“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life- It gave me me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life… I not only get along with me most of the time now, I am militantly and maternally on my side” Anne Lamott.
Our lives are like the ocean; there is an ebb and flow that can be a stormy wild ride filled with chaos, doubt, loss, struggles, and pain; other times, it can be a calm and beautiful journey filled with joy, love, confidence and contentment.
Life can change in an instant, and what comes next is sometimes not easy, but it can start an inner transformation that is a powerful reminder of the resilience of our Spirit. This blog is a collection of short stories about both the ebb and flow of my life and occasionally everyday people who have taught me life lessons along the way. I also share the many inspirational quotes and books that have, without exaggeration, helped form who I am today.
I call this Blog Mystic Sunrise. Every day is a new beginning, a chance to start all over again. If any resonates, join me on the journey and share, we can learn from each other. The one thing that has sustained me over the years has been hearing peoples stories, and through this, I discovered that I was not alone. So many amazing souls have shared their stories with me either through their books or in person. These stories seemed to show up at the exact right time when I needed them the most. This is dedicated to those people who created a path for me to follow and gave me the support I needed to find my own.
For as long as I can remember, even as a child, I have been on a quest, especially in my adulthood. To learn about life’s deeper meaning, spirituality and connection to a Higher Power I call God. Although I am a Christian, I have found inspiration from many spiritualities and religions. For I believe there are many paths to God. Our Higher Power is a profoundly personal journey and is called many different names. I respect and honor all, no matter what that looks like.
I still have shitty days; some lessons I still need to re-learn repeatedly, but I also share why I am way gentler with myself when I do; I share these in the hope that more people will learn these lessons sooner than I did. I finally like who I am most days. All of me, the dark and the light, I have learned to forgive myself and others along the way, and as Anne Lamott says “I am militantly and maternally on my side.” Age has given me the privilege of living long enough to figure some of this shit out and I am grateful.
Dates are factual as much as my memory remembers; the essence of what I share is all true. At the heart of these stories are lessons I learned along the way as I was and still am “broken open” at times. This quote sums up this journey; it’s from one of my favorite books.
“The promise of being broken open and possibly of being opened are written into the contract of human life. Certainly, this tumultuous journey on the waves can be tiresome. When the sea is rough, and when we are sufferings, we may want to give up hope and give into despair. But brave pilgrims have gone before us. They tell us to venture forth with faith and vision.” Elisabeth Lessor in Broken Open
This one of my favorite places to be in Nova Scotia, Boulder Cove Cottages. Every year a women’s group I have been a part of for over 25 years goes here on a retreat weekend. www.bouldercove.com
“One of the tasks of true friendship is to listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences.” — John O’Donohue.
I’m often asked what ‘holding space for pain and grief” means. This concept can be hard to understand; it’s uncomfortable at times, it may even trigger our pain and feel counterintuitive; yet it can be the most loving and healing thing we can do for each other. It is also known as deep or compassionate listening.
Most of us are kind, loving and compassionate people. We want to help, and we are often conflicted by the need to do something tangible. Simply listening might seem like doing nothing. On the contrary, listening to or witnessing someone else’s pain can create an opening for that person to find healing for themselves. Often doing or saying something more concrete can interrupt a person’s pain. Deep listening is a way to hold space while we are with someone in distress.
I am blessed with knowing a few people who understand this well. I have been the recipient of this gift, and know the depth of healing this practice can bring. Those times when someone does this for me are heartfelt, healing and freeing. When my emotional pain almost seems too much to bear, having one person who I can trust who is willing to deeply listen, cracks open my heart to a stress release that I feel in my entire body. I have also known this in rare communities, such as the Shalom retreats I journeyed on many years ago. Or the women’s group I have been in for over 20 years. I have also discovered recently another community that does this exceedingly well: a writers group called “Soulo”, which I’ve joined this year.
One of my favorite spiritual teachers is Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a Buddhist monk, a global spiritual leader, peace activist, revered worldwide for his teachings on mindfulness, global ethics and peace. I have learned a lot from his teachings about holding space for others in pain.
Thich Nhat Hanh explains : “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less.”
I don’t always say or do the right thing; but over time, my experience and what others have shared with me have taught me a lot. I believe, like any skill, it takes practice. Some of the most profound moments in my life have come from being in the moment and attentive to someone’s pain. When I can listen and even occasionally cry with someone in their pain without saying a word or looking away, it is known as compassionate, or deep, listening. I always try to remember while holding space for someone, to take slow, quiet, deep breaths; this helps me not take on the other person’s pain, although sometimes I still do.
Deep listening asks nothing from us other than listening without interrupting, fixing, or giving advice. Most people do not want to be rescued when they are expressing grief or sadness. When we advise without being asked, we are making it about us by trying to fix them. It interrupts a sacred moment, a moment when someone is trusting us with their heartache. It may also mean sitting in silence with someone who needs to cry and wants to have someone near.
It can also mean not touching someone’s hand or hugging them; this will often shut some people down. I try my best to wait for a person to cue me before hugging them or taking their hand. We all experience pain differently and are as individual as our fingerprints, yet it’s what unites us in our humanity.
“People who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witness. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpful vigil to our pain.”― Glennon Doyle
I have been married for over 42 years, and it’s only been in the last few years that my dear husband Bernie finally fully understands. We had been struggling a few years back. I remember my pain was mainly about not being heard. Like so many of us, he was busy trying to think of the right things to say to rescue or fix me. These thoughts always resulted in him being distracted, therefore not being present to me in the moment, which often exacerbated my pain. I have felt his love over the years – he has shown me in many beautiful ways – but his communication or listening skills were disappointing, at times. It would sometimes take a few days for us to work things out because of this.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: they listen with the intend to reply.” Steven Covey.
Finally, one evening after we had yet another disagreement and I had a few tears running down my face from frustration, I felt a shift in his energy and body language. It was like a light bulb went on, and Bernie became fully present; I could see it in his eyes. I felt a release that surged up and out of my throat from my gut. Tears fell like rain as I sobbed, soaking my shirt. I shared what was at the root of my struggle. I finally felt able to express myself fully and honestly. I cried and cried while he intensely listened without shutting down, averting his gaze, or saying a word. After what seemed like a long time, and I was utterly spent, he lovingly looked at me and said, “you feel much better now, I can see it in your face, I see you.” I cried again, but this time happy tears.
I remember those three little words in the movie Avatar, “I see you”, hearing them made me cry. Bernie and I loved that movie. I shared with him why I cried at the movie when I heard them; it was because it had been a long time since I felt them.
“I see you.”. For the first time, my dear hubby got it, and from that day forward, we have given each other the gift of holding each other’s pain with deep listening. When any of us trust someone with the expression of our pain, all we want is to be heard and seen.
Sometimes in our discomfort while listening to a person in pain, we will use platitudes. Although this may be well-intended, it can be frustrating to the very people we want to help. Phrases like:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“When God closes a door, He always opens a window.”
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
And many others that most of us have said at one time or another. There may be wisdom in most truisms, but that is for the person in pain to discover. When someone is in the middle of a grief or pain storm, that is not the time to share these.
“We only trust people with our pain who won’t cut or steal it from us and who are brave enough to be as clueless and helpless as the one in pain. Friendship is not about fixing each other’s pain.” Glennon Doyle from her podcast “We can do hard things.”
Holding space allows someone to find their way out of a pain storm, allowing them to be the hero of their own story. Most often, we need to hear ourselves out loud to break through to the other side of our pain. Life can be challenging at times; the ebb and flow continue throughout our lives. Sometimes, the greatest act of love is to do or say nothing at all but listen. “I see you” <3.
Even as a little girl, I would look into a mirror and wonder “who am I? Why am I here?” The world seemed scary, but I felt something deep inside that I did not understand or knew how to express until much later in life.
“I stand with my hands on my hips and my eyes on the truth; unflinching in my gaze and courageous in my resolve, I’m no longer on simmer, relegated to life’s back burner, pushing everything and everyone out front in place of me; I am radiant and determined, wild and untamable, and at long last woke.” Alicia keys from her book “More Myself” as she describes a picture of herself on an album cover
Damn, that Alicia Keys quote and her book went deep and were the catalyst for this short story.
I cherish the few memories of being wild and free as a child. I was a precocious redhead little girl with big feelings and very intuitive but learned that quiet and well-behaved little girls were preferred early on. That was hard for me, but it was a skill I learned quickly to survive in the first seven years of my life. The most genuine palpable memories I have were playing outside in nature, where I felt wild and free.
I loved climbing trees. I would choose the tallest fir. I loved the scent of the amber-colored resin on the bark. I loved feeling my hand on the rough bark and my foot maneuvering and testing each limb to feel its strength. My quickening heart as I climbed higher and higher on each branch until I reached the top and could see what seemed to me, for miles. My hands would be full of sticky resin, and the scent would remain for most of the day. I loved playing in the creek that flowed out of a large pond. I loved the cool, slimy soft feel of pollywogs eggs as I scooped them with my hands out of the water. I would put them in a bucket and, three weeks later, watch them wiggle and hatch and then release them back in the pond. I loved catching and releasing snakes, grasshoppers, frogs, and my favorite, the tiny red salamanders. I loved lying down in the tall grass and watching the clouds float by as I daydreamed.
I remember riding bareback on my chestnut mare called Princess. I love how muscular and strong my thighs felt as I pressed them firmly against her warm body when she went into a full gallop down a trail in the back of our home. I felt free and wild! I loved swimming. I remember feeling so sensual and expansive when I went skinny dipping for the first time in the river with friends—allowing my nude body to float and be supported by the water looking up at the endless milky way in the dark night sky. I loved skating on ponds in the cold crisp maritime winters. I loved the feel of the icy wind on my face as I glided around the edges of the ice as fast as I could; it felt like flying! In moments like these, my body tingled with the energy of my blood coursing through my veins.
At a very young age, I felt the energy of everyone around me, often dismissed as being too sensitive when I shared something I was sensing. I was sensitive and am still today. Being sensitive for a woman is a superpower when understood and embraced. Sadly, I began that destructive journey like many women, learning to be stoic and numb instead of expressive and passionate.
“This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been,” Glennon Doyle.
As I mature, I understand this truth. This wise quote is powerful. I have discovered I need help sometimes because, without good reflective mirrors in times of pain, we can get lost in the internal struggles that keep us small and stuck in our dark shadows of self-doubt. The key is to choose wisely; the second part of this quote is essential. For me, most recently, it was my Spiritual Director who saved my ass a few years ago; she had gone through where I needed to go, and could shine a light for me so I could uncover what I needed to heal. I am inspired by women on this journey of reclaiming their wild; I learn from others who have gone before me, careful to take only the wisdom that speaks to me as I forge my own unique wild path, seeking guidance from God. Each of us has to define what it means to us.
I don’t know about you, but the pandemic has given me a sense of urgency not to take life for granted. As I turned 60 this summer, I understand that too much of me still stays hidden and unexpressed. Today a lot less, certainly way less than before; as a younger woman, I worked too hard, and too often, to prove that I was “enough” and “strong.”
I want to reclaim some of the freedom of spirit I shoved away growing up as a child. When children feel safe and are nurtured and loved, they are naturally spontaneous, creative, curious, and forever exploring their environment. They have no filters and, therefore, no trouble expressing big emotions. As a result, they stay in their body without the need for numbing. They are clear about their feelings and what they want. Their eyes sparkle and dance, and they move their bodies with ease; they grow up trusting themselves, their bodies, others and life. A wild heart always includes a creative force that requires expression. Some of us only discover this when we start to rediscover our wild.
“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes, it turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame” Brene Brown.
Wild also means to me the maturity of adulthood being fully expressed with necessary filters of love and compassion. This means communicating in honest, respectful, ways and setting boundaries with those I love when needed. Being wild is holding myself accountable, which is why I believe in having a loving friend, partner, or community who can do this in respectful and direct ways. Wild can also mean saying nothing when I know what I say will be unkind or speaking to others who I know it will not land or be respected. It’s not letting fear of failure or embarrassment from keeping me from exploring creative endeavors. I am more fully alive through these actions, and doing these more often helps me no longer have the need to numb or distract myself.
An important lesson I have learned along the way is to choose fewer people to share and see inside my inner heart sanctum—only those who are sincere, respect others and themselves. And most important, non-judgmental people who own their shit and dare to keep evolving. Also, who are comfortable with all parts of themselves, both their light and the dark, their strengths and their vulnerabilities, because I know they will accept all of me too.
I have spent a lot of time alone and in silence, this year, and things have become much clearer. Writing has saved me; it’s my creative outlet. Also, OA and my writers’ group are new communities where I have discovered new aspects of myself. It’s only been through vulnerability that I have ever been able to find people who are some of the most honest and genuine people I have ever known. Only when I am willing to be seen, can others see me. Each one of them has opened my heart and allowed me to see myself in a new way over the years. I am also privileged to be a part of a woman’s group now for over 20 years. The six of us have gathered every month ( until the pandemic ) and shared our lives in profound ways. We all need community, but now, I make sure to choose people I can be myself with, all of me.
I have entered into my wilderness during this pandemic. Brene Brown talks about the wilderness that is the necessary loneliness of staying true to yourself. Yet, the power of allowing ourselves to be creative is the very salve for this loneliness. There is a delicate balance between being alone and community, but being alone is where creativity and trusting ourselves begins.
I will always belong to and believe in myself first.” Brene Brown
A wild heart often gets quashed early on, in little girls and especially young women.
I am still working on reclaiming living fully in my whole body. Part of this is allowing intuition to guide me, comprised of my heart, gut and senses. I believe this is how God or the Divine Feminine as I see her speaks to me; God is more feminine for me these days. It’s becoming easier, but it has been a long time of unlearning default thoughts and habits over my adult years. I still carry the scars of a negative body image from abuse as a child, but they are fading. Being comfortable in our skin is vital to embrace our wild hearts fully.
We get swept up in our family of origins model and our western ideas of what a woman is or is not. Adolescence often creates a detour into self-doubt, low self-esteem, body issues and struggle that sometimes lasts a lifetime.
The natural wild in young women can slowly be dulled by their peers and the drama of trying to fit in and be liked. Also, in my youth, as it is today, young girls are “mirrored” a very narrow idea of what a woman “should” look like, which can create all kinds of body dysmorphic visions of themselves. Our sexuality is often exploded, which creates a disconnect to our bodies; then, we no longer feel grounded to the earth, which often creates a numbing in our sensual, passionate, authentic, creative selves. The good news is, as women, we are also warriors at heart. We can begin to heal the moment we allow ourselves to start to feel.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to be like everybody else- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting” EE Cummings.
“To be yourself” is a battle worth fighting for. And only when we realize the battle is only with ourselves can we begin to heal. A woman’s wild heart is boundless, ever-expanding, creative and untamed no matter how old our bodies are if we dare to claim it. Every single woman on the planet has the ability and courage to heal and find their wild again. When we do the work, we show our daughters, granddaughters and other women the way. I have been so blessed to have met a few wild women. I see in them what is possible for other women and me at any age.
These are just of few of my favorite books about women who have reclaimed their wild hearts, such as
Cheryl Strayed “Wild”
Elizabeth Gilbert. “Eat, Pray, Love”
Elizabeth Lesser “Broken Open”
Jewel “Never Broken,”
Joy Harjo, “Crazy Brave,”
Mirabai Starr, “Wild Mercy,”
Diana Beresford-Kroeger, “To Speak for the Trees,”
Michelle Obama “Becoming”
Meggan Watterson “Mary Magdalene Revealed.”
Tara Westover “Educated.”
Anne Lamott “Bird by Bird”
Glennon Doyle “Untamed”
Alicia Keys “More Myself”
-are just a few that I highly recommend!
We ignore this call to our wild heart in many ways. We have addictions. We stay crazy busy by becoming martyrs by filling all of our time taking care of others to the detriment of our health and wellness. We spend more time judging and gossiping about others instead of looking inside ourselves. We have life-sucking careers. Some of us stay disconnected by trying to control our loved ones by being overly involved in their lives; we stay numb by any means possible not to hear that wild voice inside for fear of rejection. I have done all of these. We often shrink, lose our voice; we are usually the peacemakers and people pleasers in our families. Most often, we are empathic, compassionate, kind, and we deeply feel the pain of others in the world. Our feelings and emotions are vast and messy, and others who are comfortably numb in the world find us too much, so we learn to comply to be excepted. So many of us become part of that matrix.
Today I am less inhibited with my feelings, yet I still allow people to shut me down sometimes. I still dull myself way down when I am around certain people.
I love how comfortable my hubby is with me shouting or crying when we watch TV. I love how excited I can get with him at little things. He gets me in ways most do not. When I am upset, he does not try and tame or rescue me anymore. 🙂 He knows I am strong in ways that are important, and I am just working my way through pain instead of ignoring it.
I am not as quick-witted as I would like. I do my best to tell the truth about how I feel. I speak up when others are unkind or disrespectful. Not as much as I would like because, quite frankly, I am stunned into silence when it happens, or worse, I find myself defending myself, which is pointless when people don’t hear what I have to say. I found myself at different times in my life closed hearted, so I know that underneath their projections, they are good people with painful stories of their own. Which is why I try hard not to be triggered, but it still happens sometimes.
Women are very capable at being chameleons. Yes, I understand it is more comfortable and much easier in the moment, but we lose all sense of who we are over time. I watch people, especially women, become beautifully crafted chameleons around each person in their lives to appease and manage them separately. I hear their tone and inflection change and become different for each person; they say precisely what the other person wants to hear. God forbid they would tell the truth, even though their body language gives them away. Early on, many women learn to amour up and stuff away what they genuinely want to say or do to keep the peace. I have not had the energy for this for a long time, thank goodness.
I have had the honour of hearing hundreds of stories from women who opened up their deep true thoughts and feelings about their painful lives. Yet, most go back into their lives and act out the same unhealthy patterns that have made their relationships and bodies sick in the first place. I have learned that the truth is freedom. I am talking about the truth that often stays hidden about what is genuine in our hearts, even from ourselves. Too many of us have become too comfortable with lies, and they are killing us.
There is a sacred spiritual truth that is at our core. When I say telling the truth, it does not mean saying obvious things to others to manipulative to get our way, as we are all capable of doing. It is sharing authentically who we are, not what others want to hear.
Wild also means to show up fully expressed and not muted into being a peacemaker to the detriment of our own needs. The truth is a firm “NO” when we usually say yes and regret it every time. Or saying an excited “YES”!! when we have always said “no” too afraid of what others might think. Over time, this causes internalized resentment and anger, and if we are peacemakers, it turns in on us.
“What is better: uncomfortable truth or comfortable lies? Every truth is a kindness, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Every untruth is an unkindness, even if it makes others comfortable.” Glennon Doyle.
I want to end with another quote from Alicia Keys book, “More myself.”
“As long as I am alive, I will be growing and improving, wielding my pen as the author of my own forever. But even as I lift myself to the next level, I hope to always recognize my reflection, I want to know who I am, and except every part of that identity. I am frightened and I am fearless, I am weak and a warrior, I am uncertain and I am confident, And by learning to embrace the paradox and all of it, I am more myself.”
I feel this truth of this quote viscerally.
Over the years, for me, life has been a quest to find out “who am I really?” This is what I know for sure up until now. I am contemplative, gregarious, honest, open and closed-minded, sensitive, complicated, brave, anxious, wildly curious, strong, vulnerable, stubborn, flexible, cautious, adventurous, quiet, loud, spontaneous, ridged, gentle, tough, and creative. I procrastinate sometimes, I am not as organized as I would like, my house is often cluttered but I am finally OK. I am all of that and more to discover, both dark and light. I too, am learning to embrace the paradox of who I am. I will forever be a student of life and have come to love the human spirit, especially when it is fully expressed.
I look at this picture of me as a little girl; I understand her now and love her dearly. I used to wonder who I might have been if life had been different, but I now understand that I was given the exact life I’ve had, to become who I am. I am who I am.
Let us all embrace our, wild, untamed creative selves. It is more important than at any other time in history. Yin is rising. Gaia is waiting ❤
“Compassion arises naturally as the quivering of the heart in the face of pain, ours and another’s. True compassion is not limited by the separateness of pity nor by the fear of being overwhelmed. When we come to rest in the great heart of compassion, we discover a capacity to bear witness to, suffer with, and hold dear with our own vulnerable heart the sorrows and beauties of the world. — Jack Kornfield
I am now on the road towards Hantsport, and I am wondering to myself, “what am I doing?” It’s 1992, and I am on the way to a retreat called Shalom that my friend Bob told me about, or should I say he told me nothing about except that it was life-changing and I should attend. I trust Bob, he and his wife have been good friends of mine for a few years now, and he seems really excited about these retreats.
I have an address and directions; I have been struggling in my marriage for a while, we were so young when we married, and we are arguing a lot lately. That along with other issues I wanted to work on. According to Bob, this retreat would help.
It is a long road to this house, it seems as I am driving further and further into the countryside. “What am I going to, it’s in the middle of nowhere? What if he has me going to some kind of cult?” My mind races and makes up all kinds of stories, so I am nervous as hell. I slide my right hand over my crucifix and take a deep breath; I chuckle out loud as though that would ward off some kind of evil. My imagination runs wild as I make up stories that make me even more anxious. I drive up to a quaint large home that is surrounded by lovely colorful flower gardens. The gardens were rustic and not uniform in design and beautifully laid out all around the grounds. I felt a bit more at ease, so I walk up the door, took a breath and knocked.
A man and woman open the door, “welcome, come in. I’m Roy, and this is my wife Mary.” Mary says hello, and we chat for a min. They own the home and are hosting the retreat. Mary seems nice; she reminds me of a modern-day hippie with long straight blond hair, dressed in loose cotton clothes. She is a beautiful young woman who looked Swedish, she has carefree energy about her that is kind and genuine, yet I could tell she is also a bit shy. Roy has a broad smile and is very welcoming with a much bigger personality that is somewhat mysterious. Roy has pensive dark eyes that look like they have seen a lot of pain. He is kind yet has an intense energy and a much louder voice that is a bit intimidating. Mary asks me to follow her upstairs to my room, where she tells me I will have a roommate.
“Caroline is not here yet, after you settle in, when you are done, come down to the kitchen, I’ll be there finishing some snacks, and I’ll take you into the Shalom room and introduce you.” “Shalom room?” I say to myself
As I settle into the bedroom, I choose the single bed next to the window. I look out the window and see a lovely forested property that looks over the parking lot. There is a knock at the door, and Caroline introduces herself. We chat for a bit. This was her first time here also, so we exchanged our mutual nervous energy. She is tired and decides to take a quick nap, for it is about another hour before we are supposed to be downstairs to the Shalom room. “I think what is a Shalom room anyway?” I had looked up Shalom in the dictionary before I left. It is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. As beautiful as that all sounds, I am still wondering what kind of retreat is this? Still in the dark, I go downstairs and meet up with Mary. I follow her into a vast room full of people. They are all sitting on the floor, most look very engaging in conversations, and a few others are sitting alone looking quiet and reflective. I only know Bob.
There is a wooden platform with a double-sized mattress on a carpeted wooden frame with a giant stuffed carpeted hump on the front against the wall at the front of the room. A sign above it says “Trust the Process” I search around for Bob and find him smiling at me as if to say, just wait, don’t panic. I must have wide eyes because inside, I am thinking, “What the hell is a double-size mattress contraption doing on the floor for!!” I am about to bolt out of the room as the stories I am making up in my mind are far from what I am willing to do; thank you very much! But something keeps me there, an inner calm that I have come to trust in times like this. Mary shouts, “Hey everyone, this is Joyce; welcome her!” Everyone graciously smiles and says hello.
I sit down and look over at Bob a few times for reassurance, trying to stay calm and not run out of the room; my mind keeps racing with thoughts.
When the retreat starts, 17 of us from all walks of life, 10 women and 7 men, are in a circle. As the next three days unfold, I listen to my intuition and let go of my fears bit by bit. This weekend with no exaggeration, not only saved my marriage but started a healing journey that still continues today. I had some of the most life-changing moments of my life that weekend! No, it was not a cult; and there was no sex involved 🙂
After a day of ice breaker exercises, we began to bond as a group, and a very safe container started to be built with all of us. And then the real work began.
“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” – Pema Chödrön
Each person is invited to lie down blindfolded on the mattress with Carol a professional counsellor. Carol would gently, with healthy boundaries, great respect and reassurance, lead each of us one by one on what is called “a mat trip.” She used different therapy modalities such as Gestalt, and Bioenergetics and others to help us look inward at and feel the pain that most of us lock away while the rest of us stayed silent and witnessed. The mat trips were powerful! I witnessed the depth of human pain and misery to the height of triumph and victory as Carol lead each of us through the dark recesses of our minds and hearts, processing trauma, shame, guilt, and heartbreak in ways that were beyond anything I could have imagined. The carpeted hump at the front of the mattress was used if someone wanted to stand or kneel and do rage work. A few of us silently would lift this up and hold the back strong as some would pound it with their fists or sometimes with it down hitting it with a bat. In the end, Carol would, with great care, lead us to a healing conclusion that left us feeling safe, complete and empowered by our own ability to heal ourselves.
“A healer does not heal you. A healer is someone who holds space for you while you awaken your inner healer, so that you may heal yourself.” ~Maryam Hasnaa
“As you learn to TRUST YOURSELF something miraculous happens. You begin to TRUST THE PROCESS you are living and the miracles life brings!” ― Iyanla Vanzant
I had never felt that kind of love and support emanating from a group of people before. Each mat trip would sometimes take up to 2 hours. Most were about 1 1/2 hours. Carol found the energy to take each of us through this astonishing journey.
I helped hold the space for 9 women as they one by one, shared their own struggles. Some shared painful stories of rape, others of violent childhoods, others of betrayal and heartbreak of many kinds. I heard their voices change from soft scared little girls to loud, powerful warrior women. Many of us silently cried as we watched and listened. At the the end of each mat trip we all celebrated each persons courage as one by one we found validation, support and healing.
I witnessed stories of 7 men expressing emotional and psychological pain from trauma, betrayal, neglect, and heartbreak. How they were taught vulnerability was weak and worse, not part of being a man. I had never seen such strong men be so emotional or open-hearted before. As I heard their stories, I realized I had created a very small box that I had put all men in, which was primarily inaccurate due to my childhood experiences. I saw my husband in so many of their stories. I understood him as I had not before; I fell in love with my husband again that weekend because I understood who he was as a whole man, not just a part. Our love grew after that because we understood each other more. As I shared what I had learned I was lucky enough to have a man who would listen and learn with me. .
I loved this weekend so much I attended a few more. I begun to see people and, for that matter, the world, with a different pair of eyes and heart and wanted more. I had the rare opportunity to see others in a way that felt real, honest and unfiltered, the way people are without judgement or masks. Compassion grew more and more inside me after each persons story unfolded.
As I watched each person courageously talk through their pain with Carol and see the transformations at the end, I began to understand how healing this could be if I allowed myself the willingness to step into this process fully committed. I now understood “Trust The Process.” That is just what I did. Mat trip after mat trip over a 5 year period I went to several Shalom retreats and witnessed hundreds of stories.
Today I express my emotions and feelings more openly, more often then not they are misunderstood as being weak, but unless we are willing to allow our emotions to flow through us they get stuck inside. When things get tough for me I still reach out for help, but for the most part, I have learned to heal on my own with my spiritual practices, writing, and my connection with God. Oh I still can be stoic when I need to protect myself from those who do not understand, but for those very few, I allow my deepest self be revealed. They know the power and courage it takes to step in and feel.
“We cannot heal what we cannot feel” John Bradshaw
Trusting the process of life is the lesson I have learned more then any other. I have had times where I lost that trust for a while but somewhere deep inside I continued with an intuitive guidance which I call God that brought me back each time. What an honor and privilege it was to be apart of those weekends. All of the stories I heard have lived on in me as a beacons of light and inspiration. Each one of them were a part of teaching me just how strong the human spirit is and to trust myself and others. We are all whole souls with stories that make us who we are and we all have the resilience to get up again and take on life one day at a time.
Trust the Process
What we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting. Trust the process.” ― Mandy Hale
“Trust the process. You may not end up where you thought you were going, but you will always end up where you are meant to be.” Author unknown
“You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back. Take refuge in your senses, open up to all the small miracles you rushed through. Become inclined to watch the way of rain when it falls slow and free. Imitate the habit of twilight, taking time to open the well of color that fostered the brightness of day. Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you.” John O’Donohue
There is something about a rainy day that calms my nervous system. I feel as though these days when I can stop, and take some time to listen, it becomes a meditation for me. I love to shut off all noise in my home and sit with only the rhythmic melody of the rainfall. I keep my screen door at the back of my kitchen open in the summertime to listen to the drops as they hit the deck. Even my windows in the front of my kitchen are open, covered by an overhang above our veranda, so no water comes in. This creates a kind of surround sound as I sit in my favourite hair and stare out and watch the rain as it hits the trees and scrubs swaying in a summer wind. As a heavier downpour starts, I start to smell the scent of fresher air as the dry earth soaks in the moisture. I feel my breath go deeper into my lungs as I inhale the fresh air. A torrent of droplets hit the planks with so much force that it bounces off the deck like boiling water; it looks like it’s dancing. Later the parched grass, shrubs and trees seem to perk up with brilliant brighter shades of green as the day goes on.
“Last night the rain spoke to me. Slowly, saying, what joy to come falling out of the brisk cloud. That is what it said as it dropped,” Mary Oliver
There is something about a rainy day that permits me to slow down, a kind of pause of sorts. I love to read books these days, nothing like curling up on a couch with a good story that I have not had a chance to finish.
Surrendering to “what is” is a lesson I have been working on accepting for a couple of years but none more so than from this past year. Learning to pause throughout the day and take a deep breath, and land in the moment. It’s the kind of lesson that I remind myself of every day. I have lost too much time being crazy busy, worried, or frustrated this year. It’s time for me to take a renewed perspective on life once again. Life is precious, and when I am anxious, I lose moments like watching the beauty of rainfall. To awake in the morning is magical. There is so much in every day I want to become more present too. This pandemic taught me a lot of lessons. I am glad to be awakening to the magic of nature again. Each morning is a chance to start all over again.
I love the fact that ageing lets us know that life and time are precious.
As Mary Oliver reminds me
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your onewild and precious life? “
I intend to move into living a more fully expressed life. Which, for me, means becoming more creative; I have a bucket list of things to accomplish! I want to do more photography; I want to learn to paint, write more, dance more, and laugh more, hug more. I want to take small adventures around our Maritimes meet people with broad smiles and belly laughs. Most of all, spend time with friends and family again with a new appreciation of each one of them.
That is what I want to do with my one wild and precious life!!
This post is dedicated to my mentor and teacher Debbie Ford.
“Our shadow is all the aspects that we reject out of shame, fear or, disapproval. It is made up of any part of ourselves that we believe is unacceptable, will be met with disapproval by others, or that annoys, horrifies or disgusts us about other people or about ourselves.”
“Your Life will be transformed when you make peace with your Shadow” Debbie Ford
Do you want to be cured? Do you want to be Free? How free do you want to be?” John O’Donohue
Food addiction is the hardest for most people to understand. Addiction of any kind is hard, and for those who don’t struggle with the same addiction, it is even harder to explain. Although this addiction has been a constant companion of mine for many years, I too, could not let myself believe it was a true addiction. That is part of the problem why I could not overcome this. This is silly in retrospect, for I have been obese most of my adult life despite mainly eating healthy. Addiction has more to do with finding ways to numb from emotions and feelings that seem vulnerable or weak, yet in reality, they are a necessary part of the human experience.
Debbie Ford suggested that those who were overweight may want to join a 12 step program during training. I thought to myself, “what does she know.” At that point, I was in training to become an Integrative Life Coach with her. I had already lost about 70 lbs and thought I had a handle on my overeating and did not need to join Overeaters Anonymous. How ironic, over fifteen years later, I am finally listening to her wise counsel. I am sure she is chuckling from heaven at my final surrender.
“What you don’t own, owns you,” Debbie Ford.
Addiction takes many forms; it is not only food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, which are commonly known. Other forms are gossiping, being a work acholic, co-dependency, overly controlling, and the list goes on. We all have coping mechanisms that can be, at times, unhealthy, but if they are dominant, they can become destructive over time. If this starts at a very young age, it can become a hardwired default in our brain that can be tough but not impossible to reroute.
Eating when stressed started for me when I was a very little girl. Today I often turn to food, even for minor stressors, even with healthy foods. When more significant stressors happen, I often become stoic to survive then crash emotionally when I feel some relief; usually, this is when my compulsive overeating happens. It’s a delayed stress reaction. That was a survival coping mechanism that served me well as a young child living with a very unpredictable dad who could be violent at times. I had to hide and stay silent, barely breathing as not to be seen, and when the threat was over, I would eat something to calm myself down as an unconscious reflex. My brain created a strong neural pathway to food, not just for pleasure but emotional survival. I went into therapy for the abuse I witnessed as a child many years ago as a young adult. Later with shadow training, I uncovered many other parts that I learned to integrate and heal. But somehow, owning the food addiction part had alluded me until now. Oh, I would tell people I had a food addiction but did nothing to own it. Therefore I was not ready to do something about it.
“Its only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of the events, by which the path to success may be recognized” Debbie Ford
Part of my illusion story as a food addict was I was mainly over it because I ate healthy 80% most of the time, and I had kept 50 pounds off all these years; I thought the rest would work out in time. The truth is, I did not want to truly admit this. The Pandemic revealed the truth to me after I gained 35-pounds. I did not want to own this because I coped well for most of the Pandemic, even losing some weight at first, but compulsive eating was obviously there. There it was, staring me in the face again, but I still was in denial. I did not want to be cured but it was getting exhausting to keeping it up.
“By choosing not to allow parts of ourselves to exist, we are forced to expend huge amounts of psychic energy to keep them beneath the surface.” Debbie Ford
I finally was ready to own this shadow in March of this year; I joined an OA 12 step program; It’s been such a breath of fresh air. I have landed in a community that understands me in a way I only appreciate now. One thing I found interesting, is that some members have multiple addictions, and they say that food is the hardest. This is because the other addictions you can stop, such as smoking or consuming drugs or drinking alcohol; not an option with food.
So it begins a very layered, complex challenge to uncover. This is my newest journey of self-discovery, my dance with compulsive overeating, a food addiction, one day at a time.
On July 21st, I am sitting here after eating an entire 12-inch Greek pizza. I am uncomfortably full. I am disconnected but comfortably numb. I am not even sure that I enjoyed it, to be honest. My stomach is bloated and even a bit painful. I sit here trying to understand why I chose to do this after 54 days of abstinence from compulsive overeating. I fell over two weeks ago and have been in quite a bit of pain until yesterday. Yesterday I felt much better and ended up eating two massive plates of pasta instead of a regular serving and felt uncomfortable after. This was the beginning of the downward turn that ended in the next day eating a whole pizza. I knew something had shifted.
Ironically, I have learned it is not the act of compulsive eating that is most destructive; it’s the rabbit hole of getting lost in anger, frustration, self-pity, and disappointment after. At first, I am pissed at myself for a while, and then I realize this is futile. Instead of lamenting, I need to be compassionate to ask myself constructive questions to help figure this out. I have learned that getting angry with myself prolongs the agony. Self-deprecation is a form of self-sabotage. When I go there, I readily allow the default habit to give me more reason to continue overeating, thus the never-ending cycle of self-sabotage. Because I stopped beating myself up, sat in silence and meditated a bit, I remembered “delayed stress reaction of course!” This is the essential information and a way to prepare the next time after a significant stressor; I will need to reach out to my OA community more.
“Remember, all the answers you need are inside of you; you only have to become quiet enough to hear them” Debbie Ford
Self-compassion, curiosity and honesty bring healing to me as I stay on this journey, and because I am human, I will create stories of self-pity from time to time; it’s the awareness that will and does save my a** every time.
I remind myself of the questions again by John O’Donohue
All these years of not admitting that I am powerless against this addiction without help has kept my cycle of denial and self-sabotage going. It’s a way of feeding the excuses to keep my addiction. I have owned and transformed so many other areas of my life, but this one has continued to haunt me. Do I want to be cured? Do I want to be free? I feel my body become defensive as I’m answering this in my mind, “OF COURSE I DO!” Then I am reminded by something else Debbie used to say
“If we want to know what we’re really committed to, all we have to do is look at our lives.”Debbie Ford
I have been way more committed to keeping my addiction than being free of it all these years, so I kept lying to myself. Thank you, Debbie, for guiding me from beyond. It’s taken a long time, but I am ready to be free one day at a time.
This understanding is a powerful awakening for me. It will take a lot of awareness to redirect each time this comes up again. Life will continue its ebb and flow of highs and lows, and I need to learn to gently cultivate healthier ways to release stress as it’s happening.
There is a delicate balance of allowing ourselves to be ok with feelings of vulnerability and fear without going completely numb or into a tailspin of unproductive projections that can also create a prison of the mind. When we are not taught as children to process huge emotions, we can lose the ability to cope as adults in healthier ways; usually with some form of addiction. We find ways to lock the stress away. Unfortunately, they do not go away without processing them just because we don’t allow ourselves to feel them. They stay locked away in our bodies, and when they are not expressed, over time, it can create havoc in the form of anxiety, anger, illness, exhaustion, burnout or depression. Denial is a great survival mechanism and sometimes necessary. Unfortunately, when it becomes automatic for all stressors, it does not allow us to live a fully expressed life.
Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh say “Suffering and Happiness are not separate” Like the beautiful lotus flower which can only bloom when its roots are in the mud;
I have found this out the hard way. An old Robert Frost quote says, “the only way out is through” When I create a prison in my mind by staying numb, I keep myself from being truly free! When expressing my emotions in healthy ways, I can let them go, creating healing and relief.
If you have deep unexpressed abuse trauma, it’s essential to seek professional help with a therapist or counsellor. It was one of the greatest gifts that I gave myself and my loved ones when I did. I learned many coping and healing practices that I will be implementing again as I walk through this new journey with my OA community. We are not meant to explore our traumas alone, especially if we have abusive in our histories. But finding the right person and the right kind of therapy is important and can take time, but we are so worth the search. As Brene Brown reminds me
“We share with people who’ve earned the right to hear our story.”
I also love this quote by Anne Lamott.
‘”My mind is a neighbourhood I try not to go into alone.”
These days, I explore my thoughts and emotions mainly with God through journaling, my hubby, a few close friends, a spiritual director, my OA sponsor and community, and a writers group that I share with at times’ All of these are soul connections whom I trust with this part of me now. I feel so loved and supported these days, it took me a long time to let people deep into my inner world, but I’m glad I did.
I will end this post with exquisite quotes from John O’Donohue’s audiobook called “The Invisible World.” It was a reminder to me that I have the key.
“A lot of people like have turned the wild mystery of their own mind, into a shabby cold negative little room where the windows are blocked, and where there is no door, and they live in there. And it isn’t like anyone else did that to them, they do that to themselves. So you should be aware that you are responsible for the prisons you that you create for yourselves. There is no one outside that can open the door of your inner prison, the person that has the key is you.” “You are the god or goddess of your own inner world. It’s artistic material in your hands, and you can shape it any way you want.”
Freedom comes with self-compassion and the curiosity to ask loving questions to ourselves when we mess up. One question Debbie Ford taught me is a start. This question will become my touchstone as I move forward, one day at a time.
“Is this an act of self-love or is it an act of self-sabotage?”
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today” Thich Nhat Hanh
Before you read this post I want to set up an intention to ask you kindly not to feel sorry for us. This experience although very hard to live through turned out well. Bernie came home healthy each time. This is not the case for many people. This is to shed a light on how it was to live through this in a real-time story. I want dearly for all of us to remember every essential worker who showed up every day knowing the potential exposure that kept our fragile economy going. My husband is my hero and there are many other families with heroes and s-heroes who have similar and far worse stories.
Most people during this pandemic have had to do necessary quarantines at least once for many reasons. Each time the waiting is the hardest. Although this story is about our experience, I wanted to tell a story that millions of people lived worldwide. Ours is just one of them. I realize, people, circumstances, and emotions varied; worst of all, sadly, some outcomes were different than ours. Still, these moments a lot of us found ourselves living, were so out of the scope of anyone our age or younger could even begin to process. I feel part of the inability to process our emotions came from the apocalyptic feel, especially at the beginning. It felt like some version of a movie we had watched coming to life. But this time, it was real, and like it or not, we had to live it. I needed to write this down, as it was fresh in my mind. I started writing it as it was happening, and the only words that kept coming up for me were “how bizarre.”
It is April 23rd, 2021. Its been over a year since the pandemic landed in Nova Scotia. Outside, a northerly gale is blowing cold, bone-chilling wind. Inside our warm home, the sound of ripping duct tape over and over again is all I hear. The sound never bothered me before, but today rip after rip makes the sound amplify the obscurity of this task. I am putting one strip after another on the air exchange inlets in the four rooms where Bernie, my husband, will live separately for the next two weeks while we wait.
I put the last strip on the last one, making sure to secure it to not breathe the same air in our home. I realize I am a part of a worldwide club of people in love with essential rotation workers who work away from home, and because of this, each time they come home, we have to stay away from each other every time they arrive back home. All I can think is how bizarre.
I am very much aware and filled with gratitude that we have a home large enough to do this as many do not. I have seen on the news some are quarantining in their garages, in tents, or RVs. Worse, like so many medical front-line workers entirely away from family in separate apartments or homes at times.
Each time he gets through a quarantine healthy, I get to breathe deeply again for three weeks before a part of me holds my breath until the next time he comes home. Each time he is home, I hold him a little tighter and have become filled with gratitude for each day I have with him.
This is our fifth time doing this over the past year. Bernie works on ships sailing on the Great Lakes over 1400 km away and is only home every 5 -8 weeks, but luckily, he is usually home for five weeks in between. After the first couple of times I became accustomed to his quarantine until today; I am feeling an extra dread in my gut this time.
There is a reason that this time is as scary as the first time I had to do this, when so much was unknown. As all of us hear on the news, this new variant, a more contagious virus, is raging out of control in Quebec, Ontario where my hubby works, and has even started up again in our small province of Nova Scotia, where we live. My thoughts start racing again. “I have got to stop this doom and gloom thinking”. As a compulsive over eater when stressed, this is where I must practice allowing my feelings of vulnerability to be here and not shut down. I remind myself “gratitude” to replace the fear, not food.
“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding, The antidote for foreboding joy is gratitude” . Brene Brown
Brene Brown calls this “Foreboding Joy,” and she says the antidote for this is gratitude. It very true, when I allow feelings of gratitude, my mind cannot hold fear at the same time. I take a deep breath and think of all the things I am grateful for, and there are too many to write. I think of Bernie and our love for each other. I turn my gaze outside through the window, I see the large evergreen trees waving in the cold wind and ground myself again with another deep breath and continue. Trees have always held a grounding force for me, sometimes a glance or a touch of their branches or leaves help me to see the bigger world in which I have the privilege to live. Its humbling and beautiful at the same time.
I set up tables to hold appliances, dishes, his favorite tea mug and other things to be self-contained. It seems crazy to be preparing a separate space for a man I have missed and love so much. I bring out a mattress and put on our couch, and make it up into a bed. Luckily, Bernie has his entrance so he can go to his shed for a while each day.
I forgot, I have to bring his truck to the garage and fill it up with gasoline because he has to go to Yarmouth 3 times to be tested for Covid during his quarantine.
There are dozens of little detailed things that need to be done before he gets home tomorrow morning. The following items I need to have in his room bring a reality to my tasks that make my stomach churn. These items must be present, a thermometer, humidifier, medication, and home phone.
The hardest things of all; even though I have not spoken this out loud to anyone, I get ready for myself a disposable rain jacket, new rubber gloves, mask and face shield; this is in case I have to say goodbye; God forbid he is taken away in an ambulance. It remains unspoken and only in my thoughts until now.
I get a text that he is on his way to a motel in Montreal by taxi. My stomach flip-flops again. “Foreboding Joy,” I remind myself and retake a deep breath. From there, he has to take a flight to Halifax and another taxi three and ½ hours to home. “God, please protect him, and I imagine a white light surrounding him as he travels home to me.”
It’s morning again; I hear the early morning melody of the chickadees and other songbirds, the sun is out, and my spirit is lifted. I am so excited that Bernie is coming home this morning for a split second, and then I realize Bernie is coming home this morning, and my body tightens. Another deep breath and let it go. The last thing I do, just because it seems so final, I close the door that separates us and duct tape all the cracks in the door jam where I feel a draft for his room. How bizarre
Thank God this morning I have the Soulo Zoom meeting. The writers’ group that I have had the privilege of joining the last few months; it has been a saving grace for me. It will be so nice to focus on the stories of other beautiful people from 11:00- 12:30 as Bernie is on his last leg of his journey home in a Taxi, he will arrive around 1:30.
I sit outside on our patio about 12 feet from Bernie’s entrance to our home as he pulls up the driveway. He gets his suitcase out of the trunk, gives the driver a tip. I stare at his handsome face obscured by a black mask hiding his black and silver beard, which I love. His beautiful masculine body comes towards me and stops suddenly about 8 feet away; when I put my hand up as a reminder, he steps back. We are both wearing a mask, but our eyes meet; I hold back my tears, we say nothing for a second and then he says, “It’s sure nice to see you in person, hon.” He turns towards his door and then turns back to me; he is now 12 feet away and says, “Babe, can I just see your face for just a sec before I go in?” I quickly pull my mask down and smile, I see his eyes twinkle, and we each go into our separate living quarters to video chat. We are both trying hard to be strong for each other, but I can see the worry in his eyes. I know those eyes intimately.
Now we wait
“Tomorrow is a mystery, Today is a gift. That is why its called the present” Eleanor Roosevelt.
Each morning I hear those sweet words, “I’m fine, Babe” We video chat for a few min, I try my best to put on a brave face. I don’t tell him that I was awake from 2 until 5 am. I did something so stupid; I looked at the possible Covid exposures. All of the flights last week were from Montreal to Halifax. Damn! The last flight on the list was on the 19th, and he came home on the 23rd. So, we must wait for updates. He does not need to know this yet unless his flight is posted. The cases in Nova Scotia are rising everyday.
These ritual check-ins continue each morning. Over the next two weeks, there are three mandatory Covid tests to come next. Each time we wait long hours for the results. Each time the test comes back Negative, we both breathe again that day. Each day I am hypervigilant about the noises I hear from his side of the door. I hold my breath each time he sneezes, or I listen to him cough. “Are you ok, honey?” “Yes, Babe, I’m fine.”
Finally, its Thursday and it’s been 24 hours since his day 12 Covid test, and he receives his results; Negative! He is due out of his quarantine Friday which is tomorrow. Unfortunately, I came down with a nasty sinus infection and decided to get a Covid test incase on Thursday. Now we wait for my test results, and it takes until Sunday at 1:30 pm for my results NEGATIVE!! Finally, after 16 days apart, I tear the masking tape off the door.
Its 3 weeks later and he is off again; as he leaves I am feeling empty, now we wait another 2 weeks as he arrives back on his ship. Knowing full well if he gets sick with Covid he will not be allowed to come home and will be sent to hotel alone to ride it out. There are times this thought is to much to bare. I take another deep breath and do my best as everyone else in this situation has done; live as much as possible in this moment, one day at a time.
Now we wait
What a strange, bizarre ritual
UPDATE July/ 21 : Now that we are both fully vaccinated he no longer needs to quarantine for now.
“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” Caroline Myss
It feels like our lives in the 21st century have diminished to an individualistic, very self-centered, small world. It seems to me we have much less time or empathy for each other. Many of us have lost sight that we are all interdependent on this earth. We soon were to be reminded in a frightening way.
March 2020, our world turned upside down; almost every person on the planet was feeling some level of fear all at once. Some, of course, who were economically more staple, were able to isolate easier than others, giving them a small but significant safety advantage. Still, rich, poor, and everyone in-between felt the floor drop underneath us into a collective uncertainty. Covid-19 crossed every barrier and was killing more and more people every day. It was a collective fear, unlike at any other time in history. For the first time, together, most of us knew what was going on on the entire planet. Our world irreversibly changed in the blink of an eye.
This was how I navigated this chaotic time and the lessons I am learning everyday along the way.
March 15th, 2020
“When faced with a crisis, do three things: breathe, pray, and be kind.”Anne Lamott
What the HELL! A pandemic has reached here in our little Nova Scotia. My mind cannot take this in; it is surreal, yet, it is here. OH my God! The terror is setting in my body, and I feel my chest tighten, my stomach is churning, and my legs are weak at the thought.
Our first case of Covid 19 is in Nova Scotia, and I am on my way to town; there is such panic everywhere, people are cleaning out the essentials in every store. Shelves are empty in the stores; this is crazy! I cannot find any toilet paper anywhere. I go from store to store to store. My heart is beating faster, and I feel hurried and shaky. Not even a thermometer to be found. No rubbing alcohol, no hydrogen peroxide, hardly any canned goods. It feels crazy, unreal! I finally find a small four-pack of toilet paper and a few other things. I have never felt so relieved in my life to be driving up to our home, my safe haven. Who knew that going to town would become such a frightening thing to do. At this point, we do not know if it was in our town.
Those first two weeks, the fear was palpable. With daily updates, the numbers were climbing. Then tragically, on April 7th, a woman dies in Nova Scotia, and it began; glued to the daily updates took a toll on many of us, including me, but I could not stop watching and listening for many days.
Every day, with more and more deaths worldwide, it feels like the ground beneath me is no longer steady. My body is so restless; it’s hard for me to focus on anything. I find myself binge-watching the TV, for I don’t know what else to do. There is a collective fear everywhere, on the radio, TV all over social media.
It is one am, and I’m wide awake again; I cannot sleep; the darkness has a foreboding that lingers in the air as nighttime heightens my fear. Bernie, my husband, is over 1500 kilometres away at work; I am so frightened for him, I feel desperately alone. Sunrise cannot come fast enough. I am thinking about our sons, who are grown men with families of their own who I am sure are worried. We are all locked in our homes, waiting for what this means for our futures. What does this all mean for the world?
It’s Monday; it’s been over three weeks since lockdown, and I am once again awake in the middle of the night. I know I cannot go on FB or watch TV again; I take a deep breath and decide to shut out the world and my thoughts of fear, so I play a guided meditation instead. It feels like home; my body sinks into my bed. I felt carried by a quiet undercurrent that was just below the hurricane of this pandemic. I re-discover that deep place of calm refuge inside again. I can do this. Listening to guided meditations was a familiar tool I had used before, and I knew I would have to implement a lot now to settle my mind and body.
“Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being.” Rumi
Over the next year, as the pandemic continues, I also discover audio autobiography books read by the authors. I loved hearing the actual author’s voice reading each line. Their voices are infused with lived inflections, passion and emotions that no one else could ever capture. These inspirational people found resilience despite having experienced harrowing lives early on. They found a way back to living life in very authentic, honest, fulfilling ways. These authors held a mirror for me that reminded me of the resilience of my spirit, and on those days when I was filled with fear, they helped me remember “this too shall pass.”
I am so glad I had done so much inner work before this pandemic. Yes, as I had written in “A Hurricane is Coming,” I spent a few years in a dark place, but, what got me through even on my worst days was my curiosity to find answers. That is what I have learned most on my life, to keep searching and with time, the answers come. My life was and still is, at times, a messy journey of self-discovery that has brought great healing at times. I try my best each day to revisit the tools I’ve learned along the way that helps me deal with the daily pandemic ebb and flow madness.
Any time of stress; I need go out in nature to avoid getting stuck in a rumination loop of negative thoughts. A much healthier choice than eating, staying manically busy or watching TV to numb the anxiety. For the first few months of the pandemic, my knees were in a good place so I could go for short walks, and as luck would have, it is springtime. Nature becomes my church; it forces me to slow down, breathe and notice beauty.
“The beauty of nature is the wisest balm. When the mind is festering with trouble or the heart torn, we can find healing among the silence of the mountains or fields, or listen to the simple, steading rhythm of the waves. The slowness and stillness gradually take us over. Our breathing deepens and our hearts calm and our hunger relent…. ” John O’Donohue
I open the door to go for another walk. A sweet scent of apple blooms is in the air; I love seeing the trees and flowers growing once again. I chat with the tiny gentle chickadees as they search for food and nesting material. The bright, cheerful dandelions open their pedals for the wild sleepy bumblebees; they are just waking up from their winter slumber and need nutrients for energy. Just looking at them makes me smile. Mother Nature works overtime this time of year, helping to create new life everywhere. My soul is renewed each day I am outside and find some semblance of inner peace again.
Each day is one day closer to my dear hubby coming home; my thoughts of him getting on a plane and coming home are terrifying, but we are not alone. Millions of people work on the front lines. That is so strange to write; it sounds like wartime. Front line workers were now truck drivers bringing us our essential goods to the stores, rotational workers like my husband, who work away in other provinces. Retail clerks show up every day to work in the stores in this madness to keep the stores open. I can’t even imagine the sacrifices of the dedicated medical staff directly in the line of fire of this horrible disease. This is where the best of humanity shows up, so many heroes and s-heroes. I think and pray for them every day. There has never been a better time to try and cultivate one moment and day at a time for sanity’s sake.
As I did my best to stay open and curious despite my anxiety, magical things would show up perfectly timed. At the beginning of 2021, I discovered a zoom writers group called Soulo facilitated and created by Tracey Erin Smith. Her style of teaching is truly magical and one of a kind. She sets up a safe and sacred space that built a kind, supportive community that I have come to treasure. Zoom became my lifeline during the pandemic for connection. This group, in particular, became a saving grace. I found a home with people who were not afraid to show themselves. They are gut-wrenchingly genuine and honest. They are all a breath of fresh air to me. Their stories were authentic and open-hearted. Even if I never meet them in person, I considered them friends. They helped me not feel alone, and I will forever be thankful for the love and caring they all showed me and each other. I learned to cultivate another level of vulnerability by trusting my inner world with this unique group of beautiful souls. I love how Tracey says (this is a paraphrase)
“People keep saying they wished life came with a manual or instructions, there is one; they are called stories.”
This pandemic brought out the worst and the best in all of us. There was positive social activism that created a global shift in our consciousness that was long overdue. Our planet has been jolted awake several times. Our world was and still is dying and giving birth simultaneously. I suspect we have all changed in ways that will only be fully understood in years to come in retrospect. I know I discovered more strengths and weaknesses, and both are good. Both have taught me a great deal.
This reality is not the story anyone thought we would be living. Even so, every day, I still try to find joy and beauty in my ordinary moments. Simply living in the moment is harder some days, yet I strive for it imperfectly. I stumble; some days are a total wash with numbing myself. Every now and then, I will watch TV most of the day, but I am learning to be in this new reality bit by bit. I am grateful I find gentleness and forgiveness in myself and others more these days, thankfully.
“May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.”John O’Donohue
I would like to believe no matter what, all of us worldwide found some kindness and compassion in this insanity for one another and more gratitude for the things we once took for granted. Kindness, compassion and gratitude are big medicine that sends their roots far and wide and can change even the most hardened hearts. Instead of the ugliness birthed out of our fear, let these attributes be the legacy of this pandemic moving forward.
“Always remember, No matter where you go… there your are” Unknown
“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new tress” Amelia Earhart.
“The human spirit holds strength beyond measure, the kind that will break down the walls of all the blocks that come our way.” Nikki Rowe
I have always loved unique eccentric people who are unapologetically themselves. So many of us are people pleasers who are not very honest with others or ourselves, especially when it comes to who we really are. Most of us want to fit in or hide behind a façade. I love people’s stories, especially those who show up in their life who are not carbon copies of the rest of the world around them. They dance to the beat of their own drum, as the saying goes. I have learned a lot over the years from these idiosyncratic souls. They have taught me to let go of what others think more, and as I age, it becomes easier. Here is one individual who was only in my life for only a few days a year but has played a role in showing me what gut honesty and genuine gratitude looks and feel like.
When we moved into our home over 28 years ago, I learned that up the road from us lived Paul, a hermit, or at least that’s what some in our community called him. He was rugged, very thin but had a considerable presence. He was a local auctioneer and enjoyed collecting.
Paul’s small home was about a half-mile from our house on a large forested property he owned. I’m not sure, but I would say his home was not much more than 300-400 square feet. He had no running water and was not connected to the grid for electricity. Later after a few years, he had a solar panel that provided enough solar power for his satellite radio which he passionately enjoyed. Its where he collected information for his debates 🙂 . He had some chickens and a cat; he loved them all dearly. They were not just pets; they were his companions, and he affectionally cared for each of them. He had a name for all of them. He also had a couple of beehives for honey.
The first time I first met Paul, we did not connect very well. He cursed like a pirate and had no problem speaking his mind, and loved to challenge me from the first time we met.
“I suppose you are one of those religious people who believes in God?” he says
Daring me to say so.Before I can even answer,
“I don’t believe in all that God shit; that is nothing more than a god damn fairy tale!”
And so it began.
Over the years, I did not see Paul that often, but he would drop by every now and then. Usually, for another challenging conversation about God or some other controversial subject. He loved a good debate. After a few times, I came to enjoy these little bantering’s as I got to know him. I saw something in his eyes; they had sadness and pain in them, yet when he was excited about something, his eyes twinkled like a little boy.
I came to see through all that bravado to a gentle soul inside that crusty gruff exterior.
I would not hear from Paul for months as he usually worked away in the winter and would show up out of the blue, but usually only a couple of times each summer.
He would also do thoughtful things; one spring in my hothouse I found two full bags of composted chicken manure mysteriously appear. Those of you who are gardeners know this is a gold standard fertilizer. Best tomatoes I ever grew that year! Another time we had just built a new home next to our old one. We had thrown out an old small kitchen wooden table for the garbage truck to pick up. It was long past what I thought was of any use; it was old, beaten and full of stains and scratches. Shortly after we had moved into our new house, we came home one afternoon to find our table on the patio and had been exquisitely refinished. It looked brand new; I knew in an instant who it was from, Paul. I called to thank him.
“Oh, that’s nothing; I saw it out by the side of the road and thought it had more life in it. I refinished it for you guys as a housewarming gift.“
Paul invited my husband, me and our two young sons over one summer to watch him extract honey from frames in a manual spinner and then bottle it. We all found it fascinating. After a tasting test or two or three, he gave us a couple of bottles of honey to take home. He took such pride in everything he did. He later sold his hives after a bear tore them apart one too many times.
That was the first time I had ever been in his home. I felt honored that this very private man invited our family inside his sanctuary. It was packed full of nick-knacks that were all around his house. It was clear that each item had a particular place, and he enjoyed every piece as he shared stories about a few of them. On his walls were beautiful paintings that he spoke passionately about. The scent in the air was mixed with the fresh-cut flowers, herbs and leftover smoke from the woodstove. It was so cozy. I could tell that he loved and cherished every corner of that little home. That was the only time I was in his home until years later after Paul had been diagnosed with a horrible illness called Lou Gehrigs Disease.
A couple of years before Paul’s diagnose, I noticed he had begun to believe in a Higher Power. He spoke of his time in nature and how it deeply affected him. How over the years, he had come to believe there had to be something bigger than just coincidence that created this magnificent earth and all its beauty, interjecting a few expletives here and there as he spoke with a softer tone. Paul had not become religious but deeply spiritual. Paul spoke about how his land had healed him of a great deal of pain from his past.
Before he died, I asked him if I could come to his home and record his story because by this time, Paul’s heart had become more tender, and I felt his story was important.
That following week he invited me over. As I sat down across the table, Paul looked pensive. He shared about his life, about the pain and suffering he had endured. He shared about his regrets, the loss of the “Love of his life,” taking full responsibility for losing her along with other regrets and other painful memories. I listened as he shared his life and the lessons he had learned from the school of hard knocks. When he finished, I asked him to share what it was like living here on this tiny piece of paradise.
He speaks of his land knowing that he was just a steward and somehow understood that it was not his to own, for it is an entity that has a spirit all on its own; he had a deep respect for every acre. He shared how much healing it had given him over the years. He spoke of his home and how much he loved living and caring for it. At one point in our conversation, he starts to describe how he makes his bed. I will never forget the essence of his words. My eyes began to tear as he described every detail as a spiritual experience that he felt every day when he made it. This is more of a paraphrase, but it went something like this.
I never take it for granted that I get to slip into a comfortable bed each night and have blankets that keep me warm. We forget this is not a luxury for everyone in this world; therefore, each morning, I take my time pulling each sheet tight and tucking in the blankets. I thank God or whatever that creative force is in those moments for this soft place to lay my head each night. It’s important to remember.
His voice was gentle and humble as he spoke. I felt every word.
We went outside for a walk. Paul had magnificent tall flowers in structured beds around his property, lovingly all caged to protect them from his beloved chickens. This was so his rooster, hens with chicks could wander around freely in his yard. His incredibly manicured property was his pride and joy. From his stacked firewood to his outhouse was a thing of beauty. He spoke about how being meticulous with each task was so important to him as we walked through his yard, from repairing his barn to edging the simple walkways that lead to his outhouse and the chicken coop. They were done with precision and a kind of reverence. At that moment, I realized he is not only a hermit but a mystic—someone who lives an ordinary life in extraordinary ways while living in a state of gratitude for his life. I had not ever witnessed this kind of living with such deep gratitude before; it was a teachable moment for me about my own life. His life experiences had given him a tough outer exterior, but inside, he had found peace on the land. He taught me so much that day, and anytime I forget those lessons, I often hear him remind me, especially when I am making my bed.
On that day, before we went outside to walk around, I asked him, “In three words how would you describe yourself now Paul?” I was delighted by his response, “Good little boy” with that twinkle I had seen before. It seemed that Paul lived his life on his own terms, and in the last years of his life found a poetic authentic grateful way to be present to each moment.
“The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner” Tibetan Proverb
He died in his sleep. I believe Paul transitioned with his heart healed and went into spirit feeling like a “Good Little Boy”; His spirit found love and freedom on the land, and it feels like his soul left this world at peace. He was a rich man indeed in the end.
I have grown to love the human spirit and its capability to heal. Paul was just one of those spirits.
At sixty years old I have learned a lot, but this message seems to have the most wisdom. The key to a peaceful life is living an authentic ordinary life in extraordinary grateful ways.
Paul’s story is just another story that bears witness to this very thing.
“Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others I am beginning to discover. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through solitude.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
It’s January 1991. I am a young 30-year-old wife and mom of two little boys who are 10 and 7.
I am just waking up. It is barely sunrise outside; I am looking out the window from a cozy bed in a cabin with no running water or electricity; I am in blissful heaven. I am alone in the woods at a Monastery called Nova Nada. I have been here before. I see my breath in the billows of steam as I exhale into the chilly morning air, even though I am toasty warm underneath all these blankets. I finally get up the nerve to crawl out of bed to the wood-burning stove. I put a few small logs onto the now small amount of hot coals on the bottom and open the draft. I soon hear the crackling of the wood catching fire as the flames are fanned by the air blowing on the coals through the draft. Ooooh, the heat feels good on my face and hands. Soon the tiny room is warm again. I get dressed and go to the well and draw some cold crystal spring water. I had forgotten to do this last evening before I went to bed. I love the sound of the bucket as I draw it back up the well as it hits the stones on the way up. I run inside with my splashing cold water, wash up, and make myself a hot cup of herb tea and toast for breakfast.
Sitting here at this small table, I gaze out the window and watch the snow outside floating gently down to the ground; I am still mesmerized long after my tea is cold. Later, I walk through the woods along a well-worn path; If the trees could talk, they would have many tales to tell. There are some older trees here that have seen many generations in this forest. Each step feels like I am on holy ground. The ground is sacred because, first and foremost, nature is sacred no matter where I am, but secondly, it feels holy today because I am feeling the presence of God’s love everywhere. The only thing I hear on occasion is the jarring crunch when I step on some hardened snow. This stillness is settling deep inside me.
I love my family and friends dearly, yet I love time alone in silent prayer and reflection. Here at Nova Nada in the winter, stillness lends itself to a kind of silence that goes deep inside me. When it is extra cold like today, snow blankets the ground; there is no wind or sound. The hardwood trees are bare in contrast to the evergreens that are especially green in the winter against the backdrop of the snow. Most woodland creatures are tucked away in the trees or dug in the earth, snuggled in the nesting material that keeps them warm. The stillness is vibrating in my body. It may sound strange; this silence is almost deafening.
There is a silence here that opens up the heart and soul if I allow it. It was here that I began this love affair with silence. A silence that at times gave me great joy and a sense of inner peace I had never felt before. But this silence was also and can still be painful at times because I am alone with my thoughts.
“Solitude can be frightening because it invites us to meet a stranger we think we may not want to know-ourselves.” Melvyn Kinder
Sometimes it takes time and practice to be alone in our thoughts. In time though, I began to hear the song of my soul over the loudness of my “monkey mind” self-deprecating thoughts and childhood memories; that is when great healing began.
When I came home, I started to create snippets of time in silence. I would walk on the beach or in the woods for silent reflection. Some mornings I would rise before my family, even just for 15 min and later created a prayer room. Once I understood the importance of silence for me, it became a regular part of my life.
During that time of my life as a young mom, I began to voraciously read and listen to books and poetry by Mystics from different religions, spiritual teachers and inspiring everyday people from all walks of life. The first book I listened to at Nova Nada was “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. One of my favorites, the message this book left me, was life-changing. She was a young mom of six who went away to a private beach for a retreat alone. It was where she began to write this book.
“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
This lesson was almost unheard of in my time as a young mom. To me, my essence is my soul song. I began to hear it in the silence of the winter forest.
I also found like-minded friends at Nova Nada who were on the journey of living ordinary lives in extraordinary love-filled ways. I am glad to say some of whom became lifelong friends. These kinds of people have lifted me, inspired me and helped me grow and quite frankly get over myself on days I need to soften my hard edges. I worked hard over the next few years as my children grew. I went into therapy for a few years, went on many group therapy Shalom retreats and later trained to become a Shadow Life Coach. These collectively taught me to let go of most of the pain of my childhood, forgive myself and those who had harmed me. I found contentment for many years long after our sons were grown and had families of their own. Life will still give us plenty of opportunities to grow, and it certainly did for me. The ebb and flow of life continues as long as we are alive.
In recent years, after coming out of my dark night of the soul, I began time in silence again with a gradual practice. I started by guided meditations and then later sitting 5 minutes in silence, and that increased over time until I could easily sit for 20 minutes. Or simply walking outside for a short distance without headphones on. By doing so, my heart expands and with it so does my eyes and ears. There is a awareness in my body that I was numb because of so much time numbing myself with food or in front of a screen. When I just stayed present on my walks, I began to see things in nature that I had not noticed in many years again.Also becoming the observer of my thoughts in the beauty of nature began a profound shift back to my soul song .
Today because of my knees, I can’t walk very far or sit on the ground, but each day I once again find much of my day is in silence again, even doing my daily chores. I love listening to a summer rain or the songbirds in the morning or simply gazing at the trees as they sway back and forth in the wind while at the table eating my meals. Silence and nature have helped me remember what I had forgotten and has brought me peace of mind once again.
“The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigor and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.” John O’Donohue
This magical property is no longer a monastery but is now known as Birchdale. You can still walk this sacred ground of large older forest and quaint cabins, for more information visit www.birchdalelake.com
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