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Chapter 1 of Questing Marilyn:
Calling To Quest

Personal Growth Through Travel

I arrive home just after eleven o'clock, tired and listless. I am a therapist with a private practice in Oakville. I do some of my work about an hour's drive away, in Toronto, where I lead a weekly therapy group of incest survivors.

The house is unusually dark. I am surprised and slightly disappointed to see that all the house lights, inside and out, are off.

I turn my key in the front door lock and gently push the door open. My little white dog, Pickles, has heard my car. He has been watching through the window. His tail is wagging noiselessly in greeting. I pick him up for a wet lick of a kiss, turn the outside lights on, and then release him for a moment to the lawn outside the front door. I turn on the hall light and flip through the mail as I stand at the open door. Pickles runs back inside and wiggles to be picked up. I close and lock the door.

My husband and three children are all in bed and appear to be quietly asleep. Everything looks in order, school bags are on the counter and the breakfast table is set. Save for the seemingly loud ticking of the kitchen clock, silence.

Even though I feel physically tired, I am too emotionally charged to sleep. I put Pickles down and pour myself a glass of cold white wine from an open bottle in the refrigerator. I take it into the family room. Pickles follows. I am glad of his company. I start to question Jack's early retiring and the darkened house. This is not usual. Some lights are always left on when one of us is out after dark. I leave the lights off in the family room and move about by the dim light reflected from the hall.

Not wanting to stir feelings that lie buried in the place where I hide my troubles, I make a mental excuse for him. To block further questioning, I settle myself on the couch and turn on the television with the volume low. Pickles hops up and burrows in beside me. Flipping channels to see what will catch my interest, I stop at a peaceful scene of luxuriant green English countryside. The tranquillity, soft music and the sight of gently rolling hills soothe my spirit. I recline further into the comfort of the couch. The lilt in the narrator's voice describing the legend of King Arthur and the Quest for the Holy Grail rings familiar in my ears. Something touches somewhere deep inside me. I feel an emotional jolt. I watch and listen with a new intensity that surprises me. I feel as if I know these stories as well as I know my own name. Like a call from home, a feeling of warm familiarity courses through me. I mentally search for the source of my arousal.

Is it the excitement I felt in reading Mary Stewart's tales about the legends of King Arthur and the Grail, or Marian Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon? Both of these authors captivated my interest. I lost myself in the stories they wove and felt touched by the lives they created with their words.

Memories of travels in England with my husband and the wonderful, close times we shared also stir my emotional soup. We have enjoyed some particularly close and happy experiences, undisturbed by the responsibilities of parenting and daily living. In the stillness of my home, that intimacy is now acutely absent. My breast aches with yearning. I drink the cold wine, feeling the chill of it in my mouth and throat. I let myself feel the effects of the alcohol as it softens my rigidity. I start to relax.

The program credits roll up the screen and, as they conclude, the music fades. I push the control button to shut off the television. I do not want to break my reverie with commercials or station identification. As the screen darkens, I am left in the quiet stillness of my own home. The words I want to go scream in my head. A swelling of emotion fills me like warm water flowing from some inner depth. The intensity of the desire shocks me. I really, really want to go. I want the change, the adventure, and the challenge.

What is happening to me?

I am shocked by the suddenness of my thoughts and the intensity of my feelings. Somewhere deep in my breast, there is a tender place that has no physical existence. Unexpectedly, when something stirs my spirit, there is a resonance that registers itself only in that place. The first stirring is sometimes muted, a mere flutter, like a soft longing faintly heard, yet unmistakable. At other times, like a shock of electricity aimed straight at my most vulnerable spot, I am jolted into awareness.

Is it that I want to run away from what I have or do I want to run to somewhere or something else?

I know that the process of change is often triggered by a response to stress. Flight from the cause of the stress is natural. In this flight response the direction of escape is not pre-planned. It is a panic reaction. I have too much responsibility with a sense of too little power. I am struggling to make my life more the way I want it to be. This is stressful. I feel an intense desire to run away, to just start running and run and run and run.

I also know that creative change can be the result of a desire to explore and experience a place that was previously thought to be out of reach. This is the reaction that comes as a calling to follow a dream. I want a dream to chase. I feel as if both the desire to run away and the desire to follow a dream are occurring within me at the same time.

What am I planning now?

I whisper the words into the semidarkness.

The question inside my head implies that I have already started in a new direction. I sit and let my mind and emotions create without censure.

Is this about escape or Quest?

I know I have a busy life. I regularly deal with other people's wants and needs. I know I am stressed. But my stress keeps me going. Has my life become too predictable? Am I doing enough for myself outside my responsibilities for others? Do I even feel connected to who I have become?

In this quiet moment of self-indulgence, I imagine going to England on a Quest for the Holy Grail, the cup of salvation. I will go on a Quest.

This silent declaration results in a feeling of power. I am making a firm decision. I can and will make something happen that is just for me. I do not know how or when, but I will look for an opportunity.

Whatever is coming together for me at this moment lights a fire in my heart. Scalding tears flow silently down my cheeks and I leave them unchecked. I know this is a very significant moment. How and why is not yet clear, but I am certain that this is the beginning of something that will change my life.

I have learned over the years that when I let some previously unrealized idea just flow through me, a tingling radiates throughout my body and my eyes often fill with tears. The tears tell me: This is important!

I shift my mind into neutral. This is easy to do in the muted light.

Pickles is asleep and motionless beside me. I become focused in the present moment, keeping my mind first on my breathing, then on the centre of my forehead just above the bridge of my nose. I am both receptive and intensely aware of myself. I learned this skill in a workshop at a professional conference and I have found it very useful when I want to settle and focus myself. From this position, I can feel my feelings and hear my thoughts as if they were sitting on my shoulder. This sensitivity leads me to recognize the signposts that only I can discern on the way to my next transformation. I must make something change. I can feel a change coming but not quite see it yet.

Some people know what I am talking about. They have told me their stories. Sometimes clients come to therapy in this pre-awareness state wanting to know why they feel such restlessness and an anticipation of something yet unknown. When they discover what the next step is, some do not heed the call. Their instinct is not given serious consideration. They feel too much fear to change. They bury their feelings and deny the pull of their psyche. They wipe their tears and apologize. When they remain oblivious to their intuition they are avoiding opportunities for transformation. They stay rigid and stuck in known territory.

They stubbornly cling to the familiar and try in vain to control their world so change does not encroach. They act as if they can avoid what is a necessary part of being human. This denial may work for a while, but inevitably they will lose their grasp on their known universe.

The shift may come gradually at first or be sudden and shocking, like an earthquake along a tense fault line. I regularly work with people who are in the process of change and crisis. I do not want to resist this opportunity in my own life. I let go of any remaining self-control.

Let go and let be, let go and let God be my guide.

Pickles stirs and pushes at my arm with his nose. He scratches my leg with his paw, sensing my turmoil. I pull him close and cry softly into his little furry body. I slowly relax as the tears flow. Crying can be a good release of inner tension. Finally I sit in silence, my mind stilled. After a while, I feel sleep scratching at my eyes. I resist the wandering of my mind and try to quiet the chatter in my head.

I slowly and quietly climb the stairs, change into a nightgown, and slide into bed beside my apparently sleeping husband. I feel purged, tired, and a new sense of something creative growing inside me. This is the beginning of my next rebirth.

John Matthews, in his book, At the Table of the Grail: Magic and the Use of Imagination, describes nostalgia as the most powerful impulse underlying the attractiveness of the Grail stories.

"There is a common language, a mode of consciousness, almost a secret sign which can be read and recognized by all who are similarly engaged. Such realizations help fend off the feeling of isolation which can dog the steps of those who seek the Grail."

Was there a secret sign for me in the television show? icon2

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