Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

Here it is over a year now, since I started this journey to seek a more meaningful existence. Perhaps the meaningless needed to drop away first, before it could find me.

After leaving the Northeast to seek happiness out West, I am returning to New York/New Jersey to spend my birthday and Thanksgiving with family and friends. No longer having to live or work in the city on a permanent basis, I can again enjoy the city for all it offers, great food, great people and great entertainment.

Looking back now, I experienced much success in my professional life in New York. I fulfilled my dream of becoming a magazine editor and I took a look at public relations. It didn't take long for me to realize I just didn't like the public relations business. While the money was good compared to journalism, I didn't feel the satisfaction I felt with being a journalist. As a journalist you are rewarded with a certain contentment just knowing you got the facts straight and either entertained your audience or informed them or both. As a daily newspaper reporter, you did the community a service in reporting on civic events and other important topics.

However, during the past few years, newspapers across the nation have made major cuts to coverage and staffing. Some closed their doors for good. I also didn't really want to repeat my past, but was looking for something new that gave me the same or deeper fulfillment. So during the last two years I've looked at many options in my professional career -- going back to school to either study creative writing or film, buying and operating a bed and breakfast, operating a daycare business, working for the United Nations, working for the US Forestry Department and working in the travel industry.

But none of that came to pass. At the same time I was looking for a more fulfilling professional life, I was also dealing with a major health issue without medical insurance. Like many in this country during this recession, life has not been easy street.

I guess the saying you are only as successful as your ability to get beyond your greatest challenge rang true for me this past year. Although moving to New Mexico wasn't a mistake per se, it didn't turn out the way I had anticipated. My roommate situation became volatile overnight and without full-time employment I couldn't afford a place of my own. I eventually had to rely on family and friends for assistance. Now, I am coming out of this year-long odyssey that tested the limits of my very soul.

But without trials and tribulations in life, how would we find true happiness? Duality can be trying, but what would life be without it. How would you know true joy, if you didn't experience sadness? Life is a series of ups and downs and you have to learn to ride out your trips to the subterranean levels and then find the light back out again. You have to realize the darkness is the way shower to your greatest discoveries. How else can one see the light, but through the darkness?

During your time at those depths, you find yourself going over your existence up to that point. You start asking yourself deep questions. You look at all your major life choices and why you made them. You ask yourself how did I get to this point? What could I have done differently? In processing the past, you realize how you’ve hurt others, how selfish you’ve been, how utterly horrible you are. But some how you discover self forgiveness whilst you wander the halls of the ominous never-ending void. You come to the realization that you did the best you could with who you were at the time.

Forgiveness of others also awaits you there -- parents, siblings, friends, lovers and co-workers. You realize they also did the best they could with where they were in life; and if you don’t forgive them their trespasses, you’ll just be stuck in wander mode all the longer.

Meanwhile your soul is crying out to fulfill its life’s purpose. You ask yourself just what the heck am I suppose to do with this life, these gifts I’ve been given? Being a writer has been both a blessing and a curse. You know you are a good writer, but just how to make a living at it escapes you. Plus you no longer want your writing to be bastardized by corporate America. You long to write about something that matters. So you write a book proposal that piques the interest of a small publisher, but then you choke on just where to start the damn story of your life. It’s put on the back burner while you figure out how to handle your health issues and imploding financial woes. And then you ask, where’s the ending of this so called life story? What’s the point, if there’s no happy ending?

In addition to handling all life's day-to-day problems, you are finally able to release the old. Old worn out beliefs, old clothes, old ways of doing things and old ways of thinking are purged. If you want change, you unfortunately are the one who has to change. You can't expect the world to change, first because it isn't what needs changing, and second of all you don't have the power to change it. You can only change the way in which you react to it.

So you go through a metamorphosis of sorts. You revamp your thinking. You are no longer bitter and plagued by regrets of what could have been. You have to let go of regret, anger and sadness. Don't ask me exactly how. It happens differently for everyone, but I think when you hit rock bottom, you have to transform yourself to climb out of the pit. You can no longer operate under the same assumptions or lest you repeat the same thing over and over again.

You also have to be grateful for everything, even the challenges. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, can't stress this enough. Just be thankful you have another day to laugh or cry.

During this time you'll knock on several doors that don't open. Early on it's the same doors you used to rap on that opened wide, but those doors are along the old path. "Don't put a comma where God put a period."

And then there is the waiting period in the darkness, when you have no idea how the heck you are ever going to be the same again. You cry and rant at God, asking why, why, me? Why do I have to go through this? All the while remembering you are the one who asked for change. You asked for spiritual enlightenment and asked not to be the same. That's the whole point of the journey, transformational change.

Spirit whispers to you there is a waiting period. You have to sit in the unknowing for awhile. You have to accept you don't have the answers. No matter how you plead for them, they don't come. Your ego is being dismantled. Slowly but surely your ego desires fall away. You throw your hands up to God, saying "Okay what's next, because I don't have a clue. Not my will, but yours be done."

Then you are ready to ask the ultimate question. "How can I serve?"

And shortly thereafter the turning point comes and you again see some sense to this mecca through madness. Spirit has been talking quietly to you. Only in the quiet will you hear It. You understand now that where you used to be, you couldn't hear Spirit calling you. All you could hear was your ego desire for more, more money, more love, more things, more, more, more.... And now you are being asked to be happy with less. Then wala less finally becomes more.

For me Spirit nearly had to hit me over the head, but still I hesitated. Many people in my life were either teachers or becoming teachers. I had, however, looked into teaching several times. In the Northeast living on a teacher's salary would have been quite challenging and making six figures, you really don't seek jobs making 40-something a year.

After several people asked me this past year "have you considered becoming a school teacher," I finally got the hint that perhaps I had better seriously consider it as a career path. So just this month, I applied for a teaching internship with the Austin Independent School District. Plus here in the South a teacher's salary is in line with the lower cost of living. The internship program begins with online classes in January, live classes in March and then you become a teacher intern with full teacher pay and benefits in the 2011/2012 school year. I've decided to teach special education.

How did I decide on special education? Well, while still living in the Northeast I had met a young boy, the 12-year-old Autistic son of a former boss in New York. I felt an immediate connection to Connor. I loved being around him, and I felt I could help him some how if I spent more time with him. But that wasn't to be. So when I arrived in New Mexico I volunteered to do the public relations at two non-profits that helped children with developmental disabilities. But that didn't seem to be enough for me. I wanted direct interaction with children. I wanted to give back. I wanted to help.

So there you have it, one year and one month after leaving the Big Apple, I have a new career in the making as an elementary school teacher. I have come to the conclusion that everything actually does happen for a reason. If you want change, you are going to have to spend some time becoming that change, and that process isn't going to be comfortable. It’s definitely not for those afraid of the dark or of being in the state of unknowing for any length of time. But in the nebulous void, you will find God. To Him you were never really lost in the first place. You just had to come to the conclusion that His plan was better than any plan you could have come up with on your own.