Dictionaries define the words wilderness, spiritual and falling apart thus:
Wilderness: ” … a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert, uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals; a tract of wasteland…” (1)
Spiritual: “… relating to deep feelings and beliefs …” (2)
Falling Apart: “… to lose one’s emotional or mental composure…” (3)
Once, however, you’ve found yourself ‘fallen apart’ in the midst of a spiritual wilderness, you know that, in reality, these descriptions are tame. In fairness, it’s hard to find the right words or phrases to describe the living hell that is at the heart of a true spiritual wilderness. For me, the one word that comes close to summing it up is: bereft.
Bereft: ” … feeling great loss … a sense of deprivation or lack… ” (4)
But even that doesn’t quite get to the nub of it.
Those of you that have been there will know exactly what I mean.
I first, consciously, found myself in the heart of a spiritual wilderness ten years ago following a massive breakdown.
In the middle of one dark February night, I awoke and fell apart. Quite literally shattered in to smithereens. My life was about to change course – drastically.
For the better.
Of course, I didn’t know that then. All I knew then was that I was completely unable to function. As the lone mother of a young toddler, I should have been terrified. How on earth was I going to cope?
Interestingly, I wasn’t terrified. I was too broken and numb to know what I was feeling or thinking. I wasn’t thinking or feeling. I wasn’t even being.
For the first six months of that period, I did nothing but sleep. I even had to move in to a relatives home in order to be cared for.
I have absolutely no memory of those six comotosed months.
What I do remember is waking up, the sensation of ‘coming too’.
Unable to open my eyes, I lay there, simply sensing what was going on within me.
It was my legs that caught my fleeting attention first with their weak weight against the mattress. I knew that there was no strength in them to move.
This awareness was followed by my first thought in over six months:
‘ My life will never be the same again.’
It came in rapidly, as thoughts do, leaving just as quickly. Washed away by a tsunami of terror that crashed through me, reaping destruction on every shred of my confidence and former life along the way.
How would I be able to survive this inner natural disaster ?
I had a young child to care for. I had myself to care for yet here I was – utterly broken.
The tsunami was swiftly followed by bleak depression which became an unwelcome resident within me, an unwanted partner in crime on what was to be a long, lonely and lost pathway within my own inner wilderness.
It’s a good job that I didn’t know then that I was going to be walking on that desolate road for several years. It might, however, have helped me to know that I would, one day, look back and be so deeply grateful to have had the rich gifts of that journey.
For it was on that journey, where I often felt as if I were dying or yearned to die, that I came back to life. I was re-born and reconnected with a part of myself that had died a long time ago. Way before the actual breakdown occurred.
Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t so much that something had died, more like I just hadn’t given birth to the part of myself that was to come to life while I walked what I now describe as: The Wilderness Way.
So what did come to life? What did I give birth to?
The answer is quite simple.
I gave birth to my life as I am truly meant to be living it.
I gave birth to freedom of self, to honouring my true needs, to understanding my true worth and value, to appreciating my self-esteem, to acknowledging my gifts and how I want to express them in the world from a stance that is perfect for my own highest well being. I gave birth to the rhthym in which I wish to live my life.
You see, I had to reach a point of breakdown. I was so far removed from who I truly was that I just couldn’t function any more. We are not born to live false, dead lives. What is the point in that? We are born to live according to our own precious uniqueness. We are here to have fun and to laugh – a lot. We are here to adventure with ourselves – taking delight in all that we are capable of. We are born to get to know ourselves on every level. We are born to be, quite simply, happy. On our own terms. For the greater good of all.
When you are in the wilderness, you might feel like the most lonely and lost person in the world, yet all you are really doing is embarking of a journey of discovery. You are on the pathway back to finding yourself. Behind every tree or under each moss laden rock, there is a part of you to re-claim. On the bank of each wild river there is a ‘you’ who is eager to swim courageously to the other side to meet a brand new part of your self. Beside each roaring fire, there is part of you ready to re-ignite your life in so many exciting ways. Under each full moon, there is part of you ready to sit in peace and silence, knowing with surety that you did what you came here to do.
‘But Karen,’ I hear you ask, ‘I have a yearning for this way of living but I haven’t had a breakdown, yet I feel so lost. I want to feel these things you describe. I want the courage to swim that river and to feel the peace under the moon. I want to sit by that fire and re-ignite my life.
Do you have to have had a breakdown in order to feel as if you are living in a wilderness?’
The answer is simple:
You do not have to have suffered an horrific breakdown to find yourself in the wilderness.
The wilderness will reveal itself in different ways to different people.
For some, like myself, it came as a dramatic occurrence, manifesting as a long-lasting debilitating illness of some kind whilst, for others, it can be a more subtle, nagging ‘knowing’ that all is not well. You know, where you find yourself sighing a lot or having that ‘ there must be more to life than this’ thought regularly.
Take my advice. This is the time to act. Those sighs and thoughts are clear indicators that part of you is living in the wilderness, where many aspects of your life are depleted, malnourished or out of balance and where you have a yearning and knowing that all is not as it is meant to be. They are clear signs that your life essence is calling out to you, screaming:
‘Come back to who you were always meant to be.’
I didn’t listen to those signs. I was too busy living life at too fast a pace, giving way too much to others, ignoring my self and, quite frankly, just too ignorant to even know that those sighs and yearnings were internal gifts trying to nudge me in the right direction. I urge you – don’t be like me. After all, look how I ended up. Seriously ill and at a place where it has taken years to recover.
Then I hear your next question:
‘How Karen? How do you do it? How do you recover from a breakdown? How do you pull yourself out of depression? What do you do with that ‘ there must be more to life than this feeling?’
I’d love to tell you that there is a simple and easy answer to these questions but the truth is, there isn’t. And I’m not going to lie to you.
My recovery from my breakdown and depression has been one of the hardest, loneliest and most terrifyingly complex experiences of my life. It has destroyed me on the inside and crumpled my life on the outside. It has been a long slow crawl back to life.
But it has been worth it.
I am genuinely happier than I have ever been before.
Ultimately, my breakdown liberated me.
I have rarely spoken (or written) in depth about my journey of recovery, mainly due to the fact that it’s taken all my effort to just do the work I needed to do to come to a place of wellness again.
Another contributory factor is that behind any breakdown there are, often, deeply personal and traumatic experiences that can be painful to re-visit. It’s desirable to deal with those and move on.
Now, however, due to the interest demonstrated by readers of some of my recent blogs, I’ve decided to devote my writing this year to telling the story of my recovery – in the hope that it might help others who are living with the horror and terror of such a difficult experience.
I shall be posting these experiences on this blog on alternate weeks. If you would like to follow my story of recovery, please feel free to follow me here.
In my next blog, I shall be sharing the heart-rending story of one of the key life changing events that triggered my descent in to my breakdown, casting me in to my own spiritual wilderness, leading me in to the heart of The Wilderness Way.
If you are struggling to survive in your own spiritual wilderness, please know that I am sending you love, strength and courage. I urge you to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I hope my sharing my story and, more importantly, how I dug my way to recovery, helps you do the same. In the meantime, you might find these two articles that i wrote at the end of last year helpful:
Remember: ” … the greatest adventure is the journey of our own transformation once we begin to honour our truth…” (Karen Packwood – The Love Millionaire).
Sending You Much Much Love,
Karen is a #1 Best Selling Author & Spiritual Healer who runs on-line and live wilderness retreats for adults who are in the midst of their own spiritual wilderness so that that they can re-claim their joy and purpose in life.
She is currently writing the book: The Love Millionaire – Cultivating the Art of Inner Richness.
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