Monday, December 21, 2009

Give Me Meaning or Give Me Death

I'm not convinced that everyone's path is the same. As an individualist, I hold my own life purpose and personal meaning as paramount. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that the same is true or ought to be true for everyone. As an individualist, I must accept that some individuals came into this world to be collectivists. If an individual finds meaning in collectivism, what right do I have to question that discovery? The one thing I can say for certain is that I came into this world to be an individual, and that is the meaning that I'm finding at the deepest roots of my life.

Three years ago, I went to California with the purpose of getting a PhD in Linguistics from a prestigious California university. I was hired to teach ESL at San Jose State University. I wasn't accepted to any of the programs I'd applied to and by the end of that semester, the creeping clinch I'd felt climbing up my neck from teaching for ten years tightened to such a degree that I could hardly breath. Through a set of compelling synchronicities, I decided to take time off to write. The initial plan was for six months, but as it turned out, this period lasted more than two years, ending when the plane landed in Hiroshima on August 1 of this year.

In previous posts, I've discusses how I came to be in Japan teaching English. Within a week, I began to seriously question my choice to come to Japan to teach. When I set aside my teaching career to write, it felt right. When I started teaching again, it didn't. Not only that, I managed to get hired at what could only have been the worst-fitting institution on these islands. I've discussed this in previous posts as well.

When it comes to going forward, I'm looking at what appears to be a blank slate in my future. If I'm not going to teach, what am I to do? Well, the most logical answer seems "to write," but in my efforts as a writer, I'm not yet at a point where I'm paying the bills, yet I have felt the drive to stay the course, to stay in the barrel, even though it's approaching Niagara Falls. According to Maslow's hierarchy, our needs for self-actualization can only be realized if sets of other needs are met first. But what I came to see was that I could only actualize my destiny by facing my fears. What fears? It's amazing how the brain can catastrophize any future that does not guarantee a job and a place to live. This is where I found myself in October as I began to grapple with my future and how I would respond to the sense--the kinds of promptings I've been trying to learn to listen to--that I had to say "nuts" to Maslow's hierarchy and just walk into the storm.

These are not fears that you face once and are done with them. Each day, at many times, the questions emerge, "If I'm not going to teach, what am I going to do?" I worked through scenarios and possibilities, but it all comes down to simply having to have faith in my instincts. At the heart of this struggle is the personal journey I've been on to understand myself, my destiny, and my calling in this life. At the heart, I had to accept that nothing is guaranteed. If I step out there and destiny doesn't answer, if I fall into homelessness and poverty, I have to take responsibility for that decision. It's my decision. no one can make it for me, and neither can I blame anyone else if I'm wrong.

This is where the question of meaning emerged so strongly. Standing at the edge of this precipice, not knowing for certain that things are going the way I think they are, that my destiny is rising up to meet me, or that perhaps even poverty and homelessness is my destiny, I had to decide what was more important. Is it more important to feel safe and to have guarantees, and so look for a steady job with steady pay and accept something that just doesn't feel right? Is it more important to follow my instincts and do what I think is right and risk failure, being wrong, getting in trouble for not paying my bills, falling out of favor with so many people? This is the cauldron I've spoke of. Pacing in a dark back room of the school where I was teaching, day after day, I mulled over these matters. Each time, I came to the conclusion, "Give me meaning or give me death."

I have consistently drawn the Fool card since being here. At these dark moments, I struggled within myself, feeling my resolve so powerfully, but also hearing the voices of fear. I also was working on draft 9 of Wayward Son (incidentally, "Carry On Wayward Son" came on as I was writing this blog entry). In this most recent draft, I came to understand that the calling on my life is to be a spiritual leader in this life and that such callings do not come about without some kind of deep personal struggle. So, I made the decision to move forward, not knowing what's coming, but knowing that it will not be teaching or doing any other kind of cage job. I will no longer be a monkey (this is not to say that everyone who works is a chimp, only what I see for myself).

Give me meaning or give me death. My life is no longer worth living if I don't find the reason for which I came into it. I'm finding it, and I'm relieved.