adventure · love · Spiritual

Lullaby by the Sea.

“Sky above me. Earth below me. Fire within me.”

In the twilight we drink tea, hold hands and watch, enchanted, as nature’s fireworks dance across the horizon.

Electrical storms spiral like screaming tornados into the waiting ocean, and the sky blazes violet-white behind shifting storm clouds.

We look up in wonder at a precious glimpse of heaven, gone much too soon.

We cook on an open flame, which trembles gently in the fresh ocean breeze. The smell of fire awakens something in me. Every bite tastes exquisite, our appetites heartened by sea salt and freedom.

Our laughter carries through the dusk, startling the small silhouettes that hide and seek; white tails flashing in long grass.

The rain creeps closer still, heralding the time to cozy up under woolen blankets. There is nowhere else on earth I would rather be right now, and no one else I’d choose to share this moment with.

It’s you. It’s always been you.

The lantern swings lazily from the canvas roof, a soft moon illuminating our tent with its celestial glow. We lay side by side, limbs gently tangled as we talk and smile and love.

We are content, listening to the sea boom against the empty shore,—natures lullaby, soothing us to sleep in her arms.

This is where I return, when I am weak, when I am sad. This is where I bring my fears, my anger, my pain. When life invades my head, and sleep evades me, you will find me here at the water’s edge.

I am stronger here, drawing my power from nature’s magic and making it my own. I am vibrant here, more alive.

I know who I am here, and where I am going.

Sleep comes easily in this place, and dreams follow.

~

Author: JoJo Rowden

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Author’s Own

~

Originally published on Elephant Journal here.

grief · love · Spiritual

I am Empty of You

Sean McGrath/flickr

“In French, you don’t really say ‘I miss you.’ You say ‘tu me manques,’ which is closer to ‘you are missing from me.’ I love that.’You are missing from me.’ You are a part of me, you are essential to my being. You are like a limb, or an organ, or blood. I cannot function without you.”  ~ Unknown

When I say that I miss you, what I really mean is that your face wakes me from a dark place, your comforting familiarity dissolving in dawn mist like drifting smoke.

That life rushes in to replace my dreams as you slip away from me once more. I grasp for you with arms that will never quite reach you again.

I am empty of you.

I mean that I rise, wondering if you have woken too, and if you are drinking tea in golden sunlight, making plans as I am. I question if you slept all night or whether you tossed and turned, tormented by memories. Did you think of me when you woke? Did you push your unruly hair out of sleep-heavy eyes or leave it in a kissable tangle for someone else’s lips to explore?

When I say that I miss you, I mean that you are a beautiful puzzle piece, carved out of my soul, your intricate pattern forming part of my life picture. There is a space that always longs for you, that can never be filled if you are not here to gently love me.

It means that I yearn for what we were, how we were, the endless possibilities of us. I miss comforting your anxieties, sharing mine; tackling them together, side-by-side. I miss knowing what excites you today, what exquisite morsel of learning has found you and motivated you to try something new.  I miss the way you brought me your dreams and your dramas and how I loved you endlessly through both.

When I say I miss you, what I actually mean is, I long for the tender way you say my name and the way yours tastes in my mouth. The way you steal my tears away with soft lips, like the nectar of a goddess. I mean that when my eyes scan the surging crowd, I look for you. I hear your laughter pulsing just around the corner, always a step away.

I mean that I will eternally search for you in the magic of books, in beautiful lyrics & in the kind eyes of innocent souls.

Now you are just a polite stranger with memories sealed firmly away. Our easy discussions, our deepest thoughts flowing molten like lava, are replaced by artificial small talk, meaning nothing. The fire, the freedom, the intensity-all gone. Triviality has never been- and can never be—our story.

It was all a dream.

The cold silver face of the moon brings me hope, a celestial divinity that dances for us both across a diamond studded sky. Wherever you are now, I know you worship her too and I hold to that. I send her silent messages and imagine that they glide back to you on radiant moonbeams. Perhaps they do.

I am weary from dancing alone with the ghost of you. It’s time to change the song, to release you from my loving arms. It’s time for me to dance on without you. It is easier now.

I remember that I don’t know you, not anymore.
I remember how it felt to be inside your head
And I sometimes wonder
If you miss being in mine.

Originally published on Elephant Journal here.

grief · love · Spiritual

Escaping the Guilt Prison.

Hartwig HKD/flickr

The heavy smog of guilt surrounds me…slowly, silently.

It suffocates my joy as I struggle to break free from the strangling noose it tightens around my throat. It’s hard to fight a ghost. It’s dark shape changes when I manage to catch hold of it, and it twists and turns in my desperate hands.

I can’t breathe.

Guilt destroys me gently. Sometimes I forget about its pain, the hot dull throbbing in the pit of my stomach. It lurks on the borders of my sanity, watching for a chance to whisper sweet poison into my tortured ears. My worst nightmares are brought to life as it torments me with all the things my heart dreads.

You are a terrible person.
You don’t deserve to be happy.
No one could love you.

I believed it.

I have done things, said things, been things that I am not proud of. I have hurt people I adore. I think we all have. Life happens. Grief happens. I have been selfish in the face of my own heartache. I struggle to let go of the pain I have caused, long after the wronged party has forgiven and forgotten. They still haunt me.

I wake from sleep with nightmares ringing in my ears, sweat drenching my wracked body as scenes from the past play over and over, an old horror movie, crackling in black and white. I realise that I cannot keep punishing myself this way. I cannot change the past, no matter how much I may want to, and so, tormenting myself does not serve my pursuit for peace. Guilt is a prison, and we must allow ourselves to escape in order to move onto the life that we deserve.

I decide it is time to let go. It is a process, and I am finally ready to begin.

During some self-work recently, something stayed with me: Good people feel guilty. The fact that I even have remorse says something about me as a person. It reminds me that when my actions are incongruent with my values or expectations of myself, it hurts me, and I ache to make it right. I acknowledge to myself what I have done and I own it. Many can’t, or won’t, yet it’s impossible to find peace with something unless you first accept its truth. Denial and defence are dire companions on the road to self-forgiveness.

After acknowledgement comes mitigation. How might I make amends? Perhaps this is an authentic apology to another. Perhaps not. The sad reality is that the one that I am cruellest to rarely gets an apology from my sorrowful lips. Heaven knows that they deserve one after all these years.

That person is me.

I might decide to take physical action to rectify my wrong. Or, I may just create an intention to never act that way again. Only you can know what feels true for you. But regardless of which I decide is right, I let that action soothe me. I allow it to propel me into a future where I always remember, but no longer berate myself for what I cannot alter.

Guilt is an opportunity. It is a gift. It is a chance to learn who I am in the silence of my own mind. A chance to be accountable for wrongs I have done and to stop beating myself up for them, choosing instead to learn from them. Grow from them. I allow it to shape me into the person I want to be. A person I can be proud of. A person looking forward to a bright future. If I look back, I am lost.

I will still mess up of course. And I will still feel the pain that comes with that. I am only human after all. My flaws and my reactions are what make me unique. My dark is a mirror to my light and it is my light that drives me ever onwards in the knowledge of my one truth: I am a good person.

When it is my time to die I will look back on my mistakes, but I shall hold no regrets. I will offer myself the same compassion that I give to others so willingly; I will forgive myself.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

Photo: Hartwig HKD/flickr

Originally published on Elephant Journal here.

adventure · Spiritual · Travel

Unplugged: a Gift to Myself.

JoJo Rowden

Silent trees stand solemn, guarding the secrets of the ancients.

Ripples on the river, lazily chasing each other across a mirrored surface.
There is no urgency here.
Time stands still,
And I, with it.

A symphony of birds are my alarm clock,
My soul awakens gently
Stretching itself out towards the tendrils of sunshine
That creep below the tent canvas in a crescendo of dawn colour.

It’s hard to imagine myself now
Pushing through corporate streets of grey and black.
Miserable faces in a crowded prison.
Slave to email and time, confinements of our own creation.
Always connected to the Mothership
Instead of Mother Earth.
We poison ourselves, slowly, digitally.
We forget who we were
Before the world told us who we ought to be.

I remind myself to slow down, to heal.
To breathe in the crisp air deeply, Jasmine Star and wet grass
Exhaling the city smog and all of it’s responsibilities.
Refreshing my creative heart
Instead of browser windows.

I revel in myself; my thoughts and my dreams
And I am aware once again
That alone is not lonely.
My company is a treasured gift
That I give happily to others
Yet not to myself.
Today is different.
Today I am my own bestfriend.

Here, among the patriotic colours of the forest,
Shimmering golds and greens sing of the true heart of this country.
There are no meetings to schedule,
No places to be.
Just me and my yoga mat
Beneath a cloudless cobalt sky.

First published on elephant journal here.

grief · love · Spiritual

Why I Choose Peace over Happiness.

 Michael Knapek/Flickr

During the darkest depths of last year, I sat alone on a leafy sidewalk in West Sydney Suburbia.

Birdsong echoed amongst solemn trees and tears burned my eyes as they streamed into the swirling dust at my feet. There were no souls to witness my despair, and I was always grateful for that.

Face upturned to the sky, I sobbed my heart out to a God I was sure was not listening, or if he was, was punishing me for something. I was mad at him. Mad at everyone. I was angry that the sun could continue to shine so brightly in a universe that allowed someone I loved so deeply to be stolen away, just like that. That people could carry on with their lives, not knowing that my whole world had ended in a split second, a single phone call.

My worst nightmare had become reality and there was nothing I could do to escape it.

I didn’t recognise myself any more. Where was the girl made of light and sunshine? Who laughed and loved and revelled in the beauty of this world. Who was this monster that could give nothing to those she adored, this empty shell that cowered in rain and darkness, trapped in a misery that felt like death itself. I didn’t know her at all.

I could see no way out. I had nowhere to go, nothing to look forward to. The future that had been so certain once upon a time had fallen around me; broken pieces of a shattered dream. I believed that I would never be okay again. That I would always hurt this way. That the darkness would never leave me.

And I was so very afraid.

Hands grasped for me, arms held me closely. Voices soothed and loved me, but it wasn’t enough. I tried to outrun the fear, letting the wind and the sea soothe me, letting the burning in my calves remind me, that I was still here, still alive. I longed to banish the emotional anguish with my physical pain, but it never seemed quite enough.

My demons were held at bay when I walked side by side with people that cared about me. Yet, I could sense the ghoulish delight of my nightmares lurking in the gloom nearby, sharpening their claws, ready to tear me to shreds as soon as I was alone. In my exhaustion I fell to them time and time again. I was a drained, broken creature.

I finally understood why people choose to leave this world before their time.

How the spectres of depression and hopelessness claim them, offering them death in the guise of tranquillity. I had always thought that they were selfish souls, turning off their bright lights too soon, unthinking of the horror of their loved ones. And now I know that I was in no position to judge. That love isn’t always enough to overcome the terror that the agony you feel might torment you forever.

It’s true that time is a healer. Yet, the grief never leaves you, not completely. The wound simply changes. The raw angry chasm of vulnerable flesh, prodded over and over until you can’t take the torture anymore, begins to knit together. It still hurts, but it becomes a low dull throb; a constant aching companion to your day. It sits in the back of your conscious, and sometimes, when it thinks you are not paying it enough attention, it shoots a searing white-hot pain into your heart, sending tears tumbling once more.

But those days are gradually fewer, and further between. You realise that happiness is fleeting, and should be celebrated in all its glory, but that it cannot always be constant in this unpredictable life. Nor should it be, for without the darkness, can we ever truly love the stars?

I started to wonder about the pursuit of happiness. The way it has become commoditised in our society. The way that people seek more and more of it, thinking that if they could just get that guy, or that dress, or if they could only earn that much, then elusive happiness would be theirs. It made my heart ache, the way people paint their lives in public to show how picture perfect they have it. As though these external things could bring them lasting happiness. Boats and cars and expensive holidays. Fake smiles and false Facebook highlight reels hiding a much darker reality.

I gave it all up last year.

I let everyone see my misery in all its glory. It was difficult, it was uncomfortable, but mostly it was freeing. There was no pressure to be happy 24/7, and I let it all go. You learn that the people that really love you will continue to show you, no matter what. A beautiful lesson indeed.

I reframed my thoughts about the purpose of life. What if the goal is not always to be happy, as everyone tells us it is? What if “happy ever after” isn’t what we should be wishing for at all? What if, instead, it is about getting to a position where happiness and sadness do not define you or your place in the world anymore. If you could come to realise that there is something much more valuable that you can give to yourself in the face of any emotion.

What if you found peace instead?

There’s a certain magic in realising that your foundations are deep and unshakeable, even in the storming winds of this world. Life happens. Things will hurt you. You will get mad. Tears will blind you. Your past might haunt you. You will have bad days at work. The rain will ruin your perfectly styled hair and you will want to scream as you miss your bus by a millisecond. You will lose people and find people and fight with people. You just will. It’s life. It’s messy and complicated and it’s wonderful. Let it all happen. You can’t control it anyway.

These days I give myself permission to rise and fall with these moments, centred on the knowledge that I am content in myself regardless of them. The seasons will change and this too shall pass. I release suffering when it no longer serves me. I grow from it when it does. I make space for happiness when I can, but I don’t beat myself up when I am not. I have faith that I will smile again. I always do.

I don’t always get it right of course, but I am trying. I meditate to find my peace. I seek to follow the practises of the bodhisattva-warriors, as I gradually send that calm out into the world beyond myself and my circle of loved ones. I’m still learning, but the intention soothes me, and that’s where I try to turn when chaos descends.

When people ask me now what I want from life, I no longer answer “To be happy.” (Though of course I welcome happiness with open arms). My wish these days is for the stillness that whispers peace into my heart. I finally understand that there is nothing more beautiful in this world than a contented soul, and that is what I choose.

Photo: Michael Knapek/Flickr

Originally published at elephant journal here.

grief · love · Spiritual

Saudade: The Love that Remains

Lua Ahmed/ flickr

“I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that. ~ Brian Andreas

Love transcends language. And yet we mere mortals long to give it expression, pouring torrents of beautiful words from our overflowing hearts out into the world, to try to help another understand just how much they impact our lives.

Emotions are like that. We need to know that someone sees us, feels us, understands us. We want them to share the full extent of our exhilaration, our adoration, our hurt; to know that it resonates in the depths of their bones the way it does for us. We form the deepest connections in this life with those souls who can show us that we are not alone, drifting in this chaotic sea of feeling.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one …” ~ C.S. Lewis

There have been times in my life when I have been moved so immensely by a person, or nature, or an event that the intensity scares me. I feel something stir deep in the core of my being, a roaring that cannot be quietened. I know that there are no words that can express it aloud. My pen flies over the page but it will never give true justice to the deepest echoing of my heart.

The terrifying thought pops unbidden into my mind: what if I am the only person ever to have felt this way? Dramatic, I know. But how do I really know that my own idea of love is comparable to your idea of love, that the sadness that threatens to drown me is the same dark despair as yours, that when laughter bubbles up inside you, it tickles you the same way it does me.

I guess I can never truly know, living as I do, only in my own head. But I can get an idea; if not through language, then through the way your fingers gently graze my shoulders as you pass me by, the way your smile makes your eyes light up, or the way your music sends my soul soaring into the clouds with each crescendo.

When my wonderful Brazilian friend was attempting to teach me Portuguese, I discovered one of the most stunning words I have ever encountered: Saudade. It was enchanting, an idea I had never conceived of, an undiscovered island, waiting for my footprints to dance across it’s pristine sands. It was romantic in the exotic way it rolled off my tongue, but even more wonderful was the way that it captured the very essence of one of those indescribable feelings that has haunted me. The fact that there is no literal English equivalent makes it all the more perfect.

The definition is a longing, or a melancholic nostalgia, missing something or someone that you love, that is lost, and may never return. It is a mixture of happiness and sadness. Memories mingled with the knowledge that this can never be again, or perhaps never even was. Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo offers this definition: “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.

This feeling has filled my heart on many occasions and I could never give it the celebration it deserves, not knowing exactly what it was or how to put it into words. This soulful encounter suddenly became accessible to me. I could give it a name, and understand that others too have shared my experience.

I have suffered loss. We all have. Death has been a close companion of mine of late. Friendships have changed, or ended, and I have moved across the length of the world, away from those that I adore. Even the evening sun leaves me blissfully empty as it burns down to a glowing ember against a midnight sky. These loves are gone, but their essence remains, their absence making their beauty even more poignant. I am grateful for ever having encountered them, even as I cry at their loss.

 The fact that this concept exists out there, in any tongue, gives me hope. Not just because it shows me that there is much left to discover and experience in this world of ours, but because it also tells me that no matter how I may feel, I am never alone.

Photo: Lua Ahmed/Flickr

First published on EJ here.

grief · love · Poetry · Spiritual

The Ghost

ghost

After I am gone from you
Does the fresh whispered scent of me
Linger gently on your clothes
In your hair
In your dreams?

Does it conjure me to life,
Transporting you to a world
Of tangled limbs and playful blue eyes.

Do you dream that I lay next to you
Head resting on your warm chest
As your hand soothes my cheek,
Listening as your heartbeat
Sighs my name in throbbing ecstasy.
Do your fingers burn along my skin
Remembering the firmness of my thighs
And how they made you cry out in the dark?

Do you see my face in bustling streets,
Passing you with a shy smile and lowered lashes?
Does every woman remind you
Of what is missing from you,
Sunlight dancing on bright glass bangles
As they move gracefully onwards
To a horizon you can never reach

Perhaps her dark eyes will help you forget my light ones
For a while.
A stranger’s smile may ease my image from your mind,
Until I rise unbidden
A ghostly reflection in a shop window
Gone when you turn to call out to me

Do you pretend to yourself
that the blazing comet of our love
Didn’t crumble to dust, neglected
Falling back to the bitter earth
At the first hurdle.
That you didn’t deny your soul’s true wanting
Suffocating its demands
That were too intense for you to bear
Suppressing your truth deep inside.

Do you replay our words over and over
Hear my laughter sparkle in your ears
Face luminous with childish wonder.
Do you seek a meaning in us
To carry through your ever churning years
To comfort your elderly hand as it clings tightly to one that isn’t mine.

Do you know that all the promises you made
And pretty things that you said
Were a summer breeze that drifted easily from your lips,
When it suited you?
They gave way to winter nights and barren truths,
Cold tears in darkness.

Words are a beautiful dream.
Were they real when you kissed them
Huskily into my lips?
Or a fairytale, even then,
A product of time and place,
Not souls colliding, as we once believed.
I would like honesty, when you are ready.

I was so sure of you, of your love,
Once upon a time.

If I tell you softly that I was in love with you,
And all that you were,
Will you know
Wherever you are,
That it is true?
Will you regret what has been and what will never be?

Will you know who your heart beats for in the silence?

Will I haunt you?

~

Photo: David Compton/flickr

First published on EJ here.