I saw a great Elizabeth Gilbert post about the death of the dear, crazy Balinese man, Ketut, whom her readers met in Eat Pray Love. It was a beautiful tribute. In it, Gilbert says,
You will know the call of your destiny, because it will sound insane.
The call will not make sense. The call will not fit into what your culture and your history suggest that you are supposed to do. The call will cost you money and time. And relationships. The call will not please your tribe. The call will ask you to do something you have no training in, no talent for, no safety net about. The call will want to make you wet your pants in fear. The call will put all order into danger and disarray….The call will demand stupid amounts of courage — and by that, I mean to say that the call will require the kind of courage that literally makes you look and feel stupid.
That’s your LIFE calling.
We are not messing around here anymore. We do not have time for anything less. What do you seriously think we came here to do, you guys? Be good? Be nice? Be responsible? Not make waves? Obey the patterns and the structures? Concentrate on getting exactly the right fixed-rate mortgage? Make good contacts? Keep things filed away neatly, and focus on flow-charts? Find a cleaner for your bathroom tub that scours without scratching? Collect Delta Sky Miles?
Or did you come here [to] walk across the miles of sky that constitute the dangerous, weird, ridiculous, messy, ecstatic, magnificent, mystical journey that is the once-in-an-eternity experiment of the universe that is called YOUR LIFE?
I immediately started looking at my calm, orderly life and thinking, “Uh-oh, I haven’t heard the call. I haven’t aimed high enough. I’m too comfortable.”
And then I caught myself, because right after that thought came a sort of schematic visual of the path that got me to comfortable. And I realized what it took to get here.
No, I’m not going to say I worked hard and earned all my comforts and gosh-darn it, don’t attack them. Because I didn’t. Whatever comforts and small luxuries I have are by-products of some spiritual witchery operating in my life that I don’t half understand.
But I am going to say Elizabeth Gilbert is right. But don’t confuse her life (or anyone else’s) for yours.
When I put down drugs for real, I felt like a cardboard cut-out of myself, somehow managing to walk, but with nothing beating inside my chest. I went to meetings and took my seat among total strangers, listening with all my might for one word or idea that would take me to bedtime, into the next day and to the next meeting without using any drugs. I listened like my life depended on it. I’d get home and wonder (before social media!) what the hell I was going to do until bedtime. Never had I welcomed phone calls, walks in the neighborhood, or tidying projects as I did then.
It took all my energy to not use. I was terrified that if I dropped my vigilance for a second, something mind-altering would end up in my body. This was the upheaval of a lifetime and required total focus. It would have been so much easier to just pick up a drug and use it! But I already knew what that was about, and I desperately, against all reason, wanted to know what lay ahead through the portal of abstinence.
By doing that one thing, everything was switching places with everything else. Big, important things shrank away to nothing, until I couldn’t find them anymore, and tiny things nagged and scratched at me so I couldn’t ignore them. The job I’d made a hobby out of hating was now a Godsend. The chance to be alone with someone’s medicine cabinet, a nightmare.
One night I fell into a heap in front of my bookcase of self-help books, weeping as I realized all the printed words in the world wouldn’t help me with my addiction problem. I had to let people in and talk to them and show them who I was instead. That was wet-your-pants scary.
I gave away a lot of great booze but moved to Maine with an unopened bottle of champagne that I didn’t know how to get rid of without it going through my body. The night I emptied it down the drain in my new kitchen I also smashed the set of wine glasses I’d moved with, in a cardboard carton set on my tiled kitchen floor. I was so angry breaking those glasses, letting that stuff go down the drain, saying good-bye, good-bye, good-bye to all that comfort.
Did I look stupid? No idea. For once in my life, I wasn’t motivated by how I looked. That was scary, too. I found myself doing the right things because I wanted to. Who was I becoming?
Those first five years were turbulent beyond all imagining. I nearly caved in on myself. I had my first panic attack in recovery. I made lists and talked myself through each day. The lists had things on them like “brush teeth, rake lawn, walk dog, wash dishes.”
My genetically-determined, stress-related autoimmune disorder also showed itself in those first five years. I waited so long before going to the doctor, just because I was used to feeling sick and weird and fucked up and dealing with it on my own. When I was sure I couldn’t fix it, I went and discovered I had hyperthyroidism, and was nearly dead from weight loss, tachycardia and anxiety.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And mostly what I didn’t know was how to live a stable, calm, orderly life in which I am kind, happy, productive and connected with others. I have that now. But every once in a while, when I read someone like Elizabeth Gilbert, who went to Bali, for Pete’s sake, to answer her life’s calling, and then made a bestselling book out of the experience, I forget where I’ve come from and am tempted to believe I’m lazy and weak and, God forbid, complacent. When really, I’m answering the call everyday.
This is my life, and on the really good days, I realize the difference between having a bank balance and having spiritual chutzpah, because while the first is a nice benefit of having a stable and sane life, the second is what I got from living the life I was given in the bravest way possible.
Was it sky-walking? Not sure, but it did turn everything upside down.
Was it quiet, personal, weird, miraculous? Definitely.
Please don’t have your sky-walking, life-calling moment have to look a certain way, or else you’ll miss it. And don’t think for a second that if you’ve already lived a chaotic life of addiction, trauma, poverty or any other form of living on the edge and now you’re living as normally as you can for as long as you can, that you aren’t heeding the call of your life, that you aren’t living full out.
Remember this: We all have edges. But everybody’s edge looks different. So don’t compare your edge with anyone else’s. And don’t discount yours because somebody else has the luxury of giving up something you want desperately to achieve.
So, how about it? What’s the scariest, best, most growing-est thing you’ve ever answered to, and how has it changed you?