Reflections after session #4 with Leo
You are invited into this house of love, Melanie. Come, wash your hands and sit down for a bowl of soup. It is cozy and warm inside, and the water is delightfully cool at the kitchen sink. The fixtures are metal, solid, glimmering. The table is wooden, the chair like one from Yin Yin’s house back in Los Angeles. The house is hidden deep in the woods of my imagination, the person offering such kindness me in another form.
I have been traveling for a long time. My body is tired. The soup is steaming and hearty, like my mom’s beef stew. I am calling myself home after a long journey. What will I do? Where will I go? Go where the heart calls, where the river flows, where I wake up alive, powerful, free. Anywhere, and exactly there. You’ll know when you hear the call.
And what of the people I may leave behind, the friends I’ve worked so hard to find? What of those in the camps without the ability to leave? What of them? I cannot say they are not my responsibility, but so too, they are not only my responsibility. They are their own responsibility, and mine, and yours. The whole world bears witness to what is happening here in Israel-Palestine. Whether we turn towards it is another choice.
I must be free to live my life. To practice non-attachment. To recognize the truth of that first noble truth: there is suffering. There is suffering everywhere, not just in this land of olive trees. Not just in lands with physical separation walls. I cannot let my attachment to suffering here become an obligation that perpetuates suffering in my own life.
The purpose of life is not endurance, but love -- and love must start within my own heart. For the last two months, I’ve been without energy, wandering from meeting to home to meeting, across barriers and back, wondering how to reignite the spark of being. At first, I attributed it to jet lag, then to slowness in funding my projects, but now I’m not sure. And when I add in my persistent feelings of loneliness and fear, I approach the truth of my own suffering. There’s a quiet and steady voice within me asking to go home. To invest in the land of my birth, to focus anew on voter registration and the upcoming elections. To be present for my family.
Until now, I’ve soothed that longing within me. Be patient, dear one. The first year is always the hardest. Plant deep roots here and wait for the fruits of your efforts at harvest time. Practice stepping into the discomfort and fear of not belonging here. Change the narrative. Persist through difficulty. Endure suffering to build intimacy.
How long will I persist before I change the conditions?
What brought me to this land was love and curiosity, and what kept me here was the recognition of my own power, the possibility of empowering others to self-sufficiency through my own gifts of teaching and empathy. Helping my students to stand on their own feet by recognizing their own potential. Leo describes this “elevating consciousness for everyone” as the pathway to belonging. It is true: by sharing my gifts with my students, I felt a sense of purpose and love, a joyful energy that saw me drafting curriculum, training mentors, paying salaries out of my own pocket. There are still wisps of that energy here now: curiosity about a resilience project in Issawiya, the school in Bethlehem, the collective in Jerusalem.
It is the same energy of curiosity and love that beckons me home.
There is guilt and shame when I consider the possibility of leaving this place to go home. I have the privilege of leaving this conflict zone, of taking refuge in a home with clean running water, electricity, and safety. I am not daily under threat of violence, and the ones I love will always come home from their wanderings. My guilt binds me here. How can I tell my friends in Palestine that I’m going home, away from our collective dream of helping young Palestinian adults? How can I manage the guilt of being able to walk away?
I am afraid to start again in another place, faced with the daunting task of making friends, building yet another community. I have just found a community of friends, a yoga studio, a neighborhood in which to live. How can I consider leaving now, after surviving this first year? Am I uprooting this planting of seeds before they're ready? Is intimacy not the fruit of consistency and commitment, even when – especially when – things are challenging?
I am afraid that my work here is not yet finished, that by leaving I will be breaking promises made to my friends, who have no choice but to persist. I am afraid that my time here will be perceived as a waste, that I haven’t created anything sustainable or lasting, that I haven’t even tried my biggest ideas yet.
So too, I am afraid of the judgment of my family and friends. I am afraid that what they say is true: that I’m flighty, unable to commit, require perfect conditions to stick around. At age 29, I worry that I am falling behind in the game of life, without a fancy title, big paycheck, or partnership to my name. Sometimes, I imagine that I am in an ever-shrinking glass box, and that soon I will be unable to move or breathe. I must remember that this is someone else’s narrative, not my own – and I have the tools to break free from the glass box, should I so choose.
I want to be where there is energy and life, where I’m able to practice fully my deepest values: freedom, authenticity, belonging, play. I don’t want to be trapped in one place, focused on persisting because that’s what I’ve promised myself or others. I do not need to persist in this land to prove my resilience or my ability to withstand discomfort. To whom do I owe any proof?
I made a vow this year to practice endurance of suffering. Of course things are challenging: I am stepping into a conflict zone where I don't speak the primary languages, where the cultures on either side of the line are welcoming and beautiful but also foreign, and where I do not find ease of belonging. I've perceived my own discomfort as the cost of operating here, worn my suffering as a sign of solidarity with those that suffer.
What is the purpose of my endurance?
To others, perhaps my message is this: I'm different from those other Americans who leave after one year. I'm with you, I see you, I won't abandon you. And to myself: I'm not the person that my family makes me out to be. I'm not flighty, I'm resilient through difficulty. I'm capable of putting down roots.
My suffering cannot be the price of being here. Happiness is the way, it is not a destination. I must practice happiness in my own life in order to pass it along with authenticity to others. To do otherwise is to lie, to take on the very pretending that I fear.
And yet happiness is only available in the here and now, I cannot chase happiness to California. Happiness is found here in Jerusalem too: in this delicious slice of apple pie, in this cozy, warm room with everything I need, in the silence of our sleeping house. Right diligence says that I can water the seeds of happiness in my life, and stop feeding the seeds of suffering and of doubt. I can both find happiness in the small things in Jerusalem and ask if another place will lessen the burden of suffering. To think of leaving is not an unwillingness to find happiness here or a betrayal of the love that brought me here.
Touching happiness starts with listening to my heart. When I ask my heart where it calls, I must be truly open to hearing the response. Without judgment, without narrative, just letting the truth of my being bubble to the surface of consciousness. Elevating my own consciousness, allowing the truth within my body to become the source of my power.
I want to write a book. I want to contribute to the political elections in the states, working on a campaign or in voter registration. I want to invest more deeply in my own learning, possibly by continuing my formal education.
I also want to see where this project in Issawiya lands, to invest more in peace activism training, and to keep growing my Bethlehem school. I want to free myself of the small worries to focus on the big dreams I still have for this place.
In the stillness of Jerusalem, the possibilities of home give me energy. Imagine writing a book in the forest of Mariposa. Traveling to purple states to register new voters or working for a political campaign. Being with my family more regularly. Imagine the ease of belonging, of speaking English, of crossing borders. Of knowing that I can stay indefinitely, without the fear of visa renewal preventing me from being visible.
I don't have to go home or stay here. The only definitive outcome of this exploration is this: I recognize that I am powerful beyond measure when I embrace the truth of my own body. Fully embrace it, without letting any narrative compel me to endure or to leave.
The last spoons of soup
I made a vow this year to practice endurance of suffering, based on the following belief: endurance builds connection and intimacy.
To leave reflects a lack of willingness to endure, and a severing of connection.
To stay reflects a willingness to endure, and a continuation of connection.
If I leave, how will I plant the deep roots of community and belonging? How will I build a community of friends capable of bearing witness to my life?
Leo's answer reflects the truth of interbeing: I am intimately connected to all things in every moment no matter where I am. By embracing this truth, I will never be alone.
I push him to meet me in the relative dimension. What about the physical suffering of loneliness that this body feels? He responds with a severity that surprises me:
If you want to inhabit the relative dimension, you will always be alone. You are a separate being and you cannot melt into another person or community. You can’t. Because of the nature of the relative, you can only join with others. You must enter the ultimate to realize your connection.
I am committed to pursuing the truth of my body, to fully stepping into my power, to not turn away from difficult questions or difficult answers. Maybe I will never choose a single physical home or job; maybe I will in the years that pass, fail in new things, abandon projects, jump from monastery to city to mountain community. To do this, I will need to learn to accept the relative truth of being alone.
The true path to planting deep roots, Leo suggests, is fully living my values. It is the only way to find true community. There will be people along this unfolding path, people that are like me, wanderers following their heart above all.
I do not know this unfolding of the unknown.
I return to the Melanie sitting at the wooden table, finishing the last spoons of soup, now cold. I will leave her with these messages:
Do not let fear compromise your faith, dear one.
Let the truth of interbeing settle in your consciousness.
You are powerful and capable just as you are.
I love you. Thank you for your endurance, and for your bravery to look again.