The path to freedom is paved with chocolate and vodka.
I recently made a choice that inadvertently changed my life.
My girlfriend was going to Europe for a month, and she said I could stay at her place while she was gone. I live in Chicago and she lives in a beautiful home in Florida, so it didn’t take a lot of thought for me to take her up on her offer.
Any woman who has a family, or a career, or any kind of life at all, knows that taking two weeks off for yourself is an opportunity that rarely comes along. The stars aligned and I was able to do it, so I jumped at the chance.
When I arrived at her place, after unpacking and settling myself in, I surprised myself by telling myself aloud, “Mary, I give you permission to do whatever you want. You can eat what you want to eat, sleep when you want to sleep, do what you want to do, think what you want to think, and I will not judge you. You have my permission to simply be.”
Your average person may not understand what a radical thing this was to say, but for me it was revolutionary. I was so tired. I don’t mean tired as in I needed a good rest, I mean tired as in I can’t live this way anymore. I was completely exhausted.
I was physically exhausted to be sure, but the real exhaustion came from being a seeker and searcher.
I have spent most of my life seeking enlightenment and seeking the truth and seeking spirituality and searching for God and any answers that would once and for all ease my aching soul.
From the time I was a little girl, I had always been pondering and questioning. I remember understanding that the things I was thinking about were not normal for a person my age. “What is the meaning of life and why are we here?” are not the usual questions running through your average eight year old’s head.
Lest you think I’m going to espouse on what a special little Avatar I’ve always been, let me assure you that is not the case. I am as average as anyone you know. My life choices? Trust me; you know plenty of people who have made much better ones.
My life has been like millions of others; one of constant doing and trying whatever it was I thought would help me to be a better person, to bring me happiness, to understand the meaning of life and my place in it.
I was raised as a Catholic, so my spiritual seeking was all done within the confines of Catholicism, because that was what I knew. For many years I went to daily mass and said the rosary. I read religious books and attended retreats and religious lectures.
“Help me, change me, make me better,” was the mantra that ran through my head on a constant loop.
I was never good enough. But I knew if I could just make the right choices, say the right prayers, attend enough masses, fast, sacrifice and pay proper penance, one day God would decide I’d sufficiently suffered and atoned and He would wave his magic wand and take away the pain and finally change my life.
I even took my vacations to holy places; war-torn countries that Americans were warned to stay out of…I believed if I could get to the right holy place, I would receive a grace that would finally ‘help me, change me, make me better.
(If you ever meet my kids, please allow them to tell you how fun it was going on those lovely childhood trips. Who needs Disney World when you could be sweating in the dead heat of the sun, on your knees saying rosaries with your mother? What I did on my summer vacation…)
Everything I did was well-intentioned. I just wanted to do what I thought it was I came here to do…to be a good person…to do what was right…to live a happy life and silence the voice within telling me that I wasn’t quite good enough…Help me, change me, make me better.
But when my kids were 16 and 10, we lost their dad in a car accident. Overnight our lives exploded. There weren’t enough masses or rosaries in the world to touch the kind of pain I was in.
For awhile I continued with my religious rituals, but they felt empty and ineffectual.
There was a silent chapel in the front of the church where I attended daily mass, and I found myself coming early so I could sit in there awhile before moving into the main church.
The quiet in that sanctuary was so enticing that I would linger in there longer and longer each day, until eventually I ended up skipping mass altogether. Nothing the priest was saying was touching my pain, but there was something about the silence in that chapel that eased it.
As time passed I began to spend more and more time there. I would drop my daughter off at school and then head over to the silent chapel, sometimes not emerging for two or three hours. At first I would just sit there in numbness.
The pain was so great that my body had shut down because it was just too much for me to process. Then a little more time passed, and I could feel the tremendous grief within needing to be released. I would wait until everyone else had left and then unleash a lifetime of tears that had been dammed up.
I’m not sure how long it was, but after a while I started bringing along a notebook and pen and started writing letters to God, pouring out all of my pain and sense of betrayal.
I had tried so hard to do what was right and follow the path to a good life, and this is how God treated me? I let him have it. Believe me when I tell you these letters were nothing like the spiritual writings of the great saints…I don’t think any of them had the flare for stringing swear words together quite as well as I did. But for the first time in my life, I wasn’t trying to say what I thought God wanted to hear…I was simply being honest with Him.
After a couple of years and an untold number of hours in that chapel, I realized religion was no longer a fit for me. I had gone through a metamorphosis in there, and I felt religion was too confining for the expansion taking place within my soul. (Sidebar: if you believe in your religion and it comforts you, good for you. I mean it.
For some reason when I tell people I no longer follow religion they either take it as a personal attack or feel the need to re-enlist me. I pose no judgment on you, so please try not to pose one on me. It’s not my path anymore, it’s that simple.)
So now I started on a new path. I was opening to a different way of living and being spiritual in this world. I was trusting what was within me and following that guidance.
I read all kinds of new age and new thought spiritual books, went to Reiki Masters and Spiritual Intuitives and Psychic Healers and had my Akashic records read. I did yoga and drumming circles and some kind of healing therapy where you contort your body into impossible positions to ‘reverse the cycle of negative energy.’ (I’ll pause here so you can get a visual.)
I was devouring all of this new information and could feel a shift within me. So many miracles were happening in my life. I was led down a career path I couldn’t have dreamed of and I was in awe of the way my life was unfolding.
My hunger to know my life’s purpose and what the meaning of life did not wane. I came to realize that I no longer believed in a male God up in the sky saying ‘yes’ to this and ‘no’ to that. I believed whoever, whatever was responsible for my creation was genderless and energy and love but… I still didn’t know exactly what it was I believed in. I just knew I believed in something…something so indescribably beautiful and loving that trying to name or explain it seemed ludicrous to me.
I felt more at peace. For a long while I was happier and felt more connected to whatever this Divine Source was than I ever had before in my life.
What I didn’t realize was that underneath it all, while my beliefs about religion and God and spirituality had been turned on their head, my core belief about myself had pretty much remained the same. I still believed there was something outside of me that I would find that would change the inside of me and make me acceptable.
I was still running myself ragged trying to change myself into the perfectly happy and spiritual person I longed to be. Help me, change me, make me better.
So, when I made that statement about letting myself simply be when I arrived at my friend’s house, it was completely out of character. I didn’t say it because I felt led or guided or inspired or anything else. I said it because I was exhausted.
I was exhausted from all the trying and seeking and searching, and for once in my life I just wanted to allow myself to not feel compelled to do anything to enlighten or change me. Or make myself do spiritual or holy things. Or say affirmations to chase those negative thoughts away. To be honest, I couldn’t if I tried. I had nothing left.
Here is the most amazing part of my entire journey; when I allowed myself to just be, without judgment; I experienced the kind of bliss and peace that I’d been seeking all along.
For those of you wondering what exactly I did during those two weeks to finally experience this Nirvana, I will share these secrets with you now. Get a pen. Right them down.
I slept. A lot. I would get a good night’s sleep, go to the pool for a couple of hours and then come home and take three hour naps. I ate cheeseburgers and steaks, licorice and chocolate, Cheesecake Factory cheesecakes and every flavor of gelato I could get my hands on.
I bought a neon green bikini. You know those fashion magazines that have the age appropriate do’s and don’ts pictures? This purchase would have fallen under the don’t column. Too bad. I did it.
I made a playlist on my computer, plugged it into my friend’s wickedly awesome Bose speakers and danced to my favorite rock tunes at full blast. Sometimes I would do it naked. (Mostly I would do it naked)
At night I would go on bike rides, singing at the top of my lungs to the songs on my iPod.
The second week it rained for three days straight. On the third day, I decided it would be fun to get drunk. I went out and bought an electric cigarette, pulled the icy vodka out of her freezer, mixed it with strawberries and peaches and ice and made myself the most ridiculously delicious alcoholic beverage imaginable. I put it in a beautiful glass. I smoked the electric cigarette, sat on her patio and made myself another delicious beverage. Then I cranked up my playlist and danced again. (Inside, because I was drunk so I was of course…naked.)
I watched movies whenever I wanted. Even in the middle of the day.
I went to the movies. Even in the middle of the day.
I spent hours laying on the couch and reading.
I ignored most phone calls and emails. I didn’t feel like communicating with anyone. So I didn’t.
I allowed myself to do all of this without judging whether it was good or right, productive or holy. I just allowed myself to do what I wanted, when I wanted and I didn’t judge it.
After the first few days, I started feeling like I needed a sacred space. I made myself a little altar and would sit in front of it. Not because I felt I should or had to or because I was seeking answers, but simply because I felt a desire to do so. I was feeling such overwhelming waves of the purest love and joy that it made me weep. Sometimes I would dance in front of the altar, and sometimes I would sit quietly. Often I would write. (No swear words this time!)
The most important thing is, I only did these things when I wanted to do them or felt moved to do them. I didn’t do them because I thought I should.
Here’s the most incredible thing that was happening to me in the midst of all this freedom I was giving myself; I was experiencing a love so magnificent that I sometimes felt I would levitate right out of the roof. It was so powerful I could literally feel my heart pounding with it.
This wasn’t the ‘well, I’m on vacation so of course I’m happy,’ brand of happiness. This was a happiness I had never experienced before. This was unadulterated bliss. It was as if something inside of me was shifting, tumblers were falling into place and the lock on my heart was springing open.
I was madly in love with everyone and everything. I didn’t talk to many people during those days, but when I would go out for something and encounter people, even if I was simply passing them on the street, I would feel immense love for them. Most shockingly, I felt it for myself.
In the midst of this transformation I realized that my mantra had spontaneously changed from Help me, change me, make me better to I love you, I love you, I love you!
I was flabbergasted by this turn of events. I wasn’t doing anything I thought I should be doing. I wasn’t suffering or working hard. Quite the opposite. And here I was, feeling a freedom and love like I was at my own private Woodstock.
Really? This was all it took? After all the searching and suffering, all I really needed to do was stop trying so hard and judging myself and simply let myself be exactly who I was?
From the time we’re small children, we’re taught that if we’re selfish and focus only on ourselves we will be horrible people who don’t care about others. This was not my experience. For the first time in my life I was allowing myself to do only what I felt like doing and not what I thought I should be doing, and it filled me with such love that it overflowed onto everyone and everything.
I came to the realization that all of the searching and seeking, while in itself was not bad, had reinforced the belief that I needed to change in order to be acceptable in the eyes of God.
When I finally stopped trying and just allowed myself to be, the core of who I truly am could finally rise up. And I realized that the core of me, the core of all of us, is pure loving bliss. It gets buried as we contort ourselves into the people we think we’re supposed to be, but when you stop trying to be who you think you’re supposed to be, and simply be who you are, the truth rises up.
And, as a wise person once said, “The truth shall set you free.”
Free yourself. I highly recommend it.