Sunday, September 12, 2010

Acts of Surrender 7: The Heart of Desire

This excerpt from Acts of Surrender, my memoir-in-progress, is a present-day story, centered around 9/11 and the days leading up to it.

“What do you want?” Adam asked as we walked along Laguna’s West Beach. The surf was gentle that afternoon, pushing toward us with no urgency and with just enough roll for the lone surfer to find some easy action.

I didn’t answer. I’d been in Southern California for four weeks and this was only my second time on the beach. But I’d been spending regular writing time near the water, either here in Laguna or at what had become a favorite Starbucks, a few minutes up the coast in Newport Beach. I loved being down here and, since arriving at Adam’s, had made the hour-long drive up to the city only once. If Los Angeles had pulled me here, Laguna Beach was seducing me.

“I don’t know,” I said after a time. “When I’m in L.A. and feel the buzz of the city, that’s where I want to be. When I’m down here in Laguna, I don’t want to be anywhere else. It’s as though there are two parts of me competing for my future.”

We walked in silence. I had taken my shoes off, and the sand squished between my toes. At the asphalt path to the street, I brushed off my feet, put my flip-flops back on and started up the hill toward the tiny Camel Point subdivision at the top. I stopped halfway up and looked back. In the silence of that no-man’s land between sea and city, I heard my voice echo back at me from a few days’ earlier, when I’d come to this same place with Adam and his realtor, to look at a Camel Point home. It was an amazing property, modern in design, with ocean views from every room but one.

If I lived here, I heard myself repeat from that earlier visit, I’d never leave.

“Shit,” I said out loud.

“What?” Adam asked.

“It’s L.A. It has to be L.A.” I started to cry.

When the call to leave Albuquerque for Los Angeles began to crystallize earlier this year, I realized it was about leaving my years of retreat and stepping back into the world. My most recent Albuquerque home had eloquently symbolized aspects of that retreat. Although I saw clients and facilitated workshops there, it was perched at the very edge of the city, high in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, with nothing behind me but open space and mountain wilderness. I was living apart, as I had so often in the past. L.A., I sensed, would be about reinserting myself in the world — not as the world would have me, but as who I’d grown into.

My tears weren’t for Laguna Beach. They were for those parts of me that I was leaving behind, parts of me that wanted to stay in retreat but couldn’t, parts of me that I had outgrown. I was saying goodbye to what remained of the me-in-hiding, a me I could never be again.

If I chose Laguna, I’d be choosing the past. If I chose L.A., I would be stepping into my future...into fearlessness.

The next afternoon I drove into the city, with no set agenda other than to feel what it felt like to be there. As I raced up the 405, I kept glancing into the rearview mirror — not at traffic but at my new haircut. The old, fearful me would have put off dealing with my hair until some money had shown up. Had my hair grown too straggly to ignore, he would have settled for a SuperCuts-style walk-in. He never would have made a salon appointment.

I made a salon appointment.

It was the most expensive haircut I’d ever had...and the best. I felt great. I’d had an instant’s panic at the register, but it passed in a heartbeat. Now, the new-look me was driving to my new city, knowing only that I could no more settle for less than I knew I deserved in L.A. than I could for a second-rate haircut.

I didn’t know how it would all come together. I only knew that it would...that it would have to, not because I was afraid, but because I wasn’t.

I didn’t know how it would all come together. I only knew that it would...that it would have to, not because I was afraid, but because I wasn’t.

It was a new feeling — at the same time liberating and disorienting — and it carried me all the way through my apartment viewing at the resort-like Palazzo complex across from a favorite L.A. hangout, the outdoor Grove mall. I’d decided during the drive up that I would take a look at the Palazzo, without knowing precisely what lay behind its gates.

What will I say to the leasing agents? I wondered. After all, in that moment, both my finances and credit made it conventionally unlikely that I would be living there any time soon.

Convention be damned! I said out loud. I’ll tell them the truth, that it’s not about the size or type of unit. And it’s not about the cost. It’s about the feel of it. That’s all that matters.

When I drove away an hour later, I had one certainty: The Palazzo apartments weren’t good enough for me.

Again, it was a new feeling — acting as though money was not an issue and knowing with a certainty that surprised me with its ferocity that when the right place showed up, I’d know it. I’d know it and I’d be living there.

The “how” wasn’t part of my job description. My job was to declare my desire and act on it. The rest was up to God or Spirit or the Universe, all of which are only higher expressions of me, higher expressions eager to step fully into my soon as I step fully into theirs. Fearlessly.

“Act as though and make it so,” I’d written a few years earlier in the The Wisdom Keepers Training, a multimedia personal-growth manual I’d created. It was time to live that statement more baldly than I’d ever dared.

The haircut was a beginning. After all, as Adam had said to me the previous week when he’d sprung for a haircut at the same salon, “If I’m too scared to spend $40 on a haircut, why would the Universe give me a multimillion-dollar home?”


The next day was September 11. I would be back in L.A. for my daughter’s 11th birthday, and I planned some neighborhood reconnoitering on my own before joining Guinevere and her mother for the day’s festivities.

September 11 is about many things for many people. That’s the day, of course, when Al Qaeda terrorists forced a passenger plane to slam into New York’s World Trade Center. Many say that those emblematic towers should never have crumpled at the impact. That they did carries for me a significance even more earth-shattering than the tragic loss of life and property: An unexpected force took down established structures of order and convention, destroyed the indestructible and offered us an opportunity to look fearlessly at our own outmoded structures — inner and outer.

If, like the rest of the world in 2001, I was too shocked to see anything but the immediate horror, in the years since I’ve noticed that old constructs have often fallen away dramatically for me on September 11. In fact, in writing this book, I now see that 9/11 carried paradigm-altering significance for me even before the events of 2001. It was in 1997, as I’ve already written, that events triggered a move to Sedona that would knock down the bulwark of my identity. Two years later, in perhaps the ultimate life-changing event, my daughter was born.

On Saturday, that symbolic airplane smashed into both my professional and home life. In a flash as fiery and unexpected as that of any terrorist attack, my life as a writing coach and workshop facilitator collapsed in a smoldering heap. I knew that if I was to continue coaching and teaching, that the work would have to look different. My old structure, I now saw, carried traces of the fear-based codependency I was ejecting from my life. It had to come down. Any new structure would have to follow the same road beyond courage and surrender I was paving for myself.

Once again I felt liberated...and disoriented.

A personal 9/11 experience of radical evolution not suitable for the faint of heart...

(Although this is still evolving, I’m now looking to replace my current model of ongoing coaching sessions with one-time two-hour, half-day or full-day intensives: one-on-one consultations that would focus on life at least as much as they would on creativity: a personal 9/11 experience of radical evolution not suitable for the faint of heart.)

The other aha came as I drove through neighborhood after westside L.A. neighborhood that day, scouting for a place I’d like to live. Once again, money was not to be a deciding factor.

I was on a quest beyond the sensible and conventional. I was on a quest to discover the heart of my desire.

Sometimes, the heart of desire is transparently clear. Sometimes, it’s buried under years of convention, decades of disappointment and lifetimes of fear. Writing, for me, was such a hidden treasure, long invisible to a conscious mind paralyzed by fear. It’s been many years since that treasure was unearthed. But it took single moment in the run-up to my Albuquerque exodus for me to finally feel its significance.

I was on the phone with my friend Sander, at the tail end of a harrowing conversation during which I had finally agreed to give notice on my Albuquerque rental, despite not knowing how I could financially manage my L.A. move. (Sound familiar?)

“Take the rest of the day off,” Sander urged.

“No,” I said, “without thinking. “I think I’ll go to Starbucks to write.”

Sander argued with me, tried to convince me not to work.

“You don’t understand,” I countered. “Writing is the only thing that makes sense.” Then, to my surprise, I started to cry. I’d always known that writing lay at the heart of my desire. But it was an intellectual “knowing.” Until that moment, I’d never felt it. That same visceral response was waiting for me in Beverly Hills.

On my way back to Albuquerque in February, I stopped in Sedona for a night, to see Guinevere in a school play. That afternoon, her mom and I went for lunch at New Frontiers, the local health food store that’s as big an energy vortex as any of the town’s well-known red-rock formations. We were standing at the deli counter when we ran into Sao, a shamanic astrologer neither of us had seen since we were married.

After running through the same set of questions with Guinevere's mom, Sao turned to me.

“How old are you?”


“When’s your birthday?”

“October 3.”

He paused, staring into me.

“You’re entering into the most powerful period of your life,” he intoned. “Whatever you truly desire will be yours.” He paused again. “Start asking yourself this question: By the time you turn 57, who do you want in your life, what do you want to be doing in your life and where do you want to be living?”

To the first two parts of Sao’s question, I heard nothing. At “where do you want to be living,” I heard, with crystal clarity from somewhere deep inside me, Beverly Hills.

I was already planning my L.A. move and I had considered some areas of town I thought might be appealing. None was Beverly Hills. Not because of the cost. It just wasn’t on my conscious radar. I gave it more credence a few weeks later, back in Albuquerque. I was walking through a Target parking lot when I passed a silver Ford Escort bearing a faux California license plate under the grill. Instead of a license number was the name Beverly Hills.

Still, I didn’t know what to do with it. And when I did my 9/11 neighborhood meander, Beverly Hills wasn’t high on the travel agenda. Instead, I covered a swath of territory east of Beverly Hills, searching out, as I had vowed to do on my way to the Palazzo apartments, the feeling. I never found it.

Suddenly, on the eastern fringes of Beverly Hills, I was done. Although I'd made no discoveries, I had launched my exploration, and that felt good. Besides, it was lunchtime and I needed to get over to see Guinevere. I called to see if we could all get together for lunch.

“We’ve only just finished breakfast,” Aalia, her mom, said. “Why don’t you just grab a light bite for now. Guinevere will be hungry again in a few hours, and then we can have lunch.”

I figured fast food, then realized I wasn’t in a fast-food part of town.

I studied the map on my iPhone for inspiration. To my surprise, I had one: the Beverly Hills Whole Foods Market. I remembered it from a previous visit and knew it was only a mile or so away. Soup and a bread roll would be perfect.

As I walked into the store, I suddenly felt as though it was my Whole Foods, as though I shopped there all the time — a feeling I’d never had about Whole Foods in either Albuquerque or Santa Fe. I filed it away as curious and got my lunch. After lunch, I walked down the block to The Crescent Beverly Hills, a luxury apartment building I’d noticed from the car. A doorman smiled and opened the door. No leasing agents were on duty over the weekend, he told me, then scribbled a name and number for me to call on Monday. As I left, I experienced that same natural feeling I’d felt in the market.

Back in the car, I took North Crescent to Santa Monica Boulevard, and then North Beverly to westbound Wilshire for the 20-minute drive to Guinevere’s. Now, everything about the area felt normal, natural, home-like. I could see myself sitting in the Starbucks on North Beverly, working on this book. I could see myself on the patio of a Wilshire cafĂ©, people-watching over lunch. There was a Twilight Zone quality to the experience that left my mind in a muddle.

A few minutes later, I had crossed the city line back into Los Angeles. I gazed at all the Westwood high-rise apartment towers and tried to imagine myself living there. I couldn’t. It was like forcing Cinderella’s glass slipper onto her stepsister’s foot. There was no way it could fit without causing discomfort and pain. In a flash, I was back at the New Frontiers deli counter, hearing “Beverly Hills” in response to Sao’s question. And just as quickly, I started to cry.

The quest was over. I had found the heart of my desire.

How would I realize that desire? There was only one way: to “act as though” and leave the rest in more capable hands.

Adapted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Journey of Faith, my memoir-in-progress. Please share as you feel called to. But please, also, include a link back to this post.

Previous excerpts were published here on July 30, August 25, September 1, September 9 and September 10.

Photos by Mark David Gerson: Laguna Beach, Sandia Mountains, the fountain at The Grove, California license plate. Other photos: source unknown.


Marigold Kim Sing said...

Hi Mark
Well the box to my left says 'no comments yet'. I have been very moved by your journey, and have emailed to your address @calltowrite. Your lack of acknowledgement focusses me on my issue with - not being acknowledged! Ouch! And at the same time I know this is really a great opportunity for me to discover the gift that this holds for DO have some comments. Please read them. By the way, my friend Ann pointed out to me that this year I am 55, the same digits as the year of my birth. It is MY YEAR! It's been a long time coming, but worth the wait!
Have a joyfilled day!
Marigold :)

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks for this and all your comments, Marigold, and for sharing your journey with me.

Karen Walker said...

Mark David,
I am so glad you are writing this journey as you are living it and posting it for those you left behind in Albuquerque. Your willingness to not only live your spiritual journey and go deeper and deeper, but to share it as you do, speaks to me in ways I cannot express. Thank you.

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Karen. But I haven't left anyone behind. You're all on this journey, each in your own way, with me.

peter de Kock said...

I've been reading your 'acts of surrender' for a while and I am becoming more curious of meeting my own deeper layers. Some inner barriers seem to tone down a little. There's magic in what you are sharing Mark David. Thanks a lot.

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Peter. Wonderful to have you along on the journey with me!

Daniella said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with all of us. You are so brave to bare your soul! It is inspiring and admirable; you are putting a mirror for us to see, truly see. We met at the Whole Life Expo in 2010, you have an incredible energy emanating from you and I know, whether we meet again or not, you are one of my teachers.
With Love, Daniella

Mark David Gerson said...

I appreciate the comment, Daniella. Thank you. BTW, I expect to be back at the Conscious Life Expo in LA next month. Be sure to stop by!