“Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.” ~ Richard Rohr
Sometime last year, or maybe the year before that, I was floating in the ocean.
I watched the clouds, the sun, and the birds, while tears ran unobstructed down my face—salty tears mixed with salty sea. My tiny existence, my personal sorrow, was merging into the endless blue.
At that moment, I was grieving for my sister, Erin, whose frail body was fighting for life; the murderous weeds of cancer were flooding her, choking out her vitality, pulling her farther and farther from the safe shores of our expected existence.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She wasn’t supposed to have to go through this. I wasn’t supposed to be mourning this future.
Not now. Not yet.
Because there was something else, too. I am chagrined to admit it, but in that moment I was also feeling sorry for myself. It was too much change and too much responsibility for me.
I had just left my stable life in Seattle—my home, my community, the fruits of my work and vision established over a decade and a half. I had just settled in Mexico, just rented a café, just started getting used to the new reality of my quiet, easy life, of starting on a new adventure with my husband, of creating a new space to build a spiritual community and share wholesome food. I had just had the café painted with the words of Neem Karoli Baba, expressed boldly across the walls: Love everyone. Feed them.
I was ready to settle here—ready to swim and float and practice and read and write and slow down. I was ready for my family to come visit me, to show them this life I had built, this ocean that feeds me, the neighbors and the sun and the avocado and mango and banana trees that nourish me to my very soul.
I was ready to become something new.
But now this.
Now my sister was gravely ill and my focus had shifted. I wanted to be there with her, and I wanted to be exactly where I was, floating in the ocean. I wanted to care for her son—my beloved soul son—and I wanted to stay where I was, run the café, and live my quiet life. I wanted to be present and helpful and skillful and supportive, and I wanted to pretend none of this was actually happening.
I wanted to just float. I wanted to grow into some new role, but it wasn’t the one that was presenting itself to me.
But on that one day, lying there in the ocean, being lifted and swayed by the soft surf, tears flowing, warm sun on my body, cool water beneath, I had a thought that changed my life:
“This is not an interruption of your life. This is your life.”
The message was so clear, so vivid, so simple, that I was instantly pulled out of my reverie of melancholy. I turned over in the water and began to swim toward the shore, feeling that unlikely mixture of excitement and deep ease that one might feel on a long-distance swim, or in a sturdy sailboat when the wind has suddenly picked up.
This is not an interruption of my life. This is my life.
The simplicity of this statement belies the complexity and the determination required to truly live it. And yet, I have found—since being offered this gift from the surf—that my life, or my experience of my life, has become infinitely less complicated, and infinitely less anxious.
I recall the first time I watched the Ram Dass documentary “Fierce Grace,” and saw him talking to a young woman who had recently lost her boyfriend to revolutionary violence. “You had a plan?” he asked her with deep kindness. “That was your first mistake.”
I remember seeing his face, so full of love and clarity, gently cajoling her, and feeling a mixture of peace and unease. The peace came from letting go and relaxing into life’s unfolding; the unease came from that same letting go, but with a sense of tension and fear—how could I relax into the unknowing? In that moment, in the sea, I understood.
In fact, I realized that all of life is one long unknowing.
In that precious space of revelation, I took comfort in the words of French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “It doesn’t matter if the water is warm or cold if you are going to have to wade through it anyway.”
These same feelings moved through me again recently as I spent seven beautiful days with almost my entire family—27 out of 28 of us—gathered in the mountains of Colorado to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday, and coincidentally, Erin’s remission and relative good health.
While I am happy to report that the week was mostly drama-free, I was not surprised to hear some of the old complaints, the old stories, the old laments of how “difficult” our family is, how “crazy” we are. How this brother or that sister, or this niece or that nephew, or mom and dad, were acting out, making waves, changing the even flow of goodness toward their own particular wound, creating riptides of disconnection.
The ocean’s whisper came to me again, bubbling way up from sea level to the majestic 9,000-foot peaks of Colorado. The vastness was the same; the opportunity for expansive thinking was just as powerful.
Sitting at my makeshift altar, closing my eyes, and floating away on the spaciousness of my mantra, I heard the reminder. This is my life, curated just for me. This big, complex family is my opportunity for learning. It’s a gift, a study in multidimensionality, forgiveness, renewal, letting go.
What if it wasn’t supposed to be some other way? What if this—exactly this—is what I was meant to move through? What if this was the nourishment, the challenge, the coaxing into my best self? What if right here was my opportunity to love everyone? To feed them?
What if, as Ram Dass might say, “Ahh, this is what I have to work with?”
And what if this repetition of stories, this conflating of “family drama” with actual “lived trauma,” these hushed tones of disapproval, of annoyance, of judgment, were all pulling me away from presence, away from the opportunity to grow in love?
What if all these stings of accusation and criticism were like the barbs of jellyfish, distracting and contracting me out of the flow?
What if, instead of floating in the unknowing, we were all floundering, drowning in the murky waters of belief, namely the belief that things should be other than they are?
This is not a call to inaction or to turning away from things that hurt; it is a radical call to action—the action of being present with what is actually happening, to opening our minds and hearts to the deep complexity of being human, to practicing deep compassion for where each of us comes from, what forces have shaped us, and how we ended up in this moment. From that place, we can start from what is good, what is true, what is happening right now—rather than what we think is happening or should be happening—and move forward from there, with clarity and purpose.
This family, this life, this marriage, this body, these challenges, these choices, these moments—this is my work.
Nothing is wrong, except my plan, my belief that things should be different than they are, that they should look or unfold in a certain way.
What if none of this is actually “getting in my way,” but instead, is “the way”?
This paradigm shift may allow us to, as Richard Rohr says, move away from “thinking ourselves into new ways of living,” and instead, “live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” We can approach our life differently based on how we live it, rather than how we think about it.
In my recent experiences, this has been nothing short of miraculous.
Yesterday, I was gifted a psychic reading from a beloved friend and former student. At one point she asked me, “What else would you like to look at?” As someone who had once been her boss, her teacher, her spiritual guide of sorts, I felt almost sheepish responding, “I want to know what I am going to be when I grow up.”
But she smiled lovingly and sat with her eyes closed, looking at some dimension I could not see. “It’s so beautiful Molly. I feel like I am going to cry.” I sat, eyes closed, palms and heart open. “You are not really going to be anything. You are just going to be you. You are infinitely spacious and expansive and you will just go where life sends you, deepening your connection to God and your own spiritual life.”
She paused. “I know that may be hard for you to hear. Please take a moment to let that sit, and let your ego feel whatever bruises it may.”
We sat together in silence, the smell of sweet grass grounding us, the feeling of a light sheet covering a naked body on a hot summer night. I waited for the bruises. I waited for the story, the feeling that this was all wrong, the mourning of the plan that would never come to be. But I felt only release.
I felt only like I was floating in the ocean, watching the clouds and the sun and the birds, and letting tears run unobstructed down my face. My salty tears mixed with salty sea; my tiny existence, my personal sorrow merging into the endless blue.
I felt only—finally—at peace.
Author: Molly Lannon Kenny
Image: Ryan Moreno/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Taia Butler