I swim through aquamarine water, sunlight shimmering on the surface while below, clear empty space opens out like a vast blue heart. I’ve arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii just a few hours before and now it is late afternoon. My husband Jon and I are the only people swimming in this small bay nestled under cliffs near a black sand beach. Breathing rhythmically through my snorkel, I surrender to the fluidity of this water as it slips through my hands. With each stroke, this water flows over me as part of its cycle through the Earth—rising as mist, falling as rain, then finding its way home in this vast expanse of ocean. There is no gravity here, no walls to come against, nothing solid to hold on to. Here, there is a void stretching in all directions. How small and insignificant I am in this vastness. Out of this transparent emptiness a black manta ray magically appears, spotted wings undulating like an angel of the depths. We swim slowly together.
I hear my husband’s voice calling, “The dolphins are here!” And suddenly they are all around me, a welcoming committee of sleek silver bodies. I am laughing and crying all at once, my whole being dancing. One dolphin’s face appears, our eyes lock. The same essence that lives in me is meeting itself in this being of another species—the same deep silence, the same radiant presence, and the same mystery. Such an intimate look, as I drop into simple, full being. Heaven is right here in this moment as I gaze into the eyes of this dolphin; we feel linked in an ecstasy of belonging, bonded in sweet silence and unimaginable love.
Back home, I greet this same deep silence in a bright crimson maple leaf lying in our driveway. This and each moment is filled with the exquisite joy of connection, a deep yet simple truth: the seemingly mundane is as sacred and precious as any awakening accompanied by huge claps of thunder.
How did I miss all this before?
I was catapulted into a life-altering spiritual journey in 1977 at the age of twenty-eight by an other-worldly experience that came out of nowhere. At that time I had no spiritual practice, nor any interest in one; I had no way to understand what happened to me that spring morning. My first glimpse of “Truth” struck like an annunciation, dissolving the world as I had known it and reawakening in me a remembrance of my true home.
In the first years following that explosive opening, which I know now to have been a spontaneous activation of powerful kundalini energies in my body, I felt drawn away from the world into deeper and deeper states of meditation, totally consumed by a longing for union with the Divine. I spent hours in daily meditation, at first without the guidance or direction of teachers or spiritual practice. It was hard to imagine then that I would be content with anything else, certainly not anything of this world. The dramatic nature of that epiphany gave me the impression that my journey would be short and direct; I was mistaken. As my quest unfolded over the next thirty years, it was full of surprises that did not fit my concepts of a spiritual path. I wanted to disappear into the vastness and transcend my ordinary life. (Actually, I was afraid of living fully.) Influenced by books and teachers, I bought into models of spirituality that pointed heavenward and emphasized transcendence—this is what I thought I wanted, this is what I thought would bring me home.
My life took another route to waking up. The path of the Divine Feminine is circular, inclusive, sensual, and earthy. She operates through our bodies, relationships, intuition, and hearts. As I was consumed with an intense meditation practice that took up hours of my day, the Divine Feminine was quietly but persistently drawing me down to the earth, down into my body, down into the often-messy challenges of ordinary daily life. She called out to me through the powerful flow of energy in my body, through vivid dreams, through emotional discussions with my husband, through encounters with the Black Madonnas of Europe, through the pain of childbirth and challenges of mothering, through larks singing their hearts out in Assisi and rocks glowing red in Sedona. She brought me face to face with the pain I was causing in my marriage and urged me to bring compassion, intimacy, and healing into that relationship. It was my humanness, with all my imperfections and wounds—not perfection itself—that the Sacred Feminine wanted me to embrace. Finally, beckoning me to embody spiritual insights and discoveries, She awakened in me a sheer, intoxicating joy of being alive.
Ironically, the elusive treasure I was seeking was to be found in the last places I thought to look, in places the Divine had been pointing to all along: in the ordinary moments of my life, hidden behind my eyes, hidden in this tree, in this stone. I am convinced that the Earth has much to teach us during these turbulent times: how to be present, how to rest in silence, how to trust the flow of life. I believe she is showing us in every moment who we are—the truth of our being. As such, certain powerfully energetic sites can trigger this remembering. I felt called to visit sacred sites where Earth’s teachings were more obvious than my immediate environment. At critical points in this transformational journey I was drawn to three of several places I felt were most powerfully saturated with life’s energy: Assisi, Sedona, and the Big Island of Hawaii. These are places where the deep silence of stones, craters, mountains, and trees works a magic that makes it possible to dissolve spiritual concepts and open our eyes to the simple truth of our being.
How Did I Miss All This Before? is structured around these three journeys. In Part I, I learned what Saint Francis discovered in this green countryside: that heaven is right here on Earth. Assisi started the process of healing all those parts of my life I had neglected, such as my marriage and my daily connection to the natural world. In Part II, walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France offered me a visceral understanding of the circular, inclusive nature of the spiritual journey. The path might change direction many times, even seem to lead away from the center, but it will embrace more and more life experiences until every point of the circle is touched. Nothing can be excluded—not fears, doubts, unresolved family issues, or the most ordinary moments in daily life. In Part III, the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, reflected a palpable presence of stillness. Any sense of inside and outside dissolved—the same essence within me was the same essence everywhere I looked. Then, in Part IV, the Big Island of Hawaii, land of molten lava and joy-filled dolphins, called out to be visited not just once but four times in a single year. This potent land challenged me to say “Yes” to what is. On the Big Island it felt as if the soft trade winds blew right through me and the sweet plumeria bloomed in my heart; I resonated with what Zen master Dogon called “the intimacy with 10,000 things.”
Although my spiritual journey took me to these sacred sites, yours does not have to. The same life, the same silence, the same Presence exists everywhere, even in a blade of grass shooting up out of a crack in the sidewalk. Even a leaf can teach us the same lesson: to learn to trust the flow of life through us, just as it is right now in this moment. We are this silence, this deep stillness. It is my hope that both my personal narrative and the process of guided inquiry will inspire you on your own spiritual journey and help illuminate the sacredness in the ordinary.