My daughter is packing to move to England at the end of the week. As I sit here by the picture window typing, she comes in from time to time to tell me some new detail about her graduate program or the location of a possible flat or the friends she will be sharing it with. For some reason, I find little packing details particularly wrenching: coats, dresses, and shoes leaving this home for a bright unknown. She is bubbling over with happy plans for her future and I am very happy for her. I am also deeply relieved that she is not moving to London the way I moved to New York—which was under the spell what I now call Jane Eyre syndrome.
I travelled to New York and set about getting some kind of job with a blend of determination and timidity, as if I was an unwanted visitor, an unloved orphan in the world. I longed to draw closer to the great fire, to be invited to feel the real the warmth and vibrancy of life. But I had no idea how to go about it. It took many years for me to learn that the invitation is always being offered…and that it is issued on the inside.
The invitation to the great party of life comes when we let go. This is a lesson that must be relearned again and again, because it is human nature to try to be in control. Counting down to my daughter’s departure, my moods are very changeable. At some moments, I am serene and expansive, full of wisdom and sympathetic joy. In these moments it seems that after all these years as a spiritual seeker, I am finally getting somewhere! At other moments, and when I least expect it, I will feel like crying like a big baby. All that seeming wisdom, and sympathetic joy just vanishes like smoke, and I am left with the knowledge that nothing is turning out to be the way I thought it was going to be.
In such a moment, I wonder why nobody ever told me that this earthly life of ours was going to turn out to be so impermanent, so subject to change and loss. It seems like we are like snow people, capable of just melting away. I can feel a bit like Dante, in the middle of the journey of my life and lost in a dark wood—the first half of my life seems like a blissful illusion while what is yet to come is truly unknown.
Lately, the reality of impermanence is so powerful it wakes me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes, I get up and meditate. Recently, in a marvelous a weekly newsletter called Brain Pickings, I read a list of rules for students and teachers, the creation of the artist and educator Sister Corita Kent. Sitting down to meditate is my way of following Sister Kent’s first rule: “Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.”
Sitting in silence I remember that knowing what I don’t know and what I can’t control is an important way of knowing. I remember that when all else fails, when life breaks your heart, there is another kind of truth that is always waiting to embrace you. Sometimes when I sit, especially in the face of such a momentous change, I realize the truth—the real truth—cannot be thought, just seen, just live. I realize there is a fork in the path—and not just in the middle of our lives but the middle of any given moment. We can lament our fate or plot to change it—or we can seek to speak and live and be in accord with the nature of the way things are.
As the countdown to England approaches, Alex comes in to admit that she is also scared. The future is unknown. I tell her that this is what I have learned after many mishaps and many years of just plain living: the invitation is always being offered. When your heart is broken, when you all else fails, when you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. Let go. Sit down and be still. Don’t know. The truth that cannot be thought. The truth of what is always waiting to receive you.