‘There goes my other life’, I thought, as I looked at the jeep whizzing by. It was the kind with a canvas top. The hood wasn’t quite secured down so it was flapping in the wind – that just added to its air of a vehicle that had lived, was living great adventures in the wild outdoors. That was supposed to be my life, wasn’t it? Heck, that even was my life for a while there – travelling, exploring, being… although I never did get a jeep – that part remained a pipe dream.
When I was young I always imagined I would grow up to be a humanitarian worker in the third world (well, when I was not envisioning myself as a scientist or a published writer or a singer or an actress or a dancer or a photographer or…). After College, in the UK, I went travelling. I took that fabled year off and went for it. I came from Europe, worked in the mountains in Colorado and then travelled in Central America for another 6 months. I felt sooo alive. Trekking up vulcanos, eating exotic foods I had never heard of, meeting and hanging out with indigenous peoples, exploring cloud forests, visiting ancient ruins or living on hammocks on the beach – now this was what life was all about. I have since travelled across Europe, through India, to Hong Kong, Brazil… Oh, yeah, I got the bug. In between travelling and living, I also did an MSc in International Development – keeping the dream alive.
But somewhere in the studying, the heavy theory killed the dream. I learned too much about the impact of multi-national and international NGOs on the countries their intention it was to help. I became a cynic, you could say – and that paralysed me… or at least it re-focussed my area of action. I wanted to work at grassroots level, yes, but in the North. I emphatically did not want to go and ‘tell’ other people from other cultures how they should live. It is not like we were getting it so right in the over-developed, consumption-oriented, wasteful, industrialised nations. And so often the problems NGOs were seeking to alleviate were actually created or at least aggravated by the over-developed countries with their unfair trade ‘agreements’, physical and human resource draining practices and the dumping of their waste and banned substances in the soil of the poorer countries. No, I figured, too much work needed to be done here, at home (in the broadest sense – seeing as I myself am multi-cultural). And the more I looked at it, the more I came to the conclusion that this was an issue of consciousness. You could argue we in the West needed re-educating, seeing as 80% of the worlds resources are being consumed by 20% of its people (yep, the ‘Western’ 20)… but my feeling was that we needed to go even deeper than that. That the answer is not education (which speaks to the mind) but increased awareness which speaks to the soul or the Heart. And so a shift came: from looking at world development to focussing on personal development.
While I feel this was the right move for me (even as I am proud of all my friends who went to do meaningful work in developing countries) there was still something lost. In walking this new path of mine – which includes personal spiritual practice, studying nutrition, healing, flower essence therapy and working with grassroots development organisations in developed countries (cleaning up ‘our back yard’ before telling others to clean up theirs, so to speak) – I find still within me a yearning or mourning even for the seed of the dream that came before it. I wanted to work in the third world not to ‘change’ it but because I LOVE it and feel I have so much to learn from its peoples and its cultures and, while I am there, I might as well do something useful to help. That was the logic, at the start of thinking of doing international development work. As I say, I didn’t go that way. But seeing that jeep pass by me, today, I can’t help but look at my life now and wonder. I live a comfortable, middle-class, suburban life with a husband (yes a husband!) and a child where I am, in effect, a housewife and full-time mom. How different my life is from how I imagined it, once.
I like this life I am living, now. I like it a lot. There is much to be grateful for and rejoice in. My daughter is BEAUTIFUL and I love her so much. I wouldn’t design another life without her – I can’t even imagine it. I love my partner. He is awesome and I learn so much from him. And I really feel the Bay Area is the place for me at this time… and still… wasn’t I supposed to be living in Guatemala about now, by lake Atitlan? Or perhaps in Kenya? What happened?
Perhaps, as some friends reminded me recently, there is a time for everything in life. Perhaps my twenties were a time of going outward of discovering the world. Perhaps now is a time to journey inward and discover who I am with a whole new set of teachers and in a whole new classroom; and, yes, being a mother has been the greatest teaching EVER and my baby, my husband and all my mama friends (real and ‘virtual’) are incredible teachers. I am awakening to a new life even as I leave the old one behind, in a way. Then again, as Marcel Proust said: ”The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” And I can tell you for sure, this journey is truly opening my eyes to ways in which I can… I have to grow and be more true to myself so that I, in turn, may guide my child, in Truth.