Cultivating Courage at the Crossroads (2006)
Updated: Oct 21, 2018
“It is vain to say humans ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” - Charlotte Bronte
Normally I have a relatively clear idea of what I want to write my column about before I sit down to write. This time I don’t. It’s probably a symptom of my life still being in a greater state of flux than normal. In the last seven months, I left and divorced my husband, left my job for a new one, and moved from six years of relative isolation in the Colorado mountains to the city of Minneapolis. I was terrified to leave the mountains, thinking that I would lose a piece of sanity, but Minneapolis’ lakes and plentitude of big, old trees are thankfully providing enough nature to keep me sane. While I miss the mountains, I’m really enjoying not having to get in my car almost every day to go to town. I like being able to walk or bike to almost everything that I need. I like feeling more connected to people. I’ve also been to more shows in the last month than in six months in Colorado, which is a welcome trend.
While I’m happy with my decisions, they weren’t easy to make. I had many moments of anxiety and uncertainty when I wondered if I was making the right choices. There were fears and risks on almost every front. For example, while I knew deep down that David was not the person I wanted to be committed to, it was a little scary to leave someone that I knew truly loved and was faithful to me, met a decent amount of my needs and I enjoyed being around (at least most of the time). While I’m comfortable being alone, spending the rest of my life without someone to love is not something I would wish for. Some of my single friends thought I was a little crazy and was giving up too easily, but I had to finally listen to the clear messages from my heart, gut and dreams and simply trust that I knew what was right for me. There was also no guarantee that I would like living in Minneapolis. Visiting a place, even for extended periods of time, and living there can often be really different.
I feed on challenges, complications, and walking into the unknown. I need passion, learning, action. I echo a character in one of my favorite novels (Jane Eyre), “It is vain to say humans ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” One of my favorite spiritual teachers (Osho) nicely summarizes my attitude towards change: “Always choose the unknown and go headlong. Even if you suffer, it is worth it. You always come out of it more grown up, more mature, more intelligent.” I think it applies to big things like physically uprooting your life or choosing to go to school, and less tangible things like really opening yourself up in a relationship or doing a lot of soul-searching.
It’s not that I can’t settle down or always need things to change. Compared to a lot of people, I have a pretty stable life these days, which I have come to appreciate. It’s really about living with courage and getting the most out of my life. To quote the aforementioned dude: “Courage is risking the known for the unknown, the familiar for the unfamiliar, the comfortable for the uncomfortable, arduous pilgrimage to some unknown destination.” By living courageously, you give up the fear of making mistakes. I don’t even think I believe in mistakes. I might call a certain past relationship of mine a mistake, but then I never would have moved to Finland and had all of the experiences that came along with that decision. If it’s true that our experiences help shape who we are, then I might be a different person now living a different life. Of course I can’t say if one life would be better than another since I wouldn’t know what this life was like, but this feels right. I’m passionate about and immensely interested in the work that I do; I’m able to support myself; I have a few wonderful friends; I have love that gets stronger over time. I have a lot hard-won self-awareness that helps me realize and work towards what I really want in life.
I sometimes think about those critical turning points in my life, particularly the turning points that arose from my decisions, as opposed to external circumstances forced on me. Deciding to drop out of college in 1996 is one that always comes to mind. If I hadn’t dropped out, I’d have a degree in something I’m not interested in anymore; I probably never would have rode trains and traveled across the country, never met John, never moved to Finland, maybe never lived in Colorado and on and on. I can’t imagine missing all that. I’m not going to talk about destiny. I don’t know if things are meant to happen. But I sometimes wonder if things are meant to happen, do the moments, the little details and choices, really matter? Would another moment of chance/choice inevitably arise? Would everything turn out the same? Maybe it’s not that things are meant to happen through some cosmic force, but our deepest desires drive our lives and influence our decisions, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s never a straight path; you have to earn it. Ok, so I did talk about destiny.
So, what are the takeaways from this self-indulgent ramble? Be courageous and take risks in life. Welcome the unknown. Be curious. Be an active participant in your life. Remember that mistakes help make us who we are; they help us grow, but don’t make the same mistakes over and over. Be aware of life’s lessons. After all, life is an adventure. Rock on.
Reprint from Slug & Lettuce zine, #81 Summer 2006.