A week ago today I turned thirty-three.
According to Urban Dictionary, the thirty-third year of your life is where you are reborn in some sense. Perhaps a mid (or slightly-more-than-a-quarter)-life crisis, perhaps an ego death, perhaps the year where you abandon old ways and start new …. or perhaps you were affixed to a cross and came out the other side a spiritual figure that historians, theologians, worshipers and dissenters make the subject of many a conversation.
In the lead-up to 33, my personal spiritual journey has led me down a fascinating path of exploring the life and teachings of Jesus Christ from a secular perspective. I’ve come across many interesting teachers, including Pastor Sal of Douglas UCC in Michigan, Bishop Joseph Shelby Spong and Father Richard Rohr. Although I did not grow up attending church regularly, religion has played a strong part in my life growing up, with my mother’s parents belonging to the Exclusive Brethren church. Christianity has had such a strong presence in my life through the influence of past generations, and it has been so interesting to experience this faith tradition outside the container of religion, through the teachings of progressive Christian leaders. After many YouTube videos, podcasts episodes and reading of articles, I’ve come to realise one thing: outside the container of religion, the message at the centre of every major faith tradition is the same: love one another. It really is that simple.
Over my birthday weekend, I felt a wave of surrender wash over me.
I have been practicing yoga since early 2020, and what I love about yoga is how the teachings and learnings from the physical practice translate into everyday situations. My inability- or unwillingness- to surrender to the waves of life have caused me much unnecessary suffering. Maybe this was due to youth and inexperience, maybe it was my perfectionist tendencies, but this concept of surrender has been a challenging one.
Another lesson from the yoga mat is how we cause ourselves suffering, whether it is pushing ourselves into a pose that our body is not yet ready for, or mulling over past grievances, or stressing over future events. Being mindful of how I cause myself suffering, even in the smallest ways throughout the day, has been profoundly transformative.
Besides the age that I turned, my birthday weekend as a whole was an incredible lesson in suffering, surrender and letting go. My birthday fell one day before the Pisces Full Moon, which if you are an astrology fiend like me, you know was charged with astro-fuckery.
In the week leading up to my birthday, my housemate moved her teenage son into our share house. This was okay- it had been on the cards for a while. The first two nights he was in the house, he played computer games loudly until midnight, shouting and laughing, unaware of his disruptive noise levels within the confines of his headphones. As a result, I was sleep deprived on my birthday, which I was not impressed about. I did get some sleep, but I wasn’t as energised as I would have liked to have been for my special day. I had a word with my housemate and she promptly addressed the issue with her son, and we haven’t had an issue since. Regardless, I was still struggling with significant fatigue on the day, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin my birthday. I had a perfect day planned: I was going to my regular gig of facilitating Writing Fridays at my local library, enjoying dedicated writing time and holding space for others to do the same. After Writing Fridays I was meeting with friends for dinner and drinks.
I finished up at Writing Fridays and headed home for a nap and to get ready for my evening out. All was going well. I headed on down to The Scottish Prince, my favourite local watering hole here in Palm Beach, where I met my friend and fellow author Christine Betts for pre-dinner drinks. While here, I received a distressed phone call from my best friend- who I will call BF. She had been in an altercation with a family member that had turned physical. Police and ambulance had been involved. It was messy. She was supposed to be joining us for dinner and drinks that night, but understandably was in no state to be sociable. I told her to pack a bag and head straight to my place, and arranged for my housemate to let her in.
Christine and I migrated upstairs to Frida Sol, the modern Mexican restaurant above The Scottish Prince, for dinner. There, my other friend Sophie joined us. I was feeling flustered; hearing BF so upset had rattled me, and I didn’t feel like I could completely relax over dinner. I was also disappointed that BF couldn’t join us for the evening. I was angry at her family member for causing such drama on my birthday and robbing me of precious time with my friends, not just with BF but those who were present there with me, whom I had to step away from them to take calls from BF and make sure she got to my place safely. The whole situation made me angry and disappointed, but again, I was determined not to let this situation spoil my night, and the company of the people who were present.
I arrived home later that evening, and BF and I sat for a few hours debriefing. She was in physical pain, in shock, and also incredibly disappointed to have missed out on dinner and drinks. Due to her study commitments, she and I had only seen each other twice in two months, and we were well overdue for a catchup. I set her up on my couch, and eventually we both went to bed, utterly exhausted.
The following day, I headed out to do some birthday shopping, leaving BF to her uni work. That afternoon, we had cups of tea and fairy cakes out in my back garden. It was the birthday celebration that should have been- BF had even bought candles and party hats!
That evening, we headed down to SWELL Sculpture Festival, an annual event which exhibits sculptures on Currumbin Beach for a week in September.
The following day I headed out again, to Bunnings this time. My friend Sophie had sent me a picture of these small, magnetic planter pots she had found there. They contained indoor plants that stuck to your refrigerator. I simply had to have one, and was on a mission to find them. I succeeded in my mission, and finished my outing with a long-overdue full-body massage in Coolangatta.
When I got home, BF and I reconvened in the back garden again, where we spent hours chatting as the sun went down. That night, she continued with her uni work while I watched two episodes of Mr. Mercedes.
BF left early the next morning for the Sunshine Coast, where she had arranged to stay with her partner. That afternoon, I went to work. I was exhausted from the weekend’s excitement, and not in the mood for people, especiallymy boss. The comedown of the weekend all hit me at once, and I was feeling quite angry at one point about how the events had unfolded. It didn’t seem fair. Why couldn’t things just go right for one day? I wanted to cry, and shed a few tears between customers. The following day, I spent well over an hour on the phone with BF, talking about what had transpired and how it had made me feel. This is what I love about our friendship: that I can be honest about my feelings with her. We also talked about how the events of the weekend had brought us closer together- we already both knew how close we were, that our friendship was not the superficial, surface-level type. But now it had been proved. We were prepared to be there for each other in times of crisis. We had each other’s backs when shit hit the fan.
I had been disappointed that BF couldn’t join me for dinner and drinks on the Friday night. But, instead of just a few hours, I got to spend the whole weekend with my best friend. THAT was a birthday wish come true, and a huge opportunity for learning to surrender.
Exactly ten years ago, I spent my birthday on my own for the very first time. I wasn’t exactly on my own- I was on a 14-day Topdeck tour of Britain and Ireland with a busload of other 20 to 30 somethings. But my birthday was the first day of the tour. Everyone was strangers, and no-one really cared that it was my birthday. I missed being surrounded by my friends and loved ones on that day, and decided not to spend my birthday away again. Over the past few years I have felt the significance of birthdays meaning less and less to me. I prefer people’s presence over presence, and while I certainly enjoy the extra attention, I’m not fussed on being the centre of attention. I don’t feel like I would be bothered if I had to spend the day alone, and would treat the day as an opportunity to focus on myself, re-centreing and reconnecting, doing things that I love.
This past week, I have felt myself opening. Letting go. Surrendering. Allowing vulnerability. Here in this strange new space, I have felt a bit uncomfortable. My default has always been anxious wariness and preparedness, but on the other side of surrender, I have found self-compassion and loving kindness. I have felt nurtured, by forces seen and unseen. I have found trust and peace of mind. I have felt more myself than I have in a long time.
Thirty-three is going to be a good year.