It is easy to exude positive energy and to seem balanced when times are good and all is well. But how do you deal with stress? Do you withdraw? Do you become angry and lash out at others? How you react to stress indicates what drives you. Consider a piece of fruit. If you juice it, you will only and always get the juice of that fruit. It doesn’t matter if you use a commercial juicer, a handheld juicer or a mortar and pestle. It is imperative that we pay careful attention to what is inside of us. This ensures that no matter what happens in our lives and no matter what comes or goes, we can remain steadfast in our positive energy and receive the blessings and lessons that fill our lives.
How do we achieve this? Two things in particular have been saving graces in my life: Meditation and gratitude. I consider them grounding elements and they have allowed me to be introspective, steadfast and compassionate.
I have been on a path to inner peace and enlightenment for as long as I can remember. I experienced many things in my childhood that muddied my mind, body and spirit and made it difficult for me to find balance in anything. A sensitive person by nature, my true self and spirit were tainted by events early in my life that left wounds that have only begun to heal in the past two years. Abandonment, sexual and physical abuse from relatives, and other painful events had misshapen the girl I was meant to be and that eventually deformed the woman I was. For many years I carried with me more than any child, teen or woman should have to bear. Like millions of other people who endure abuse as a child, I faced each day and formed every relationship with an undercurrent of fear. Fear of abandonment. Fear of being abused again, in one way or another. As a result, I subsisted on surface relationships and instincts that pushed me to lace-up my shoes and run at the first sign of discomfort. Although Nicci the Child had no recourse, no protection and could not fend for herself, Nicci the Adult was mad as hell and she was never going to allow anyone to get close enough to hurt her again. Sometimes I look at pictures of me between the ages of 5 and 30 and I hardly recognize that little girl… that teenager… that shell of a woman. Those are my dead years. Many survivors of abuse can identify such a period in their lives.
What I discovered is there is no life without risk of pain. In 2009, I faced a decision between life and death. I could continue to subsist and move through this world as someone who sees without seeing and breathes without living, or I could dig deep into myself, do the work required and be whole again.
I chose life.
I meditated, prayed and fasted for much of that year. Battling a physical health issue and incredible emotional stress, I took a leave of absence from work and never returned to that office. I ended my marriage to someone I thought I would be with for the rest of my days. I lost the home we bought together. I dropped about 15 pounds. I stopped going out and talked openly only to my sister and a few close friends. It was a physical, emotional and spiritual sloughing off of everything and it was the most painful year of my life. Beyond that, it was necessary, and through it all, I had gratitude for so many things.
I was grateful for the small savings I had that allowed me to buy fruits, vegetables, grains and good olive oil and salt.
I was grateful for the cool nights that summer which allowed me to save money on air conditioning.
I was grateful for the time when my friends came to my house, long after the cable was off, and just sat with me while we listened to music and I prepared a simple dinner.
I was grateful for the mother bird who built that nest right outside my front door that spring. The sound and sight of that process (from start to first flight) reminded me of the size and scale of life.
I was grateful for my amazing father who helped me financially and made sure I was able to pay off and insure my car when I was on the verge of losing that, too. I was grateful that he never once questioned me or made me feel bad about being in need and to this day has never uttered a word about it.
I was grateful for my sister and her husband who made me laugh when I didn’t remember how to smile.
I was grateful for my nephew who came into the world in August of that year. His first cry reminded me of how precious breath is, and with his warm little body in my arms and his head cradled against my neck, he felt like promise and possibility.
In 2009, I had the least I have ever had from a material perspective, but I was rich in all of the ways that mattered. I surrendered to the loss, the pain and the hurt and centered myself and truly focused on what it means to be what I was made to be. Today I no longer want for any material thing and that has nothing to do with my household income and everything to do with my heart and spirit being whole. I don’t necessarily believe you have to go through times of hardship in order to find your purpose and to settle into yourself, but such tests are inevitable and there will be more for me as there will be for you.
My prayer is that you will have a mind of meditation and heart of gratitude and be prepared for whatever comes or goes in your life… That, I believe, is the path to peace. That is the path to zen.