So there I was, in the dark, perched on the rocky edge of the grandest of canyons, all alone, just down the path from where the 4 am park shuttle-bus driver had deposited me right after exclaiming how he’d seen a pre-dawn mountain lion right there earlier that very week.
Ears perked for recently-spotted large carnivorous cat
Bundled up in all my winter wear, I waddled the short distance down the path to the canyon’s edge, keeping my ears perked for the sound of large cat paws. I’d come on this solo camping trip—my first time to the Grand Canyon, although I’d lived in Arizona for nearly a decade—as a quest, as a retreat from work wildness, and as a birthday present to myself.
And, since it was a quest, of course, I’d come with a giant question: What’s my purpose (and best career path)?
Ok, it’s not like this was exactly a new question for me—I’d been asking this one regularly since about age 16. And multiple college majors, 3 degrees, several careers, and dozens of side projects later, there I was out on that quest . . . asking it once again.
Out there solo on a ledge
OK, I probably would’ve been out there solo on a ledge leaning into the vast, silent morning listening for the whoosh whoosh of dawn-flying ravens and asking for messages from my soul anyway (I do like to do this sort of thing!), but this particular journey was more poignant—and much more pressing—because 48 hours before departure, I’d received the shocking news that the non-profit where I worked was about to announce massive lay-offs, and my job was likely on the list,.
So that’s why I was standing there alone at the edge of the world, galaxies above, millions of years of Earth below, apparently large carnivorous cats lurking in the dark behind me, and preparing to make my big birthday ask come sunrise, “What is it then? What’s my purpose?”
Frenzy of chaos
I’d left town on a Thursday, and we all knew the axe was going to fall on the Monday before my return. It was a frenzy of chaos back at the office. But not now in the deep blue of receding night, not here on my large, rocky ledge.
Here it was s…i…l…e…n..t. (Whew!)
So I was perched there in the dark, solidly planted on that humongous rock, alternating my gaze between the star ocean above and the gradually emerging abyss below, holding vigil. Slowly, slowly the Earth turned toward our home star rising, and like clockworks of time, rose-orange-pink lights appeared and began illuminating the millions of years of time disguised as rock before me. Oh, the poetic beauty! . . And . .
But what if I went toe-to-toe with the abyss?
. . . And . . . And my feet were cold! But I knew I had a quest to complete, and now was the time. I’d spent the last couple of hours sitting on the canyon’s edge, but a few yards back from the very edge. I love being out in the wilderness of far spaces and big heights and fresh, wild air, but go to the very edge? Really?
Yeah . . . what if I finally just walked all the way out there?
What if I went toe-to-toe with the abyss?
Wouldn’t that be the best place to ask my question?
On a small ledge in space, below me ravens flying
So I went . . . all the way! I crawled over to the edge and peered . . . over. Down, two feet below, was another layer (that I couldn’t see until now!), a shelf extending further out into the canyon, a small tongue into space, a stone triangle that was just a few-yards-long on each of its edges.
It was just me and the ravens I saw way below me , yet still a mile above the canyon floor. Should I really be out there . . .? YES!
So I gathered myself onto the far rock jutting out into the canyon, a mile above the canyon bottom, but grounded on some of the most solid rock a human being can stand on.
Asking the biggest question of my soul
I planted myself there, feet hip-wide and arms stretched up to the heavens, and I called myself present, and I welcomed all the elements and directions into ceremony.
Out there on the edge, the little hairs on my arms perked, my soul fully awake, now, now!
So I called out my giant heart-felt longing: “What is my purpose? How can I truly be of benefit in this world? What can I DO, offer, or give that would be the best of me? I’m here to help this world, but how? What can I do, or be, or give??”
“What is my purpose? How can I truly be of benefit in this world? What can I DO, offer, or give that would be the best of me? I’m here to help this world, but how? What can I do, or be, or give??”
And then . . . the silence was almost like a drum roll, or ocean waves in a shell, such portend! Such anticipation! What? What is the answer?? What, what . . . I was listening.
And then I heard it!
It was both a voice in my head in words and a deep feeling, like the soft sound of a sea bird landing on an ocean wave.
There it was! Two words:
What?? That’s it? That was all I heard. No other messages, insights or wisdom words came.
All that lead in, all that anticipation and preparation, and that was really it? YES.
I stood there and laughed. 🙂
And then I walked back down the trail where I came (still no mountain lion, but I kept my eye out for tracks), and I caught the park shuttle-bus back toward my campsite. “Be myself?” Really? YES.
Answering the koan
I’ve been working with that koan for a while—that birthday trip was almost 4 years ago. Yesterday I started this blog. Be myself? Yeah . . . I’ve tried everything else! Haha!!!
It’s time. 🙂
Photo credit (top to bottom): Jared Verdi and Sonaal Bangera on Unsplash