Since I’ve been back in Crestone, in addition to relief, I have felt a deep layer of grief that is all too familiar. Overall, being here I feel a level of vitality and well-being that I hadn’t felt in Pennsylvania. Underneath that, however, there is this deep sadness that gets triggered by the slightest provocation. Perhaps there is a connection between the vitality and grief. When I am here in the wilderness I have a deep desire to participate in life: to hike to the waterfalls, to search out wildlife, to walk my dog. Every day I sit in front of my partially completed oil painting of the blue Chevy truck on its easel and wish I could complete it. In the dining room, where I sat for hours and built over one hundred pieces of jewelry, my supplies and tools sit impotent. Everywhere in my home there are reminders of my former life, which was full of robust activity and promise.

One of my favorite moments during the day is when I sit for twenty minutes in the sun in my perennial flower garden. While I sit taking in the sun’s rays, I look around at the weeds that need to be pulled. I grew up in a family where projects were always cultivated and deeply satisfying. Looking around my property I see horse stalls that are empty, tools not being used and much work that needs to get done. In the past this would excite me with the potential for creative and exciting fun to be had. Circumstances have changed.

Often when people visit me for the first time and it’s been a while, they present with sadness, which I feel moved to correct. “My life is not a tragedy” is usually my response. And often that is truly how I feel. This illness has required me to cultivate what is indestructible in myself. I have found a sense of determination and optimism I’ve never experienced before in my life, for which I am tremendously grateful. What happens in those times when I do not feel gratitude, but I feel the apparition of a life not fully lived? How do I ‘be’ with that level of grief and loss without running from it? It occurs to me that there are ways of metaphorically running that don’t involve my large muscles at all.

Despite my inability to complete these projects, I noticed that there is little sense of feeling victimized by this illness. I am grateful that I can avoid that pitfall and just deal with what is driving the compulsion to run, to avoid the Great Grief that will often lead to an expansion. I am not naïve enough to think that this level of grief is merely a reaction to the illness. This sense of despair predates the physical symptoms and perhaps predates my birth. I suspect it may have cultivated an environment for the symptoms to manifest and perhaps flourish.

Sitting with the grief provides an opportunity to, as my friend Karen recently wrote, “move toward it.” It occurs to me that one of the teachings of this illness over the years has been to develop a certain spiritual maturity to be able to be with my own discomfort to a greater degree than ever before. Perhaps I am at the precipice of another quantum leap in my development. We always have the option to reject what is in front of us, however avoidance is not a part of my repertoire these days. It occurs to me that perhaps the family projects were a way of avoiding the deeper unresolved issues that created the internal angst in the first place. This type of avoidance of feelings and attempt to stay in an illusory sense of safety can solidify into a self-imposed imprisonment if not dismantled in my personal experience. To experience a quantum leap in development, one must be willing to venture outside one’s safety zone.

Being back in Crestone affords me something that I had not experienced anywhere else. There are endless resources of people who are deeply committed to healing the human Spirit. On a daily basis people stop by and share their deepest challenges and deepest triumphs with love and deep respect. There is no time for superficiality in Crestone, not even while interacting with Daily Dave the UPS driver. Literally.

Last night, five people came together at my home to participate in a Tibetan shamanic Journey practice. The planning for this session seemed arbitrary on the surface, but upon deeper reflection, the timing was actually auspicious; a hurricane was nearing New Orleans as a direct hit exactly seven years after Katrina. As the intention for the evening became more apparent, I felt the enormous grief of the last seven years. After all, New Orleans had been my home for thirty years; I had attained adulthood there as well as raised my beloved children. After Katrina, the whole world changed for me as well as for those closest to me. Feeling transported to an earlier time allowed me to touch more deeply into this grief I had been harboring. After fifteen minutes of real-time–timelessness in Journey time–I felt the lifting of a thick veil of grief that was replaced with a seemingly endless experience of joy and increased life force.

What I know from many years of working with non-ordinary states of consciousness is that this state affords an opportunity for tremendous healing to occur. Still being in a human body, it is inevitable for the grief to return, but perhaps it will return in a new way, with new insights in which to experience a more profound transformation. I feel fortunate to be able to live in a place where these opportunities are readily available on a daily basis. Whether it is a shamanic journey or an interaction with the UPS driver that transforms you, the importance is to allow oneself to be transformed, to be transported out of the dense states of mind where one can be imprisoned indefinitely.