Welcome to the second era of my life, which picks up where the first era ends:
I began to take baby steps. I quit the donut shop gig for a better paying service job, where I was quickly promoted to shift supervisor. Less than a year later, I returned to the community college and earned a spot on the Dean’s List.
I was no longer a victim of my circumstances. My depression vanished, and I began to see life as a bundle of opportunities.
In fall of 1998, I transferred to Purdue’s main campus and got involved with a student environmental advocacy group (EA) because their flyer promoted a campout, and I dig camping.
I was also taking a philosophy class, which I found fascinating, and which led me to pick up a copy of – affiliate link! – Think on These Things by Jiddu Krishnamurti (a late Indian philosopher) at a local bookseller.
I cannot overstate the impact that this single book has had on my life, even to this very day.
His wisdom is profound…and yet so simple. There is no way I can do his message justice by trying to summarize it for you. Please do yourself a favor and buy the book. Or, just read his teachings that are posted online (there are a ton).
Warning: my cause you to completely transform your life to the point where it’s no longer recognizable. Please proceed with caution.
From the Krishnamurti Foundation Trust, on Think on These Things:
Real culture is neither a matter of breeding nor of learning, nor of talent, nor even of genius, but is ‘the timeless movement to find happiness, God, truth.’ And, ‘When this movement is blocked by authority, by tradition, by fear, there is decay.’
I strongly identified with what I read and realized that I was doing what our culture expected me to do even though it wasn’t right for me. I was taking out student loans to pay for college so that when I finished I could work in a cubicle and make someone else rich doing something that was meaningless to me and of little (or even of negative) benefit to humanity. Rinse and repeat for 40+ years.
My involvement with EA intensified. I was meeting a lot of highly respected activists and found that the more time I spent with them, the more radicalized I became. I organized a protest at a huge multinational corporation, composed songs about “the revolution”, and became a proponent for direct action. I saw people talking the talk but not walking the walk, and I refused to be that person. Everything became about living in alignment with my values.
There were a few incidents of note that occurred during that time which triggered profound shifts in my consciousness. Watching a slaughterhouse video taken by undercover animal rights activists was one such incident. Another involved a lobbying trip to Washington DC. While there, I met a guy who told me about activists who were putting their lives on the line to protect land that was sacred to the Mendota people in Minnesota. The stories were riveting – they were stories laced with themes of oppression and greed…of police brutality, continued attempts to annihilate Indigenous cultures and peoples, and consumer-driven environmental destruction.
The more that I pondered Krishnamurti’s teachings, the more I was drawn to resist the “decay” that he described and be true to myself.
No going back
In late October of 1999, I gave up nearly everything I owned, dropped out of college, and joined other activists at The Minnehaha Free State (aka The Free State) in Minneapolis, MN. I lived in a tent, drank unfiltered water from a free-flowing spring, and adopted the “forest name” Justice. I sat in trees that were in the path of the bulldozers, guarded the encampment’s perimeter, and volunteered with local organizations that fed the poor (including us). I smoked peace pipes and participated in sweat lodges conducted by Indigenous elders. It was surreal.
I spent the next two years crisscrossing the country and helping with 2-way radio communications at mass protests. I got beaten by a cop at one protest, run over by a motorcycle cop at another, and faced down riot cops more than once. I squatted buildings, hopped freight trains, and got arrested at a famous Senator and Presidential Primary candidate’s office. I herded (and lost) sheep for a Diné elder, worked as a short-term editor at the EarthFirst! Journal, and became a union spy.
The community I associated with included many who fit the “black clad anarchist” stereotype. Some advocated sabotage. Many were proponents of “smashing the state.” I witnessed a remarkable amount of angry rhetoric and spoken affinity with people (in their minds, heroes) who smashed the storefront windows of multinational corporations, hurled molotov cocktails at police cars, and torched an SUV dealership.
I was getting really restless. Here I was, a peace-loving hippie who was surrounded by hate, judgment, and entitlement. Cops were “pigs”, not people (hate). If you weren’t willing to steal food from the community co-op because it wasn’t a “real” (aka worker-owned) co-op, there was something sketchy about you (entitlement). And, if you were a liberal but didn’t advocate the destruction of capitalism, you were simply viewed as scum (judgment)…
I had embarked on this path to live in absolute alignment with my values. And while I did experience some incredibly aligned moments, most of the time I was living in an extremely toxic environment. My heart was aligned with love, compassion, and integrity but I was immersed in a cesspool of entitlement, judgment, and hatred. Looking back, those who shared my values had relegated themselves to the perimeter of our community. It’s not that they weren’t there – they just weren’t willing to associate with the ugliness. They were stronger than I was.
The end of an era and another opportunity to surrender
The union spy thing ended right before 9-11. My environment was still toxic – I was tailing cars, protesting fancy events, and seeking intelligence in rat-infested dumpsters. I hated every minute of it. I attended the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Institute in Washington that October. I was not offered a job, but my on-again-off-again partner was. Not long after, we broke up – this time for good.
On Christmas Eve, I found out that I was pregnant. I had no money or job, and my family was over 1,000 miles away. I was living with six or seven activists and a dog in a duplex under less-than sanitary conditions. I was receiving public assistance and had no idea what to do.
In early February 2002, I surrendered.
I honored my intention to live in absolute alignment with my values, and I forgave myself for failing to do so.
I allowed my family to take me in. I say “allowed” because while they wanted me to come home (they were not proponents of my lifestyle), I resisted giving up on my “dream.”
My parents ended up being incredibly supportive during this period of my life. And, the era that followed provided the impetus for incredible personal growth.
Experience, strength, & hope
This era showed me what I was made of. I learned to recognize who I was…and wasn’t. I chose to live a life that was mine, despite my fears. I strived to live with integrity and in spiritual alignment. When I was out of alignment or not acting with integrity, I felt profound dis-ease.
During this time I developed unshakable faith that the Universe was truly looking out for me. From late 1999 to late 2000, there were periods when I was homeless; I had no money, no food, and no safe place to sleep. I hitchhiked, ate out of garbage dumpsters, and slept in abandoned buildings. And somehow, I never went hungry or fell victim to violence.
This faith continues to serve me. The faith that while I may not know how a difficult situation will resolve, I know that it will. There is no “if”. The greatest part about this faith is that it removes the need for me to use my rational mind to figure out a solution to a seemingly impossible situation.
If you don’t have faith that the Universe will provide what you need, meditation can help. So can choosing to witness certain happenings as being the small miracles that they are:
There was a time when my friends and I were hungry and were rummaging through a pizza dumpster for food. The manager came outside, which was normally our cue to run. He told us to wait, though, and came back with a couple of large boxes, which he flipped upside down. He returned a minute later with what must have been all of the pizza on the buffet and placed it on the makeshift tables. This small act of kindness towards a bunch of unsavory-looking dumpster-divers really moved me. It’s only one of many times where the Universe provided a solution that was unfathomable to me.
December 1999, Wenatchee, WA
Finally, if you need the courage to live a life that is yours, meditation or reflection is key. Or do what I did and try reading just about anything by Krishnamurti. Seeking approval from others will kill your courage faster than anything.
Era #3 of my life is about deep diving into spiritual and personal growth, which taught me how to set boundaries, be okay with people not being okay with me, and so much more. Click here to read round 3 of my experience, strength, and hope.