john odonohue

The Invitation

The first time I read this passage from John O'Donohue's incomparable essay "The Lantern Holds The Question" I cried. I stood there in the golden afternoon light of San Francisco -- the light my friend Sonja aptly calls Kerouac Light -- listening to pacific coast waves crash over huge, black rocks, and I cried.

If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here. And the ironic thing is that story is not a story, it is true. It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed.

Someone emailed these words to me just as Sonja and I exited our Uber at Sutro Baths. It was May 2014 and I was still in a daily fight to stay sober, to accept it, to want it. As we walked over to an overlook, ironically called Land's End, I checked my phone and these words came through. I must have read them seven times in a row. They've passed through my mind often -- almost daily -- since. And lately they're ringing loud. Not because life is so sparkly and magical with glee, but because it's just so...there. The bigness of it all: the shapes, colors, hues, edges are right up in my face, up close and personal. The part of the passage I love most is this:

The most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed.

Awaken to who you are can sound woo-woo esoteric, but it's not. Where you have landed can sound like a metaphor for "really bad news". And sometimes, it surely is. I thought waking up to my feelings in my marriage was a shit card, being overly-sensitive was a shit card, the turbulence of my family was a shit card, and being tagged with the big "A" - alcoholism, addiction, whatever label we'd like to use - was definitely the biggest shittiest card of all. I thought it X-ed me out of so much; that I'd never be myself again; that I'd forever be relegated to a "B" version of life nobody wanted. And I most definitely believed everyone who said they were "grateful for their sobriety" was delusional and clearly only trying to convince themselves; why else would they need to say it all the time?

I'm not here to say, Look! I was so wrong and EVERYTHING IS AMAZING. But I am here to say, Look, I was so wrong and everything is...different. Just so much different than I could have imagined or expected.

I'm here to say that maybe, just maybe, the thing you've been dealt? The thing you hate so much you could spit, and simply can't possibly ever accept? Maybe - probably - that thing is your big invitation. Maybe, just maybe, there's a supremely intelligent, compassionate organizing mechanism out there who knows better, and maybe if you're willing to accept the invitation, you'll be really fucking surprised. Like I am.

It's likely the journey will be hellish upheaval.Certainly there will be some heavy mud to wade through. If you're like me and most other humans, you'll fight and wail and burn to the ground more than once. And without a doubt, it will take far longer than you'd hope or expect to come through.

But.

But.

Consider this. Consider these words:

If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here.

Doesn't it seem like the person who wrote that might have born those words from experience? Like, real, true life walked-through-the-fire experience? I believe it does. Doesn't it feel like something you'd really like to know, deep in your bones, yourself? Maybe?

When I stood at Land's End last summer and read those words, 99% of me raged against reality, while 1% of me defiantly hummed the baseline chord of truth. That 1% was just enough to keep going, to begin to accept my own personal invitation, to begin to walk my way into the incredible story of being here.

If You Could Imagine The Most Incredible Story

The cycle of drinking slowly wore down my dreams. Small, daily life tasks were near impossible toward the end, let alone reaching for the big bold dreams that come from the gut. A large part of me was flattened into a two-dimensional world of drinking and everything else, but there was still a thrum of a heartbeat that couldn’t stop beating the rhythm of my sacred heart. This is the same part of me that needs to write, that strives for higher love-making, that longs for light I can name but do not know. It’s the mama part of my heart. The part that falls into synchronicity when I hear beautiful music and swoons at the vastness of the sea. Drinking always felt like a fast track to that part of my heart, but it never quite took me all the way home.

I took this picture during my last trip to San Francisco. A trip where I was still very heavily reconciling these two sides of me. The part that could not imagine staying sober, and the part that knew there was no way to honor the sacred part of my heart if I didn’t.

The largeness of the ocean has always been redemption. I stood looking out over this particular coast thinking I can not possibly do this.

And yet, I was. Right that moment I was sober. Right then I was impossibly in the middle of my own, sacred heart.

Every day I spend sober, I begin to (only very slightly) believe in the possibility of the big, bold dreams. Things I realize I’d all but given up on. Things I convinced myself I didn’t want and could live without. But it’s not true; it’s just not true. I do want the big bold dream. I can live without my sacred heart but I’d rather die.

This is a piece of a passage my friend Holly shared with me by John O’Donahue.

If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here. And the ironic thing is that story is not a story, it is true. It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed. Plato said in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown. Yet we are afraid of the unknown because it lies outside our vision and our control. We avoid it or quell it by filtering it through our protective barriers of domestication and control. The normal way never leads home.

That’s what I’m starting to not only to imagine but actually live. Crazy impossible. Crazy possible.