Dream a little dream … Mid Life Crisis Part II

Life without dreams, I discovered at a young age, is a particular kind of hell. It is the kind of hell where all meaning is lost. Whether it is day or night has no significance, because they are both intolerable. There is nothing to look forward to, no point to existence. I had lived in that kind of hell in my early adulthood. I had dropped out of university after two tortuous years to work in the “real world” as a restaurant manager.  It didn’t take too many long nights of washing dishes to realize that my life pretty much sucked. I had no idea who I was. No clue what I wanted from life, or significantly, that you could want something out of life. More importantly, however, I didn’t know what life wanted from me. If this was all that life was, working at a moderately crappy job, going from terrible relationship to terrible relationship, than what was the point exactly? Before I would go to sleep I would quietly ask God to please take me back and let me start all over again. Hopefully the next time I wouldn’t be a massive disappointment.

The darkness and despair I felt was a signal, the discomfort meant to propel me to make drastic changes in my life. But change is, frankly, terrifying and I was having none of it. Instead I muddled around in the world, buying all of the self-help books I could find. I was searching for answers, but not too hard, because I was certain that the answers I found would be too difficult to bear. I had no doubt that if I were faced with the truth of myself, who I really was, it would suffocate me with its awfulness. It would choke me with shame.

I stayed in this uncomfortable ambivalence for many years. I was 21 years old, and miserable. Yet another boyfriend I had been madly in love was distancing himself from me. I could feel the desperation growing in me like a wild fire, needing to call him, needing to talk to him, needing him to know how I felt, needing to understand why. I knew that need would drive him away further, but it was fierce. I picked up a book instead, trying to make sense of this pattern of failed relationships. It was called “Leaving the Enchanted Forest” by Stephanie Covington. The only thing I remember is reading one line, and it almost knocking the breath out of me. I don’t remember it word for word, but the message was this: You cannot depend on others for your happiness. Your happiness is yours alone to create.

I had heard this probably millions of time before, but the words had always floated by and never really taken hold. This time, however, it shocked me with its truth. I realized that that was what I had been doing my entire life. I was only really happy if others (specifically a man) loved me. If he didn’t, I was deflated, absent, like all of who I was could escape with a simple exhale. With this appalling truth staring at me in the face, I decided that I would not be this woman any longer. I went to my room and looked at my phone. I knew that I needed help. I picked up the phone and put it down. I was crying with fear. I hung it up a second time. The third, however, was a success. The person who answered calmed me down, and I made an appointment. I was going to change my life.

I threw myself into recovery, determined to be honest above all else. I held nothing back. All of my shame came to the fore, and I realized, with relief, that it wasn’t powerful enough to kill me. With the help of others who witnessed all of it and accepted me anyway, I learned to accept myself. What I noticed, however, in this culture of recovery, is that many people who had been in recovery for years, were not really living. They were stuck in fear, always recovering. In recovery, their dreams came with a disclaimer.

“Please dream with caution as you are powerless and your dreams might be dangerous for your recovery. Don’t get too confident or sure of yourself. Remember. You are powerless over your (name addiction/weakness here).”

I noticed that recovery and survival were enough for many people. But it was not enough for me. I wanted to more. I didn’t want to just survive, I wanted to thrive. I had recovered my spirit and was eager to re-claim and discover who I was as a woman. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in recovery, attending meetings that reminded me of how powerless I was. I felt powerful. I wanted to taste life, to dive into its waters and learn its mysteries. I wanted to dream. I wanted adventure.

I decided to go on a vacation. It was my first real vacation while working as a restaurant manager. I was really excited because I had decided to go to Club Med for one simple reason, I had always wanted to learn to water ski. Growing up in land locked Calgary, Alberta had meant that things like water skiing had been out of my reach. It was a crazy dream I had had since I was little, and I was going to honour it. I picked a Club that had an abundance of water sports: scuba diving, sailing, water skiing. My mother, who has supported me throughout my life, and does still, gave me enough so that I could stay for two weeks. I was so excited.

I arrived in Mexico and threw myself into every activity. I water-skied every single day. I learned to sail. I took tennis lessons. I learned to scuba dive. I danced all night long. I met loads of people. The people who worked there were the friendliest people I had ever met and they came from all over the world. At the end of my first week it dawned on me. These people actually work in this place! This is their JOB. Every morning they wake up to go to work and this is what they see. This is what they do. This is AMAZING.

I realized something. I wanted this life. Just the thought of it felt delicious and dangerous.

When I came home I told my parents that I had made a major life decision. I am positive that they were hoping that I had learned that the “real world” wasn’t so great and I would go back to university where I belonged. When I had dropped out of university a few years before, it was with the promise that I would return. They had informed me, very seriously, that when people drop out of university they never go back. Dropping out of university, would, therefore, be the worst decision I could ever make. It would negatively impact the rest of my life. All of that potential from the brains in my head would be wasted. I dropped out anyway and promised that I would be the exception.

When I told them, instead, that I was going to be a scuba diving instructor and work for Club Med, I was prepared for my dad, especially, to lose it. I wasn’t disappointed. But strangely enough, when the shock wore off, they both supported me. Coincidentally the very first instructor’s course was just starting up in Alberta. If there hadn’t been one, I doubt I would ever have followed through. My parents paid for me to complete my training, which took about 9 months.

In my instructor’s class I found others, like me, who had become disillusioned with life. A few were lawyers.  What we all shared was the desire for something more from life than what we woke up to, day after day. We were all searching for what that something more might be. We all dreamed of waking up to beautiful sunshine and sandy beaches every morning. In the meantime, however, the actual training was brutal. My first open water dive was in a glacier lake outside of Banff, Alberta. The water was so cold we had to keep surfacing to warm up the regulators so they would work properly.

I dove in water that was in the process of freezing while I was in it. It was one of our last dives in Alberta, before we did our exam dives in British Columbia. It was about minus 30 degrees Celsius outside, even colder with the wind chill. We were all moving quite slowly, not really believing that our instructor, Don, would actually make us dive in water this freezing. After watching us dawdle for a period of time, Don called us together. Instead of a pep talk, he let us have it. “You people are the biggest whiny children I have ever seen! This is the easiest fucking dive you are ever going to do! Now get off your fucking ass and get in the fucking water!” We all stood frozen in shocked silence. We had never seen him lose control before. He had always been so happy and cheerful, in a used-car dealer kind of way.

I got dressed more quickly, but his reproach did not change the fact that I dreaded getting into that water. The air was so cold that steam was coming off of the water, even though it was at the point of freezing. As grumpy as I was, there was a sliver of hope. I had noticed that Don was almost a bigger wimp than me when it came to the cold.

As soon as I got to the bottom I started inhaling as deeply as I could, practically hyperventilating, so that I could use all of my air quickly and be forced to return to the surface. I didn’t need to. My hunch about Don’s ability to adapt to the cold was correct. He signaled to us to go up to the surface within ten minutes. We crammed into the back of someone’s van, trying to remove frozen solid gloves from fingers that could barely move. I would have glared at Don had I not been so grateful to be out of that water. 

After I passed my exams, and was certified as an instructor, I applied to work at Club Med. They called me within a few weeks. I flew to New York for an interview. A few weeks after that I was on a plane, leaving my life behind and flying to Sonora, Mexico, to work as a scuba diving instructor in Club Med.

I had dreamed a dream that was totally and completely mine. It was not my parent’s dream, not the women’s programmed “get married and have children” dream. This dream was utterly and entirely mine. And I had made it come true, with help of course. For the first time, I was excited by what life held in store for me. I had crawled out of the darkness that was my life for 21 years and emerged transformed by that experience. It was surrendering and connecting to something greater than me that allowed it to happen. I hadn’t defined what that was, hadn’t named it, and had no desire to. I simply felt a loving and compassionate presence in my life. That presence helped me to heal and encouraged me to have the courage to stand up for my life, for my dreams. It helped me believe that anything really was possible. I felt certain that whatever that presence was, it was partly responsible for me being there, on that plane, flying into the unknown possibilities of my life. I was incredibly grateful and excited.

Almost a decade later, at 30, I faced another existential crisis as I faced my own mortality. What helped me through it was recovering my dreams, dreams that were precious to me. One was acting, and the other, singing. I knew, from experience, that the key to recovering meaning in my life was to reach out for my dreams, to start a new adventure. I reached out to the universe to ask for help. Help this crazy rock star dream come true. And just like Julia Cameron warned in her book “The Artist’s Way”, there is a reason that people say “Be careful what you wish/pray for, it might come true.”

Stay tuned for the next installment

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My Quest – Part II of Taking a Leap of Faith

Julian looked me in the eyes but we did not speak. I knew he had no doubts that I would be able to do this. Another member of our group, a young man, had been talking for days about how he didn’t think he could handle three days in the wilderness. He was certain that he would panic and have to return to camp. I was shocked by his fear. He had always seemed overly confident in his abilities and slightly disdainful when people couldn’t keep up. I had never considered that I might give up and return back to camp. But I, unlike him, had learned how to appreciate my own company. It wasn’t the loneliness that worried me.

I met Julian’s stare and smiled. I didn’t say good-bye and I didn’t look back. I walked up the mountain feeling a mixture of calm and nerves. In my backpack was a small fleece blanket, a pair of rain pants and jacket, a small piece of rope, a carabiner, a journal, some incense and a lighter. That was it. No food, no water, no tent, no sleeping bag. My first task was to find a suitable location to spend three days in the mountains with no shelter.

Julian had told us how he had done his quest, years ago. The purpose was to rid one’s self of all distractions. No food, no water, little movement, little clothing, and no sleep. I wasn’t at all confident in my ability to purge myself of all of these comforts. The two I was certain I would need help with was staying awake and staying warm. As I walked up the hill I whispered “Please help me stay warm. Please help me stay awake.”

About halfway up the slope of the mountain I found a spot. It was fairly flat and sunny, but with some shade from the trees. I found some rocks and made my circle. One rock facing east, one south, one west, and one north. The circle was large enough to lie down in if I curled up in the fetal position. Once I stepped into the circle, I would not leave until Julian called for us all three days later. I would spend two nights on that mountain, sitting in that circle. I stepped in, sat down, and looked out over the prairies, my view for the next three days. I tried to prepare for the battles that lay ahead: the battle with my stomach who would want food; the battle with my throat that would want water; the battle with my body that would want sleep; and the battle with my mind that would want to give up.

I watched the sun move across the sky. It started in the east. I lit incense when it moved to the south and when it set in the west. When I tired of sitting, I stood up and sang the songs that Julian had taught us. My favourite was the warrior woman song. I sang it over and over. One of the elders had told us that this solo was a sacred rite of passage. When we returned from the mountain a part of us would be left behind to allow a new part to emerge. Traditionally it had been a child that would go alone into the wilderness, and return to the community as an adult. We had talked about what rites of passage we celebrate, officially or not, in our culture. Many of them were not terribly sacred; getting drunk, losing one’s virginity, getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school. For me this rite of passage was sacred. It was time for the part of me who was childlike and lived in fear to be replaced by the wise warrior woman. It was time for me to grow up.

When I stopped singing I sat down. I remembered what Julian had told us about how he handled the boredom; he sent a message of gratitude to every person he had ever met in his life. I started by thanking the mystery that is this universe, what they called Great Spirit or Creator. I thanked the people that were closest to me for all that they had done for me. As I did, tears streamed down my face. I felt so much love and appreciation. I sent messages of love to my grandmother who had died when I was a young woman and completely messed up. She had never seen me come out the other side, but I felt her presence at that moment. I thanked people who I had not seen in years. I thanked the people that had hurt me, for the truth was that I wouldn’t be the person I was without that suffering, and I was proud of who I was, who I was becoming.

Right before night fell I started to hear rustling in the trees and bushes around me. Julian had told me about pack rats in the mountains but I had never seen one until that night. They peered at me from behind the trees. They had a rat’s face, but a squirrel’s tail. They did not fear me at all. One of them ate the rope that was holding my backpack to a tree and stole my carabiner. I took a step outside of my circle to rescue my pack.

I had been wondering how the mystery of this world would help me to stay awake. Now I knew. Pack rats. As it got darker, they started to come towards me. I couldn’t believe it. They were trying to climb right up on me! I thought animals were supposed to be afraid of humans! I spent the next several hours on guard, waiting for them to come into my circle and then shooing them away. Bernard, a member of our group, had found a spot within hearing distance. Just as the pack rats started invading him space he heard me yelling frantically, “Shoo!!! Get away from me! Shoo!!!” He thought that was quite hilarious.

As the pack rats finally left me alone I looked up at the sky. There were millions of stars. They covered the sky with their brilliance. I was completely in awe and watched the moon and the stars slowly move across the sky for hours. I had never spent a night awake under the sky. It was magnificent.  As I watched I marveled at the fact that the moon, what the elders called “Grandmother”, had a direct influence on the rhythm of my body; my moon cycle. I had never really thought about that before, the impact something so far away had on the part of my body responsible for conception, for creating new life. I had never felt so connected to something in my life as I did to the moon that night. She was my grandmother. She was watching over me, protecting me. Even though it was the middle of the night, and I had only my small fleece blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I felt cozy under her gaze. I had heard later that they had been cold in the camp below, but I felt warm.

I lit my incense as the sun rose in the east. My body was taking notice of the lack of food and water. Their absence impacted me in subtle ways. At times I felt a strange kind of peace that I imagined one might feel when death was very near. I lay down with my knees bent. I smelt the leaves from the wild strawberry plants. It gave me comfort. What I felt most profoundly, though, was how the earth supported the weight of my body. Julian had talked to us about the Gaia principle, that the earth is an actual organism; mother earth. I felt that, the earth was cradling me. She was there fore me, nurturing me, there was nothing to fear. I realized that even though people may have let me down, abandoned me, hurt me, the earth would always be there. If I felt alone I could always seek connection and comfort the soil, the trees, the moon and the stars, the living world around me I had always taken for granted.

That night as I was fighting off the pack rats who were determined to eat the very clothes I was wearing, I heard something crashing through the bush towards me. I froze. I was sure it was a bear. Traditionally part of the purpose of the vision quest was to meet one’s spirit guide, an animal. I had hoped that mine would not be a pack rat. Although I thought that having a bear for a spirit guide would be incredibly cool, I prayed that it was not a bear running straight for me. I looked up and out of the trees came a gigantic buck. He stopped only a few feet away. I held my breath. He lifted his head and antlers and I could see his breath. He was majestic. Right at that very moment a packrat, sensing my sudden lack of vigilance, took the opportunity to jump and landed right on top of my head. I fought a scream but it was too late. The buck leaped back into the forest and was gone. I savoured that moment when it felt like the buck and I were the only two beings in the entire world. It felt important somehow, and I wanted it to sink into my bones, my blood, become a part of me.

The next morning I lit my incense as the sun rose in the east. I was impatient for Julian’s call. The second I heard him I packed up my things and walked back to camp, where a feast awaited us. The young man who was sure that he would not make it, had returned to camp the first night and kept watch over the fire that they kept burning the whole time we were in the wild. I returned from the mountain a woman. I may not have rid myself of all of my fears, but I had a powerful ally. My warrior woman had awakened. She is the one who helps me to fight for my dreams. Over the next years of my life I needed her fierce encouragement, for reaching out for my dreams has been both the scariest and the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Aside: The solo is offered as part of the adult programming at ghostriverrediscovery.com out of Calgary, Alberta.

Taking a Leap of Faith – Part I

Maya and Dave

Maya and Dave

I am sitting in my living room on a Saturday morning in my bathrobe, with freshly dyed hair (good-bye for a month terrible grey roots!) and an empty house. A house that looks like a cyclone went through it mind you, but empty nonetheless. I dropped Dave and Maya at the airport a few short hours ago so that they could visit his family in Ontario. It’s been almost a year since we moved from Ontario to B.C., which is hard to believe.

As I’m sitting here, listening to loud music (Metric of course), their absence is sinking in. Since I had Maya I have only been away from her twice, and only for a few days. I was dreading saying good-bye. I was anticipating sobs and wailing “Mommy come with us!!” Of course she dealt with it must better than I did. “Bye-bye Mommy! I love you!” And off she went, holding Daddy’s hand. She didn’t even look back.

Ten days. Ten days without them. In that time I need to fit in all of the things I want/need to do. The thing most pressing is, depressingly, cleaning this apartment. Moving from a house to an apartment has been an adjustment. Keeping a small place clean, when a toddler is one of the three people living there, is more challenging than I had imagined. And to top it all off I detest cleaning. I become a vile creature when I clean, particularly if I must do it in silence. Music is the only companion I want around me when I clean.

The other task I want to accomplish while they are away is to write. I have had a strange relationship with writing. It has been a dream of mine since I can remember, to write. Not to be a writer, mind you; oddly that was never the goal. Over the years, however, every time I attempted to write something intended for public consumption, the words that came out on the page were so embarrassing that I would hide the dreadful things away, along with the dream, until the next time I became desperate enough to put pen to page.  And so the dream was put off. I wrote in my journals, wrote paper after paper for school, wrote reports for work, but never dared to write. It was too scary. The fantasy was ephemeral, living at the edges of my consciousness, making the odd, limping, appearance in my longing, but without enough force to get me to really pay attention.

I had heard someone say that you should never attempt to actually do what you fantasize about. Once the fantasy was realized, he argued, you have nothing left; emptiness where once lived longing and desire. On first hearing this I agreed, but what is assumed in this theory is that the soil of that emptiness would be so barren that no seed could possibly take root to create a new and possibly more wonderful fantasy.

I had many fantasies that I had kept hidden away; to be a rock star, or a famous movie actress. My dream of writing had been so daunting, however, that it never contemplated actually being a writer. That would be too audacious. To even fantasize about it would invite retribution. It would tempt fate. My belief in the world was something like this: every moment of joy would be responded to by three times that of disaster. I’m not sure where this distrust of the world came from, but it made me very protective of my dreams. I kept them locked away, as one would lock away their most precious possessions to safeguard them from invaders during a war. That is what I did with my dreams. My life was the war. I hid my dreams so well that I forgot that they existed.

My belief about the world was forever changed as a result of participating in a unique program called “Guiding Spirit.” I’ve described it in my birth story blog, but, in short, it changed my life. I learned profound things about myself. The most important realization was how little I actually trusted the world. I expected to be betrayed, disappointed, abandoned, hurt.

This immense distrust first hit me when we did a “high ropes” course. It was like a giant playground for adults, but suspended about 40 feet off the ground. I am scared of heights. It was my turn to do the log crossing. I put on my harness and climbed up the forty feet to the log. It was a thick and suspended in mid air. I had walked, even run, on many logs this size with no fear. But those were on the ground.

I took my first step and my whole body started to shake uncontrollably. I stopped. I couldn’t even trust my body to work properly. The people below, holding on to ropes that would hold me if I fell, were starting to get bored. One of the men started to yell encouraging words. I think it was something to the effect of “For fuck’s sake will you GO already!”

I stood there shaking. I was too scared to walk. My legs were shaking so badly I knew I would fall. I started to examine the Fear that had invaded my body. What was I really afraid of? I was harnessed in. If I fell the people below would hold on to the ropes and would stop my fall. That is when it hit me. I didn’t trust that they would hang on when I needed them. Fear whispered to me “They are bored, they’re not really paying attention, they don’t know you or care about you. They will let you fall.”

I listened, then looked Fear in the eye. “No. I do not believe you.” It was true that these people did not know or care about me, but I decided to trust them anyway. The second I made the decision to trust, Fear slithered quickly out of body. My legs stopped shaking. I felt calm. I walked across the log with the same confidence I would have had it been on the ground.

After two months of adventures designed to test our limits, dissolve our defenses and make us more aware and connected human beings, it was time for the grand finale, the solo; the right of passage to transition us to the next part of the program. Our solo would involve three days of venturing into the Canadian Rockies. Alone.

I had accepted one of our guides, Julian’s, challenge. It was like he was speaking directly to me when he told our group that the only way we would learn the profound lessons about ourselves we had said we wanted to learn would be to give up the things that make us feel secure. I knew he was right. I had not taken the solo seriously.

I started to consider what deep truths I wanted to discover from this experience. What came to me was slightly shocking. I wanted to learn that I could trust the world; that if I went out into the world alone and vulnerable, that I would be cared for. Being alone didn’t make me insecure, but being cold did. I determined that in order to truly test this theory I had to severely limit what I could bring. I decided I would bring next to nothing; no sleeping bag, no tent. Immediately after that decision, Fear crept into my body with a vengeance. I knew I was on the right path.

To assuage my fears, I went to speak to Pat, our other guide. He asked me to think of the worst possible place I could imagine being. It was in the middle of the Arctic, surrounded by snow, cold and alone. I told him my plan, to bring nothing with me except a small fleece blanket. He immediately looked concerned. “Julie you need to bring a sleeping bag.” I had expected him to support my crazy plan. Fear was positively gleeful. “I told you! Your plan is TERRIBLE. You are going to freeze to death in the mountains. I told you!!”

It was a pivotal moment. I knew that this act of faith on my part was crucial. Bringing a sleeping bag would signify that I did not truly trust the world with my life. “Sure I trust you! But just in case you let me down I have this handy sleeping bag. Just in case. But I trust you! I swear.” Perhaps that was Pat’s point; that I shouldn’t trust the world in this way. It was foolish. We were in the mountains for god’s sake, where snowstorms in the summer are not uncommon. It was the perfect moment to back down. Pat, someone whose knowledge and wisdom I counted on was telling me I was being foolish. I should listen to him. A part of me I had forgotten spoke up forcefully. “No. You need to trust yourself.” I listened and stood my ground. I explained my rationale to Pat, my need to commit to my plan, to trust that I would be cared for. I must have sounded persuasive. He told me to jump up and down if I got cold.

The morning we were to leave we went into the sweat lodge. When it came to the round where we were to pray for ourselves, I called out silently to the mystery of the universe, what they called Great Spirit and the Creator. I asked for help. Please help me stay awake. Please help me stay warm. I left the sweat lodge, said good-bye to the others, and walked towards the mountains. I did not look back.

I brought very little with me: no food, no water, and no shelter. My plan was to fast and stay awake for the full three days. I felt both terrified and confident. I walked up the mountainside and into the wilderness, not knowing that this experience would change me forever.

Stay tuned for Part II

Coming out the other side – Part V of Trust in the Process

I knew next to nothing about how the actual ayahuasca ceremony worked. I did know that there was a strong likelihood that it would involve vomiting.

I had been privileged to experience some First Nations practices and the ayahuasca ceremony reminded me of a blend of two: sweats and vision quests. In the sweat lodge you are clustered around a pit in a circular dome covered with hides or blankets. The pit is filled with rocks, which have been sitting in fire, often for hours. The door to the lodge is closed and you are surrounded in darkness. There is singing and drumming. The elder running the sweat will put water on the stones. The heat of the steam fills the lodge and it is difficult to breathe. There are many lessons to learn in the sweat lodge, but the primary purpose of the sweat is for healing. The purpose of the vision quest, on the other hand, is to prepare children for the transition to adulthood.  The rite of passage involves a minimum of four days of isolation, sacrifice and deprivation, which leads to visions where the person’s spirit animal will be revealed. When I had done my vision quest, I learned many, many things, but it had not led to visions as the deprivation only lasted three days.

My experience of the ayahuasca ceremony was that it was a blend of these two traditional North American indigenous practices. We entered a dark room and sat in a circle. The shaman gave each of us tobacco, which he said would help us with the medicine. Through our guide, who translated, he told us that the medicine we would be taking was powerful. It would bring us visions that would reveal to us what was needed to heal our bodies and our spirits. I was nervous. In the dark I could see buckets on the floor and knew their purpose. We were told we would have to share. I ended up clinging on to my bucket and let no one else near it.

The Shaman went to each of us and offered the ayahuasca in a wooden cup. It tasted wretched. Then he started singing and shaking his rattles. He sang for hours without stopping. The music was hypnotic. People were smoking their tobacco and the smell was making me queasy. Soon I started to feel the effects of the medicine. My perceptions of the world around me shifted. I could hear and feel the hum of all of the living things around me; their energy. I heard people say things that they later told me they had not said. I could feel people’s fear and saw shadows of a giant man on the walls. The power of the medicine was frightening. I felt panic, an urge to flee from it, but nowhere to go. I closed my eyes and felt the world around me spin, a kaleidoscope of colour and light. I surrendered the spinning. Surrendering was exactly what I needed to do. And then started to feel sick. I was the first one to vomit.

I had not thought about what healing I would ask from the Shaman. I had already spent so many years of my life healing, mostly from loss. I was sick of healing. But there was one thing which I had banished from my mind. The loss was too painful. Did I dare even think it?

I wanted him to heal my womb; to untwist my fallopian tubes, to allow my fimbriae to loosen from their contorted knots. It was a ridiculous request. I was 40 years old with twisted insides. I could not conceive. But I reached out for his help anyway. I used my thoughts and my heart to send the Shaman this message. Please heal me. He answered. I saw in my mind’s eye me lying down on my back. My belly was exposed. Two lines of flowers, blood red and brilliant white, were streaming out of my belly. People surrounded me. They were laughing and smiling and filled with joy. I relaxed. It would be okay.

My awareness then shifted to my body. I was vomiting. There was snot coming out of my nose (thank goodness it was dark). Ayahuasca is not for the vain. As I focused on my body, I realized that this must be what it is like to be a baby. They are completely focused on the physical sensations of their bodies: hunger, pain, touch. But most of what they do is expel liquids from their bodies; tears, mucous, vomit, urine, feces. I was completely aware of the physical sensations of my body and how primitive we are when we strip everything away.

Once I had finished purging, however, the misery I felt in my body was replaced with a sense of deep contentment. I lay down, curled up in a foetal position on a blanket. I was so cozy. The vision that came to me was of a little baby lion, all curled up in the sun and utterly satisfied. I lay, all curled up, listening to the Shaman’s singing, and the shaking of the rattles. I was filled with a lazy sense of bliss, like a baby animal would feel after eating a good meal and snuggling up next to his mama. Then the next wave of nausea would come and lift me out of that warm place. I would vomit, and then drift back to the cozy baby lion.

When the medicine started to wear off, the Shaman came to each of us to give us a treatment. Mine consisted mostly of him whacking me on the head with some kind of straw fan. He seemed to be lingering on me a lot longer than the others. I was sure that he could sense that I am one of those people who are plagued with too many thoughts. It felt like he was trying to swat them away like flies. But I didn’t mind. My thoughts can be like little flies, buzzing around, just to be annoying. “Swat away”, I thought.

When it was over, the sun was starting to come up. We staggered, wordless, to our rooms and went to sleep. It was the next morning that it dawned on me that I had not had my period once on our entire trip. It had been almost a month. I had always been terrible with keeping track of my cycle, but I had brought enough supplies to get through two periods, and I had not yet had one. Up until that point I had not thought about it because I was just so grateful that I hadn’t had to deal with it while trekking through the mountains or tramping through the jungle. But when I did the math, it became clear. I was late. Very, very late.

On the bus ride back to Cusco, up the windy, bumpy roads through the mountains, I felt ill. I had gotten along incredibly well with J the entire trip, but now everything he did bothered me. I kept my suspicions to myself and said little. We took a bus to Arequipa, the last city of our journey.  Once there, I finally told him what was bothering me. He was sure it was simply the effects of travelling. It happened to his girlfriend all the time. I was not convinced. “Well go and get a test if you’re that worried!” “Fine! I will!”

I was sure it was going to cost a fortune. It was near the end of our trip and we had both spent more money than we had planned for. I went to the pharmacy and bought the pregnancy test. It was $1.50. It was not a box with a lovely, modern, plastic wand inside, but the size of a large bandaid. The shiny wrapper stated that the pregnancy test was the result of a Canadian initiative. Being Canadian, I thought that was fitting. I went to the bathroom and peed on the tiny strip of paper I found inside. The result was immediate.

I came out of the bathroom and said to J “Well, I’m pregnant”, as if it was his fault for not believing me that it was possible. He gave me a big hug. I was PREGNANT!!! Then it dawned on me. What the hell was Dave going to say?

Falling in Love – Part III of Trust in the Process

I wish I had a romantic story about how Dave and I met…but I don’t. We met online, of all places. I’m old enough to still find this slightly embarrassing. I had tried to date right after I separated from the ex, but it was a disaster. I went out with one guy and halfway through the date I had to leave. I felt nauseous. I realized I needed to grieve, and running into some other man’s arms was not going to allow me to do that.

I started to do things for me, things I hadn’t really been able to do when I was married. I went out with friends. I went dancing. I joined a group of other mature students to do an “Artist’s Way” group, which was designed to help people nurture and cultivate their creativity. It was in the process of being in that group of amazing women and working through the daily exercises that I reclaimed myself. The first time I needed to reclaim myself was after my first marriage many moons ago. It took years. I allowed myself to disappear in that relationship to the point that I could barely recognize the pieces I needed to pick up to put myself back together. This time it didn’t take long at all, as I hadn’t let the cherished parts of my self stray too far.

I remember waking up one morning, feeling energized and mischievous. I love the mischievous, playful part of myself and welcomed it. I have noticed that it is one of the first things to go when I am on the wrong path. It is near impossible to be playful when one is anxious or depressed. That part of me gets shoved to the side while the anxious/depressed adult in me wrings her hands. When I start to feel playful again, I know I am in the clear. That morning, something had definitely shifted. I knew that I was ready to go out in the world and find a new adventure. And the playful part of me wanted a love affair.

I did not expect to find my love affair online. I used the dating site I signed up for mostly for ego boosting or procrastination purposes. Most of the men on this particular site were not the “love affair” type. They were more one-night stand material and not what I was looking for.  I expected absolutely nothing from it.

The Artist’s Way group reminded me, however, that when you are attuned to the world around you, when you are connected to the mystery that is life, you can put your dreams out in your hand, and the universe will reach out to you. So it was with my request for a love affair. I was ready, and the universe responded.

I remember coming across Dave’s profile shortly after my brazen announcement to my Artist’s Way ladies that I wanted a love affair.  What struck me most about his profile was that he actually sounded like a normal human being. On this particular site, that was rather shocking. He was in film and had just moved back to Ontario from B.C., where he had lived for the past 13 years. I wrote to him immediately. The title of the email was “I am in exile too!” The small city that I lived in while completing my degree had been quaint at one time, I was told, but I hated it. It was the type of city where people asked where you went to high school. And it mattered to them. When I married and realized that I would likely be there for the next 20 years of my life I went into mourning. If this guy had lived in B.C. for 13 years, I knew he would understand that.

He wrote back that day and we wrote daily to each other for a week.  Then we had our first date. It was one of those dates that go from coffee, to dinner, to drinks, to a movie, to more drinks. I knew the first day that I met him that he was a good man. He had a beautiful, open heart. And for the first time in my life, I could receive openness from a man and return it. He told me later that he fell in love with me the minute we met. I felt the same. I was giddy.

I have always believed that every relationship I have been in was for a purpose. Relationships teach us important lessons if we are open to learning them. If we don’t learn the lesson in one relationship, another will come along. The universe is patient and doesn’t mind if we keep banging our heads against the same wall. I had finally learned my lesson. I was courageous and strong enough to not only love with an open heart, but to be loved in return. I wasn’t afraid of his openness and his love. I was home. Instead of feeling threatened by my accomplishments, my drive, he felt inspired by them. He, in turn, inspired me by his creativity, his ingenuity and his desire to challenge himself. So I did the thing I had never done in my life, the thing that had terrified me for as long as I can remember, the thing I had slowly worked towards in all of my relationships, baby step by baby step. I told him I loved him (before he told me). It was a risk. We hadn’t known each other for long. It broke all of the “rules”. My friends warned me not to. But I trusted my intuition, and told him anyway. I took the leap of faith. He told me he loved me too. We both knew it was ridiculous because we just weren’t supposed to be in love after only knowing each other a few weeks. It felt naughty and delicious. Our secret pact against the world.

I told him all of my dirty secrets: that I couldn’t have children (he didn’t want any so that was fine); that I had been married not once but twice (he laughed, said “that’s awesome!” and kissed my hand); that I would never get married again (he didn’t believe in marriage anyway); and that I was leaving in a few weeks to go to Peru for a month (not the best tactic when starting a new relationship).

The energy we had between us was immediate and palpable. So palpable, in fact, that I started to take notice. It felt like my body was speaking to me. Because I believe that we receive messages from the world around us in many different ways, often mysterious, I listened. What came to me was this: Dave was healing me. Uh oh. (We were having unprotected sex!)

I sat Dave down and explained to him that while I had told him I couldn’t have children, because my tubes were twisted and my fimbriae were gnarled, it wasn’t a complete impossibility. But that medical fact coupled with my advanced age (my eggs, in dog years, were about 160 years old and well past their due date) meant it was virtually an impossibility. “I need you to know this because I think you are healing me” I said seriously. “Okay” he replied. I didn’t really expect him to understand the magnitude of what I was saying.  He didn’t know me well enough to know that every now and then I know things from the deepest part of myself.  Those things always come true. Always. It’s a bit eerie. I’m sure he just thought I was a bit of a flake. Nothing to worry about, mind you. Just a tad flakey. (He must have thought that because we continued to have unprotected sex!)

Five or six weeks after Dave and I met I left for Peru. It was likely the last big trip I would be able to do for a long while and I was very excited about it. I was going with my half brother, who had just separated from his wife too. I had met him a decade ago at his wedding when I flew to New Brunswick to meet my birth mother for the first time. I knew it was a risk to leave for such a long period of time right when Dave and I were getting to know each other. I had travelled before after starting a new relationship filled with promise, returning to discover that the magic had disappeared. I left with my eyes wide open that leaving might change everything. Little did I know how much change I was in for.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Trust in the Process Part II

It has taken me a long time to trust in the process. It is a lesson I am constantly relearning because, by nature, I want to control things. I want to be in charge of my own life. I have learned the hard way, however, that I am not in charge. And when I try to be, when I try to control things and order them the way I think they should be, my life becomes more and more chaotic and out of control. It is the paradox of humanity.  The more we try to control things to get a certain result, the more certain it is that we will get the exact result we are trying to avoid.

Helicopter parenting is a good example. I’m sure that over involved parents mean well. They want to protect their children from failure, from being hurt, from suffering. But all of these things have value. They are important. In those failures, in that suffering, in that pain, lie wisdom, the ability to endure, and confidence that we can overcome adversity. Small, manageable experiences of pain and suffering help people to build tolerance, immunity if you will, to pain. It allows people to take control of the only thing they actually can control, the meaning and sense they make from suffering.

But when people are shielded from those small, manageable experiences, regardless of how well meaning that protection is, when suffering does find them, and it will, the pain will be unbearable. Having no experience managing small failures, they lack the skills needed to cope and find their way through them. And we cannot avoid pain. We cannot avoid loss. We cannot avoid failure. It will happen with or without our consent. It does not wait for us to be prepared for it.

I have had many, many experiences of loss. The first was when I was born and was taken from my birth mother and given to a new family. Even though they loved me and I felt their love, it was still a loss that took me many years to fully understand. I remember seeing a documentary about the Buddha and learned, for the first time, that the Buddha’s mother died shortly after he was born. I hadn’t known that and it made me so sad. The narrator wondered if this experience of profound loss was pivotal in the Buddha’s later understanding of the nature of suffering, which was foundational for his own enlightenment and his teachings.

I know first hand the results of avoiding the pain of loss. But grief is patient. It waits until you are ready to face it. I tried to control my life in an effort to avoid facing it, but the more I ran from it, the more chaotic my life became. My losses compounded because of my own recklessness, until one day I realized that I needed help. Picking up the phone to ask for it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It required me to surrender. And I am stubborn. I resisted. I felt that surrender would mean certain death or worse, insanity. But paradoxically, the moment I submitted, instead of death, instead of insanity, I was greeted with release. I was liberated.

From that point on, I did my best to stay out of my own way. My philosophy is that there is a path that I am supposed to walk; my purpose or my destiny if you will. But it is my choice to walk that path or not. The more I avoid it, however, the worse my life becomes. Walking the path is often terrifying, but in that fear I also feel a sense of calm from the wisest parts of myself. I trust in the process.

In order to stay on that path, I have learned that I need to pay attention to the parts of me that get anxious, who start to try frantically to control things. I pay attention to the part of me that becomes exhausted, overwhelmed and full of doubt, who would like nothing more than to be left alone, hiding under the covers. I also have to nurture the warrior part of myself, for staying on my path requires a great deal of courage and occasionally fierceness. I have committed to cultivating compassion for how difficult it is to be true to one’s purpose, particularly when one is still not sure exactly what it is. Not knowing what it is requires me to pay close attention to the world around me and to myself; to use not only my senses but my intuition and all of my ways of knowing.

This may all sound very serious, but probably the most important lesson has been to laugh, particularly at myself, to find the lightness in everything. Life can be so heavy! I likely spent a decade dedicated to self-absorption and that, quite frankly, is quite enough. To that effect, I have unilaterally decided that all of my flaws are actually quite endearing. I find myself hysterically funny and often ridiculous, knowing that I am often the only one cracking up. I don’t feel any need to wear makeup. I am the one who will ask the stupid questions. Finding myself endearing, loveable and ridiculous all at the same time as acknowledging my own power and wisdom, has resulted in being much less concerned about what people think of me. I am a contradiction and I like it that way.

It was this commitment to myself, to walking my path that allowed me to move forward after I left my ex-husband. Despite the pain of the lost hopes of that relationship and the agony of being childless, I knew, without reservation, that I would be fine. I would not give my permission for any man to destroy me, to destroy my ability to love without limit, destroy my determination to live an amazing life.

And looking back, it was absolutely necessary for him to break my heart. Because up until that point I had had my priorities completely wrong. When I first met him, the experience was one of intense familiarity, like I had known him for many lifetimes. I had historically been attracted to men who were intellectual, complicated, wounded, and charming. I privileged the head at the expense of the heart. So what if he wasn’t capable of loving with an open heart? I can handle that!

I was convinced that the expansiveness of my love would make him feel safe enough to be able to love back. But it wasn’t. I told him when we were first married that I knew that he hadn’t really opened up his heart to me. He did not deny it. He told me that he didn’t trust anyone. I warned him that the relationship could not work if he didn’t take that chance. But I decided to be patient. I had often thought of love as standing on the edge of a terrifyingly high cliff. The person beside you is telling you to jump. You look at them like they are insane. Clearly, they are insane, because if you jump it will be to your death. But they insist that you must jump. People who truly love take that leap of faith, against all logic, despite their terror, and in leaping into certain death; they realize that they can fly. It made sense to me that he was afraid. Who wouldn’t be?

I learned, in spectacular fashion however, that people who choose not to take that leap, people who remain in fear, are capable of indescribable cruelty. The heart actually matters. A lot. It seems so obvious now. Of course the heart matters Julie! How could you be so obtuse? But in my history, men who had wonderful open hearts were not for me. They were my best friends, but I refused to date them. People told me over and over that I just needed to be with a nice guy. But I refused. And now I realized why. I was too in my own head, too immature, too frightened of myself and what cruelty I was capable of to accept that love. I didn’t love or trust myself. And because of that, there was a very real possibility that I would be the cruel one. It wasn’t until I was subjected to my ex’s cruelty, coupled with the intoxicating knowledge of the power of my own love and compassion for myself that I finally got it.

And that’s when I met Dave.

Part III coming soon!