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

 

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, grief, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

How to help when you don’t have the answers

Last spring, my 12-year-old daughter said something to me that has been reverberating in my bones ever since.  She was struggling to cope with a group of girls at school who were being incredibly unkind to her, and I very much wanted to help her.  And so I was constantly jumping in with advice and solutions, speaking daily and at length about how I thought she should handle it.

Finally, she said to me: “Mom, I don’t need you to fix this.  I just need you to listen.”

And so, in the months that followed, I resisted the urge (on most occasions) to jump in and “fix” her situation and I practiced just being present for her, just listening with love and gentle curiosity, grateful that she wanted to talk to me about what was happening in her life.

Usually, I only offered advice if she asked, which wasn’t very often at all.  She really did need me to simply listen.

And this practice, inspired by my wise daughter, has actually changed the way I see my role not only in my relationship with her, but with everyone I know.

To start with it made me so aware of how often I tend to jump in and “help” everyone, offering unsolicited tips and strident words of encouragement and commandments in the face of their tears and turmoil.

I would feel their pain and want to talk them out of it, shepherd them through the darkness to the light.  I thought this was how I could help.

I believed this was the best I could offer…but it wasn’t.
I realized that I could be offering so much more – in fact, we all could.

Perhaps like I did, you believe that this desire to advise and problem solve comes from a place of love, but it is more often a result of what Matt Licata calls “an avalanche of our own urgent, anxious, fixing energy” that likely springs from an unresolved desire to fix our own lives.  It can also be a reflection of our discomfort with the chaos of strong emotions.

So I told myself this: Shona, if a friend comes to you in emotional turmoil and you wish to respond with love you simply open your arms and your heart and close your mouth unless you are going to utter kind and soothing words.

Over and over again I resist the desire to solve or resolve the other person’s crisis/challenge/pain – because I now know that unless they actually ask for my advice, that’s not what they’re looking for.

I know how powerful the act of being quietly present and attuned in the face of someone’s pain can be,  because I am blessed to have someone in my life who holds this space for me.

I have noticed the space that opens up when you feel like you are falling apart and someone simply listens to you with compassion. Not problem solving for you or thinking about what they are going to say to you next or analyzing why you are having this experience but REALLY listening.

Without judgement. Without rushing you to a resolution.

Listening not just to the words you are saying but to the unspoken depth of feeling emerging through the panic, grief, and confusion of the moment.

You are heard.
You are witnessed.
You no longer feel alone with your pain.

You are offered safe space to process what is happening, offered not a sermon but a sanctuary.

And in that moment, you are touched, even healed in a way that well-intentioned advice could never accomplish.

I confess when my daughter asked me not to fix but to listen, part of me was relieved. Because I simply don’t have all the answers and in this mad world, who does?

But I know what I CAN do. I know that no matter what is going wrong for her I can slow down and listen with love, I can welcome her words and her hard story and let her know that even if things are not ok, that that’s ok.

With my quiet, loving, compassionate presence I tell her: “sweet girl, you don’t have to heal or have it all figured out in this moment for me to stay by your side…I am here.”

So perhaps you are relieved along with me, relieved to know that if you are a compulsive fixer that you don’t have to offer any solutions.  Because in fact that is not what is needed.

What is needed is just one moment of genuine, loving, quiet connection to change pain into peace.

We all have the power to be still and let healing come through us into the world, simply by being present with another, without judgement.  To hold a safe space for a friend or a daughter as they struggle to make sense of this messy, confusing but beautiful life.
To help them know that they are worthy and loved. To offer them, in your grounded presence, shelter from the storm.

When you are unsure of how to help — this is how.

Xo Shona