I know I am a little late to the party on this. The ball drop happened many days ago, which is something I think we watched with anticipation this year, longing to breathe in the air of a new year. 2017 was a year that needed to be shed, a year of big lessons. I felt it too. This new year we’re all trying to do something different. Shake things up, make moves, dive head first into change. We’re ready to accept failure or embarrassment as a cross we are willing to bear — to become more. To burn up the old and be reborn. To be humbled by the difficulties of life, and gracious for being gifted with a new spirit.
In my work and life, I meet so many amazing people. They know my story, and I get to hear theirs. But I feel like so many people get to hear mine, because of my platform/media exposure, and although my story has guided me and helped others, the stories I hear from my peers have made me as well. They’ve healed my heart, and made me see my own journey with new light. I want to share these stories too, of course with the blessings of the writer and the best intentions. Maybe in these stories you will find something you need. A mantra, solidarity, a good cry. So I am starting to share my people. Maybe it will be a series. Maybe it will be a one-off, but this is something I knew I needed to do.
And it all starts with Sheva.
We met years ago, at a coffee shop, where we were planning her wedding. We have always stayed in touch, and more recently reconnected and caught up. This story surfaced from our conversations… it moved me and lingered in my thoughts… and together we thought we would share it. Here is where I leave it to Sheva.
Chanting with Fireflies
Chapter 1: Time Out
2017 was the most painful and transformative year of my life. The walls I carefully constructed to protect me from taking responsibility were melting under the light of my increasing awareness. My marriage wasn’t working along with my plan for mamahood. My body hurt and I was finally ready to listen to it. It couldn’t keep up with the demands of my “successful career.” I learned my mother, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia stopped getting her injections and I didn’t have the capacity to help her or myself.
At work, I was “so put together,” as the kind studio bookkeeper would say; well dressed, contributing to multi-million dollar deals, managing a team and making a pretty good salary. At home, I was learning how to cook, clean, to be a supportive wife and reading books to heal my marriage. But while I was doing all these things I couldn’t let go of future outcomes and I was exhausted.
Sheva’s wedding photos. Wedding styled by Tiffany Pratt.
My husband expressed concerns about my ability to take care of myself or a potential baby. It was painful to hear him say this. I could not run from the tension in my shoulders or the sleepless nights. For nearly two months on most nights I’d lie awake from the grief and despair. I’d get up and sit on my cushion, sometimes for hours to calm down and get some sleep. Then I’d get a few hours in and wake up for work the next day.
Something needed to change.
I had lunch with my mentor and he asked me if I’d been waking up crying. I looked at him blankly. I said it was a few sleepless nights and when I saw I was minimizing I stopped talking. Then and there I knew my strategies were not working. I told him everything. He recommended I create conditions for myself that were more manageable so I could build more capacity to be there for myself. He told me about an internship program at Blue Cliff Monastery, in New York where I could take a few months or more to rest. I was listening to him, my face wet with tears. I had never considered doing myself such a kindness.
That night, I told my husband about my idea to live at a monastery for three months. I looked at him as he sat across from me, breathing. Thirty seconds later, he gave me his full support. We immediately set out to plan my leave from work, cancel other plans, figure out the finances, flights, registration, et cetera. We called the plan “Operation She-horse Unicorn.”
Several calls, meetings and emails later it was really happening. After telling my executives I needed three months for myself I felt a lightness mixed with queasiness. My boss could not promise me I’d have a position to go back to.
As I took steps towards a more nourishing life, the truth that I didn’t know how to take care of myself penetrated deeper into my bones. This was difficult and also as a dear friend likes to say, “Fuel for the journey.”
I felt angry and the recurring thought was, “I am a total failure.” I invested ten years in a career that wasn’t sustainable. This retreat meant letting go of mamahood for a while and devoting all of my energy to my own nourishment.
When I told my mother the news of my retreat she was very concerned about my marriage. She literally gasped and told me not to go. Though she stopped her injections she was still functioning well. She had sold her home, bought a new one, and was getting on fine. Still, leaving her and my siblings in these conditions was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I hugged her one last time before my trip and her face was wet with tears. I had never felt as seen as I did when she hugged me goodbye to go off and learn how to love myself. I no longer questioned that learning how to cultivate vitality would make it possible to actually be there for loved ones.
I tried my best to love my husband but I could not give what I didn’t have. I was offering my husband the gift of space too. I couldn’t accept the reality of our relationship and I was afraid it would end, for real. The amount of fear that came up showed me that I was differing responsibility for my life to my marriage. No wonder I felt insecure. As my mentor pointed out, I was taking refuge in something that is not a real refuge.
Now I had the chance to ask and explore what I can truly rely on in life.
It’s been six months since I left and I feel so blessed that things were falling apart for me. I remember attending my final meditation class in the heart of Toronto, Luminous Ground, before my departure. It was hard to say goodbye for three months. I said goodbye to my spiritual friends and cheerleaders and went to give my teacher a hug goodbye. I felt so many things. He hugged me and told me to “Get out” with a smile.
My husband and I agreed to pause all communication for three months to be wholeheartedly devoted to our individual practices and journeys. We never had a long distance relationship and the most space we took prior to this was a week while communicating. The night before I left on a warm June night we went up to the roof of our downtown Toronto apartment to hold each other and look at the stars. At the time I did not feel brave, strong or clear, but I was beginning to see.
I’m grateful for the support of a kindred spirit, Ms Tiffany Pratt for her encouragement and this platform to share the stories of my quest for wholeness with the world. When I related some of my experiences with her over coffee at Tori’s Bakery she said to me, “You need to share your story with others.”
Chatting with Tiffany helped me see that many others share my struggles and I am not alone. There was nothing special that allowed me to taste joy and vitality beyond career, romance, status or mamahood. I am heartened to share my tales of terrifying tick bites, life with nuns and how I allowed myself to be carried.
I had to let go of everything to taste real freedom and peace beyond my agendas and life goals. I never imagined I would feel this way and I’m excited to share some of the experiences I had that showed me immeasurable joy beyond motherhood and marriage. It is because I was able to tap into these inner resources, that my marriage is better than it’s ever been today.
Deep bows and blue butterflies,
WEDDING PHOTOS BY THE TALENTED ALEX NEARY: WILD EYED PHOTOGRAPHY
WEDDING STYLED BY TIFFANY PRATT