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Chapter 2 - Axons and Dendrites

For the span of my father’s career, he worked as a well-respected psychiatrist in Madison, Wisconsin. He didn’t believe much in the mysterious, awesome, inexplicable world that I now live in, the one in which the wind speaks in riddles and angels appear on your doorstep just when you need them most.     

I believe Dad chose to see life experiences more in a chemical nature - symptoms of the activity of axons and dendrites of the brain. It worked for him, but for me not so much.  

I’m a feeler. I experience the world through sensation, through subtle shiftings of energies, through the wild callings of my heart.

I never told Dad much about my wild callings. Once, later in his life, when I happened to mention this notion of magic to him, he seemed to not hear me.

“How is your mood?” he’d ask me in his slow, aging voice. Was I manic? Depressed? Anxious?  These were the things that seemed to matter. These were the gauges of my well-being.

I wonder (and hope) now that he’s out of his tired body that he’s getting to experience the wonder and magic and freedom that I have had a taste of - the ecstasy of connection, the freedom of disconnection, the feeling of divine love in motion. There’s more to this world than the physical. I hope he now experiences that too. 

In my teen years my father sort of disappeared. He was diagnosed in his mid-forties with Parkinson's disease and because of this, he chose to retire from his career early. He slowly, gently moved out of my center focus. He didn’t talk much about what he was going through. It seemed instead he just slipped deeper into his stoic silence. But I was a kid, dating boys, preparing for college. His slow disappearance didn’t affect me much on a conscious level as I was moving on and living my life. I suspect he wanted it this way.

In early December of 2023, just two months ago, the hospice team reached out to me. They were seeing changes in my dad. His decline had become more rapid. He was eating less, sleeping more.

Around this time something shifted in me. I had planned a huge, gallant writing project. I was going to team up with my amazing friend, a visual artist and we were going to create a potent book. But a week into this project I froze. I sunk into a depression. Anger, panic, and a sense of mistrust seized me. I blamed my friend, my therapist, and anyone and everyone who wasn’t meeting my ideals of perfection in the moment, but secretly I knew it wasn't them at all. It was me. I was paralyzed, scared, unsure of my boundaries.

The truth is I had spent so much time post-divorce trying to prove that I was worthy of bigness. I built my social media platform, plotted out a heart-centered business, and designed spiritually robust marketing plans. But they never went anywhere. In my quest for BIG, I was oftentimes oblivious to my own tired, wounded body that actually begged to be small. 

So I took a month off from ambition. From January 1st through February 1st of this year, I resigned to simply be. Following the Taoist path of Wu Wei. I decided to “let the mud settle”. No trying, no proving, just quiet observation of what brings me joy.  

In these observations I discovered what brings me the greatest of joys - connecting with people, talking with them about life’s big questions. Here are my notes from last month -

This Magical Life - A Book

This will be a story about finding ourselves and our purpose in the world.

It's about being with people in a raw authentic way talking about the big questions in life, puzzling over it together.

This book will be my adventure going into the depths of my heart with others.

I then wrote:

I love seeing humans in their raw authentic beauty. It is like a sunrise. It is a walk in the woods. It is meditation.

This will be a story about my personal search for the mythic Grail, the collective grail…the meaning of life…the nature of the divine….one's true purpose in living.

I believe the grail is in each of us. It is in our DNA. 

I'm going on a quest to find it within. 

Three weeks into my sabbatical of “doing-not-doing” I got the call. My dad had passed away.  

On February 1st, 2024 we buried my father. My self-created sabbatical had ended on the exact date I had planned, but with more ceremony than I could have ever imagined. 

In Jewish tradition at the graveside mourners are given an opportunity to toss dirt into the grave.

On the morning of the burial, after the rabbi took the first scoop, I stepped up, wrapped my hands around a shovel, and dropped the dirt into the grave. I can still smell the soil. I can still hear the sound of the heavy, damp dirt dropping like a snare onto the casket.

I think in that moment I wasn't just burying Dad. I was tossing in with it my own broken self - the one who always searched for love, the one who needed to be seen.  

I said goodbye to the broken girl, the emotionally dependent, “sick” daughter who always needed a man by her side to feel safe.  

Not only on this day had my sabbatical come to an end, my journey of never being enough was coming to an end as well. With a scoop of dirt I tossed the little, broken girl deep into the ground. 

As I write to you now it is the evening of February 19th. I find myself sitting in the middle of my living room floor, typing on my phone. The sun has gone down and the brightness of a single overhead lamp pours light on me like a spotlight. It wasn't my plan to be writing right now, nor was it my plan to weave words about grief into these pages, but currently writing is all I can do to feel calm. 

Anxiety has gotten the best of me these days.

As I pause for a moment right now, I feel a strange kind of hollowness, an empty longing. I don't quite know who I am. I can feel the gap inside where the broken girl once lived.

I think tonight I've found another aspect of the Grail. It's not the part we talk about. It's not the chalice itself, but the hollow, empty insides. 

As terrible and strange as grief feels, I wonder if this vast, empty space is actually a crucial part of the mystery itself. Maybe the vastness is in fact an unspoken part of the whole. It is the space in all of us that longs to be filled.

Now that the king is gone, the rules have all changed. All I have as a guidebook are these strange, unencumbered feelings of sadness and emptiness, the potent sting of the unknown guiding me like untouchable stars faintly lighting the way. 

I think my dad could have been wrong about the axons and dendrites. I mean yes, of course, they are there, but it seems the real matter, the real stuff of life isn't matter at all, but the unspeakables, the tingles, the sensations, the pain and longing, the empty volume within.

Maybe, just maybe, these awkward, difficult sensations are the key to my story. Maybe the suffering I plan to ask about for this project is not something to be fixed, but instead is the way in - a star chart - a guide to the fullness that life begs us to be.

And so, I start this project with only a faint guide of gentle stars.  I use these very sensations, these aches, this perpetual curiosity, this infinite, uncomfortable wonder to show me the way…and bring you, my reader friends along with me.

Stay tuned.  Who knows what stories will emerge, what people I’ll meet…it’s all for us to see. 

Thank you for reading. If you want to be updated on future chapters please join my Facebook group and sign up for my mailing list.

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