For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
–Song of Songs 2:11-13
Dearest kindred souls,
I am finally starting to catch up with myself after a few very full weeks. You mean, your online Abbess gets busy and overwhelmed too? Yes, indeed. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid the demands of life, especially when you make a decision to sell all your worldly belongings and move an ocean away.
This is why the monk path is so important to me.
I get to practice over and over again being present in the midst of what is happening right now. I get to make choices about whether to respond from an overwhelmed, anxious, or numb place, or whether to take deep breaths and bring myself fully present to this moment here and now. I get to choose whether to commit to one more thing in my life or release what drains my energy. I get to take responsibility for all the ways I say yes and no. I make time each morning for stillness and reflection no matter what is happening around me. I return again and again to the radical and humble act of doing less when everything around me is demanding more.
I continue to prepare for this grand adventure ahead (moving to Vienna, for those of you who didn’t know). I have been keenly aware of how this adventure stirs anxiety in others (“Are you really giving up all of your stuff?” “Is your husband really quitting his job in this economy?” “You mean you’re going to dip into your savings account to make this work?” and so on – insert your own inner voice here). I hear the gasps from other book-lovers when I report that I sold nearly a thousand books to a dear friend from college who runs a used bookstore. I can see eyes widen as I describe the process of selling most of our furniture and getting ready to sell the home we love in a city we adore.
And yet, what I see under the anxiety is a widening of possibility in the hearts of others. It helps to open a new door inside (“You mean I could consider making the sacrifices necessary to go on my own grand adventure?“) Yes, most definitely. And know that your great dreams will look completely different from mine. What is demanded of you in service of those dreams will be different as well.
I hear things like “I could never give up my books, my stuff, my journals, my secure job. . .etc.” And perhaps that is true, maybe you aren’t even being called in this direction. But maybe, just maybe, holding so tightly to things is an excuse for you to not follow the call which simultaneously instills fear and trembling in your heart, but makes your heart race with delight and excitement.
Two years ago, living abroad felt like just a tiny glimmer of possibility, a little flutter in my heart, one of those things I would like to do “someday.” As I have shared before, there are so many moments that have led up to this decision. In February my husband found out that the curriculum at the high school where he teaches would be completely changing. He has been ready for a sabbatical for some time, a renewal of perspective, and this was just the push he needed to step away from a full-time job with benefits in a terrible economy. But there were so many other seeds already planted. And I can see the shift in him already as he gives himself permission to imagine spending this next year writing, studying German, and listening for what is next in his life for work.
I also sometimes hear these voices from people who receive my news: “Well it’s easy for you to do this now that you have dual citizenship” or “You don’t have children to take care of” or. . . (again, insert your own commentary). And while these things may be true – and I certainly don’t discount the blessings this freedom holds for me – rest assured that we all have our own obstacles.
Do you continue to tell yourself the story about why you can’t follow that widening glimmer of possibility in your life? Do you have an endless litany of things that would be too hard to get rid of, or too many people who wouldn’t understand? Does this story serve your dreams of what is possible or does it narrow that opening until finally one day you forget there was ever a door?
And I have also received countless notes and had many conversations with people where their faces light up and they gush about how amazing it all sounds. And I gush right alongside them, because frankly, it is amazing.
So my husband and I continue to move ahead with our plans. Our home sits empty of most of its furnishings except for the essentials. In a few days strangers will start to walk through these rooms not knowing anything of the absolute delight or heartbreaking grief these walls have helped to contain. As I scrub out the shower or clean off counters I consider this an act of hospitality. I am preparing this space for its new owners, who are out there, even if neither of us know it yet. I engage in rituals to support this journey of letting go.
The cherry trees which surround our apartment building are just beginning to bloom They are one of the reasons we fell in love with this place to live nine years ago. Now the flowers breaking open in their pink-petaled spectacle join the song of my own heart breaking open. In less than three months I will be living in Vienna, first for a time of sabbatical during the summer, and then the rest of the year presiding over this amazing community from overseas, creating a truly global experience. One of my dreams has long been to cultivate more interfaith dialogue between monastic traditions, and this feels like one of the doorways into that dream.
I will continue to stay present to all that this adventure stirs in me – the fear, the homesickness, the longing for what is familiar, the joy and absolute aliveness I experience each morning upon waking as I remember what lies ahead. This is a threshold time as we wait, and thresholds are potent places full of energy and gifts. It would be easy for me to wish away this time, wanting to just arrive, but instead these days are about cherishing this place I have loved and savoring these last moments here.
I credit the profound wisdom of the desert elders with teaching me how to do this, how to stay with myself through it all, how to cultivate an abiding presence with all the tender parts of myself, and especially how to let go of all the things and ideas that might get in my way.