My Time in the Desert

I was at a retreat in Joshua Tree, and it was my turn to have my tarot read. This was something I had never done before, but in that place, surrounded by endless sand and strange trees, it felt right. I made my way to the reading room adorned with flickering candles and purple crystals. Mary, our tattooed tarot reader, dealt my cards and began.

“You'll leave your day job this year,” she said confidently. "It will allow you to focus on growing your business and…” She looked up from the cards spread across the table and met my eyes. “Then you'll have time to feel the heavy, hard emotions you've been hiding from.”

I felt something catch in my throat. I hadn't told her anything. She didn't know any of it, and yet she still saw it in me. The grief still lurking behind my eyes and in the very pit of my stomach. It's my sister, you see. Five years ago I lost my little sister.

What Mary meant, or the meaning I projected onto her words, was this: in the years since Al died, I have spent a great deal of time burying myself behind piles of work, using my new business as an excuse to sit behind my iMac for far too many hours a day and not engage with the world in any meaningful way.

People sometimes compliment me for it. “You are so productive,” they say. “I don't know how you do it.” And I just shake my head. Because my productivity isn't something to commend. It is fear that makes me overwork myself. Fear of despair. I don't want to feel that missingness that waits patiently for a lull in my day when it can jump in and permeate. Because that's exactly what it does. It waits for a moment of pause, and then it pounces.

One year after she died I took a yoga teacher training course. As part of our curriculum we were encouraged to meditate for 10 minutes every morning. I tried. I really did. But I’d sit there next to the trickling fountain surrounded by birds of paradise, and I'd start leaking from my eyes. It was almost unbearable to sit in stillness like that. It let all the hurt in. So I stopped. And instead of meditating, I'd run—fast and far with loud, chatty podcasts in my ears. And I'd do projects and pick up extra hours at work. I'd do anything to avoid sitting still. But it's been four years of running now, and I am tired. To my very bones I'm tired. I think it's time to slow down.