I keep thinking about the months of January through June of 1998. I struggle with how to label this period, because to say something like “this was a massively influential time for me” or “it was the most pivotal inflection point of my life” feels like an understatement.
Looking back, I genuinely believe that choosing to leave the life I had known up until that point allowed me to begin to discover who I was. And because I was, for the first time in my life, evaluating the world around me based on my own lens / my own value system / an expanded sense of what might be possible, I discovered several practices and perspectives that have been with me ever since.
What happened (in a nutshell)
Two and a half years into a Bachelor of Science degree at McGill University, I had become disillusioned with science as a way to explain the world. I fell into an existential crisis that called my entire approach to life into question: Why was I working toward a degree that reduced everything I loved into numbers and statistics… particularly when all the trends seemed to show that everything was doomed?
More importantly: Why was I in university at all? I certainly hadn’t made a conscious decision about the matter. Twenty years into my life, I suddenly realized I had been blindly following the path that had been laid out for me, with little regard for what I actually wanted to do, much less who I actually might be.
One of my Buddhist teachers, Guyhasiddhi, shared this quote in a class a few weeks ago:
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
In tracking down an internet source for the quote (I knew it was from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by W. H. Murray), I discovered that this character had quite a fascinating life:
He was an influential Scottish mountaineer who was taken prisoner during World War II (but charmed his initial captor, apparently);
While in captivity (for three years!) he drafted an entire book on the topic of mountaineering in Scotland… on toilet paper;
This manuscript was discovered and destroyed by the Gestapo, so he started it all over again… and this version was eventually published;
He was active in protecting wild areas in Scotland, including a successful campaign to prevent construction of a hydroelectric dam.
What an inspiration!
Thanks yet again, Wikipedia, for coming through with the backstory.