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We Are the Steps We Take

An excerpt taken from the memoir Conversations with Grace

My mother’s death brought me to life—my life. I did not see this transformation coming. I didn’t expect it and I didn’t ask for it. But a strong spiritual influence swept in and set the change in motion at a distinct turning point in my life. I felt a guiding presence within and around me, but I had no idea how it would gracefully bring me to settle into myself once again. When I experienced spiritual guidance and support in the past, the focus was limited. This time I was being influenced to index my entire life—past, present and future—and discern what would stay, what must go and where I would ultimately settle. One day I felt it take over my body and soul like a team arriving to clean up after a natural disaster. My life had certainly not been a disaster, but a cleanup was needed. My thoughts cracked wide open, and I couldn’t resist strolling through them.

I will never forget the vision that I saw before me while walking through my home one morning not long after my mom passed away. Any and all thoughts from my “to-do” list and the discord of settling my mom’s estate vacated my mind, allowing space for the wisdom about to drop in. The vision was so metaphorically pure—of a taupe-colored, satin ribbon cinched with tucks along the circle it formed, and fastened together by a soft bow. Gently, and in slow motion, the tucks released and the bow untied. The ribbon delicately floated to the ground like a feather. I felt the clarity, the urge to move forward and let go of the past. I felt such gratitude for this delicate yet profound message. It was as if I was being given permission to release all that was fastened so tightly to me, buttoning up the soul deep inside that was patiently waiting to be set free. I no longer had to hold the family circle together, keeping it neatly tucked and afloat. My work was done, after all. My commitment was to my mom and dad, and now they were both gone.

A peace diffused throughout my body. I welcomed the calm with shuttered eyes and a deep, cleansing breath. Little did I know this would be the calm before the storm.

Choosing to release the past and let go of anything that prevents growth is not easy. While growth is important, it’s not always our first choice. And sometimes we choose to grow out of order. It was time for me to change my direction, and this was now obvious to me. It was time for me to be completely present in my own life. I could finally plot the path to my future knowing full well that I would not be the sole navigator of my journey. I was being guided by something bigger than me. I trusted this guidance and I trusted my decision to let go. We are the steps we take. I felt relief in knowing that a change was coming. I was ready to walk forward.

It wasn’t until I acknowledged my discomfort with my present self that I realized that my walk to and with myself had begun. I would not turn back despite the discomfort. This inventory inside of me has filled the shelves of my life, but not all of it makes up who I am.

In fact, so much of it was preventing me from being me. I soon became comfortable feeling uncomfortable. I knew that until I swept through my entire life and pulled out the stagnation from the hidden corners, I would never become clear. I wanted to be clear. In storing negative thoughts about myself and others, I was creating separation from the truth. I wanted to live in the clarity of truth rather than the obscurity of assumption.

When these shifts were set into motion, I really didn’t know my place. I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to be doing right away. But I did know that I didn’t like how I felt, and I knew I wanted the change. I knew that my heart hurt and I was the moving force to restore my life. The more I uncovered and the more that floated to the surface of my mind, the clearer it became that the hurt I was holding was self-inflicted. I was hanging on to all that wasn’t working any longer instead of letting go of my expectations of others. It was time to let go of fears, judgement, and stories that I was telling myself. It was time to let go of relationships that had run their course. These emotions were mine, and they had taken over my life and my peace. The emotions that made me uncomfortable were buried treasures full of healing energy, truth and unseen potential. Inquiring into and finally releasing my limiting beliefs allowed the life that was waiting for me to appear.

It’s so compelling to me how challenges continue to show up in our lives, stoking our awareness of the work that we have left to do. Without doing the work, nothing goes away. “Stuck” energy is powerful and unrelenting. I came to see that the shortcomings in others that made me uncomfortable were actually shortcomings in myself. The truth can be discomforting. I was determined to release the ghost of illusion and walk into the freedom of reality.

***

As I settled into contemplation of the hearts and images of those I felt had hurt me, I dispelled my assumptions and reversed the responsibility. I let go of the fear and pain, and I felt pure gratitude for the lessons that surfaced in my own life from those relationships. I came to understand that each one of us did the best that we could do with what we knew at the time. Now, I see that within me is the answer. I know that I am forever by my side and that I am my only solution.

***

To honestly feel and inquire into the void left in my life from my mom’s death and friendships that unraveled was a conscious choice. I spent my days alone in the unconditionally loving company of my three dogs and the solitude of nature. It was in the stillness that the thoughts would come one by one and sometimes over and over, just in case I didn’t fully grasp the teachings the first few times. Each thought exposed the pieces of my life that needed to be revealed in their true form.

***

I was taking an early morning walk on my fifty-third birthday, dogs in tow. It was mid-August. The air was sticky with summer’s thick heat. When I turned the corner, seemingly on cue and waiting for my arrival and attention, a huge cluster of leaves fell across my path in slow motion. It was as if they had decided to freely let go of summer before the cool air and angry winds of fall and winter’s pending storms forced them down. Being naturally guided, I too made this choice. I chose to let go.

This wasn’t the only time I watched the leaves let go. Nature continued to guide, remind and support me over the following weeks with one deliberate landing after another, leaves strategically dropping into my path. What I no longer needed fell away from me, allowing new growth and, most importantly, allowing the light in. As Winston Churchill once said, “Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.”

I had a choice. I knew what I needed to do, but I was still holding on tight while simultaneously trying to let go. Holding on can be so much easier than letting go. It doesn’t require any delving into one’s soul. But what we may not realize is that holding on means a constant recovery of old habits. A recycling of the stagnant over and over into every cell, every relationship and every spoken word, presenting unhealthy relationships, unhealthy views of ourselves and often physical illness. “Inner freedom doesn’t come from control, it comes from having the courage to let go of what isn’t working in your life” were the words pushing me forward and repeatedly visiting my thoughts. But before untangling completely, a recall was in order.

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