“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”-John Lennon
While hopelessly staring up at the ceiling of my Siberian hotel room, I decide that enough is enough. God owes me some answers and he owes me them now.
I get up, put on my jacket, and take the elevator to the ground floor. It’s bitterly cold outside, but I push through the revolving door regardless. Snow tumbles out of a featureless sky. The temperatures plummeted last night, and the cold nips at my exposed flesh gnawing at me through my clothing.
By the time I walk across the street to Lenin Square, I am already frozen. The temperatures are well below freezing this morning, echoing the feeling in my heart. The southern end of square is even worse, as if its gigantic sculptures of Soviet-era soldiers are pulling all the remaining heat out of the world.
We stand there, five statues and one man, feeling nothing. Dead and gone.
There’s no time to beat around the bush and properly introduce myself. I figure that God knows me well enough by now, at least from my side of things. We’ve gotten pretty close these last few years, so I cut right to the chase and say, “If there was ever a time for a little guidance, this would be that time.”
I look up through the snowflakes and without sugar coating my feelings, I ask the Creator of the Universe for help (who for the sake of making this easier to write about I will assign the pronoun “he”).
“I thought this is what you wanted me to do with my life. So why are you making this so difficult for me?”
I pace back and forth between two snow-covered park benches.
I am so down and depressed, so utterly at the end of my rope, so delusional that I fully expect an answer. Not not one of those cryptic answers that comes in the form of a cosmic sign. Not something that I need to interpret and decipher, but an answer defined audibly, spoken in words, clear-cut and in English. I need to hear from him directly and with clarity so I can know exactly why I have to go through all of this. I’m waiting for the snow to stop, the heavens to open up, and a bellowing James Earl Jones kind of voice to shake the earth with a thundering response.
I wait, and then I wait some more, but all I hear is the silence of snow falling on the lifeless ground.
I yell upwards in a tone I’m not too proud of, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”
I sense people staring at me as they bustle across the square on their way to work, and I’m tempted to yell at the pack of Russians, “What are you looking at?”
But what good would that do. I shake my in disgust at myself. I feel like I’m losing my mind.
I need answers and I need them now. This is a matter of life and death.
Over the past few months my dream has morphed into so much more than just trying to make it around the world without using airplanes. Sure, that’s still very much my dream, but it’s also become a much deeper quest, and its one that I could have never prepared for before I set out to do this.
I don’t know where exactly this new dream began to take shape, maybe it was somewhere in Kenya or Egypt during one of those dangerous bus rides, or maybe it was Croatia as I was climbing a set of ancient castle steps. But then again it could just as easily been floating in the magical waters that surrounded Santorini and Mykonos or maybe it was even inside me way back in Miami and I just didn’t know it yet.
It’s hard to say, but somewhere along the way, the lotus has emerged from the murkiness of my mind. As the petals have begun to slowly unfold, I’ve gotten to know parts of my True Self. This is precisely where the problem lies. Right now I’m hanging onto that Self and my dream to make it around the world by the thinnest of margins, and I may very well have to cut them loose right here right now if something drastic doesn’t happen soon. Here’s the thing: if my dreams die, so will I.
Sure, I will wake up tomorrow and I’ll go on living, but my True Self, the one that I was in the midst of really getting to know, will cease to exist. That’s become the real risk here. I’ve been taking that risk this whole time without really knowing it until now. What I’m actually trying to do has just as much to do with getting to know the inner workings of me, as it does with traveling around the world.
While part of me is afraid that I might not actually make it around the world, a bigger part of me is afraid of losing touch with me, this me, the one I’ve gotten to know the past 438 days. The real me.
Sure, I could go back to Miami and get another run-of-the-mill type job, but knowing what I know now, that’s not living. It’s like reaching down into the water and yanking the lotus out by its roots before it gets a chance to fully bloom.
My True Self cannot co-exist in that world; it would shrivel up and die and never be heard from again.
I already know what my friends and family will say if I quit, and how they’ll try to comfort me. They will look at how far I’ve gone and say something like, “Even though you didn’t end up making it around the world, I’m sure you learned many amazing, incredible, and valuable things along the way, and I bet you got to see some pretty cool places too.”
And while they may be right, it’s of little condolence.
I look back up at the sky, wanting to place the blame for my predicament on anyone other than myself. Who better to find fault with at a time like this than God. He always seems to make a great scapegoat when the chips are down. “What did I do to deserve this?”
A snowflake responds by landing on the bridge of my nose, which brings a reminder with it. Eckhart Tolle once said, “Once the process of awakening is done, it cannot be reversed.”
It’s not that I am becoming some nomadic reincarnation of Buddha, or that I’ve attained even a smidgen of enlightenment, but to some extent I have taken my destiny into my own hands. I’ve seen glimpses of how my time on earth should be carried out, so I can’t help but agree with Eckhart. He’s right: this, whatever this is, can’t be reversed. Whatever it is that’s happening inside me, whatever it is that’s pealing these lotus petals open since I set out to follow my passion cannot be undone. If my dreams don’t pan out, I can’t just move onto something else. If I do, the pain will last forever.
I stretch my arms out wide, and lay it all on the line. “I’ve done all the things you’ve asked of me: I’ve followed my curiosity, I’ve trusted my intuition, I’ve taken the leap, I’ve had just about as much faith as anyone could have, so what more could you possibly want from me?”
It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of empty silence in the middle of the square before my tone starts to take a turn for the worse and my blood begins to boil. When I think about all the heartbreaking setbacks that are waiting for me back in my hotel room and the mountain of work that lies ahead if I want to get back on track, I lose my patience and I’m embarrassed to say this, but I act like a child and throw nothing short of a tantrum.
I start stomping deep holes into a snowbank.
I scream like a maniac as I kick through a layer of ice. “I thought this is what you wanted me to do with my life!”
Snow rushes through the hole that’s in the big toe of my right sneaker, but I keep stomping anyway. I stomp and stomp until my socks are soaked and I’m nearly out of breath.
I peer over at the statue of Vladimir Lenin, and then with all my might behind one last stomp, I shout, “No matter what I do, it’s never enough for you!”
The feeling in my toes and fingertips is long gone by now. I try to take a deep breath and blow warm air into the knit gloves I picked up in Moscow last week, but they’re not nearly thick enough for the harsh conditions here.
I look up at the sky again and defiantly say, “FINE, YOU DON’T WANNA TALK? THEN I’M DONE WITH YOU!”
It’s in this moment that I reach a state of hopelessness that I didn’t know existed. It hits me that my dreams are just far-fetched fantasies. The reality is this is just way too difficult and things aren’t working out how I thought it would. Not only has the woman that I want to share this experience with moved a million miles away, but my work isn’t that great either. Being brutally honest here, the photos I’ve been taking lately are about as amateur as they get. Even though I’m not doing this for anyone other than myself, it would be nice if more people watched the films I made and actually read the stories I write.
I guess deep down I thought that what I’m doing, or trying to do, would actually make a difference in the world, and quite frankly, it’s not even making a dent on my closest friends. Maybe I’m just delusional like the tone-deaf contestants that go on American Idol, the ones that think they’re the next global superstars, shocked when they don’t even make it the second round after the judges rip their audition to shreds.
Maybe I’m the William Hung of travel journalism and it’s just that no one has told me this yet.
I picture my friends laughing at me behind my back and it makes things even worse. I yell back up to God one last time, “I guess you want me to quit, huh?”
There’s that magic word again, quit. It carries so much weight behind it. When I say it aloud, something strange happens. I feel what it would be like if I did actually quit. My mind slows down for a second, it puts on my old work clothes, the slacks from Banana Republic, the button down shirt from J. Crew, the shoes from Kenneth Cole. Then, it sits in traffic on I-95 north. I go through my old routine. I even flirt with the cute baristas at Starbucks while I wait for a latte and that’s when it hits me. My old life could never get me to these depths.
Nothing about that life would have ever led me to demanding answers from God while stomping through snow and ice in Siberia. Which is precisely what D. H. Lawrence meant when he said – Life is beautiful, as long as it consumes you. When it is rushing through you, destroying you, life is gorgeous, glorious. It’s when you burn a slow fire and save fuel, that life’s not worth having.
YES! That’s its! I’ve never really understood what D. H. meant until this very second. I always wondered how life could be glorious when it’s destroying you. That seemed impossible and improbable, but even though I’m currently at the wrong end of the emotional totem pole, I finally get what he means. This is actually what living life to the fullest feels like. Life is in fact consuming me in every way possible and once I strip away all forms of judgment about whether it’s good or bad, it does in fact feel glorious.
Naturally, gratitude follows and as it settles over me a deep appreciation for all this mess courses through my veins. Instead of losing faith, almost miraculously, it strengthens within me.
All the pain is momentarily expelled. It’s in the middle of this surreal feeling that I let God know something very, very important.
I lift my forehead back up to the sky and through my shaking lips whisper, “I’m still here and I’m not going to quit.”
I say it over and over and over again. It starts as a whisper and ends with a roar. “I’m still here and I’m not going to quit. I’m still here and I’m not going to quit! I’m still here and I’m not going to quit!”
I must say it a hundred times until I start to actually convince myself of it, laughing manically at some points and on the verge of tears at others. The whole scene reminds me of when the Joker stands over a beaten down Batman and tells him that he is going to destroy Gotham City and there is nothing Batman can do about it. I’m doing that same kind of creepy evil laugh the Joker does, because I, too, can’t fully come to terms with reality.
And it’s in this moment that God finally responds.
When I hear his voice, I immediately know what needs to be done. I’m no longer cold or angry or lonely or lost.
God’s voice wasn’t the James Earl Jones voice I was expecting, nor did it move a mountain or rattle the earth. His voice was calm and still like my intuition, but it wasn’t my intuition. It came for a place much deeper than that. It was as though a door inside my body had been flung open and then my soul had walked through, and as it walked through it warmly brushed up against every inch of the doorframe.
God’s voice came from the most loving place I’ve ever traveled to. It parted the sea of fears and doubts that had flooded my chest and it rolled through that open space slowly like molasses, and as it inched its way through it coated every bone, nerve ending and muscle fiber in its path.
Although there’s no way to pinpoint where this place was, I can say with certainty that it was still, silent, and somewhere deep inside the recesses of my soul. And when I heard God’s voice for the first time, it almost made me laugh because I immediately recognized it. God’s voice was deep and baritone and it was actually my own voice, speaking from within my own self to myself. And from that silent unshakable space, God said, “I know exactly what you need, and believe me, this is it.”
I froze for a second, afraid to take a breath, I didn’t want to move thinking that if I let God know I could hear him that that would scare him off, but it was impossible to stop the smile that began to spread across my face. As the corners of my frozen lips turned up, I could feel God begin to retract back into my soul – but before he left completely he said two more words ever so faintly…