I learned to swim at age 9 from Nick Nicholas after over 20 lessons with other unsuccessful teachers. I refused to put my face in the water because I damn well knew that was how people drowned. Nick Nicholas in his bright red swim trunks was different. He told me I didn’t have to put my face in and taught me to swim all the other ways first. I paddled like a dog, crawled, clutched a kickboard, always with my head high above the water. Eventually, his patience and the strong chlorine fumes wore me down and I practiced the breathing, face in, face out, stroking and kicking my way down the lane. He cheered for me. Maybe he was my first love.
Sometimes we take holy risks that we later learn were alarm clocks ringing to awaken us to another way of living. When I say holy, I mean they reek of the ineffable, the crazywonderful, the emergence, the changes of which we have been dreaming. These are sacred risks that jettison us to the next level of our evolution. If we did not take them, we would stay constricted and dissatisfied.
When we do take them, we know in our belly we should have done it a long time ago, but of course, we were too terrified then. These are the risks that talk to our nervous system, waving their hands around like the sky is tumbling down. They make it feel like the tiger is right there beside you, sleek, striped flame-orange, gorgeous and hungry.
These risks sometimes involve letting go of things that matter, jumping in, asking for what we want and knowing that rejection may even be inevitable. Some days it’s about allowing people to see us when we are broken or asking for help in a way that feels excruciating. In some moments, it’s about starting so small, that it feels pointless. Please hire me. Here, look at this. Just for today, I will try something else.
Not every risk is holy. There is a different flavor to the stupid risks. There was nothing sacred for me about driving home from the pub at age 21 after way too many beers; it was just a lazy choice. Maybe the pre-frontal cortex of my brain wasn’t quite developed enough or maybe I just believed I needed my car in the morning to get to work. Maybe I just didn’t care enough about the other people on the road, trying to get to their homes and families. I convinced myself that I wouldn’t get pulled over, as if receiving a DWI were the greatest consequence. Sometimes our thinking is only in the short term. I was lucky that nothing irrevocable happened. But luck is not the kind of holy I’m talking about now.
Stupid risks might teach us a lot if they don’t kill us, but holy risks put the wide cracks into the armor. These divine risks put us face-to-face with everything that makes us tremble. We can smell the difference. If we listen, our bodies will tell us which ones they are. If we ask for help, everything in the world will conspire to shove us headfirst right into that sacred, frightening place we’ve been avoiding.
Today, I quit.
I forgive you.
I am leaving.
It’s time to begin.
I commit to this.
What is the most holy risk you have ever taken?
Maybe it was that moment when I left the relationship that was never going to work, even though I loved hard, even though I wanted it more than I could breathe, even though it staged the same crimes from my childhood over and over again which felt so right.
Maybe it was when I stuffed my 1990 Toyota Tercel with mixed tapes, cardboard boxes and my dog and caravanned with 5 close friends to move 1300 miles from Kentucky to the watermelon colored mountains of New Mexico.
Maybe it was when I stopped letting people walk all over me and found my “no”.
Maybe it was when I asked the familiar-faced cashier at the food co-op if she knew anyone looking for a roommate. We lived together in three different houses over the next six years and made each one a home together.
Maybe it was making the choice to attend acupuncture school, diving into the study of a mysterious medicine from China to make my living sticking needles in people to help them heal.
Maybe it was when I traveled to the UK on a whim and stumbled into the hills of Glastonbury where I first heard the myth of Rhiannon and her birds that sing between the worlds and her magical white faery horse and the ways that our wounds can become wonders.
Maybe it was when I said farewell to my long time friend, tobacco, for good.
Maybe it was when I took the trail marked difficult and found the cliffs marked dangerous. Those cliffs that overlooked the whole emerald valley gave me two hours alone in the woods to write, look and weep, listen to nothing and smell the blessed emptiness.
Maybe it was saying no to radiation treatment against the advice of my aggressive doctor and banishing the cancer cells in my uterus anyway.
Maybe it was when I taught my first workshop and no one laughed or pointed.
Maybe it’s like falling in deep permanent love and fighting for it and staying even when it’s uncertain and confusing and no one gets to be right all the time.
Maybe it’s writing because I have to, even if no one asks me to do it or pays me to do it.
Maybe it’s asking for initiation and getting it.
Maybe it’s not having children and loving so many who did not come from me.
Maybe it’s writing the proposal for my first book to go with my agent to the New York publishing houses for sale.
Maybe it’s creating home again and again, finding the corners of the Earth that sing to me where I can teach and learn and then returning to my people, my loves, my house.
Maybe it’s building a life that absolutely requires my full presence and will take nothing less.
What is the holy risk that still entices and dares you? There is a risk that is necessary to your life right now, knocking from the inside, incessantly calling you to the threshold of your next expansion. Do you know its name yet?