A recent paper submitted for a class I just finished. More academically written with APA citations and references.
Providence is My Guide
By Michael “SY” Sisemore
The purpose of this paper, is to create a reflection based upon a selection of readings, both required and suggested, from the syllabus of a course titled Work as a Personal Journey. The term journey has a very special and intense connection with my philosophy about life. I see life as a purposeful engagement that one must be actively pursuing; life is not a spectator sport. I chose the books as a matter of necessity and gave little thought to the titles as I acquired them. Michael Singer (2015) tells us in The Surrender Experiment, we are better off “…participating in what’s unfolding, instead of fighting it.” (p, 6) So participate I did. By trusting the process and surrendering myself to the trust I have for my professors, unnecessary anxiety was eliminated. I had no expectations, nor hesitancy as I began to explore what lie within each book.
Two books immediately struck me as a direct reflection of my life’s journey and challenges. These were The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer (2015); and Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck (2001). The other books This Time I Dance (Kieves, 2004) and Awake At Work (Carroll, 2006) were not as inspiring. Perhaps this was due in part from my exposure to them after I grew an attachment to the prior readings.
Singer (2015) shares his story as someone who “…dared to let go and trust the flow of life.” (p.7) My own journey is one of many similarities to Singer and this idea of letting go; and trusting this mysterious and often frightening flow of life. Martha Beck (2001) references this conceptual struggle of life, and the process of living, in her book Finding Your Own North Star. The struggle is between our two selves, the essential and the social. An imbalance in the two leads to anxiety and stress, or careless and reckless behaviors. According to Beck (2015), the social-self desires conformity and routine, it is predictable and goes to work every day and pays its bills on time. The essential-self wants to go and play, to take that vacation, go on an adventure, quit your job and live at the beach for a year with a retired circus performer (Beck, 2015, p. 5). The struggle to do as society wants or what we need to do to be genuine and honest with ourselves is eternal and real. Conformity has destroyed many a dream before it ever begins to live.
Singer (2001) also speaks of the “…difference between creative inspiration and logical though” (p. 36). Logic without inspiration is dry and without a soul to guide the process of exploration. Over thinking everything is a common first world problem. Our adult lives are so burdened with rules and expectations that many of us have lost the ability to let go and take a chance on something unknown and mysterious. I was that way for many years until a life changing event would forever propel me into the unknown future. A journey without end.
My journey was unplanned, and I fought against it with everything I had. In the end, providence won the day. The ideas of having a North Star, as Beck (2015) claims, of our own, and letting life take over as my guide, per Singer (2001) resonates so loudly it is deafening. Up until April 1, 1999 I was committed to doing and being what everyone else expected me to be. Responsible, reliable, loyal and going to work every day, paying all the bills on time, buying a house, new cars and all the stuff that goes with being married. Life was all about duty and conformity, no surprise then that I was miserable and volatile. The social-self had won. I was a walking, talking rage machine with a hair trigger ready to explode. As the marriage fell apart I was resistant to allow it to happen, this would have been a failure and a disappointment to my parents, friends, and family. One question changed my approach to everything. “When was the last time you were happy?” my soon to be, ex-wife asked one night. I was appalled and horrified that I could not come up with even one instance in many years that I was happy about.
In short order, I fired my social-self and gave my essential-self a promotion. My only goal was to find a reason to exist. In the span of a few weeks I was divorced, quit my job, walked away from a $300,000 house that I had built, gave away, threw away, or sold most of my belongings, and drove my truck to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. I parked my truck, threw the keys on the front seat, grabbed my backpack, and walked the hell away, from everything! I did not just “burn bridges” I blew them up. My plan consisted of “walk North!” I had resigned myself to find a reason and purpose or die trying.
Singer (2001) talks about letting go and accepting opportunities as they appear, and to reject nothing that comes your way. Beck (2015) spends a great deal of time analyzing the concept of being on the right path of life, and that your North Star is metaphoric of being true to both of your “selfs.” I did exactly these things, long before I ever considered being a teacher, or pursuing a doctorate in Education. These defined and articulated ideas and concepts were unknown to me. Yet some guiding force was pulling me, pushing me to my true purpose. I just had no idea what that was, or where it would take me. Holy shit, what a ride it has been so far!
We have all heard the adage that a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step. This is essential and true to any journey, yet it is very often assumed that since a journey has a beginning, it must have a specific course and it MUST have an end. This is something that I have developed an objection to. Our life can be, and should be a journey. Journeys have a beginning, and a before the beginning, and many segments of the journey. Some of these segments will be long and arduous, others quick and effortless. Death would seem to be the end of this journey. I have learned that this is simply not the case at all. Our personal journey is filled with interactions and encounters that do not begin, nor do they end, with the beating of our hearts. I will use my own journey as an example. It was far from planned, had no specific course or direction, and even fewer objectives.
My second life, as I call it, began that day in April when I abandoned my former self. Along the way, I began to transform myself both physically and emotionally. One very specific moment clarified that I was finally on the right path. It was only a few weeks into a 6-month adventure and it was raining and cold. I was settled into a shelter with 6 or 7 other hikers. Some were cooking dinner, others reading or writing in journals. I was lying in my bag watching the rain pour down. My new friend Antonio was to my left, a hiker named Load was to my right and Willow was in front of us at a table trying to light her stove. A realization hit me like a lightning bolt. I was 32 years old, in a shelter in the middle of the woods. I had no job, no home, no vehicle, not much of a plan, and nothing to go back to. I had no income, no bills, and no schedule. At that moment not a single person on the planet was relying on me for anything, and I was not relying on anyone for anything at all. For the first time in my life I had experienced what true freedom felt like. It was exhilarating, and terrifying. I was at that precise moment, unburdened.
My social-self had surrendered to my essential-self. I shared my thoughts with the others, and only one of them got it. They all had jobs to go back to, homes to return to, bills that needed to get paid etc. Their freedom was hindered with the reality of a life that required them to act on behalf of others, at some point in the not terribly distant future. Only Antonio got it. He was just not ready to let go of the past. He said that he envied me and was hopeful that I could hold onto it. At that moment, my path and purpose was clear. The life I sought was in front of me somewhere, and I would go wherever it took me.
My own North Star was still shrouded in mystery; and I spent the next few month’s searching inside myself to identify my weaknesses, and strengths. I sought answers to the questions- where had I failed others, and myself? What role did I actively play in my own misery? There were many “come to Jesus” moments. Some intensely painful yet cathartic, and at some point, I could finally accept that I was a good person, and that I deserved to be happy. Beck (2001) tells the stories of many patients that she has counseled over the years, having gone through very similar and painful process of discovery and awareness. Reading these books helped put words to my own experiences; and it was a little unnerving to witness myself in these pages.
Being happy is the only real reason we human creatures have for existing; and our true path is not up to us to determine, but to discover. I met so many people of such a great diversity of souls, who taught me more about life and living in 6 months, than an entire lifetime had to that point. One encounter would change the course of my life, and continues to do so today.
This encounter with a stranger, on the side of the trail, would lead to a lifelong friendship, and a home in a place I would never have considered in my old life. This encounter would lead to the introduction of a marvelous woman that, against all logic and reason, I have shared my life with for 18 years now. It would lead to our daughter, nearly 13 years old now, and a radical change in my idea of what a career should be and a reimagining of education as a meaningful part of my life. It would lead to this path that I could not have possibly embraced before.
My friend passed away unexpectedly 18 months ago; however, his journey is NOT over. We carry him with us every day of our lives, and our daughter is continuing his, and my, passion for hiking and the Appalachian Trail, as a unique path of discovery. Our own journey does not end with the final beat of our heart, it endures so long as those that we have encountered continue to affect the reality they follow.
My own journey is still taking me to places I still marvel at. I often look at myself as some sort of fraudulent being, totally out of place in academia, but this is where my path has taken me. I can question this place, but not my purpose. Every day something new is revealed and the path is clear for a time. I mentioned providence at the beginning of my own story; this passage from William H. Murray’s (1951) The Scottish Himalayan Expedition sums up the concept of journey. I gently suggest that it sums up all four of the books that I chose for this course.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” (p. 127)
Take the first step, begin it now, the destination is irrelevant, the power is in the journey itself. The answers to our questions are humbled by the pursuit. This is yet one more segment of my journey. Its purpose and consequence will be revealed when the time and condition is right.
Beck, M. (2001). Finding Your Own North Star. New York, NY: MJF Books.
Carroll, M. (2004). Awake At Work. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Kieves, T.J. (2004). This Time I Dance. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
Murray, W.H. (1951). The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. London, England: J.M. Dent & Sons.
Singer, M.A. (2015). The Surrender Experiment. New York, NY: Harmony Books.