I went to the Qoya retreat at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala with the intention of connecting fully to myself and cultivating the courage to live from the heart. At this retreat, we danced every day, did ritual, came together in community, immersed ourselves in the beauty of the jungle, and lost and found ourselves in the experience. It was a magical, luxurious time.
The last major ritual of the week was a Cacao ceremony, an intense heart opening that left me deeply moved, physically and energetically shaken, and connected to the truth of my heart and to the truths of each of the women in the room. It was an incredible initiation that really cemented the themes that had kept appearing for me throughout the week: vulnerability, surrender, softening, and courage.
Coming home, I walked off the plane feeling so strong, so fully rooted in myself, so ready to live from the heart…and I walked straight into a conversation that tore me apart, broke my heart open again and again, and just exposed me as the messy human being that I am.
How can I reconcile these two experiences—of feeling so strongly into the Truth that I am divine, that I am light, AND being really, brutally aware of my own shadow?
This is the blessing (and it is a blessing) of being a human being—that we can strive so much for the light and still have our shadow right there behind us, always following, always ready to initiate us once more. Having the courage to live from the heart means having the courage to face ourselves in all of our fiercely beautiful, devastatingly messy wholeness. It means to recognize the inherent contradictions within our natures—or to realize that perhaps the aspects that seem oppositional, the shadow and the light, the ego and the soul, the human and the divine, are just one and the same, pieces that only together can make up a beautiful whole.
Between the initiations of the retreat and what came after, it struck me—all of the ways that I hide from others, from myself:
My daydreaming, fantasizing mind that gets me lost in my own internal world
My analytical mind which likes to figure things out rationally and look at things from a safe distance
My active lifestyle which keeps me so busy that troublesome feelings have a hard time sticking
My taking care of others—breaking my own heart for the sake of being good enough for them (whatever that means)
My being a peacemaker rather than being true
All of these are defense mechanisms that protect me from having to feel, and allow me to avoid showing others my own messy humanity or recognizing it in myself. Yet if I am unwilling to recognize my own humanity, than I necessarily am not willing to fully appreciate my own divinity. If I am not willing to experience sorrow, anger, pain, then I am not able to fully experience joy, love, peace.
I was talking with a dear friend once about what it feels like to be truly vulnerable with someone—how it was like inviting them to “go down the rabbit hole” of my psyche. After my recent experiences, that vulnerability now feels more like saying to someone: “Here are my wounds—nasty, open, festering as they are. Are you still interested?”
Yet if I’m going to use the analogy of the rabbit hole, then I have to follow it through to its inevitable conclusion. When one goes down the rabbit hole—whether or not your name is Alice—one finds magic.
I have often come back to the analogy of the ocean when thinking about spirit, soul, truth. Near the surface, we have currents and tides; winds that blow across the water and disrupt its stillness; rains that patter down and create rippling, choppy waves. But beneath all of that, far below the surface, there is a deep, vast place of stillness, a reservoir of Truth that is unshakeable, imperturbable. All we need to do to get to that place is surrender. Stop struggling. Stop fighting. Sink. Let gravity return us to ourselves, to the truth that we are human AND divine, ego AND soul, shadow AND light. And we are whole. And down in the deep, there is magic.
I commit then to letting go of the barriers that keep me from seeing myself in my wholeness and keep others from seeing me.
So come join my messy, flawed, flickering world—I invite you in. Come down the rabbit hole with me. Maybe we can find magic.