For many years, Alaska has maintained a remarkable and impressively solid hold on me. I have been physically and financially tethered to the state by virtue of the house I have been renting and attempting to sell since moving from Alaska to Massachusetts in frigid conditions in January 2012. Alaska has held onto my psyche as well through vivid nightmares from my job and unfortunate partings from people I once called dear friends.
I have inhabited many places since leaving, both in body and in mind, but I have not yet been able to sever the tether that binds so much of me to this state. Even now, writing from my home in a quiet corner of small community in Belgium (my neighborhood is literally called Le Coin du Balai, “coin” meaning “corner” in French), I can feel the pull from thousands of miles away.
This pull spans an ocean, a continent, and then some. It is stubborn, willful, and unwilling to let go, no matter how hard I try to break away. When I envision the image of this tether, I see a wrought-iron band around my right ankle, attached to a long, thick wrought-iron chain. This chain winds its way from my ankle into the distance. It travels so far that I am unable to longer follow its route, but I know that it continues…all the way to Alaska.
Why can’t you just sever this bond? You might ask. Sell your house. Let everything go.
Would that it were that simple!
For one, the house selling business is not the sole tie that financially binds me to Alaska. I am not at liberty to discuss other ties as they are legally related. Suffice it to say that my intention and greatest wish continues to be freed from all ties to Alaska as quickly and as free from further psychological and financial burden as possible.
Another problem stems from the fact that I am what my husband refers to as one of many agents in an ongoing dance with the universe. I am playing my part, doing my best to sell my house from a great distance. There are others who are dancing as well, and no matter how hart I try to tour jeté away, they keep drawing me back in with a West Side story finger snapping routine until we are entangled in a dance fight that is nowhere near as beautiful or entertaining as those embodied by the Jets and Sharks. Let me put it this way, you go to New York or to the movies to watch professional dancers, not Gustavus, Alaska.
The dance I have been trying to move away from is painful, physically, emotionally, and financially. It is also unpredictable and fills me with a sense that my life has become a series of storms surging across an open ocean, gaining strength and power as they move over warm, tropical waters. Each storm builds until it comes up against a wall and has to drop everything to have the lightness to continue on its way.
This year, I am that wall, and I feel like I have been bearing the full brunt of each passing storm. Soaking and shaking in its wake, I barely have time to grab a towel and some whisky before the next storm hits in full force.
Let me also say that none of this has been my intention. On the contrary, I have been attempting to practice what the Buddhist refer to as “The Middle Path” or “The Middle Way” ever since the storms began in January 2017. I have been working to create a sense of spiritual balance and healthy boundaries. When attacked, I have intentionally chosen to disengage instead of being drawn in to the void of negativity from people with entitled attitudes and an overall lack of respect or awareness of other people and other people’s sensibilities.
Ever my spiritual guide, my husband has described this middle way to through several analogies. Aikido is one where the idea is practicing avoiding actual physical contact with the other person. I have for many years been attempting to trying to avoid returning the energy that is directed at me from someone with negative, poisonous intentions, allowing it to fall between us, thus losing its potency and any momentum that might send it to anyone else in the vicinity and beyond.
Are you a wolf or a dog? He asks me, time and again.
Can you remind me what the alternative is? I ask.
The wolf is the aggressor and attacker, violent and confrontational. The dog is obeisant and passive, taking the beating without protest. You can choose to talk the middle path of moderation.
Oh yeahhhhhhh, I respond with recognition.
I have been practicing walking this middle path of moderation, engaging in an energy dance of balance because I truly believe that the world does not need any more negative or hurtful energy, nor does it need passivity. I have also been attempting to follow path because it just does not feel good to take it on or send it to anyone else. I can feel the poison build when I respond to a nasty email with something equally aggressive.
The problem is that I am not dancing alone. I might wish to let it all go, but other dancers continue to come at me (remember West Side Story). I also cannot seem to find the key to unlocking the chain around my ankle, so I just keep hopping on one foot as I move from one physical and spiritual state to the next, ever out of balance. It’s difficult to walk/hop on one foot and even more difficult to dance in this wobbly state.
Through yoga, meditation, writing, singing, taking long walks in the woods, cooking, reading fiction and philosophy, and endless hours of reflection (not to mention all of the wine, whisky, anti-depressants, and panic pills I have consumed), I have managed to find a way to create a tenuous foundation, standing on one foot.
The practice is exhausting, however, and I dream of a time when a fortune I received nearly a year ago will come true because I could really use a vacation.
No matter how hard I try to create healthy boundaries and to practice non-attachment, however, I still seem to get bombarded by people with entitlement and control issues that transcend reason and my own sense of what activities seem worth engaging in. I am reminded here of my husband’s regular response to me when I bemoan some challenge that I am having trouble overcoming:
Would you rather be right or happy? He asks.
Happy. Always happy.
In my attempts to create a peaceful eye in the midst of my own life storm, I am navigating through some pretty deep, dark waters, but at least I am in the presence of water. I always feel calmer and happier in the instant my body is enveloped by cool liquid and bubbles after I plunge into a body of water.
I take comfort in reading about other people’s journeys to find balance. Knowing that I am not alone is helpful. I have found Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing to be particularly uplifting. Gilbert’s sage interpretation of the Upanishads was tremendously helpful to me as I listened to the author’s narration of her book Eat, Pray, Love while I walked through shadowed woods this afternoon, a cooling breeze washing over me while rays of sunlight engaged in their own magical dance, creating endlessly shifting patterns of light on the path ahead of me.
“The Upanishads suggest that so-called chaos may have an actual divine function, even if you personally can’t recognize it right now. The gods are fond of the cryptic and dislike the evident. The best we can do, then, in response to our incomprehensible and dangerous world is to practice holding equilibrium internally no matter what insanity is transpiring out there” (Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love).
This quote comes from Gilbert’s own treatise on her journey toward balance, one that brought her to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Since my own bank account will not allow for this kind of travel, I spend a lot of time traveling to the deeper recesses of my own uncharted internal territories.
As I walk through forest and dell, I am faced with choices of paths to follow. This afternoon, I came upon a divergence of two roads and a smaller trail. Without even thinking about it until several steps later, I chose the middle path.
For someone else, it might be a different road altogether. I know there are many trails I can take and still eventually find my way home. As far as life choices go, the middle path seems to be the best one for me at this point in my own journey. It is a literal and figurative path I follow, doing my best to find signs of love and light and to bring more of these energies into the world.
In the words of Robert Frost, I believe that choosing this path “has [and will] make all the difference.” I also enjoy following the cobblestone roads in the forest, which make me feel like I am in my own personal Oz, which, in a way, I am.