I sat transfixed by the intense way the middle performer was clapping; his eyes focused somewhere beyond and deep within; his palms sending almost visible shock waves through the room, everything seeming to jump slightly with each punctuated collision. Gringo dreadlocks and beards birthed ancient words, accentuated with guttural constrictions and fingers carving the air, offering something unseen and sacred into the Beloved Mystery. Amid the interwoven rhythms, I felt my body coming alive from the inside out. I sat paralyzed in stillness while the energy in my core churned and expanded, erupting into alternating tears of grief and joy, then exploding between my palms with jubilant, victorious laughter. When all voices joined, my soul was shaken from its crust of propriety and began to dance. I felt what has eluded me in the reserved and cheerful, what I have sought in shadows, what is broad and generous enough for my joy, my sorrow and rage, what burns bright enough to liquify these chains of fear. It was an aroma like the rose water that graced the air, one I too can follow into the Unknown. I felt Allah.
I will be leaving Laurelwood in mid-October. Some have been surprised, but most have seen this coming almost from the beginning. I have been unwilling to walk away sooner, have worked so diligently with my own grief and resistance, because the life and community I built here was so very close to all I long for. But part of me never really landed here and I am hungry to understand why so that I can let this chapter of my life close and enter the next with self-love, trust, and optimism. When I find space to feel in between all the preparations for my departure, and when I dive into the soft stillness of my core, two main themes surface to explain my need to leave the people I have become attached to, the quiet beauty, the opportunity to teach, the expansive vibrations, and the comforts of home.
To understand the first reason, I dig back into my experience growing up. From a very young age, I knew I was deeply loved. People told me. I could feel it when they looked at me and held me, when we laughed and played and ate together. But my physical and emotional pain was inconvenient, upsetting, and confusing to them. No one knew how to help me overcome my fear of going to the doctor, deal with bullies, navigate my crushes, or figure out what to do with my life to find both comfort and fulfillment. I understood at a deep level that this wasn’t due to any lack of love, it was simply that no one could give me what they didn’t have. I didn’t blame them or feel angry. I simply got down to the business of figuring it out for myself. I self-soothed with sexuality and stealing sweets, I bullied back and made myself superior, I learned how to be what others wanted me to be, I sang. And I got so good at this that when I ask my family now how I appeared as a child, they remember me happy, playing alone in the corner and humming a tune. I remember fear and aimless longing softened only by my time in nature.
35 years later, I landed at Laurelwood with another group of people who loved me from early on and were committed to helping me find joy and peace. But their response to my pain was similarly alienating, not because of lack of care but because of an inability to tune into and provide what really served me. I once again learned how to soothe and motivate myself by studying other teachings, meditating alone, adapting my behaviors and beliefs, singing, eating, developing crushes. When I finally shared how much I was struggling, the concern was valid and some advice helpful, but most of it landed flat, far from what I needed. It was only when I let myself step outside of my role as director to connect with interns as a peer that I found the validation, inspiration, and comradery I had so missed. Many are expressing deep sadness at my decision to leave. Everyone has done everything they can and I feel no anger or blame. But I have to believe there is a place for me where people both love me and are able to transform that love into support and guidance that aligns with my own heart. In my world, that requires vulnerability, humility, and authenticity; the ability to be on the journey of life at my side with just as much awe and trepidation regardless of where we are headed; and a willingness to feel and express messy, inconvenient scary things with the sole intention of creating a deeper, stronger connection.
The second reason I need to leave is to honor the importance of separating church and state. This came to me in meditation in the humorous guise of our founding fathers, but I understood it as the core of my life-long resistance to organized religion. I need a spiritual community. I need reminders about the importance of going within, of looking for ephemeral allies, of exploring the deeper meaning of all around us to counteract all the consumerism, stimulation, and fear in our world. But it is also essential to me that this process be honored as a deeply intimate and individual one. The moment a shared commitment to spiritual practice becomes codified in rituals, beliefs, and any striving towards a common ally (god, guru, etc), belonging to the group will always include an element of compromising my own unique journey. Shared values and beliefs are necessary for a healthy community, and I am more than willing to compromise my shower times, my shelf in the fridge, my raucous music or my tone of voice on a bad day. But I will not compromise the organically unfolding process of life as my teacher and intuition as my guide.
There is no hierarchy to my spirituality. We each need different things at different times. It’s not about transcending or about feeling better. It’s about extending and feeling more deeply. It’s about asking myself what walls that once protected me now constrict me? Who and what makes me feel alive? What brings me a sense of coming home? My sense of wounded caution now constricts me. I feel alive when I write and teach about our confounding, dazzling journey to live a life of meaning in this world. I feel a sense of coming home when I lay on my back and let the earth hold me in the last rays of summer sun, when I place my hands on the tender alder branches and feel our roots and branches breathing through each other.
I am becoming well acquainted with fear, but a new version of it. Not one that is doubtful or paralyzing, but one that holds a background melody reminding me of everything I risk losing. The most precious thing my time at Laurelwood has taught me is that I can hold so much more feeling than I ever thought possible without needing to take premature action to relieve the tension. I treasure my growing sensitivity to the flow of energy in and around me, how it heightens both my pain and my joy, my ability to connect to myself, to others, and to everything in my world. I feel move alive and present than I ever recall feeling before, and this gives me an unexpected strength and clarity to navigate this move without numbing distractions. This sensitivity has also enabled me to fall in love with teaching. I feel a new depth and clarity come through my words, people feel an open warmth from me, and the meditations and visualizations I share with others move me deeply. I do not want to lose this sensitivity and attunement in the busy-ness of the world, in my own anxious mind ungrounded in daily practice, or by becoming surrounded by people who don’t value these things as I do.
Here I am again on the Hero’s Journey path of trials. I’m not supposed to know what’s coming next or how to do this. The dragons are all about fear and doubt. But I know that because I accepted the call, the allies and guides will come, and then they will leave me to finish this on my own. No one is coming to save me with a promise of security and enduring love. This journey is mine alone. And by accepting it, I proudly take my place among the life adventures I admire most: those who choose authenticity over propriety, courage over comfort, faith over control, and creation over stagnation.
“Keep walking though there’s no place to get to. Don’t try to see through the distances. That’s not for human beings. Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.” – Rumi