Lessons in Alchemy.

About a month into the break up I locked myself in my tiny hotel room in Istanbul, turned off my phone and prepared to spend two days in undistracted suffering. I had decided to do this because I was convinced that this was the reason for my life falling apart- to teach me how to suffer. It was like floating in outer space, alone, trapped in a spacesuit, with no way home and no way to end it alI.  It was brutal.  I  woke up on day two and tried not to move an inch, not even fluttering my eyes open. I wanted no signs of life to remind me that I was, indeed still alive. And then my stomach betrayed me with a rumbling revolt after a month of starvation. It sent a wave of cosmic pain through me that I did not think or hope I would survive.

In those first few weeks I couldn’t tell my guidance from my fear, willful delusion from real hope, the angry internal parent from a well-intentioned higher power. And generally I aired on the side of caution, which in my case has always meant believing the worst. I was being punished. I didn’t deserve to be happy. I hadn’t paid my dues to the gods. I thought if I sit there in my suffering, without any relief, somehow I’d  be worthy of life again.

Halfway through the second day, after throwing up the contents of an almost empty stomach, I got back on the bed and prepared to suffer some more. Suddenly, a spark of warm, electric energy ran through me and I heard it say “This isn’t about learning to suffer, you know how to do that, you have done it your whole life. This is about something so much better.”  For the first time in weeks, I knew  with complete certainty that this was my guidance, my guardian angels, my grandfather,  god, all of the above talking to me. I started weeping and listing everything that I wanted-  to hug my mom, to be able to eat again, to spend my life with a person I love, to write a book, to see the Northern Lights, to dance, to draw, it went on and on. It was a turning point.

It has been more than three months since that moment. I feel such tenderness and compassion for that bright girl who thought suffering was her lot in life. Who thought that a victim of child abuse and rape not only needed to learn to suffer more but deserved to.

In the last three months I have been everywhere. A week at the beach in southern Turkey ended with a flight to Russia for a funeral. A month in Russia was followed by a week in Istanbul and a tearful flight to New York. Six weeks later I flew back to Istanbul and am here now, slowly rebuilding my life. Each of these trips has brought with it some new healing, perspective and understanding, but Russia was gold.

While there I met with my friend Sasha whom I’ve known for more than half of my life. He has experienced a lot of pain in his life. When he met Lena, fell in love, got married and had a son, I thought finally, my friend was being rewarded for all that he has had to endure. A year after their son was born their car hit black ice on the road and was thrown into oncoming traffic. Lena was killed instantly. Sasha somehow survived and now calls himself  “The Terminator”  because of all the metal holding his body together. Their son was completely unharmed.

I hadn’t spoken to Sasha since the accident. I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say to him. I had always been like a Russian Amelie, swooping into Sasha’s life once a year bringing stories of adventure and inspiration with me, sprinkling a bit of my  fairy dust and leaving both Sasha and Lena enchanted. This had always been my role but with nothing good to offer, I offered nothing at all and stayed away. It’s shameful and of course I now understand that all I could and needed to do was call and say I love you.

I finally did just that this September, a year and a half after the accident.  We went for a walk and then drank a whiskey and talked in his apartment. It wasn’t awful, we connected, we made jokes and Sasha even expressed that he’s reached a place of wanting but that he didn’t know what he wanted and he was afraid. Still, it didn’t quite feel right at the end of the evening. Even though I myself was a rag doll, I felt that there must be just a pinch of fairy dust left somewhere in me to give to my friend.

I started thinking about my own tragedy and had a long conversation with myself.  What is left in me now that seemingly everything I thought I was has been taken away? It’s love. What does that mean? It means that I can always reach for love when I think I have nothing left, because that is the only thing that is real and the only thing that I truly am. What does that actually mean, though? It means that if I reach for love I will always be protected. And? It is the strongest force in the world.  So? So I have nothing to fear if I act with love in anything I do. Good girl! Now, what are you going to tell Sasha? That if he wants something, he shouldn’t be afraid. He is protected by love. Even though people he loved died, he survived and that’s not nothing.  He has nothing to fear. If he wants something, now is the time to go get it.

I met Sasha and told him just that. And everything changed. We were more intimate, more joyful, more present with each other. Walking home, I looked down at the pavement and saw a line with the word “FINISH” written in chalk. It confirmed what I had been suspecting for weeks. I did it. I  finally completed the pilgrimage I had started on June 1st, 2014 at the steps of the Cathedral in Canterbury. I had wanted to know the truth, I wanted to find the thing that holds us together but though I had walked the physical journey, I had not been able to go through the emotional breakdown I needed to find THE THING. And now I had. I fist-bumped the universe and then my phone rang. “Masha, you forgot your coat.”  “I’ll be back,” I said to the finish line.

Since then it has been a roller coaster of contracting and opening. Terrified, I went back to Istanbul. I didn’t know why I did that, but it seemed important to my heart so I trusted it to show me what I needed to see. I spent a week with my person, living as if nothing had happened. I showed love and compassion. I shared, and changed dark energy into sparkling, joyful energy but the end result was the same, which is how I found myself crying on a plane to New York.

But I am not the same. My pain is not the same. I have become my own alchemist. I took the darkness and I turned it into gold. I am more loving, I am more patient, I am less scared, I am somehow even funnier and I was already hilarious, ask anyone.

Two days ago I was having a glass of wine with a friend.  Last time we had seen each other she had just broken up with her on and off again boyfriend of five years. At the time, she thought she needed to be alone, to figure herself out before she could be with him. Two weeks later, she had a change of heart. “It’s so stupid. I miss him, I love him, why am I depriving myself of the thing that I want? Why was I so afraid? I want this relationship. You know, you taught me that.” It was bittersweet. Here was a person who through our conversations about love and fear, had realized that the thing she fears is actually the thing she wants most and that it is only by staying in love that she will find what she was looking for.

The same day a different friend, with a different glass of wine said she was grateful to have been by my side throughout these last few months. Why the hell would she be grateful? I’ve had nothing to offer her but pain and confusion and alcohol poisoning. “You’ve changed how I see love,” she continued. “Something you said in the weeks right after the breakup stayed with me. You said you can’t hate him, because it’s not the truth. You said the only honest thing you can do is love him.”

A few days after the break up I pleaded with the universe to show me how to heal myself and and show me how I can help others heal themselves too. At the time, this feat seemed so far off in the future. And now I see I’ve been doing it all along. Not only have I spun gold for myself, but it seems I’ve been spinning it for others too. And I am just getting started.

One Response to Lessons in Alchemy.

  1. Theresa says:

    “This isn’t about learning to suffer, you know how to do that, you have done it your whole life. This is about something so much better.”

    This is such a beautiful statement. At a certain point, I think the person suffering thinks that if they just learn another lesson (presumably by suffering more) they’ll somehow be able to achieve what others seem able to do without suffering. But how to get out of that cycle of “punishment”? (For a crime they haven’t committed.) If that makes sense.

    But I have learned that what seems so easy for others is often an illusion. That I’m not alone in my suffering, even if it feels that way. At least I’m trying to learn that.

    Keep spinning gold. You’ll get to where you want to go 🙂

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