Sometime in mid-January: a colorful, breezy day in Mill Valley. Late afternoon. The cheerful sun beams through the windows of our small two-bedroom apartment, and the birds of the tree-dense valley chirp busily.
And I’m curled up on a linen Ikea couch by the living room window, legs tucked, staring into the distance, warding off a feeling of gripping panic.
Hello, rock bottom.
Having just left my job and a relationship, I find myself facing the daunting task of rearranging the building blocks of my life from the ground up without the scaffolding of the two things that had become, respectively, my sources of financial and emotional support.
To top it all off, the one solution I’d placed all hope of emotional and financial salvation on was an online business idea that had almost overnight lost all appeal for me. The shame, embarrassment, and self-directed anger that resulted were immense.
Not only could I no longer trust in the security of my life circumstances (having toppled them all to chase a crazy life of dreams and passion), I couldn’t trust my own capricious will.
I felt, for the first time in my life, like a failure.
The ambitious powerhouse I’d proudly always been had been replaced by someone so foreign to me, characterized by only a strange and utter lack of desire to engage with the world.
Even music lost its appeal. Podcasts. Books. Being social felt unbearably overstimulating, and my multitude of hobbies and curiosities—the core of what I had always assumed to be my identity—had vanished in a puff of smoke.
What the hell just happened?
Was I suddenly clinically depressed? Would this weird, foreign feeling of intense disinterest in the world ever go away? Would all my big, engulfing dreams now remain forever as just dreams sketched out in my imagination, never to manifest?
Inexplicably, I simply wanted nothing to do with the world around me, and I didn’t know how to change that or even to explain it to anyone else.
There was this whisper of a redemptive feeling.
There was a quiet but definite feeling of stillness. A meditativeness, even.
Yes, the world had lost all interest. The vicissitudes of daily life, of working towards goals, of chasing social events and romance, of improving myself even (what constantly fueled me) all just seemed completely pointless to me.
But this growing seedling of inner quiet within was a hum that I could tune into if I let go of the panicked thoughts and just… listened.
While the first few days—even weeks—of this sudden thrust into hermitage, essentially, felt clumsy, terrifying, and monumentally lonely, what happened when I stopped fighting the inwardness was unexpected.
For the first time, I understood the full meaning of faith. How it could move mountains, how it could bring joy amidst chaos.
And so I rode the waves of this inward movement with growing trust, even as my rational self screamed out in panic about practicality, finances, security. About failure.
I moved through the world slowly over the next few weeks. Every morning, I woke up and I asked myself with all the love and gentleness I could muster: what would feel most nourishing today?
And I followed the nourishing things, only. If the answer was “nothing,” I would simply go to the woods nearby and drink in my surroundings, forcing nothing. And so went the next several weeks.
This is how I found rebirth.
It was like after running on the treadmill of accomplishment for years, I let my soul finally have a rest. And only then did I find once more my love for the world. And this time, it returned with a clarity I’d never known.
Nothing externally was happening, but something in me was retreating, transforming, and undergoing a shape shift so profound that it knocked me off my feet, onto my knees, and forced me into a state of deep quiet for weeks on end for the first time in my life, even as I was about to enter great momentum. And the more I allowed this strange meditative inward movement, the less terrifying and the more ecstatic it became.
A new life of possibility knocked at my door, but it needed me to empty my inner space out completely before it could be realized. I see this now, only in retrospect, surveying all I have been blessed with since then.
I don’t know that this is a relatable experience. I’ve kept quiet about it for months now, only sharing with closest friends and family. Just about two or three people, really.
But at one point or another, I believe that everyone hits bottom. Everyone experiences their perfect storm when they have either lost all desire for what they knew or are prevented by financial circumstance or physical sickness from acting on their existing desires.
And this may be the best, most cleansing thing to ever happen. It was for me.
From that deep and strange quiet period of my life I emerged with so much gratitude, such a crystal clear sense of who I was and what I was here for, and who my tribe is.
Not to mention a resolve and drive towards my purpose that are stronger than ever before. And I believe that I would have been burnt out and left passionless if I had forced myself to chase accomplishment without letting there be a period of quiet first.
Now when I hear of someone experiencing the sudden crumbling of all the walls around them in their lives, of sickness and financial changes and career transitions (sometimes all at once) that knock them off their feet and force them onto a different path, I feel empathy, but also feel some hopefulness that they may undergo deep growth. Maybe they will emerge with clarity and a sense of self that they wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Even being witness to my mom’s journey of illness, where she's been unable to work or live in a “normal” functional way because her body will no longer let her has been a profound lesson in the redemptive potential of life's disruption.
What can you find in yourself when you no longer have income, a healthy body, independence, a “normal” social life? What strength and faith can you muster when everything is gone? What becomes of your identity if you have none of the status, relationships, labels, and meanings to tie your ego to that we so desperately cling to in life?
The compassionate wisdom, the self-love, and the patience that can come from these experiences, whether they are big and lasting like my mom’s or short-lived but sudden like my own, seem to me now to be so invaluable that I can evoke nothing but gratitude for the forceful teacher that life has been for us.
This process is, more often than not, very painful. Usually, being forced to reconsider who you are and what’s important is not a process we undertake willingly, being distracted by whatever we’re chasing in the moment. These times are often periods of tremendous loss or failure, with confusion and a feeling of immense helplessness or alienation from the world. Words can fail to capture what’s happening. And there’s no clear roadmap to help you navigate.
But there’s also an awakening that can happen. The cleansing process leaves in its wake only what’s essential. It leads you deeper into yourself.
And having come out on the other side fully intact and the better for it, I now believe that this process may be what life is all about.