She didn’t mean that she was ready to be dunked into a tub and born again, or pass out Fear For Your Immortal Soul pamphlets at gay pride parades.
Historians believe that Jesus was 33 years old when he stormed into the Jewish temple and flipped the money-lender’s table over. He was boldly rebellious and unapologetic and he paid for it with his life.
Now, I’m not a Christian woman, necessarily, but I am hopefully superstitious. I understand that brushing my house with burning sage will probably only cause my clothes to smell like my old hippie librarian from elementary school. I also think, hopefully, it will rid my house of negative hobgoblins—like ex-boyfriends and the flu.
I own specific crystals for specific occasions like they’re shoes. I never go through a monthly period without lugging around a clump of moonstone in my purse—alongside a bottle of Pamprin. I’m hopeful that my inability to do a good headstand is a chakra problem, not a 15 pounds overweight problem. Superstition is a salve on the deep gashes of reality.
On my thirty-third birthday two years ago, I found myself sitting in a psychic’s waiting room filled with statues of Jesus, Buddha and the Seven Dwarves. I’d dragged my very skeptical friends along, convincing them that this woman had good word of mouth and a huge neon sign along the road that looked bona fide.
Having Snow White’s entourage in the waiting room gave me only a glimmer of doubt. She’s a psychic, not an accountant, I told my friends. Of course she’s a little eccentric.
The psychic proved to be exactly that. She opened a door to a small room the size of a closet. Burning incense—check. Tape of shrill sounding crystal bowls and keyboard music—check. Crystals—double check.
I prepared myself for some really good news. It had been a truly terrible year: one move, two boyfriends, depression, and I was quickly eating my way out of my fat jeans. I’d spent the last month drinking beer in the bathtub reading a book entitled, logically, Lonely.
I wanted this woman with badly dyed red hair and a Bea Arthur silk twin-set to tell me that I had paid my dues for 365 days. That was 32. That time is over.
You are not made to live here, she said. You must leave this town. Whatever it takes, you have to get out of here.
Not entirely an unexpected observation. After all, I was living in Memphis, TN, a town known for crime, Elvis, obesity and political corruption. I was never under the illusion that living there was a good idea—for anyone. You don’t really need to call upon the spirits for that one. Just watch Police Women of Memphis.
That being said, Memphis is also the place where I’ve felt the most powerful spiritual energy. Where I felt most challenged to find light in the darkness. It’s a place I have an unexplainable connection to and love for. So this wasn’t a topic I wanted to discuss.
I pressed her for more details but she was like a dog with a bone. She encouraged me to find employment in the D.C. Area, and to set my meditation intention on movement, migration, packing cardboard boxes, fleeing. This, she said, was very karmically important.
We had only minutes left, so I blurted out that it was my birthday. I’d expected her to know this, especially since I’d told her the exact date of said birthday when we first sat down. After this second reminder, she paused and took my hand in her hand.
Thirty-three, she said, is a spiritually turbulent age. Be very careful.
It was, whether by coincidence or fate, an accurate prediction. Thirty-three was filled with turbulence of all kinds: environmental, financial, sexual, geographic. No area of my life ran smoothly. Even my spiritual practice, which had long been my shelter from storms, felt overwhelming and exhausting. I began to doubt the concept of a compassionate universe, or that that any spiritual force existed at all. I put my Ganesh statue in the closet and felt guilty every time I got dressed.
Guilt was a feeling I got well accustomed to during that year, so it seemed appropriate that Jesus was crucified at that age. Was I paying for past sins? The answer was unequivocally yes—my constant hangovers were a result of too much beer in the bathtub. I searched for links.
What I found in my search for the 33 misery mystery was that there was some significance to the number.Jesus performed 33 recorded miracles. In yoga, Om is the visual symbol for the number three. In almost all of the major world religions, 33 represents a higher form of consciousness. Then there’s the holy statue in Uruguay, the Virgin of the Thirty-Three, which, thankfully, I was not.
One day I crept back into yoga class, feeling sheepish that I’d been away for so long. My yoga instructor kept me after class (even at 33 I’m afraid when a teacher asks me to do that) and told me she’d been worried about me. Where had I been? WTF?
I told her about my dramas and lack thereof, and about my 33 research. I told her that I hadn’t come up with much, but it seemed like everything led back to perfection and death.
My yoga teacher repeated these words a few times. Perfection. Death. Yes. Death. Yes. It makes sense.
Right, I said. Perfection isn’t possible. You can only be perfect when you’re dead. So stop trying for perfection and find self-acceptance.
No, she said. I mean, maybe. But I see it more as the things that fall away, the beliefs and ideas that die, when someone is striving for some kind of spiritual perfection. Some kind of universal harmony.
This might strike some people as absolute bullshit, but it was more than my hours of desperate internet research had given me. It made sense on a spiritual level, but even more so in the everyday realities of my life.
Part of what made that year so hard was my acceptance of the fact that so much of what I hoped and wished for was not going to happen.
That the career track I was on was a dead end. That the romantic relationships I was in were damaged beyond repair. That I was unhappy with the life I’d created, and was badly in need of some smart, balanced decision-making.
Spiritually, I was filled with doubt and angst. I’d believed having yoga on my side would insulate me from harm. That all I had to do was honor my practice. I hadn’t foreseen that a spiritual path would lead me into darker woods—would challenge me and make me run for the unexamined life and a Roku filled with American Idol. What I wanted most for my birthday was to have it all, irrefutably, figured out.
I’m sure the people who believed that Jesus was going to come back, post haste, had much the same feeling. The Bible chronicles their certainty of a speedy return. How they waited and waited, and when the Romans attack they were certain a messiah would save them. None did. We are still waiting for an appearance. Apparently, Fox News seems to believe they have the exact date. I suspect their waiting room is also filled with the Seven Dwarves, if not a talking mirror.
Of those who witnessed Jerusalem burning in 70 A.D., there were some who lost faith. Some who decided that they’d been hoodwinked by a magician with the old water-into-wine bait and switch. There were others, however, who took it as a reason to believe even more strongly. To understand that their expectations of a divine force’s schedule may be limited. To wrestle with doubt and confront it while it burns in front of you, yet remain hopeful.
I came out of that year as hopeful as I’d ever been, partly because I surrendered to not knowing. I loosened my grip on timelines for success and guidelines for perfection. They were ideas that needed to go but it was painful to experience. Like having tumors cut from your flesh one by one with no anesthetic. I burned but survived.
And then there’s 34. The adventure continues. Namaste.
Ed: Lynn Hasselberger
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