Taking the Leap

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Puffin Beating Wings

I guess it was bound to happen. After years of uncertainty and longing to make changes in my life the pebble under the boulder that had been holding inevitability back finally let loose and the whole mess has started to come crashing down. It’s been two months since I was laid off from my ten-year teaching job, and very coldly at that. In hindsight I realize now that I’ve been a fool to hang on so long there; where I’d thought that I actually meant something to the upper level others I was working with, came the blow between the eyes that I was nothing but a convenient cog. It’s quite sobering to wake up to your own delusions.

On the same week I lost my job God played another hand, brushing away the rust from the spinning circle of doubt in my relationship with my wife. And, as such things inevitably go, with it came a torrent of pain and guilt, things which have orbited my life for far too long. The divorce now waits upon our convenience, which somehow never really seems to be the right time. How do you finally lay down the ultimatum to someone whom you still love and respect, and whom you never wanted harm or, to be brutally honest with myself, abandon? Fourteen years. It seems like a lifetime.

That same week my diabetes took a bad turn for the worse, with blood sugars reaching into the stratosphere. I woke up one night with a pain in my stomach so bad I couldn’t walk. I kept retching up food and couldn’t stop coughing. This being Japan, with a two-month wait until my doctor would have an opening to see me, I was utterly terrified about attempting to go see the doctor for help, and, with the experiences I’ve had until now, just being given the same useless runaround about how to deal with my diabetic issues. So I decided to clamp down hard on myself and just do what had to be done. First I looked up possible diabetic complications with my symptoms and found information on gastroparesis, a result of neuropathy, or diabetic nerve damage from too much prolonged high sugars. I immediately cut out all sugar, excessive fat, high glycemic index foods, coffee, alcohol, and any snacks, and upped my intake of vegetables. I ate only what was necessary and no more, always going to bed slightly hungry. I started exercising, running every day, doing lots of stretches, weight lifting, and relaxation exercises. I completely stopped going to restaurants and instead of taking the train all the way from one place to another started getting off the train early and walking home.

The results are astounding, for me, and inspiring. I’ve lost three kilograms so far, gained some muscle, and can run ten kilometers again without huffing and puffing. The gastroparesis has completely disappeared and when I visited my doctor last week I was informed that for the first time in about a year my blood glucose levels have fallen halfway to the ideal level.

In the meantime I managed to secure a new job at a university out in the country. It’s not quite in the mountainous area I was hoping to start living in, but the job seems interesting and respectable, with quite a few more challenges than I’ve had until now. It’s a chance to finally start moving in the direction I’ve been needing to go, to pay off debts, to gain some valuable experience, to do some traveling, and perhaps meet some interesting people and make much-needed friends.

So I’ll be moving in September, making the break from this awful apartment I’ve been railing against for four years. And most likely a separation from my wife. That is the part that shakes my confidence and resolve. I don’t know if I have the courage to do it. Or the meanness of spirit. Or the blinders of a selfish fool. I know lots of people have gotten divorces, but I honestly don’t know how they manage to survive it or even know in their heart of hearts that they are making the right decision. After all, my wife is a kind, gentle woman who loves life and likes herself. I’ve learned a lot from her. I can’t imagine life without her.

But life has to feel right, I guess. I can’t forget myself or stop trying to find my personal balance. It’s been unbalanced for so long that I no longer really know what balance it is that I am seeking. I keep looking back at old memories of when I was happy and try to work them into who I am now and find that they just don’t go far enough. I need to challenge myself with new goals and new ways of perceiving. And to find some kind of nourishment that will wipe away my growing cynicism. I sense strongly that a much more rigorous connection with the natural world is imperative to my sense of fulfillment. But the question is “How?” How can I be close to the natural world and make a living at the same time? Must it always be an unacceptable compromise? Must I always be where I don’t want to be? Must I always settle for jobs that, as my mother recently stated, “most people in the world are not happy with”.

What is it exactly that makes up a satisfying and meaningful life? Is it still possible to reach the end of my life and say, “Yes, I lived my life fully and as best I could.” and to die with a full heart? Is the modern template for what constitutes a “successful” life the only option? For so much of what I see seems completely insane to me. So much of what so many people think of as important seems dull and without imagination, apathetic and blind to the world around.

I look out of my window and watch a bumblebee gather nectar from the flowers in the garden. The flowers bend under its weight and tip back their petals in perfect conformance to the bumblebee’s act, as if genetically everything was dancing to the same tune. A robber fly makes passes at the bumblebee, but turns back, perceiving the danger. Hoverflies and skippers flit among the fronds, whizzing through one another’s trajectories and circling these islands of green. A sulfur butterfly flutters along the ground, laying eggs. And beyond the houses come the electric buzzing of cicadas and the throaty calls of jungle crows. And I don’t know why but so often when I see such simple things I want to start weeping, as if I recognize that I am no longer a part of that world, but I need desperately to get back to it. It is a world that exists in and of itself, all components and members sharing in the workings of its web. Humans are part of this, I know in my head, but the presence of people always feels like a jarring off key note. I keep asking myself, “Where do I fit in? Why do I feel so unnatural?”

Perhaps that is why the teachings of the Buddha ring so much more relevantly with me than those of Christ. They talk of reconciliation with this world rather than the next. They say live today, here, rather than tomorrow and there.

Ah, a black swallowtail descends from the rain clouds into the garden like a dark angel, beating her filmy wings above the reaching hands of leaves. Then she is followed by a tiger swallowtail. And I have it. This one place, like all places, offers food for the gods. To find your own place, you have but to make your own, unique offering. It is the thanks that makes life worthwhile, not the satisfaction.

20 Responses

  1. butaki____

    much peace
    and pleasure on you

    * * *
    if you ever want to
    communicate about any of this
    you have my email

  2. Despite the hardships you describe, this entry bespeaks all kinds of hopefulness and possibilities.

    I’m wishing you all the very best.

  3. I wish I had some words of wisdom and comfort to offer you, butuki, but perhaps Mary Oliver says it better than I ever could in her poem “The Journey”

  4. Thanks everyone. I appreciate the sympathy, but you know, I feel very strongly that the feelings I am going through are not “wrong”. The circumstances are overwhelming (too much happening at once) and painful and exhausting (I can barely can enough sleep every night) but the movement of what for so long had been stuck in a deep rut feels right. And healthy. This is what I’ve needed to have happen, but couldn’t figure out how to set in motion; what a surprise to find that the world has a way of setting these things in motion on its own.

    Andy, as usual Mary Oliver sends a whirlwind through my house. Reading her words had me murmuring, “Damn, Andy, you really know how to send a guy a key to his emotions!” Thanks. What she said…(•J•)/”

  5. Many times the disaster we fear is, in fact, just what we need. I’m very glad to hear that things are moving forward for you. You’ve been needing it for some time. It’s doubly nice that you can see and feel this opening for yourself rather than fret about possible losses. I’m quite happy for you and wish you all the best with your new adventure. Good luck, Miguel.

  6. You certainly have experienced a lot of dramatic changes in a short while, Butuki! Some very good – the new job and better health, and some is very difficult, like the divorce. I wish you courage during the tough times, and joy and contentment in the near future. You already have a measure of the latter, in knowing a change for the better is ahead – I’m happy for you!

  7. Dear butuki,

    What a big time you are going through.

    Oh, it is never too late, I think, to die with a full life/full heart (sounds like yours are very full right here, right now).

    When you write, “This one place, like all places, offers food for the gods. To find your own place, you have but to make your own, unique offering,” I am reminded of part of a teaching I read recently, by Rabbi Shefa Gold:

    She says, “…offerings of awareness – surrendered to the fire of our lives in order to feed that God-place within us. That God-place within us hungers for this “food” of awareness that we offer each day. Awareness, made manifest in our spiritual practice, is received by God (and the God-sense within us), as a sweet savor.”

    May your appreciation of your own life in this wide world bring you deep joy.

  8. So much change…
    So much that was once familiar and safe taken away…
    But, often we cling to the familiar and the safe like an ant clings to a straw that is floating downstream towards the rapids…
    Sometimes it is better to be capsized and forced to swim to the shore…
    A new shore, a strange shore but…
    Life is a journey and the scenery is constantly changing
    Good luck

  9. A great post – although it sounds like you are having a hell of a time (and we’d all rather you didn’t have to make a post like this at all!) Take peace in knowing that things will turn out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time. Take care of yourself during this troubled time. That’s all you have responsibility for.

  10. . . . i read this amazing post of yours and couldn’t help but feel a sense of resonance, how we go through things and feel so alone, yet so many of us are going through the same basic feelings of loss and longings, of love, of freedom, of connection, of good health . . . i believe in you, brother, and believe that you are exactly where you need to be in heart and locale to set yourself free . . . :)

  11. Butuki: peace to you. Congratulations on getting a handle on the gastroparesis. That must have been very scary. Congratulations also on landing the univ. job.

    “who loves life and likes herself” — does she love you? In an honest, committed, passionate way? If so, you may be justified somewhat in feeling guilty (though guilt is never helpful). If not, please try and think about what’s best for you, which will ultimately be better for her too. If you can’t love her in an honest, committed, passionate way yourself.

    The memory I have of my ex and me sitting on the living room floor sobbing, not able to let go, but knowing we had to, floods me just now. It took a good 14 months from the decision to separate to finally get to taking a class on “how to do your own divorce” — no lawyer involved. I completely sympathize with the paralysis, but having lived through it, I wouldn’t recommend it as a course of action; it really is better to make a clean break if you can. It’s not easy, though…

  12. Miguel, glad to hear of the swing upward in health. Yes, I’m sure healthy diet and exercise is the key; gambatte with that. I’ve been on a regimen too and am starting to feel much better, though my issues are with asthma and allergies. I don’t know if you have time but I suggest locating a Sunday farmer’s market and loading up with cheap seasonal fruit and vegetables so they will be there in the house when you start to cook. I switched to genmai a long time ago and it’s much better, I think. The regular cooker will cook it, unlike what some here say. If it’s still a bit hard at the end of the cycle, just put it through again. It’s full of B vitamins and fibre.

    I’m off to Nova Scotia for a month of camping, walking, and sea breezes. My compromise with living here is that I have promised myself a month off a year for fresh air and connection with family. Glad to hear that you are moving forward and the University job is exciting. I know your students will love you and you will be able to bring so much to them. How lucky for you both.

    I know the pain you are speaking about; It was 13 years for me and took a good while to really work through. When all else fails, just keep putting one foot in front of the other aimed in the direction you want to go, and you will be rewarded with, one day, getting there.

    It may be virtual, but hugs to you for all the hope and happiness you have given me with your writing.

  13. Good for you; big changes and lots of stress, yet it sounds its been building up to this and you’re rising to the occasion. I’m writing you a paper letter now and will post it or cheat and scanemail it this week. My love and hugs to you and Y.

  14. I just came a cross your impressive site. Your words, the pictures are great. I have not gone through everything as yet later I will. But I see little to nothing about who you are. How about a little bio?

    As to your current state. Gambatte!

    My mother a major church lady would say:

    “The Lord never gives us more than we can bear”
    or
    “This to shall pass”

    I say:

    “God/the Universe puts us where we need to be”
    and
    ” In the storm be the Bamboo, not the Oak”

    Tao Te Ching:

    “Yield and Overcome,” is not an empty phrase.
    True wholeness is achieved by blending with life.”

    and

    “A whirlwind does not last all morning.
    A sudden shower does not last all day.
    Who produces these things?
    Heaven and earth!
    Even heaven and earth cannot make
    wild things last long.
    How then can people hope to do so?”

  15. I’ve been stuck for something to say that’s not trite or cliched, and have finally decided all I can do is echo the good wishes of the others who’ve commented here. It’s clear you’re doing your best to do what’s best, and that, in the end, is all that can be asked of any of us. Your writing strikes me as arising from a marvellous blend of intuition, reason, and sensitivity, and I’m sure those qualities will support you well through these hard times. Every good wish, my friend.

  16. I left a marriage about 14 years ago. It was an incredible transition. I had lost my entire family of origin in 10 years time, too short a time to proces. So that all showed up after the divorce and I realized how along I was.

    But life went on. In 3 years I met another person, ( well after one engagement failed) but it was either too soon for him, or for me. (or both) We never married, that was crazy making.

    I will again be making a move, and have never found so much as a career path, but bumbled my way through life as an artist, business owner, and employee, investor. Now I really need to get serious about making a living, I guess. One flakey Aquarian here. ~smiling~

    I’ve considred going to Japan again, to teach, but I have no idea what I’ll do.

    So many concerns for well being, reality therapy is painful, but it is all reality therapy. Some good, some bad, some happy, some sad.

    Mid life crisis? I suppose that is why my marriage ended, altho it wasn’t much of a marriage. He married 3 times in a short period of time, now has been single for a long while. I never have remarried. CLosest I came was to a Japanese man who was a great friend. I got cold feet. That ended the friendship.

    The family is torn apart, what is left of it, that is sad.

    Who knows what life has in store for you. It might be wonderful, and it might be lonely and indifferent, but certainly, it will be different. Get ready to s t r e t c h !

    I wish us both well,and good fortune.

  17. So silent for so long
    Are things well with you?

  18. beija flor

    I wish all the best for you.

  19. I only left my first marriage because it was abusive. I don’t know how I survived it, even with such certainty. I know I could not have survived not leaving.

    But, when you leave, if it feels better alone, the air is easier to breathe and sunrises are more lovely, you have chosen well.

    Great Lessons cost.

  20. Miguel, I am sorry to hear these misfortunes that consumed your life. My comments come 15 months after they happened as I browse through your blog (randomly reading postings mainly by how the title sounds like…very scientific method). I hope you have found some sort of resolution and peace by now.
    Sorry, I have no words of consolation which mirror the unfortunate events in your life; the marriage, the job, and the health. All I can share is that it takes a lot of work and a lot of luck to strike a balance in all the 3. At the risk of sounding arrogant, success in all 3 is possible. I just celebrated my 18th wedding anniversary to the same woman last weekend, will be working with the same company for 20 years come spring 2008 and still loving every minute of it, and my type-2 diabetes is still under control after being diagnosed 11 years ago. Again, hard work and lots and lots of luck.

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