PREFACE: BURNING DOWN MY HOUSE (excerpt from What Are You Waiting For? Learn How to Rise to the Occasion of Your Life)
The time has come to turn your heart into a temple of fire. —Rumi
Yesterday, I watched as the last of the metal scraps that once were my house were towed away. As the flatbed flexed to bear the load, I caught a final glimpse before it disappeared from view. Pieces of my home, bits of my life, memories turned into heaps of metal tumbled together, then vanished down the road on their journey to the recycling plant.
Three months into the year I declared “the year of letting go of attachments,” my home and those of twenty others burned to the ground in a raging wildfire that turned lives upside down and killed three people. Had I known what would happen, I would never have uttered that declaration, yet most of us aren’t given the gift of hindsight. What seemed like a promise to release my need to be more, do more, and have more turned into the biggest lesson in letting go that I’d ever had. Faced with tragedy, it’s easy to ask “why?” During these times, it seems life does not make sense; it is not predictable, nor is it fair. We are confronted with the realization that anything can happen at any minute, that there are no guarantees. And then comes the choice: hang out in the angst of uncertainty, or simply accept life on life’s terms.
Around the time of my declaration of letting go of attachments, I had said yes to the offer to write this book. After I’d dedicated my life to the theme of waiting while writing my first book, the topic had grown stale. I wasn’t even sure what it meant any longer. Often, I pondered: What did it really mean to wait? What is the difference between waiting, patience, and procrastination? Was there any real hope that we might ever stop waiting? Were there appropriate times to wait instead of jumping? How could we possibly tell the difference?
We all have heard of deathbed regrets. We know we are supposed to seize the day. We see others selling out on their dreams—and we swear we wouldn’t do that, yet deep down inside, we know we do. We wonder just how many second chances we need to be given. Just how many wake-up calls will it take for us to learn?
Like you, I have had my own share of wake-up calls during my short time around this rock. I recovered from severe addic- tions as a young adult; survived melanoma (thankfully we caught it early); lost pregnancies and people who were dear to me. And, each time something happens, I reevaluate life and believe that I gain a new perspective. Then, slowly, I slip quietly back into the status quo.
In other words, I fall asleep at the wheel.
This is the tragic fate of the human condition. We have what might be called “spiritual narcolepsy.” We forget who we are, what we are capable of, and what it is like to feel deeply, intensely, and joyously alive. We forget what it means to be free.
Here’s the truth: Even before my house burned down, I wasn’t free. I was waiting. If you had asked me, “For what?” I might not have known the answer. Yet there was a cloud of angst just beneath the surface, rearing its head from time to time to remind me of its presence. Even after a journey of personal growth spanning more than two decades, I longed to feel settled; I lacked the peace and sense of freedom I craved.
Seeing how I still waited rubbed me raw when I looked at it. One might think that, with a master’s degree in counseling, a multitude of transformational programs, hundreds of self- help books, years of work with fabulous mentors and coaches, I would be at peace. Yet my drive for perfection wormed its way into my quest for growth, shrouded in the cloak of personal development. I deceived myself into believing that, with enough study and practice, I would be “fixed.” I would arrive. I would attain the elusive state of perfection. I would find meaning, perhaps even the meaning of life! And then (and only then) would I be free.
But the more I searched for the “answer,” the more I missed the point.
Had my house not burned to the ground, this would have been a very different book. I might have played it safe. I might have hoped to give you the “Five Simple Steps To Never Wait Again!” But guess what. There are no “Five Simple Steps.” They don’t exist. There is no “quick fix.” So, instead of my watered-down words on waiting, while I continued to wait my life away, you are getting a fresh take, a heightened sense of urgency, and an increased compassion for our human struggles.
In the transitory period after I lost my home and all my possessions, grief became my teacher. While struggling to live a still-vibrant life, I developed a whole new respect for both jumping into action and what it means to wait. I learned the true difference between waiting as a way of avoidance and malcontent and the type of patient, allowing waiting required for going through a grieving process. As I peered deeply into my old behaviors, I began to relax my grip on the idea that life would go the way I thought it should.
Where once I had celebrated my intense push to succeed, that now felt as barren as the smoldering remains of my home. Instead of my driven-ness, what began to emerge as the smoke cleared and the ashes settled was a new-found freedom to simply be.
And yet if, once and for all, I could tell you the secret to waiting—the mysterious reason for why we wait and how to stop—I just might be tempted. For so long, I wished for a magic wand to wave and make this whole crazy world make sense. Now, I don’t believe that wand exists. Instead of a wand, I will offer words and tales for us to discover together the very things that keep us stuck in life, and keep us waiting to feel free.
I will walk with you, to shine a light, illuminating the nooks and crannies of life where waiting hides out. We will dive in and explore lost dreams and forgotten goals. We will discover our deep-seated reasons behind the waiting. We will turn away from quick fixes that soothe us temporarily but leave us wanting more. We will tell the truth about all the ways we wait in life and come to terms with the impact waiting has had in the past, how it robs us even now, and how it will continue to rob us in the future if we don’t alter our path.
The truth is, you will wait again. We won’t pretend this isn’t so. We won’t slap on a bandage and take empty actions that stem from our attempts to deny this fact. Life doesn’t come wrapped in a neat little package—yet so many of us seek just that. And, when it doesn’t turn out that way, we are back where we started, wondering how we got here again.
While writing this book I lived in friends’ basements, in hotel rooms, for a short while in a 1967 Airstream trailer on our burned-out land, then finally in a new home in a different setting. As I wandered, I wondered. As I wondered, I wrote.
In these pages, I am sounding the fire alarm. I am calling out the troops. I am shouting from the rooftops: “It’s time to wake up!” And I am whispering in the dark. I am calling you gently. I am encouraging you to inquire into what begs for your attention. As you read my words, I hope to assure you that I understand the struggle, while reminding you of what you are here for.
This journey is not for the faint of heart. Peering into the depths of our souls to see the truth is for the brave. Continuing to catch ourselves when we wait again with compassion and a gentle spirit is the way of the lion-hearted.