Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.
By Anna Schoener
My hands were frozen in what can only be described as claws, my face contorted in an expression I didn’t know possible, and my body, from the hips down, had gone completely numb.
I knew two things: I didn’t want to keep going, to keep breathing. And I knew that the only way to survive, was to continue doing so.
When I was five years old, my mom was attacked and killed by a mountain lion. She was out on the running trails and never came home.
As a five-year-old, this was my first experience of death. My parents hadn’t needed to explain death to me before that point, so I knew virtually nothing about it. When we received the news, I cried and then I wanted to play a game. I went, almost immediately, back to my five-year-old self. It wasn’t until a couple years later, lying in bed one night; I realized for the first time that I would never see my mom again.
It took another twelve years or so before I found it in me to grieve for her. It started during a Reiki session, where for the briefest of moments, I found myself in the forest where her ashes were spread, completely at peace. It was the first time my soul felt that kind of solace since I was a small child, and as I left the Reiki session that day, I knew my life was about to change, I knew I was about to change.
I dove in. I did everything you’re supposed to do when grieving; I meditated, practiced yoga, wrote, cried, felt. But it wasn’t enough. The wounds I held had been left untreated for so long, it was like they’d been infected. Infected with sorrow, hopelessness, and self-hatred.
So I left. I left behind my hometown, my friends, and family and I went to New Zealand. For no reason at all, except that it was very far away.
On the top of a crystal mountain on the south island of New Zealand, I had landed myself in a Rebirthing workshop. It was the end of the Luminate festival, February 2013, and the only reason I decided to participate in this particular workshop was because I knew that instead of spending the next hour and a half standing or in an uncomfortable seated position, it would be spent lying down on our backs. I was sold.
About two minutes in, I would start to regret that decision, and another two minutes beyond that, I would realize that every step I’d ever taken in the journey to my healing had led me to that big white tent, lying down on the cool grass.
Rebirthing is a breath-work practice, meant to clear stagnant and blocked energies from our bodies. It focuses more on exhaling than inhaling, and is considered ‘circular’ breathing, meaning there are no breaks between breaths. We were essentially exhaling all of the trauma, heartache, and wounded parts of ourselves, and setting them free.
We were warned before we started the practice that ‘stuff’ might come up. There would likely be crying and maybe yelling from our neighbors, but we were to keep focus on ourselves. My initial thought was, ‘Get me the hell out of here.’ Luckily, I was far enough away from the exit that it would’ve been too obvious, and I didn’t want to be that person.
My feet went first, that tingly, pins and needles feeling spread from my toes to my ankles almost immediately. Then my hands and arms. To my horror, it didn’t stop there. Not only was everything asleep, it was frozen, cramped. I couldn’t move.
As I noticed the tears rolling down my cheeks, my first reaction was to run. Fortunately, my body felt as if it’d been turned to stone, making the option to run completely impossible. So I stayed with it. I stayed, and I let myself cry. My entire body felt frozen and on fire simultaneously. All of the pain that I’d been stuffing away for twenty years was demanding to be felt, all at once.
It was excruciating, the pain. Just when I thought I needed to give up, I saw her. Myself, except I was five-years-old. She was the one hurting, not me.
I took her in my arms and the words just came to me, “You are safe, and You are Loved.”
Over and over and over again, this went on for what felt like hours. But I repeated that mantra to her, without stopping, along with my breath, until finally I could feel my limbs, my fingers and face relax, and the pain subsided.
I turned onto my side, still crying, still holding onto my five-year-old self in my mind, but I felt different. I felt whole. Like those infected wounds had been cleaned and gutted, ready to heal.
I had spent my life trying to be her. I think I was trying to keep her alive. I thought that if I could be just like her, it wouldn’t feel like she was gone. I would ask those who knew her best what her beliefs were, her favorite flowers, what she studied, what her relationships were like. I dove heart-first into her, all the while not paying any attention to who I was. I didn’t care who I was. I didn’t think anybody cared who I was. Everyone always just told me how much like her I was, so that was all that mattered. As long as I could continue to be like her, her absence might not hurt so much.
But it hurt worse. It hurt because I could never be her, and I could never bring her back no matter how like her I tried to be. And I took responsibility for that. I felt so guilty for not being able to keep her alive. Writing this now, it sounds so crazy, but my heartbroken self only wanted to bring back the woman I’d only heard about, the woman I didn’t know for long enough.
After the rebirthing workshop, I realized I’d been neglecting myself for twenty years. I didn’t know anything about me. I’d felt as if I’d been searching for something for years, but I always thought I was looking for happiness, or love, or just something different from my life. But I finally understood what I was looking for all along: my Self. Up until this point, none of my decisions had been made without asking, ‘What would Mom have done?’
I was so sick of that. I was so sick of throwing my desires to the wayside for the sake of someone that was no longer with us. Harsh, but true. Real.
It was time. Time to meet my Self, my Soul. She’d been pushed aside, collecting dust for years and oh, I was so ready to set Her free.
Bali. Pura Tirtha Empul, the water temple. A day trip only meant to soak up culture, traditions, and the local experience. A place for Balinese Hindus to go for a ritual of purification, the temple is filled with holy spring water, straight from the earth. I had no intention of participating. That is, until our guide told us it was okay to partake in the ritual, as long as we weren’t menstruating.
My first thought was to decline. I wasn’t sure about it. It was so sacred, and I was just a tourist. But there was a voice in me, nudging me to step in.
The temple pool was lined on one edge with eight or nine fountains, out of which the spring water flowed. As I made my way to the first one, any doubt or insecurity I had vanished. I approached the first one, and I just started speaking to my mom. I told her that I wasn’t going to try to be her anymore, said a loving prayer, and washed the water over my head, my face, my heart.
At the next fountain, I thanked her. I thanked her for bringing me into this world, for giving my life purpose for the last twenty years, and for giving me the strength to find a new purpose. I prayed, and I rinsed away my tears, once again.
The third one, I asked her to give me strength for the road ahead. I told her I was afraid of moving forward on my own. A prayer for her peace. Head, heart, hands, cleansed.
On I went, talking with her along the way. Telling her how loved she is, how missed she is, asking for her guidance and her forgiveness. I cried for her and with her, washing away my tears and cleaning my wounds with sweet water along the way.
Finally I reached the last fountain and I said what I hadn’t had the courage to say for twenty years. I said goodbye. To her and to the person I’d been trying to be for so long. I stitched up my wounds, sent her my love, and brought myself to Life.
It’s been three years since I visited that water temple. I still catch myself wondering what she would’ve done in certain situations, which I think is totally normal. But it’s been such a fantastic and really f*cking difficult three years, getting to know myself. Because that’s literally what I’ve had to do.
From deciding what to do with my life to figuring out how I take my coffee, everything’s been new. I’ve learned what it feels like to live in my power and not worry about what she would’ve done or thought about it. I found that when I said goodbye to her at the temple, I was merely inviting her into my life as my mother instead of this unattainable being I was striving to be.
I now carry her with me, always, and only in Love. I make my choices based on my newfound love for myself, knowing that whether or not she would have done the same, doesn’t matter.
All that matters is that she existed, and that is enough.
**Bali water photo credit: Aileen Sheiu
Anna is a writer, traveler, self-proclaimed web designer, and whatever the hell else she wants to be. She loves wildflowers, sunshine, burritos, and wine. She wants to try everything at least once; to soak up as much beauty as she can and exhale it right back out to you. Her mission is to make you smile and laugh and remind you how f*cking awesome you are. Anna’s currently taking a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and can’t wait to do what her soul has been screaming at her to do for so many years. Connect with Anna at her website or on Facebook and Twitter @annaschoener.