Although I was unequivocally happy to be back in the village in a room with a view of the lake, with the church, albeit more dilapidated and worse for wear, or so it seemed, heaving its shoulder to lean on close by, a question arose ever urgently in my mind, “What the hell am I doing here?”
Winding back: we left Moscow early in the morning on July 5, 2012, and after spending the night to break up the journey at the place we had found previously on the Kema River, we arrived in the village on Lake Onega in the afternoon of the next day.
The Kema River
Cleo met us, but without the former openness and joy that had swept us in and made us feel so welcome before. She was flustered, cranky, and tired. Timothy had been hired at the local stone quarry and was gone for long hours, leaving Cleo to handle everything by herself at home. She was very much on the defensive and easy to take umbrage. Things immediately got off on the wrong foot.
The room upstairs in the main house had been prepared for us though, meaning it had electricity, a single bed and a chair. We scrubbed the floor ourselves, added our own mattresses for sleeping, set up the table we had brought by the window for me to work, and later even added an electric hotplate for cooking.
I set up my laptop and even managed an Internet connection although it was slow and unreliable, but it served me nonetheless, and I took immense delight in the view. But that delight was tinged with unease. I felt the urgency of my question “What the hell am I doing here?” from the very first day. It was almost immediately followed by an answer: “I am here for a reason, although I am not sure I am going to like it and do not fully understand what it is, but I am not going to leave until I find out.”
Still I thought I may be overdramatizing and pushed the niggling unease aside. Something I had often thought about and wished for had materialized – I was here with my laptop in the country, able to work while enjoying the beauty of a natural setting and the rural life.
Over the next couple of days, however, Cleo informed me of how badly she thought I was doing spiritually. My soul was in a cocoon-like state, small and shriveled, said she. I was making no progress at all, I was wallowing in a bog, no warmth emanated from me, I did not reach out to people, people were not attracted to me, I was not glowing or appealing, I was closed and shut off from the world. I was like a robot, afraid of Ivan, afraid of being who I really am, not honest with myself, and wearing a mask.
I listened to her and believed it. I cringed and felt the entire brunt of my worthlessness, lowness, and squalidness, I was so crushed, bewildered, and befuddled. I thought I had been making progress, I thought I had been learning to love myself, learning to be honest with myself, learning to see my flaws, but not blame myself for past mistakes, rather accept my shortcomings and go on from there. Now I was being told that none of my past work had reaped any fruit, I was still as unloved and unlovable in my own eyes as ever. But how could this be true? I did not think it was, but if it was not true, then how could Cleo say that I was in such a paltry place? Surely if I was indeed growing spiritually, she would see it. I felt squashed and very sheepish, as though I really were closed, dishonest, masked, plastic, cowering, and afraid. It seemed so unfair. I wanted to change, I was striving to change, I thought I was changing, growing, becoming more expansive and enlightened, but I was being told, NO!!
When I tried to defend myself and talk about the progress I thought I was making, Cleo told me there was a difference between the self I operated with on a daily basis and my soul, that eternal part of me. This was what she was referring to when she said I was in a cocoon state.
Now, having reached Step 140 in Steps to Knowledge, I have a better idea of all this and can say that my soul is my True Self, which by definition cannot be in a cocoon. If I am to believe what it says in Step 24: I Am Worthy of God’s Love: “You are indeed worthy of God’s love. In fact, you really are God’s love. Without pretense of any kind, at the very core of yourself, this is your True Self,” and I do believe it, how could anything Cleo said be true?
Now I take great comfort in a later Step. Now I see the contrast.
Step 37. There Is a Way to Knowledge: “You must learn to value the true and not to value the false, and it takes time to learn to separate the two and to recognize them. It takes time to learn that the false does not satisfy you and that the true does satisfy you. This must be learned through trial and error and through contrast. As you approach Knowledge, your life becomes more full, more certain and more direct. As you go away from it, you reenter confusion, frustration and anger.”
But back then in July 2012, I was still learning through trial and error. So I cried and walked through the forest and stood amidst the trees calling for help, beseeching to be shown the way, shown the truth, shown how to climb once more up the path toward the light. I would not give up.
In Wisdom from the Greater Community: Spiritual Practice, it says: “If you are prepared to climb the mountain, then you must keep going. Even if it gets hard or confusing, you must keep going. And, as you proceed, many of your expectations will prove to be wrong, and you will need to establish new expectations and new evaluations.”