Wow, Chris, what an amazing response. Thank you very, very much for sharing such thoughtful observations, and I am grateful that my story resonated with you also. You totally hit the nail on the head on a lot of this stuff: I got what I wanted in my heart even if that didn’t match what I envisioned in my head, and yes, that eventuality was totally the benevolent design of True Source. Also, correct, I came to realize that I was hoping to find healing and some form of enlightenment by filling my life with “things,” and I felt so silly when I realized how ass-backwards that goal was, lol.
All of this said, in the spirit of being truthful, I do still want a lot of the things I wanted back then. Financial stability, a comfortable home, the means for exploring more of the world, engaging more with the world. Money for stuff like learning languages, taking classes, attending group events, etc. Another one of the topics I needed to contend with while I was in Shanghai was: now that my circumstances are so reduced… does this feel like the answer? Is this the direction I’m actively supposed to be going? ARE we truly here to eschew everything earthly?
And I feel like, no, the “point” of being in a body is not to eschew the delights of the physical plane. After all, engagement can be an important part of gratitude. (Here, I feel like I’m leaning more toward mystical Judaism in my interpretations: that “God” experiences itself and the gifts and delights and wonder of God’s creation through us, hence all of our healthy experiences of love, joy, pleasure, etc. — no matter how mundane — are profoundly holy.) Even as a child, before I had met any spiritual posturers, I was enamored of crystals and foreign languages and fascinated by the idea of being able to learn energy modalities to help “heal” people; even without any intentions of meditating, I loved burning candles and incense in my home because I liked the richness of their fragrance; even as a teenager before I realized that there was anything “spiritual” about yoga at all, I loved it. And so on. In a very authentic sense, the things I hoped to pursue in Shanghai reflected on my spirit and its “natural” inclinations for this lifetime. I am willing to own that, even if it makes me look like a poseur. ;)
I question sometimes: is it a failure in my growth that I still want economic stability and intellectual stimulation and the ability to curate my surroundings according to my own personal aesthetic/artistic expression and the financial freedom to see more of this world? Perhaps. But I’m not convinced of that either. I guess my soul is still working that question out. ;)
However, I do agree with everything you pointed out regarding inner peace as something we can achieve alone, no bells, no whistles, no frills. At the same time, relationship is a huge part of the journey this plane is designed for: meeting the divine in ourselves through meeting the divine in others. And being able to interact with and alchemize with these other expressions of (our shared) divinity is an incredible gift. To some extent, maybe we do need connection with the physical world in order to catalyze the realizations that lead us to enlightenment. After all, the Buddha achieved enlightenment by sitting under a tree after having lived like any other human (of his station, at least) for many years. In other words, he “brought” those preconditions with him to the tree. Perhaps they primed his mind. I don’t know. Something I never contemplated before until just now, actually, so I’m just thinking “out loud”!
I would say that, what I learned in Shanghai, was less that “we don’t need anyone or anything” and more that “we need not tell ourselves that we ‘need’ anything in particular; instead, we will receive everything we need as we set out on the way.” I think sometimes about my own story as juxtaposed with Eat, Pray, Love (which I adore) and about the criticism (not necessarily deserved) of Elizabeth Gilbert’s story: that she found peace and love and success after her journey around the world, but what could her story teach “the common person,” some wondered, given that she was able to travel the world on a book advance, her financial needs covered (and therefore stuff like her time at an ashram facilitated)? I was never comfortable with the criticism surrounding her story because everyone’s story is meant to be different. But I like to imagine that my own story (if I ever get to tell it) complements hers well: I took a leap of faith, and life brought me healing by way of the types of adventures that money can’t buy and none of us, when setting out, can possibly expect or envision. That you can be technically homeless with no privacy, face constant obstacles to finding stable employment, and never be able to access those circles of like-minded “spiritual” souls… but you WILL still find teachers. You WILL still find healing. And through these, you will still find the peace your soul longs for.
Thank you entertaining this long reply and for offering me such kind and thoughtful words. I do hope to write a book someday about my journey, and Shanghai was just one phase. Here’s to hoping that I do have the skills to do my story justice, that it finds the people it needs in order to get out into the world, and that it helps those who read it. In the mean time, I hope that you, too, share your story about the things you learned on your path too. They can help many.