My new books, Light & Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience, is available for “soft sale” via Kindle. It will be available for print once I’m able to hire a professional editor, but I wanted to release before my multi-month mostly off grid adventure this summer.
Description: “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is credited for the famous quote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” But what is the human experience? Through Ray’s own life experience and her work guiding others as a psychotherapist, she came up with a simple definition: the human experience is the journey from darkness into light. While it’s a beautiful journey, it is certainly not an easy one, and that is exactly where we can find compassion for all humans. Everyone on this earth signed up for a hard job. No human goes without experiencing the pain and suffering of being alive. Yet, it is exactly that pain that can point us back to the light, back to remembering our true selves as spiritual beings. This book includes poems, insights from nature, essays, and journal entries on what it means to be human. Ray explores and defines each component of the human experience, traveling through darkness into gray and finally, back to light. Light & Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience is a lighthouse for spiritual beings who find themselves lost or stuck in the pain of being human and offers the hope and reassurance of a way out. The book is a reminder that you are not alone.”
A wanderer is willing to face death in order to be reborn. A wanderer respects the power of her emotions. A wanderer accepts her pain. A wanderer honors her healing.
Sometimes, a wanderer stands still.
A wanderer chooses the path of joy, knowing it will require great suffering. A wanderer enjoys good company, but loves her own the most. A wanderer knows how to befriend her fear. A wanderer’s path is a spiritual path. A wanderers best compass is her own values and her heart. A wanderer both awaits and creates.
A wanderer willingly steps into the unknown, but is rarely lost. [If she is, it is only for a moment, for she is guided by her dog. ] A wanderer stays true to herself in the face of doubt. A wanderer is led by her intuition, knowing light will always lead the way.
My then boyfriend, now friend, can tell you exactly how I looked when he dropped me and Pacer off to start the Colorado Trail, just a few months after moving to the state and having only done one very, very, short overnight backpacking trip on the AT. He’ll tell you that I looked like I was about to cry, that he could see the fear written around the worried lines around my smile. I actually didn’t know he could read any of my emotions in that moment until he repeated this scene to me a few months ago, because at the time, he knew what he had to do. He remained stoic, not allowing me to linger too long in our embrace, and sent me and Pacer off down the trail.
My tears are usually a mixture of emotions. Sadness, fear, and excitement all wrapped into a ball, moving from my chest to my throat.
The sadness is partially still from the ending that transitioned right into the beginning, but also a grief for the people I can’t take with my on my journey. It’s a love, really. The tears if sadness also mix in with tears from pure fear…a new beginning is stepping into the unknown. And, even while at this point in my life I know all will turn out okay, the fear of the unknown seems to be embedded into my DNA. Its grip has simply loosened. Blending in with the fear then, of course, is the heart of my adventurous soul singing out loud in excitement, for there is surely much beauty to be seen.
So is the cycle of my life. An ending, a beginning, and all the emotions in-between. Beauty in every step.
For a month, we have been doing some on and off running, but mostly hiking the dirt roads from our yurt.
But today, on a chilly spring morning with the clouds hanging low over the mountains, we ran! Yes, still hiking up most of the hills (we do live above 8,000ft), but running everything else.
At the halfway point, I was reminded of how I officially started my healing journey 6 months earlier at the labyrinth of the hospital where I was getting the PRP injection into my Achilles heel, where I gazed out at the Indian Peaks. Yesterday, Pacer and I paused at the labyrinth at Joyful Journeys Hot Springs, where I had just soaked in the mineral rich and sacred waters with friends, this time looking out at the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I knew that I was looking out at the mountains with a new perspective, a true, more whole version of me.
Realizing this, I started to cry. Actually, let’s be real. I don’t cry. I sob. So I stopped on the dirt tracks, let the joy-tears come, and kissed Pacer on her snout.
We did it. We made it through the pain. And now, it is time to fly again.
The death of a loved on has the power to shift our perspectives on life.
To realize what truly matters. To realize what is actually worth stressing about… little to nothing.
Getting a flat tire. Waiting in a long line at the grocery store. Needing to go to the bank.
I’m sure for some, this could further add to the overwhelm, but for me in August of 2020 my only thought was “My sister is dying, and you’re going to worry about that?”
If challenged, I would have been tempted to play the dead sister card throughout that fall. Most people would have understood.
(Side note: From my understanding, people used to wear black in the year after a loved one’s death not simply to mourn, but so that others could recognize them in their sorrow and offer love and support. It was a way for love to be let in in the face of loss. Beautiful, right? Why do we try to hide our pain now?)
Why do we continue to stress about things that don’t really matter?
As my older sister would say to me and her friends in her final years “Life is too short to be anything but happy.”
Some of us want to brush that quote off as cliche, too simple, too aspirational.
As a mental health therapist, I don’t strive to be happy 100% of the time, but I do strive to live a happy life. My compass is always pointed towards joy in the face of hard choices and difficult decisions.
That relationship. That job. If I’m not happy or passionate about it at least 75% of the time, I’m out. I don’t have the time for that.
This means living by my values, dreaming big, going on adventures, and not giving energy to the negative voices- mine or others- who question my choices.
It is in choosing my own path that I honor my sister and her reminder “Life is too short to be anything but happy.”
…and sometimes, I just have to create the way for others by being the example.
Picture 1: Me and Pacer on top of San Luis Peak during our Colorado Trail thru-hike.
Picture 2: A plaque from my older sister.
Picture 3: Easter 2018 featuring my older sister, me, and our cousin.
The old debate among the spiritual community revolved around the question: “Is the opposite of love fear or hate?
When examined closer, we realize there is no need for debate.
We only hate what we fear, and we only fear what we don’t understand.
The reverse is also true.
When we shine a light on what we don’t understand, we begin to know its truth, and we can only love what is true.
We find that to know the darkness is to know the light.
I can still remember the first time I heard the song “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows.
I can almost picture myself walking out of the movie theater after seeing Shrek with my dad and sister, when Parmatown Mall was still actually a mall and had a movie theater.
But the stronger memory is of the felt-sense I had of the closing song, how the high vibration of Accidentally in Love still reverberated throughout my body. The first Shrek was released in 2001, which marks the “post period” for me. Post death of my uncle (the firecracker of the family), post parents divorce, post Dad’s nearly fatal heart attack. Every once in a while, I still had the wild feeling of love, of zest for life still in me, when my mom let me wander through the trail-less woods alone or after seeing a movie in the theater, but for the most part, this light had disappeared. So when I heard Accidentally in Love for the first time, it was more of a longing that I felt within me.
Would I ever get that feeling back?
When I decided to take a deep dive into my healing journey a few months ago, I didn’t really understand what needed healing. I didn’t know something was missing. I didn’t know how deep I would have to go into the dark. I just knew I didn’t feel how I wanted to feel, and so it really was my emotions that pointed the way.
As it turned out, it all came back to returning myself, to the joy within me. To get truly excited about the little things, to the excitement of just being alive. Allowing my imagination to once again run wild. Getting back to art and creating, just for the sake of playing.
So when Pacer and I found ourselves at Great Sand Dunes National park, paws and shoes in the sand, without thinking about it, I just followed my urge to run. Then, on the drive back, I just started to sing to the songs on the radio, without hesitation in my untrained voice.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was me returning to my light. It really all happened accidentally. Falling back in love with myself and life.
By surrendering to my darkness, I was reunited with my light.
This feeling of joy, of course, isn’t constant. For like every other human on planet earth, I suffer from the collective amnesia. I still miss the man I fell in love with over two years ago, but simply because I miss his beautiful soul, not because I miss my own (insert Beautiful Soul by Jesse McCartney here). Sometimes I still wake up with a sense of unease, and not giving into doubt is still a daily practice. Yet I return to the knowing that I will always be okay. I look up and see the love around me, my sister and brother-in-partnership who let me join them on full moon skis, my dog, my Sunshine, who will follow me wherever I go, my dad in his willingness to fly across country, eat “weird” vegan food , and tells me and my sister that we are his “happy thoughts”, my mom who will text me jokes on a “FriYay!”, my sibling by magic (I’m a Gryffindor, they’re a Hufflepuff) in Denver…
…”You are immensely loved” the psychic told me. For the first time, I believed this. I felt it for myself. The more I come back to this feeling, the more I remember, and the easier it is to return to a state of joy. Of gratitude. Of love. Of light.
Pic 1: Me and Pacer (Sunshine) at Great Sand Dunes National Park Pic 2: It really is the little things…completing this puzzle with my family came with so much joy.
Not even 10 minutes into my Reiki session, I burst out crying “but why does it always have to be so hard?”
What I really meant was “why does it always have to hurt so much?” I felt like I had been cycling through periods of intense pain over the past several years. Even in just the last 7 months, I had been closely attentive to my body, battling to stay in it though I badly wanted to dissociate, and letting all my emotions arise as they came up. Yet it felt like it was never ending. And I was exhausted. While I never wanted to end my life, I had been ambivalent about living it. The voice inside of me that said “I don’t really want to be here anymore” was no longer unconscious. I heard it. Yet I quickly dismissed it with thoughts of Pacer, living in the mountains of Colorado, and having a loving family.
So, when at the end of the session my Reiki teacher told me the clear message that he had gotten for me was “Fight for Yourself”, I was confused. What did that even mean? I don’t even like using the word “fight”, anyway.
At my next session, two weeks later, even as he explained it again, I still didn’t understand. I would stand up for myself, I thought. I’ve fought against societal norms and resisted living a traditional lifestyle (not that there is anything wrong with that), and I had begun to actively speak my emotional and intuitive truth on social media. Somewhat frustrated, I said “I still don’t get it.” My Reiki teacher gently reminded me that I would, but that my focus should lean towards finding joy and not needing to having the answer. I left feeling somewhat better, less but still frustrated.
It was another week later, when I was listening to someone else tell their own story via a podcast, that I understood. It was that voice in me, that small, unhealed part of me, that didn’t want to live. That was my darkness. Could I fight for my light?
This may be confusing to some. For anyone who has followed me for some time, you’ll know I often talk about the magic and joy of life. And I 100% feel that that magic and joy. But I also can feel the contrast just as intensely (also finally understanding when Abraham/Esther Hicks talks about contrast).
Until that moment, I didn’t understand what a strong hold that part of me, even if small, had on my soul. How, sometimes unconsciously, it could stop me in my tracks. It could make me small and prevent my light from being fully expressed. Actually, I often hid between the shadows of my hermit archetype and introvert labels.
Yet, even as I understood that this was actually the part of me that needed the most healing, that I actually needed to fight to keep my light both going and growing, I didn’t know how. I still associated with this darker part of me. “How do I just make it go away?”, I wondered. I knew, deep down, I wanted to live and to live fully, but I wanted more peace and clarity inside of me too. Less pain, more joy. So then the question turned to, could I believe that was even possible?
It took me awhile to understand this part of me and how it showed up. In the morning, this was the taint I felt in my soul. In the previous years, it showed up as a heaviness in my heart and a shortness of breath that I described as “existential angst.” As I continued to heal and released some of the heart pain that wasn’t mine, it simply felt as if someone had taken a dropper, filled it with a dose of pain, and let it drip into my essence. Like a cloud inside my light, keeping it from shining at full capacity, from waking up in the morning excited about my day, even when I living a life I thoroughly felt grateful for.
Tracing this feeling back, I remembered the panic attacks I had in high school. Waking up early to run but not really wanting to face another day. The times I never felt good enough, the fear I held in my body at every basketball game, every social event. Luckily, I had a few good friends who never left my side and let me be me, but I still kept my pain away from them, and from my parents and my twin sister. We just weren’t a family who talked about these things. The one time, my twin sister, brave enough to say anything about her own pain, I clearly remember my stepdad saying “What do you have to be depressed about?” (I have so much compassion for my stepdad now and can see how he still holds on to and buries his own emotions.) And so, my pain became my secret.
Plus, even before high school, my pain was evident just by looking at my appearance. Anytime you see someone who is skin and bones, or becomes large enough that you can no longer decipher their true form, you’re looking at someone who’s “I don’t know if I want to be here part” has taken over. It may be unconscious, especially for a 13 year old girl, but it’s evident. And then, I was basically put on medication (that I would spit out), sent to various doctors, and a mental health therapist. All this told me, or rather confirmed, was that something was wrong with me. This was the belief I was already working off of and trying to cover up with perfectionist tendencies. (Obviously, I’m all for therapists now, but even if kind, the majority of therapists in the early 2000s were still working off of the disease model of mental illness.)
The origins of the pain were still somewhere underneath that. Contrived somewhere earlier on in childhood when I was punished or unseen, especially the part of me that has always been a sensitive, empathic soul. A gift my parents just couldn’t know was actually to be cherished, for their own world had been made up of harsh realities. They were simply trying to protect me from the pain. So my sensitivity became my kryptonite, a superpower better to be hidden.
The pain started to leak out in my late 20s, first releasing some of the pain I took on from the world. I’d see a video or get a piece of mail about the inhumane treatment of animals, and I’d soon be crying on my bathroom floor. I think it was easier for me to make visible the pain I saw around me than the pain within me. It seemed more acceptable, more honorable. And to be honest, my soul was truly confused and hurt by the created darkness of the world.
So, the battle in my 30s became the battle within.
My years learning to be a therapist, speaking to my own therapists, processing with my graduate school cohort, using my skills to guide others on their journeys… this all was a practice for my internal fight. Still, I hesitate the to use the word fight. With no offense to our military, I can only see the external wars in our world as nonsensical. How truly ridiculous that we kill each other over power, fear, and inflated egos? Yet defending beautiful, innocent people is another matter, and here I lean on the example set by Nelson Mandela and other great peace leaders. (This is too big a topic to dive into in this blog.)
The first part of my own battle was surrendering to my own pain. It felt insurmountable at times, as it had been built up for nearly 3 decades. Still, I continued to be a witness to my own suffering and eventually the edges wore off and I gained more compassion for myself. Yet even as the heaviness dropped away, the part of me that felt ambivalent about life still persisted. I didn’t know how to release that darkness, although meditations focusing on “breathing out clouds and breathing in sunshine” provided some relief.
Then, I had yet another opportunity to practice.
In many cases when I have a decision to make, I’ll stay stuck in a type of anxious freeze mode, and I have a debate in my head about my choices, over and over and over again, not making the final decision until I absolutely have to. Then, every once in awhile, I’ll rush into a decision… particularly around tattoos. It’s not that I didn’t want this last tattoo, I just agreed to a drawing that wasn’t exactly what I wanted before having it sketched into my skin. Actually, to make it worse, I only “semi” rushed…I actually had 2 hrs between seeing the image and agreeing to it, with a full opportunity to wait another week since the tattoo artist was heading out for vacation. For me, this was a perfect recipe of wanting to blame myself. While I’ve mostly trained myself out of negative self talk like “you’re stupid”, “I can’t believe you did that”, “why aren’t you better?”, etc., the internal feelings of shame that look like a panic attack on the outside were still very much prevalent. Could I choose to be kind to myself?
Could I choose to forgive myself for acting too quickly? (No wonder why the majority of time I can’t make a decision, if my other practice is beating myself up whenever I make the “wrong” decision.)
Could I choose, instead, to see the lesson?
This practice, too, was a fight. I wanted to go into self-blame. Being perfect and making the so called “right” decisions was what I knew how to do, how I had learned to protect myself from the fear of not feeling good enough. The hope, from my ego’s perspective, from this protection mechanism was so I didn’t make the mistake again, so I wouldn’t be the mistake.
Stepping away from the shame for a moment, I gave myself the opportunity to realize this was a lesson I had to learn. Humans, yes, are fallible. But is a person, a child, ever a mistake themself? Hell no. We simply become better versions of ourselves when taking the time to learn and gain meaning from our mistakes. The more simply stated, common phrase: sometimes we have to learn what we don’t want to know what we do want.
This tiny step turned out to be a big insight. It opened the door for me to forgive myself for a myriad of other poor (so I had deemed) decisions as well as times I had stepped away from opportunities and my own light for fear of being unworthy.
From this perspective, I could see my adult self giving a hug to the little me wearing a sunflower outfit (hat included) for her elementary school picture, who felt confused by the actions of adults in her life (as well a Catholic school that gave her the message that she was less than for being female). Then, to the high school me, who had learned to push so many people away because she thought her pain made her an outcast. I accepted these younger parts of me, showed them love, and brought them back home in my body.
In other words, I fought for them, and I fought for me. I fought for the part of myself that knew life was magical, a gift to be lived and expressed through my being. While pain, yes, may be a part of living, it doesn’t have to be carried with me on my journey. I was not my pain. I was meant to overcome my pain. To shine my light through it and to realize that my light was the only truth.
As I close, I can’t say the fight is over, the battle is just easier. The darkness is less powerful. I can see it for the fear that it is. I have more say in what I choose to believe and what I give my energy to. I can realize that my light, that I, Ray A. Nypaver, am worth fighting for.
May you always realize that your light, that You, are worthing fighting for.
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
In the midwest, we like to name the “fun” sections of our routes, like “The Stairway to Heaven” or “The Piano Keys”. If you’re not familiar with Cuyahoga Valley National Park, then you probably at least heard of the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” on the Boston Marathon course.
I like to call this section of the Colorado Trail/Collegiate West/Continental Divide Trail “Death by Switchbacks.” Now truly, this section of the trail is nothing short of majestic, but in these few specific miles, you drop down from alpine via what feels like 100 switchbacks, cross a short marshy section (pictured here- it looks much different in the summer!), only to return to alpine via another 100 switchbacks. If you’re already feeling tired, it’s nothing short of a struggle. The good news, however, is that once you make the death march (hike, run, or cycle) up, you meet heaven. (If headed southwest, towards the Alpine Tunnel and Cottonwood Pass to the northeast.)
The ego (how we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem) death uses a similar model as this section of the trail, although I’m going to offer a reframe that it is not necessarily about a part of us that needs to die, but actually about the part of us that doesn’t want to truly live, or “be here”, as I’ve written in previous post. It’s that part of us that says life is too hard, too painful. It’s the part of ourselves we try to numb and call it depression. The ego death is actually about bringing that part into Light and reigniting your own inner fire. It’s accepting that there is pain in the world but realizing it is not our own. It’s acknowledging that there is suffering, but it is not our truth. It’s reclaiming our authentic expression of self and believing in our divine right to live freely, peacefully, and joyously. This is “fighting for the Light”.
Again, the question is, will you choose yourself (Love) over fear?
Yes, I do realize it is February, almost March, and most people are way over Christmas. But I, the 7 year old in a 34 year old body, believes the spirit of Christmas lives on (after all, according to pagan belief, winter solstice is about the coming of the light). Plus, as I was doing this meditation for myself, which originally just started with a question, the name “Ghosts of Christmas Past Meditation” just popped in, so I think my higher self wants me to go with this name too.
First, a little more background.
Early one wintery and windy February morning, three questions popped into my head: 1) What am I resisting/not clearly seeing? 2)What lesson do I need to learn? 3) Where is my intuition wanting to lead me?
These 3 questions came to me after an already long journey of moving through pain and deep inner work. By then, I knew myself well enough that something was stuck and needed to move. The first question led me to both realizing I was carrying something (energetically) that was not mine and releasing a block, while the third question pointed an arrow to the direction my life was moving. The second question, however, was the key to unlocking an old pattern that was keeping me stuck, that I couldn’t fully recognize while being in the tiny perspective of my human self.
The funny thing is that I’m really good at doing this for my clients. One of my roles as a therapist is connecting the dots for a client, and then reflecting them back for a client so they can see it too. In my mind, I literally imagine a connect the dots coloring page, and we see the full picture coming together.
Yet when I started meditating later that evening on the question and wanting to see my past patterns, I quickly got stuck in my analytical mind. I wanted to go straight to my “trigger-> reaction ->past experience-> core wound” map, which is a handy journaling tool. Yet for me it was still too sticky for this moment, especially because I couldn’t see how several, quite different relationships all connected. I realized I needed to step out of myself. I needed to connect with my higher self, or what Lee Harris (and the Z’s) call the “Eye of Awareness” or what others call the inner observer or inner therapist.
In choosing to access my higher self, I shifted my energy (this can be just using your imagination) to just above my head. Some people call this the 8th chakra, but again, just do what works for you. Then, I imagined myself in a few scenes of the relationships I wanted to examine, but this time I pictured it as if I was looking at the memory as an outsider. Or rather, it was like I myself was the ghost of (Christmas) past and watching myself and the other person in the scene. (In EMDR, for particularly traumatic memories, we/trauma therapists will often ask the client to picture the memory as if it were on a TV screen, perhaps even making it a black and white movie.) From this perspective, I could see it. The people were all different, some with very good intentions and some with negative vibes, but I could see how I abandoned myself, playing out the negative belief of not being enough, with each person. Perhaps it was not speaking up for myself for fear of ruining a date with someone I really liked, or just accepting things as “not that bad“.
In doing this, in seeing things from a higher perspective, I gave myself the opportunity to stop myself from having to repeat the cycle and learn the same lesson again the hard way. Spiritually speaking, once we have actualized a lesson we came to earth to work through, we can move on and transform at a more enlightened level. From my core, I now know that I need to act on the inner knowledge (it was a lot of work just to start believing that deep truth!) that I am enough and speak my truth in relationships, even if I fear the outcome (whether it be a partner getting mad or a relationship, romantic or friend, ending.)
Okay, so here’s the short “how to”:
Ghost of Christmas Past Meditation (Aka Accessing your Higher Self to End Unwanted Patterns)
Find a time and space of at least 10 minutes where you will be uninterrupted. If it feels good, light a candle or put on some high vibrational music.
In your journal, write down your question. It might be something like “What is the pattern I am not seeing?” “What lesson do I have to learn here?”
Close your eyes and begin to focus inward. First, notice what sensations are in your body and if there are emotions that need to be released. You can do this by simply breathing into the spot where you are noticing the sensation. It’s totally normal if you need to cry for a bit.
Call on your higher self for guidance. You may intentionally shift your attention and energy upward, above your head, anywhere from a few inches to a few feet. (Again, if you can’t feel it but simply use your imagination, that is 100% okay.)
From this “distance”, lightly touch on and observe memories related to the pattern you want to see more clearly, end, and learn from. What are you noticing? If you catch yourself getting too analytical, just use this as a nudge to gently pull back and return to the higher perspective.
Write down any insights. It might be helpful to read them again the next day.