A Cautionary Tale About Being Too Cautious

By Paul Crouse

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
-- Jon Krakauer
 One of many low doorways to come

One of many low doorways to come

I opened the door to the guest house in Osaka and looked up the steep, dark stairwell. There was a shadowed shape of a woman looking down at me. And then I heard a London-accented female voice call from another room: “Is he normal?”

“I don’t know,” said the shadow. “He looks alright.”

I climbed up those steps to my new life. That was my first day living in Japan, 23 years ago on Valentine’s Day, 1995.

Only a couple of months earlier, I'd had no idea that I would be moving to Japan. The Universe conspired to bring me here, but I also had to step up to the plate. An opportunity presented itself, and I had to get past my fears to grab it.

I had been working as a newspaper photographer in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan for seven years and I was burned out. I’d been sober for three years and I was itching to see the world. I’d been looking for jobs in different cities for a couple of years, but that had gone nowhere.

A young British woman, who had traveled a lot overseas, became an intern at our paper. We became good friends and she told me very directly: You HAVE to get out of this town!

I already knew that. But I didn't know how.

After bouncing a bunch of ideas back and forth, she pointed out that I could travel the world as an English teacher. English is the international language and I could go from city to city making some money before moving on. She said that she had a cousin in Osaka doing just that and that her cousin would help me out.

This idea had never crossed my mind. Everything else I'd tried had failed miserably. Why not try something new?

With my mind made up, I handed in my two weeks' notice to quit at work. I let go of the idea of career and of being a photographer, which was what I'd wanted to do since I was 12 years old.

At home that night, I got a phone call from one of my friends at the newspaper.

“You're moving to Osaka, right? You should turn on CNN.”

I turned on the TV to see a live helicopter video from Japan showing a large city in flames with the word of “Osaka” written at the bottom, a mis-identification of the city on the screen. A huge earthquake has just struck Osaka’s neighboring city of Kobe. I was stunned. It turned out that more than 6000 people died in that disaster.

I tried to contact my friend’s cousin in Osaka, but the phone calls wouldn't go through. I talked to my father who adamantly told me to cancel my plans. And I talked to my immediate boss the next day at work saying that my plans might've changed.

I was very sorry for all of the suffering of the people in Kobe. And I had resigned myself to the fact that this was just another idea that fizzled out.

At home, I had spent too much time watching the TV coverage about the earthquake. I started flicking through the channels and came across a Star Trek show that changed my life.

Captain Picard had a near death experience and he was met on the other side by the god-like being named Q. Q offered Picard a chance to go back to his youth and re-live the events that eventually lead to his death, and he could make changes to his history. Picard did this, correcting his “mistakes” and taking more prudent action. But this new life lead Picard down the “safe” path to nowhere. He realized that he did not want to live the safe life of mediocrity. His mistakes were part of what made him the man he was.

I had an epiphany as I watched. I felt as if that show was talking directly to me. I saw that if I was prudent, I would end up on the “safe” path to nowhere. I could hear my soul screaming at me to “just go!”  I did not understand it at the time, but I was having a mystical experience.

I finally got through to my British friend’s cousin in Osaka. The first thing she said was “when are you coming?” When I heard that, I knew for sure that I was going to go.

She was safe. She lived across Osaka Bay from Kobe. From watching the news, it looked as though all of Japan was laid to waste, when in fact the damage was mostly localized in and around Kobe. The megacity of Osaka was still functioning.

Needless to say, my father continually told me not to go. To wait. To be prudent.

But I knew that if I did not go now, I would never leave. My insides were screaming at me to leave. I did not want to get married and have a safe job and live in a house in the suburbs. I ran away from the suburbs and never want to go back.

So, I got on that plane in Chicago and ended up at the bottom of a stairway in a guest house in a strange new city. And I was looking up at my new life.

That London-accented voice asking if I was normal turned into one of my great life friends. And this path lead me forward to meeting my wife and moving to Kyoto - and learning that life is so much more than what it seems. In another column, I will tell of the chain of coincidences and serendipities that led to that.

I learned many things from this experience. One was to take risks. I had been raised to follow the prudent path.

Another thing I learned was to listen to that inner voice. I didn’t know much about intuition at that point in my life, but a restless soul needs to do what it was put on this planet to do.

When you are on the right path for you, the Universe rolls out a red carpet and things line up with ease. When you are heading in the wrong direction, it is like running into brick walls at every turn. Of course, we have obstacles in our paths. Learning when to quit, when to change course and when to persevere is a fundamental dilemma for every person. We make mistakes and hopefully we learn.

This was an important turning point in my life. Not simply because I was led across the planet to be standing where I needed to be standing. The lesson was also about learning to see that there are messages that are right in front of one's eyes, but often these are missed because we are not paying attention.

And finally, to know that there is something more going on than meets the eye.

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This was originally published in Star Nations Magazine.

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Paul Crouse

Paul Crouse is a spiritual teacher and advisor, life coach, writer, speaker and photographer based in Kyoto, Japan. He helps people who consciously want to change their lives for the better. He helps people build a strong inner foundation, while helping them to clarify and achieve their goals. He works with people worldwide via video calling or face-to-face in Kyoto. He also leads workshops and seminars, both online and in person, for organizations and companies.