It is usually in times of crisis that one reaches for their spiritual grounding, as is true for me now. Because my life is so full of amazing people and meaningful work up until recently I have felt that I was aligned with the universe and on a good path. I had found a woman who was everything I wanted; beautiful, talented, artistic, vegan, tattooed, a healthy eater who is athletic, runs, plays roller derby, dances with fire, and so much more. The hard part was she lives in New Orleans, but I was preparing to move to be with her early in December. Meanwhile we spent countless hours on the phone and emailing and had visited each other several times.
Back in January as we were falling for each other over the wires I saw a shaman who did medicine work with Ayahuasca, a medicinal brew created from plants that grow in the Amazon rain forest. It is often referred to as the "spirit vine" because it is made partly from a vine that blocks the body's natural DMT inhibitors and lets the DMT from other plant sources have a psychoactive effect on our consciousness. On another level the brew puts one in touch with the spirit world and reveals to us buried parts of our personalities as well as otherworldly mysteries and visions. I was told to ask the brew a question in the ritual leading up to its ingestion, and because this new relationship seemed so special I asked how I should proceed.
While the others I was with were struggling with their demons I "took to the medicine" in the words of the shaman. I received a download of jungle visions and heard the drumbeats of an ancient civilization mingling with the Gregorian chants drifting from the shamans stereo. I got an intensely strong good feeling about the relationship I was about to get into. But there was one warning, and that was "work on your honesty".
We fell deeply in love over the next few months, with little stumbles here and there, but overall the relationship was wonderful and I felt truly blessed. This was what I had been waiting for in my life, this goddess of a woman with all her mysteries, tenderness and sweet love.
In early August I went to the Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down and I really wanted her to go with me but because of financial struggles she couldn't. I was disappointed but went ahead without her since I was the photographer and it is one of my favorite vegan events, with camping, speakers, food, farm animals and community. At the end of the evening I got a little tipsy and was too flirty with some of the women there, as is sometimes my nature. Thinking that I was living in the moment and being free, I was in actuality creating karma that would later unravel the relationship that mattered most to me.
On the way home I was riding in the back of a friend's car and started going chronologically backwards through the hundreds of pictures on my phone to pass the time. First were all the pictures on my girlfriend and I, and I felt a longing for her well up inside of me. I sent her a text message telling her I was thinking of her. As I continued into the past on the phone I got into the photos from my last relationship and there were two naked ones of my ex from when we were together. I had forgotten they were there and realized I had to get rid of them. The only reason they were there at all was that there was no way to offload them except to send them to myself and/or delete them one at a time. Unfortunately I am not good at destroying mementos of old relationships and I decided to send them to my email address so as to save them on my computer. I then deleted them from my phone. Once I got home I filed them into a folder and forgot about them.
As time progressed the incident faded from my mind and my thoughts revolved constantly around my girlfriend and my imminent move to New Orleans. In late October she had broken her phone so I offered to send her my old one. I had gotten a new iPhone and didn't need it anymore I had deleted all the pictures from the phone I didn't feel I had anything to hide. I had a care package all set for her and I wanted to send it as quickly as possible so she could have a phone. I put the phone in the box without checking it. As fate would have it he texts I had sent to myself were still on the phone, along with the embedded photos. When she found them she called me up all enraged, broke up with me, and hasn't spoken to me since.
For all we had together and against the backdrop of all the heart and soul we poured into the relationship the fact that I had naked pictures of an ex girlfriend on my cellphone does not seem to me or anyone I have told a worthwhile reason for her to break up with me. Definitely a reason to put me in the doghouse and to slap me upside the head a few times, maybe even not talk to me for a while. But there were other small things I hid from her. My dishonesty typically takes the form of omission. I knew she did not feel comfortable with me having a friendship with my ex and so I did not tell her if I went in to have coffee where she worked or about the time I photographed her in costume at a hair salon.
In these weeks since I lost her I have had to face myself and the dark side of my psyche. I did not believe in her enough to tell her all the details of my life. I did not give her fully of myself, and that was a form of dishonesty I did not recognize as such in myself. The laws of Karma are what the Ayahuasca spirits had warned me of. What is in our hearts manifests in our reality. My love was true and deep, but what I could not share became the karmic brick tied to my soul that dragged me downwards.
Yet this is not a tale of total loss. Out of a sadness as deep as any I have ever known, the losing of this woman who I love so much, I have found my spiritual bearing. The day after the breakup I immediately quit smoking pot and drinking coffee. For most of the last few years I have been smoking regularly and it has blunted my mind (no pun intended). I forget things and lose focus in phone conversations and make bad decisions. I was stoned when I sent the phone. If I wasn't I would have surely checked it. While that is going to constantly haunt me, I see it now as a great lesson. I cannot live like my actions will not have consequences. They do.
In January after the Ayahuasca ritual I also did an intense 30 day yoga "challenge", taking 30 classes in 30 days at Shiva Shakti Yoga in Northampton, which is a hot Vinyasa style of yoga that is tremendously challenging. Because of the pain in my spirit and the need to return to the true path I have gotten heavily into this practice again, and am currently taking about four classes a week. I consider my teacher Brandon to be one of my spiritual guides in this life. He waxes poetic in every class while we sweat and suffer, relating lifetimes of spiritual wisdom filtered through a heavy Boston accent into every class. The breakup has reduced my appetite but what I do eat is mainly whole foods that nourish me. I feel the need to respect my body. I feel it transforming, giving me a sense of spiritual and physical well-being that helps me cope with the pain I feel.
In spite of the hard lessons being taught the spirit world is looking out for me. Last weekend I was invited to another sacred ceremony led by shamans from the Native American Church. This time the sacrament was Peyote and the ritual was held to help a couple having relationship troubles. I did not know about that part until I arrived. That is how the spirit world works, if you are open to it, it gives you what you need. I struggled through the first half of the ceremony with stomach cramps and sleepiness and a voice in my head being upset because the medicine was not giving me visions or voices like the Ayahuasca. At a certain point after the drumming and singing and the thoughtful words of participants the couple broke down and love poured into the teepee. I heard the fire crackling as if on que to the loving words that were being uttered. Like a miracle we watched as their relationship and love was restored. It was then that I too felt the spirits return to me.
The next morning after the ritual had ended I was in the teepee talking to some of the people there, and as they asked me about my experience my story came out. One of the fire tenders hugged me and gave me some tobacco to offer to the fire. He said "The spirits are still here and they will hear your prayers. Pray for your partner and don't be afraid to ask for what you need or to be selfish." I immediately thought of a quote I had just read in the Tao Te Ching. In my sadness I had been reaching for spiritual guidance and looked up the verse that coincided with the day in February that she had been born.
Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure? Whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky. When you stand with your two feet on the ground, you will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear? Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. When we don't see the self as self, what do we have to fear?
See the world as your self. Have faith in the way things are. Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things.
To nourish myself is to care for the world. My yoga teacher says the same, "When you come to yoga you start to be more caring for those around you. Doing yoga is a gift for everyone you love". In this context my soul began to light up. I started to pray for my girlfriend and her healing, for her fogiveness, for her heart to open up again. I prayed that we would be together again and that I would never again betray her trust. I began to cry and the tears flowed out of me, pouring into the earth around the fire. It was the first time I had really cried since the breakup, I had been too distraught to allow myself tears. I felt arms around me and the universe move inside of me, and in that moment I was reborn. I cast the tobacco into the fire and watched the flames carry it up into the sky, out into the winds that blow down towards the bayou.
A young woman came over and offered me some sawdust from an Amazonian tree that smelled sweet and ancient. She hugged me and gave me comfort. I walked out and stood by the rushing stream outside the teepee and cried some more. A feeling of well-being flowed through my entire body. My spiritual compass reset itself and I now felt truly aligned with the universe. I knew in my heart I would not stray from the path again. All of this terrible loss and suffering had led me to this moment, had taught me to live with sobriety and integrity.
I find it interesting that these two visionary journeys, as well as the yoga, bookended my relationship. It gives me a real sense of meaning. I still have work to do. In my heart I know that things will get better but I must keep my promise to myself and to the universe. I have to live with honesty. I post this story as the first step of my practice. I want to be the highest expression of my personal beliefs, of the good in me, of the infinite love I have in my heart for life and friends and for the incredible woman i let down. I will accept what comes next with grace and understanding. I will go forward on this spiritual path that combines the ancient practices of yoga, meditation, self-reflection and shamanistic journeying. I will honor and cherish the gifts that the universe offers me. I will care for myself and my loved ones to improve the world around me. And so today, right here and now, the journey towards wholeness begins.