Letting Family Go

May What I Have Written Be Of Service

In 2010, I spent a couple of weeks volunteering at a girls’ orphanage in Udon Thani, a capital city in northeastern Thailand. I arrived as part of a mission trip and I left with a completely different world-view. The realizations that came to me in the months that followed still blow me away.

Of course the girls’ situations were absolutely terrible with many of them rescued from the sex trade and other dark circumstances, or brought to the orphanage by ill or poverty stricken families… many with no blood-family to speak of at all. However, by the tone of my stay there, you would have never guessed it. There was a sisterhood present that exceeds any words that I could possibly ascribe. The girls, ranging from babies to late teenagers, seemed to coexist in relative harmony. They held hands, they laughed, they played with each others’ hair, and they played with mine as well. Their cheer pulled me from a place of self-pity into a place of absolute gratitude, not only for their presence, but for the sisterhood I had cultivated back home.

Prior to my visit, I had a very different view of family and I greatly resented that from which I came. My mother and I had always struggled. This isn’t a poor-me post so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say conditions were adverse to my thriving as a child and I grew up lacking the emotional well-being or behavioral skills to move gracefully through the world. My entire adulthood has been a study on how to live a good life.

After my volunteer stint, I began traveling around the country and basking in the glow of my newfound lightness. One day I posted some pictures of my experiences on Facebook and received a very nasty message from my mother criticizing my appearance, along with some other aspects of my being. Visibly shaken, two girls that I was touring around with and had gotten to know quite well asked me what was wrong. I read them the message verbatim and the horror-shocked looks on their faces were enough to startle me into the realization that I didn’t need this bull***t in my life anymore.

Seeing the beautiful girls of the orphanage connecting in the face of such adversity made it profoundly clear to me that I had cultivated all the family I needed through a few close friends who, to-this-day and without a doubt, have my back. That was the last communication I had with my mother for the next five years. I blocked her from my phone, Facebook, and email. No longer triggered by out-of-the-blue attacks on my character or appearance, I was able to move into a much healthier emotional space.

In 2015, I received a tragic call from my aunt asking me to meet her in Indianapolis because my mother was in a coma, on life support, and was likely to pass soon. As her only child, the medical staff needed me to make decisions and my aunt needed my love and support. I was terrified to see her again, scared that she would leap from her coma and pull me back into the negativity I had so desperately tried to escape. But I pulled myself together and flew out the next day.

What I encountered was beyond tragic; words will never be able to describe the pain I felt in that room… the pain of our relationship, the pain of my own weaknesses, the pain of watching her dying in front of me. I spent five full days in the room with her telling her that I loved her and that I was sorry for everything we had gone through together. I was sorry for the traumas she had lived through, as well as my own. I forgave her and I apologized for my own inability to cope or be in relationship with the person that she had been.

On the fifth day the doctor asked me to leave, stating that she should have passed on much sooner and it was clear that she was hanging on for me. We had one highly charged day together for each year that we spent apart. On the fifth night, I flew home. She passed away a few hours later at the exact time I had lit a candle and prayed for angels guide her home. The timing of it all was mystical.

As her body has returned to Earth, I have been pulled out of the clouds of my former heady existence and become grounded as well. I have experienced the warmth of her spirit since her death and we are in closer communion than we ever have been. I feel her living within the depths of my own spirit. We are no longer mother and daughter; we are one. I see her now in a way that I was never able to before; I see the light that she was. I love her unconditionally.

In the two and a half years that have passed, I have thought a lot about the five years that we had no contact – I have wondered if I would regret it. While I never had any remorse about it, I kept waiting for it to set in. I have finally concluded that what I did was the best thing I could have done for myself at the time. While it makes no sense to harbor resentment for the destructive relationship (it only hurts you!), it also makes no sense to remain subject to abuse, regardless of the type or who it comes from.

Conditioning by the church and by society at large can make someone in my situation feel shame and guilt for protecting oneself and worse, feel unworthy of love at all. The message is clear: blood is thicker than water, there’s no love like mother’s love, honor thy parents. My entire life, I have felt unworthy of love because I could not feel it from the one source that we are told it should come from unconditionally. I have felt guilty about not wanting certain family relationships because I thought that it echoed to the world that I am cold-hearted, which could not be further from the truth. I was trapped by the messages that I had heard and internalized as “right”.

My mother’s death showed me her true and indestructible spirit, the one that lay below the dysfunctional veil. I am able to see through to what she was truly made of, and not what she simply appeared to be. I’ve realized the deeper and eternal connection that we share beneath the mortal drama.

Given a similar situation now, I would not hesitate to address tense or uncomfortable family ties, even with the possibility of losing the relationship in its current form. I would hold tight to my personal boundaries and sense of self. While the earthly relationship may dissolve, I see through to the spirit that exists in all of us and that is where the connection truly lies. We are one regardless of the drama; cutting ties does not take away from that. It’s a simple release of this mortal illusion – that is all. We come from, and are part of, the same source. My personal philosophy is that…

  • Family comes to us in so many forms and we can cultivate this energy in our lives by actively connecting with others through authenticity, loyalty, appreciation, generosity, care, and attention.
  • Tending to those in your life, “family” or not, who are loving and receptive bears more nourishing fruit.
  • There is no reason to remain subject to abuse or neglect in exchange for worldly validation. Real validation comes from the simple fact that you are a child of God. There is nothing required of you to receive it.
  • This doesn’t mean that you have to forget about the more challenging people in your life; send them love and healing vibes from afar. This will, in turn, heal you.
  • While the pain of a lost earth-bound connection may exist, acceptance of what is – the actuality of the situation – can help us to move past this.
  • The grace of God enters our hearts through these very wounds, if we are willing.
  • It’s time to let go of that which doesn’t serve us, that which keeps us trapped in false social beliefs and negative patterns.

Please keep in mind that this is only my personal philosophy and I am not here to destroy relationships. Your personal boundaries and emotional tools are yours alone and can only be determined by you. I simply share my story because I believe I would have not felt so alone in my distress had I run into someone else giving voice to this. I pray that what I have written here is of service to anyone who may need these words and my only intention is to promote harmony in the world.

To read about my experience while at the orphanage, please see my post: Feeling The Love.

I love you.

 

An Empty Canvas

A few months ago I had a what some might call a midlife crisis, though I’m not quite to middle age yet! I’ve actually had a few of these by now: an emotional state where I’ve realized that despite all my successes there is still something missing. I’m action-oriented and so I have scrapped my life and started over a few times. While I have become happier and more content each time, that “something” still eludes. What I’ve realized is that I’ve simply traded one identity for the next, still guided by the people and values of the world around me.

I’ve gone through a lot of change, working to remove the layers of conditioning and false identity that I’ve accumulated throughout my lifetime. In deep reflection, I have realized that I have been “under the influence”. While I do mean this with some reference to drugs and alcohol, I am mostly referring to the incredibly strong, yet hardly noticeable influences surrounding all of us in terms of friends, family, church, government, advertising, and so on.

I have been tossing out the false identities that I’ve held onto throughout the years. I’m not a business woman, yoga teacher, “catch” for some lucky man, natural leader, partier, college-graduate, or the many other things I’ve been labeled and unconsciously identified with. What I am, however, is an incarnation of God’s Spirit – as are you.

While I’ve scrapped the manifestations of my last life (boyfriend, job, residence), I have also scrapped old-held values and belief systems. This time I want to live simply, without the expectation of something particular unfolding. This has not been my typical approach to life. I have been ruled by the future, caught up in the processes of becoming, achieving, attaining, and chasing – as though what I already am is not enough.

While I am looking for work as a practical matter, I’m no longer motivated by a particular level of status or pay. I just want to be able to take care of myself and to be a light for all who surround me. I want to practice karma yoga, or selfless action, as explained in the Bhagavad Gita.

While I was in India contemplating this next chapter in my life, I kept hearing “Asheville… Asheville… Asheville…” playing in my head like a soundtrack. While I had passed through once on a road trip, I didn’t have a tap on the city nor did I have any connections. But since my vipassana course, I’m trying to live my life by gut feels these days, looking inward for guidance rather than to the outside world. I’ve moved into a space of “Let go and Let God”, my new mantra. It is my belief that God shows us the way through our own intuition. So here I am, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Turns out my inner-guidance system is doing alright! Not only is this town absolutely gorgeous –  tucked away in lush, green mountains – but I have landed in a haven of yoga and arts! Meetup.com reveals many writers groups in the area and it seems like everyone just got up from their daily meditation. I went to a yoga class on Saturday, and there was a CSA (community supported agriculture) pickup outside of the studio! Everyone is smiling and I’ve received a lot of welcomings from the friendly folks I met. I’ve even made a few friends that I’ll definitely see again – What’s up Sheridan, Christine & Theo?! 🙂 This city seems to have everything that makes my spirit sing. I feel like an empty canvas waiting for new strokes of beauty.

I also feel empowered! I am armed with new knowledge about food (thank you Ayurveda!), my body (thank you Ammu for all you taught me about nervous system engagement), emotional and spiritual health (thank you, Vivek and Goenke!), and living a sober and joyful life (thank you, Emily!).

With the past behind me, I’m committed to living in the present. A firm believer in setting intentions, I have a few aims that I am moving forward with:

  • Full Sobriety
  • Vegetarian, Organic, and Unprocessed Diet
  • Simple, Uncluttered Living
  • Teaching & Practicing Yoga and Meditation
  • Writing

I’m keeping the faith, but all good vibes and prayers for my transition are certainly welcomed!

I love you.

 

Making Spirituality Your Own

Forget dogma and find the truth for yourself.

A vibrant spiritual practice weaves the beautiful tapestry of our lives, over which we have creative authority. Its pursuit is worthy not only for the sense of connection we gain, but for the pure joy it brings to our daily lives. Sadly for so many of us, we don’t know this joy.

I was raised in a somewhat Catholic home. While the faith was practiced earnestly by family members that I truly admire, it was also misused by others as a catalyst for prejudice and a cover of false morality. I was turned off from a very early age by the constant focus on fear and guilt. It also seemed horribly out-of-date with irrelevant sermons and its humdrum hymns. However, I was unsettled with an intense craving for connection with a higher power so I stayed with the faith for much of my youth.

By my early twenties, I had fallen out of church and had begun backpacking with an outdoorsy group of friends. We explored the Hoh Rainforest, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Redwoods, and so many other beautiful parks throughout the country. I felt so connected out in nature; it was there that God’s spirit made itself known to me. It was there that my soul felt resonance. I was inspired again!

At 28, I went with a boyfriend to one of these hipster mega-churches with donuts and coffee in the foyer, really great sermons by a young charismatic preacher, and rock music. I was moved by the spirit and even got baptized. Yes! I was born again! Inspired, I signed up for a mission trip to Thailand, where I worked at a girls’ orphanage in Udon Thani for a couple of weeks. That’s when my spiritual life changed.

After my work at the orphanage was finished, I went traveling around the country for a few weeks on my own. I visited all of the tourist sights, which just happened to be Buddhist temples. Throughout the city, I saw so many people worshiping this deity. There was even a statue in front of a McDonald’s in Bangkok where people would bring offerings before going in for their lunches. I looked around and I saw so much joy present. They call Thailand “The Land of Smiles” and a visit there makes it so evident why. What a beautiful culture! That was where it dawned on me that I had more options than Jesus.

When I returned home, I read voraciously about Taoism, Buddhism, Paganism, Hinduism, and over the next few years I began reading the work of great Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafiz. I listened Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson and I dove head first into books such as The Secret, Tao Te Ching, and A Course In Miracles.

I realized I wasn’t limited to the narrow scope of religion I had been exposed to as a child, I was a grown woman and I had options. I sorted through the clutter and began to discover the truth for myself.

Life in western culture feels unlimited, but we don’t seek what we don’t know. We are not limited to the tiny slice of lifestyle, religion, culture, and philosophy we’ve been exposed to. We acknowledge that mom, boyfriend, boss, and friends are entitled to their beliefs, and so are we. It can be scary to discuss new ideas with family or friends who are closed-off, but if we can be brave and release ourselves from religious dogma, instead opening to diversity, we find that church is not the only place where God dwells.

Traditional institutions like the Roman Catholic Church and its spin-offs certainly contain valuable concepts and practices, evidenced by the same truths echoing throughout time and other cultures. We’re all saying the same things. What Catholics know as Holy Spirit, Hindus call Prana, and the Chinese call Qi/Xi, but it’s all the same in essence. Its recognition, care, and celebration do not depend on the institution that named it. The Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists can lay just as much claim to this beauty as Carl Jung, Hafiz, Paolo Coehlo, You, or Me. Religious rites and rituals were never the intentions of the enlightened beings who have shared their learnings with us.

Even our own language possesses colloquialisms that validate the Chakra system of the Jainists, Hindus, and Buddhists. Sayings such as finding his feet, a broken heart, or hard to swallow are summations of wisdom gained throughout eons of experience that demonstrate the psychological and physical properties of their corresponding chakras. Churches, yoga, astrology, psychics, and psychologists are all valid ways to tune into the self, but these keep us looking outward for answers. At the end of the day all we really need is intentional awareness and evaluation of our lives paired with thoughtful right action, and this comes from within. We become aware of our true nature through internal practices such as self-reflection and meditation.

As empowered individuals, our belief system need not be dictated by our family or church. When we write-off ideas like out-of-body experiences, psychic powers, healing hands, or God’s voice, we close ourselves off to experiencing them. As we openly evaluate and move through old-held beliefs, we gain new wisdom and life skills. As open-hearted beings, we grow into harmony with ourselves and the world around us.

As a child and young adult, I believed extrasensory perceptions like clairvoyance, clairaudience, seeing auras, healing another with one’s own hands, or out-of-body experiences were fantasy. This is what I was conditioned to believe. But as my spiritual horizons have opened, I have personally glimpsed each of these.  

Because spirituality is not one-size-fits-all, we must allow ourselves time, space, and freedom to explore. We set ourselves up for the journey by learning foundational concepts that we reference along the way. Esoteric principles such as the chakras, grounding, centering, significance in ritual, and that thoughts become reality are all practical tools for navigating life. Understanding these, we begin the process of reconnecting, a healing that can occur through physical and emotional practices like yoga, prayer, breathing exercises, vision boards, journaling, release rituals, and intention setting. These actions peel back the layers of conditioning that obscure us from the true laws of nature, that keep us feeling empty and lost.

The truth is inside of us and shows itself through intuition. Everything we need to know to move through this world with grace and joy exists deep inside, beyond our physical bodies and beyond our thinking minds. It is the law of nature, or what Buddha called dhamma. We know exactly how to live in accordance with this law, but we’ve been conditioned to look outside of ourselves for answers. Don’t settle for what you were taught; make your spiritual life your own! The truth is universal and accessible by all despite race, religion, or status. The comfort and beauty you’ll discover within are so worth the search.

We all know the truth deep inside.