Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Secret Garden

I am sitting at a table in a kitchen nook at my sister's house. In front of me is a vase of beautiful pink flowers. Out the window ahead of me I see the greenery of their yard, and beyond that the trees that line the street. If I look at the right angle (or through the right window) I can see the houses of their Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. There's a common feel, yet each house has its own unique style. Somehow that is comforting. I can't see it from here, but I know that at the end of the block there's a park with views of Puget Sound. Except for the occasional car quietly rolling past, I hear no other sounds than my computer gently humming as I type. I feel at peace.

I have spent most mornings the past week in a similar way. I wake up sometime between 6 and 7 AM. I write, in pen and paper, three pages, like I do every morning. I make coffee. Sometimes not in that order.  When I'm done, I open my computer, starting with email and planning out the day. Today is Sunday, so other than the quick "wipe out the spam" check, I'm not focused on email this morning. Sunday also means I'm the first one up. Well, perhaps besides Kitty, their cat, but she's relaxing soundlessly in a living room chair out of site. I've always been an early riser. There's something almost magical about watching the world wake up. You get to see it yawn and stretch, fumble in the dark a little before it gets off to a proper start. One by one its sounds start to appear. The birds, the few lone cars, the people off to work as the sun rises. For a while, it feels like it's all yours - a remarkable feeling in a world of billions of people. I am by nature a social person, yet this feeling of aloneness that contains no isolation is so surreal, it's impossible not to relish in it a bit. With the greenery surrounding me just outside the window, I feel like I'm sitting in my own secret garden.

 I came out to visit my sister this past Tuesday and will be staying until this coming one. It's not a vacation per se - I've come out to help with some things for our family, and I'm working while here, though family of course always takes priority when prioritization is needed.  When I headed out this way I was feeling quite lost.  I can't especially explain why. Nothing particular changed, at least not in an obvious fashion. In fact, I'd had some quite positive experiences before I left. I'd spoken with a friend about a potential part time job for extra income; I'd made a new contact in the mental health field who is very supportive of my new ventures; I'd had some great brainstorming sessions with friends about the next potential fundraising event I'd like to host. Truly, life seemed to be coming together. And yet, it didn't. It felt like I had all of the materials needed to build a house, but the foundation was missing. Without that foundation, the rest are just piles of materials that some day will go well on a house. This analogy doesn't do it justice, but it's the closest I can come.

The problem was, to use the above analogy again, I didn't realize it was the foundation that was missing. It was like getting to the construction site and thinking "hmmm I know something's not right here, but I can't quite put my finger on it," despite how obvious it may seem. This last week, I've had a lot of time to think. And not even to think actively, but to just let thoughts come to me. I've focused on family, and work, and spent the rest of the time just living. I've written, read books, walked around the neighborhood, enjoyed the neighborhood coffee shop a few blocks up. And somehow, in not trying so hard to figure out what was missing, in just letting myself exist, I became internally peaceful for the first time in quite a while. My brain quieted some. I didn't have the constant nagging. I allowed myself to be open to whatever came to me, to learn even without realizing it.

I still don't have all of the answers. Not by a long shot. But I've discovered a few things. First, I'd lost myself. I think I knew this, but I didn't realize the degree of it. Along the way to trying to please everyone else, the "real me" had been pushed back into almost non-existence. The irony of this is that generally, if people didn't like the real you, they wouldn't be around you to try to impress in the first place. Yet I'd tried so hard that people thought the me under all of this stress was in fact real, and the that the real me was a distant, fleeting memory. I've vowed to bring out the real me. It's in there, and I'm grasping it more and more every day. When I grab hold of it, even momentarily, the difference is so startling I can't help but smile.

I discovered that if you focus on love, you become happy. This doesn't mean focus on meeting, winning, keeping the love of your life, but rather love in the more general sense. In the past, my lack of confidence and self-esteem have brought about some characteristics and actions I am not proud of.  I see now that if, instead of feeling threatened by others, I can learn lessons from them, I'm able to love not only others (in a general, worldly kind of way) but also love myself.

Finally, I realized that being of service makes me happy. I feel positive about myself. I realize my purpose and its impact. By service, I mean helping others in whatever way I can. It may be physically helping them. It may be supporting or motivating them. It may be inspiring or helping them learn. It takes away ones self-centeredness to help others truly for the sake of helping others. We move our focus away from us. Often we don't even realize we've been focusing on ourselves to begin with. Helping others brings this out and allows us to work on it. This doesn't mean not ever taking care of oneself. It means that when your first thought is not always of how things affect you and your world, but of others, things come back to you without you having to ask. What you put out into the world is what you get back. Not always even from the same source. You must not give with the expectation of getting back immediately. It's not an eye for an eye. It's karma. It comes to you, perhaps from the most unlikely source at the most unlikely time.

These were not new notions to me in and of themselves. They were new internal knowledge. I'm not sure how I didn't truly understand them before, and yet I didn't. The understanding isn't a direct result of something that specifically happened. It's knowledge that came to me when I least expected it - when I stopped trying so hard to figure out what was missing, I found it. I don't know all of the answers, but I know where to start. Life is a step by step process, and all you need to know to keep moving forward is where to take the next step each time. I believe I've finally realized that next step.


  1. This beautifully written, Maya, and - at the risk of sounding new-agey and cliche - it is what zen is really all about.

    1. Thank you! And you're right, Zen is the perfect word.

  2. I love this Maya. Beautiful.

  3. Maya, I love your conclusion about being in service. xoxo