By Ali Valdez; music and lyrics quoted ©1976 by Gordon Lightfoot
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee.”
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the “Gales of November” came early.
This year, the financial gales of November arrived early with spiritual tidal waves blowing in quickly. Typically Fall is a very robust time of the year but this would turn out to be a very challenging and stressful season. I found the seas of yogic tidings started to whip up a squall faintly off in the distant horizon while basking in the sun at the Tambo del Inka in the Sacred Valley of Peru earlier this Spring.
“Your mortgage arm has come up; they won’t make an exception.” After two weeks of meditation and yoga, I still ask myself why I decided to Skype home when I was savoring my last two days in Peru. I had not spoken with my daughter except as one-sided asynchronous exchanges via voicemails and I yearned to hear her voice so I made the call. My mother answered and dropped the bomb.
Not that I expected the mortgage company to be accommodating, however they did infer that the increase would be a bit softened. By the time my mother tore open the envelope, apparently they changed their minds.
My house comes with some baggage, emotional and financial, which is why this isn’t a trivial matter to me. I had a childhood fraught with uncertainties. I cannot remember being in the same class, district or neighborhood for more than a year. My family divorced when I was nine. Sure mom and dad split up and got different places; half of society goes through this transition. But my brother went to live with his grandparents, helping take care of our Grandma who was diagnosed with breast cancer: the first of many big deaths to come. All bets were off that there was any sense of landing, arriving, and certainly no sense of staying.
It wasn’t until I became a homeowner in my twenties did I begin to move the dial, living in the same house for almost eighteen months. This was a record for me. It felt different being able to ‘control’ the stability of my home life. Honestly, I probably would never have sold my little rambler, but alas, someone else moved in with me and he had aspirations, not to mention as much stuff as I did.
Stuff: the burden of karma.
Then we went our separate ways. I had a mini-divorce of my own, and since we had both sold our homes in search of a bigger place, in a scramble I found myself hastily buying something a block up and over. It was a monstrosity; a German chocolate themed house of metal-paned tinted windows, shaggy pink carpet and dark olive green cabinets. Did I mention the downstairs was all unfinished basement not even with insulation or walls? Perhaps I forgot to mention the two foot tall, pink bathtub from the 1960’s and its accompanying toilet. I could literally walk my stuff over to the new place. That was over twelve years ago back when all you needed was a friend’s Suburban and a couple buddies to move. There was no baby at the time, just rebuilding after a failed relationship.
Over time, I prettied her up; painted her walls, resurfaced her floors, tended her gardens and replaced her cabinets. In short, she was completely gutted, like I was emotionally and what started as a buy and flip, became home. I carry fond memories, years of do-it-yourself projects with my Dad, and riding the wave of refinancing. That’s where the balloon mortgage enters stage left.
This news was coupled with a convergence of unfortunate and unanticipated events, a ‘perfect storm’ to stay on theme that quickly made this dramatic shift untenable under my current circumstances. Perhaps a yogi should not be talking about money and reality of finances when being a yoga teacher in service to others. But when you’re a yoga teacher that is paid to teach other yogis how to earn a living doing their life passion, it is also important to remain transparent as one learns along the way. But finances were never a pressing concern before like they were this Spring. Sure, there are dips and valleys but I was still able to make ends meet, volunteer time, donate money and put food on the table. Leading up to November of this year, I had a lot of new types of doubts but the biggest one was reconciliation. This means being honest to myself about the kind of woman and role model I was meant to be in this world reconciling with the inquiry: am I a corporate ladder climber or am I a teacher/student of the science of yoga? There can be yoga in business; yoga can be anywhere but I cannot so I have to choose.
Reconciliation? I know this article is a perfect lead-in to the virtues of aparigraha, letting go of things we don’t need, or vairagya, non-attachment. For me it felt more like satyagraha, non-violent resistance because another instinct kicks in. This is the place where I brought home my daughter.
When you’re a single mom, sometimes it’s simply about survival: knowing there’s a fall coming but for the sake of your child doing your best to soften the landing.
Is there attachment to keeping my home? Bricks and mortar? No. I am pretty good at non-attachment to stuff. The attachments come from the twelve plus years of stability, the sturdiness of coming home to the same four walls. There was pride in place; the first time in my life, I was in a position to get settled and feel strong and the ego entanglements that go with it.
The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang,
could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?
Back when I purchased the house, I was a VP of Sales in technology. Yeah, she was hardly a manse, but she had her own lofty loveliness: generous in size, perched on a nicely-tended garden lot with a coveted wraparound view in a waterfront bucolic neighborhood.
Now I am trying to devote my life to raising my daughter and focusing time and energy on my passion for yoga. This does not mean I am going to be a yoga teacher in the conventional sense; it has been about the love of the science and sharing it out, not about the money. The fact that I have even been able to stay in this house this long is a testimony to my determination. So many people have passed temporally through her cherry-red doors. All have been taken in by her Hestian charms, her sense of security and stability. I guess my spiritual tapas has created a bit of a sanctuary in this place and I feel so blessed to have been able to share it with others.
Reconciliation comes with the admitting that there is an incompatibility dwelling inside. I have been straddling the chasm, playing it safe by becoming a founding member of a fledging tech firm with a flashy title and a handful of stock. All along in my spirit I knew this diversion was a distraction consuming my time. My prayers were calling for my undivided attention; in fact, they were now demanding it. It is more the eka grata than the career-path that is the point of this post.
Just weeks before the fated phone call, I had a meditation with the image of me reaching out and crossing through the symbolic waterfall. Our retreat center was under a waterfall and I understood this to be most providential. I meditated, did yoga and spent time just being in the presence of the waterfall, its silvery slide, cold drops and healing sound.
I see the timing of the call, the news of the mortgage ballooning out beyond my means and the calling forth to be synchronized. There are no accidents. I had to surrender completely. It was time to let go of that money-driven life and enter completely into the a new path, one that doesn’t always guarantee a regular paycheck or a vesting schedule. The house was the tether and now it felt like the universe was shuffling off this mortal coil and sending the ship of my ego and identity off to sea.
To be adrift at sea while you watch your career identity flush away, to see your finances capsize, your expenses triple overnight, and you are dangling on the edge of the precipice without strut or stanchion to hold you from dropping over is a shock to the system.
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too
’twas the witch of November come stealin’.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin’.
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind.
The seas ripple about me as I survey the decks and galley of my soul and compare it with all stuff I have to contend with in the external shell. In these situations, everything feels dire, and you start bracing yourself for the worst but in my case the worst is simply this: I am ten years old again and uncertain of my future. What if I fall back into the perpetual packing and unpacking motion of displacement? This makes me fiercely protective of my daughter that she never feel as I had felt so many times.
I’m out at sea but I am not shipwrecked or abandoned. To move forward requires action, but I cannot use the tools of my former trade to solve my problems anymore. I willingly crossed through the waterfall and cannot travel back.
So I pack up the boxes, not because I need this stuff, but the markers of the last ten years of my material life need a new home. They are getting booted, too.
Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
if they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.
The ship of my past life, as overdramatic as it might sound, is sailing off; where we sail no one knows. This is where the blind trust of listening to that unspoken voice within becomes your captain, the navigator of the phantom ship. I have been approached for various different executive technology positions. My life circumstance could have changed at the snap of my fingers and the negotiation of the signing bonus. But I politely declined. Now is not the time. Some of my friends have brought out the checkbook, inquiring, “How much do you need; I want to help you.” Again I politely decline. I welcome the hallows of this valley, pushing through the temptation of wanting to just run back, to feel safe and secure in the old mode of placating my ego. It might read that I will never go back to work or that I lost my love for technology or being a leader and mentor; neither of which are true. But here, and right now, if a choice is between the career and its material abundance or peace of mind and clarity of heart, then I go with the heart.
The yoga in it for me is finding the safety and security out on the open seas; to not feel gutted every time the mighty winds blow.
I recall this song by Gordon Lightfoot because its poetry and tragedy strike me. If any of the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald were to have survived that fateful night and its torrid storms, of course they would have returned to their ships. I may one day return to a more former ‘career’ in technology but with the right people at the proper time and for the reasons that reflect the intentions inside my spirit.
Feeling lost at sea, scared and overwhelmed I find palpable in this song. The causes associated with its sinking align metaphorically with these feelings: high sea waters (exorbitant mortgage) flawed structures (poor planning), water flooding the hull (avalanche of expenses), shoaling (not enough income to cover tidal wave of expenses). There is beauty in the lyrics of something horrifying and scary. There is an emboldened loveliness in the retelling of tragedy, how vulnerable we can feel in life, how there are never a shortage of curveballs thrown in our direction, some we victor over triumphant, while others can wash us away.
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the “Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee.”
“Superior,” they said, “never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!”
So a part of us has to die to evolve. I know I will have to say goodbye to my lifestyle and its creature comforts as I have known and enjoyed them for so long. I am grateful for the many years of joy and comfort this house has provided me. I think of yoga’s ultimate goal, moksha, or liberation, and cannot also help to feel lighter at the prospect of getting out from under the weight of it all and start over. It has been a struggle to carry both worlds on my back for the sake of perceived quality of life. Recently, I was meditating with friends a few hours after I had done my individual morning meditation. To myself I thought, “How can I do this everyday for the rest of my life?” I think I am closer to finding my answer. The gales of November came early for me this year, but am now starting to see a hint of sun gleaming off the cosmic crease of the expansive horizon.
NOTE: Thank you for the inspirational lyrics and profound story-telling of the incredible Gordon Lightfoot. The Edmund Fitzgerald is commemorating its 37th anniversary this year on November 10th. My sincerest respects to those who served, lost their lives, and those that survive them.