“Love you and think we are on a grand journey together.” Said Susan in a text to me just now, she’s sitting at the airport finally with a moment to rest, I’m at a coffee shop in Anchorage waiting too. There’s something about moments of rush juxtaposed with moments of spacious unplanned time that always draws me to reflection, wonder and sentimentality. The last four days we’ve been in a surreal swirl of ceremony and service to a group of indigenous grandmothers from around the world that make up the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. I love the look that title elicits from people. It’s like some kick-ass superhero team of grandmas who tour the world to great fanfare and heal the wounded and weave trails of beauty and amazement behind them. The other response is a quizzical look and the confused stutter of “but…you’re not telling me you’re a grandma…” No, not yet…Need to be a momma first, a lover and a love, life to live and mystery to be born out before I get to be a grandma…
In addition to the amazement that accompanies even entertaining the possibility of shaman women elders from indigenous cultures all over the world coming together in the same place for the same prayer of unity, manifested over and over again through each of their own traditions-in addition to experiencing that reality- the last four days in the hotel were like some weird and hilarious boarding school. We’re asked to wear skirts with the grandmas so Susan is trying on scarves tied around tights and I’m trying to make sure my new white skirt with a slip isn’t see-through and whether this and this matches or makes any sense worn together- none of us dress in this way normally. How do we be comfortable and express ourselves and still do right by the traditions we’re here to learn about? There were a few moments where I wondered “What kind of boarding school is this anyway?” It’s like a version of knee socks and pleated skirts except with grown women and much more colorful and flamboyant expressions of let’s call it “femininity.”
Marisa, Jude, Susan and I shared a two bed hotel room, two to a bed, with our stuff spread out half in and half out of suitcases in enormous piles that threatened to consume our breathing space as well as our walkways to the bathroom and front door. In between ceremony we rush about to do as we’re supposed to, get to everything on time, with the occasional reprimand from a well-intentioned grandma or staff person.
Each of us has a different volunteer position, Marisa works the gift shop, and Susan, Jude and I have been assigned as an “assistant.” This is the ridiculously non-descript term applied to calling a revered medicine woman at 6 in the morning to start herding her towards a fancy hotel buffet breakfast. These venerable, powerful, healers from all over the world, coming from forests, mountains, plains- from the north and from the south, are not used to having anybody tell them when they need to be somewhere, not to mention some random person they don’t know calling at 6 o’clock in the morning to begin what was, each day, an agenda of gently nuanced harassment.
All the same, what was first met with rebellious annoyance was indeed eventually accepted and understood as necessary- necessary if anything is to happen near schedule. Each day we go to the sacred fire for ceremony at 8 am, 12, and 5 pm. Each of the grandmothers gives a ceremony for one of these prayer times, in her own language and style and with her own tools, medicines, and dress. Between these we go to a conference center for talks, music, blessings, visions, and a lot of unexpected happenings that arise spontaneously as the spirit being stirred makes it’s way through everyone and everything here, in the city, and around the world. Hospital workers show up to tell us tearfully to keep doing what we’re doing because people are healing at the hospital faster than they’ve ever seen. Native people show up with blessed salmon enough to feed all 400 people in attendance. City officials stop in to give their support. The sun goes down, the sun comes up, the sky stays light as though filled with the growing love and healing we’re feeding every moment with our hearts, intentions, wills, and hungers.
Here it becomes okay to cry for peace, to yell out for our loved ones, to ask for what we need, and to receive it from powerful women healers who want nothing more than for everyone in this world to be happy, to live well, to find their purpose, and to fulfill it. But these women do more than hope for it, and worry about. To understand that what they do is beyond logic is necessary to getting it. They put life force towards the healing of others, their prayers knock people over, lower crime rates in cities, and heal people miles away. I didn’t just hear this, it happened for me too.
When I arrived in Anchorage from my time back in Seward my body began to process old pain. In no uncertain terms this was something having to do with the loss of my first love. Lars had never wooed me, we fell into relationship the way two fools do, without questions, without hesitance, without holding back. In retrospect I see that this is what I did. But when he left San Diego, left me and our relationship, to return to Alaska where we had met, he didn’t tell me that our relationship was over. When I returned to Alaska to be with him I found that while I had sort of put my feelings on hold, he had moved on. My heart was completely broken and what was worse I went through it alone and in the company of his friends, without any words from him about why, whether he hurt too, or what we were losing. I saw him act as though nothing had happened at all, and I came to understand that he felt that way.
I tried to talk to him about it, but he resisted and refused to say anything. Without someone to share the experience with I grieved in shame and forced myself to ignore the anger and betrayal I felt. I couldn’t understand how this person who I loved so much, who was a best friend to me, could walk away and not miss me, not be sad, not grieve, not FEEL the loss…or at least not show the loss.
Now, all these years later, (11 years! It literally doesn’t make sense to my logical mind) I began to relive it. And I was completely blindsided, surprised, and in disbelief. I had no resistance prepared- no rationalization, no explanation, just confusion, and luckily a sense of wonder that felt good, like a humble and open child. I left Seward in the car of old and new friends with a new baby, and the presence of that little new life reminded me how much had changed, how unfamiliar this landscape was, how in spite of all that I knew- I wasn’t in the same situation.
I literally landed in a circle of a remarkable group of women; healers, mothers, musicians, hospice workers, ministers, herbalists- a group of women with skills so profound and diverse I never had to worry if they would understand or think me strange. Though I didn’t know any of them well my process was incorporated seemlessly. My body nearly collapsed. I shook, could barely breathe, cried, and strained to keep myself from holding my breath. I felt like I was looking down the runway at him leaving all those years ago, I could feel a tearing in my chest that made me gasp, and hold- gasp and hold. It felt like a part of my body was being removed and I just wanted to pass out. And another part of me was watching myself feel that way, witnessing and just marveling at how miraculous my body and spirit have been to allow me the opportunity to finally put this event to rest. It was nearly exactly that date 11 years later.
These women, I don’t even know their names, caught me with grace, love, competence, and a flow as smooth as water. While we all braced for the week and talk of logistics continued, they held me, helped me keep breathing, listening to what my heart had to let go of, and thanked me for holding that piece of the circle without even a murmur of surprise or judgment. Here I was as a volunteer, there to help bring this important gathering together and I walk in the door in need of support. It didn’t matter. It was incorporated and we all knew it was simply a part of the week.
So I sat crying and shaking, shivering and sweating in bewilderment I finally let myself do completely what I couldn’t do all those years ago, which was to admit how thoroughly my heart had been broken, abandoned, and rejected. How much I had loved Lars, and how much of myself I had committed to this relationship that meant so much to me. I could see it so clearly how complete the betrayal was, how bereft and pitiful I felt, and my sense of strength and safety in relationship had been seriously damaged.
One woman worked reflex points on my feet, another held a hand on my heart and gently kept me breathing, another woman let me rest my head on her knee and rubbed my back and head as though she were my mother. And I let it all go. It was perfect that none of these people were good friends or family, I had no reason not to just experience it as it was, no reason to even consider what they were experiencing. We were all strangers.
It didn’t, and doesn’t, make any sense to me that I could feel such an overwhelming love for someone after so long. And it doesn’t really matter.
It’s now 6:30 am 5 days later and I am on the second leg of my journey back to San Francisco and am beginning to understand why I had to make this journey. I feel like I’ve gone from the most serious heartache and emotional pain I’ve had in my life into the arms of a beautiful new community that wants nothing more than for me to find everything in this world I deserve and am here to do. To heal myself, and to love. Now this tiny plane is skipping across dawn clouds, filled with light that in it’s purity and brightness is glorious by it’s very definition. I feel my prayers for release being fulfilled in a total total bittersweet elation. High. Untethered. Free. A clear channel through my life. I see how who I was before set me up for that kind of loss, that nothing was Lars’ fault, that nothing was my fault, that everything… fits beautifully.
I’ve seen what happened in my life differently now. I’m humbled by the intelligence acting in my life to give me this opportunity to truly experience what I had to shut out years ago. I could now see what that relationship meant to me, and how awful it felt to leave it without acknowledging what it meant to me. Yet this time I don’t feel ashamed about how painful I know that experience was to me. I can feel all of this with compassion for both of us and a powerful new hope that brings me to tears to think about the world that is opening to me now.
There is nothing for me like the speed of a plane high over mountains and clouds and white winter snow to remind me that my life is moving along quickly.
I had this fear that I would leave Alaska with a longing in my heart to be with Lars again, but I don’t feel that. I feel the power of my my desire for release working it’s way through my cells, through my body and bringing me more fully into a different story about who I am.
Moving through Seward with my old love still has images like a dream, walking out on the beach in the afternoon sun surrounded by the mountains with their white patches of melting sun. The bald eagle landing nearby on a piece of driftwood in the sun. Leaning relaxed against a log where we camped together all those years ago, with almost the same intimacy and affection…
But here before me is a man who has no expressed desire to know me in my life, or to know the wisdom of my life, or the truth of my soul’s journey here. Lars has never has been able to respond to me when I tell him I love him. In my heart I think I know he loves me, but as the saying goes “It is not only necessary to love, it is necessary to say so.” After feeling all the stomach turning despair of longing for the presence of another, I turn my attention to praying that his heart can open and receive love. Today, tomorrow, some day.
So I came back 11 years later to finish what I started. To keep our social group comfortable for everyone, including Lars, I stored pain away in my body- and now I’ve found it and seen it, and so importantly- lived it. It has again and again over the past days dropped me to my knees, dropped me to my tears, dropped me to something basic and raw. But- all of a sudden my life feels like this open clear crystal channel, flowing and singing. It all makes sense, I see the connections, the threads, the woven nature, the way it had to be, and I feel released from that script, from that karma, from that agreement with him. It was like looking at my life from the other end, with the perspective of death, everything fitting together in an intricate and perfect choreography that led me through everything to this moment right now when I would be strong enough to move with the wave of pain and fear and not back down or accept that I did something wrong to love so completely. I feel illuminated and free, untethered.
I know who I am better now. It’s like this whole area of my heart has become available again, I feel raw, and fresh, and reborn into a glowing vulnerable new reality. I love the fool I’ve been. I love myself as a young woman adventuring to a new wild place and falling in love. I love my life, and who I am. And I will always love Lars, even if I now know utterly that I could never be with him. But that isn’t even close to what is most important about this last ten days…
It was like as soon as I could see that, I could see deeper into who I was before that, I could see how who I was growing up, who I was in high school before that, everything before that in my life led me into my dependence on Lars, my desperate need for him and his approval. This old pain isn’t about him at all, it’s about me. It could’ve been anyone. And now that story isn’t important to me anymore.
“The love that I was giving you was never in doubt.
Let go of your heart, let go of your head
let go of your heart, let go of your head
let go of your heart, let go of your head”
This song sang out to me after the conference ended
Finally, in quiet prayers to creator I asked for the healing I needed this week. In my most intimate of moments I felt a click, a quiet and private settling of things into place.
On my last night, Cassie, Grandma Rita’s granddaughter, gave me a pair of ivory earrings at the airport. In all my years with Lars he had never really given me a gift, and now it seemed so achingly profound for this sacred and wonderful young women who I had only just met to honor me with such a beautiful gift, an offering from her people, this land, and from her spirit…
She asked me if I’d come back, and the answer is I don’t know. Alaska is still a home to me, it still holds a longing in my heart and body, the mountains and the sky breathe into me some kind of peace and joy and homeness. It’s real, and you can feel it’s history breathing through it’s people, native and otherwise. But in some timelessness this place doesn’t say to me directly what our relationship will be like in the future, only that we will always be a part of each other.
I want to spend time with my new self, be gentle, slow curious, and enjoy the simple pleasure of knowing myself just a little better, and having done something on faith for my own healing. Ask and you shall receive. I need sleep and quiet, to let go and push out the old, and make room for a new life. As I sit on this little plane buffeted by the wind I can see and feel all the light around me, the Alaskan light is spreading through the Oakland sky, illuminating my life, illuminating every nook and crevice, every tea cup and every picture frame, the whole length of my life, and into the future… I see that light filling my space, filling Lars’ space, filling my parents homes, this blinding light from the beginning and the end, from between the stories, as they begin with kisses and end with goodbyes, from opening hearts and terrible events, from everything this world has made up to give to us and take away… of love that is undeniably a part of everything and whatever else, my grandparents, death, loss, pain, joy, truth, darkness, that light is filling me up, filling me full to the brim and overflowing into all my eyes come across… I’m some kind of mushy-high as a kite- terrified-ecstatic and humbled human with so much more to learn. And gloriously the light comes with and is this feeling of it all fitting together perfectly in a way that is well, well beyond my comprehension.
Now it’s afternoon, the sun is in my room in a way it hasn’t been since I moved here, summer is closer now and the light is hearkening it. I am filled with the remainder of sadness that has to be experienced for me to finish this process truly. I imagine myself moving through my life here, and contemplating this old loss as the key to my own liberation from patterns of not feeling like I was worthy of being loved, of being taken care of in a more loving way.
I lay down to sleep in my own bed for the first time in ten days after drinking a pot of tea made from the young tips of a Douglas fir tree not far from here. My clothes feel good and soft on my skin and the sun is pouring in. Everything is light and airy, the house is as I left it, as though nothing has changed in these last ten days, though everything has. It’s 11 am and I lie down for the perfect dreamless slumber of five day-time hours before I awaken with my own alertness, nowness, and readiness for what awaits in this day of landing softly in the blue, yellow and lavender light of my consciousness. I see the breeze blowing outside first before it comes and lifts the hem of my slip, beckons me outside like a girl to play, whispers to me, soon it will be your turn to live outside, to join with the wind and rushing leaves on some wild spring day. I feel like Artemis and Athena, flowers in my tangled hair and wisdom that’s not mine pouring through me…
My housemates and I cook a meal and Emily shares a tale of a field of dandelions, in all their perfect form and design, and the perfect chaos of releasing to the wind at just the right time to make love to destiny and I know that we are each a dandelion head, waiting for the breeze that comes along and whispers in our ear, “come with me, your own destiny awaits…” I don’t know where to- but these days have felt the release of my hands from the stem of my fear, blown into the wind in what Emily describes as “perfect chaos.” Perfect, perfect, chaos, make love to me.
As I let go more and more of the way I thought it was I see that I was no victim in this situation. I ignored my own wisdom, and behind that lies what in my life set me up to be looking to this situation. That takes me back to my family, and I now see how much work I have to do, how much I don’t know, and all the humility that comes with being surrounded by beings who have done their work and are seated in their own power and using it to heal others. Using it to say “listen, all you need to do is love yourself, know yourself, and stop giving up your power. Sit in your seat of power and wield if usefully, compassionately, and for the highest good of all beings.” And still, in all of the work that becomes clear, I feel such acceptance for myself.
When Grandma Kaypeet told me that my prayers were enough, that I didn’t need the help of others to heal myself, that I had the same access to creator as them, I heard her, and I believed her. I understood that I could go to the fire and make my own prayer with creator, and that’s exactly what I did. I went over and waited in line. When my turn came I kneeled near the fire and I prayed to creator and spirit to leave this relationship behind me finally. To integrate the lessons more fully, and to let me cut the lines to a story of personal victimhood. If I want to heal whatever it is inside me that clings to that story and prevents me from experiencing something more profound than I could even imagine, the power of my desire, will and faith will help me move my own mountains.
Somehow my past and present feels connected in a way I’ve never experienced before. This story has come full circle and I am released… free to begin a new story, not having shunned or shut out my past, but having seen it for what it was, felt it more fully, and let go of some of the illusions I had based my identity on. Right now I feel a lightness, and like I don’t know who I’ll be without that story, but I’m in no rush to fill that space with anything other than the slow loving unfoldment of who I will be as my life continues.
Only that light calls me back there but I think when I go back it will be different, it won’t have the same power over me, I can see it through the eyes of a person who doesn’t desperately need to be saved, to escape, to have the love of any one person… I can take my soul back now
I feel so high and free, ready to get rid of other stuff, and let this shedding continue it’s journey deeper into my life…I’m so enlivened at the sense of where this process will lead me…
The light of the Alaskan sky still fills my body, and escapes from the chirping mouths of birds, it fills everyone’s bodies and pours put when they speak. The light is projected all over the walls of my bedroom, and in the changing sky of clouds and light. After I wake from this nap, and perhaps now in my dreams, this new life begins. Though it begins again, and again, and again, every day; some days are newer than others, just like some loves are more profound than others, just like some pains are worse than others. And today is a big day filled with dawn sunrises at 30,000 feet, loving homecomings with meals awaiting me warmed, and napping in sweet peace to wake to a life very new with perspective, appreciation, and this overwhelming desire to run, play, be in love, and just be alive.