The path of true love has never led me astray. Though I’ve felt lost at times or confused—shipwrecked even, and without clear sight of Polaris—Polaris has always been there. Sometimes she is obscured under the clouded night sky, but she is ever-blazing and constant. And for me Polaris is Love. Shakespeare agreed,
“…it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,”
A logical question one might now ask is, “What is Love?” As Hartley Coleridge asks,
“Is love a fancy, or a feeling? No,
It is immortal as immaculate Truth.”
My infinitely knowable quest to discover “What is Love?” is built upon the premise that Love is not a fancy or a feeling; it is something more objectively true and real. There is a lot of agreement through the ages about what it means to live a good, loving life. If we comb through some of the teachings of the wisest, spiritual sages who have ever lived (i.d., Jesus, the Buddha, Vyasa etc) we can see a lot of deep, universal agreement about what love is and isn’t. Generosity, altruism, patience, humility, contentedness, wise speech, caring for others, etc., are all characteristics of love upon which they agree. Despite the distance and years that separated these spiritual leaders on the topic of virtue, kindness, or love, there is a lot of shared understanding about what it means to be kind or to love others.
Furthermore, I think that love is an active practice. It is a spiritual path that one can follow through making choices to embody the characteristics of love. In my experience, the path of love never fails.
In regard to the experiential method of learning, at times this never-ending pursuit of living in line with Love has caused me to make bold life choices. I enjoy throwing myself into situations that demand that I grow into a better version of myself. An interesting blend between fatalism and my intense force of will, I imagine these life situations that I seek are like a rushing river with class 5 rapids. I immerse myself in them, and my psyche (mind, soul, heart, spirit, whatever nomenclature you prefer) is like a stone getting shaped and smoothed by the force of the water and the friction of the other rocks and sediment brushing up against me. In my best moments, I love the thrill and external force of the process. In the agonizing moments, I regret ever chipping off the mountain in the first place.
One of the biggest, raging rivers into which I threw my whole family was our move to Vermont.
I asked myself time and again over the first year we lived here in Vermont “why exactly am I here?” I had my reasons, and I’d go back through them in my mind (we wanted somewhere socially progressive but also rural. We wanted to be immersed in nature. We wanted to experience the drastic change of seasons. We wanted water features on our land (i.e., a creek or a pond but also in general even just plenty of rain WATER and not wildfires). We wanted to be positioned well for the trajectory of climate change. We wanted the ability to have animals, live more sustainably, etc. etc. We had this list of criteria for our hearts’ desire, but at times any specific decision felt all too arbitrary. How does one pick a place out of ALL the places and move there? We had some paralysis due to having TOO MANY OPTIONS.
It was ironic in the Alanis Morissette way (which isn’t actually the dictionary or literary definition of irony, but still a good one that she made quite catchy). Once we had what we always strove to have (total location independence) we felt completely overwhelmed by it.
I think there’s a temptation among some of us to strive for a life with few or no restrictions. No financial restrictions! No location restrictions! No relationship restrictions! No obligations! No commitments! No boundaries! I’m not so sure that too much of this type of freedom doesn’t diminish one’s life quality. The illusion that being limitless will bring natural happiness can cause people to become addicted to chasing the ephemeral and arbitrary means to an end (good feelings, money, fame, success) rather than living a good, albeit more simple life. I think that an overwhelming amount of freedom or a surplus of material resources can sometimes result in indecisive paralysis and a tendency toward existential crisis and/or depression.
We had the unique opportunity to choose from almost anywhere—at least in the contiguous United States, and we chose this tiny, rural town in Vermont. How? Why?
The deeper answer (apart from checking a lot of boxes on our list of criteria) came to me recently. At each point so far in my adult life that it has been time to make the next, big decision, I’ve set my compass to Love and asked “where is it pointing?” It doesn’t always happen quickly; sometimes it’s a process. But using my values (like stars) to orient myself, (my North Star being Love), so far I’ve come to trust my sense for this type of navigation way more than actually, physically getting from point A to point B.
It doesn’t come without a lot of internal work; I have decided to move back to California on more than one occasion. There aren’t many distractions here from what is, and it has demanded that I dig deep at times to grow, learn, and constantly challenge the current version of myself. When you live immersed in a more natural than cultural world, you have to be present with reality in a different way.
Take death, for example, and killing. These woods are teeming with life; that means we also see a lot of death. There is a very real food chain, and we see it in action frequently. At first, this was a huge shock for us, and it made us uncomfortable. We would happen upon snakes eating frogs or even foxes or minks eating our chickens, and we’d feel terribly sad, angry, and defiant. But the cycles and processes of nature happen regardless of how we feel about them, and there is actually a lot of comfort in that. Eventually, when we grew beyond the initial emotional resistance to accepting death as a normal part of life, we made our peace with it. It doesn’t mean we celebrate or happily allow predators to eat our animals, but there is an acquiescence to something bigger than ourselves—in this case the natural world. Being present with the processes that keep our biosphere in balance has made me reconsider my relationship with death.
I moved here a vegetarian in my spirituality as well as in my dietary choices. That is, I believed that I wasn’t causing as much death or harm by being a vegetarian. In addition to the natural world per se, living among sustainable, small scale farmers has caused me to reexamine these beliefs. Is it really causing less death to purchase Beyond Meat in all its plastic packaging? After it has been processed in ways that presumably require a substantial amount energy and shipped all over the country using fossil fuels—is this really promoting more life? Side by side, two pieces of “meat” sat upon our grill one day—one from a grass-fed cow who lived a good life in a pasture down the street until he was quickly and kindly killed before he knew what was happening. That was not my meat. Mine was the one from a plastic container made to assuage my guilt and delude me into thinking nothing dies for me to eat. But everything dies. Death is natural. It’s part of life. And life isn’t possible without death. And deciding to be the thoughtful architect of death to build a more sustainable life for oneself, one’s community, and the world at large—this is good. So, I still haven’t eaten meat because I’m not there (yet or maybe ever will be) but I surely don’t think that being a vegetarian here in Vermont is a superior path when compared to the way my neighbors here raise and consume their meat. These are the types of forces of raging river water that I want to shape me, to force me to grow. If we all can allow ourselves to reexamine the things we assume we are right about, I think the world would be a kinder, more evolved, and more connected place. And that is one way that love never fails; we remain open to the process of letting life and love transform us.
Collin and I decided to move to these 64 acres atop a mountain in Vermont together—just outside of a tiny, rural town from 3,000 miles away, leaving a life and place that we loved and some of our closest friends. How? Why? We put our love, and love itself, at the center of the decision-making process. And when we looked at where the compass pointed, it was here. We couldn’t predict the outcomes, but we could promise each other that we’d grow stronger in our love through whatever happened. So we made that promise, and we moved here as a result.
When we drove up to the property that we now call “home” I felt it resonate with me in a deep way. I envisioned my kids’ lives unfolding here in a way that would be the stuff of their wildest, childhood dreams. And I saw that it meant that we could all share something together that would allow our magnificent love take shape, form, and place. Some of our magnificent love now has the form of 9 feathery ladies happily roaming the land (as well many other non-human family members who have joined the crew). Love taking shape here looks like wilder versions of my kids tracking coyotes, sledding for miles in the winter with their friends, building tree forts, or testing their mettle in various ways. Our love taking place, looks like hosting gatherings of friends and family who venture across the country to be here, in this space that we hold and keep for them as much as for ourselves. It looks like traipsing over, down, or across the mountain—sometimes through snow, sometimes mud, and sometime dry, rocky ground littered with the most spectacular autumn leaves—and relating to our various neighbors who all somehow, in all the great, big world, ended up here too. It looks like beautiful wooden tables, bunk beds, and bathroom vanities that Collin has made from trees he milled. And our love also looks like the gorgeous, sturdy stone bridge that Collin built from stones he found all in these woods. This bridge will outlast us all and hint at a story of a family that once lived epically with love at the center of their home.
If you are facing a big decision, or you have made a big decision recently that was based on your values (rather than chasing feelings), take courage that whatever comes next will be a result of some very deep part of your inner wisdom. If you allow the process to shape you, change you, and allow you to grow, then you’re in for one, profound adventure. You cannot predict the outcomes life gives you, but you can choose how you will respond.