Personal Development

“I think everyone should attend a grief retreat at least once in their lives,” I told my friend asking me how the experience of attending a loss and transformation retreat was. “It should be required for navigating tough times.”

As humans, grief is an inevitable part of life. When we open ourselves up to love, we risk losing it. In October of 2022, I went on a life-changing trip to Bolinas, CA to a house of hope and healing called Commonweal. There, I delved deeper into the grief over my mother’s death and my marriage’s failure. During the course of six days, I met wonderful women from all over the country, from all walks of life, and who were experiencing their own personal loss and seeking the same things as me: to feel loved, to be heard, to squelch the loneliness, and to heal.

When I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in a local majorette’s group for kids my age. I whined to her that I didn’t like it and wanted to quit, but she “forced” me to go so I could learn how to twirl and toss and spin a long metal bar with two knobs on either end like her. She was the “best in the school,” said my grandparents. But I was not like my mother. I was uncoordinated, dropped the baton, and had a hard time paying attention. During the parade my group marched in, I carried the banner with our group name on it because I wasn’t good enough to walk and twirl with the others. I quit after the parade.

There is a story in the Buddhist tradition about a clay statue of the Buddha in a monastery in Thailand. Over the years, it was protected in the monastery from outside invaders. One day while it was being relocated, one of the monks spotted a crack in the clay. When the monk looked closer, he noticed that underneath the clay there was solid gold. The clay statue had been made of gold the whole time!

The sway of the instructor’s hips mesmerized me. Jingling like bells, the tassels of her dress sashayed in rhythm with her hips as she twisted and turned. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her flawless figure, her precise foot fall, the way her shoulders sliced through the air as she maneuvered across the dance floor. At that moment, I fell in love with belly dancing.

     At thirty-six years old, my belly roiled with nerves about taking my first formal dance classes. I had enjoyed dancing since I first watched Britney Spears and the boy bands in middle school. When I moved to music—even if I were alone in front of my dresser mirror--a feeling of longing washed over me. When I dance to music, confidence eclipses my fears, and I move into a natural rhythm even though I have no formal training. 

I knew something changed when I looked back on the person I was a year ago and don’t even recognize her. When I think of being married, the idea is a foreign concept for me. It feels like being in the in-between-state of a dream and consciousness, not knowing quite where I am for a moment. Except I never really wake up completely. I’m constantly in the state of fog and fuzzy, the “almost aware” phase. 

You would think something like being married would be hard to forget. Afterall, I was with the person for nine years and married for four and a half. I constantly have to look down at my left hand as a reminder. The two bands of metal that once snuggly encircled the flesh are gone and my finger feels exposed and empty. 

Joy. That small but powerful word inspires so much within us. We think of so many things that bring joy to our lives: Our children, our friends, our favorite movie, a song, a good meal, the people we love. It inspires us to pursue our passions, motivates us to move forward in our dreams, and has the power to evoke smiles on our faces.

Are joy and happiness the same? Can you have one without the other? Joy and happiness are different. Joy is an internal sensation of happiness. It is not an instant feeling of gratification. It happens over time and through conscious effort. Joy is when we can be our authentic selves and it lasts much longer than happiness.

I’ve recently realized something that I wish I could tell my younger self: I am worthy. I am confident. I am enough. It took more than twenty years to get to this point, but as I’ve come to realize, the journey takes precedence over the destination. With time, experience, and wisdom, most people can find the elusive “happiness” by looking withing themselves and not relying on others.

Do things happen for a reason, or do things happen and we find reasons for them? That question has been on my mind lately. I always thought the former was true, but now, I wonder if it’s not the latter. There are so many things that happen in life that have no logical explanation. Losing my mother at age six is an example. That single incident changed the trajectory of every aspect of my life and many other lives.

I asked why all of my life, but never really got a clear answer. I began speculating on reasons for such a tragic loss. To make me stronger, wiser, more appreciative of how fragile life is? To never take life for granted? To challenge me in some way? My mother’s death could not have been for nothing, could it? It couldn’t have been some cruel joke played by a God who claims love over revenge, or a horrible random occurrence set in motion by the universe. There has to be a reason somewhere.

I was lying on the floor, curled in a ball, crying another ocean. It was the third time that day I found myself in that position. Constant memories attacked me like BB pellets I couldn’t escape. The tears threatened to drown me.

The memories were of my former life, the one when I was married, had a house, a dog, a loving and caring husband. In those moments of uncontrollable sobs, I missed him terribly.

I thought about reaching out to my sister or my counselor, anyone to get the inundation of feelings out of me. I considered screaming and punching something, but since I work from home and my apartment is fairly small, I thought better of that. Then I thought of the one thing that I have always had throughout my life when I’m going through something that crushes me: writing.

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