Inner guidance is our birthright, our compass, and our lifelong companion. While some of us are born deeply connected to this stream of wisdom others must work to hear the soft whisper.
Being born highly sensitive and deeply connected to my guidance has always served me, but none so well as it did on 9/11.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. My inner guidance began preparing me for that day years before.
When I entered college in 1998 I had intentions of becoming an environmental lawyer and saving the planet and animals from ill-intentions. I have always been creative and self-expressive but ignored my dreams of becoming an artist because it was “illogical”. After 4 semesters of political science classes, I felt uninspired. I let myself off the hook and decided to study what felt interesting. The following summer I went to Stanford University and immersed myself in color theory, photography and painting classes. My heart swelled.
When I returned to Amherst I enrolled in a class that piqued my interest: Tibetan Religion.
A feeling of unfounded excitement enveloped me on the first day of class. I was enamored with my professor and her reverence for Tibetan culture. After a particularly inspiring lecture, I approached Dr. Gyatso and asked if she knew of a program where I could experientially continue my studies. Nervous excitement enveloped me as I flipped through the study abroad catalog that was filled with photos of India, Nepal and Tibet. I imagined how it would feel to spend a semester photographing people in the Himalayas and wondered how I could incorporate the experience into my degree.
Fortunately, I was enrolled at a university that celebrated studying what felt good and offered a program to earn a bachelor’s degree in an individual concentration. I successfully shifted majors and was on track to receive a BA in Photojournalism and Tibetan Studies. The only hurdle was convincing my parents of my genius idea!
When I went home for Thanksgiving I shared the news with my family. I was legitimately surprised when they met my enthusiasm with hesitation and concern.
“Why would you want to go to India?” my grandmother asked with a tone in her voice that said more than her words.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go to Italy or France?” asked my mom.
I was sure.
My inner guidance was loud and clear.
It didn’t make logical sense, but I had to go.
At that time, my mom was the director of a corporate day care center in lower Manhattan and began presenting “Balancing Work and Parenting” workshops for several Wall Street companies. I have always pushed my mom to live what she teaches and her willingness to grow has allowed us to have a loving, connected, treasured relationship today.
I was unrelenting. My parents were eventually able to move past their anxious thoughts and sort out reasonable concerns from irrational anxiety by researching the program and speaking with the director. They consciously soothed their fears, tuned into their own inner guidance and trusted my journey.
My rational mind questioned my tenacity when I agreed to get a “zillion” immunizations, take Malaria pills and give up being vegetarian so as not to make waves in a cultural immersion program.
I submitted the application anyway. I had to.
Upon hearing I was waiting to be listed, I felt deflated. This study abroad program was the last coursework needed to complete my degree. The thought of an unnecessary semester of school felt draining. Instead, I found an internship with a photography studio in lower Manhattan. I would live at home, commute into the city and be immersed in the art world.
Logically it was perfect, but something felt off.
In early August, I got a call that someone canceled and the program had room for me. Nerves and excitement engulfed me.
It took 3 full days to travel from New York to India. Mcleod Ganj is a tiny mountain town just above Dharamsala, where the Exiled Tibetan Government is located. I settled into a 4-week long home-stay with a Tibetan family who welcomed me into their already full two-room house. Immediately I was treated like part of their family.
I knew I was meant to be there.
One warm September evening I was having dinner with three students and our conversation was interrupted by a pair of locals. “You sound like Americans. Did you hear the World Trade Center was blown up?” one asked. “The Pentagon too!” said the other.
Once the disbelief dissolved, panic set in.
My mom worked on Wall Street. My frantic calls confirmed that, despite being blocks from ground zero, my mom was safe.
I was supposed to be in lower Manhattan too.
On September 12th, HH the Dalai Lama held a prayer session at his monastery. I remember being in awe of his ability to stay loving despite the unconscionable tragedy that unfolded the day before.
It was the first time in my life I deliberately cultivated compassion.
The concept of consciously conjuring an emotion was new to me and a lesson that I had to learn.
Each year, as September 11th approaches, I am reminded that by following my inner guidance and moving past irrational fear, life has the potential to become a serendipitous experience.