I was sitting in a geriatric waiting room in North Palm Beach, Florida reading Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein. It was January 2, 2013 and I’d gotten on a plane that morning to escape winter in Philadelphia and memories of years past. I was about to learn the prayer, “I forgive you accept you release you.”
I’d been saying “I am willing to change” for at least six months at that point, and this trip to stay with Alice and Craig, my fairy godparents, would mark a two week personal rehabilitation into a new way of life. My plan was to drink green smoothies every day, abstain from foods that were making me sick, read Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein and The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, and play my ukulele and sing and paint with people who love me unconditionally.
This wasn’t the first time my Florida family had given me refuge from the pains of growing up. The first time I visited their jungle dwelling, situated on an otherwise manicured street of one story homes in North Palm Beach, was when I was 15 in 2003, the summer after my first romances engulfed me in flames.
self portrait, 2003
My next trip to their home would be five years later, when I lived with them the entire summer after my skin cancer diagnosis and surgery, shortly before my Grandma Lu would pass away. I spent three months swaying between early mornings painting murals with Alice, and a nocturnal rhythm drawing comics all night in Craig’s studio while we watched Law and Order reruns or Quentin Tarantino movies.
That summer Craig’s mother Ethel, an art therapist, met me for a session and suggested that the circles I drew around the heads of my characters indicated minor depression on my part. Ethel accurately posited that, like those concentric cerebral circles, I weave layers of intellect and charm to keep other people on the outside of my true experience.
So when my depression and anxiety and delusions were at their peak in the summer of 2013, I turned to my Florida family again. I called Alice from Philadelphia and asked if I could come down the next day for a week. The next thing I knew I was weeping by the ocean, instead of on the floor of my apartment in West Philly, and spending sleepless nights in Florida, instead of Pennsylvania.
An illustration from my essay “A Choice” on OC87RecoveryDiaries.com, 2014
Each time I ran from life-shattering heartbreak and the terrible exhilaration of recognizing my own mortality, I’d find myself on Honey Road, my second home — squirming, creative, crazy, and well loved.
During each of these stays in Florida, a new nauseating and relieving wave of understanding, that I can’t run away from myself, would wash over me.
My problems weren’t outside me, my suffering was internal. This knowing became more clear upon each trip, and during my January 2013 visit, this learning was the most potent yet. When I got off the plane on January 2, 2013, Alice told me that Ethel had fallen on her 5am walk that morning and that we were going to go meet her and Craig at the urgent care center.
While sitting in the waiting room — a salient metaphor — I listened to Deva Premal chanting “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha” (Ganesha’s mantra to remove obstacles) on repeat in my headphones as I read this prayer in Spirit Junkie for the first time:
“Thank you for helping me to see _________ with forgiveness, acceptance, and release.”
The words landed and they landed hard. I was angry and attached to people and situations that I blamed for my aching heart. When I read that it was possible for me to let that shit go by taking responsibility for how I was blaming, shaming, and holding on to those resentments . . . peace. Or at least possible peace.
A possible future of peace.
I wrote the prayer down in my journal and started practicing with it daily until it was memorized, substituting different names in the blank space as they rose. Now when I have thoughts like, “I hate you,” or, “If only you would behave properly, then everything would work out for me,” I know it’s time to stop, drop, and pick up this prayer:
“I forgive you accept you release you.”
When I find that someone or something else is bothering me, I have learned that the only point of power I have in that situation is to invite a shift in perception (which is my definition of a miracle) and take responsibility to unhook myself from the blame and attachment I’m imagining about that external person or circumstance.
As I heal my thoughts and heart with the practices of forgiveness, acceptance, and release, I see more and more often that the name that belongs in that blank space is my own.
Any person I live with in un-forgiveness, un-acceptance, and in attachment to, is a mirror for how I am in relationship with myself.
Can I forgive myself?
Can I accept myself?
Can I release myself?
Soon I’ll visit my fairy god family in Florida again. This time I’m not running from another person or a diagnosis or myself. This trip will be a pilgrimage to make more peace with the parts of myself that were shattered in grief and fear at the ages of 15, 20, and 25. With love and humor and creativity, I’ll keep inviting forgiveness, acceptance, and release.
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