Chop wood, carry water. Now that I have left the city behind and headed for the mountains, have I, like the Buddha found enlightenment in my life? I am no longer burdened by the 24/7 vice grip of owning my own business, as I wrote about here, when I was still in the throes of it. Years of working alone without respite left me feeling self pitying, depressed, and at a loss to explain who I was when the retail mask was down. At least I had a title and a job, which was all that mattered. I had never judged anyone else by their job, why did I feel so judged for failing at mine after 18 years?
As I discovered, I wasn't being judged by others. We are our own worst enemies, and I found so much encouragement and inspiration from those who supported me last winter, that I felt positively inspired to buckle down and turn my business around. Ultimately, my efforts weren't enough, and after going through the arduous work and emotional roller coaster of having two buyers back out, I decided, for my sanity, and for my family, to just close the shop. But what would I do? What does anyone do, I wondered. It's a question I've never asked, and always resented.
I dreamed about my future while I was camping out, staring into the fire in Upstate New York, after the second buyer suddenly backed out.
Surrounded by all sorts of loving, spiritually positive people, sleeping under the stars, and staying warm by the rocks at night, I felt more alive than I had in years. I was sleeping without Ambien. Waking up happy to be alive, I felt the bubbles of hope rise within me as I thought about leaving Brooklyn behind.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about women losing their "soulskin": "Every woman who stays away from her soul-home for too long tires. Then she seeks her skin again in order to revive her sense of self and soul."
I felt like I had come home. To myself. So many years of being the angry intellectual had left me tired, unnecessarily martyred, and spiritually void. Although I blindly toiled as hard as I could, I could not see what needed fixing. I needed fixing. I had built my own cage of work and tension, and really believed I was helping others. That's what motivated me, even though I could no longer see how I would ever be happy again. At least I was of service, I rationalized. I would work until I died, and I was hoping that would be sooner than later. Thoughts like that comforted me, when they should have scared me. I was so cut off from my own needs I could not see a way out. I've been self sufficient since I was a teenager. Who am I without a "real job?" Some suggested I start writing, and that is what finally set me free. I had always wanted to be a writer. Could I? Would I dare to try?
I sold what I could, saw my daughter off to college, and moved to the Catskills. Here I literally chop wood for my heat, and my biggest satisfaction during the day is when I can get a fire going with one light. My life is not what it used to be. So what is it?
It's peaceful enough for me to hear myself think. Calm enough to do yoga. Beautiful enough to believe in God.
"What do you do?" everyone asks when they see the vastness of the country. What do people do is a great question, because we would like for our work to have meaning, or at least not suck the life out of us while we make a decent wage. And by work, I mean raising kids. painting, driving a bus, whatever... I spent years doing tasks that kept my business going, and like most, I didn't love them all. When a store had to have Pinterest to stay competitive, I realized I was no longer capable of running a 21st century business. My job satisfaction could never last, because there was always more to do, and it was always my responsibility, even when I didn't know what I was doing. (See any of my old websites for proof.) I no longer felt joy at new challenges. I felt more dead than alive, and was driven by fear. "What do you do?" The answer back then was everything.
I did everything I could for others, and nothing for myself or my family or my soul. How they suffered needlessly because of my inability to slow down, even for a moment.
Now, when I look at the fire pit I built, or the garden I planted, I feel a deep connection to my work, and know this is what I want to "do." I want to get my hands dirty, live close to nature, and work within it; for it; for others. I am struggling a bit financially, have some P/T work, yet I feel strong as I stand and face each day, looking into the future. Into the mountains. Although I am more solitary than I have been in decades, I know I am no longer alone, and really, never was. I was so self involved I never thought to look outside of my own prison, and once I did, I realized how much each of us matter to each other, no matter what we "do."
Living our lives well is enough.
I am walking a new walk, on the gentle path towards an uncertain future. No longer hurried and barreling around Park Slope with my head down, a million things buzzing away, I am taking my time. It's the only thing I have enough of.
What do I do? I chop wood and carry water.
Now I just have to figure out what to do the other 23 hours of the day.