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Leaps of faith down a path less traveled

Jennifer Oechsner


I recently celebrated my 43rd birthday and wow, a lot has happened in my last journey around the sun. In fact, I feel like the past 3 years have been rife with transition, leaps of faith and big change.  Celebrating my 43rd birthday in Shanghai is not something I thought I would be doing a year, or even 6 months ago. But well, life has a funny way of taking twists and turns sometimes. 

If you know me at all, you know that I have never been a person who takes the traditional path in life. Sometimes I think my life would have been easier if I had sought the “American dream”. This path of a traditional career, a house and a family that fills the gaps and empty rooms is something I see bring people great joy and reward. But somehow it is not a path that ever spoke to me. Maybe it was fear or maybe it’s been the longing to explore, or maybe both. 

The small catholic school I went to in Hartford, WI had a cultural fair of sorts every year. One year when I was 9 or 10 I remember seeing the Japanese table. It was just a small table with a display of a few beautifully exotic items (well, they were exotic to me at the time anyway). I don't remember what was all there but I do remember the kimono hanging on the backdrop, the chopsticks, lacquered bowls and pictures of architecture I longed to see up close. There was something so magical about this part of the world to me; even though I’m not sure I really knew exactly where it was at the time. Between that, my fascination with the Blue Lagoon and all the time I spent spinning the globe in my living room I knew that there was so much out there to explore. My naive young mind didn't know that I was putting energy into the world that just might have a strong impact on how my life unfolded. Its fascinating how one seemingly small event, a seemingly innocuous thought or a seemingly small decision can alter the course of one’s life. This ripple effect of small pebbles thrown into the pond of life is something I spend a lot of time contemplating. Maybe this cultural fair put something greater in motion. Maybe thinking this is my adult naive mind. Im really not sure. 

Fast forward to 2016. There were many adventures before then but this is the one that has been the catalyst for a lot of upheaval over the past 3 years. I was traveling alone after a yoga and hiking retreat I led with a friend. In spite of the blazing heat and mosquitos lurking in the grass I decided to do a yoga practice in the garden area of the hotel I was staying at. I remember feeling shy to do it, not wanting to draw attention but I knew my body needed it so I thought, what the hell. After my practice someone approached me and started talking to me about yoga. He worked at a University in Rajasthan, India and asked me if I had ever considered teaching in India. I felt my eyes widen and my stomach flip. I thought, “could it be possible that this is my chance to live abroad again? Could my dream of living in India for a while finally be coming true?” Well, it almost was. Unfortunately the job that was potentially on the table fell through. When it didn't work out I told myself that by the time I turned 42 I would be living abroad again. I had just turned 40. Then, 2 years later, I got an email from the same individual. He wanted to tell me about another opportunity in India. So, long story short, 2 months after I received that I email, I was on a plane headed for Jaipur, India. I sold my car, packed up the stuff that remained after what seemed like 25 trips to good will and off I went. Now of course, there were many tearful goodbyes and moments of terror over whether I was making the right decision. After all, I had a good life in Portland. Lots of friends, a business that was growing, a boyfriend, and I absolutely loved living in the Pacific Northwest. But I just couldn't say no. The universe was giving me a gift. I knew that if I didn't to do it, the time would come quickly that I would regret it. What transpired over the next 9 months of living in India was interesting to say the least. The specifics of that experience are better left for another story. For now, I am more curious about the leap of faith it took to get me there. 

In the past few months there have been a series of additional leaps. I made the hard decision to say goodbye to someone I cared about very much. I committed to 10 days of meditation when I could barely manage sitting in meditation for 15 minutes a couple days a week. I spent 2 weeks on a motorcycle with someone I barely knew going in. And now, here I am in Shanghai living in a city that I never thought much about and it turns out I love it. I’m not saying I’ll stay forever, I just mean that life is full of surprises. 

Shanghai is by far the biggest city I have ever lived in. But its also safe, relatively quiet, the streets are clean and the metro system is fantastic. A few of my other favorite things are all of the lush green parks, the old couples dancing in the park at dusk, watching the Tai Chi practitioners when I run in the morning, the old men and their little birds in cages, Chinese “breakfast burritos”, and the plethora of culinary oddities I have admired but yet to try. 

In spite of all of the amazing things I have seen and wonderful experiences I have had, I’m still not sure exactly where my path will take me; this path who's seed was planted many years ago has not yet been fully cultivated. My choice to evade the path commonly chosen hasn't really felt like a choice, but something I was drawn to. I am sure this was hugely frustrating to my parents when I was younger (I think they are used to it now), but I have always been inclined to let the wind take me. Birthdays are a time of contemplation for many of us and for me the older I get the bigger the questions. One of them is whether I should keep taking these leaps of faith? Each one has resulted in some hardship along with the joy. Before my hands even made it back to the keyboard I knew the answer, a resounding no. Could I learn to be a little more cautious sometimes? Well sure and there are some mistakes I have learned from. But I still can say that I have followed my heart and that is something that this leo sure is drawn to do. The loneliness I sometimes feel on this path is one of the hardest parts. I have met so many wonderful people in my travels but its not the same as the comfort and security we experience with family and friends we have been close to for a long time. While I know that this empty space we all feel sometimes can’t be filled by cars or houses but it also cant be filled by mountain views and filling up my passport. I’m still working on the complete answer but what I do know is that embracing the truth of who we are and the path we have chosen is a step in the right direction for us all to cultivate long term happiness.

As I continue to navigate life in yet another new country I also continue to navigate the minutiae of my psyche. The challenges that present themselves put to test the skills I have learned in my meditation training. The new friends and random acts of kindness from strangers keep me hopeful and rooted in joy.