A year ago. Colorado. It is the end of a women’s yoga retreat. I don’t know anyone at the start but six days later I am nude and riddled with laughter as my breasts bounce, pivot and smack against my sweaty skin. They are flopping so wildly it’s possible they’ll fly right off, but I don’t care a bit what it looks like. I am in ecstasy. I know I am meant to be dancing, singing and crying together with these women. It fits, it feels right and I feel overwhelming gratitude for having invested myself in this game-changing week.
As my body lay in prostration on the tile floor, cooling down after a night of devotional dance, I am not seeking an answer. My mind is full of white light and the cold ground melts into a soft embrace. It feels like being held by my mother when I was a little girl and she’d stroke my hair humming me to sleep. Tears descend and a smile grows in my chest. And I hear, “Take a walk.”
So, I do. Immediately. I stand up and begin walking the circular two-mile path around the retreat just as it strikes midnight. I walk slowly, each step deliberate, listening to the crunch of leaves under my feet. I haven’t done much night walking before, so if it weren’t for being sandwiched between a Zen center and a Hindu temple, my heebie jeebies about things that go bump in the night might have convinced me to stay indoors on the dance floor.
As it happens, I walk, and under the Southwest sky, the landscape turns from an evergreen desert to a wet-logged forest. I see African boab trees and Mount Everest. There are Mongolian yurts next to the temples of Angkor Wat. I am walking around the world at midnight in Colorado.
A week earlier, I had come to the retreat with a question. What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Although I felt content with my current circumstances, I craved to know what it could feel like to have absolutely no doubt that I was doing what I was born to do. I wanted to wake up every morning with a YES in my body–a lust for life. If I knew that feeling, I would devote myself to it. I would risk everything for it.
As I walked the circle of the retreat center, my initial response was a joy that crept like Ivy from my belly up to the crown of my head and out my fingers and toes. I began running with all the energy and aliveness moving inside me. I was cackling like a wild witch (a tactic I would later learn could be useful to ward off certain company). I could feel the air and all the forest beasts celebrating with me that I had found it. It was the discovery of what I needed to do: Go walking.
It didn’t make any logical sense to me (and still doesn’t) but my job is not to make sense of it. It’s learning to trust in what I feel is true for me. And of course, there are justifiable fears–persistently provoked and supported by family and friends who thought I was experiencing an early mid-life crisis–of the horrible things that can happen to a woman walking and camping alone on the side of a road somewhere or in the middle of nowhere. And I was frightened by the thought of all that I would have to leave behind to embark on a journey that would take at least five years to complete.
Though as strong a force as that fear was, I could not come up with enough excuses to play hooky on this one. When I said YES to walking around the world, everything changed for me. I began fully trusting in every step. Now that I have crossed Oregon and Australia on foot, I know that I have to trust every step. It can mean life or death to panic and ignore my gut instinct.
My average distance is twenty miles a day but on this night in Western Australia, I am painfully approaching the forty-mile marker. I am no longer walking as much as I am kicking my legs forward, hoping they’d land in front of me to keep carrying me ahead. I am searching for a place to sleep.
I have to stop and lie down to raise my feet towards the sky and recirculate the blood. My ankles are beginning to swell along with tears of frustration.
The Australian outback is comprised of wide-open spaces and occasional clumps of grass. So when the heat becomes too strong at midday, I begin walking in the cool of night. But this evening, I hit a long stretch of tall golden grass on all sides of me, which is home to some of the world’s most poisonous snakes. Walking into waist-high grass is about as scary as plunging into shark-infested water off the plank of a ship. I am desperate for a flat, open area to pitch my tent, crawl in and cry my sore and swollen body to sleep.
I find a spot to rest but it is too dangerous to camp here. My feet are in the air. I’m lying on my back. And if you can’t tell it’s coming, well, I am feeling sorry for myself. I feel stupid for being in such an inhospitable place all by my lonesome, incapable of finding a place just to sleep for a few hours.
I am getting a crash course on doubt. Not that doubt is a new feeling for me but I had thought that perhaps when I was living my purpose, doubt would have melted like cotton candy on a rainy day. It is still here and it takes a little more wailing like a kid mid-tantrum before the tears dry and the view of the night sky behind my feet wraps around me like a shawl. The drone of cicadas in the distance hums a calming stillness in my heart.
I breathe the glistening stars and the vast emptiness around them into my body and whisper several times: I am following. I trust you.
As I roll onto my side and push myself up for the next mile, a reflective strip catches the glow of my headlamp. I limp toward it and tucked behind a thicket of trees is a narrow path leading to a sandpit the size of a football field. I look up at the sky and smile, “That was quick.”
Under the stars, in my sleeping bag, on a football field sized sandpit, alone somewhere in the Australian outback, I cry myself to sleep, but the tears are not self-doubt induced. They are the magical satisfaction that I am exactly where I need to be and that has always been the case.