“Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate….a lock on the door means power to think for oneself.” ~ Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own
For many years the abject terror I felt over finances stopped me from pursuing what I knew was my life’s work – writing. I told myself I needed to be realistic, responsible and reliable. Why? It perplexes me when I think about it now. The result of this pervasive sense of responsibility was that I circled the drain of clinical depression for more than a decade and eventually started to develop serious health problems due to inactivity and deeply buried rage. I was in flames internally over abandoning the one thing that would keep me healthy: my work as an artist.
Anyone in contemporary society who has ever contemplated a career in the arts has certainly been on the receiving end of statements like: “That’s nice dear. But what will you do for money?” I finally realized I couldn’t live my life worrying about money any longer. I could continue down the path of least resistance, and keep my corporate job, my high-rise office with a view and my option to kill myself slowly – or I could choose to leave it behind and pursue personal and professional authenticity. I could, as Ray Bradbury once said, “jump off cliffs all the time,” and build my wings “on the way down.” Living a wild life, a life free to express the essence of what I am, was at the heart of the decision I eventually made twelve years ago at the age of 40. When I quit my job, my boss thought I was crazy. Now I believe that being a bit crazy is what keeps me sane.
Life Without Art is No Life
After I quit, I flew without a net. I had many days where all I could think about was money – how to make it last, how to stretch it, how to do with less, how to find it, keep it, earn it, bank it. I pummeled my couch with a plastic baseball bat and my knees grew callused from the repetitive act of kneeling in prayer seeking answers to the question of money. Virginia Woolf was right. Without financial stability, it is impossible to think clearly – let alone write. One is too busy scrounging for a pack of Jiffy Muffins and a can of beans at the back of the cupboard, to care. One must be able to feed the body of the fluttering soul, so there is actually an option to call on mystery, to gather the muses around the table, light candles, and delve into the human heart. “Survival” needs to be a given, before art can flower. That means: rent paid, food in the pantry, telephone exhibiting a dial tone. All these things create peace of mind. And yet, true, spiritual survival is impossible without the sustenance of art. It is the proverbial and perennial Catch-22. Art is needed to stay alive. Money is necessary for survival.
Still, despite my fear, I locked myself inside my apartment and took what I referred to as a ‘spiritual sabbatical.’ The locked door represented artistic freedom to me. At the time, all my paying gigs had dried up. Spirit made it clear that I needed to step out of life and re-group. I closed the door on traffic, on rude encounters, on everything I felt sapped my life force. I was a wreck. I’d been lost for many years. I knew that the only way to rediscover and re-empower my own life was to go deep within myself. This meant that I needed to find out what I thought about everything. I needed to delve into the hidden parts of my life and uncover whatever it was that had stopped me from standing in the sunlight and living, wholeheartedly, in the center of what fed and nurtured me. I had been a powerful, intuitive, and psychically-open child. However, at some point during my early twenties, I shut down. As I closed the door on the outside world, I finally felt safe enough to go looking for the child I had been and the woman I wanted to be.
I went on a spiritual archaeological dig. The fossils I needed to uncover were my own dreams – the bones of every loss, every disappointment, and every shining and stolen bit of my life. I had to put myself back together. It was work that would require I find all the missing pieces of myself. It meant I would have to look at what was under every slimy rock in my life. Despite huge reservations and a great desire to run like hell, I took out my metaphorical pick ax and I started digging.
Somehow, I knew I was surrounded by loving, benevolent angels. I heard them sighing and singing while I slept, ate, and wrote each day. Whole parts of me died, while others struggled to be born, as I dug and sifted through the earth beneath my feet. I poured over my past and practiced forgiveness. I felt compassion for my own life. I knew, to the marrow of my bones, that the work I was doing would save my life.
And it did. It turned out to be roughly two years of sporadic freelance gigs, unemployment, temp work, and the use of a couple of well-worn credit cards. Over those burning days and weeks, slowly, tentatively, I learned to navigate this thing called life. I heard the powerful voice of my spirit and learned that there are answers to my questions everywhere, and that some questions are not meant to be answered. I learned that we are not alone – no matter how isolated we may sometimes feel. I taught myself the rhythm of an authentic life by watching the tides at the beach. Rush forward. Pull back. Push toward shore, then retreat. I learned to savor simple things. I reveled in my love for buttery soft flannel sheets, letters from my mother, and the sound of a piano Sonata playing through an open window. I was schooled in my own strengths and failures. I saw clearly all the ways I sabotaged myself. I swam in the lessons inherent in my own stinking thinking, in huge slices of humble pie, poverty, and loss.
Trust became my only ally.
It fed me, stretched me and offered to transform my small life into something much bigger, more compassionate, and fully creative. I learned that power – true spiritual power– is a soft, internal force we each possess from the moment of our birth.
As the past decade unfolded, I continued this work. I visited with dozens of other creative souls by reading their books. These books opened a doorway into my own dark heart. They gave me hope. I read about Lilith and Eve. I read stories of Our Lady of Guadalupe and White Buffalo Woman. I read about rituals and prayer. I investigated intuition and Native American wisdom. I read stories the authors claim were channeled by aliens from other realms. I read about the technology of prayer, the Bible code, quantum physics and the other side. Prophecy, possibility and peace shone from the pages of those wondrous books. They offered me a lifeline – a cord to connect me to other like-minded individuals.
Only now, over a decade later, do I realize the deep gifts that resulted from the time I spent locked away of my own accord. The down-time nourished my soul. The stillness of those bright days made the clouds in my head disappear. My spiritual journey made it clear I could, in fact, bloom. Right here. Right now. Had I not experienced this intensely private time and space, I don’t know if I would have broken the shackles that had formed around my life.
There is a wonderful, incandescent power to think for oneself woven into the words, ‘a room of one’s own.’ I found I could rise up, float, sing and soar when unencumbered by the needs and expectations of life outside my door. The spiritual gift that this kind of solitude provided me was priceless. Twelve years after walking out on the corporate world, I am living in another state, teaching college writing full-time, mentoring students and fostering another generation of young minds. I’ve written and published a voluminous amount of work. I live in a quiet house with a cathedral of desert sky above it.
As I riddle over a line in a poem or a passage I am editing, I realize the great gift that my choice all those years ago gave me.
I am alive. I am not sure I would be had I not made these changes.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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