The Pearl of Great Price: hidden in the dirt

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“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”

— Matthew 13:44

Since I was asked to decide whether to renew my contract in France or not around 5 October, my life has been in an uproar. I have been seeking relentlessly and restlessly, trying to figure out what it is that I want, and more importantly, why once I got what I wanted in coming to Paris, I wasn’t immediately ecstatically happy. More importantly, I’ve been trying to figure out if my reasons for coming to Paris were hopelessly flawed- trying to decide if it’s just an illusion, a mirage, sheer psychosis that led me here, trying to escape my reality in some way- or if indeed, this is my own Grail Quest of sorts, and it is the deepest longing of my soul that I followed in coming.

And also, I have finally given myself permission to just be happy. Period.

During this period, I have consulted various expat, professional, and life coaches, gone on a cleanse diet, bought some fancy French perfume, Czech garnets, and a real leather wallet, asked everyone I know for advice, got in touch with an old lover, severed ties with someone I thought was the love of my life, stopped going to Crossfit (will return), let my room become a total pigsty to the point I was finding broken glass, run up my credit cards and overdrawn my bank account, started meditating, finally found a cool expat group, met an American psychologist married to a French guy, started to meditate, cleaned my room finally and even organized my clothes rack, and fulfilled my bucket list goal of going to Prague. It’s been beautiful and tumultuous, and mostly very hair raising, and things are starting to make sense. In retrospect I wonder why I couldn’t have come to the same place in a more orderly fashion, but the truth is that that’s not how life works.

In the end, it wasn’t a breakdown born of taking a wrong turn. It’s a spiritual awakening, the surest sign that I’m on the path.

This is the messy stuff that doesn’t fit inside the covers of Eat Pray Love or the latest piece in the New York Times on why French women don’t get fat and French kids are all angels.

This is the stuff Brene Brown had to get through in order to leave her corporate job, become a social worker, and ultimately give awesome life changing Ted talks.

This is the wrestling with angels and demons that you have to go through to find your genius. And yes, everyone has one, and we are all created equal, but not the same. And you have to have the guts to face the monster in order to learn to “not just survive inthe storm, but dance in the rain.”

“where your dragon is, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell

I’m learning to be patient with myself. Which is a gift unto itself, because I”ve never been patient with myself. I have never in my life felt like I was enough as I was, except as a small child. Despite all the love of fmaily and friends, despite all the body positive fat talk free zones, despite all the “all that matters is you try your best,” I have never really felt like I was enough.

I have always felt irreparably different from other people, separate, apart, and I was right. As we are all unique. What I wouldn’t have given on some level, to be normal, but I was always too stubborn, and too greedy to be special to try that hard to blend in.

Because if you can’t be like everyone else, you might as well try to be the best at everything.

Because somehow, if you always feel less, if you always fall short of your expectations, in some way you’ve held yourself to a higher standard, and in that sense you’ve won. You can hold yourself apart, tear yourself apart, rather than going down to meet the people who you fear will never, could never, you KNOW will never accept you as you are. Because you like to read and they like to run around, becase you are fat and they are effortlessly thin, because you are serious and theoretically mature and they are just having fun and not trying too hard. Because your body was a woman so young, and you were a head taller, and you had to be smart on top of it too. How could they ever accept you? How could you ever accept yourself  when you felt like such a mutant?

So what was there to do but to turn into yourself, to try so hard, to escape into the fantasy that one day you would be better, worthy, ideal, although that day never seemed to come, and each time it was close, some ancient reptilean part of you would just tear your progress to shreds, because at some even deeper level, you didn’t want to be perfect, you wanted to be yourself,and to be loved as you are.

But since you couldn’t do that, you assumed no one else accepted you, let alone loved you. No matter how much mentally you may have known you were loved, you could never let it fully penetrate : I am loved, and loveable.

The quest for perfection/superiority to compensate for feligns of being different and inner lack took many forms. You wanted to save the world, a noble goal, and then you despaired of it totally- because it was never your burden to bear. And there were so many people you loved, that you wanted so badly for them to really love you, and you wanted to save them in return- to make them love you, and to deserve their love. But alas, that never really worked. Love that climbed mountains and oceans and rivers and stood the test of time just failed time and again the test of becoming yourself. As you grew, they couldn’t stay in your life nor you in theirs, and that’s ok.

And you could never have escaped your self recrimination through romantic love alone, anyway. It wasn’t your fault you never found real love, it just wasn’t your time.  Love can provide redemption, but not self redemption.

Nothing in my life has ever broken me down this hard. I thought the quarter life crisis was over, and I would never get that bad again. But the truth is, the wound is where the light enters as Rumi said.

And the light has entered in a big, big way.

For the first time in my life, I actually know what I want:

What I have at this moment. To live in Paris, to continue to live in Europe, to perfect my French, to work in an international/cross cultural setting, to take weekend trips to Prague and Germany, to have long vacations…

and a bit more- to really love and be loved, to surround myself with a family of friends, and to love the people I care about all the ways tha I can…

even if I am living in nine square meters, paying ridiculous taxes, have to deal with French administration and even more daunting, parisian people, and it scares me to death that I am not spending as much time as I could be with my family, because one day we will all die.

-Although I’ll be seeing them for a solid three weeks over Christmas, and talk to them a few times a week. At least I am truly emotionally present and am living the life I want, which is what the people who love me really want for me, anyway. And if I get called home, I will go.

Although speaking of home, every step is the journey and the destination. Home really is inside of you. It’s not even the people who surround you, it’s letting yourself feel safe, loved, and connected.

You see, I’ve gotten into Buddhism recently (who hasn’t) and the truth is, we are born alone and we die alone. The truth is, there is pain in life. There are many, many things we can’t control.  But thankfully, we can learn to control our minds, and find peace and stillness within.

Happiness, or pleasure, is only a small part of what peple are after. Without inner peace, happiness cannot be enjoyed.

And so I am happy to say that though my inner peace is lost from time to time, like the sun hidden among clouds, I have found it, and luckily it can never really be lost.

And even better, I have learned to recognized just how happy I am. My soul has what it wants. I can’t xplain in any rational way WHY I want to be here, why it’s so important for me to speak French, why I had to leave my family and travel.

I do not have any sort of reasonable explanation.

The idea of going just to have a “Cultural experience,” is weak to me. I’ve already had cultural expeirences, albeit not in as much depth. And even if that is the intermediate answer, the existential question of WHY still remains.

All is know is that what i feel is on par with Cooper in the movie Interstellar who goes through a wormhole and itno a new galaxy, to find a new planet after Earth is ruined.

Do I feel like I am saving the human race? Maybe, but the sheer thrill of adventure, of discovery, exploration, which may well be the defining feature of the human race, is what pushes me on. There are many virtues and ways of serving, but the thing with being an adventurer is that you serve the planet, quite unwittingly, by serving yourself. The myth of martyrhood loses its grip on you. Your joy is ultimately humanity’s joy, but you don’t have to deny yourself in the process because you are doing what you most want to do .

I know I have found my passion because it rips me to shreds everyday, dashing me on the rocks like a giant wave recalling the sublime, the sheer power, beauty, force, and enormity of the eternal, the power beyond the planets and the individual butterflies, the thing that makes the moon go round the earth.

Something, so deep inside me that there is no bottom, there is no where to go further down below, prompted me to be here.

No matter how much the world told me it was crazy, because it wasn’t prompted by the desire for money, power or “stability.”

Will I stay here forever? I don’t know.

Do I think it’s better than the US? not better, just different, and better in ways that are important to me.

Why I have to be strange and want to travel and live in France is beyond me, though these days I’m thinking that maybe I’m special and this is just my contribution to the world.

To show that there is real freedom, many ways of living, alternatives.

And there’s nothing like being a child again, every day, in a world that is always, and will always be new.

And when it comes down to it, I don’t need a reason to be here.

When your soul speaks, you listen.

So far I am finding many, many treasures as a result of following this path of a more conventional nature, like inadvertently finding a great job.

But most importantly, I have found a reliance on something much greater and more profound than myself- God- and looking into the darkness of the abyss, finally making it to the top of the mountain, and contemplating the endless sky, I found myself.

It is always our own self that we find at the end of the journey. The sooner we face that self, the better.”
– Ella Maillart,
Swiss travel writer

I could have stayed in my trance of perfectionism. I ould have ben a lot more “successful,” had I just done something seemingly normal and got a job in my home country– but probably I never would have been satisfied adn other crises would ensue as I pondered what might have been, and my worldview hardened. a part of me would have been dead, because that wasn’t my life to live.

It was never a mistake, it was never wandering off my path for me to come here. This divergence from the life I planned- this is the real path. This is my real life.

Where the path will take me, I don’t know but for a while I want to stay here. And I will find a way, by the grace of God. ANd that’s all I need to know.

I have found my treasure, and it was disguised as a barren field. I was on the path, because every step I questioned it. I am right on course, because it’s only my inner knowing that tells me this is where I”m meant to be, and I had to give up a million unlived lives to get here, yet, here in my pajamas on a Saturday afternoon, writing in my little room all by myself, this is it.

This is freedom, this is a version of enlightenment. This is joy, this is happiness.

This is not falling down the rabbit hole. This is not trying to escape.

This is getting taken down by a wave, not being sure which way is up, and following your instinct to sweet air.

This is wholly real, the adventure of my life.

This is the place, the story that came to define me but I never imagined, I never defined myself as.

This is life happening.

And most importantly, this is me happy, letting everything go.

This is me, self-realized.

Falling, flying, drifting, diving.

Traveler, there is no path, just waves upon the sea.

Ever step is the path, every moment the destination.

Life is not a circle, it’s not a line, it’s not an arrow, it’s a point. Right here, and right now.

I’m meant to be here because this is where I am. There is no life I’m meant to live but this, and no person I’m meant to be but myself.

This is joy, this is freedom.

Hallelujah!

Transformation

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“up ahead in the distance, I heard the mission bells…
this could be heaven or this could be hell…” Hotel California, Eagles

I hear this song in the metro, a really awesome guitarist playing, and it captures my experience perfectly. I don’t know which way is up some days, and when you are really living your dream-or crazy fantasy psychosis- it can be, and often is, terrifying.

My life often feels divided along binary lines-american/french, practical/dreamer, beauty/truth.
I do live in another somewhat messianic society that is something of a polar opposite (in the Western tradition) of my own- new world/old world, latin/anglo saxon, english/french.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve fallen through the rabbit hole, or through the looking glass.

And on this side of the looking glass, in some ways I feel a lot more beautiful, and yet a lot more ugly duckling like, and that I can never fit in.
But then I felt that way on the other side too, I just had higher expectations and pressure for doing so.

But the bigger truth is not just where I live now, through a seeing act of grace.

The real thing is accepting who I am. Because all this change has stirred up a lot of stuff.
And forced me to change, a lot.
In another year I probably will be a completely different person.

it often feel slike a battle between freedom and security, and independence and isolation vs connectednss and constraint.

But thse battles are mostly not in the real world, they are mostly in my had.

And wherever you go, there you are- the battles were there before I left, I am just forced to face them more now.

And the biggest battle is over whether I should be happy, wheter I can be happy, wheter I dserve to be happy- and if this is it, this is happinss amidst the bumps in the road.

And could it be really, that in this fairytale place, I become a princess of some kind? Could it be I’m actually doing way better than I ever could have imagined?

And could it be, much more seriously, that it was never about France at all, it was about me.
And whether I had the courage, not only to do what I wanted, but to enjoy it.
And I’m like the ugly duckling hat’s turned into a swan, and I have no reflection.

But I know it’s happening little by litte- parts are changing inside me.

But then, aren’t we all? or at least it’s this part of the curve-
Aprrenatly it epends on the dojo and all.

And if I can face the music and finally see myself accurately for the wonderful person I am, the more I can face the world.

Happy, sunshine, laughter. I can do this!

Giving it all up to the present moment…

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As per usual, my feelings towards life have shifted again. While acknowledging how sometimes seemingly unnecessarily difficult my life is because I live in a foreign country, particularly France, I just keep falling in love with it all the same. And while I might stress and strain, analyzing how one climate might benefit me over another, I do forget an important element-

Me.

I need to believe in myself.
That’s the main change I need to make in my life.

And if I am happy with where I am, so be it. No need to think I am dooming myself to mediocrity by following my heart. Instead, fueled by a life of passion, there’s no limit to what I can achieve.
Really.

Even in Europe, where people don’t seem to think that way so much. ALl the more reason I can make a difference.

I am surrounded by reasons to be happy, completely showered with blessings all the time. I say that I am fighting against the current, that I am treading water when I should be flying, but the truth is that I am utterly submerged in beauty, love, and possibility. I am not alone. I am not out of my element- I am a fish in water- regardless of what labels I put upon myself might say. I, myself, am happy. THe fact that I have found my way here is nothing short of a miracle, and yet, I have to acknowledge not only the grace of God in putting me here, but also the special treasure that is being myself, and the leading the life that is mine to experience. I strive and strain to accomplish things, but just being who I am is all I ever really needed in order to stumble upon the most important things. Life doesn’t really require a plan or strategy, regardless of how much we think it does or how such things may make us feel safe or in control.

And I am now wholly given to the path, to the place I am now, and know that THIS HERE NOW is the only real destination, though I may end up on the other side of an ocean or even somewhere beyond anything I ever dreamed.

All that’s needed is to fully enjoy each moment, and take advantage of the ideas right in front of me. :)

Namaste
MJ

Hopes and Fears of Happiness

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I came to Paris, hoping, believing earnestly it would make me happy, believing my life would be missing a crucial ingredient if I didn’t come back.
In all honestly, I’m not sure if the fact that I felt lacking in a greater sense of purpose or career direction or the fact that I just really like to travel was the catalyst. Or the fact that I wanted to live in the Neverland or sometimes even utopia (meaning no-place) that is France somemore before starting adult life.
Because truth be told, I’m not sure how much I buy into adult life. I don’t necessarily buy into the romantic hippie life either, at least not forever, but I don’t think I buy into having a house and car and bills and trying to keep everyday the same flatline positive. I dont necessarily want to have it jump up and down between positive and negative, never have a steady cash flow, or continue to live in a shoebox, but I do sometimes feel like the things tha I actually do like and the things that I feel like I’m supposed to like are definitely not the same.
Sometimes I feel like a fak adult, other times I feel like I’m really talented, and sometimes I try to do the math for living here and it just doesn’t seem to work out, at least not if I was a rational person. I am cerebral, but I do like to go against my brain sometimes, and my benighted amition.
I guess all that really matters is that you enjoy the path.
And the main thing you can’t put a price on is that sense of wonder.
These days, I am trying to find sometone to fall deeply in love with who will love me with all his fire and lightning and thunder in return.
ANd I am deeply, deeply afraid of this. That the person I meet won’t be the “right,” person who fits in all the categories I have thought about so deeply. That I will waste years of my prime with the wrong person and miss out on Mr Right. And most of all, that this person will change me, tie me down, or worse, never let me stop moving, a wildthing like me, instead of turning me into the subdued modern adult I always thought I was supposed to be.
Sometimes I see so clearly that life I thought I was supposed to live, and still could be within my reach, and how far I have strayed from it. I don’t think I have strayed for lack of courage or stamina or even perseverance.
I just found another goal that was more intersting than the first.
And now it’s almost like America has become my escape route, knowing that I can leave this place with its many, many problems at any time. I can always leave the flight simulator or video game or whatever. I can get off the uphill slope and live an easier, more comfortable life instead.
And as an extension of all that, it’s been hard for me to let myself be happy here. Because my life will ALWAYS be harder. Because at some deep level I don’t really understand, it IS some kind of home. Maybe not a forever home, but a place that a part (or all) of me will always want to be.
And I have the feeling that I will someday leave, and I want to get it over with and leave now. Just rip the bandaid off.
And I have the fear that I will never, ever leave, and miss out on the easier, more abundant life that was my first dream after all.
Of cours, there are other dreams than where I live that hang in the balance.
What will I do with my life? Finding love, having a family, writing a book maybe?
Maybe only getting on the hamster wheel of accomplishment when it doens’t feel like a hamster wheel? And maybe finally appreciating myself enough to not make light of everything I’ve ever done or second guess every step?
Yeah, so I kind of am living the life of my dreams. And it does at times, hit road bumps.
But that’s no reason to disown my dream or doubt myself.
So here’s to giving up the fear of hapiness, and giving in to current happiness, instead of hoping for the future.
Yes, I am happy now- doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn and grow, but yeah, I am actually happy where I’m at.

A Dangerous Joie de Vivre

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It’s such a powerful force, a candle burning brightly, precisely because its dangerous. Because it burns away everything that is false-like gold tested in fire-and leaves what always really mattered. Dispelling illusions and leaving you with no excuses for not seeing that what you have been chasing is right beneath your feet.
I hesitate to say, this is it.
This is not what I planned. This is not what I always wanted. I’m not sure I want to do this, forever.
-What about family, values, country? What about the one that got away, those dreams you once dreamed, the life you always wanted, the one you were supposed to lead?
It’s gone, in a flash of lightning, gone leaving only a holy smoke like incense burning. Gone like kings of the past, no longer existing except as a lost possibility, somewhere in your mind that will soon forget it, not like a tattoo or scar or even like the memory of a toothache, just like that to-do list item that you never really needed in the first place, you just put it on the list because someone and you can’t remember who said you should have it.

I am ridiculously happy, and I have rediscovered my French family in the community of people who went to my school in Paris. They are incredible, and we share so much.

I felt so incredibly lonely just last Sunday, when I left another group of school friends I’d seen at a wedding, fellow Americans, to come back to France. France felt just as foreign and forbidding as ever, and I despaired of it completely, trying to decipher which delusional impulse had brought me here and how soon I could get out. I felt completely confirmed in the theory that coming had been a giant mistake, if an educational one, and the only main benefit of being here was finding a decent job function I could see myself doing since I previously had no direction but Paris…

Life takes interesting turns- only one thing to do- be here now, and enjoy it!

The Irreality of the Present Moment

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I live in Paris.
I speak fluent French.
I wander Paris in the rain, Paris at night.
I have a very good job with a generous company, that I do actually like.
I’m in marketing communications, and it’s a natural fit.
I’ve been to four countries since the end of September (only 2 new ones).
My gym is right across from the Jardin des Tuileries and Place de l’Opera.
And yes, I’m even starting to make real friends.
In a few hours, I’ll celebrate my third birthday in France.

Most shocking fact of all- if I wanted to, I could stay here forever.
And if and when I leave, I’ll be missed.

Wow.

Most of the time I’ve been here, I’ve had a really hard time being happy. I’ve been lonely, disatisfied, feeling out of place, self-critical, and unloved.
I’ve found my calling- and it’s just this, simple as what I am doing right now.

Living in France, abroad, sometimes feels like a place out of time, sometimes a NeverNeverLand, often straight out of a storybook-living a fairy tale indeed, and all too often, it feels like a great civilization in decline. Living among ruins, living in a music box, a tragic but all too beautiful place. And yet-
It’s not dead yet, and maybe this place which is a law unto itself will get out of the mess it’s in. In the meantime, as its greatest detractor and greatest admirer, it breaks my heart.

There’s no logic reason to be here, except language skills-that being said, my work is done in English, and English really is all you need. Really.

And if I’m not happy, I can just go home.

But home is a complicated question. No, I will never be estranged from my native land, and I am so proud of being American and I do really think like one. That being said, my life is so much richer for being here.

And as it comes to talking about life, I realize I can’t defer mine any longer. Can’t wait till I am settled, can’t wait to put myself in a well-defined box of a white picket fenced yard, can’t wait until I am back “home.” Because home is here, there, and everywhere, if I just let it.

Can I let myself fall in love, knowing I might have to let go? knowing I might choose to let go? knowing I might simply be let go?

Can I let myself, for just a moment, feel the solid ground beneath my feet rather than looking to the sky and some distant faraway land (even if it’s my own) for answers?

Can I stop running, stop flying, stop searching for “growth”- and simply be?

Can I risk getting “trapped”? Can I risk falling in love? Can I, just for a moment, go with the flow and this time really just see where the wind takes me?

Can I stop myself feeling torn in two and for once, just be here, all of me, the silent witness, not just the labels and the tropes and the culturally conditioned attitudes?

Can I dare to give into wonder? To live a child-like life? To be led by the hand, to be held, by a force greater than myself and all my plans and schemes?

Can I stop living in fear, just for a second?

I’ve decided not to move, for the moment, and in doing so I know making vast progress.
Towards whatever the horizon holds for me, wherever it may take me,

but let it be, simply,
right here, right now.

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So yesterday was another difficult night though I finally allowed my feelings to come out. I am often very disappointed by France.
But it turns out, things are really not so bad.
And if I”m mad, it’s because I am deeply sad inside.
Not just indignant at injustice and delay and hassle and paperwork and things that make everyday life more complicated, but genuinely sad to see a beautiful thing that seems every day to be dying.
Maybe it’s not so dire. I could stay, but I can’t stay.
I’m a little heartbroken that things haven’t worked out exactly as I hoped.
I feel like I am aging, and my goals are changing.
I feel this desire to build a life rather than just pass through.
So basilaly I think I am going o extend my contract for another six months, and leave when the opportunity comes before then, rather than forcing it by leaving as planned just five months from now.

I just came across a quote on facebook,
“What you are looking for is what is looking.”

I feel a thousand potential lives die, and a part of my actual life ending. It feels like the end of youth, and sometimes maybe it’s what I feel like I want- since I do want to get married and advance in my career and have kids and all that- I want to build a life.

But my life is here, where my heart is beating.

I am so incredibly free, it terrifies now. I want solid ground, but all I can see is more sky. Or sea. I can’t tell which. I’m gasping for air with the realization I’ve just come awake.

All this freedom, and love in every direction. THere is no destination, only the path, and that itself is made by walking.

“Traveler there is no path, the path is made by walking.”

The truth will set up free- but first it will piss you off!

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Gloria Steinem quote, if I am not mistaken.

I do not want to become French, and I am not enjoying my experience here as muh as I hoped, and o by the way, my value system really contradicts France’s (over a year of socialist immersion hasn’t broken me, at least not yet),and yeah I am actually excited to begin some aspects of “adult life” dun dun dun and this is not where I want to build my life sooo
Au revoir, la belle France and all its merde. At least when the opportunity comes.
Unless there’s some sort of dramatic happening that changes everything.

I am creative and fiery, I need to be doing something creative, if I am not creating I cannot be happy.

Also, I kind of really want to be a writer of some kidn when I grow up. As fate would have it, I am in some ways a professional writer now, though that’s really not what I planned…

In the long term I am probably not all that well suited for corporate life, at least not in semi stuffy non free wheeling places, so well, that’s that…

When the student is willing the teacher will appear, and such has been my case as I’m sure it will be for my next job.

And after literally seeing a pretty good chunk of the world, I do want to go back to where I started, Washington DC, and see it with new eyes.

And o by the way, that dude I’ve been crushing on for forever- not impressed with him. He is probably just ill-equipped to relate to me in ways I would like and he is just unattached to me at this point, or so I think. It’s complicated, but basically the point is that I finally realize, it shouldn’t be.
And I want to be happy more than I want to force being with him. in fact, I am just done with forcing things at all because it never works out right and it costs so much energy.

And for the first ish time in my life, I am going to go with my gut and not with my fear. Decisionmaking is painful but it doesn’t have to be, probably. At least now, I am just going to try my best and instead of trying to find some ultimate solution, just freakin

Do WHAT I WANT TO DO!

Amen (to myself)
and no apologies either.

Namaste,
MJ

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