Who has time to think about the meaning of life, happiness and fulfillment when there are iPads, Facebook and jobs to fill the days? These are big concepts. Deep questions. Topics that for much of my life I rarely contemplated.
Like most people of the world, I was busy doing my best to hang on and enjoy the ride as life whizzed by. I’d been raised to view life and its certain pains and pleasures, struggles and triumphs, beginnings and endings as something to endure with grace. So I tried to be a good sport, to stifle anxiety and confusion with the usual American distractions: working hard, trying to appear normal and going to the gym.
The miracle is that despite a formidable capacity for denial and great gaps in knowledge of myself and the world around me, important questions still accumulated: Who am I? Where do I find meaning? What is my purpose?
So now, with streaks of gray in my blonde hair and fifty years on this planet, these are questions I’m finally getting around to asking. And the answers are not what I expected.
Perhaps you already know the peace that lives within one’s own heart and the deep pleasure of pristine happiness that is at home within each of us, but until recently I had no idea I could live there.
I really didn’t have a clue.
But of the many blessings in my life—the love of a good man, creative work, and the providence to be born in a place and time of possibility—perhaps it was the very absence of introspection that enabled me to find something inside myself that I didn’t know was there.
I hadn’t known I was embarking on an inner journey when my husband Hank and I set off for Latin America with no real plans for our future. Nor did I have any idea of the solace and power that resides inside me and that to seek it is to discover a profound source of wellbeing.
I write this in Mexico as we approach three years of living abroad and I’m not the same person I was when we left. How exactly I traveled from homelessness to the quiet satisfaction of feeling at home almost anywhere is a story particular to me, and one that I am writing. But the theme of finding oneself in the world might be a universal one that resonates with anyone who has experienced the inner clarity that imbues such a journey.
Our stay in Cusco, Peru, was a turning point because I read all the time there and it was my introduction to the radiance of words. It was a cold Cusco winter at 11,000 feet and Hank and I were freezing in an unheated apartment. We sought relief in the sun’s warmth on the building’s rooftop terrace. The afternoons when we sat basking in the high Andean sunshine immersed in a world of writing both affected the way I view the world and how I fit in it.
It was there in the land of Inti, the ancient Incan sun god, that I encountered Emerson and Thoreau and Lao Tzu, writers who got me thinking about what it means to be human. And also authors like Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Alice Walker who express life’s intricacies with an enviable intelligence, honesty and grace.
As I sat there reading I felt an inexplicable sense of kinship with these writers, though it seemed a bit too fanciful to say out loud. In their books I discovered a sensibility for connection, whether with myself or a country or a population, as something profound, magical and worthy.
I didn’t yet perceive while I sat warm and content in the words of others, that I too had something to say. At that moment I was still tongue-tied by internal contradictions and struggling to finish a book I couldn’t find the right words for.
It took me a while to realize that during our 127 days in Cusco, a feeling of infinite possibility had simmered into my consciousness from somewhere deep inside. And although I still had no idea of what I wanted to write, the inner voice that mocked me and made me self-conscious about naming myself a writer had gone silent. It was there that I experienced the lightness of purpose, even a purpose as fledgling as a desire to express myself.
I reflected on the fact that nearly anyone might feel inspired under Cusco’s spell where the Inca mythology brings it out in you, and you can almost feel the opposing awe and fear of the invading conquistadors, and the wonderful chaos of the place seems to erode any need for certainty.
We used to laugh at our thawing selves on the rooftop as we gradually peeled away the layers of alpaca sweaters and Patagonia down jackets that had become our Cusco uniform. Who could have ever guessed that a similar molting was taking place inside me?
That’s how life has been these past few years: a steady unraveling, like the peeling of an onion. Where will it lead? When will it stop? I have no idea but I’m okay with that. And that, ultimately, is what this nomadic journey has symbolized: that at the root of uncertainty is peace.
What about you? Where do you find solace? Use the comment box below to share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.