In the months since my family and I experienced the Great Northeast Ice Storm of December 2008, I’ve been thinking a lot about what really matters. For a few years now, I’ve been trying to make the shift toward living a more holistic life, moving my life in a direction that honors my body, my soul and my heart’s desires.
I gave up on a business career to chase the dream of being a professional actress in New York City, and when the industrial atmosphere of Manhattan began to feel detrimental to my well being, I let that dream go, and returned to my hometown in the Hudson Valley for a fresh start as a freelance writer living the country life.
On my last birthday, I vowed to begin a more serious journey toward wholeness, to integrate body, mind and soul. With this in mind, I purchased a copy of the book “The Wishing Year” by Noelle Oxenhandler, which Oxenhandler calls “a house, a man, my soul: a memoir of fulfilled desire.”
Noelle Oxenhandler’s book is all about the art and craft of wishing. A few years ago, unhappy with her life and longing for healing and a fresh start, Oxenhandler began a yearlong wishing experiment. Inspired by her friend Carol Watanabe, who personifies a life of wishes fulfilled, the author began a rigorous study of the history, science and magic of wishing, and made a few wishes of her own.
At the beginning of the book, we learn that Oxenhandler, a Zen Buddhist for thirty years, was at a turning point in her life. An affair with her Zen teacher and therapist led to the dissolution of her marriage, the loss of many friends, and the shattering of her tightly knit spiritual community. Inspired by her friend Carol, Noelle Oxenhandler embarked on a yearlong wishing adventure of “Putting it Out There.” She cast aside her deeply rooted skepticism and made three wishes: for a house that would serve as a home for herself and her teenage daughter, a romantic relationship with a man, and the healing of her spiritual life.
Along the way, Oxenhandler faces her deep skepticism about the act of wishing and learns to open herself to abundance. The book is fascinating in the way it traces the history of wishing through the ages, and she cites many authors, like Paul Pearsall, who have written on the subject. I had just started reading the book, and Pearsall’s insights, when my family and I endured a few days I won’t soon forget.
On Thursday, December 11, 2008, we experienced an ice storm in Upstate, New York, that left many in our community without power for days. My family was unprepared for this event, but we decided not to evacuate. My parents and our pets are both elderly, but the local warming shelter would not allow animals, so we steeled ourselves to settle in for the long, cold wait without electricity or heat.
I tried to distract myself from the freezing cold temperature in our house by reading “The Wishing Year” for hours on end. The power outage continued into Friday, then Friday night, and when another icy day dawned on Saturday, I didn’t think I could possibly stand another minute without power. I sat huddled around the kitchen table with my mother, reading Oxenhandler’s book by flashlight and listening to the local radio station on a battery operated radio, hoping for updates about the power outage.
I reached the chapter in the book called “Facing the Darkness” when I was reading in the dark, in what felt like my darkest hour and my resolve was flagging. There is an intimacy to reading by flashlight, and I felt Oxenhandler was speaking directly to me when she said she needed to clear the space inside her, and let go of negative things like remorse and bitterness, in order to make room for her wishes to come true. I asked myself, what did I need to release in order to experience abundance and growth in my own life?
As I was pondering those questions, I braced myself for another night in the bitter cold that no amount of blankets could chase away. I made one simple wish, “Please let the power come on by tomorrow” and went off to bed. We turned in early when the power was out, so bedtime was usually at sundown. I was only in bed for a short time when about 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 13, 2008 I heard sounds that indicated that our power was restored, at last!
It seemed like a miracle. Was it just coincidence or had I somehow shifted the energy by making that one little wish for an end to our suffering. Buoyed by the success of my wish and inspired by Oxenhandler, I soon found myself making a few more wishes. To my astonishment, it didn’t take long for one big wish to come true. I was a wishing convert! I began to throw myself wholeheartedly into wishing, with some unexpected results.
After the first flush of my wishing success, things took an odd turn. A few really bad things started happening in my life. I started to experience some pain in my right side, and then my mother received a call out of the blue that her doctor needed to see her for more tests. One of our beloved older pets fell ill, and a project I had been working on for months came apart at the seams over the course of a few days.
I wondered if my flurry of intense wishing had somehow rearranged the universe and caused these negative events to rain down on me and my loved ones. Oxenhandler reminds us that our thoughts are energy, and sometimes the act of wishing can have unexpected consequences.
As I continued reading the book and saw how Oxenhandler’s wishes were fulfilled, I began to gain more perspective on the act of wishing and how it could fit into my life. The author points out that there’s a big difference between passive, often vague hoping, and the more action oriented, targeted wishing. I learned that it’s not enough to sit back and hope in a vacuum. The fulfillment of wishes happens when putting it out there is combined with lots of hard work, action, and openness to abundance.
I’ve started to think about wishing as an attitude about life, and not attach too much to the results of my wishes. Putting it out there has become more of a lifestyle for me these days, a ritual that reminds me to honor my heart’s desire. My pain went away and Mom got the all clear from her doctor. Unfortunately, our beloved pet died after the holidays and I’m still in a state of flux about how to make a full time living as a freelance writer.
If all my personal wishes were not fulfilled, or my wishing led me to unexpected places, does this mean that my wishing experiment was a failure? I’ve come to realize that giving myself permission to wish for my heart’s desires can be healing, regardless of the results. It’s about cultivating an attitude of hope and a lightness of spirit even in our darkest hours. In the words of Oxenhandler’s young poet friend, wishes deeply reflect who we really are, and even if we don’t always get what we wish for, we learn to wish better.
In these tough times, we need to honor our spirit as well as our mind and body. If you need a little inspiration about the power of wishes and their place in our lives, check out The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler and Wishing Well: Making Your Every Wish Come True by Paul Pearsall. Why not make a few wishes of your own this year, and see what happens?
Noelle Oxenhandler’s Official Site:
Paul Pearsall’s Official Site:
Carol Watanabe’s Official Site: