After I’d dried my tears, and blown my nose 1000 times. We settled on her bed like sisters do, one at each end, facing each other. I must have been oozing expectation. I had to have been. I was looking for the secrets to unlocking my heart, to drawing in the kind of work, love, relationships, people that I desired to know, to learn from, to do big things with. I wanted to know what “my thing” was. I came here to find out. I sat there thinking Dear God please let her see me. The me that I can’t see. The one that is calling out from somewhere deep inside.
I begin to really notice her. Her soft face without lines, her hair pulled back. She was soft and wore soft clothes. She oozes warmth. Black leggings, a sweater she’d wrapped around herself like a blanket. She gathered her knees in and leaned back into the frame at the end of the bed. I leaned forward towards her, extra expectant, waiting for instructions.
“Tell me more,” she says gently.
I begin to open up a little and tell her about recent bits of my life, some of my divorce story that story. My grief. This bag of grief that I am hauling around that is so damn heavy. On the inside I am desperate for relief. I don’t say this. She just listened and listened as I made some kind of word salad of what’s been going on for the last decade or so, trying not to think about the fact that I didn’t know her at all. Hoping she is not judging me. Hoping that I don’t sound silly or scattered or ridiculous. I try to say what I think she needs to hear to find the sore spots on my heart.
I tell her about me. My life is pretty good, I have my children, a nice home, good friends. I’ve created my own work. I volunteer. I enjoy a lot about my life, but I felt like I was building this façade. Everything looked good on the outside but on the inside I was suffering situations that caused great discomfort and I wasn’t feeling how I craved feeling. I told her how I used to joke with my close friend about wearing an “f” for fake necklace because it all looked so good, so right on the outside but inside it was different. Unsure, shaky, bound up. Numb.
I told her I’d been searching for more of what felt real. I wanted to know that others could feel me too. I wanted to feel gentle. I’d been tough, strong, hard even. I wanted to be soft and I wanted to feel everything.
In the midst of voicing my desire to be real and to feel it all, she blurted out, “What about sex?”
“I love it.” I say immediately and with enthusiasm. “Why?” If I could do that one eyebrow thing, I would have. Instead I am just smiling and I can feel my eyes sparkling. I am a sensual girl, I embrace the intimacy, the thrill, the feelings and emotions. The connection. I am wondering what bearing it has right now.
“Well, you are telling me all these hard, sad things, and it seems like this should be about grief, but it feels like something else. Something else there. Something deep. Alive. And sometimes desire is that thing that we hide or hold back because the most alive parts of us aren’t allowed. And those things, like the body, like desire, are…I don’t know, sometimes, they are just the place where the answers come.”
“I’ve always loved it. Enjoyed it, like a guy, I guess. That’s not always so acceptable for a woman. I’ve always felt like people should stop acting like its something shameful when it’s something really delicious and beautiful and real.”
It’s only been an hour and she’s pulled two of my threads, my strong desire for pleasure, intimacy and love but not feeling like my feelings around it are widely acceptable and a deep grief in my heart.
“Are you ready for a story?” She asked. Softening even more.
She handed me a little gold gossamer pouch that is sitting by a candle burning on the little table next to the bed. Inside there were tiny parchment scrolls with handwritten titles of stories on the them.
“When I was in Africa, I sat with women while they told their stories. It is how tribal women connect and share their wisdom. We will use the stories to guide us.” She said. “Our stories will be our medicine. Each time we feel its time to take something in, you can reach for a story.”
I didn’t know it then but she would end up telling me hundreds of stories over the course of a year. She’d grown up in a very religious family environment, so sometimes they were stories from the bible, sometimes they were stories of goddesses, sometimes personal stories with friends and sometimes those stories were intimate. Dosed out as needed. Sometimes a magical spoonful sometimes an IV infusion. Her vast library of stories never ceased to impress, delight and soothe me.
“Choose one.” She said.
I reached in and pulled out the delicate little swirl of paper, unfurling it I read out loud,
“If I could just share everything that happened to me. Everything would be okay.”
Her smile widens, her eyes are misty. “Oh” and puts her hands on her heart. “Yes. That one.” She closed her eyes, took a long deep breath and began to tell me a story about sharing your heart, your grief, your soul story with someone, as long as it took to tell it without interruption, without judgment, without it being fixed, questioned or rushed. Just being heard, completely and the love that grows from that moment.
I sat back and settled into the pillows, letting go a little, relaxing slightly, releasing some of the tension in my shoulders and her sweet little angel of a dog, Pip settled into my lap. I watched intently and listened mesmerized as she told a story that crossed the globe. Enchanted by her voice, her deep faith, her unwavering trust, her massive courage, her wide open, passionate heart.
You can listen to the story that cracked a heart wide open here.
When the she was finished, she asked me in her melodious, whispery voice, “
“Are you ready for Big Love?”
“There’s the kind of love you can get from a partner or a lover, but there’s an even bigger Love. You know what I mean? Love so big your heart can barely bear it. I think that’s the one we are all craving. And the one we have to have.”
Tears burn the backs of my eyes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I can feel my heart radiating its own Yes.
I know deep in my bones that this is no ordinary love she is speaking of. No calm, quiet, comfortable kind of love. This is a FORCE. That is exactly the kind of love my body, my heart, my soul is burning for.
I want THAT.
Don’t we all want BIG love for crying out loud?
Who really even knows what it is? What it really feels like?
Would we even recognize it if it was right in front of us kissing our faces?
These are the thoughts running through my brain.
“I will show you how to open to that kind of love then.” She says.
“The kind of love that everything that is possible flows from.”
“Thank God.” I think. “I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
And then I think, I am not the only one who should be here. I do a running list of people I know who could benefit from an experience like this and I begin to invite them in my head until she sees me mentally writing invitations to this sanctuary and brings me back to the now by reminding me why I am here, and who this particular moment is for.
Wishing you all BIG LOVE and hearts cracked open to receive it.
Big Squeezy hug!
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Photo Credit : Jen Lemen
Heart photo: internet unknown
“I am my father’s daughter. I have my grandma’s eyes. I am the product of such sacrifice. I am the accumulation of the dreams of generations and their stories live in me like holy water. I am my father’s daughter.” – Jewel
It was my dad’s birthday. January 13th, this year. My father died a year and a half ago, ten days after a motorcycle accident. The accident exactly 3 months after my mother died of lung cancer, a side effect of a life long addiction.
I’d created a little nest with my journals and my Mac, all ready to write the story, in a bed in a brightly decorated room at the top of a 400 year old home just off the Intercostal waterway in Florida. I’d made little nests like this in different parts of the country and in Bali this year, documenting my experiences while peeling back the layers of my soul.
Each room in this house has a personality and story all it own. A certain way of being that invites you to wander about and touch each little detail on every single surface and open every drawer to see what mysteries are inside. “An accumulation of generations.” (I documented my stay here on Instagram)
There is a wall on the second floor hall that is covered in pictures of a mother and her son. The images speak of deep love, sweetness, hope, truth, the tenderness of youth, the bond between mother and child. It feels appropriate, this collage of motherhood. I’ve come here to write a story about a year that profoundly changed my life, which in turn gave me the courage and the strength to do something to deeply change the lives of my son’s and my daughters.
I’m writing in honor of my dad and the accumulation of dreams of generations that were stymied, lost, crushed due to addiction to drugs and or alcohol. I am writing in honor of my mother who didn’t have the support she needed to battle addiction and live life in recovery because we didn’t understand. The problem is, I can’t get started. I am feeling stymied, blocked at the gate and very emotional. I came here to write a book but I just can’t.
A year ago, that’s exactly how I felt. Stymied, lost, crushed. I also felt achingly alone. I rose everyday with the intention of creating light, bringing joy, caring for my family, feeling solid good, but there was a darkness at work in my life.
Almost exactly a year ago, I found myself in another nest, in a room, in a warm cozy home just on the edge of downtown Silver Spring with a woman I had only spoken to once over the phone. There were candles, and photos of women with well-worn hands from faraway places she had been. There were beads, altars, bits of nature scattered about, a banner strung in the window read “Hope House.”
I’d come because she had said, “Every single person has a different piece of magic.”
I’d come because she had said, “The people that will come are ready to pull their own triggers. Their whole lives have unfolded to this moment and they know that this is the next step.”
I’d come because she said she could help me find the switch that turned on my heart.
I’d signed up for a retreat with fellow authors published by the same independent publishing company to help get through barriers to our best most heart driven work.
I’d come because on the conference call about the retreat, I’d resonated so deeply with the things she’d said.
I’d come because she said she could help me truly connect with my heart, the deepest part of me and help me find that which would align me for a deeper purpose.
I’d come because when we finally spoke just with each other on the phone, she said, we would spend the time being extraordinarily present with each other, eating, walking and listening to stories. She would pray to remove anything that will block our joy.
I’d come because she said she would sister me. I’d come because I wanted to get somewhere that I could not reach on my own. I needed help.
I’d come because I felt so deeply alone. A starving empty space so much a part of me that I felt people might actually be able to see “ALONE” tattooed on my face in all caps. And because I knew I was meant for something bigger than myself but I couldn’t get past the vast dark place screaming “you’re alone.”
In the end, the retreat that was for the authors fell apart and it was just she and I and three days to do a kind of open heart surgery to dissect my wounds, repair the damage and relight my fire.
I’d come because she had said. “It is a miracle that we have been matched up.”
As I drove to her house I listened to the audio she sent to accompany me on my ride there. She said,
“I want to you to take a minute to take a deep breath, put your hand on your heart, breathe in and breathe out. Let your breath be your comfort, your possibility. So many things have happened to make this day possible. So many adventures, so many journeys, so many losses. So many impossible painful, joyful, loving things. All of things had to go before in order for our paths to cross. And for that I am deeply grateful. As you drive I want you to look around, notice the sky. Look at your hands on the steering wheel, notice your skin, notice if your belly feels soft or if it feels tight and just be with whatever is.
You could be tempted today to think there is something outside of yourself that is needed. That there is something external to you that is hidden, that there is a secret, a plan or an answer that you do not possess and you could be tempted with the notion that someone could give it to you or you could see it at a distance and take it, but all of my guidance, my whole being is saying to me today that all of those secrets and all of that treasure is locked right now inside your own heart. Our task today is to enter into a womb like space of gentleness, of love, of nurture, of kindness, so that, that life in you, that beating heart in you can be developed and nurtured and held very tenderly, much like we held our babies in our wombs until its time for that heart to break open and share all of what has been locked inside with the world.
Shelly, you are loved and you are love. It is my honor to be in a space of love with you. It is humbling because I am just a woman like you are, but it is also thrilling because I know that I’ve come a long distance through many things in order to be here today with you. For that I am deeply, deeply grateful.”
When I arrived at her little city house with the wide front porch and the wild backyard, she came outside to greet me with a whole hearted hug and a generous, sing song, “Hi.” We hugged and hugged some more, like long lost soul sisters. She had deep brown eyes that sparkled when she smiled, smooth warm skin with beautiful cheekbones and a wide full mouth, dressed head to toe in black with a pair of cowboy boots on her feet, she looked like some kind of magical, mystical dream sister.
I immediately felt both ease and enthusiasm. I also remember feeling kind of lucky to be here. I’d brought with me a giant suitcase of hope. Hope that by committing to this weekend of soul searching and spirit healing that I would come out of it feeling something opposite of what I was feeling at the time, that I could quiet the demons in my mind and the pain in my heart and could get on with my life as a spiritual, peaceful, generous mother, woman, sister, friend, lover, human. I was SO ready.
“Let’s walk first,” she said, so we gathered up our coats and went for a long chilly walk. We stayed arm in arm, hip to hip like old friends. She regaled me with her backstory, the one that led us to this moment. I listened with both awe and admiration for the path she had taken to get here. It was tricky, far, wild and brave. I only knew what I’d gathered from the first initial phone call. I didn’t Facebook stalk her or Google her or ask anyone about her before meeting with her. I wanted to come in completely pure.
We circled back to her house on the little hill, when she said, go ahead and come in through the side door, down into the basement, I hesitated for millisecond thinking, “No one knows where I am.” The desire to connect with someone on this level was stronger than any fear I might have of permanently disappearing and I was desperate to stop the pain I was feeling, the grief, and the pull on my bright energy. I felt like this was some kind of Divine Intervention and I chose to trust her and surrender myself to whatever happened next.
I descended the stairs into the basement layered with old, rarely used, forgotten things. I carried my bag into a room that was glowing with warmth. It felt like a cozy cave. Candles flickered; there were cozy blankets, soft places to relax and a feeling of deep comfort. “We will spend our time together here,” she said.
I took off my shoes, sat down in my typical cross legged, yoga, Budda pose and gazed at the room, at her, took a deep breath and thought, “Ready. “
“I’m like a surgeon,” she said. “We will pull apart the threads check them for damage. We will discard what is no longer needed and alchemize the rest into gold.”
She settled in across from me and said, “Tell me everything,”
I didn’t know where to start so I said,
“My parents died.” And the floodgates opened.
She wrapped her arms around me and said.
“It’s ok to cry. “
“And there is a guy and a situation that truly broke my heart.”
“Hmmmmm.” She just murmured like she understood that kind of pain. No words. Just a gentle “hmmmm”
And again she said, “I’ts ok to cry”
And so I did.
And when I’d cried through a roll of toilet paper, I sat up and looked her straight in the eye and said, “I don’t want this to be about a boy.”
As much as I desired partnership and relationship, there was no way I was going to devote these three days to crying over a guy when I knew there was a much bigger picture that I was being called to. Partnership could wait. I wanted to get to the bottom of my own heart.
This was about me. For me. Period.
This is the rich, magical, emotional, transformational, story of Recovering Truth.
You’re invited to follow along. I’ll be posting the story as it unfolded right here, maybe someday it will become a book, but for now, I am sharing it this way.
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.
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.