We were standing by the pool waiting for our surf instructor and the rest of the retreat ladies to join us for our first surf lessons. “Are you escaping life by coming here?” she sweetly and innocently asked.
“I am embracing life by being here.” I smiled and widened my eyes. That was the complete truth. I wanted to live, to feel ALIVE, fully alive. My heart had been through several long battles that there was no escaping from. I’d cried an ocean’s worth of tears over the last five years and I had not drowned in the storm of grief, loss and illness that life had tossed me around in but I was weary. Very weary and the storm wasn’t over yet. I still had one VERY big problem. I needed perspective, I needed guidance. I wanted MY life back. I wanted to learn how to surf both literally and metaphorically for two reasons. One, I was still in the ocean and the surf felt like more that I could handle as a lone swimmer. Two, I am kind of afraid of the ocean. I felt like by learning how to surf, I would be less afraid of the waves.
Okay, three reasons, it seems sexy to be a surfer, so yeah I wanted to be a sexy surfer woman and learn how to ride the waves too.
I had come to this place in Bali to celebrate living through a year of brutal and beautiful truth. I’d lost my mom to cancer, my dad to an accident and a man I loved. I was turning 50 this year. I had come to begin the year of Joy, a word I had chosen to live out from spring to spring just like I’d chosen Truth the year before and Love the year before that. Each year illuminating all that stood in the way of living those words fully. Every barrier to love was being stripped away, the truth continuing to rise as I peeled back layers and layers of what was holding me back from my most meaningful intimate life and the depth of connection I desired. And now Joy, because I couldn’t bear any more loss. I wanted to BE IN JOY, now more than ever I was ready to enjoy the sh*t out of the rest of my life.
I had come to Bali to steep in spirituality, ceremony and to cleanse my heart in the water and sunshine. I’d come to be taken care of. I’d come to Bali to transmute the loss during the year of Truth into softer, less painful memories and find the beauty and the gifts of the losses. I’d come because I was running to something, not away from something. There is a big difference.
My friend and I had decided to skip the “resort” experience and find a place where we could really rest. Where we would be completely, exquisitely taken care of by someone else. We didn’t want to have to figure anything out, not where we were going, not what we were doing for meals or activities. We wanted to surrender to being and to relax but we didn’t want to lay in a lounge chair and drink cocktails for 10 days. We wanted to feel something. We wanted to be fed, body, heart and soul. We decided on the dates for the trip to mirror the dates from the year prior that began with a twenty-two hour car trip together and ended with my mom dying and my dad and I trying to find some grace together in the aftermath. We’d be in Bali for the one year anniversary of my mom’s death. I’d brought some of their ashes in little containers from Target.
We had intentional conversations about what could come with us on the trip and what had to stay home. What was welcome on the trip, what felt like comfort and what didn’t. We’d never traveled together. Neither of us had ever traveled this far and neither of us had left our families for this long. We were both recently divorced after 20 year marriages. We were open and honest with each other about our personal and emotional needs as well as our fears and excitement. We decided to leave everyone at home except our kids at home. For me this meant leaving the conversations about my feelings for “the guy” at home. We decided to bring very little with us.
My spiritual guide, sage mystic, partner in healing for the year Jen sent each of us off with a blessing and a gift. The gift held rituals, inquiry and ceremony. A special twist of our own while away on the second leg of my magical mystery tour and our first retreat together. In case we fell into a well worn pattern of discussing old stuff, things from home, she’d given us questions to turn back on ourselves and this journey of sisterhood and magic. First of those questions were on our airplane ride. She packed us a little bag of scrolls to pull when we needed them.
At first we are silent. Then we contemplate what freedom and aliveness means to us personally and what it looks like.
I decide the most alive person I know is my kids orthodontist and then I add my financial planner. Both men. Both shine with deep happiness, confidence and kindness. They are animated. I can see their hearts, they feel open. I know they are well loved and they love well. I can tell. They exude joy. They give good presence. They listen and remember. They do what they do well and they built what they have themselves. I am proud to know them. I enjoy their being. They are both good humans. Therefore ALIVE means to me, self made, bright, open hearted, feeling, present, connected and exuding happiness or deep joy. Alive to me feels giddy, glittery eyed, connected, aligned with love and purpose so that my heart is open and joyful.
The most free person I know, right now, I decide is Jen. My guide for this year long journey on the Path of Devotion. Her spirit feels free. Her connection to the Divine so real that she feels worry less. Her love so unconditional it feels FREE and limitless. I have a strong need for personal freedom. Freedom to me feels free of worry, free of limits on your heart and your capacity to love, free of judgement, free of chains, of domination. Freedom feels like power. The power of choice. Choice for yourself in all things including how you express yourself, who you love, what you do with your time and your resources. It feels like not holding back your emotions, being free to express yourself and your feelings without worrying about what other people think. I didn’t feel completely free in my life. I was bound by expectations and situations I felt I didn’t have sovereignty in. And my mind and my heart were keeping me tethered to a heart that was silent.
This conversation makes me realize that this trip is to expose us to a deeper sense of spiritual freedom and feeling fully alive and that by saying what we that means to us we set the conditions to feel it, and by Divine order, we shall.
And so we find ourselves ensconced in the lovely villa in Canggu, Bali with all of our needs being met by a staff of devoted, gracious and kind Balinese people. We do not have to make decisions about much mostly, which bikini to wear for surf lessons, to wear flip flops or not, what kind of tea we wanted after the massage. We do yoga every afternoon, are massaged daily, delicious clean meals prepared by our villa chef, drivers to take us shopping, to walk on the beach, out to dinner or for more yoga, cooking classes or surf lessons. We signed ourselves up for clean eating, yoga, massages, surf lessons, a bike tour, and a healing session with the Balinese Healer and High Priestess and surrendered to the moment responding to the needs of only taking one person.
Responsible only to Our Self.
The magic begins on a yoga mat, then unfolds on a surf board, then opens up on a bike ride, then reveals itself during a deep soul healing session, also while having breakfast, lunch and dinner conversations with seven strangers, and finally in an intimate ceremony to release my parents ashes as well during every leg of the after-trip where we are “taken care of” every where we go.
It will take me days to tell the whole story, and I am…..stick with me, it might spark your desire to take a trip and to embrace your life in a magical way too.
With so much love and a giddy heart,
That’s us. April 2015. On our last day watching the sunset in on of the world’s most beautiful, magical places, alive and free. Photo credits are mine or belong to Marilyn Leckert.
I’d flown 22 hours to the other side of the world. I’d left my teary eyed daughters with their dad and my son on his own. I’d left my sanctuary of a home. I’d left my daily life, my mothering, my caregiving and signed up for extreme care and feeding in a deeply spiritual place I’d never been.
“What brought you here and what do you hope to experience while you are here?” She asked.
We are seated in a circle on the veranda of a beautifully appointed villa in the village of Canggu, Bali.
There is a serene swimming pool to my right, a Ganesh statue beyond the pool and beyond that a rice paddy sparkling in the late afternoon sun, flowers sprout delightfully from all of the trees.
I am surrounded by beauty. The entire place exudes peace and calm. Earlier we’d been greeted with fragrant frangipani lei’s, a plate of delicious food, a sparkling, refreshing apple drink, cold herbal infused cloths to wash our hands and faces. We’d been treated to a welcome massage, where our feet were washed and we were asked more than once, “Excuse me miss, are you feeling comfortable?” The weariness and tension of a long airplane ride was massaged out of us. We’d been shown to our rooms, where gifts and welcome messages were left on the beds. The rooms full of spiritual art, beauty, comfort and a glorious view of the rice paddy. Our windows open to where the morning sun will rise over the palm trees during the daily Balinese call to prayer.
We unpacked. I’ve put together my little home away from home altar next to my bed for the week with candles, my rosary, a blessing from my spiritual mentor and friend, Jen.
More than once since we landed I have said to my friend. “I think we are in Heaven.” not just because it looks heavenly but also because it feels heavenly.
There are eleven of us seated together. We are strangers. The woman who created the retreat, an ex-patriot from New Zealand; the female villa managers and the yogi, local Balinese women; our surf coach a native New Zealander who has just arrived from Costa Rica where she spent the last five years coaching at surf camps and the women we would be spending the next seven days with. Seven women who came to this place alone, for the purpose of just Being. For the purpose of being taken care of. We are in a place aptly named, Escape Haven.
Each woman told their personal story of “how they got here.”
There was over scheduled, there was death, there was divorce, loss of relationship, personal hardship, too much work, and too little relaxation. There was a deep need to be taken care of by someone else, a need for healing, for rest, or a change of heart. There was a desire for space, adventure, laughter, ease, disconnection and connection at the same time. The woman who ran the retreat spoke of leaving the corporate world for something deeper and creating this space for women to come and rest. She embodied serene in her flowing mini caftan, bare feet, unmade up face. Her voice was a gentle song. As she told us how she’d come to live in Bali, I felt like she was describing a my dream life.
When it was my turn to share, I told them that I had been on a spiritual journey over the past five years. I’d come to Bali because I felt called in a way. The experience I was hoping for was to deepen my spiritual connection. I knew that Bali was a very spiritual place. That was the light version of the truth. The truth was much harder, grittier, sadder, my “too much” to lay on the table after all the other women had shared.
What I didn’t share was what put me on the journey or the depth of the loss, chaos and pain that had unfolded over the past five years. I didn’t tell those new women seated around me that underneath all my happy, happy, joy, joy self, I was sad. Deeply sad and I didn’t want to feel the weight of that sad anymore. I didn’t tell them that both of my parents had died in the last year, or that I’d gotten divorced after a 20 year marriage, or that I’d been very hurt and confused following a brief but very intense relationship with someone I still cared for, longed for, loved very much, or that my son had been struggling with grief, depression and addiction for the past four years after the deaths of his two closest friends and his emotional health was a strong source of imbalance in our lives, or that my 14 year old daughter’s best friend endured a battle with cancer last year that affected all of us as we navigated a great and scary unknown with her family. I didn’t share that in the aftermath of all these hard things and living in my son’s addiction affected my heart and my soul profoundly, that I was extremely tired, that life seemed to have piled a lot of loss on and around my family and that the effects were weighing heavily on me. I didn’t share that I traveled so far hoping to rest, to find comfort, to heal my heart. I didn’t tell them that I was trying to figure out who I was now without old my definitions of self or that I had been carefully peeling back layers and layers of me and looking at my own insides discovering who I was at my core. I didn’t tell them that I’d come there because I’d been called there. I’d been told it was there that I would encounter God in a way that I wouldn’t anywhere else.
I didn’t share that no matter what happened in my life, my kids lives, my friends, my community, no matter what the day brought, I kept a smile on, kept an even keel for my family and remained entirely, extremely faithful that everything would always turn out ok and was moving towards a greater good. I tried to bring light to the situations. I tried to be a place of peace, strength, hope, inspiration and love always and not bring my broken pieces to the table.
My story seemed like too much. Too much to share. Too much to bear.
So I said this. “I’ve been on a spiritual journey for the past five years. A lot of stuff has happened. My friend and I chose this place because we wanted to be well taken care of. We didn’t want a resort type, sit in a lounge chair, drink it all away experience. I came here hoping to experience something deeper, richer, truer. I’ve read that Bali is a deeply spiritual place. That’s why I came.”
Following the share circle, we were invited to our first yoga session.
It was the beginning of a heart opening, softening and healing process that unfolded over the next 10 days that I never could have designed for myself. I received exactly what I asked for, an experience of deep spiritual connection and profound healing. What I didn’t expect was that it would begin to happen within the hour after I asked for it.
As we are led through the yoga poses in the villas garden I begin to really loosen up, to emotionally soften to slowly disconnect from home. I listen to the voice and the cues of the yogi, I breathe. I pay attention only to this. When my mind begins to wander I return my attention to her voice again and her cues. I focus on each word and move only when called, I breathe and feel my breath follow the path deep inside as I have been taught by my Pilates trainer. My mind releases and I am in my body. After an hour, as we begin to wind down she cues the last pose before Savasana, we are all laid out in butterfly.
I am a yoga pre-schooler. My experience of yoga is new. I know that I enjoy it but I am just beginning to realize the deeper benefits. I find the mind, body, spirit connection fascinating. I find the woman teaching us, doubly fascinating. She speaks with an ancient knowledge. I am listening to every word she says. She tells us that the butterfly pose is the most vulnerable of the yoga poses. A pose of emotional surrender and that our hips hold deep emotion, often anger. At which point a flood of emotion overcomes me and I begin to cry what can only be described as a river of tears. As I think, “I am angry.” The emotion surges through me. I rarely show anger or express anger. But in that moment. I know that it is there and it’s being held.
As, she leads us to Savasana, the river of tears turn into an ocean. Savasana is “corpse pose” the end of the practice usually lasting seven minutes. I’ve had my most clear spiritual calls in Savasana.
Lying there, I can feel movement around us. I smell incense but I do not open my eyes because I the tears are coming in great waves, completely out of my control.
When she cues us to move to the fetal position and sit up, it is only then that I open my eyes.
I feel a huge surge of emotion course through me that I cannot contain, seated in front of me are two of the most gentle, warm, loving faces I have ever seen. They are round and soft. Kindness radiates from their eyes. A woman and a man dressed in the traditional clothes of the spiritual leaders. I recognize that these are Holy People. They have come to bless us. I am overcome by the very truth of this and my tears flow from a place deep inside. They meet my teary eyes with love. I know in that very moment that I have come to Bali to meet them. They are beautiful in a way that makes me sob. I completely surrender to this moment. I look down to find before each of us small palm leaf baskets filled with flower petals and a stick of incense. The hand made baskets created by the women of Bali to honor the Gods with prayer and offerings. Canang Sari. Canang means beautiful. Sari means purpose. I am struck with a searing joy. I feel like God is right here.
The incense has been lit and we prepare to pray in a peaceful state. We are on our knees. We breathe. I cry. As the incense rises to make connection with the Gods, we are directed to gather the smoke and use it to wash our hands for the prayers. We sweep the incense smoke across our faces to connect with our God. This is called Karashadana.
The first prayer is with empty hands. It is a prayer to connect the soul to the Gods. We follow the priest and priestess and place our hands in prayer in front of our hearts, then touch our foreheads and back to our hearts. This is called Atmatatwa.
The Priestess takes a white frangipani flower between her fingertips and places her hands in prayer in front of her heart. We follow her lead and raise our hands to our forehead then back to our heart. This prayer, the Sryanamastuti, symbolizes the rising of the sun. We pray for illumination. We place the frangipani in our hair. She looks into my eyes, nods her head slightly. I feel that I am being held in her grace.
She then gathers three different flowers in her fingertips, holds up her prayer hands to her heart, then to her forehead. This prayer, the Tri-murti is to recognize the trinity. The Gods of creation, preservation and destruction. The cycle of life. We pray for what our heart wants and place the flowers in our hair. I look to the priestess and she closes her eyes and bows her head again acknowledging the connection. My heart swells with love.
For the Samidaya, she gathers bits of all of the flowers in holds them up in her fingertips, in prayer hands in front of her heart. She raises her hands to her forehead to symbolize the great unknowable one and all of the lesser gods visualized for many purposes in the world. We pray for our ancestors, our children and our children’s children. We place the flowers in our hair. My emotion begins to calm but the tears continue to flow as I connect with her voice and listen to her chants just like listening to the cues from the yogi.
The Shanti is the closing prayer. She opens her hands and we do the same, this symbolizes seeking inner peace. We pray for peace between people and world peace. The Holy Ones smile at us to recognize the happiness of peace. We smile back. I smile through an unstoppable flow of tears.
The Priest rises and comes to each of us with holy water in a coconut shell. He sprinkles the holy water over our heads. Our hands are filled three times and we drink the holy water and then three more times to wash the head and the face. He presses grains of rice to our forehead. This symbolizes Nunus Tirta. This symbolizes Prayer. As he presses the rice to my forehead I truly feel Divinely blessed. He touches my shoulder as if to say, you are. You are blessed.
With tears still streaming down my face I close my eyes, place my hands together and bow to him with deep gratitude. I look to the Priestess and do the same. I rise and say thank you. I am met with tissues and an embrace from the yogi. Thank you I say holding back sobs.
I do not know how anyone else has experienced this moment. It felt as if the Priestess & Priest were there solely for me, but I know this isn’t true. We were all there together for reasons all our own. We have all been blessed together.
I am so overcome with emotion. I cannot remain where I am so I dash up to my room to be alone, soak in the moment, to compose myself. My travel partner and friend comes up shortly after.
I ask her rather desperately, “Did anyone else cry like that?”
“No,” she says. “I think you were the only one.”
Then I said, “I really think we are in Heaven.”
On Beautiful Purpose,
“I am trying to give you your freedom,” I said looking into the deep brown eyes I gazed into for a million hours since the day he was born. Eyes that followed mine for months in my arms because I refused to put him down. Eyes that saw mine first thing and last thing every single day. Eyes that lit up with love for his friends, his family, his brothers. Eyes that danced with fire and enthusiasm with his teammates. Eyes that wept with pain and fury when he lost his brothers to car accidents. And then the sad, dark eyes of prescription drug addiction. Eyes that pleaded with me to do something to help him and his friends get out of this. I was pleading with him to stop. To choose to stop. To choose us over drugs. “You have to help them mom,” he said. “I’m scared for my friends. You have to help us.” I knew his soul was in there, behind the sad eyes, calling for my help. I really didn’t know where to start but I knew I would do it, no matter what.
I finally understood with my whole being that he couldn’t “make the choice” to stop (there is science to back that up) but I COULD choose for him and I could make the choices that would free me and so I began to fight for our freedom, his, mine, his friends, our family with all the love in my heart and the fire in my soul and I wasn’t going to stop until we felt truly FREE. All of us.
If there is a hell, it can’t be any worse than than the hell on earth with a loved one in active addiction. It can be a daily fight to just survive. Oftentimes it is the loneliest fight of your life. Definitely the hardest because the someone you love becomes someone you’d hate if you didn’t love them so deeply. It is the truest test of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE I’ve ever experienced.
If I could explain to you the things I can’t explain, you might be able to sympathize but until you experience it, you will never know the intensity of the pain, the indescribable feeling of helplessness, the power of the anger, the paralyzing shame, the enormity of the fear nor the depth of the sorrow. Never. And I pray on the daily that if you haven’t experienced it yet, that you never ever do.
If you haven’t, keep reading, because somewhere someone is fighting for their lives or the life of someone they love and you might be able to help just by understanding.
At first I thought I could reason with him, make him see what an amazing thing life was and how it was so much brighter, better, more beautiful without drugs. If I proved it, he would choose it. We talked endlessly after dark episodes and confrontation. I’d never been so scared that I would lose my child and I didn’t know what to do, who to ask for help, or how to stop it. For a long time I thought is was my fault, something I had done or was doing because it kept happening in people I loved. I felt surrounded by it. I wanted my freedom just as much as I wanted theirs.
Until I understood it as a disease and began to treat it that way nothing was changing. It was episode after episode of chaos. People kept using words like rock bottom, tough love, and saying go to an anonymous meeting, you’ll feel better. None of that made me feel better, sometimes it actually made me feel worse. It made me feel like I had to just wait, and take the hell I was living in until the person I loved felt like changing or something almost too dreadful to bear happened. It was after a solo retreat trip I had taken and a pretty intense episode that I decided that I would no longer be wishy washy about whether it was a disease/disorder of the brain or a problem/phase that he would grow out if he didn’t die first.
I chose to embrace the disease and fight it. I began to model myself after my friend whose daughter had cancer. I began to show up for my sick child as an advocate for his health and went against every old way of thinking, all old messaging that pointed to “problem that needed to be fixed” and “a choice that he could make if he really wanted it.” I shunned rock bottom and tough love. I went to a total of 6 anonymous meetings and began a program on my own. I focused on me, him and his two sisters and that was all. I began to unhook from the vicious patterns and start responding as a caregiver to someone who was sick. Offering treatment, help, compassion, understanding, confrontation when necessary and I tried not to lose connection, no matter what.
My goal was to give him his freedom. To find a way to give him back the power of choice because that is what substance use disorder does it affects the power of choice. The short science lesson here is drugs and alcohol compromise brain function rendering the part that drives choice, powerless. The part of the brain that governs reason is not connected in young people (that happens around 25) which makes them highly susceptible to addiction, the reason that the drinking age is the drinking age is brain maturity. The part of the brain that is activated in addiction is the part that governs survival needs. Food, Shelter, Sex. Once activated, the drug/substance/alcohol becomes one of those survival needs and the body will do what ever it needs to survive at any cost which in the case of addiction is destructive behavior including crime and manipulation of relationships. The point here is the person with it, is not free to choose to stop. Their brain has been essentially high jacked by substance.
Back to freedom fighting and choosing.
I am telling this story today because we did it. Today we feel free. Truly free from addiction, from attachment, from old patterns and bonds that didn’t serve us. Today life FEELS FREE.
When I went out to visit him for his One year Birthday (not your belly button birthday) in recovery, I told him he felt truly free.
“I am,” he said with that dazzling smile of his and eyes shining and full of life.
My goal all along, in every move I made including tightening up the boundaries and locking the doors from 10pm-1am, shooing all his friends away from our house for good, limiting his resources, confronting him when I heard “addiction talking”, letting him stumble around a little on his own, making it harder and harder for addiction to thrive in our house, dragging him out of situations with my ferocious mother heart, or letting the chips fall where they may, praying daily, sometimes hourly, meditating, taking solo retreats to gain my bearings and my strength, studying, studying, studying, talking with others who walked the walk, using my intuition at every turn and finally choosing the intervention and the long term treatment was to give him the power of choice back, was to foster his freedom and mine. No tough love, no rock bottom required when you are advocating for your loved one’s health.
We are on the other side of hell. Every day we choose freedom.
Freedom and Love.
Now we are freedom fighters for others.
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.