I had been enjoying a work break with a few quiet moments of journaling in sunshine bliss on the side of Mt. Rainier, when I heard a man screaming for help. I came around the corner. A man I recognized was stumbling into camp supporting the woman with whom I’d seen him leave to climb to the summit earlier that day.
“Please, does anyone speak Spanish! Please! Help us!”
I ran up to him. “Yes, I do,” I replied in Spanish. “How can I help?”
“A rock,” he began to explain, short of breath and panicking., “a rock or ice flew off the cliff above us and launched my girlfriend down the glacier.”
Fortunately, they had been roped together and he was able to self-arrest with his ice ax saving them both from plummeting to their deaths.
“She can’t walk by herself and we need to get to a hospital. Please help us.” He said.
We got her to a spot to sit. She was whimpering in pain. I ran up to the shack and radioed it in, explaining what we knew about her injuries. One of our guides came out from our bunk quarters and I translated as he checked the woman.
“I don’t think we need a helicopter,” the guide explained. “She seems to have bruised her kidneys maybe. But we want to be sure.”
The guide gave me a list of questions to ask her. All of her responses led him to think that she could be taken down by sled and then taken to the hospital by her boyfriend. He agreed, and the guide called it in.
But something felt horribly wrong to me. I do not have a base of medical knowledge beyond basic First Aid and CPR, but my gut was clearly and loudly telling me something was not right about this plan.
As the guide came back out, I pulled him to the side. “Something is not right,” I told him. “We need to get her a helicopter.”
He was a bit surprised and seemed a little taken aback that I, a camp cook, would challenge his fifteen years of experience. But he also had a right to hesitate since getting a helicopter was risky and extremely expensive.
I looked straight into his eyes and said, “This woman needs a helicopter now.”
Something in my voice convinced him and he radioed in this change of plans.
I made the couple some tea while we waited and got blankets to keep her warm.
The helicopter landed and the guide got her loaded onto it. In an instant, she was whisked away out of sight.
Her boyfriend, a strong, intrepid-seeming climber from Spain, dissolved into tears and fell to the ground. I sat down next to him and put my arm around him. He sobbed into my shoulder and he seemed like a little boy in that moment. His crying slowed and his breathing deepened. We sat quietly.
After a bit, he took a deep breath and began asking questions. “How will I know where they took her? Will she be okay? What if she isn’t?”
I told him how to get to our main office. “By the time you get down to your car and to the office they will know where she is and give you directions to find her in Seattle.”
“What if she is not okay?” he asked with pleading eyes. “This will be my fault. I never should have forced her to climb with me.”
I sat quietly listening for what to say to this man in such a scared state.
“Did you make it to the top?” I asked.
“Was it beautiful?”
He smiled for the first time. “Yes, yes it was more beautiful than we imagined.”
“Hold onto that and do what you need to do.” I said. “One step and then another step. You’re going to be okay, you’ll see.”
He took another deep breath and it was like he was making a decision. We stood up and he gave me a big hug.
“Thank you,” he said. “It’s going to be okay.” Then he loaded up his pack and headed down.
A few months prior to taking this job on Mt. Rainier, I had turned down the position of Director for the non-profit I’d been helping to build, because of the same guidance of this internal voice. It seemed crazy to walk away from the best paying job I’d ever been offered, living in an extraordinary place with a wonderful community, doing such meaningful work.
But my intuition continued to push me to leave the comfort of this life of the past year and a half. As the months wore on, something was growing inside of me - a yearning that tasted of mountains and deserts and unfettered adventure.
By January, I knew it was time to leave the comfort of this cozy mountain town and to launch myself into uncharted territory. I was a bit smitten with a man who worked as a mountain guide in Washington. He told me about a position as a cook for the guides up at Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier. This sounded like just the adventure I was looking for.
I applied and got the position as the cook. The following months were consumed with intense physical training, and – just as I’d become accustomed to – the angels I needed showed up to help prepare me. In April, I departed my job and the Tahoe region, went on a little side trip to undertake an intense spiritual vision quest in Kansas (another story of deep listening for another time), and then returned West to begin my job in Washington on Cinco de Mayo.
Compared to the arid high desert of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ashford, WA almost felt like being submerged in water. The air settled heavy in my lungs with the moist aliveness, and nearly every building I entered had the mustiness of years of mildew. At the same time, the wonderland of emerald green and mossy forests felt positively enchanting.
My daily runs along lumber roads felt too easy with such a heavy saturation of oxygen. Ashford was much lower in elevation than Truckee. In the first week, I ran the longest trail run distance I’ve ever achieved and the trail was straight up and straight down.
This was the healthiest and fittest I’d ever been in my life. And yet, still I felt huge, and – as usual – far from feeling at home in my own skin.
My first official day on the job began on a bus. We wound through forests teeming with life, filled with woodland creatures. Lush scenery of moss and ferns and forest floor fungus flew by as we made our way up the mountain in Rainier National Park. Sitting around me were eager mountain guides, most of them much younger, but a few that had been working for this company for as many as 25 years.
The atmosphere was electric. This was the beginning of the season and the anticipation of getting on the mountain was vibrating between us as we crossed rushing rivers and passed receding glaciers.
The higher we got, the snowier the vista became. Then we arrived at the Paradise parking lot and poured off the shuttle. We finished up our packs, pulled on our gaiters over boots and snow pants, and began the ascent to Camp Muir 5,000 feet higher than the parking lot.
We made our way up the Muir snow field following the little orange flags called pickets up the mountain.
“When storms move in, it’s easy to lose your way,” the lead guide explained. “The pickets are placed so that you should be able to make it from one to the next all the way up to camp. But you must pay attention.”
I knew I would be hiking this route alone as my “commute” to and from work. 5,000 feet of elevation gain in four miles. Straight up. Straight down. Two to three times each week. I had never been so grateful for my iPod before!
As soon as we arrived at Camp Muir, I was shown the quarters I’d share with the lead guides (there were usually one or two “Senior” guides who would sleep in the shack). This is a glorified shoe box, I laughed to myself. A narrow path led from the only door to the back of the shack where a double-bed bunk was installed. The top bunk was only 3 feet from the ceiling. The lead guides would sleep on the bottom and I and a female guide - if there was one - would rest on the top bed.
My cooking amenities included a few gas burners on one side of the narrow path and a sink on the other side that was hooked to a hose which led outside. One of the employee’s sole role was to keep melting snow so that we would have water. He had a whole process for making this happen so that we could have “running” water in the kitchen. Our “couches” in the shack were also our cooler for keeping the meat, dairy and other products temperature controlled.
The bathroom was an outhouse behind our shack, and was used by the National Forest Service personnel, guests and guides with our company, and the guests staying in the public shelter.
“Your first job upon arrival is to prep a snack for everyone,” our trainer explained to me. “Then you go straight into making dinner so that we can eat and be in bed by 6pm. Breakfast is at midnight.”
And that’s just what I learned to do. Surrounded by sweaty, smelly guides - almost entirely male - I would prepare a snack and two meals each day, (wo)man the radio, and provide whatever was needed to keep the morale high for the team.
There was also a public shelter for climbers working with other companies or climbing on their own. I met people from all over the world who came to climb the glaciers of this majestic mountain. Not all would make it to the summit. Not all would come down alive.
It was a rough year for the climbers. There were several weeks with the mountain swallowed in blizzard conditions, several rescues and a few fatalities that rocked all of us. But this Spanish climber, who’d been flown to Seattle, would not be added to that list.
A few hours after the helicopter had taken flight, the radio clattered. “She’s going to be ok.” Basecamp reported. “But, it’s such a good thing she had the life flight because the doctors discovered that she’d broken her back.” My heart sank.
“No one can explain how she was walking when they’d stumbled into camp, but the doctors are convinced that if she had been sledded down, she may not have walked again, or even possibly could have died.”
That deep listening led me through the rest of the five-month job, including to the summit of that extraordinary mountain where I marked my 29th birthday. There is nothing that compares to the electric blue of looking into a glacier. I stood on that mountain on a day so crystal clear we could see right on into Canada.
That listening guided me through situations of sexual harassment and intimidation at the hands of one of the veteran guides. That listening gave me the courage and guidance to report this manipulative and inappropriate behavior that he had perpetuated over 15 years of working for this company. No other woman had been willing to make an official report, but when they asked me to file my complaints, that internal guide said, HELL YES. And that was the last year he worked for that company.
This period in my life really helped me to hone my spiritual listening skills - listening to my heart, obeying my intuition, and learning how to speak up for what I know is right. Sharing this in my work with clients, and watching and supporting them as they grow these skills in themselves is one of the gifts I cherish most about this work. And none of it would be what it is without these challenges and adversity.
Thank you for continuing on this journey with me! Next up: My adventures on an 81-day Outward Bound Wilderness Semester, where those intuitive listening skills continued to deepen. I also outgrew thinking that my worth was in my ability to make others feel good. Can you relate?
The Depths of Soul
I returned home from my time in India too soon. I’d planned the “perfect” final quarter of college as an internship in neighboring Nepal and two days before ended up having my trip canceled by my college due to a heightened security alert. So rather than getting on a bus headed for Pokhara, Nepal, I was suddenly on a plane to chilly Ohio where my parents and siblings lived. I no longer had a Colorado home to return to and so I went to spend the holidays with my family and sort out what would come next.
This part of the story would take an entire memoir to explain, and still surprises even me to this day. But with humility, I need to ask for your patience and courage to follow me here…
I received a very unexpected email from none other than the woman my husband had been dating and adventuring through Australia with – the “other” woman, as our culture would refer to her. And, if I’d not had that experience in the heart of Kanchendzonga Wilderness, then I would never have been ready for what showed up in her email.
She explained that things had not worked out with my husband, as they’d hoped, and that she was now in the Tahoe region with a job working for an alternative energy company. The man behind this company was a millionaire who lived on the lake and who had a vision for a non-profit that encouraged people to explore their spiritual nature. He had seed money and some notions about spirituality but was looking to hire someone to propose how to use this money to bless others.
“You’re the only one who keeps coming to mind, Heather,” she wrote. “I really can’t think of someone more perfect for this. But there’s a catch – housing is part of the package and you would have to move in with me in the cottage on the lake.”
My heart stopped. Roommates? How could I ever possibly move in with her? The woman who’d changed my entire life – and (not yet) for the better? I closed the email. No way.
But I felt a stirring in my heart that grew and grew, and it said, “Go.”
If I’d learned anything up to this point, it was to listen to and trust this inner guidance. So, I replied that I wanted to learn more about this opportunity. Within a few weeks, I found myself living on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.
Up to this point, hardly anyone had known about the affair my husband had had with this woman. I hadn’t shared anything about the end of my marriage as it came to me so clearly that the purpose of all this was for my growth and freedom in the long run. And, that if I shared the human details and the he said/she said of it all with those who loved me, this situation would rapidly escalate into a scandal that loved ones felt meant they’d have to choose sides. That outcome felt like it would sap the little emotional energy I still had each day. I knew I would end up spending time caring for all my concerned friends and family, and their broken hearts rather than seeing what the bigger, spiritual picture was unfolding for my growth and development of deeper purpose.
When I moved to Tahoe no one knew the complexities of this time. I got hired for the proposal phase and then my contract was extended to conduct community research and then to begin implementing and designing the programming for a spiritual community center in historic Truckee called For Goodness Sake.
The five months we shared during that time in the little cottage on the lake remain some of the most precious memories of humbling self-realization and healing. I can truly say my roomie and I became friends. We confronted the ugliness of what had happened and aided in each other’s mental, emotional and spiritual growth. And we’re friends to this day. The “how” of this is a story for another time.
My time in Tahoe and then in the nearby town of Truckee, proposing and then planning this non-profit were some of the hardest and richest months of my life. I fell madly in love and became fixated with a man I dated for a short time, an obsession that would come and go over the next several years.
I came to terms with what had happened in my marriage, filed for divorce, used my voice to stand up for my truth when my soon-to-be ex-husband said he was planning to move to the Truckee region, and discovered more about who I really wanted to be in this world. But most significantly, I had the most transformational experience of pure forgiveness I’ve ever had – before or since. I forgave my husband for all the lying and cheating and betrayal. The vitriolic hatred that had taken over my heart and mind in the last few months of my time in this region dissolved within a matter of hours after an intense spiritual experience. It was all gone – 100%.
In the very same moment, I had a revelation that if any of what I’d faced and endured over the past year and a half could empower me to help others in times of darkness, then ALL of this was worth it. Worth every ounce of pain and suffering. Worth all the terrifying uncertainty. Worth “every scalding tear.”
< Thanks for continuing to read about my journey. Again, I feel I need to repeat this: Please be kind to yourself as you read through this. Although my story can seem very heavy, I am not weighed down by it and have no intention for you to be either. This is a story of triumph and healing. Thank you for giving it your time and witnessing. Much love…>
The Beginning of my "Hero's Journey"
Leaving my home in Colorado to return to college was a way to deal with the loss of my son. It was also a way to deal with what had happened in my marriage (read previous blog PART I). The awareness that without William to bond us, my husband would naturally return to thinking about the relationship he’d given up to become a parent, was a heavy mental weight. I couldn’t handle that burden at this time. And since the lying hadn’t stopped without an ultimatum, I was aware that I couldn’t trust him anymore to be honest as we moved forward. So, I returned to school partially to continue on my own journey and not feel trapped in a life of suspicion and insecurity.
I hadn’t given up on my marriage and actually felt like we would inevitably reunite. I told myself this was just a crisis of identity he was going through (which psychologists were now calling the “Quarter-life Crisis”). Surely, I thought to myself, he will eventually wake up and realize that the beautiful life we’d created together in the Rocky Mountains was far more satisfying than any affair with a young, naïve, recent college graduate.
And, sure enough, he would come to that conclusion a few years later. But by that time, I would grow into a deeper sense of self-efficacy and create a life in which I no longer wanted to include him.
The way that would unfold would be through three particular adventures that would change me forever.
Following the summer back at the ranch that had been my home, I embarked on the Himalayan Kingdoms Abroad I mentioned in the previous blog. We arrived at the college for our trip orientation and found out that rather than going to Nepal (due to an increase in incidents of violence against Westerners), we were now going to Himalayan India. My friend, Gary, the lead professor on the trip, had completely re-planned our 8-week adventure in a region of India that had been Nepal one hundred years earlier.
We journeyed east for three days finally arriving at the Hotel Dekeling in Darjeeling, West Bengal. Located at roughly the same elevation of Denver, Colorado, more than 100,000 people perched on a ridge surrounded by tea plantations. Since this area was quite near the border of Tibet, had once been part of Nepal, and was now India, the cultural experience was extraordinary.
Waking up to honking taxis at 5am and the followers of spiritual guru Sai Baba singing and clanging symbols as they walked through the streets was exhilarating albeit annoying after jet lag. Out my window the snow-covered summit of the third highest mountain in the world, Mt. Kanchendzonga, showed off her majesty as diesel fumes filled my open windows looking out over the city.
In spite of the intense beauty of the landscape and the people of West Bengal, each day felt completely disorienting to me. Humanly, I felt stretched in every direction: emotionally, physically, mentally, academically, spiritually. Language, food, cultural competency, traveling with young people who were wonderful but had seen very little of the adversity adult life could bring - all of this kept me on my toes, growing constantly and struggling with deep loneliness.
A continual feeling of heartbreak plagued me. The constant thoughts of my best friend and chosen life partner betraying me, coupled with my imaginations and nightmares of their blissful romantic adventures of being in love and traveling through Australia, was nearly more than I could bear. The most painful part other than the longing for my son was feeling like my beloved in-laws had just been “stolen” from me, as he took his new girlfriend home to them.
Several times this mental anguish and confusion manifested in various moments of severe illness. But each time I was nearing complete defeat, some angel would appear on my path.
A child in the plaza with red vermillion smudged on her forehead for a ceremony honoring the goddess, Durga, peering into my eyes with her enormous smile, melting my pain.
Our Nepali teacher taking us to her home and teaching us in all her ebullient joy how to make (and eat!) traditional dumplings known as momo.
The young sisters working in their family’s Sari shop whose laughter was infectious, and who were brilliantly educated, yet knew “in many years” they would defer to their families to arrange their marriages because “that whole Hollywood falling-in-love thing doesn’t seem to be working very well.”
The rooftop dance party at our guide, Lucky’s, family home where they would have danced with us for days.
The sunrises and tea and food and kindness and trekking.
Close to the end of our trip we took an eleven-day trek in the province of Sikkim. For days we climbed trails higher and higher into the mountains led by a jovial train of porters and their tireless yaks. They would run far ahead in thin little flip flops loaded down with wood and food and supplies to set up camp as we slogged along. Then a couple miles before reaching each destination a couple of them would await our passing to offer us a beverage. “Hot juice” they’d chirp. And their exuberance and welcome were so warm that we would drink the hot tang-like drink.
These days brought much time for reflection and a deepening of my relationship to myself and to divine Love as I dug in with all my heart to understanding this confusing period of my life. Without the distraction of internet cafes, I had the opportunity to completely detach from my previous life with all of its heartbreak and confusion.
One particular night, after an early morning hike up to 15,700 feet elevation and witnessing an avalanche that shook me to the core, I was paired up with a fellow student on the trip who I’d come to enjoy but did not know well. Mia asked me a few questions about my son and my life from before this. She had experienced intense loss after her mom had died when she was in high school. I held nothing back. We talked late into the night under the brightest stars I had ever seen. I hadn’t told anyone my story so fully before. That night I was too cold to sleep as I’d given my silk liner to Mia after she told me she hadn’t slept well in several nights. But after she went to sleep, in that frigid state, something magical happened. I had an awareness of my son I hadn’t felt before. A seismic shifting began to occur for me that I wouldn’t understand for a long time. Here I was, truly in the “middle of nowhere” and I felt the beginnings of coming home to myself for the first time in my life.
A few days later on the way home, Mia – a talented artist – gave me the journal entry she’d written after our talk. On a beautiful watercolor background of mountains and a night sky, she had written about my son. She called him “Liam” and ever-after that, this is how I would think of him: transformed. It touched me so deeply that I wept. Cleansing tears burned down my cheeks and I could feel that not only my thought about my son had been transformed, by my thought about myself had too. I had completely forgiven myself and my husband for the choices we’d made and the burden of responsibility for his death that I’d been carrying all these months.
I journeyed home with a freshness and hint of wholeness that would unfold more as time passed.
<Thanks for reading about my journey! Please tune back in for the next episode tomorrow. Until then, be kind to yourself and know that, although this is some heavy stuff, I am not weighed down by it and have no intention for you to be either. This is a story of triumph and healing. Thank you for giving it your time and witnessing. Much love…>
Of College, Hope, and Bald Eagles
RECAP SO FAR: Yesterday's post was an introduction to when my life took a sharp turn in my late twenties, leading me into the journey that brought me to this point in my life of wanting to support other women through life coaching. I shared the time of my life that included pregnancy, infidelity and the stillbirth of my son. I left off with the sudden decision to return to college, still in my maternity clothes, with no money to my name. A complete act of radical trust and following my intuition…
“You know, if you go back to school this semester, you could apply for our next abroad to the Himalayas.” My friend, Gary, who had led several abroads as a professor for my alma mater in southern Illinois explained that they were in the preparation stages of a student abroad to a part of the world he knew I’d always wanted to travel.
He and his wife, Gwen, who’d been mentors over the years, were responding to my hair-brained idea of going back to college. They were visiting the ranch, where I lived, for our annual Christmas Family Camp. I mentioned that this idea had taken over my mind. Instead of trying to talk me out of coming in a few months for Spring quarter, Gary was trying to talk me into returning in only three weeks for the Winter quarter.
“This way you can apply and secure a place on the Fall quarter Himalayan Kingdoms Abroad,” he encouraged. “But if you don’t return until Spring quarter, you will miss that opportunity. And we won’t be going again for a few years.”
But I was certain that returning to college within three weeks was impossible for many reasons. I didn’t have a penny to my name. It would be too late to get sufficient financial aid (from what I recalled from years before when I had been a student at this Midwestern college). I would have to leave my cozy cabin in the mountains, in the midst of working through grief and healing, leaving my unstable marriage still in the early stages of recovery from infidelity, and my home community of supportive friends. All this uprooting to thrust myself into the midst of a bunch of carefree teens and twenty-somethings.
This wasn’t a college that I could lose myself as a number in the crowd, but a place where most everyone knew each other, and class size varied from between 3-20 students. In other words, it would be clear that “one of these was not like the others.”
Somehow, none of this concern could extinguish the rapidly growing flame in my heart.
“I so wish I could help you,” the Director of Admissions replied when I called to request to start the application process. “But we all go on Winter Break in four hours.”
A sense of relief came over me and I thought, Now I can let this go.”
But this desire just wouldn’t leave me alone.
“What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?” the Director of Admissions asked me when I walked into her office on the first day of Winter quarter. I’d gone through the process of sending in all of my application and a deposit (thanks to an extremely generous gift check that arrived in the mail with heartfelt condolences). I’d faxed in all the paperwork based on what I could find online, had left multiple voicemails on the Director of Admissions and Assistant Director’s voicemails explaining that this urging just hadn’t stopped so I was taking every step I could until I ran into a wall of NO that I couldn’t climb over.
“With all due respect, M’am, you did not say ‘No’,” I reminded her in as calm a voice I could muster. “You said you wished you could help. Well now you can, and here I am.”
She looked at me incredulously. “But,” I continued, “you just say the word ‘No’ and I will turn and go home to my cozy cabin in the beautiful Rockies and spend my time healing and being in my safe, happy place.”
She laughed a little, but her look of resistance remained pretty harsh.
“Well, you’ll have to go to eight offices,” she continued, “and get individual approval for all the extra work you’ll be making each department do for you.”
“It took eight hours but 7 out of the 8 offices I went to were run by someone I knew from when I’d been at this college before. I’d had to drop out of school but my husband and I couldn’t even afford to leave, so I’d taken a service job in the Facilities Department and each of these department heads had a story of how I had helped them. They rallied to help me get back into school. I was in classes the next morning.
There are so many pieces I could share from this chapter of my life and how each step I would take, my “angels” kept showing up. People, financial supply, resources, opportunities continued to appear right when I needed them. Not a moment before and not a moment too late.
So I continued to trust.
I moved in with a dear friend who had a studio apartment right off campus. Her husband was gone on an international abroad as a professor and she let me invade her space, refusing to charge me a dime. We shared close quarters for 10 weeks and by the end had both applied and been accepted onto the Himalayan Kingdoms Abroad.
Much of my energy and time went to praying my way through waves of grief that would suddenly engulf me. “Learning to Surf” would be a great title for this time in my experience. It was an extremely cold winter but being in such close quarters – and feeling concerned I would distract my precious roomie – I spent hours walking the large wooded campus. The hardwood forest became a refuge and I learned a lot from simply watching the wildlife that would come and go along my walks.
The birds played an extra special role during this time, especially bald eagles. There is an important piece of this story that I failed to share in the last blog post: The moment down by the river that I’d said out loud, “I would go back and finish college” – in that exact moment, a bald eagle flew in and hovered above where we were lying on the blanket. It hovered for several moments sending chills down my body and an intense feeling that what I’d just uttered was truth.
That whole quarter, whenever my self-doubt was strongest, or I reached a point I felt I couldn’t possibly know life beyond consuming grief, I’d have a powerful bird experience. Each one felt like a gift of a promise of hope, and I would pick myself up and keep moving forward.
One such experience happened when I went to the campus chapel for a weekly faith service. Feeling lost and struggling for peace, I tucked myself in a back-corner pew where I could see the mighty Mississippi flowing passed. I spent the entire service in utter tears and pain. I reached out in prayer in my heart of hearts and the most beautiful thing happened.
We were in the midst of the third straight week of dreary gray skies, devoid of sunshine. In this moment of yearning, a ray of brilliant sunlight burst through the clouds bathing me with its warmth and a bald eagle swooped through the funnel of light, in all its majesty, following the river. I was awestruck and felt like a switch flipped inside me. Then the clouds converged, and the ray of light gave way to the gray once more.
Now, I know this sounds both far-fetched and coincidental. But intense experiences in nature like this happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I reached this point of desperation or deep depression. Each time, I was snapped out of the fog of grief by a winged symbol of hope and perseverance.
This buoying carried me through challenge after challenge both Winter and Spring semesters as well as through the process of returning home to Colorado for the summer. By this point, my husband and I had separated, and he’d moved back to Australia to pursue a relationship with the woman he’d had an affair with. So, I felt free to experience being home in a new way. But this newness also brought intense pain as I fell into the trap of comparison, loneliness and a a nagging feeling of being not good enough or not “chosen.”
Nonetheless, my heart was grateful to be back in the mountains I so dearly loved.
<Thank you for reading and please stay tuned for PART III in which I will share my adventures of coming closer to being at home in myself as I spent a decade traveling and searching for inner peace and healing.>
An End and a New Beginning
My “Why”: A story in parts
PART I – An end and a new beginning
“Heather, I can’t find a heartbeat,” said the midwife, as she moved the fetal monitor around my belly, now carrying my child who was overdue by two weeks. I had just stepped into a birthing tub in the living room of our quaint mountain cabin as labor became more intense. My husband of six years, and two dear friends of ours were gathered around offering tender support.
The midwife shifted the monitor a few times. “Maybe, it needs new batteries,” she said. But my gut told me something wasn’t right.
Earlier that day, following a long night of labor that had trailed off in the wee hours of the morning, I had taken a much-needed nap before going to our annual Christmas dinner party. I’d awoken with a start to my dog and cat snuggled up to my belly looking concerned. My dog had whined and paced until I’d let him on the bed to nap with me. The cat was equally anxious for some reason. When I turned over from my nap, the baby shifted in an odd way and fear shot through me. I convinced myself I was just paranoid. This was my first experience and I knew that all new moms had weird feelings and dreams, just as I’d had. So, I shrugged it off.
Now, as the midwife changed the batteries, a sinking feeling came over me. What if?... No, truly it must be the batteries. But, again, no heartbeat.
I’d gone into labor at 7pm, in the middle of the best Scrabble game of my life (winning with a score of 350). We’d just shared the most sumptuous Italian dinner to celebrate the Christmas season with our co-workers and neighbors on the ranch where my husband and I lived year-round. But when labor began this time, I didn’t want to say anything for fear of a repeat from the night before. So, I rode out the contractions.
My husband and I had married during my Sophomore year in college. He was a wily, passionate, romantic, brooding Australian. When we met, all my words abandoned me, his exotic accent wrapping its melody around my tongue left me stuttering. Quickly his sunshine ringed ocean-colored eyes ensnared my dreams of graduating college and saving the world. We married in Australia a year after we fell in love.
Real life had rapidly set in once we moved back to the States, and we couldn’t afford to stay in school. We moved out West and ended up at a ranch in the mountain valley that had stolen my heart a few years earlier when I was in high school. We built a quiet, beauty-filled, peaceful life in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Most days felt like a dream with various adventures throughout the Southwest. But there was always a tension in our marriage – a low-level anxious buzz of discontent.
The summer I was pregnant and working in the hot Colorado sun running a horsemanship program for young kids, my husband met another staff member. By the end of the summer, he would repeatedly lie about the nature of their relationship as it grew into passion and fixation. But he had been quite different for a couple months leading up to this affair – to the degree that I had looked at him and asked, “Who are you and what did you do with my husband.”
Research shows that the second most likely time that a man will cheat on his wife is when she is pregnant. And our story was no exception.
But my personal story was.
As tragic as it all seemed and felt – and it was heart-wrenching, lonely, and terrifying much of the time – I couldn’t escape a deeper, clearer sense that I was entering an incredibly important journey. I thought that was the journey of motherhood.
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separation.” This bumper sticker (a quotation from Thich Nat Hahn) I’d seen the summer before I was pregnant, resonated deeply with me. I’ve always been a spiritual seeker and had loved my faith background which taught me that I was a whole reflection of perfect divine Love, God. But, since childhood, I’d felt separate from this Love to a degree that I felt incredibly flawed and unworthy of that unearned and unquestioning Love.
Immediately before my husband seemed to go AWOL in our relationship (months before the affair), I had reached out in prayer with an open heart asking to be shown what I needed to address in myself to be the best mother I could be. What flaws, habits, and illusions did I need to release and change? “I’m willing to let go of any illusion making me feel separate from divine Love.” I said out loud in my cozy cabin.
Then, as great tales like to say, “All hell broke loose.”
My ever-loving husband, who had been my best friend for seven years, and always created a romantic home environment for me with candlelit dinners, vases of wild flowers, poetry reading, cozy fires, hot baths after work, was replaced by a seeming stranger. His tone became harsh and critical. And his behavior went right along with it. I truly didn’t recognize him.
This made life extremely lonely, and at a time when I had dreamed we would be closer than ever. But what this human emotional separation did for my spiritual growth would become an extraordinary blessing in disguise. I quickly realized that I needed to reach for a love that was much bigger than the love of a single person. I began my journey into knowing Love and myself in a very different way.
During these months my intuition sharpened unlike anything I’d ever known. When my husband began lying to me about this growing relationship with another woman, something awoke in me that I hadn’t known up to that point. But because I had given him so much power during our relationship, I took his word that I was imagining things.
The final month of pregnancy, I gave him an ultimatum – I needed to leave and move in with friends or this relationship needed to come to an end. This was after speaking with both him and the woman he was seeing. I really felt a sense of being cared for by this infinite, unfailing Love I was getting to know. My comments to him had no self-pity, but an awareness that this was not the right environment to be bringing my child into. So it either needed to change or I needed to relocate to a place that was supportive and healthy.
This seemed to shake things up a little, and he decided he wanted to become a parent with me. The relationship ended and it was like having my real husband back again. So supportive, loving, humorous, respectful and kind.
“Will it make a difference if we go to the hospital now or may we have time to process what is happening?” I asked the midwife. “I would like to pray and be with my child a little longer as we watch the sunrise.”
She said there was nothing they could do medically at this point to save my son. The closest hospital was a 40-minute drive.
I called my mom and let her know something was wrong, but that I was ok and praying and just needed her to know. Then I sat in the rocking chair I had been held by my whole pregnancy. The sky-blue painted wood creaked beneath my burdened body as I found the comforting rhythm I’d had for several sunrises over the previous months. I’d daydreamed about this being a time of nursing, singing to my baby.
I love how the first light always feels like a promise of newness and a chance to start fresh. This moment felt like a heartbreaking ending. But in the same place – paradoxically – it also felt like a beginning of something I could not yet discern.
The sun rose and I said I was ready to go. We drove to the hospital quietly through the brightening valley. It was oddly warm for a December morning at 8,000 feet elevation.
The events that transpired in that hospital room changed me forever. The unbounded love and encouragement the hospital staff and my small circle of loved ones gave me as I labored buoyed me. But it was so much more than this. There was a presence I had never before known. It energized, strengthened, and carried me through. I felt the oneness with divine Love I’d been told about my whole life. And not just I, but every person in the delivery room commented on this loving presence that they couldn’t explain.
During the labor, I saw a vision of my son. Up to that point, I truly thought I was having a girl. But here was this precious face with his father’s eyes and a head of unruly, curly hair. He was beaming and waving, standing next to our dog who had disappeared a few years before. An all-absorbing sense of joy like I’d never experienced, and a deep knowing that “All is well” filled me to overflowing. William was born a half hour later.
Through an incredible movement of heaven and earth and through the kindness of incredible strangers, we were permitted to leave the hospital with our son with permission to bury him at home. This allowed for a sense of closure, holding him and rocking him as the sun rose. I sang an old folksong called, “Water is Wide” that I’d been learning because I so badly wanted to be one of those moms who sings to her children.
We buried him that afternoon surrounded with so much love, it makes me teary to write this now. The next day, the sun was so warm, my husband and I went to a favorite spot on the river. This river had been my safe place – the place I would go to release fear and doubt and anger and resentment over the past few months. Whenever the burden had become too much I would head to the river.
My husband got a cedar fire going and put on some hot chocolate. We laid on a blanket looking up at the bluebird sky. During the hours we spent in that moment, a new possibility began to take root. “If you could do anything right now, and you didn’t have this sadness and money was no object, what would you do?”
Before I had a moment to think, these words flew out of my mouth: “I would go back and finish college.” This realization shook me. I laughed it off, picturing myself waltzing into school wearing maternity overalls and learning with a bunch of older teens and twenty-somethings.
But moving to the icy Midwest, in January, is exactly what I did…
<Thank you for reading and please stay tuned for PART II>
Somehow, we have become blinded by giving more weight to external opinions, beliefs and lies than the knowing that exists right inside our own hearts (how long have we known that even super models don't look like themselves in real life compared to their air-brushed magazine shots?). We know what we need, we've just forgotten. We've been distracted from realizing what we know to be true about ourselves.
And so, it was with the first line of a poem I wrote years ago, that I began to open my heart to this deep knowledge of my spiritual wholeness. I was in the midst of a terribly dark moment of struggle where I felt monstrously large (despite how healthy I actually was at the time). I pinched my inner thigh with disgust and said, "I will always be cursed with these thunder thighs!"
In a flash, it hit me: When did the idea of "thunder" become a negative thing? Thunder denotes strength, power and force. When lightening strikes in the mountains, you don't laugh it off, you start counting the seconds between claps of thunder to see how close the power is getting to you.
And if you don't yet know your own strength in this way, but you feel the longing to come home to yourself, to finally be at home in your own skin - then you, too, are kin.
It's time to come home, and stay home.
You belong here.
You are ready
You are not alone.
Take my hand...let's walk with thunder in our thighs.
©2019 Heather Barron
I began working on myself. I attended retreats and workshops galore - mostly working in trade for the courses and lodging, since I had hardly any money to my name. I read voraciously and did workbooks and workshops on everything from creativity (who me, an artist?!) to parenting my inner child, from practicing storytelling to finding my purpose, from journal-writing intensives to facilitator training, from communication to poetry and personal essay writing, from community building to finding and using my “voice”, and countless many more.
One day, immediately following a deeply profound and healing two-week spiritual intensive that was with a teacher from my faith of origin, I was eating lunch with him and sharing how “homesick” I’d felt the last several years. I explained that this yearning wasn't for a place or locale (although this special mountain valley where I live now has always felt like home in that way).
This truth cut through me to my core with such clarity and force that it felt like a return to some ember of knowledge that had always been tucked deep inside me. He continued, “You are ‘home’ to others. That is what they feel when they are with you, like they’ve always known you. And like you love them as family even if you’ve just met.”
That day, “Be Home” became my two-word purpose. It became my mission to understand this glowing truth in my heart, and to learn how to use it to spread love, healing, and joy. The twelve years I’ve served and grown as an Integral Life Coach have been fanning this ember into a spark, and then a flame that has now caught fire in a way that completely directs my coaching practice, my wedding officiating, and my life.
I am thrilled to spread that warmth with this new venture of creating Luminous Life. Yes, I coach people on a one-to-one basis, and I deeply enjoy this transformational work.
But I’ve longed to bring this sense of my purpose to creating a cozy space for women, safe enough for them to feel at home in a way that they feel supported to do the challenging work of coming home to themselves (and staying there).
This work has a spiritual (but not religious) current flowing through each and every element. So, women of various faiths and philosophies can work the program in a way that compliments their beliefs and opinions. This is soul-nourishing, joy-expanding, heart-opening, mentally-grounding, experiential, and laughter-filled work. This is the work that helps you radiate your whole-souled glow!
You belong here.
You are ready.
You are not alone.
©2019 Heather Barron
Heather Barron is the Founder of Luminous Life, and Luminous Ceremonies. She is an Integral Life Coach, Marriage Celebrant and Wedding Officiant whose sole goal is to thread more light and spread more joy in the world. She does this through life coaching, designing and officiating weddings and ceremonies of all kinds, writing fiction and non-fiction, hiking in her beloved Colorado Rocky Mountains with her precious pup, by listening deeply to others, and by smiling with love and kindness everywhere she goes. Learn more and become a fan by clicking on the social media icons below! Thanks for reading!