Animals and Nature, Awakening, courage, freedom, gratitude, grief, Joy, Mystery and Magic

This is what happened when I burned all my journals

Several years ago, as I was leaving my corporate job and dismantling my former life in ways both sweeping and subtle, I felt drawn to look through the many, many journals I had filled over the years, that were lined up in neat rows on my bookcase.

Some were coiled note books, others were bound in pretty covers with ribbon place markers.  There were dozens of them.

As I leafed through them, I was shocked at the level of anger, vitriol, desperation and sadness that I found on the pages.  In many cases, I couldn’t even remember what it was that I had been so upset about, what situation or person or personal belief had inspired so many pages of furious writing.  Now forgotten.

And then the light came on.

These journals were full of pain, full of self-doubt, self-loathing and anger, full of the story of me trying to control the uncontrollable, railing against the way things were, wanting my life to be different, wanting me or my boss or my husband to be different. I didn’t want to hold this pain anymore, or to make room for it on my bookshelves or in my home or in my life.

Why, I asked myself, are these journals still on my shelf?

And so, one October afternoon, following a spontaneous urge, I gathered all these notebooks up. I had several boxes of them.  I lugged them to the car.  I took a lighter with me.  Without being absolutely certain where I was going to go, I drove them to a nearby conservation area and found a picnic spot with a fire pit.  Needless to say, there wasn’t another soul around on this cold, dreary October day, I had the park to myself.

I admit that I was half expecting the Journal Police to stop me, to say “Hey, we know what you’re up to, you can’t burn those journals, who do you think you are?  Everyone knows journaling is so important, you’re going to have to keep them, forever. No one can escape their past, lady.”

So with this voice in my head, I felt like I was being furtive somehow, sneaking away, or (quite literally) breaking out of the jail of my past. I was determined that I was not bringing this past into my future, I would claw my way to freedom if I had to.

I piled a bunch of the notebooks into the fire pit and taking a deep breath, I lit them on fire.  They ignited quickly, and I felt an intense rush of emotion while they burned, something like grief, and at the same time also like joy, like liberation, and absolutely like a great weight was being lifted from me.

I felt that maybe I should pray, or dance around the fire pit singing, but I felt exposed, vulnerable and somehow lonely, so I did neither. I knew this was an offering, a sacred offering – and I cried.

In the moment when my grief abated and I could feel something like gratitude for the urge to burn these books rising up in me, as I stood there, feeding the fire with more and more notebooks, watching them burn and smoke, a single crow flew overhead.

It felt as though she was looking right at me. She saw the fire, she saw the notebooks burning.

This black crow was the only witness to my old life, my former way of being, going up in flames. 

The only one who saw what it meant for me to sacrifice the old so I could claim the future. I realized then that I wasn’t alone, that by her presence she implied that my offering was seen and received with love.

And because I saw the moment when the crow saw me, it was as though my higher self was acknowledging this liminal moment, when out of love and compassion for myself I burned away the old and chose to be reborn, to start anew and follow with hope the new life I saw glimmering on the horizon.

I sat for a while next to the smoldering ashes of my journals, poking at the charred metal coils of the notebooks with a stick…it was all gone, all gloriously gone; all record of the pain, the outmoded habits, the old stories about who I was supposed to be and how my life was supposed to look, had all been transmuted to ash, a sacred offering to the future.

Burned. Cleansed. Free.

I can see now, looking back, that that was a turning point in my life. I started a new journey then, I started walking my way back home, and in many ways writing my way back home.

I vowed then that I would never keep another journal like that and I never have.  Instead, because the urge to write is in my bones, I try to write my way towards the light and not into the spiraling darkness, that having walked through the flames I would offer my humble stories to you, who may also be arising new like a phoenix from the ashes of your old life.

May you know you are not alone.

May we all be reborn in the fire, and may there be a winged one to witness it with love.

xo Shona

 

 

 

Awakening, courage, gratitude, Joy

How gratitude rises out of the ashes of grief — every time.

Gratitude continues to show up in my life in unexpected and sustaining ways.  This is how it carried me through a difficult chapter of my life, and how it continues to hold me in all the dark moments that have followed.

My father passed away almost 5 years ago at the great age of 84. I think he would agree that he lived a beautiful life, to which he brought his immense energy, enthusiasm and heart.

At the hospital, where he slowly died over the course of nine days, I lived in a dream, like I was walking through water and drowning in tears.   It took time to accept what was actually happening.  And as it slowly dawned on us all that this was it, I would walk the grounds outside the hospital.

It was during those walks that I found something unexpected — a feeling of deep and compelling gratitude.

As my father lay dying, gratitude wrapped its arms around me and carried me through those dark days of his dying, as it still carries me now.

And I knew even then exactly what I was grateful for.

For all the love he gave me, for all the ways he encouraged and supported me, for all the time he spent with me, for all the things he taught me.

For the way he lived his life, for the way he was dying with love pouring out of his tired eyes, still my dad.

I was also grateful because we were blessed to have a room in that hospital with a view of the foothills and mountains, which he loved.  We were blessed to have access to competent and compassionate nurses and doctors, we were blessed to have family and friends around us.

His final days were filled with love and abundance – we were so blessed and so grateful.

Gratitude carries me now through moments when one of his favorite songs will play on the radio and I am blinded by tears – and I recognize that what pours through me is grief AND gratitude…and even joy.

And the gratitude always points the way to peace.

It calms me.

I am grateful for the song, and for the tears, as it reminds me of all that was — all that was so beautiful, and wonderful, and all that still remains, that is also wonderful – the memories, the qualities of his that I know I carry in me, that I see in my own children, his grandchildren. It reminds me that love goes on – in so many ways.

And this somehow gives me hope.

That maybe grief and loss and suffering have a larger meaning.

That in this liminal moment where the two meet and live side by side – grief and gratitude – is the passage through, is the doorway into a greater world, a bigger heart, a more compassionate journey.

Where you learn that your heart won’t break but finds the capacity to heal. 

Where you learn that your heart is wider and deeper than you ever thought, and can contain the grief and gratitude at once…to allow you to be overflowing with sadness and love and thankfulness at the same time…to know your heart truly is full in a way that only loss can show you.

My grief, when aligned with gratitude, brings me to joy.  One cannot exist without the other, and while I may have once understood this as a platitude for the bereaved, I have now truly felt the joy born of loss come alive in my heart.

That if I may say, as painful as it was to watch my strong father slowly diminish in a hospital bed in Calgary, I felt then and still do feel this great joy in having had him in my life.  This deep joy for all the moments when I knew I was a beloved daughter, that this terrible grief flowing through me can only exist because the joy and the love also exists.

Grief and loss are the price of that love and joy – and so with gratitude I pay the price over and over again.

And this is the truth and the gift of gratitude born of grief: it is all things, it is the twisting, rolling, wrapping up of every strong emotion, it wants to move through you like a wave, like a howl, like a dove – it is a song of love and loss as old as the earth.  It is the wound and the healing of the wound…it is the singer and the song…it is the meaning of why we are alive.

It is why our grief and suffering has a meaning.

It is the meaning.

It is strength broken by strength and still strong.

Shona