Amidst The Chaos Of Moving Abroad, I Began To Find Myself
by Hila Ratzabi
The shipping company is coming tomorrow. Boxes of stuff are stacked against one wall of the living room, a collection of bulk items from Costco: Ziploc bags, toothbrushes, floss, tissues, diapers, wipes, Neosporin, hydrocortisone cream… Just typing out this list brings back the nervous feeling I’ve been living with for weeks that we are forgetting something.
Last night my husband said, “I’m getting cold feet. I can’t believe we’re moving to another country in three weeks.”
I said, “All I can think about are towels. We have so many towels. Should we bring all of them? Put them in storage? Get rid of them?”
I told him there are so many things in the apartment, and I’ve been stressing out about what to do with them. Each object requires a decision. Each decision feels equally important. “Towels are not important,” he reminded me. “Some things are more important than others.”
Today I get a haircut. Cutting one’s hair often pairs well with big life changes. There are ancient beliefs associated with the power of hair: Samson loses his strength when Delilah cuts his hair; growing a beard, shaving one’s head, or covering one’s hair often accompany a spiritual practice.
After the haircut, indeed I feel lighter. I walk down the block to a little café and order lunch. Books line the windowsill. I feel the usual nervous impulse to check my phone. There might be an urgent work email or another Facebook comment to respond to. Instead, one of the books catches my eye: a 1970 first edition of Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki. A sort of grayish light streams in through the window and I think, Maybe I should take a few moments here, in this quiet café, and settle into myself. I pick up the book and begin reading at a random page.
Reading the instructions and advice on meditation strikes a nerve, sudden and piercing, like a string that had long since been played and whose sound now reverberates within me. The ripples of the words I’m reading makes me want to cry. “In the midst of noise and change, your mind will be quiet and stable,” I read. It has been so long since I last meditated, so long since I’d simply sat by myself. There is too much to do. I’ve become a cliché of too much to do. I’d had a baby, my second one, and I was back at work, packing for another country. There is too much to do. There is no time to check in with myself.
Who am I anymore, anyway? Motherhood seems to erase a sense of self as you become subsumed in the other’s needs. But if I remember anything from earlier years of meditation practice, there isn’t really a self under all the layers of thoughts and feelings and doings, is there? The self is a convenient and temporary illusion.
But as I sit in the café, reading words by a teacher who seems to be talking directly to me, I feel myself return to a familiar feeling. Groundedness. Which isn’t a fixed sense of self or identity, but a place I’ve been before. A place that meditation used to return me to. The bottom of a lake, perhaps. Wet sand. Both firm and soft, solid yet pliable. Heavy, yet shifting slightly with the current above. Grounded in earth, vibrating from the subtle motions of tectonic plates deep within. A semblance of solidity within the constant movement of life. Something in me is solid enough to recognize, to return to–what is referred to in hasidic literature as nekudah p’nimit, the innermost point in the soul.
It has been so long. I miss myself. And now everything is about to change. We are moving to another country. We have so much stuff. Each object requires a decision. I’m scared, nervous, excited. One night I google the cafes in our new neighborhood. I show my husband the pictures of plates of food, people hanging out, pictures that had somehow ended up on Google Earth. “Look at this place!” I exclaim. “We could be sitting outside, drinking beer, hanging out with our new friends! This is going to be awesome.”
“We aren’t even there yet,” he says. “Leave some things to be discovered.”
In the midst of noise and change, your mind will be quiet and stable.
I close the book and return it to the café windowsill, where the gray light has shifted into milky white. I’m already back on my phone, responding to a work email. But something has shifted. The nervous feeling is still there, the list of things to do, but the changing light, the words I had read–they’re like someone calling to me from another life. The voice isn’t my own, but somewhere in between the words, in the silences, is myself. Maybe an earlier version of myself calling into the present and asking: Who are you now? I’d forgotten to ask.
I go home and look at the clothes hanging in the closet, divided into keeping and shipping. So much to sort through. So many things. And then myself. Standing between the open closet doors, feet grounded in the soft carpet. A thing to be discovered.
April 28, 2020