“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
– Pema Chodron
I have been on a pretty insane journey for several years now – you could say I’ve thrown myself into the proverbial flame, as they say.
My name is Cecilia, and early on in my adult life I came to understand that I was wrestling with varying levels of mental illness. From chronic anxiety and panic attacks, to eating disorder, OCD, depression, and mindless use of alcohol and drugs. All of this was underlined by a general sense of discontent – like I was just… missing something. Something BIG. I felt empty, lost, and out of control.
At this point in my life I had become very trapped within an extraordinarily unhealthy relationship with food – food was not by any means my friend. When I looked in the mirror, I despised what I saw. The less I ate, the lower the calorie content, the better. I was starving, and this in turn created yet another imbalance in my eating practices – in my starving state, I would find myself ravenously consuming empty calories as my body begged desperately for substance. Follow that up with a healthy dose of guilt, shame, depression and another round of starvation mode, and you have the perfect recipe for spiraling mental illness. It was a tricky cycle to find myself in, and I knew deep inside that this pattern was unsustainable.
Over time, I had also developed a compulsive need to constantly clean my house. This was the pattern: Clean my house, begin to panic, procrastinate, begin to panic, clean my house more, cry, procrastinate more, clean my house some more, panic… I had become an actual crazy person. I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything I actually enjoyed until I had completed my mile-long list of things that I needed to tend to inside the confines of my home. In other words – I didn’t do anything I enjoyed. Period.
I did, however, have a weekend habit of downing an entire 26-ounce bottle of rum to myself. I then started pairing it with a fun little party drug called MDMA that was supposed to make me feel good.
(Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.)
I was practically ripping my hair out, asking myself over and over through my shallow breath, “How the f*ck did I get myself into this mess!? And how in the world do I get myself out!?”
One night, after finding myself in a heap on the floor – crying desperately and feeling intensely alone – I came to the deep realization that if I continued this way, I would go on to live a very miserable and lonely life.
“I realized that most thoughts are impersonal happenings, like self-assembling machines. Unless we train ourselves, the thoughts passing through our mind have little involvement with our will. It is strange to realize that even our own thoughts pass by like scenery out the window of a bus, a bus we took by accident while trying to get somewhere else.”
– Daniel Pinchbeck, Breaking Open The Head
I had begun seriously practicing hot yoga at age 18 and immediately dove deep into the practice – attending class 5-6 days a week. I didn’t even enjoy it, if I’m being perfectly honest. The discomfort of the heat and challenging postures sent me into high levels of anxiety, bordering on panic, with every class. Yet something kept me coming back. The more time I spent on my mat, the less control my anxiety had over my life – I suppose that was enough to make me return.
Around the same time, I had begun to pay closer attention to my eating habits and came upon this “revolutionary” idea that perhaps everything I was taught about eating was incorrect, that maybe there was something askew in mainstream education about what a “balanced diet” really looks like.
So, I hit the books – after coming across a very eye-opening book about balancing hormones with a natural diet, I began reading anything I could find related to eating closer to nature. The more I learned about how far we had strayed from a diet that speaks to the body, the more curious I became – if we have been in the dark about this, what else don’t we understand?
In 2013, I went on to acquire my diploma in holistic nutrition and got my eating habits in check. Yet, something was still missing – I went to the gym, I practiced yoga daily, I was eating a whole foods diet, so why did I still not feel right? Depression, anxiety and OCD still met me every morning, and I just couldn’t shake that familiar feeling of disconnect.
Through my continued yoga practice, I had been exposed to meditation here and there but had never managed to integrate it properly into my life. I understood intellectually how useful a meditation practice could be but didn’t know where or how to start. Through the grapevine, I began hearing about a 10-day silent meditation course that was taught throughout the world. The practice was called Vipassana – an ancient Buddhist meditation technique. This piqued my interest, and I told myself that if I went, I would certainly return with the tools I needed to begin a daily meditation practice.
However, this experience would not only leave me rooted in meditation, but it quite affectively changed my entire perspective on life itself. Vipassana taught me compassion, understanding, wisdom, awareness. It showed me my deeply rooted subconscious patterns. This practice awoke something inside of me that I had not yet realized I was searching for – presence. Deep, immense, universal presence. In a matter of ten days, it was as if someone had turned the Light on inside of me. I immediately understood that this was the missing piece of the puzzle, and it felt like an absolute miracle.
This experience sparked an insatiable search for anything that brought me back to that presence – I meditated relentlessly, diving deep into my inner world. I meditated sitting, I meditated standing, I meditated with eyes open and eyes shut. I meditated through movement and breath, while I cooked my dinner and while I stood in line at the bank. I began to shine that Light of awareness on every shadow I found inside myself, bringing each habit pattern and unconscious program to the surface and tearing it out at the root. I was blown away by all the clutter I kept buried inside my subconscious mind! It was all so fascinating to me, and I began to understand quite clearly how and why my mental well-being had become such an uprooted mess.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”
– Terrence McKenna
Since then, I have dedicated myself to a new way of living and a deeper state of being. I no longer suffer from mental illness, and I feel grateful every day for the tools I have gained over the years that continue to help me liberate myself from the shackles of my own mind. I am committed to my spiritual life, and continually push my limits to remind myself what I am capable of. I went out into the desert of Death Valley and fasted alone for four days, exposing myself to the elements in order to come closer to source. I stopped drinking alcohol, and have found tremendous freedom in traveling the world. I return to Vipassana courses every year, and have begun to explore the healing power of plant medicines such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca in ceremonial settings. I am obsessed with the science and research behind all of this as well, constantly seeking to learn more and more every day from any source available to me. With countless scientific breakthroughs within the realm of consciousness and the mind-body connection happening right now, I truly believe we humans are on the verge of a powerful and important phase in our evolution.
These days my need to eat healthy has become less about wanting to look a certain way, and more about how food makes me feel inside in order to find a cleaner state of presence and awareness. I eat clean food so that I can stay better connected to the life within and around me. I move to keep my body fluid and have shifted my movement practice in alignment with modern science and research regarding functional and dynamic motion within the human structure. I understand how vital it is to be connected and aware of our inner world and consider this in all aspects of my life. Our body holds a lot of information about our past and present, and our future begins with a willingness to take inventory of who we are and who we have been.
I still have a long way to go, the journey is never over, but I pray that the wisdom I have gained from my experience in this short lifetime might allow me to be of service to you.
May all beings be happy and free.
– Cecilia xo