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When I was 16 I left my parents home. One month before I left, I wrote this in my journal:
“What is the fluttering in my belly, rising up through my chest? An apprehension — a fear — excitement? I am anticipating a change — a falling down — a caving in of something I expect to be solid. I’m in a strange place, moving slowly forward with nothing that can be measured — an internal advancement, a shedding away of old selves. I am pared down.”
The story of my leaving still feels like something written in code — a code no one could understand on the rational mind level. It was my soul’s decision and no amount of explaining or writing has helped enlighten those who did not understand it. I barely understood it myself. To those who did understand, I had to say very little. They knew within the first two minutes of my telling. They were inevitably people who, at some point in their lives, tried to bury their own soul’s yearnings, who had decided to live a perfectly fine and reasonable life, until the day they could not. That day of “soul excavation” remains crystal clear in their minds. As do all the nudges and urgings from the universe that led them there. Once I left, I looked back and saw this path towards that day so clearly — to me it made perfect sense. So much so that when friends asked me later, “How could you leave such a life — not having to work, good parents, nice house?” I would answer, “How could I not?” And yet, I had never felt so humbled. With my leaving came the realization of how very little I had known my Self all those years. I did not leave gracefully.
I did not expect my soul to be such an urgent and powerful force. Nor did I plan to leave when I did — but once I did, I felt supported and encouraged by something I could not name. The path ahead kept lighting up as if with neon. Go there. Do this. Fear accompanied me and frustration, guilt and desperate prayers, but no longer did I feel that deep sadness I could not name, which Sarah Ban Breathnagh, in her book Simple Abundance, says is “you missing your authentic self.”
I feel lucky now that as a child I took on little of our culture’s burden around success.
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"Personal Narrative- The Path Towards Grace, Love and Peace." 123HelpMe.com. 21 Feb 2020
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As I write this, I want to stop along the way and tell my story more deeply. I want to tell that it was never all this way or that way. I was never all impulse and desire or all safety and security. I was always both of these things in varying degrees. While married, I explored my soul’s yearning through a women’s sacred circle, through volumes of reading and writing, through Chi Kung — things that eventually shored me up through the tumult of my leaving. I was planting the seeds and keeping my soul fed.
But this condensed story reflects a life driven by determinations — either a determination to be a free spirit or the determination to be a woman who makes reasonable and smart choices. Both lives reflect a woman with a monkey on her back. Neither life reflects surrender or peace. Even after I left my marriage and my soul filled me to bursting, I was still under the assumption that to live one’s truth meant doing the head-down high dive into experiences as they came along. I refer to this as the ping-pong stage. Bouncing around — desire and ego came before integrity. Defined and steered by others’ perception of me I could not hold the rudder steady. I had not learned to witness and honor my Self unfolding. Although my intuition served me well and the ping-pong ball often landed in rich experience, I could not see my gifts for all the movement and striving. I did not yet understand that I needed to make a quiet place for Grace to dwell.
The ping-pong ball landed at Heron Dance. After I left my marriage, I made a few dollars stocking brochure racks on the Burlington waterfront, which worked because I could bring my kids along. I was poor and without a home but I was happy. I wanted to explore my Self outside of relationship. But, as it turned out, life had a different plan for me. Following that well - lit path in front of me, I was guided towards connection. I found myself having lunch with a red-bearded stranger named Rod. I was harried and late as usual, but I slowed down enough to take a long slow look at him. It was something tender in his eyes that moved me to respond, “How about tonight?” when he asked if he could see me again.
This connection laid me bare. It was, at times, just a romantic relationship between two humans. But at others it was the opening up to a force I had had only glimpses of in my life. In this place of Grace there was a beauty that often made me cry. In those moments, late and quiet, half asleep, I lost my sensation of humanness and became all Love. I was in the middle of it, just a small part of a fullness that stretched and flowed way beyond the two of our hearts beating. I was learning to accept and open to the big river of Love out there.
Marianne Williamson writes that you’d better have your spiritual chops down when you meet your soul’s mate. You better be grounded firmly in your own sense of your self. But I wasn’t. At times I was elevated by this Love and then brought to my knees. I felt like I was climbing with no rope. Way up there, exhilarated but terrified, I wanted Rod to throw me the rope — “Tie me in man, put me on belay!” He had no rope to offer, but he had a way of being with himself that offered the lessons I most needed to learn: to find my own deep center, to access my gifts, to find peace and Love within myself. It was not easy. It was scary.
Although my heart and soul knew this love was not something we had created, I insisted on making it personal. I insisted on wanting to understand it, name it, measure it, reduce it. I wanted him to do the same and to explain to me how he was the way he was. I wanted an operating manual for this complex character. I wanted all the answers today.
On our second date Rod gave me a copy of the Druid Vow of Friendship:
I honor your Gods
I drink from your well
I bring an unprotected heart to our meeting place
I hold no cherished outcomes
I will not negotiate by withholding
I am not subject to disappointment
I have it taped here on my wall. It is a vow to live a life by, in all our relations. It has been difficult to honor.
Several years ago a friend and I decided to hike to a cliff ten miles up into a pass. It was 95º and humid. We each had sixty pounds of camping and climbing gear — we sweated gallons. For most of the ten miles my mind banged up again and again against the questions I thought I needed answers to. Near the top of Indian Pass I saw some “smoke.” As I walked to it, I realized it was vapor coming from a cave filled with ice. I crawled in and squatted in the coolness. I put my head in my hands and crouched still. Five minutes of exhausted quiet and I heard this: “Live the questions.” I recalled the Rilke quote my mom had sent to me in college. The words had little impact then but today they came back to me with a startling clarity:
I want to beg you as much as you can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your innermost being, take it upon yourself.
Rainer Maria Rilke
This moment humbled me. My much loved and depended-upon mind was forced to listen to something bigger — to be a receiver instead of a doer. There have been four more moments like this with four more distinct messages. Each came when I was forced to let go of what I thought I knew.
I think there are many things that lay a person open — experiences that make them naked enough to receive Grace. Maybe it is in art or music, maybe it is the experience of childbirth or a close scrape with death. For me right now, it is this Love that flows through me. Rod and I arrived in each other’s lives with backpacks full of contrary baggage. On the human level we had much to sift through — on the heart level it was pure and powerful. So powerful that in order to dwell there, I had to give up many of my preconceived notions of relationship and love; I had to give up my cherished outcomes; I had to surrender to Love. Not to Rod’s love, but to the Love out there that had somehow rushed into the space we held between us.
When we surrender, we don’t surrender to a person, we surrender to a part of ourselves that is softer, less controlling, more interested in peace than in argument. It is not a game we play or a dance we do.And the truth is we all want it so badly. For a lot of us it feels like a dirty secret at first to admit… God forbid we should say, “I want to surrender.”
Marianne Williamson, from A Woman’s Worth
Peace. I never thought that I could travel the path towards peace through Love. My experience of intense romantic love was that of a storm passing — exhilarating but not peaceful. Now I know that River. It is wide and deep, and when I lay my hand on Rod’s forehead at night I feel it flowing through me.
Listen. The steady deep breath of my partner.
I turn my head. I put my hand in his —
his other hand is resting on my belly.
I stare at this human outlined by the moon shining through the tent.
Mouth open, red full beard flecked with white —
His eyes are shadows under his brows;
his cheeks rise like small hills
before that tangle of beard and mustache.
This body next to me holds a spirit, kin to mine.
Looking at him now feels like years —
this moment is now a still, dark lake.
My eyes close.
I feel water around me — caressed
I am swimming, spinning, floating, diving in dark water
I lie there — his hand on my belly — his hand in my hand
I ride this wave as he sleeps
Something is whirling slowly warm
“I am filled with joy,” I say out loud.
Warm open heart — tender, peaceful love.
He squeezes my hand in his sleep
Many times in my life, my human self has wanted to take a stand — “Hey, wait a minute, that isn’t fair” or “That isn’t right. They shouldn’t treat me that way.” My concept of what was right or wrong in a human connection was stubbornly ingrained. We keep tabs; we hold evidence. But what is the use? These thoughts block the River’s flow. Big heart — big mind. I have learned a lot about acceptance. I have learned to guide myself by that River. I am trying to tune my life by its rhythms — I feel a pain when I travel too far from it. When I am connected to it, I feel it travel through my lips when I kiss my child, or through my voice when I talk to a friend on the phone.
I used to feel I should do this or do that to become more enlightened. I thought I should read books and work on my discipline. Now I know my path is just there — right before me — just like always. I have to be quiet enough to hear its calling and have the courage enough to follow it. It is all still unfolding.
Love is our fuel. We fail in our deepest responsibility to God and to ourselves each time we fail to declare love and act on love and be witness to love.
Marianne Williamson, from A Woman’s Worth
When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright,
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, undying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like burnt paper.
D. H. Lawrence
I have come to know simple truths that before were disguised by my complexity. I have come to know the inner vision that sees with much clarity. I’ve come to know me, the gentleness of my spirit, as it may express itself through love and tenderness. I’ve come to know power in a way that’s personal and creative. My personal power of choice. I’ve come to know love; love of self and others is the same. I’ve come to know the oneness of all who walk the planet in an attempt to journey home.