I had considered a pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago after my husband died a year ago. My research confirmed that it would be an important and unforgettable trip. As it turned out, though, I never made it to Spain. I found the contemplative path driving across the country, heading west.
During his ten months in the hospital battling heart failure, my husband was discharged only twice for short periods of time. He never regained enough strength for a heart transplant and several days after his death, I flew from the east coast to northern California to be with our children. When my trips back and forth across the country became more frequent, I realized I would need my car in the Bay Area. I also knew that the time alone, being with and feeling all of the difficult emotions, was an important step for me.
My drive began from Virginia at the end of Oct, 2016 and I arrived in San Francisco ten days later after traveling 3,300 miles through 15 northern states. It gave me the quiet time I needed to reflect, laugh, pray, and cry as I remembered the past, thought about my life, and tried to stay in the moment. Along the way, I rediscovered, once again, my own center and inner strength.
I was in San Francisco for less than a week when I felt the challenges of starting over in a new environment. My friends and family were in Washington DC and I didn’t know many people beyond my children in California. All of the uncertainty was compounded by the emotional impact of the presidential election a week after I arrived. The path I had forged during my long distance trip was beginning to unravel even before I had a chance to settle in. Then, in conversation with a friend, I discovered Spirit Rock.
The Spirit Rock Meditation Center in northern California focuses on the teachings of the Buddha. One of its founders, Jack Kornfield, who has taught alongside Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, would be leading the first class that I had planned to attend. He must have been the impetus for the 400 people who showed up that night.
After leading our meditation, he asked the audience what topics they were interested in having him discuss. Without hesitation, participants shouted out their words: despair, anger, disbelief, racial attacks, global warming, human rights. He wrote down what he had heard and then shared his stories and encouragement.
Kornfield spoke about The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two individuals who have suffered exile and violence and, yet, have remained very joyful. Kornfield talked about having the courage to be true to yourself. Don’t let the fear take over the heart, no matter what the thought. Carry a sense of happiness and joy in the midst of sorrow, and delight in being alive, no matter what happens, he told us.
The uncertainty that permeates our country has led to fearful emotions that were reflected in our group that evening. Kornfield asked a rhetorical question: What do you do in times of despair? The first act of courage, he said, is humility. You show your humanity. You show your vulnerability. Stay present and still, even in the midst of uncertainty. Be present for the way things are and listen. Ask “what do you want?” And, then listen. Don’t act until the right act comes forward.
We’re in the middle of something vast and we need to find a trust so that we can do our part in this. Do your best, he suggested. Your voice, your spirit is available. One person with courage is the majority. Others may be cruel; we will not. You can be fearful or you can have a separate consciousness that opens the freedom of your spirit, no matter what, he said.
Despite where we started that evening, many of us left feeling uplifted. We had work to do to make sure our voices were heard in between the anger, fear and frustration. His talk reminded me of the contemplative path on my drive west. When you open the freedom of your Spirit, you feel the inner wisdom and guidance from within.
My connection to Spirit ebbs and flows and requires a reminder for me to refocus. I get frustrated when I often forget so much of what I’ve learned, but something always materializes that pulls me back to my center.
I would have undoubtedly been complacent if my candidate had won. Instead, I have a renewed energy and sense of urgency that had been missing. I plan to take advantage of my new condition, staying committed to taking the high road. I remain open to the idea of not letting fear take over my heart, or my voice.