At a certain point my marriage had stopped being a partnership and had become a place where I was hiding out, avoiding my life. I knew my soul contract with my husband had ended. I knew it was time for me to go. I knew my destiny was stalled like a car on the side of the road. I knew there was a whole existence I was meant to inhabit beyond my marriage but I believed that I might die if I left him. Literally. Ending my relationship with my husband felt so impossible and so doomed and so forbidden that my brain registered the option as too dangerous for consideration.
I lived like this for years, ping ponging between knowing I needed to leave, feeling sure that leaving would be the death of me and then shifting back into trying to accept staying. I used affirmations and meditation to strong arm myself. I used journaling as a platform for brainwashing. I used my gratitude practice to shut down the shrieks of my soul and focused instead on all the things I had to be grateful for, things which were also in direct threat if I were to file for divorce. "Grateful that my mortgage is paid. Grateful for my children. Grateful for the path by the train where I walk the dogs in the mornings while everyone else is hustling off to work." I would lose all of this if I left. How would I support myself? What would my life look like if it didn't look like this?
The trouble with living in a high stress environment for an extended amount of time is that it erodes our ability to drop down and connect with ourselves and daydream. It blocks us from the resource of our imaginations. It keeps us from being able to envision a new life, a different picture. And without the ability to visualize a fresh reality we stay put in the one we're in. Because leaving the campsite to look for help is a risky idea without a map. Without the belief that there is help to be found or better luck on the other side of the mountain.
I went to a workshop with Iyanla Vanzant during this time. This is what I mean when I say: the soul is a trickster. If you know anything about Iyanla's work you will know that she runs an extremely tight spiritual ship, her radar for bullshit is ultra sharp and she holds a direct line to the heart of the divine. Bringing my coerced, pleasure starved, truth denying self into a room with her for 7 days was a classic example of how the soul can sometimes override the personality. When the will is strong enough and the time is right.
The first thing Iyanla said, walking into the room in her gorgeous white linen dress, her hair cut short and fierce, big hoop earrings dangling around her smile like quotation marks, was: "This ain't gonna be no WORK-SHOP, ok?!" Her emphasis on the letter "p" was like a firework exploding through the sound system. We were all deadly quiet, giving her our full attention. She pulled the microphone off the stand and started riffing. She had no notecards. Not the first day, not any of the days. There was no agenda, no handouts. Just a lot of sharing and questions and feedback and prayers in the Yoruba tradition and music and crying and meditating and more music and running overtime, showing up late for dinner, coming back for break out groups. So much processing. Endless processing.
I started to make contact with a part of myself I'd forgotten completely. All the energy I was accustomed to using to hold the door to my soul firmly closed I now used to pry it open and hold it open. I wanted access. I had a huge shift during that week. The marriage wasn't the problem. My need to hide out in it and avoid myself was the problem.
On the last day of the workshop-that-wasn't-a-workshop, we stood in a huge circle. Gospel music rang out through the retreat hall and long thick wands of white sage were burning. Iyanla walked up to each person, put her forehead to their forehead and said a prayer.
When she came to me she told me that when it was time for her to divorce her husband she picked out the dress she knew she would wear to the courthouse. That was it. That was all she said. We'd talked a lot over the week. My conflicted feelings were clear to her. My defensiveness, my fear. I had come thinking she would tell me something definitive or that I would have an awakening over my 7 days and return home more definitively committed to the idea of staying or going. But it wasn't that kind of epiphany. Iyanla could only mirror back what I was showing her and hold space for what she knew to be possible for me as a soul evolving. She had said, in so many words, when it's time: pick your dress. Make it real. Pull in the vision. Cooperate with your timing. Don't fight it.
We don't change without a vision of what we want to change into. We are built to hold tight to our trapeze bar until the other one is in sight. And we don't change until we make direct contact with our own powerfulness. Because once we do, we know, with real determination, that we'll be ok. This is why it's so important to seek guidance from those who are further along on the path. Those who can inspire us to see something in ourselves that is real - something we need support and encouragement to embrace - something we may not know how to claim. But it is ours. This powerfulness of the soul. As we make deeper contact with it, we realize it is stronger than our fears.
I think of that week with Iyanla as the beginning of my divorce because it was the beginning of me re-committing myself to my own soul. It was the time when I saw my avoidance clearly and wanted more for myself. More than a hiding place. More than the assurance of a paid mortgage. I wanted my soul at any cost. I wanted to stand fully in my own power again. And nothing felt sexier, more compelling, more important or necessary than that. I'd hit my tipping point. I was ready to transform.