A few years ago, I had a time when I thought I might lose everything, including my means of supporting myself. (Now I can say my life wouldn’t have been complete without that experience, so if it happens to you, welcome it to whatever extent you are able.) I was fortunate to be working with a wise woman, and in the way of our culture I called her my therapist and paid her with money for our time together. In one of our sessions, she asked me what I would have left if I “lost everything.”
Fears were at high tide back then, so I worried about losing important relationships, the respect of those I cared about, my house and possessions, and perhaps even my freedom. Those were things I listed in my reply to her, and she again asked what I would have left, what would remain, if I Iost those things. What is it that cannot be taken from me?
My answers were begrudging, as I wanted to focus on what I might be forfeiting. Eventually I admitted that my creativity was innate, something I would continue to carry no matter what. Then, recalling a story about a man in a prison cell and the visitation of a bird at his barred window, I realized there is no place in physical reality where I could be completely cordoned off from nature. The natural world would always be available to me, in some fashion. So then I had creativity and nature.
The third thing is hard to say in words—my relationship with Spirit, that mysterious and palpable force that has a voice within me, that illuminates my cells, the place where I began, my inner wisdom, or in the jargon of recovery, my Higher Power. This thing greater than myself that is equally close and far away, revealed and unknowable. Simplified, all I could come up with is creativity, nature and God. She asked “is that enough?”
It is possible that what I am doing today is trying to answer that question. Most of what I was afraid of losing, I have since sold or given away. I quit the career I was so worried about. And every time I think I am close to being done with my systematic “downsizing” of my life, I get an inkling that there is more to release. I am grateful that the process is joyful, that things aren’t being wrestled from my grasp in the way I once feared they would be. Still, I have to wonder what is going on.
Yesterday I walked the edge of a hayfield, along the fence line, in a county with a few hundred inhabitants. I am staying here, in a two-story ranch house, with four others, to read and write in silence for a week. Because it is October, and because we are near the South Dakota/Nebraska border, and because the hayfield is bordered by river, everything is extraordinary. The sky is extra blue, the Milky Way extra visible at night, and the reds and yellows and whites are extra red and yellow and white, and the cows are then extra black against their backdrop. And because I am walking in pasture, I am told “if you see the bull, go around him.” And I think, yes, isn’t that the truth?
So I am walking along the fence line, and this is my life right now. On one side, cultivation, sustenance, order, industry. On the other side of the fence, the chaos of fallen trees, moving water, impenetrable thicket, hidden pockets, coyote dens, and the ever present mystical lion. Order and chaos. Cultivation and wilderness. Domesticated and feral. And between them, not nearly enough to separate them fully, a few strands of wire that I can (and did) press down and step over, or that I can (and did) lie down and scramble under. The unmown edge confuses the boundary, and musk thistle pops up in the alfalfa, and volunteer corn roots in the sandbar of the river.
Am I wild or ordered? Is my life directed or flowing? Which side draws me? Where am I afraid to go alone? What would I have left, if I lost everything? Isn’t the question oxymoronic? I know so little about my own life. I see that others are baffled by my actions, and I am equally baffled. I am following my impulse as though it is a divining tool, hoping to find not the water or graves others have used it to find, but for the joy of following it. Yesterday, near the river, I saw an abandoned hunter’s camp. It isn’t much more than a rusted school bus with a chair set outside the door, under some trees and surrounded by tall grass. It is turning in my mind, an image that holds my interest. It reminds me of the question my therapist asked, what would I have left? And it calls up another question I am listening to as of late, what is essential?
I am wandering the fields, and practicing my slingshot, and eating good food with gentle people, and I have enough, and more than enough, and more than my arms can hold, and the more I give away the more that pours in, and I am washed in it, and apples fall right out of the tree, and there is a fire in the yard when it gets dark, and I am lonely sometimes, and I am no longer afraid of losing everything, and am willing to scramble under the fence to get where I am supposed to be, even if it isn’t where I thought I was going, even if my boots get caked with manure, even if I have to circle the bull as he stands his time-honored ground.
Created. Creativity. Creator. I am tramping through underbrush near the fence line. I am alone, and there are friends who would look for me if I didn’t return, and a school bus where I could hunker down if the weather turned. I can’t explain myself. I am deep in the experience, twirling in time, saying yes. All I can say about it is yes.