Waking up Alive: How I Built a Room of My Own.

{Lisa Fonssagrives, Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1939 / source}

{Lisa Fonssagrives, Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1939 / source}

“Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate… a lock on the door means power to think for oneself.” ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
For many years the abject terror I felt over finances stopped me from pursuing what I knew was my life’s work: writing.

I told myself I needed to be realistic, responsible and reliable.


It perplexes me when I think about it now.

The result of this pervasive sense of responsibility was that I circled the drain of clinical depression for more than a decade and eventually started to develop serious health problems due to inactivity and deeply buried rage. I was in flames internally over abandoning the one thing that would keep me healthy: my work as an artist.

Anyone in contemporary society who has ever contemplated a career in the arts has certainly been on the receiving end of statements like, “That’s nice dear.  But what will you do for money?”

I finally realized I could no longer live my life worrying about money.

I could continue down the path of least resistance, and keep my corporate job, my high-rise office with a view and the option to kill myself slowly – or I could choose to leave it behind and pursue personal and professional authenticity.

I could, as Ray Bradbury once said, “jump off cliffs all the time,” and build my wings “on the way down.”  Living a wild life, a life free to express the essence of what I am, was at the heart of the decision I eventually made thirteen years ago at the age of 40.

When I quit my job, my boss thought I was crazy. Now I believe that being a bit crazy is what keeps me sane.

Life without art is no life.

After I quit, I flew without a net.

I had many days where all I could think about was money – how to make it last, how to stretch it, how to do with less, how to find it, keep it, earn it, bank it.  I pummeled my couch with a plastic baseball bat and my knees grew callused from the repetitive act of kneeling in prayer seeking answers to the question of money.

Virginia Woolf was right. Without financial stability, it is impossible to think clearly – let alone write.  One is too busy scrounging for a pack of Jiffy Muffins and a can of beans at the back of the cupboard, to care.

One must be able to feed the body of the fluttering soul, so there is actually an option to call on mystery, to gather the muses around the table, light candles, and delve into the human heart. “Survival” needs to be a given, before art can flower.

That means: rent paid, food in the pantry, telephone exhibiting a dial tone. All these things create peace of mind. And yet true, spiritual survival is impossible without the sustenance of art. It is the proverbial and perennial Catch-22.

Art helps me stay alive. Money = survival.

Still, despite my fear, I locked myself inside my apartment and took what I referred to as a ‘spiritual sabbatical.’ The locked door represented artistic freedom to me. At the time, all my paying gigs had dried up. Spirit made it clear that I needed to step out of life and re-group.

I closed the door on traffic, on rude encounters, on everything I felt sapped my life force. I was a wreck. The truth of the matter was that I’d been lost for many years. I knew that the only way to rediscover and re-empower my own life was to go deep within myself.

This meant that I needed to find out what I thought about everything. I needed to delve into the hidden parts of my life and uncover whatever it was that had stopped me from basking in the sunlight of a wholehearted life.

I needed to stand in the center of what fed and nurtured me. I had been a powerful, intuitive, and psychically open child. However, at some point during my early twenties, I shut down.

As I closed the door on the outside world, I finally felt safe enough to go looking for the child I’d been and the woman I wanted to be.


{Hello Birdie by Catrin Welz-Stein}

{Hello Birdie by Catrin Welz-Stein}

Get out a shovel, and start to dig.

I went on a spiritual archaeological dig. The fossils I needed to uncover were my own dreams – the bones of every loss, every disappointment, and every shining and stolen bit of my life. I had to put myself back together; work that would require I find all the missing pieces of myself.

It meant I would have to look at what was under every slimy rock in my life. Despite huge reservations and a great desire to run like hell, I took out my metaphorical pick ax and started digging.

Somehow, at the time, I felt surrounded by loving, benevolent angels. I heard them sighing and singing while I slept, ate, and wrote each day.

Whole parts of me died, while others struggled to be born, as I dug and sifted through the earth beneath my feet. I poured over my past and practiced forgiveness.

For the first time, I felt true compassion for my own life. I knew, to the marrow of my bones, that the work I was doing would save my life.

And it did.

That spiritual sabbatical turned out to be roughly two years of sporadic freelance gigs, unemployment, temp work, and the use of a couple of well-worn credit cards. Over those burning days and weeks, slowly, tentatively, I learned to navigate this thing called life.

I heard the powerful voice of my spirit and learned that there are answers to my questions everywhere. I learned that some questions aren’t meant to be answered, they are meant to be lived. I learned that we are not alone – no matter how isolated we may sometimes feel. I taught myself the rhythm of an authentic life by watching the tides at the beach. Rush forward. Pull back. Push toward shore, then retreat.

I learned to savor simple things: my love for buttery soft flannel sheets, letters from my mother, or the sound of a piano Sonata playing through an open window. I schooled myself in my own strengths and failures. I saw clearly all the ways I sabotaged myself.

I swam in the lessons inherent in my own stinking thinking.

Trust became my only ally.

It fed me, stretched me and offered to transform my small life into something much bigger, more compassionate, and fully creative. I learned that power – true spiritual power – is a soft, internal force we each possess from the moment of our birth.

As the past decade unfolded, I’ve continued this work. I visited with dozens of other creative souls by reading their books. These books opened a doorway into my own dark heart. They gave me hope.

I read about Lilith and Eve. I read stories of Our Lady of Guadalupe and White Buffalo Woman. I read about rituals and prayer. I investigated intuition and Native American wisdom. I read stories the authors claim were channeled by aliens from other realms. I read about the technology of prayer, the Bible code, quantum physics and the other side. Prophecy, possibility and peace shone from the pages of those wondrous books. They offered me a lifeline – a cord to connect me to other like-minded individuals.

Only now, do I realize the deep gifts that resulted from the time I spent locked away of my own accord. The downtime nourished my soul. The stillness of those bright days made the clouds in my head disappear.

My spiritual journey made it clear I could, in fact, bloom. Right here. Right now. Had I not experienced this intensely private time and space, I don’t know if I would have broken the shackles that had formed around my life.

Waking up alive.

There is a wonderful, incandescent power to think for oneself woven into the words, ‘a room of one’s own.’  I found I could rise up, float, sing and soar when unencumbered by the needs and expectations of life outside my door.  The spiritual gift that this kind of solitude provided me was priceless.

Thirteen years after walking out on the corporate world, I am living in another state, teaching college writing full-time, mentoring students and fostering another generation of young minds. I’ve written and published a voluminous amount of work. I live in a quiet house with a cathedral of desert sky above it, surrounded by a passel of cats and a darling doglet.

As I riddle over a line in a poem or a passage I am editing, I realize the great gift that my choice all those years ago gave me.

I am alive. I am not sure I would be had I not made these changes.




{Wake up, your life is waiting}



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Shavawn M. Berry
Shavawn M. Berry’s work has appeared in The Huffington Post, elephant journal, The Good Men Project, The Anjana Network, Be You Media Group, Journey of the Heart: Women's Spiritual Poetry, Olentangy Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Vagina - The Zine, Rebelle Society, The Cancer Poetry Project 2, Kinema Poetics, Kalliope, Poet Lore, Westview – A Journal of Western Oklahoma, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Concho River Review, North Atlantic Review, Synapse, Living Buddhism, Blue Mountain Arts/SPS, and Poetry Seattle. She's been writing about spiritual topics for more than twenty years, and has been a practicing Buddhist for the past 30 years. In addition to her blog and Rebelle Society, she regularly writes for Be You Media Group. Her technique essay on the dramatic monologue/persona poem is featured in a poetry database published in 2013 by Ebsco Publishing. In 1998, she received her MPW in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she specialized in Creative Nonfiction and Memoir. Ms. Berry teaches writing at Arizona State University where she received a Lincoln Ethics Teaching Fellowship in 2013 and has been honored for curriculum design and innovative pedagogy. She is one of just two teachers at ASU involved with Prison Education and The Pen Project, a unique writing and editing internship that allows undergraduate students the opportunity to critique the writing of maximum security inmates in New Mexico and Arizona, while learning about the need for better educational opportunities for prisoners throughout the US. You can follow her on Facebook or read more of her work on her blog. Her website featuring a selection of her essays, blog postings, and prose is available at shavawnmberry.com.


  • Tracy commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    What a joy to have woken up to your words this morning! Always such an inspiration!
  • Shavawn M. Berry
    shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    Thank you, Tracy! This is one that is especially close to my heart. Glad it inspired! :-)
  • SR Atchley
    SR Atchley commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    Inspiring, indeed! Thank you, Shavawn, and kudos to you for jumping off those cliffs. Your wings are beautiful!
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
      Thank you, SR…”building our wings on the way down” as we jump off these Rebelle cliffs!
  • James Abro
    James Abro commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    Your article rings very true. I know one of the things that helped me in my path as a writer is the day I looked up and said to myself: ‘Who created this contract whererin we are obligated to work 40 hours a week doing something we don’t like for people we don’t even know. Quietly, I voided the contract … since then, it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been GOOD.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
      Thank you. I totally agree.
  • Lisa Marie commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    Could you be my twin flame? I was overcome with emotion reading this – it was like reading a letter from my future self, reflecting back on my “oh so worth it” journey. At 39, I’m where you were at when you were 40. On the same dig, having those same financial struggles, reading those same books, and listening to those same Angels, of who I am sure brought me to this article. Thank you for the “light at the end of the tunnel”. I love this!
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
      How wonderful and mystic, Lisa Marie. I used to consider the words I happened across as guidance, too. Sometimes those books fell off the shelf in front of me — and I started to realize that was a message too. I am so glad that my experience encouraged you. Much love to you on your journey.
  • Victoria Erickson
    Victoria Erickson commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    This is wonderful. Thank you for your beauty and wisdom. <3
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
      Thanks, Victoria. :-)
  • missmondayzed commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
  • Dawn Marie Richards commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
    FEAR=False Evidence Appearing Real. Seems simple enough, I find myself, at times, nearly chanting it, I have written those words down over and over but fear always creeps in, that blasted fake, life stealing displaced emotion. Thanks for reminding me I am not alone and that I should start staring it down, like the coward it is.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 26, 2013 Reply
      Yes, Dawn! Exactly.
  • Amani Omejer
    metaphoricalmarathons commented on September 15, 2013 Reply
    Oh man, I loved this so much. Thank you. It made me teary and offer myself warmth at the year that’s just been. Reading these words made me realise that I too did that, and have done that, and am kinda coming out the other side slowly, but I didn’t really realise what I had done. And that actually those times of solitude and reflection and crumbling and writing are totally necessary and laying foundations of strength and goodness for years to come. At 26 that’s something I just have to trust and hope, and read pieces like this that reminds me of this. Thank you! And respect for being so brave. It’s inspiring. X
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on September 15, 2013 Reply
      Thank you. The journey’s been both terrifying and exhilarating. I will never regret taking the leap of faith, though. Never. I appreciate you reaching out. Keep going. It’s worth it.
  • Dee Romesburg commented on March 6, 2014 Reply
    Thank you.

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