What does it mean to be awake? Each morning, my alarm clock ticks off the chime of encouragement that often feels like the shocking cold of water to my sleep heavy head. The sun has begun to wake me up now that summer in the northern hemisphere is in full bloom. The gentle rays illuminate my room with a soft cheerful glow; I pull the covers up and over my head, tunneling back into the sweet darkness of dreamland. But still, when I do emerge from the womb of my bed, am I awake? The western privilege of a hot shower warms up my stiff joints, while the cold tiled floor ripples another reminder of the day through my body. A bitter steaming cup of coffee sends milligrams of caffeine in to my veins- one more attempt to stimulate my mind and body to great the day. But am I awake?
For the past nine months, the answer has been both yes and no. There have been moments- moments of intense happiness, joy, inspiration and moments of intense anger, fear, frustration- where I have been awake. These moments are characterized as feeling fully myself and feeling fully my place in the interconnected web of this world.
More often the answer is no. These intense moments of feeling and awareness have most often been followed by long periods of protection, hibernation, depression, and survival. There have been times when I have chosen tunnel vision and kept my head down to avoid more pain and anger. There have been times when I have isolated myself out of exhaustion and disappointment.
But what does it mean to be awake? This question was posed in Meeting for Worship on Sunday. In worship, at my best, I am awake. It’s a sense of liminal suspension between thinking about everything in my life and thinking about nothing at all. In that space between God speaks.
From that liminal suspension I shared the song “Open the eyes of my heart Lord.” Since worship, I’ve been thinking about the difference between seeing the world with my heart and seeing with my mind. I can live day to day without seeing the world around me. I can walk through life with the eyes of my heart closed. Is my heart asleep?
Last November, after returning from Iraq, I moved to Seattle in pursuit of a job that I believed was my dream job. After studying interreligious dialogue, community development, and storytelling, the job of Interreligious Program Manager at Seattle University seemed like a perfect fit. I held high aspirations to do phD work, contribute to the world ecumenism and interfaith movements, and break through a new field intersecting pastoral care, interreligious dialogue, and peace-building. Seattle was going to be my step into that dream.
My dream however, was not realized here in Seattle; seeds fell on fallow ground. I quickly became frustrated with my work environment and while I loved working in the community with the different faith communities, my daily realities of working in the office drowned me in anger, frustration and apathy. Combined with a living environment that was also less than ideal, a city where people are hard to get to know and weather that is perfect for depression, I grew cynical and bitter.
The Quaker community here in Seattle has been my saving grace. A beautiful community of people with real problems and real gifts to approach those problems, the Quakers in Seattle- from Evangelical to Liberal to Convergent, all welcomed me in as family. When making my list of pros and cons for leaving Seattle, the Friends here were on the top of the cons list. I’ll miss everyone so much. Along side New England YM, North Pacific YM is a place I could find a spiritual home to stay (beside my home Baltimore YM).
Held by an amazing community, I was able to open the eyes of my heart to the other realities of my situation. My job was hurting me mentally, emotionally, and even physically (from stress and sickness). My living environment demanded more time and energy than I could give after a day at work. Plus, the house community where I lived had yet to set up systems of communication, accountability, or decision making- creating all sorts of conflict.
I had a few friends here in Seattle, mostly Earlham grads, coworkers, and a few acquaintances, but what I didn’t have is the emotional community with which I needed to ask questions about life and with which to have fun. While my call to work in Seattle had been true and led, it was short lived. I’m still working through whether I’m “released” from Seattle, but for now, I need to leave to take care of myself and begin to listen to the Spirit again. Because, most of the time here, I wasn’t awake; I wasn’t who I wanted to be-who I am. I’m slowly awakening again to the Spirit within- to God, the Living Christ, slowly trusting in the next steps before me.
In late May, I was contacted by the principal of the school where my brother works in California. The school, Exploring New Horizons, was looking for a Health Care Coordinator for the upcoming school year and I was asked to apply. While it would be a very different job from what I was working right now, the skills of strategic planning, organization facilitation in high stress environments, and community development were all already in my toolbox (as is wilderness medicine). Plus, I’d be working in an incredibly creative and supportive community- giving me a chance to figure out what is next on my journey and heal from this past year.
Over the next few weeks, as I enter more and more fully into my transition away from Seattle, I have set up a few awareness exercises to open the eyes of my heart, my mind, and my body. Writing once more on this blog regularly is part of that awareness practice; so are writing letters to friends and family, going for long walks, and daily prayer. Join me in this journey of waking up and seeing the world, seeing my life, seeing myself with a heart that is open, renewed, and compassionate.