We all have something: a person place or thing that lies just out of our reach. So close that you can touch it with your fingertips and yet it’s so far away. And it not that you couldn’t have it- but just that you can’t. You can’t because after all the wishing, work and desire- it is just not meant to be yours. You relish in your mind, the moment that you have it. Even for a little while. You relish the way it makes you feel. The way you imagine yourself in that place where you always wanted to go. Mending a relationship that was shattered. Holding something/someone in your arms that you can almost feel and smell. Hearing words you wanted to hear. All the magic in the world couldn’t change the fact that what you want you may never get. The proverbial “follow your dreams,” just doesn’t happen. It may to some, but not everyone. We all have an unattainable. And there needs to a moment where you take a breath and accept that the journey has gone as far as it can, and its time to let go.
I have struggled with this question for most of my adult life. What does it really mean to be happy? Is anyone truly happy? Or are we just content? Is happiness a permanent state of mind or is it something that happens in little spurts?
I am not unhappy but I am also not happy. I know that makes zero sense. I am happy right now with my life; however, I am always looking for that “something more.” Maybe it’s just my personality– but I find that things and places get old for me fast.
I am always looking for the next big adventure, meeting new people, starting a new hobby and of course, being a life long learner. And all while I am chasing this idea of happiness- I am also craving stability and normalcy. I am seeking happiness in just being content with myself and my life.
I often find myself jealous of people who seem content in their lives. Married, with a family in a little home and jobs they love. What is that like? But then I have to question– are they really happy?
What defines happiness?
Money? Love? A home? A job? Marriage? or is happiness something much more? Do we trick ourselves into believing that happiness are all the things we are supposed to have and want in life? Or is happiness just something we occasionally experience? Is true happiness deeper or spiritual?
And is anyone really happy?
I don’t like the saying “where ever you go there you are” — and I have said that before. It infers that if you go somewhere to get away or start over–you will always have your old baggage.
I can tell you, that’s total bullshit. I lived in Boston for 32 years and we were planning on moving out of the city when we could. We were not sure exactly where we were going to go, but after much debating and back and forth we decided Arizona. Flagstaff to be exact. I was NOT happy in Boston. It was to dense, to over populated, to noisy. I didn’t like the false sense of community or the “yuppy hippies” that were permeating the area with their fake idea of what it means to be free-spirited. It was suffocating. I was tired, restless and began to have a lot of health issues. Yes, I had baggage! Divorce, people who I thought were my friends who weren’t, a dead-end job that initially had the promise of growth.
So we moved. And you know what? None of that baggage went with me. It stayed put in Boston. I came to Flagstaff a complete blank slate.
And not only did I leave my baggage in Boston, but I left what I thought was “identity” there as well. For over 10 years I was “Zehara The Belly Dancer” — For 10 years I taught, performed, traveled across New England and hosted and organized more shows than I can remember. Zehara The Belly Dancer was who I was….or at least thought I was. I was initially given the name Zehara when I was initiated into the Temple of the Seekers, a Ceremonial Magick coven I had been involved in for 8 years. I was Zehara the Priestess LONG before Zehara the Belly Dancer. And Zehara the Priestess and Melissa (my given name) were always one in the same. But the belly dancer persona became my identity. She was who I was. My alter ego who was not shy, bossy, could take on the world, and had no fear. And when I started sprouting branches that went beyond the scope of belly dance, I found it increasingly more difficult to find that balance between Zehara the Belly Dancer and Melissa/Zehara. It became even harder when I started wellness practice. While I understood that I was outgrowing my dance persona I just could not fully let her go. She was me. For ten years I created this person-This tantalizing, sexy, Snake Charmer. She consumed me. And whenever I thought I was ready to let her go—I would get a pit in my stomach and say “not yet.”
Then I arrived in Flagstaff. And one of the first things I struggled with was the Zehara The Belly Dancer and being in a new place–where no one knew her or her accomplishments. She was just a new dancer in town. And I freaked out!!!!
OMG! NO ONE KNOWS ZEHARA!
I finally secured my first performance…..and….then…..
I realized that Zehara the Belly Dancer was gone. During the performance, I felt nothing. Zehara The Belly Dancer became a shell and Melissa/Zehara was emerging. It was a strange feeling.
When I got home, and washed away the glitter and changed into my pj’s….I said out loud, “I cant do this anymore.” It felt amazing. Slowly but surely I began to sell my dance wears—-and I felt no second thoughts, no regrets, no sadness. She had a good run. But now its time for her to go. I was finally being able to just be……..me……Melissa with my magickal name Zehara for my magickal work. I was no longer the belly dancer or snake charmer. I was just me.
Then I made the biggest and most difficult decision I have ever made in the 10 years I had been dancing and in the 15 years that I had them. I rehomed all my snakes. It was painful. I cried for about three days. But, while they were more than dance partners, I just couldn’t devote the time anymore. And also, after my friend and dance partner Kaala died, the desire to snake dance died with her. She was special. She and I had a connection that I never had again with any of my other snakes. I was very fortunate to find an amazing woman in Flagstaff who has a reptile sanctuary They are all living happily in retirement. It was a decision I did not make lightly, but it was the right thing to do.
Finally letting Zehara the Belly Dancer go was an amazing feeling. She did a lot of amazing things! But now its time for me to be me again.
And with that, I became a blank slate. Creating a new destiny for myself. Creating a new chapter in my life (or maybe an entirely new book!).
I am focusing on my Reiki practice, branching out into animal reiki as well! And I am focusing on starting my own Coven in which pagans of the community can come together and celebrate the God, Goddess and Earth energy together.
I feel so blessed. So light. So happy.
There is always a light and dark side to everything in life. And for those of us with depression, the dark side tends to be the most prominent. I have battled depression most of my life, with an attempted suicide at age 14 followed by panic attacks later in life and then several shrinks. I finally found a therapist I liked and from 2009-2013 I saw her and a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner during the darkest hours. I am very open about having clinical depression because I have to be the voice for the thousands out there afraid to talk about because they are afraid of being judged. In 2014 I was doing great—so great my social worker decided that she only needed to see me on as needed basis and my NP tapered my meds. I was feeling on top of the world.
Then, I recently, and abruptly had a life change. Within two weeks, my boyfriend and I were packed up and heading to Arizona. There we were on a Saturday night enjoying some wine and sake listening to some old school tunes in an apartment I lived in for 15 years to suddenly packing boxes on Sunday, renting a U-Haul and driving 2300 miles away from the only place I had called home. It happened so fast I had no time to comprehend what the hell just happened. The whole cliché of having the carpet pulled out from under you—is serious shit.
Here we are in Arizona and the adjustment has been difficult. We went from a major city to a new town. We know no one. Have np physical support system here and are basically fending for ourselves. I have to find a job pronto to make sure we can pay rent which means finding meaningless work to pay the bills.
And what happens but that the dark side appears. I woke up one day in tears. I was crying to the point where I couldn’t stop. My depression had returned. YES—the move was the TRIGGER—but not the reason.
People who don’t have depression don’t understand what it’s like. Imagine that you are just moving along a bright sunny day when suddenly someone throws a pitch black can’t see shit bag over your face and never ever takes it off. It’s like that. A dark cloud that just doesn’t go away. And thoughts-bad thoughts come in your mind. And YOU CAN’T HELP IT. It’s just there.
I have had so many people tell me it’s the move. To give it time. To find joy in the things around me. Believe me…I am trying. We have gone to canyons, creeks, walked, enjoyed the beauty of the place—but my lack of happiness isn’t with where I live…it’s chemically going on in my brain.
I think that’s hardest thing about depression–people think it’s an external thing that can be “fixed”–when it’s a chemical thing that can’t be fixed just “adjusted”….and I appreciate everyone’s helping…. but depression can’t be fixed with a walk or giving my move time…if it were…I would be walking all day every day and loving every bit of Flagstaff. It’s hard for people who don’t have a clinical diagnosis to understand that depression is not always due to outside circumstances. I appreciate everyone’s kindness and offerings of advice during times like this, but want I everyone to understand that it’s not going to “fix” what’s happening inside my head. I can’t just flip a switch and “be happy”—nor can I flip a switch and decide that all the chemical mishaps in my brain will fix themselves.
Being supportive is awesome. Being able to just be there—and listen—is even more awesome.
Shamanism is not for the weak. Nor is it something one dabbles in. Shamanism is a spiritual path that one takes because they are called. And once called, and you accept, it’s not always a bright shining path. People see me now and they think “wow you have such great energy” ~ but it took awhile for me to get there. And a LOT of darkness and loss along the way.
For a very long part of my life, I suffered from severe anxiety and deep depression. I struggled to “fit in” ~ and not on a social level. On an every day I live level. I always liken it to feeling like I was a visitor on Earth, someone on the outside looking in. An observer. It wasnt until I was in my twenties and started meeting people of like mind that I started to feel “normal.” In any case, meeting like-minded people, continuing my spiritual studies and finally finding Shamanism….I started to…..unravel.
From December 2011 to March 2014, my depression and anxiety got worse. In fact, I was having frequent panic attacks and my depression was so bad that I would spend days on end sleeping, crying and not eating. Sometimes not going to work for days. I found little joy in things, though I was able to put on a smile when I had to. I eventually ended up seeing a therapist and going on medication. IT was the ONLY way I could function. I am not, against medication when needed to HELP you see clearer. While digging my shoes deeper into the path of the Shaman, I began to loosen the strings and ties that had held me down for so long. It was a dark and scary. I had to acknowledge deep pain — emotional, spiritual, mental and physical. Barriers I set up a long time ago to protect myself. Pain I didn’t want to acknowledge. Past hurts. Present hurts. Things about myself that made me not a good person. It was like standing in front of a bunch of fun house mirrors and seeing myself warp into different people–yet remaining the same. So many layers of skin shed away. Things I thought I wanted and needed—I realized were a lie.
As the weights slowly came off, the depression lifted. And while there was still a fog around me, I was able to see a bit clearer…..I was finding out WHO I was and WHAT I wanted….Because of that, I started losing people close to me….Phone calls stopped. Emails stopped. Chats stopped. People I considered family simply vanished from my life. I was okay with that. They were there for whatever time they were meant to be there. I know that now, though at the time, it felt like my world was shattering. I got divorced and realized the things I needed in a relationship were not just things based purely on the idea of love. My perceptions of relationships, love and friendship changed.
I quite literally, became a whole new person.
Shamanism is not an easy path. It’s a path that forces you to accommodate the LIGHT and THE DARK. I always explain to those interested in the Shamanic path…that you are like an ocean: you have your deep dark parts and your clear sparkling parts–the catch is being able to allow the two parts to flow together not apart–they are not separate. These two worlds, the dark and light, must be constantly fluid. Moving together.
As I began my career as a Shamanic Reiki Practitioner, more things came to “light” — more gifts opened up that once again forced me to look at myself. I had to learn how to deal with my new abilities and deepening intuition. I had to again, deal with the light and darkness that resides not only in the world around me, but in myself. Friends came and went, relationships changed…..But I went with the flow.
Being a Shaman is about becoming a master of the balance of light and dark.
Ahhh, I finally have the chance to sit down and write about my visit to Sedona, Arizona. Sedona has been on my “spiritual site” visit list for years-so when I finally had the chance to go I was so excited. My partner and I went the first week in November in celebration of my birthday/new year. I have heard a lot of stuff about Sedona-mostly that as a sensitive, I would have to prepare myself for the energy surge I was going to feel.
As we started getting closer, I felt the all too familiar feeling up my spine that my energy channels were opening up. It’s usually a tingling sensation up my spine, like a tickle. From there I get a tingling in my left hand and on the left side of my head. It’s usually at that point that I get visions or hear voices. Rather this time, I just felt peace. My energy channels were open and everything was settled inside. For the first time in my life, I felt calmness unlike anything I have experienced.
The peace and vibes I felt repeated itself deep into the night where I would experience sleepless nights and yet still feels refreshed the following morning! It was like being awake—always, yet never feeling fatigued.
We hiked up Bell Rock, one of the places renowned for the vortexes. The energy there was so strong that you didn’t need a map to know where the vortex was. I felt it the instant I stepped into it. And I cried. I cried as I looked out into the horizon. Sedona strips away everything you are. It divests you of whatever you believed you were. I felt like someone had taken away everything that defined me—everything was boundless and limitless. In that moment, I became someone else, my true self.
The further we hiked the more I felt the energy. When we stopped for a break and I leaned against the rock, I felt my whole body enveloped by hundreds of primordial arms-embracing me like family. I saw images of spirit, and saw a vision of the Venus of Willendorf-a Goddess I have always felt connected to. I felt her embracing me in her bosom. I felt free of worries. I was home. At that moment I completely trusted the Universe.
As we were walking back to our hotel, I saw all these amazing Totem trees. Ironically of all the photos I took, the Totem trees were my favorites. The sun shining on my back, I heard a voice that said “its ok.” I felt transformed.
It’s funny how life is serendipitous. While in Sedona we met several people who moved from Massachusetts to Sedona. One of the amazing people we met was Jan Sullivan, a painter and tattoo artist. Ironically she was a transplant from Sturbridge, MA and her friend owns a farm near my home that I used to go to as a kid! We became very good friends, and my partner and I both decided we should get tattoos to remember the experience of Sedona.
I went for the OM sign—the sound that created the Universe; the sound and symbol of the higher frequency chakras. Whenever I feel like I am loosing myself, I look at my tattoo and remind myself of that moment on Bell Rock. Through the course of the week, the healthier and more restored I felt. I was an amazing experience. Made even better because we made so many new friends and connections!
Life has a funny way of leading you on the right path when you need it. I have been looking to leave my current job in health care and work in a more holistic field. I had been applying for various positions since August. Upon my arrival home, I received an email for an interview at a holistic health center! The Universe truly does bring to you what you need when you just let go!!!
~*Out of respect for those who have positive experiences or believe in the power of ayahuasca, I am omitting names of both people, groups and shamans from this post. Everyone has their opinion and this is solely mine. I know many people who have had life changing experiences and I respect and honor that.*~
Last year, while I was deep in depression and anxiety issues, I started hearing more and more about the magical plant “ayahuasca.” For those unfamiliar with it, I will sum it up this way: It’s a plant from the nightshade family and contains DMT. Done in small doses by a genuine Shaman, ayahuasca is meant to bring a profound and cathartic spiritual awakening. To quote someone who had taken the trip to Peru to try magical plant “its like psychotherapy on steroids.”
I really needed something to shake me out of the funk that I was in. Drowning in depression, I began to learn more and more about this magical herb, which, if taken correctly is non-addictive (though illegal in the US). I am a deeply spiritual person, and felt that part of my depression was caused by a lack of spiritual communion. I went from daily routine to nothing. At the time, it felt though someone had taken my soul and left a void. I began to meet more and more people who had taken the ayahuasca journey with great success. I thought about it, sought out retreats (most of which are in the middle of Peru) and started making plans to go on a journey and take this magical plant.
After a few months, I began to notice more and more stories and retreats popping up. I know the idea that when you are aware of something you see it more, so initially I thought that was it. But the more people I met in the spirituality community the more I learned that ayahuasca was and is, becoming a new fad for the Westerners. Primarily because most Westerners think by traveling into the jungles of Peru and drinking a concoction of magical herbs and plants, they will receive instantaneous spiritual awakenings.
When things become a “fad” its more than likely going to start turning into something that is not what its original intentions were. And that is what I began to see happening. More and more people taking ayahuasca…more and more “shamans” available. When I initially looked into retreats, there were maybe 2 or 3–now there are a dozen. Who is to say that the people you are working with are “genuine” ~ Additionally, there are very small groups who perform ayahuasca rituals in the U.S. – and to become part of the group you need to know someone who knows someone. A completely underground world.
The other thing I had begun to notice were those who were painting or drawing the ayahuasca visions–were all drawing nearly the same exact imagery. If there is supposed to be a personal spiritual experience during the hallucinations-why were all these people creating the same imagery. Additionally, some of the people were already using recreational drugs, so ayahuasca was just another “spirit journey” for them. And some of these people still had pent-up residual psycho-social issues. So their contrary words of the power of ayahuasca had really not changed them, aside from taking them on a trip.
Now, I am not saying that this occurs all the time. I know many people who are in a good state of mind and have had magical and transformative experiences with the drug. And I am also not saying that specific drugs, like peyote, under the guidance of a genuine shaman (one who has spent years studying plants) can not bring about a spiritual experience. I do believe in the proper hands, specific hallucinogens and ritual can create a deeply moving experience.
However, my thoughts are this. I believe most Westerners are looking for instantaneous spiritual awakenings. We live in a world where it is a get in now mentality. You can download music rather than go to store, order items on-line and have them the next day. There is no waiting or working. So rather than spend the years that are involved in spiritual atunement, they turn to a “quick” method of spiritual awakening. I have been working on my spiritual path for 20 years. And I am still learning. Spending thousands of dollars to spend time in a jungle to drink something – or finding an underground group who participates in ayahuasca circles, is not going to bring a lasting spiritual experience.
A spiritual awakening is something you continually have to work on and maintain. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen by smoking or drinking a hallucinogenic. Sure these may “open your mind,” but you get the same effect from deep meditation and relaxation techniques. Or via ecstatic dance and drumming. I believe the people who do have the instant spiritual awakenings are those who have had near death experiences. Only because they have been to the other side and back. They have a new perspective on life.
If you want to become more spiritual you have to spend years working on it. You have to find your ebb and flow. You have to awaken your souls journey and take the long and arduous steps to get there.
There is no such thing as an instantaneous spiritual awakening,