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, courage, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation, Mystery and Magic, Women's Work

Standing up to who you are not

I recently made a trip to Germany, a place I had long yearned to visit.  Shortly after I returned, a client asked me if I’d had a significant spiritual experience there, since I’d had such a strong calling to visit that country.

And so I thought about what my answer to her question might be, and I realized that while there were moments in Germany that were truly amazing and awe-inspiring and fun, what was most profound and provided me with the greatest context for growth were the experiences I had relating to the friend I was travelling with.

Over the years I have noticed that my ability to be true to myself is forged through the pressure from other people to be the opposite of who I really am.

In ways both subtle and blatant, friends and family have tried to mold my behaviour and choices, and even outlined what work or career path I am best suited for, usually out of a sense of love or knowing what will be “best for me.”

They have often encouraged me to abandon my innate gifts and adopt highly rational, sensible, and systematic ways of doing things.  While I certainly can be rational and analytical and systematic, it brings me little joy.

The contemplation and eventual pursuit of some of their options always eventually created a feeling of deep sadness and restlessness in my heart.

I have several close friends who are accountants, including the friend I traveled with through Germany.  To be clear, I have nothing but respect for the work that accountants do, theirs is a skill set I lack but I absolutely appreciate how their talents help the world to run. So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that our styles of travelling were different.

Weeks before we left, she made a spreadsheet with dates, times, hotels, bus and train options, and all the costs.  The arrival of this spreadsheet in my inbox nearly paralyzed me.   Over-planning (and I can sometimes be guilty of thinking that ANY planning is over-planning) is something that can bleed the joy and spontaneity out of life, and certainly out of a trip.

We were (for the most part) able to talk and laugh our way through her spreadsheet, ensuring that she had enough planning done for her to feel confident, and that there was enough unplanned time for me to feel that we could live in the moment while visiting Germany.

This was one of the first hurdles conquered, as I am often guilty of staying silent and slowly allowing myself to get frustrated in situations like this.  We were able to see right away how we were different, and as it turns out, we traveled really well together, and we were eventually able to appreciate what the other brought to the table.

And so part of my insight was in seeing first hand and appreciating the times when planning really did make our trip better.  My friend was an expert at using her phone to find excellent restaurants (every time!) and to navigate the rail system.  We hit all the places we wanted to see, and I know we may have got no further than the airport in Frankfurt if it hadn’t been for her.

At the same time, when things didn’t go to plan, I was able to problem solve on the fly, without my phone, using a sense of direction to help us find our hotel, connecting with people who “I just had a feeling” wanted to help us when our train was cancelled.

But at times I struggled yet again with where I fit into a world that values and applauds the plan, the rational, the system, the map, the strategy, the schedule, the app, the efficiency.

Often in my life I have felt that what I bring to the table is lost, or not valued:  the improvisation, the spontaneity, the sitting quietly in trust knowing that the answer will reveal itself.  The joy of the big, wide, open unplanned path and feeling your way along it.  Knowing the journey through Germany and through life is going to take on a life of it’s own, if we let it.

That there has to be room for uncertainty in order for there to be room for joy. 

I have to appreciate who I am first, before anyone else can.

And then, right there in Germany, I realized, re-learned, remembered again, in the face of a force asking me to be something I’m not — that these are qualities that I have to appreciate and value in myself first.

And that the appreciation has to go both ways.  I can and do adopt some of the strategies that planners use in order to reach my goals and achieve my dreams, but I am learning to adopt these qualities as needed to support me in the pursuit of the work I love.  Like the subtle dance between my travelling companion and I to achieve a wonderful journey together, I know that the balance and appreciation for both the heart and the mind, for the intuitive insight and the spreadsheet, is key.

And my friend, who knows herself well, told me this: she could plan it all out and still hesitate, still not jump into action, out of fear of missing a detail or that something could go wrong.  I was the one who helped her jump, she said, who helped her trust in the moment and know that things would work out if we just took the first step.

And that little insight lit me up.

How I learn to define and remain true to myself has been through relationships with others who urge me to be the opposite.

This has certainly been an ongoing pattern in my life. And while I could feel frustrated and angry with the people I thought were trying to thwart my true expression, they were actually gifts.

They helped me to hone and define exactly what is important and exactly who I am by identifying who I am not, and for them I am eternally grateful.

XO Shona