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Lesson # 19: Have updated maps, will travel

As I told you in my previous blogs, I moved a lot with my husband. So driving across the United States for days was not a big deal. I was used to it until I had to drive in a separate car and got lost. What had happened was, after getting through a toll booth and paying the fee, he drove so fast that I lost sight of his truck. I made a split-second decision and accidentally took the wrong exit and ended up going in the opposite direction. I didn’t know this until I started seeing signs that indicated I was driving away from where I needed to go. In my desperation, I got off the highway to turn around, but somehow ended up driving on a back road in the middle of nowhere at midnight! There was no such thing as a cellphone at that time so I couldn’t call my husband. The only companion I had was my beloved dog who was totally clueless. In shear panic, I drove faster to find a gas station so I could ask for directions. “Where are you trying to get to?” the clerk asked me. “New York City. I drove from College Park, Maryland.” He pointed out where I was on the map, then explained that I needed to look for highways that go East and North.

Within half an hour, I was reunited with my husband who had waited for me at the side of the road somewhere, ready to call the police to find me. I remember his asking me why I didn’t stop and turn around sooner. Or why I drove even faster in the wrong direction, why I forgot that New York was up north and east of Maryland. When a strong emotion such as fear engulf us, our brain can’t think straight. Period. But believe me, I learned to read maps from that point on! I learned to see the whole trip before we drove rather than simply plan to follow his truck.

That was what life felt like after he died. I felt as if I were venturing out on the journey of life through uncertainty and uncharted territory. I felt I had lost my bearing and couldn’t find my way back to the main road. The grief was unbearable, and the fear was so overwhelming, that making plans to get back on track seemed impossible and even pointless. The only thing I could focus on was finding my husband again (a.k.a my GPS) or anyone that could replace him. It didn’t occur to me that I could learn to read maps and use GPS myself and that I didn’t have to always rely on him.

That was also a moment of mindfulness, of being aware of what had been going on within me, then consciously making a choice, rather than living on autopilot—just following my husband’s truck without thinking. Autopilot only works if life presents with fair weather to the end. But when a major storm hits, and it will, we have to switch to manual drive. I remember how I reacted to that first major storm with intense fear which only produced frantic but futile effort to find safety. I was in survival mode then. I couldn’t possibly think about getting back on track.

But after the storm had a chance to cease for a bit and I could feel my feet on the pedal and my hands on the steering wheel again, I realized that I needed to pause and work on my strategies. Pausing was very important if I wanted to save my energy (not to mention sanity) and effectively find a way back to a meaningful life. It became apparent to me that it was not enough to just want to get out of the storm; I also needed to know in what direction I wanted to go once I found the main road again. I knew where my life was going when I married my husband. I could visualize our future clearly and it gave me blissful feelings. But that image seemed unattainable after I got turned around and became confused. Where should I go from here?

As I met more people, learned more lessons in and outside of the classroom, and gained more wisdom because of those events, it became clear to me that only I could direct the rest of my journey. It was my job to figure out what my future would be like. It was not about whether I could get to a destination, it was more about whether I was clear about where I wanted to go. And like many people, I was afraid of declaring what I wanted because that also meant I risked failing. I also questioned my own worthiness for getting what I wanted. Who am I to think I deserve to get what I want? After all, during my childhood all the way to college, I often didn’t get what I wanted because of lack of money, lack of support, lack of confidence, etc.

But without clarity, no one could possibly assist me in getting to where I wanted to be. Clarity had to be accompanied by courage to take action. Otherwise, it would not yield any results either. The right action could be taken if I set a clear intention of what I wanted to get out of it. Intention would become a reality if I believed I could do it. I had to cultivate a new habit of believing in myself, trusting I was as worthy as the next person to have a good, meaningful life even when I couldn’t see the end result right away. It was like being able to visualize what it would be like being in Manhattan while I drove on the highway that was supposed to get me there in eight hours, if I didn’t get lost.

I knew I wanted to continue my journey without him while still maintaining an alignment with our dreams—this became my intention. But I decided to stay in Peoria rather than moving to Princeton, NJ, as we had originally planned. I kept my intention to go back to school to continue studying psychology so I could help people find their way in their darkest hour. Doing so had always given me great joy and satisfaction. I have always been clear about this. Graduate school took a lot of courage to finish, but help was also easy to find as people understood what I wanted. I was clear about my intention to raise our daughter the way we had envisioned it—but it was a lot harder doing it alone. I wanted to continue dancing even if it was not my traditional dance, because dance had been such as a big part of who I was.

At the end of each day, I can say that I am clear about where I want to go. I know my reasons—the intentions behind the actions, why I do what I do. Fear of the unknown still exists to this day, but I take steps forward anyway, trusting that the next portion of my path will unfold in good time. I am learning to surrender to the present moment and believe that everything is possible with a lot of support from those who have paved the way and those who are kind enough to share their wisdom. Everything is always working out for me—it has been, still is, and always will be. Here’s the proof: I am still here, still breathing, still standing despite having had dealt with storm after storm that came my way. Perhaps because I remember to pack a good, updated map these days to guide each twist and turn I have to take. And I am not afraid to ask for directions when needed. Also, I believe that I am worthy of getting to the destination I want to arrive at. Yes, I sometimes get sideswiped by an event, but I still know where I want to go, I still believe I can get there. It may take a little longer than expected, but I am on my way…

What about you? Do you need your map updated? Do you believe that you will get to where you want to go even after a loss? Have you paused to regroup and plan your strategies? I hope you know you are worth it!

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