  We had just signed the sale paperwork on The Labrador House and were on the hook for over half a million dollars of a mortgage we couldn’t truly afford, in a lifestyle that didn’t fulfill us, despite the fact it was The American Dream, or at least the dream we’d been led to believe was “Ours”.  

We spent the months that followed in a state of questioning about our future and the life we were living compared to the life we wanted to live.  Then a series of miracles happened that were too obvious to ignore.  All the signs were there, the opportunity presented itself and somehow the many things that needed to fall into place in order to make The Wild Dream come true, did.  Kelly has been in our hearts the entire time and the life we live here is in no small way dedicated to the life he lived.  A life the ended too soon.  A life that made a difference in the world.  

Because of all this, even the terrifying moments can be wrestled with because we did it, we followed our dream and we are living in the here and now. All we have is this single moment.  

What are you going to do in this moment to fulfill your destiny?  

“Inspiration is unlimited power” -Yogi Tea Bag Message 

 - H.M. Wild
Run Life From Your Core 

“The works must be conceived with fire in the soul, but executed with clinical coolness.” - Joan Miro

P.S. Coming home feels just like going back, back to the way that I was...back to the gypsy that I was.  

                                                              Fleetwood Mac, 1978
So I'm back, to the velvet underground
Back to the floor, that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was
To the gypsy... that I was
And it all comes down to you
Well, you know that it does
Well, lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night

And you see your gypsy
You see your gypsy
To the gypsy that remains faces freedom with a little fear
I have no fear, I have only love