It was the day I closed a major chapter of my life. I watched as my beloved Bösendorfer grand piano, which I had just sold, was carted off to its new home. This piano had once represented my dreams. It was no ordinary piano. It was a top of the line, artist’s instrument. Beautiful to the eyes as well as the ears. Now there was an empty space where it once stood.
Music had always been a passion. I started piano lessons when I was eight years old and continued as an adult. I had long dreamed of having a piano like this. When I bought it, I was working in high tech, working my way up the corporate ladder, making good money. It seemed I had it all – successful career, happy marriage, and a serious hobby playing Chopin and Beethoven in my spare time.
When a business windfall brought some unexpected cash, I jumped at the chance to buy my dream piano. In so many ways, it represented the different strands of my life coming together – a nice home, financial security, and living out my musical dreams.
But the irony is I barely ever got to play that piano. Around the time I bought it, I was pounding on a computer keyboard by day and the piano keyboard by night. So those hands rarely got to rest. And with that, my whole perfect world came crashing down.
Within a matter of weeks, both wrists grew so painful from severe tendonitis that I had to stop using my hands almost entirely. When the injury was at its worst, I couldn’t even hold up a coffee mug. Playing the piano was out of the question. Permanently, as it turned out. Then, when the events of 9/11 happened, all work for my fledgling solo consultancy dried up. So much for my perfect world.
There’s a saying that when one door in life closes, a new one opens. It took 13 years to recover from my injury and unplanned career change. Even today I live with lasting repercussions in my wrists, not to mention less financial security.
But my life veered in a completely different direction because of this turn of events. It was what woke me up — and to this day I’m grateful it happened. The way I’m living now — as an ordained Buddhist, meditation teacher, and life coach – bears little resemblance to what it was back then.
What’s deceiving about such a condensed story told in retrospect is that it sounds so neat and tidy. It glosses over the false turns, the dead ends, and the terror of feeling forced out into the unknown with no guarantee that anything will work out. There were so many times I wondered if I should throw in the towel and go back to my high-tech career so I wouldn’t have to live with the uncertainty and money worries. The compulsion to retreat into the comfort and security of the old and familiar is unbelievably powerful!
What I’ve learned is that when life pulls the rug out from under us, we have a choice. We can either look backward at it as a disaster and a loss, or look forward through it as an opening toward something new. Which view we take makes all the difference. The key to choosing wisely is a willingness to sit mindfully with everything, no matter what.
I remember telling my friends that I felt like a trapeze artist suspended in mid-air: I had just let go of the swing behind me and was stuck in that moment where I couldn’t see the swing ahead, let alone grab it. And I didn’t want to look down because I knew there was no safety net under me. At moments like that, the pull of our fears can be overwhelming. But something told me I had no real choice but to keep looking ahead. I had to trust that the momentum of my leap would carry me to a safe landing.
When we sit mindfully in the midst of our confusion, something different happens. When we press pause on our reflexive, fear-based choices, and instead allow the moment to unfold on its own, a shift happens. We’re no longer ruled by our thoughts from the past, but instead putting our energy toward building something new. One small step at a time, we start changing the trajectory of our lives.
As I said before, my life looks very different today. I took up singing, and performed for a while with a jazz/pop a cappella group. That was a blast. And there’s nothing more fulfilling to me than teaching meditation and coaching people toward building more meaningful and satisfying lives.
And you know what? I never would’ve gotten here if that rug hadn’t been pulled out from under me. The thought of leaving behind my “perfect world” would never have occurred to me. I also see that these opportunities for waking up don’t come along only in once-in-a-lifetime crises. They’re happening all the time. Every moment we live is an opportunity to start afresh.
My living room feels more spacious since I’ve rearranged the furniture, sans piano. It feels more comfy, more inviting. I’m not sure what will come into this space that’s opened up, but I’ll be mindfully watching for what it might be.
Sunada Takagi is leading at workshop at SHE DID IT/Boston on March 24, 2014 at Babson College in Needham. For more information on SHE DID IT/Boston, click here.