I was in a strange state the morning after my divorce finalized. I felt deeply tired. I felt angry about how it went with just a hint of giddiness that it was over. I thought that many people would expect me to be happy. I wasn’t. I think at that moment I understood more than ever why so many women stay, not that that was ever an option for me. No one understands the blood that is lost in that arena unless they’ve lived it.
Last weekend I got to see Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert have a discussion at UCLA. I admire these women for their work and for their voice. The discussion was inspiring. At the end they had a Q&A session. I am not someone who gets up to ask questions but I COULD NOT resist the opportunity to talk to Dear Sugar and Big Magic.
I said something like this: “I admire both of you for your willingness and ability to find your truth and then continue to live by it. This is something I have been working on for a while and really fighting for for myself. Do you have an practices you do to help you stay connected with that truth? To keep it uncovered?”
Cheryl looked into my eyes as I spoke. She is such a mother! I felt her nurturing spirit and her depth. At first she noted that the practices would probably be different for each person. She said her advice would be to identify five things that make you happy and do them. The answer was so simple. Then she went on to list some of her things. “Walking. Walking is a prayer.”
I thought about her language, identifying these meditative activities as prayer. What feels like a prayer to me? For most of the last year, R has preferred to go on a walk in the stroller before bed. We would go out at 8 or 8:30pm and walk the neighborhood for 30-45min. I usually would listen to a podcast as I pushed R to sleep. In the last few months, this has changed and he likes to go to sleep in bed so I’ve been missing my walks. These nightly meditations mixed with light exercise felt like prayer. They grounded me. They connected me. I had so many moments of knowing as I listened to the women I quote so often, talk me through these principles. It was a prayer. I resolved to find more moments to walk.
So on Friday, I dragged myself out of bed. The sun was shining which felt notable because of the torrential rain the day before. It was a beautiful day. With Cheryl’s words in my head, I decided to walk. I put in my earbuds and put on an Oprah Super Soul podcast and I walked. I pulled myself into the present by noticing the feeling of the breeze on my skin, the sun on my face. My earbud’s battery died but I didn’t mind. I pulled them out and walked more. I listened to the sound of traffic. I walked past the park where I met R’s dad to tell him I wasn’t willing to try anymore. Where I gave him back the ring. I walked across the bridge and up the hill back to my apartment.
As I reached the top of the hill, an old man was sitting on a bench waiting for the bus. He looked at me through his sunglasses as I approached. I smiled. He smiled back and clapped four robust, distinct claps as I passed by. I said, “Hello,” in response but that seems inappropriate now. I thought about prayer and God and walking. I knew that God was in that man that day. He was cheering me on. He was saying, “Run! Dance! Live!” And I knew that THAT is what I must do. I must keep walking as a prayer.
“We are asked to learn to ask for what we need, only to practice accepting what we’re given. And that’s a paradox, but what’s so important about this, for me, is that asking for what we need doesn’t always lead to getting what we need. Sometimes it does and that’s great. But the reward for asking for what we need is we become intimate with our own nature, we learn who we are by standing in who we are. The reward for practicing accepting what we’re given: we become intimate with everything that’s not us. We become intimate with the nature of life. And it’s the rhythm between our own nature and the nature of life that allows us to find the thread we are in the unseeable connections that hold everything together.” Mark Nepo, Oprah Super Soul Sunday