Back in the thick of November, in the cold mountains of Echizen, I was dealing with emotional baggage (I know I’ve mentioned the amount of baggage I loaded in my suitcase along with my clothes many times, before.) that I finally started to mull over thanks to a good friend.
I had a moment of spazzing and I reached out to a good friend who wrote me the most candid and honest email I’ve ever received about one of my emotional situations. To say that I was shocked is an understatement. While I definitely believe I needed to hear her words, I was hurt. And so I cried. And I cried. And I talked to another good friend about the email and then something happened; a change inside of me took place.
I went back to the home I was staying in and prepared dinner. As I thought about my reaction and feelings to both of my friend’s words, I listened to the Disney Pocahontas soundtrack and felt a sense of calm that I had yet to feel before. The songs, “Just Around the Riverbend,” “Steady as the Beating Drum,” and “Listen to your Heart Parts 1 and 2” were the ones that really got to the heart of the matter, but even still the entire soundtrack helped quell my erratic beating heart and brain.
I then wrote back to my friend an email that was direct and sounded like the Sara that has been missing for the past few months. The reason I could write this email was because I decided to go back to “believing” in the root of Sara. To find in my heartbreak and my emotional waves the belief that things will be well and are well and will continue to be well as long as I move in a forward motion and keep believing.
Now, many don’t understand this. Hell, I didn’t understand this. When I left for Istanbul, Turkey, on the afternoon of October 1st, I left with tears in my eyes and a feeling in my gut that said everything is wrong, and all that you thought you knew is over. And yet, I knew I had to get on that plane. I knew it had to happen and so I went. And I met a guy named Mami who called me his American girlfriend and who walked me to the train every night and kissed my hand. He was cute and made me smile and laugh and feel pretty; he restored my faith in mankind even though he wasn’t the man I wanted.
Those first few weeks were the hardest. I was at my lowest point. I needed as much love the Universe was willing to throw my way. And the Universe did throw it my way. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel love in myself, nor from the amazing network of friends and family cheering for me on the sidelines, but that love wasn’t what I needed. I needed to feel love, I needed to be taken care of, I needed to wallow and feel everything I was feeling and cry and wake up sobbing and then know that someone, I didn’t know could still make me smile and feel warm inside. It was brutal and yet some of the best tonic.
I am a highly independent person. Always have been. Maybe it’s from the teasing, the racism, being the fat girl in school, etc, but in all of that, I was the Student Council President, I played Field Hockey, I made friends, I learned my value, I learned to love my crazy curly hair and the fact that I’ve always been a bit more than I should in weight, and I’ve always followed my dreams. I knew when I walked onto the campus of The George Washington University that fateful summer day in 1997 that it was where I was going to go (and it was, I graduated in 2o02). I knew I didn’t want to leave my first job, so I accepted their counter offer, but then left a year later. I knew when I moved to NYC and saw my apartment in Astoria that it was the apartment for me. I also felt in my soul that I was supposed to know my one roommate, Dan. I felt the same way when I moved into my apartment in Manhattan after Dan and I moved out of the Astoria apartment. Or one of my favorites, when I dreamt about my business and then had a few signs along the way pointing me to that path. My point is that I’ve always just known in my gut when things work and when they don’t work. I have some examples of when my gut has told me to stay, far, far away. What is more, I have examples of where my gut said, “stay far away” and I went ahead and didn’t listen. Needless to say, I’ve learned from each situation.
On my journey I had no expectations for self-discovery. Okay, wait, that’s a lie. I knew I was going to find out something about myself, but I didn’t expect it would be my inner core. I never once realized in my slow downward spiral last year that I had lost the core of Sara in the mix and that Japan would be the ticket to finding her and rebuilding. I knew that Japan would bring a world of change, I just didn’t know the extent. I also had no idea that I’d be in the position I found myself.
So back to why Japan inspired such findings. Well, what I realized that night as I cooked and sang along to “Listen to Your Heart” was that I had stopped listening to my heart and instead started listening to friends. Don’t get me wrong here, listening to friends was helpful and several friends, I’m not sure I could have done without during that time, but listening to them and asking them for their opinions only weakened my own decisions. I did do things my way, and I did keep things from certain friends because I didn’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts and because at those moments, I knew I was firmly acting with intention and I stood behind them. Well, there was one moment where I still question my action, but whatever, it happened. When I’m sitting in a rocking chair at 80, my best friends and I will laugh about that crazy moment, I’m sure.
See, the night before my Pocahontas listening party, I walked to the house in the rain, crying, and climbed the steps of the Shrine for the Paper Goddess and prayed while sobbing for help, guidance, and peace. I asked her to help me because I was so lost and because I believed that she had brought me to Echizen (I didn’t know Echizen had a Paper Goddess until I arrived–so much for research ahead of time!) and she could help me out of this mess. I thanked her for bringing me to where I was and for all the advances I had made in learning Japanese Washi, but that I needed more of her help. I needed her to help me break through this. I prayed for my father’s spirit watching over me to also help me. I asked for so much help in the cold, dark, rainy night.
What the Goddess gave me, I believe, was hope. That next night, cutting vegetables and signing songs, I realized that I not only had lost who I was, I had lost my inner system of belief. The reason I felt so lost was because I had in fact stop believing. I have asked other people to believe in me and in magic and yet, I was not believing myself. When you have no belief, you have nothing. In that moment, or rather the span of an hour, I felt in my core that it was time to believe again, to figure out what I want in life, what I wanted to feel, understand why I was feeling what I was feeling, and then believe. The next morning, I woke up feeling lighter than I had felt in a long time.
It does help that when visiting Japan, you end up visiting tons of Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines making it easy to pray and practice believing, but as I went from Shrine and Temple to Shrine and Temple, I started to believe. However, it wasn’t just the Temples and Shrines, no, it was the signs along the way. I’ll post more about signs at a later date because the signs were aplenty and there every step of the way, and always appeared when I began to doubt my belief, but again more on that later.
That one decision. That one action to believe changed the course of my path. Or rather, made the path a bit more clear. I’m not sure how the path will continue and if what all I want will be what I get, but I know that I have to keep believing. If I stop believing, then I stop being because so much of my life has been on belief. Belief in my instincts, my often irrational passions, and more importantly, belief that in all of my craziness, I am living and breathing and changing the world.
This all reminded me of a guy I vaguely know through my cousin. He’s a good friend of hers and comes from a past full of darkness. You can tell of his struggles and inner pain because he carries them on his body and face. He’s a nice guy, but if you saw him on the street, you might think differently; you might almost consider crossing the street to avoid him. On my last night in Brooklyn before leaving for my trip, he was at my cousin’s apartment. As we parted ways, I turned to him and said, “I believe in you. You are loved, don’t doubt it, just know that no matter what, you are loved and people believe in you.” I went on to tell him that I had just gotten in from a farewell party where friends from different parts in my life appeared, including one that came in all the way from Chicago (that’s far!) to send me off. Needless to say, I was (and am) surrounded by love and support and I know how easy it is to believe when you’re surrounded by that, when you know that you are limitless because you have those two things. Some people may never have many people that support and love them, but just knowing that they have one person can be, and sometimes is, enough.
I bring all of this up again today because I’ve felt two things about my experiences and my beliefs: 1. that I shouldn’t share them for fear that nobody will understand, or because they will attempt to tell me that my beliefs are in my head; and 2. because thanks to the internet there is so much floating around already of other people’s experiences that they become these random quotes and beliefs that people take for true meaning rather than just a personal experience.
As you can see, I am sharing bits of this story and my beliefs with the world at large, but that’s because I’ve decided to stop actively caring about whether someone believes me or doesn’t believe me. As I explained to a friend the other day, I know what I know, or rather what I chose to believe in and that’s really all that matters. It does help that I’ve had a few people also tell me that they believe in my belief as well, which is always nice to hear, and definitely stopped me from asking myself, “are you freaking crazy?” (which the answer is yes) on several occasions, but as I learned that night of vegetables and Pocahontas, to stop believing is to discredit and question myself.
Now please let me explain one more thing there. My belief is simply that all will be well. Or in that famous quote by Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” By the way, I purchased a card from an Etsy seller many months ago, just before the end of my internship, and the seller sent me a handful of freebies with my order that included a card with that quote.
Not really thinking about the card, I packed it as a bookmark in one of the books I took with me on my trip. And in moments where I found myself thinking too much, questioning my belief (before the signs started appearing), I grabbed this postcard and repeated the quote. At the end of the day, belief allows us to believe exactly what this quote says, “All shall be well…” which oddly enough is what a good friend said to me in an email about my situation. She wrote, “Sara, things will work out for all of us.”
It is so easy in our current socially “connected” world to listen to others, to push down our own instinct so far that we lose touch with what matters and what is important, and to stop believing, or rather to believe in the things that don’t really matter, that don’t help us in any way shape or form. I gave into this back in August and even before then, but it wasn’t until November that a provoking email from a friend and the cold mountains and running brooks of water in Echizen provided me with the blanket of solace and the strength I needed to really tackle the real loss of it all, myself.
I’m not here to tell you to stop being socially connected, to stop asking for advice from friends and family, or to start praying and believing. We all reach certain conclusions as we face issues and challenges and they bring us not just to our knees, but to what we need. I am telling you that you need to start taking yourself more seriously. You know more about yourself than anyone else. You know exactly what you need and want better than any marketing researcher, or advertiser. You know what your soul and heart are telling you, you just have to listen.
You are more than what you project to the world. What you project to the world should be what you are deep down inside. Your actions, thoughts, and feelings should be a result of what’s truly inside of you. Some will disagree with me on this and say they should be more controlled, but as a recovering control addict, I don’t believe you should push down anything for the sake of others. I believe you should always be you and stand by you. I always stand by everything I do and put out here (and there) whether it is agreed or not.
One of the hardest jobs we have in this world now is listening to ourselves and our beliefs and our heart. We often times become cynical and close our hearts because of past experiences, but that’s not going to fix anything. It took me getting away from everything I know and love to finding it, to regaining my heart and my beliefs and now, I’m not going to give them up for anything, nor am I going to allow anyone to tell me that this was all in my head. It isn’t and it never was. This belief is as logical anything that seems just as real to another person. More importantly, this belief in my heart is my North star guiding me forward.
Or as I told my good friend last night, believing is having faith in an unknown. It’s a risk. One that many are afraid to take. But you know what? I took a huge risk in going to Japan to study papermaking and it seems to have paid off in more ways than I knew. I owe it to myself to keep taking risks and to keep believing things will work out and be well regardless of the outcome.
Thanks Grandmother Willow, Paper Goddess, Universe, and a few other spirits who have been along this journey. I believe.