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I’ve had my share of difficulties and hard times in life.
I developed an eating disorder by age 10.
By 13, I was using binging, starving, exercising, excelling in school, and holding down a part-time job to keep myself as numb and removed from it all as possible.
Leaving home for college was the first of what became a series of geographical escapes. I was trying to outrun “it.” My emotional turmoil, my inner voice, my hurt, my confusion?
Shortly after graduation, I fled to the other side of the globe to Australia. Unbeknownst to me, I brought “it” with.
I lucked into a job with the America’s Cup (international sailing yacht competition) in Western Australia, followed by office work for a realtor. It had been more than a year since I arrived in Australia and it was getting more difficult to keep my visitor’s visa renewed. A job on a yacht, sailing across the Indian Ocean to Africa and partway up the Red Sea presented, and I grabbed it.
Thankfully, upon setting sail, I was graced with a reprieve from disordered eating. There wasn’t much I had control over. I was in the middle of a vast ocean, on a small yacht with three other humans, and no land in sight for 30 days at a time. Oddly, the powerlessness I felt wasn’t scary.
A full surrender to the present moment had seized me.
I fell back into the arms of life.
I had never felt such a strong spiritual connection to everything and everyone.
I felt free.
Though I loved my experiences on the yacht, after about six months, I was itching to to explore foreign lands I had never seen.
I left my job cooking on the yacht in Yemen, which I would never have done had I known anything about where I was in the world.
I met an angel in the form of a travel agent from Ethiopia working in Yemen. He got me on a flight for $59, across the Red Sea, to his family in Ethiopia.
l traveled overland throughout Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, Israel, Greece, Italy, and seven other countries in Europe, eventually arriving in England.
I had decided, arbitrarily, that I could be gone from the United States for two years max (it started as 1). It would then be time to get down to the serious business of a real life and a career.
In I flew from London to Albuquerque, where my (finally divorced) parents were, having just surpassed the two years away mark.
It wasn’t long before I began using disordered eating again to cope with the emotions that were trying to surface. As I interacted with my family, old internal demons were awakened, triggered, and multiplied. Thankfully, I was guided by my inner compass to check into a three-month inpatient eating disorder rehab.
Here in my mid-20s, I experienced the kick-off to my real awareness and conscious employment of what I now know as Maitri—a way of life and a choice. One that is as close as right inside of our own selves and as natural as breathing.
Fast-forward to now. I am 60 and in the process of reinventing myself again. I’m creating a new business, which is different from any of my previous career incarnations. I’m here for it. Living and working differently are part of the plan.
As I look back on my various career paths, work opportunities, and lifestyle choices, I see an upward trend in terms of my growth, awakening, and the overall refinement of my life experience. I see that I’m progressing in a positive direction. Each incarnation has brought with it a more evolved version of me.
Along the way I have delved into more of my naturally inspired interests, experienced richer relationships, and studied and practiced elevated mental and physical health. I’ve had higher levels of fulfillment, more inner awareness, a broader scope of compassion, and a freer ability to love.
Overall, I continue to like my life more and more. Nothing against the past, just no desire to go back.
Why do I like life more? The answer can be described by the Buddhist term, Maitri. Maitri is loving kindness, unconditional friendliness, mental equanimity, and judgement-free acceptance, with regard to oneself and others.
We live in a duality based world of good/bad, right/wrong, better/ worse. Maitri does not operate this way. Maitri leads us to turn within, making friends with ourselves, rather than looking outside of ourselves to feel good about who we are. It produces a feeling of being peacefully at home in our own mind and body.
I wasn’t familiar with the term Maitri until recently, and I have by no means mastered it. Unknowingly though, I have sought it, studied it, practiced it, and witnessed it growing for the greater part of my life.
It is a choice to practice Maitri, which gives me a sense of agency in my life. A choice that surely beats victimhood, self-denigration, and hopelessness, among other negative patterns I’ve dallied with.
Some of my spiritual teachers use another term, “the loving,” as a way to describe the essence of how I perceive Maitri. “The loving” is the embodiment of active love. Loving is a compassionate, healing energy.
Buddhists teach that the spark of Maitri resides within us all; it connects us all. Everything everywhere benefits from the practice.
I imagine we were microchipped with Maitri when we are created. As our awareness of it grows, we can’t help but notice that it feels good, which in turn encourages us to practice it more. We literally radiate Maitri as an energy that positively affects our inner and outer worlds, hence being of benefit of all.
Besides the feel-good effects produced by Maitri, hardships in life are another driving force behind people seeking it, finding it, and practicing it. So hey, there’s a reason to be grateful for the struggles.
No wonder I like my life more and more.
Fortunately over the years since, I have been filling in the (mostly) upwardly mobile grid representing the enhancement of my quality of life. Many relapses and set backs have served to draw me back into Maitri again and again and again.
Although a lot of wounds and behaviors have been healed, I plan to continuously course correct throughout life, coming home over and over to compassionate loving Maitri, toward myself and others, as much as I possibly can.