If yes, you can likely relate to what I’m about to tell you. If no, please keep reading anyway as a reminder that it isn’t about what you “have” or “do” in the world that helps you feel happy or content. It’s way better than that;)
I CAN’T BREATHE
I was hanging out in the sun after some quality time with my girlfriends. It was an awesome day. I was Superfoods Cleansing with my Urban Wellness Club tribe, my body was feeling lighter, my skin brighter, and my mind clearer. My biz was cruising along and my clients were rocking their mission.
So why the hell couldn’t I breathe? Why did I feel like I had an elephant on my chest?
I don’t mean I had trouble breathing in an OMG-pot-is-legal-now-and-I’ve-taken-it-a-bit overboard kind of way.
I mean, my chest was tight with anxiety, with a sense of doom. Thoughts started flooding my mind.
…about something my husband did that pissed me off.
2 years ago.
…about doctoral programs and which one to pick and what if I made the wrong decision and should I do it at all…and why the hell did new opportunities around this decision keep popping up?
…about the trip we were going to take to Nepal…what now after the earthquake? Do we still go? If not there, where? Eastern Europe? East Asia? South America? Would Maia get cholera in Pokhara?
…about my body and how it still hasn’t totally felt like “mine” again after having my baby, and how I knew this was in large part because of the choices I was making about how I was eating, drinking, and moving.
…about what direction my biz was going to take next
Then I felt like shit and beat myself up for being so overwhelmed.
I could keep the list going. All this and more was entering my mind, one after another, without respite. Too many decisions. Not enough clarity.
And this had been going on for months. I felt like I was losing my mind.
This claustrophobic feeling overcame me between my periods of the realization that, “Holy shit my life is awesome!” I would be playing with Maia and watching her beam me this utterly EPIC smile and blow me a kiss with this postcard view of the Alaskan mountains behind her and I’d feel so amazing…and then I couldn’t breathe again.
I knew this feeling, this chapter of life. It is a chapter in life and not simply a moment because unfortunately, this transition isn’t as “transient” as I would have liked it to be. This was a bona fide Spiritual Crisis.
I have lived it twice before, and I’ll tell you about the first time.
SPIRITUAL CRISIS #1
I was 19. I had an amazing boyfriend, I was excelling at my University, I had a work-study job where I took UCSC students on climbing and backpacking trips (beats the hell out of working in the cafeteria any day), and I did homework on the freakin’ beach in Santa Cruz. My mother and I were finally friends, and my dad had not been hospitalized for a schizophrenia episode for years. I lived with a strong tribe of women and could hear the ocean waves and harbor seals barking at night while I slept. I spent long weekends rock climbing in Joshua Tree or peak bagging in the Sierra Nevada.
Finally, finally, everything in my previously chaotic life seemed right.
Yet…it was sooooo far from right.
I was desperately anxious and felt something huge – monumental – was missing, even though I “had” everything.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think straight. I’d go on epic mountain bike rides just to open my lungs and prove to myself that I could indeed breathe. I’d go so hard that I’d feel exhausted at the end, and finally be able to relax from pure physical fatigue.
I didn’t know what to do. I spoke of this with no one. I was afraid I was going insane like my dad, and wished I hadn’t taken so many hallucinogens in high school.
I walked into one of the spiritual bookstores in downtown Santa Cruz and went up and down each aisle with no aim, but with a shitload of hope that something would help me.
One book caught my eye.
It was about having a Spiritual Crisis. I can’t even remember the title. I flipped through the intro and it said something like:
Spiritual crisis (also called “spiritual emergency”) is a form of identity crisis where an individual experiences drastic changes to their meaning system (i.e., their unique purposes, goals, values, attitude and beliefs, identity, and focus) typically because of a spontaneous spiritual experience.
I took a deep breath. Holy shit, this is it, yo! I was having a Spiritual Crisis. Thank fucking gooddess. I wasn’t going insane.
My “spontaneous spiritual experience?” Having everything I thought I wanted and still not being happy. Realizing – truly realizing – that happiness wasn’t about life on the outside…and not knowing how to find it. I felt like I’d never, ever, be happy.
Holy shit that was major at 19 years old. At any age, really.
“Spiritual experiences” don’t come riding in on rainbow unicorn farts all the time.
OK. Spiritual Crisis it is. But…now what?
To spare you an even longer version of this story, I’ll cut to the chase: I somehow knew deep down that my spiritual crisis could be healed with clarity about my purpose.
And there was one ideal way for me to get there: meditation.
And I had no freakin’ idea how to do it.
I called Transcendental Meditation places but they wanted to charge me hundreds of dollars for a course. I checked out a group on campus that ended up being a cult (which I totally called them out on and found an investigative reporter in LA that had been trying to expose them for years, who then interviewed me). I called a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher and they were charging almost $300 for the program. I called so many people and all were either creepy or expensive – especially for a college student.
WTF? I’M HAVING A FUCKING SPIRITUAL CRISIS HERE, PEOPLE! WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TEACH ME HOW TO MEDITATE WITHOUT MAKING ME BROKE !!!!????
(And FYI – this is why I offer free stuff along with my juicy programs. EVERYONE deserves access to this stuff!)
So then I called this Buddhist center in Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains. They said a free weekly class was being taught by a nun, Robina Courtin.
I showed up at the next class.
She was a stout Australian woman with a lovely accent and very direct communication style. I liked her already. She told me how she had become a nun after coming to the U.S.A. to learn martial arts so she could go back to Australia and kick all the cops’ assess that were jerks to her and her lesbian friends. But then she met a Tibetan Buddhist monk named Lama Yeshe, who pointed out that she was very, very angry. And he suggested that perhaps this should be her focus instead.
After studying with him and noticing immeasurable benefits, she became a nun, and here she was teaching me meditation in the middle of old-growth redwood forests in the Santa Cruz mountains. She missed the city, she told me. But she would go where her teacher wanted her to. We meditated on sex. And chocolate cake. And our attachment to them.
I was hooked.
I ended up living in a gypsy wagon at this retreat center the rest of my time in college – a funky little wooden cabin with an outdoor shower perched on the bed of a converted Ford F100 that was up on blocks in the middle of a redwood forest. One day I’ll dig out the photo and show you guys. It was boho awesome.
I meditated regularly. I took revered Tibetan monks visiting the center on trips to see the coast and on rollercoaster rides at the Boardwalk. I brought them their meals and even made them oatmeal in the mornings. (I thank the living stars everyday that I understood how lucky I was sharing all those moments with great teachers). I took care of the meditation gompa and swept all the floors and watered all the plants and dusted the beautiful statues. I loved every minute of it.
Then I went to Nepal, did a month-long meditation retreat at a monastery, and almost became a nun. The “almost” part is another story.
Then I hiked into the Annapurna mountains alone for another month, and did some serious thinking.
And I came out…clear. Finally. Ahhhhhh.
It was the biggest relief of my life at that point.
But the point of this story is to share what am I going to do to take care of the Spiritual Crisis I am in right now.
MY TOOLS FOR A SPIRITUAL CRISIS
I heave learned in my 41 years on this zany planet that the two things in my life that have been constant compasses, serving to help guide me in times of duress, are a regular meditation practice and solitude in the wilderness. When I veer from either of those two things for too long, bad shit happens because I tend to then fall out of alignment and I get crazy monkey mind. Yoga pulls in at a close third.
When I look back on my life, I think, “Wow, in those days at the retreat center I was so easily compassionate and patient towards others. I was fearless about doing whatever was right. I knew what was important. My next steps were clear, even if my greater life plan was not. I felt so calm and centered and…content.”
This wasn’t because of the worry-free college years.
It was because of my regular and dedicated spiritual practice, and my regular visits with myself in the wild.
I know this because I went through this again much later in life, when I had many more responsibilities, and the same practices helped me through it.
And now, here I am. Again.
Here I am with what seems to be everything I have ever wanted. Yet I have no idea what’s next, and instead of invigorating me, it is causing me to feel utterly crushed.
Shall I be content simply with what is (which is actually awesome!)?
Shall I strive for something greater?
Shall I go in a completely different direction?
WTF does this feeling even mean for me right now?
What I DO know is that this kind of suffering often arises when our minds are unsettled and unfocused and chaotic. When I have a regular meditation practice, these thoughts are much less likely to overwhelm me. I am more content with what is, and can intentionally drive my focus.
IDENTITY + PURPOSE
If you check out the description of the Spiritual Crisis above, you’ll see that it often occurs with shifts in identity, purpose or focus (among other things). This is where I am at.
New state (I’ve finally hung out long enough in Alaska to feel like I actually live here).
New purpose…but what is it?
In discussions with my clients and friends, I often see that people think identity is a static, fixed thing. They feel this way about purpose as well. Often we can fantasize that once we figure out our purpose, we’ll be set for life!
But here’s the thing: purpose is inextricably linked with your identity.
And your identity will shift over time. If I had aimed for the same identity and purpose I had in my 20s, I’d likely be living out of my car and eating leftovers from Outward Bound courses, telling my mom I couldn’t afford to help her with her medical bills because I wasn’t making enough money, but that I loved her oodles. I wouldn’t have Maia and I wouldn’t be with my soulmate. Nothing is necessarily wrong with the above, but it would have felt out of alignment sooner than later.
If you plan to evolve in this life, you must allow your identity – and purpose – to shift.
And it ain’t easy, sistah! That’s for sure.
But it is absolutely necessary to go through this process, through the Hero/Heroine’s Journey, if you will.
You come out the other side with more clarity and purpose than a Library of Congress filled with self-help books could ever offer you.
So what is my plan?
Going back to what works: Meditation + Wilderness. And let me toss in Integrity + Alignment too.
Meditation. I know that when I have a regular meditation practice, I am more calm and clear and can see what is truly important. This always leads to less anxiety and white noise in my head. And shuts up my inner critic as well.
Wilderness. I have already planned out 4 solo trips into the wild over the next year, during which I will go on vision quests and soul crafting journeys to open up more deeply to what is next for me. I’m going to embrace the Heroine’s Journey that I know shows up when a transition like this manifests in life. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. In other words, it’s an Adventure.
Here’s a simple graphic to give you a peep of what that’s like:
This, my Freedom Junkie friends, means I also get to find out what juicy next step is in store to bring to you too! I have a good idea of what it is…but want to be have more Ziji (radiant inner confidence) about it before telling you.
To be clear, you don’t have to go on a vision fast to gain Clarity. You can go on the Heroine’s Journey in so many different ways. I help plenty of clients get clear without having to send them into the wilderness alone without food for several days. They arrive to me at some point along this Journey, and we dive into it together.
I just know that for me, at pivotal transitions where nothing else seems to be helping or able to get me to the depth of clarity I need, the vision fast and accompanying Heroine’s Journey is my preferred method. This is my path when I need more clarity related to a total shift in identity and purpose – beyond clarity about my next career or the next place I want to live etc. The clarity I have after such an experience is backed with unshakeable confidence in the next step.
I haven’t had to do this in a long time…and you can see that it is not an easy or quick process. Note that I said I’ve made some plans “over the next year.” Not the next week. But I know from experience that it is well worth it!
Integrity + Alignment. This is where the vows come in. When you are in integrity, you are more calm and centered. We can all believe we are in integrity, but without committing to a clear description about what that is, we can cheat a little here and there, or fool ourselves into thinking we are in alignment when in fact, we’ve got a little kink going on.
In certain traditions, on auspicious days of the calendar like the new moon or full moon, it is said that when you commit to certain precepts/vows for that time-frame, you benefit exponentially. You also aren’t supposed to just pick all the vows so that your odds of good karma credit go up. On the contrary, if you take a vow and break it, that’s worse than not taking it at all.
I have found that this wisdom of choosing what you can truly commit to 100% – knowing yourself well enough to know what you’re ready for, and what you’re not ready for – is so brilliant. It acknowledges that you are human and that you are in absolute choice about how you live. Vows or precepts in this sense aren’t rules you have to follow – they are recommendations that, when followed, tend to lead to a calmer mind and a happier life. If you find otherwise, so be it.
But why reinvent the wheel, right? If these things have been found to be helpful for millennia, then they are probably a good idea. So I’ll be taking a few of these vows for at least 1 month, starting June 1st.
Goddess knows I need a calmer mind right now.
Three of them that I’ll share here are:
1) No intoxicants. Pretty straightforward. I need all my brain cells and emotional calm and a warrior’s energy to figure this one out.
2) No stealing. This also means not “borrowing” pens from the clinic, and it means I point out when I get too much change back from the megacorporation I didn’t even want to buy from in the first place … and not buying from the megacorporation in the first place ;).
3) No sexual misconduct (so grateful I am with my soul-mate and that this comes so easily)
In addition to the myriad other vows, I am committing to a daily meditation practice, and not just doing it “most of the time.” Cuz most of the time becomes “when it’s convenient.” And we shouldn’t just be tending to our minds when it is convenient. It’s kind of like having a baby – there’s never a convenient time. Especially to do The Work.
So that’s my really long post about my really long plan for dealing with this current Spiritual Crisis. I am thrilled I didn’t collapse and think I had to figure this all out by the end of the week. I am grateful that I know this path and have walked it before, and that it will be well worth the patience and trials that come ahead.
And I am beyond excited about this new little big thing I’ve been conjuring… just for you. But like all incredibly epic things, it will have to wait until it’s good and ready.
Share with me if you’ve been on a Heroine’s Journey and what you gleaned from it. Or tell me about something you think a Heroine’s Journey would help with! Are you on the Journey right now? At what stage? I know I’m not alone out there, because if you’re reading this, you too are making this wild and precious life – and how you live it – a top priority.
If you want to join a tribe of people that will help you navigate this wild and precious life, come check out Freedom School – for rebels like you. It’s not just personal growth for rebels. It’s Jedi training for the new world.