The Answers for Four Questions: New Year 2020
I hold the cup in both hands, my palms lined with little passageways of sweat, of nervousness, of desert warmth and poor circulation. I look at the woman who sits across from me. I don’t remember where she came from, or how we came to be sitting here, but here we are. And somehow, though I don’t know these things, I know she is of me, of course, and so I know her completely. Yet still, she remains a stranger. How can someone belong to me, and be utterly unknown at the same time? As if reading my mind, she smiles, the sun-worn wrinkles crinkling around her mouth and her eyes, and answers me softly,
“I know you, and you know me, because I belong to you, and you belong to me.”
“It’s that simple,” I begin, trailing off to let words that don’t know what to say come up.
“Yes,” she laughs, “It’s that simple. And we’re here, to your other question, because this earth is about to do another dance around the sun, and it is time for questions to be asked as we contemplate the New Year, so I thought we could have tea.”
What questions do I even ask? How do I ask the questions I want to ask? When confronted with a goddess, or an Earth Mother, or a holy grandmother, or a creator, all my questions feel so human. I’m being gifted the chance to glimpse the divine, my own divine and others. She reminds me, reading the litany of my doubts, that she is part of me, that she’s always been riding along, tucked into the left side of my being.
“Left,” she elaborates, “Because left is the side where your heart lives.” I place my right hand on my chest, and feeling the subtle drumbeat pulsing, I choose to believe her, to believe this conversation is happening, that she is some fusion of my mothers and grandmothers, and their mothers and all mothers, and fathers and grandfathers, and she is everyone, and so she is me.
So I set down my chai latte, which I didn’t even know I ordered, and I look into her left eye. Left, because someone told me once the left eye is where the soul resides, though I suppose if I am looking into the left eye of the one who is my soul, then I am looking back into myself.
“Can you tell me how,” I begin, and take a breath. “Can you tell me how I am supposed to live my life?” I let the question sit in the silence for a moment, for two. I continue, as she encourages more. “I know I’m not supposed to ask that question, but this whole decade it feels as if I’ve been battling the four P’s- person, place, profession, purpose. When one feels grounded, the others escape. I want to hold them all, to be secure in each, and I know that part of my growth is learning how to live out the questions, as so many have said, and yet, there’s still this part of me, in the moments I feel alone, in the moments I feel unsure, in the moments I don’t trust, that just wants to know. Please,” my voice has turned into a little plea, that puppy-dog eye method of my childhood, “Can you give me a hint, a glimpse, of what is to come?”
She knew this was the question I would ask; it’s a question I imagine many of us would ask when gifted the chance to speak with our more spiritual selves. Slowly, she raises her pink and green floral mug to her lips, sipping the hot chocolate inside (and though I cannot see the hot chocolate, I know that is what she is drinking.) She lowers the mug to the dish on which it sits. So perfectly poised, the most elegant variation of me.
“It’s not so much that these questions — of how to live your life, of who to love, and where to live, and what to do, and why to do it all — are wrong to ask,” she begins. “All humans, all bodies holding our spiritual selves in this particular form, ask questions. It is part of your ability to rationalize this world. I believe that when your rational mind takes over, trying to puzzle out these questions, you are striving, yearning, trying to make the most of your time on this earth, and how beautiful is that? Across cultures, races, religions, genders, there is a deep desire in each that you will not be forgotten. That your life will have made a dent in this world, hopefully for the better. That this life was full. And so, I suppose,” she tempts, lingering on each word as if it’s a sugar cube, “I can elaborate on each of these four questions: the who, the where, the what, the why.” She sips her hot chocolate one more time. “Let us begin.”
In the space before she begins, I race to think how to record this, to remember the truths she is about to share. I had not expected any sort of answer to my answerless questions. In the realms of goddess cards and tarot decks, mediums and astrology, Zodiac and Mayan calendars, religion and genealogy, friends’ and lovers’ lives, I have sought answers to these questions in different ways, all the while knowing that the answers must come from within, and that the questions are already answered, in a way. I lean into the wall next to me, in this café in some alter dimension, where no other people or baristas exist. I tuck up into the blanket that is suddenly wrapped around me, and she begins.
“The who you are looking for is, of course, yourself.” She says it with a smile, and before I can protest that of course I know that, she continues. “We look for love in others when we cannot find it in ourselves, and we look for love because all people have so much love to give. Regardless of whether you identify as an empath or a feeler, one who adapts or one who cannot change at all, there is a deep well of love within you. You want to be known by someone, because humans have forgotten that you all know one another. So when you look for love in each person you meet — when your heart beats with the long-haired guitar player, when your hands sweat with the big eyed coworker, when your words stumble with the possibilities of something, give thanks. You are feeling it all.”
She looks at me, and nods. “You, dear one, have so much love to give. Give it to yourself. Get to know what your freckles feel like beneath your skin. Look at your eyes smiling back at you in the morning and see the constellations in them. Wonder and wander at your gaze, see where it falls, and learn about your lens, the way you view the world. Marvel at yourself, because you are love incarnate, and the more love you give, the more you generate.”
I shiver inside my blanket, letting myself feel my warmth. She looks at me with eyes that are my own, and I realize this is the only time I will stare into my own eyes without a mirror. Before I can dwell too long on that, she starts to speak again.
“Regarding the where, it is a question of rootedness, course. Your family is English and Danish, Swedish and American, or United Statesen. And yet, these ethnicities and boundaries, borders and countries, are all constructs. Your roots are baked into your cells, your blood, your instincts. When we chose to be in this body for this lifetime, we wanted you to experience different aspects of the present and your ancestors. In this lifetime, you hold the trauma of being a woman, hold the fear of speaking your truth too loudly, hold the curiosity of moving to a new place, hold the legacy of your culture suffocating others. You hold the desire to start again, and to take care of your parents, and to want children, and to hear voices in the mountains, and to search for bears and be searched for by them. All of these things make up your place, where you belong in this world.”
A big cinnamon-colored black bear walks behind her, and I barely blink. Barely.
“And with all the time you spend wondering where, where, where you belong, you forget that you belong everywhere, to everyone. Expand yourself, extend yourself, beyond the limitations of community, identity, and a set place. Open yourself up to what it means to be part of everyone, every place. And yet, though you are all one, you still must learn about the stories of each person, each place, in this human realm. Does that make sense? You belong everywhere, and so you belong nowhere. Root yourself to rise up, but carry your roots with you. There is a legend of an old soul of the trees. She was born between lives, part of her soul remembering what it felt like to be a bird, part of her soul stuck in the trunk of a tree. She used to feel trapped between the two, wondering if she was the sparrow of her past life, or if she was tree of this one. She could feel her roots thirsty for water and she wanted to kick them away; she waved her hands to all who passed, but they only saw branches in the breeze.
It took her many years before she realized that her roots were not shackles, but that they could also become wings. In realizing that she was both, would always be both, and would be all the others, her roots ripped themselves from the soil. Her branches shrunk down in size and turned into the most delicate of wings, a skeleton of twigs. Her roots wrapped themselves around her frame, and she broke free from the soil. She wrapped herself in her roots, and flew away. When she stopped, she would reroot, drink the water from the soil, and gain strength. When she flew, she would feel the breeze on her skin, and be filled with wonder. You belong to all places, like she belonged to the sky and the soil at the same time.
The bear which was sitting behind her, in the corner of this celestial cafre, instantly turned into a sparrow. It flew upwards, and I looked up, seeing there was no roof, only air.
“As for your profession,” she keeps speaking. “Where do we even start? I know that the list is not exhaustive: businesswoman or creator, artist or synthesizer, writer or teacher. Where is a role, you wonder, that fills all these passions? The goal is to not get caught in the shenpa of your passions. And yes, I also know that beautiful Tibetan Buddhist word, shenpa. When you are hooked on an idea, a question, and cannot see yourself in the whirlpool you are simultaneously stuck in and creating, you can only release. Release yourself, dear one. You are learning something you need to learn in every role that comes your way. Can you trust that?”
“Does that mean there is a divine plan, of sorts,” I begin. She laughs, and shakes her head, her silver brown hair coarse and long, those eyes of mine smiling. “Of course there is a plan, and of course the plan is always changing. But when it comes to what you should do, the particular job, the what is not so important. When you teach, be with your students. When you travel, be in the places you are learning about. When you write, be with your words. When you serve, be with the giving. Wherever you are with your work, be there. It does not matter what you do, as much as it matters how you do it. You could be one of a great many things, and that, in and of itself, is a gift, one not afforded to some women in some countries, to many people in many countries, to many people in this country, but do not let yourself get lost those freedoms. Many humans gifted many privileges in these systems become paralyzed by choice. Yet all you can do is listen, and choose, and be. Be there. And be do what you do well.”
“It is not the what, but the how,” I repeat. My chai latte has disappeared. I am sipping a chai from the little clay cups of India, a chai that I would have multiple times a day, and I am sipping it slowly, so as not to burn my tongue. I remember my friend telling me that when I finished the drink, I should throw the clay cup into the trash bin. It would shatter. But that’s such a waste, I’d begun, and he just laughed. A clay cup goes back to the soil. Thousands of them are produced a day. You get more flavor when you drink from clay. It’s all just made with more care, and when you’re done, release it, and there will be another. Clay cups shattered on the café floor around me, and she didn’t even notice, as she sipped her chocolate again.
“And finally, that question of purpose. Oh, purpose. Sometimes referred to as your why. The why, what and how,” she chuckles, marvels, in a sense. “It is amazing how the organizational side of the human mind creates system after system, construct after construct, to encapsulate the inevitable non-truths, the truths without words, the truths known but not voiced. When it comes to your purpose, release that question entirely.”
“But…why? Isn’t it helpful to have a sense of why I’m here, of hoping that my unique gifts will be put to use, of figuring out what those gifts are and using them?”
“Of course that is important,” she smiles and nods, encouraging me in my own grappling. “And, at the same time, the gifts are already yours. Yes, you will learn as you grow, and you will change, and you will shift your values, and your heart will break and be rebuilt, and you will see harm and you will see joy. But if you spend so much time stuck on your purpose, your path, your gifts, you lose yourself in this world. You are lost in your silo of ego, of wondering about yourself and wanting to make the most of yourself. You live your gifts when you are with other people.
Think to the flow of life in India, how your friend would laugh, lovingly, when you said you needed personal space, and alone time. Those concepts do not exist in most countries, and even in this country, do not exist in many cultures. Alone time and space, though it can be rejuvenating, also remove you from the mess of it all. And the purpose, for each of us, is to be part of the messiness. Is to feel what it means to dance with another, is to cry and to laugh, to be part of something bigger. To be both your own island in the middle of the sea, and to also be the sea, and to also be the islands surrounding you. You are expansive enough to be all of these things because you already are all of these, and more.
Extend yourself, reach beyond the skin that holds you in, and feel. When your body shivers in excitement, let the ripples of energy flow through you. When your heart bunny hops with possibility, give thanks. When you look into the eyes of anyone, stranger or lover, one who has hurt you or one who cares for you, see the life source within them — that flow, golden, bubbling, pulsing, wondering, wandering. That desire to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, to know and be known. Trust,” she pauses, as her hands begin to fade around the edges, as if someone has taken an eraser to her earthy skin and started to undo her.
“Trust that you are not alone. Trust that you are already living your purpose, and it cannot be not lived. Take risks, yes, and listen to your voice; release fears when you can, but don’t you dare hide yourself away from what is difficult to learn. Choose to stay, to be part of it all, and your purpose will come with every step you take.” Her arms and shoulders, her neck and cheeks, are all fading, back into nothing, back into everything, back into me. I feel the warmth as her words sink into my stomach, resonate in my soul.
“And whenever you feel like you are alone, that you do not know the who and the where, the what and the why, when you think you may forget that this conversation ever happened or that you do not know any truths, take your hand and hold it to your left side, on top of your chest, just above the heart. Feel that?”
She is gone from in front of me, and I am back in a café surrounded by people and music, without bears or birds, and my heart is whir, whir, whirring. And know that I am here, and that this happened. “You, my dear, are never alone.” I say it to myself, and to my friend who sits across from me wanting to hear what I’ve been writing for so long, and to no one and everyone at the same time. I say it gently, each word with love, focusing on how I say it rather than what I say. And so, I begin.