“The opposite of love is fear.” -Said in different ways by many people, but I usually think of The Course in Miracles or Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love.
After all, the Lumineers say “the opposite of love’s indifference” and plenty of others will say it’s hate.
What if we add the caveat that the only way to move towards love is to befriend your fear?
Fear certainly isn’t bad. It’s our key primal survival mechanism. But in our modern world, fear has gone a little haywire. We fear what needs to not to be feared.
Fear in today’s world, you see, protects one from the risk of love, the risk of getting hurt, of having your heart broken. If it’s not the opposite of love, we can at least say it’s the biggest block to love.
Really, it’s all based on a myth. Love never goes away. It may change forms, but it can never disappear. Love surrounds as just as much as the air surrounds us. We’ve just been trained not to see it or deny its existence. Instead of being all encompassing and always existing energy that is all around us, we’ve been told love is limited and that love can hurt us. This is a lie.
While yes, a break-up, divorce, or death can be a source of great emotions such as sadness, fear, and anger, it’s not love that is hurting us. It’s the lie that it’s gone. Love is the cushion we fall back on. It’s in the arms of friends and family waiting to comfort us, our dogs waiting to lick the tears away, the Voice within us telling us it will be okay. It’s still in the relationship that was, it’s still in that other person, even if the relationship ceases to exist how it once was.
This doesn’t mean we still don’t get to have our uncomfortable emotions. We just need to take the time to feel them, as scary as they can be, and let them pass, so we can move towards a path of freedom, a path full of the love that awaits us.
Side note: You’re living a human existence in a world filled with fear. If you don’t understand this right away, that’s okay! You just have to believe it’s true. Personally, it’s been months and months of dedicated inner work to get me to this point, and I’m still not fully there. I just trust my Higher Self that the message is pure.
“Love in your mind produces love in your life. This is the meaning of Heaven. Fear in your mind produces fear in your life. This is the meaning of hell” ― Marianne Williamson, Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.
“A Course in Miracles says that only love is real: “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.” When we think with love, we are literally co-creating with God. And when we’re not thinking with love, since only love is real, then we’re actually not thinking at all. We’re hallucinating. And that’s what this world is: a mass hallucination, where fear seems more real than love. Fear is an illusion. Our craziness, paranoia, anxiety and trauma are literally all imagined. That is not to say they don’t exist for us as human beings. They do. But our fear is not our ultimate reality, and it does not replace the truth of who we really are. Our love, which is our real self, doesn’t die, but merely goes underground.” ― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
A few years ago, on a cold and snowy night in Northeast Ohio, I picked up a pen and my journal and words spilled from my hands. As I wrote, I thought I was writing my story, the story of how I lost my wings as a young girl and found them once again in my 20s. What I realized later on was the I was writing the story, in poem format, of most women I know. A year later, my sister and her boyfriend turned my poem into a video that has now been viewed by thousands and seen at The Trail Running Film Festival. My poem has now become the story of women rising.
She Wanted to Fly. . .So She Flew
Once there was a little girl. She wanted to fly… So she flew.
She flew over rooftops, And skimmed the tops of trees. She flew so high that she soared with the birds. She flew even higher than the clouds, She flew among the stars.
Her wings took her anywhere she wanted to go. Her wings were only visible to her, And that is how the problem occurred. She told others of the her magical flights, And how her wings rose with the wind, Taking her higher than the mountain tops. But those who couldn’t see her wings told her this wasn’t true. They said her imagination was playing tricks on her, She had no wings, She couldn’t fly.
At first she didn’t believe them, and she continued to fly. But they grew more persistent. They told her she needed to start growing up, That it was best to keep such silly dreams to herself. Then one day, a few years down the road, She tried to fly, But never left the ground.
She remembered those voices who told her she couldn’t And figured they were right. She couldn’t really fly. Still, she worked hard in school and got good grades. She dreamed about her future And about what she wanted to be when she grew up. However, when she told others of her dreams They told her she was foolish. Some said she was not pretty enough, Others said she was not smart or creative enough. They said she should be practical And to keep such silly dreams to herself. So, she believed those voices too. Her world became gray, Rain fell every day.
But then, on a seemingly un-extraordinary day, A soft breeze blew at her back. At first she ignored it, But then it grew stronger. It lifted her feet right off the ground!
Suddenly she remembered all the times she used to fly. “Yes!” she remembered, “I flew so very high up in the sky!” As a young girl, she had flown over rooftops, Skimmed the tops of trees, And soared with the birds. Without any doubt, She knew her memories were real. Her dreams could come true, If she just believed.
And with that thought, Her broken wings were healed. Suddenly, she was flying above the clouds, Higher than the mountaintops, And found herself among the stars.
Once there was a little girl. She wanted to fly… So she flew.
A calm, regulated nervous system creates an atmosphere within the body in which healing is achieved. The body truly is designed to heal.
“Higher levels of stress cause higher cortisol output via the HPA axis, and cortisol inhibits the activity of the inflammatory cells involved in wound healing.” -Gabar Mate, When the Body Says No
While this quote is specific to wound healing, we can transfer this knowledge to the whole body, as the book When the Body Says No does for many conditions such as ALS and cancer. I was also lucky enough learn from other therapists who carried this knowledge and have helped people heal mentally and physically. In addition, I can bet you that any of my counseling clients who experience high anxiety also have gut issues, in part because the blood flow is being directed outward, just in case they have to fight, flee, for freeze, and not towards the gut to help digest foods. On a more personal note, I can tell when I get a headache that I’ve caused because of high levels of stress and worry.
*Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa is another good read on the topic
In short, science is finally catching up to what many healers already know. Actually, what many of us know, but have been taught to ignore or thought silly after frightened men gave intuition names like “woo woo” and undermined Eastern traditions.
Without exactly knowing it until a friend defined it (https://adogandhergirl.com/2022/10/27/wanderlust-and-transformation/) I was in the wanderlust phase, or what others may call the transformation or liminal phase. The phase of “in-between”. No longer my old self, not yet my new self. What I conveniently forgot is that the wanderlust phase involves a challenge, and that challenge doesn’t actually happen externally…from a divorce, death of a loved one, or an outdoor survival challenge. It’s actually what happens within. While my challenge initiated by being unable to work through attachment wounds with a lover*, the actual challenge was working with what was happening inside of me. The internal messages of not being good enough, not being wanted, not being understood, and all the fear, sadness, and pain that came with that. In short, I was actually forced to start healing my attachment wounds. I continually showed up for myself (https://adogandhergirl.com/2022/08/04/i-will-not-abandon-you-coming-back-to-myself-in-the-san-juan-mountains/), much of it through inner child work. It was liberating…and also exhausting. A continuous cycle of fear coming up and self soothing, dysregulated to regulated. There just wasn’t enough energy left for my Achilles to heel (not to mention I was still hiking up mountains with Pacer).
*In hindsight, it probably started much easier, just more subtly.
Hence, the cocoon phase. A phase often left out of the stages of transition or rites of passage. A phase I would gladly hand out to any of my counseling clients if I could, if our society wasn’t based on “work, work work, earn, earn, earn.” Because of how I had already been living, this was something that I could carve out and and create in my life. Hence, yurt life.
Quiet. At the edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Peace. A step back from going into the office for work, from errands of daily life. Also, intentions of serenity and healing, which I’ve created the next 6 months around. (I could have easily allowed my life to become busier without intention.)
I am still working on taking more time away from Instagram, but I’m getting there. Healing takes time after all 😉
Over the past four years, I’ve been blessed to call Estes Park home. Choosing to leave has been a process of grief, learning how to distinguish intuition from fear, and then finally, of gratitude.
Among many things, Estes Park has taught me how to “life life like a (conscious)* tourist”, to slow down, to be in awe of everything around me (and take a million pictures), and to truly enjoy “traffic” jams (aka. elk in the middle of the road)… those times life just asks you to stop. To stop, so there’s nothing else you can do but to contemplate how painfully beautiful life is.
Every time I’ve gotten a little annoyed at being stuck in a quarter of a mile long line at the grocery store or when a jeep tour drives up my road while I’m trying to peacefully walk with Pacer, that feeling has always been quickly replaced gratitude when I remember “…and I am lucky enough to live here. A town where everyone else only gets to come for vacation.”
Estes Park is surely not an easy town to leave. I still believe it has some, if not the best, 13ers and lakes in the state. And my counseling clients (many of who I will continue to see online)…well they all have places in my heart. While there has been grief in this choice I made, right now I much rather celebrate my time in Estes Park with some things I’ve learned living in a tourist town.
*I’m obviously not going to try to pet an elk, park in the middle of the road, or use 20+ plastic bags from Safeway in one trip.
Here are my tips on “How to Live Life like a Tourist”:
-Stop at the first sign into town and take a picture because you’re so excited about the day ahead. Really. Commemorate each day you’re alive by bringing enthusiasm into the day. There are adventures, big and small, ahead of you.
-If caught in traffic, whether from elk or other tourists, take it as extra time to gaze in wonder at the beauty of the mountains. Remember that everyone else in traffic is simply trying to experience the magic too. (And if you’re running late, remember it’s your own fault for not taking the tourist traffic, that you 100% know is going to be there, into account …but still driving the speed limit because there may wildlife trying to cross the road. Then still using one of those reasons as an excuse as to why you’re late.) (Okay, okay, that may be a local… or just a personal piece of advice.)
-When feeling overwhelmed by the amount of people in the tiny downtown, focus in on the good. People are outside enjoying themselves and time with their families. Tune in to their happiness. That family eating ice cream together on a winter day…that image will be one in your memory almost as long as the view of Hallet’s Peak.
-When hiking, even if you only making it to the first lake a quarter mile up the trail, be as excited as if you hiked 5 miles to get there. Celebrate with the elders, people with disabilities, and those people out of their comfort zone just being outdoors, who rarely get to witness such stunning scenery.
-Do all of the “tourist things”, because they are truly fun to do: Sssllooowwllyy drive up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, play with the chimes on the walking path leading into town, ride the mountain coaster, take pictures of the elk (even though they are everywhere), try all of the restaurants with a vegan option, get a selfie with the statue of Enos Mills and his pup, slowly sip your coffee at InkWell and stock up on greeting cards for the next 6 months, and go into all the Christmas stores downtown (maybe, or maybe not, skipping the taffy stores…is taffy even real candy?).
-Be thankful (and patient) when people stop at the “yield” signs, rather than actually yielding. They are just being extra safe and trying to make town more pedestrian friendly.
-When leaving town, make sure to glance one more time out the rear view mirror and be grateful for the amazing time you had. The day may be over, but each moment you spent in the mountains and with loved ones will be ingrained into the DNA of your soul.
In the end, we’re truly all just tourists, in these human bodies, on this physical plane. We could despair at this thought, of the impermanence of it all, but wouldn’t the better option be to choose joy? To be in such deep, deep gratitude that we get this experience, in such a miraculous place, with so many interesting people, that we simultaneously want to cry, laugh, and scream in excitement?
(I originally shared this on my Instagram page, which is private simply because I’m a mh therapist and am ethically not supposed to have client’s follow me, but my sister asked me to share it. Which, since this blog is also about Pacer, means I follow up this post with my tips for adventuring with your dog.)
At the beginning of summer, I had wanted to do a series for Higher Running on wilderness safety in the backcountry because I’ve heard so many people, especially women, say they want to get out but it feels too scary to go out alone. For me, that’s really sad to hear…that people who want to aren’t getting out into sacred, healing spaces.
Since I’m just now writing this post in August, I’ll skip the series but highlight a few important things, namely, the role of fear. (Also, TrailSisters.net has a ton of great articles on women’s safety.) First, we’re scared of the wilderness because most of us grew up so disconnected from it. One of the biggest lies we’ve been taught is that nature is something separate from ourselves. From a psychological perspective, fear is located in the primal part of our brain. Its design is to keep us alive, but it is not meant to keep us from living. When we hear about a person being attacked by a mountain lion, or a woman being assaulted during a trail run or hike, our brains highlights the experience as a way to protect us…which again, isn’t a bad thing. We just don’t want the fear to override our prefrontal cortex (thinking part of the brain) unless we’re truly under attack (which is what the survival response is designed for). Both of the aforementioned situations are awful and not to be taken lightly (especially female runner’s safety in general), but we’re much less likely to be physically attacked* on the trail than the news and our brains would like us to think. In short, keep that spidey-instinct, just don’t be overrun by fear.
What does that look like? Personally, I tend to venture into the mountains with my dog alone quite often. I do take a tiny drop of fear with me, which helps keep me aware of my surroundings. That little bit of fear has caused me to educate myself and take safety precautions, like knowing what to do if a moose does charge and buying a Garmin inReach. My risk tolerance is also relatively low compared to other people I know (I won’t climb on highly exposed routes-without a rope, which I don’t have the skill for- or go into avalanche territory)…and I am 100% okay with that. But I love going really, really far into remote areas. Be secure in yourself (not ego-driven) and your decisions.
Here are some general suggestions for increasing your wilderness knowledge and confidence:
– Research what to do if you end up closer to a bear, moose, mountain lion, etc. than you wanted to.
-Research cloud patterns (bailing on a route is always okay) and what to do if you see lightning.
–Take a wilderness first aid course (NOLS has a lot of offerings, especially in Colorado)
-Get out first with people who know what they’re doing (not just runners who like to go light), even if you use a guiding service. (Because I was in the wilderness therapy program at Naropa, most of my professors were also wilderness guides.)
-Buy the safety equipment that makes you feel comfortable (Garmin InReach, bear spray, knife, etc).
-Take baby steps. A little uncomfortable equals growth, too uncomfortable equals flooded and frozen.
-There are other things to consider when you’re about to take off for your adventure, but again, I’ll direct you to TrailSisters.net before this post gets any longer.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” -Hellen Keller
The sunflowers rise up, allowing us to ease into our goodbye. Just as gently, magically the sunflowers pass on their shine to the aspen trees.
A parting gift of gratitude for the long summer days.
We harvest the light by soaking in the beauty, dancing under the falling golden leaves.
With our internal flames now brighter, we are guided through the dark days ahead.
A brief reminder: should you lose your flame, there are always others willing to share their light.
**** Its truly amazing how being kind to someone makes such a huge difference.
Anytime I’m simply kind to a cashier, the human being on the other end of the phone, etc., I get so much kindness back in return. Often, a sincere and enthusiastic “Have a great day!”, which feels like a “sunshine coin” added to my internal joy piggy bank.
Lessons from Pacer:
Supergirl may be scared of thunder, but she’s still brave… and maybe a little wiser than us humans.
Brave and scared aren’t opposites… bravery entails feeling scared and facing those fears…sometimes with help. Its okay to ask for comfort when feeling scared. Its doesn’t mean your not tough, it means your brave and wise for not resisting a natural response to connection and love.
(Note: This is an edited version of my journaling. The other pages were messier and free-flowing, allowing me to move through my anger and fear. While I’m happy to share many of my thoughts, some things are personal and sacred. I also apologize for the going back and forth with tenses. This is a mix of journal entries and reflections.)
The San Juan mountains greeted us with clouds, drizzle, and 50 degrees. A comfort. Mother Nature reflecting the emotions living inside my body. A storm of beauty, gratitude, and grief.
“I will not abandon you.” She whispered.
The next day, I cried. Balled might be a better word. As in balled my eyes out as I stumbled down an alpine trail.
You see, I don’t just cry. I ugly cry. I could never be an actress daintily crying in a movie, even though tears come easily for me. They always manage to make crying look like such a pretty act. I cry more like the comedian impersonating the actress crying in the movie, wailing, hiccuping, and sniffling.
“I hate having such a big heart.”, I nearly texted a friend before choosing not to.
This happened several times throughout the day. Each time I thought the pain might break me. “How can my 5’4″ frame bear so much hurt? I’m going to be ripped apart.”, I thought. But after a few minutes, I’d feel the space in my chest expand, the pain would settle, and a smudge of clarity would take its place.
After the evenings misadventure that included a failed attempt at backpacking (which turned out to be good luck), a cloud enshrouded us. It felt good to be consumed. The hug I had been wanting. Later it started raining. It was nice knowing that Mother Nature was crying with me. That I wasn’t alone, not with Her and Pacer by my side.
“I will not abandon you.”, we whispered together.
She reminded me not to self abandon. I keep saying this “I will not abandon you” to myself as my body tried to go numb. I so desperately want to, but I was determined to feel. To not abandon myself, my body, or my Inner Child who always felt like her emotions were too big and needed to be hidden. I had learned through my older sister’s passing that I can survive this pain, this “breaking open.”
And as the darkness enveloped, I could rest.
Day 3 (Colorado Trail)
On the 3rd day, I was mostly tearless as long as I was moving. (I had intentionally planned the day to be moving for half, then napping, journaling/writing, and reading in the second half.) Sad, but more hopeful moving through the sacred mountains. There was clarity in the remote space. Thankfully, Mother Nature decided to wait to cry until we were back at camp. There, we cried together. And that crying opened up space within me to write.
I have so many regrets, but I know I was doing the best I could with how my nervous system was reacting. I have to forgive myself. And if this leads to his healing and happiness, I can find joy in my suffering.
And then I got my perfect moment. Pacer and I were napping (well, I was resting while Pacer was on and off snoring) in the car, mostly dry inside, as the rain fell around us and pitter-pattered on the car. Pacer grabbed my hand with her paw. (I always new if I were going to get married, it would be in the San Juans. -Note: Humor coming back).
Maybe what he had given me was a gift.
I noticed that even though it was still raining, the sky wasn’t that dark.
“…nothing beautiful in the end comes without a measure of some pain, some frustration, som suffering. This the nature of things. This is how our Universe has been made up.” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Book of Joy)
Day 4 (Colorado Trail)
I woke up in the middle of the night trying to get comfortable, frustrated and sad my time in the abyss was being cut short. The stars were out.
Today’s intention: find joy.
(Later) Still no sun, although I see it trying behind the clouds. A little more gratitude. Enough light and joy to feel Amanda again.
It’s funny how both grief and love can feel so all-consuming. Well, maybe love isn’t the right word. Fear-based love. I never understood the “fear God” concept in Catholic school, so its interesting to me to see I’ve still clung to the ideology in adulthood. Can I let it go for good?
Love, while everywhere, is spacious, not confining. Its Mother Nature saying to us humans “Even though you hurt me, I will still give you wildflowers, just as Father Sky presents you with the Perseids meteor shower each August.”
No tears. There hasn’t been thunder in a few days. Still clouds. Yet a clearing. No sun, but stars.
(In my isolation with Pacer, I was also blessed to meet with a friend this day, a kindred spirit. The perfect break in my retreat inside myself.)
Day 5 (Handies Peak)
The first time we’ve seen it since arriving in the San Juans. A butterfly from my sister. Still clouds, but so much more sun. A friend commented on a picture of me and Pacer on Handies Peak, saying that we/I looked so happy. (Pacer is almost always happy). I reflected: I was. The type of joy that only comes from suffering. After forgiveness, with gratitude and acceptance. Unfiltered light.
While I was never in a labeled relationship, the inherent love was always there, right from the start. It just had no space to grow. Not because we didn’t hold unconditional love for each other, but because we held conditional love for ourselves.
“I will not abandon you.”, I whispered to myself.
The most courageous human act is to choose to love again after your heart as been broken.
To live, to truly live, is to have your heart broken. At least once, but often many times. After, it is a natural survival response to guard it. After all, it is the holiest thing we possess. But once we are aware of this mechanism, we have a choice: to put walls up around our hearts, to defend and protect, or to let our hearts be broken open and allow for even more love to be let in.
Part of me feels like I have simply repeated another “non” relationship from several years ago. Another part of me realize that I have pulled back yet another layer and met with a deeper truth.
A few days, mostly alone in nature can help me feel, explore, and grow more than a few months’ time at home. Somehow, in the arms of Mother Earth, healing is accelerated. I feel closer to Me again. (For me, the San Juan mountains* appear to be my go-to: https://adogandhergirl.com/2019/09/10/heartache-and-healing-in-the-san-juans/) *These mountains played an important role when Pacer and I backpacked the Colorado Trail in 2015 as well.
A lot of the pain had to do with the “second arrow“, that voice that asked “why doesn’t he want me?”, that believed I wasn’t enough. Ultimately, stepping into that pain and following the thread of that false belief is what lead to my healing.
I thank Mother Earth and Father Sky for this beautiful spring snow. Moisture that will help protect us from fires, nourish our plants and soon-to-be-birthed summer wildflowers. I offer my gratitude for the snowflakes who will lose their singleness to the life-giving waters of the streams and lakes that surround us. I give thanks to the trees, providing shelter and warmth to the birds and animals. I dance with joy and thanks for the beauty of the Earth.
When I can only access the lower, insecure self, I feel like life is a game I don’t know how to play. The rules are written in an unknown language. Maybe that’s the devil in me.
When I’m allowing my Higher Self to come through, I can see that I only have to follow Mother Earth’s guidance- surrender to the flow of life, be kind to all living beings, stand tall and true like the trees. Then there’s freedom. Maybe that’s the god in me.
The Land of In-Between
Here on Earth, we wander in the Land of In-Between. Between Mother Nature and Father Sky, soil and stars, between joy and pain. I think this is really what was meant when people first spoke of purgatory, the space between joy and pain, but Catholics made it something else. Something “bad”, that’s really not bad at all. It’s a land of growth. One where we will all surely make mistakes. Suffer. Cry new rivers. A Sacred Beauty, really. As I type those words, I can’t help but think of the passing of my older sister passing away from cancer at 36. My family was gathered around her. The experience brought us to our knees. As my teacher said, the “sacred is whatever brings you to your knees.” My sister went Somewhere Else. Her body in the ground, and her spirit, I believe, to the Heavens. Wind, the Great Connector, connecting us to all worlds, Mother Nature and Father Sky, all living being and all beings who ever lived.