Defining the Path of My Heart

My friend sent me two questions that mirror each other:

1. What is the path of your heart?  How do you know you are on it?

2. What was your defining moment?

My response:  I can use my defining moment to help me recognize the path of my heart.

The defining moment that comes to my mind is the moment I knew I needed to leave Stanford.  On the one hand, I knew I should stop my master’s program in Russian studies because of the deep exhaustion within me.  Not so profound on the surface, especially since I took a leave of absence rather than quitting.  On the other hand, I remember this moment as a deep connection to a voice that spoke to me and guided me away from one path and onto another.  The emotional weeping and the complete mental and bodily experiences of exhaustion were visceral responses to this voice and its wisdom.  All parts of me joined together for a few minutes of clarity.  In that clarity I made a decision to leave Stanford.
Leaving Stanford was a step off the path of professionalism that I had started along when I began university.  For the last year of university, I had been flirting with the idea of becoming an artist and a yogini:  my entire being resonated with the blissful 8 hours a week I had been spending in sculpture and yoga classes.  But my upbringing and my training had placed squarely before me the path of upper middle class professionalism.  When I decided to leave Stanford a year later, I already knew the alternate path I would be taking.
Almost 16 years later, I remain artist and yogini.
Yet I need to stay in touch with my defining moment and the reasons I chose this path over the more well-traveled path.  After all, I am no longer simply a “starving artist” and an “ascetic yogini”.  Making and curating and selling art in the modern world have connected me with my years at the Wharton School of Business, years spent on the path of professionalism.
I must ask myself honestly, are you really still on the path of your heart?  Have these two paths merged?  Have you strayed onto the other path?  Or have I perhaps had another defining moment?
I won’t take a simplified position that making money in the modern market necessarily corrupts the heart and destroys the artistic spirit.  The Gurdjieff group that I am learning from told me, in no uncertain terms, that we must strive to be successful householders who have “leisure” time and energy to devote to our spiritual work.  Affording to pay the bills, to send the children to loving, paid caregivers, to attend classes and workshops, and to travel to uplifting locations, gatherings, and communities are all soul-nourishing benefits of earning a good living.  Having the time to spend on children, family, home, spiritual community, art-making, and internal reflection are benefits of working smart rather than hard.
We spend a lot of time talking and thinking about creating a business that reflects the fabric of our hearts.  Our hope is that we will be able to pour our deepest selves into our ventures and receive back more of the same.
Then there is the question of scale:  what size business should I be responsible for?  Working exclusively on ketubot over the last few years has been amazing and yet also smaller than the space I feel I can and should occupy.  A small cramped home art studio and dozens of hours each week running an office have together limited my artistic growth.  At the same time, growing as an artist and a businesswoman in a slow, organic manner feels to vibe with the development of my ability to be present in the world.  And when I am quiet enough to listen, I realize that I am growing.
Perhaps the paths are merging, slowly yet inevitably bringing together separate parts of myself– my experiences and my skills and my ambitions and my talents.  As Alon tells me, you never truly leave behind a part of yourself.  And I remember, too, that a path by its very nature changes day to day.  I cannot look behind me for clues as to which path I am on.
We think of “artist” and “yogini” as jobs or vocations but in many respects they are simply ways of seeing, thinking, feeling, and organizing my life.  I can run a business with artistry and with the nurturance of my own and others’ spirits in mind.  I can develop as an artist and a spiritual seeker through my responses to the daily stresses of life and work. I can remind myself that a life full of artistry and spiritual seeking will constantly shift, flow, and evolve.  Finally, I can regularly check in with the voices of my inner wisdom that my choices and goals are in tune with God’s plans for me.
Yet, looking back over the years, I do see another defining period of my life:  the first eight months of motherhood.
Devoting myself to my first child seemed natural enough, given my upbringing and personal expectations.  My husband was making money.  I loved my art seriously but did not have a serious career as an artist.  I had been raised by my stay-at-home mother and assumed this to be one of my life’s jobs.  My only hopes were to make a little art, to continue my yoga practice, and to teach some yoga.
My inner wisdom seems to speak to me through depletion. Perhaps, as they say, the “veils are thin” during periods of exhaustion, when the dream state is close at hand.  Like at Stanford, I again found my truths within the dark moments of my exhaustion– the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion of the new mother.  When I say “dark moments”, I mean that I fell into a depression that wrecked my nights, undermined my days, and gifted me a hole in the center of my being.  When asked how I was doing, I found myself saying, “I need a nanny and I need to make art.”
We couldn’t really afford a nanny, especially since my art tended to be hung on my own walls.  Yet I had made a few custom ketubahs earlier that year.  And so I decided to figure out how to make a business out of selling ketubahs.
I pulled myself out of my depression by believing I could be successful at combining my artistic talent with my business training.  Garnering my energy through a new warrior-like chi gong practice, I began to take steps along that old path of professionalism.  Meanwhile, mothering my new child fulfilled the part of me that loved the laid-back artist life.  In many ways I had returned to the life I had found during my last year at university:  balancing ambitious work with quiet, connected periods.
Almost seven years later, I remain mother (of 3), artist, yogini, and professional businesswoman. I embrace this life daily and find all parts of me engaged, active and challenged.  While it was once necessary to turn away from one path in order to follow another, today I am able to walk the entire path of my heart.

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