Begin again—how to become your own hero
A guest blog by Alison Main
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot (Four Quartets)
What I write here today is not a story of my Lyme disease struggle nor account of spiraling autoimmunity (that all deserves its own space and thought). But rather, this is a philosophical reflection at the end of my year – a musing on what is real, what is true, for me and for all of us, when you remove everything that is external. A perspective on what existence means when you let go of loss, when you accept the impermanence of it all, and when you have been thrown out of your life, in order to begin again.
I was born in February 1978, in the midst of a fierce blizzard, in a Bronx NY hospital…to a prominent “Mad Man” father, and a beautiful, loving mother who labored 24-hours to give me life. As the story goes – confounding doctors even then – it appeared that I stubbornly and simply did not want to be born into this world, refusing to comply with standard birthing procedures.
Ultimately born via emergency c-section, with my mom hospitalized for 10 days thereafter… the subsequent movement through my 37 years of this life has been one of blindingly stark awareness, debilitating inner turmoils, and chronic physical illness – all entwined in mind, body, and spirit. All connected in pain of disconnection, fear of a power higher than myself moving me through this universe, and crippling anxiety that ultimately, this journey begins and ends alone. Petrified that my soul was meant to be tested in this life, unsure how to become the hero, when I positioned myself the tragic heroine instead.
As such – do we give credence and weight to past lives and reincarnation? Do we intrinsically know when it’s safer to stay in the womb? Are we aware of our karmic debt as we enter into a new life? And if we’re energetically hypersensitive, can we feel this within our soul before we even greet the world with a wailing cry?
In memory and narrative, I have defined my life as one of immense and inexplicable loss. Loss of father at the age of 11. Loss of childhood innocence. Loss of classmates (some at their own hands; some at the whim of fate’s). Loss of father figures, maternal figures. Loss of security and illusions thereof. Loss of romantic partners. Loss of friends. Loss of good health and normal function. Loss of foods I loved to eat. Loss of financial comfort. Loss of connection to a digital world. Loss of professional development. Loss of travel. Loss of my Manhattan. Loss of possibilities. Loss of what could have been, would have been, should have been. And loss of home – both literal and conceptual.
I first learned the word “ephemeral” in French – “éphémère.” Sitting in high school French class reading “The Little Prince” in its original language. I thought: what a beautifully tragic word. Éphémère. Ephemeral. Fleeting, transient, or as Saint-Exupéry explains: “It means ‘which is in danger of speedy disappearance.’” Echoes of this word have followed me in the 20 years since that French class. The melody of it. The tone. The meaning. The saddest word that ever existed. The latent anxiety of everything and anything rapidly disappearing. The pain of a single word encapsulating my life. Yet, I gave such weight to its tragedy, without heeding the lesson from Le Petit Prince’s philosophical treatise. That the pain of separation only comes from the pleasure of meeting someone or the experience you have. That if you accept that some day, the “loved one” or the “object” will disappear, then your journey through presence and absence will not be painful. But it will be one of love, enlightenment and meaning. There is no significance without the ultimate risk of inevitable loss.
Exactly one year ago to this day, I sat in my well-decorated studio apartment in a doorman building on Manhattan’s West 57th Street… stressed to the limit, juggling design deadlines for six clients at once… packing up my possessions for an upcoming move to a fabulously posh and pretentious FiDi luxury building that evoked status and success just by its address… rushing from shop to shop in the twilight hours to purchase glittering gifts for the sparkling friends…. hopping from holiday happy hours in crowded Midtown bars to cozy West Side coffee chats… pissed at Obamacare for kicking my doctors out of my coverage network…. bemoaning my single status while reflecting on the growing list of married friends and colleagues….mourning the loss of a gentleman friend who chose earlier that calendar year to abruptly exit my life… perpetually on edge, nervous, tired, exhausted, and lonely. Always palpably, paradoxically lonely in the middle of everything, surrounded by all of that light, noise, and energy of the metropolis.
Winter must karmically try to protect me from myself, as my apartment move occurred during yet another blizzard – so foreboding that I had to reschedule the move date the night before, as the city shut down its highways and transit systems. But, I relocated to my downtown address nonetheless on an arctic January morning. And I got debilitatingly and dangerously ill within 24 hours of occupying the new space. A wireless technology innate to the building’s energy management system was the catalyst (details of which also deserve their own tale). But the perfect storm of Chronic Lyme + Environmental Illness + this incessant pulsing of the digital frequency landed me in my very own epic journey not so different from Dorothy’s adventure through Oz. What came after was a whirlwind. Spinning. Disorientation. A lawyer’s office. Lease termination. Financial penalties. Sickness. Weakness. New doctors. Deteriorating neurological and vascular conditions. An aggressive and unforgiving relapse of Lyme (from which I have yet to recover). Inexplicable circumstances to anyone in my orbit. No home of my own. No physical nor cognitive ability to work. A resulting syndrome of electromagnetic hypersensitivity that evicted me from my city, my life, and society itself. And a cascade of loss onward from there…
Just for a moment. Imagine you were forced by the unrelenting powers of the universe and your own oppressively dire physical symptoms to:
Think about what that means. Shut the TV. Take the earbuds out of your ears. Power down your laptop and tablet. Disconnect your WiFi. Disappear from social media. Put your phone on Airplane mode. Disable your iTunes, your cable, your Netflix. Stop the retail therapy. Avoid stores, cafes, bars and restaurants. Pour the bottles of vodka and tequila and wine down the drain. Ditch all the processed, sugary, carb-laden comfort foods. Detach yourself from clothing labels and brand idols. Move out of your beloved city filled with lively comrades, captivating lights and endless distractions. Quit your job. Give away your business to your colleagues. Forget traveling. Don’t step foot on trains and planes. Become a car passenger instead of a driver. Abandon everything you’ve built for yourself. Leave your home. Then leave your mother’s home. Sleep on a couch. Sleep on another couch. Sleep in a car. Put half your possessions in storage and sell the rest. Witness your bank account approaching zero. Bid a quiet farewell to a shocking assortment of friends, family and romantic partners who have every right not to comprehend nor participate in your altered reality.
And then. Dwell there. By yourself. In the silence. In the solitude. In the darkness. And fall. Allow yourself to keep falling. Surrender to how far down you can go. Because, as much as you endure sheer torture and panic, in the thoughtful words of my meditation guide, “This is where you meet yourself.” And you do. And it’s terrifying. To look inward for the first time, instead of outward. To see yourself as yourself, without the reflective mirrors of distraction around us all. And when you find yourself there, alone, unable to breathe or speak, traumatized by a tornado of loss and displacement – wanting someone (a doctor, a healer, a boyfriend, a parent) to save you – then cry until you can quell the tears yourself, and be still with what is left within you. And then, you save yourself instead.
Because what emerges when absolutely everything is relinquished – and what the universe finally grants you – is the space to begin again. But it’s not a time warp. It’s not an opportunity to “return and re-do everything.” You don’t get a tricked-out DeLorian ride transporting you back to your own personal 1955 with Marty McFly. Rather, you move forward – more authentically, with less fear, more open to what is planned for your soul in this life, more capable of experiencing suffering and loss not as punishment but as wisdom. You walk without fear of being noticed. You interact with insight and intuition, instead of calculation and distortion. You forgive yourself and in doing so, forgive your past. You accept that maybe you really did energetically know you were placed here for a karmic quest. You stop petulantly asking “why do I have to be Buddha?” and you learn what you can through it all. You finally get to change your archetype from victim to hero.
And that is how you begin again.
This article was first published on 24 December, 2015 at https://uncommonalchemy.me/2015/12/24/begin-again/