Pain makes people change.
I am not the same person I was three weeks ago.
My soul has been transformed.
Who I am now embodies nothing of what I was nine months ago, or a year or even two years ago. The parts of me you remember, that made you feel like there was drama or that angered you or upset you, the parts of me that you decided you didn’t like, or wished were different or wanted to change, no longer exist. I put myself back together differently.
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” ~ Isak Dinesen
Before I left for Greece I was wounded. There is no other word that accurately wraps up all I had been feeling for the previous nine months. Of course I was elated at the thought of the trip but I was also worried I wouldn’t come back. I thought this trip would be my last—not because I would stay if I loved it (because I absolutely would if I didn’t have people and friends and a job I love), but because I felt I wouldn’t survive the trip. It was a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. I honestly thought I was going to die there. I remember telling a coworker, “Something feels different about this trip.” And though I felt scared, I was also okay with it. My thought: if it is my time, I am ready.
For that last month at work my emotions were in chaos. I was full of insecurities and shame. I felt ignored and isolated. I was incredibly sensitive. Every emotion you could name I felt it at the same time; I was a walking kaleidoscope of emotions. In other words, I was completely and thoroughly unbalanced. I didn’t realize how much I needed those two weeks away from everyone and everything that was causing me to feel that way until I was without them.
That first night in Mykonos, after a light yoga class in a breezy area that had a view of the beautiful Mediterranean, we sat down for a group dinner of traditional moussaka. We drank local wine and shared Greek salads. Then the ten of us went around the table and introduced ourselves. I had had a very long day, a long flight, a longer week, and an even longer year. I was exhausted and combining that with being emotional, I was internally distraught.
I was prepared to say, “I’m only here for the yoga.” But right before me, a friend of mine, Michelle, introduced herself and praised our yoga instructor for her ability to pull people together and heal them through yoga. She began to tear up and I felt the waterworks building behind my eyes. Michelle was right. Yoga healed. Our instructor turned to me and indicated it was my turn. I opened my mouth and instead of saying the words I wanted to say, I broke down into tears. “I need to be here. I need this.” I went on for a few minutes about work and my emotional roller coaster of a year; I can’t even remember any of what I actually said. At some point, when the tears and sniffles were getting too thick and they couldn’t understand me, I stopped.
I fell hard for someone early in the year (I can’t equate it to love, but at the time I could see this person in my future for a long time), and when it ended, it broke me. Instead of facing it, I worked long hours and I put a lid on my emotions and feelings over the summer. I went to the beach often and imagined the ocean was healing me, but I knew it hadn’t.
Over the course of the next five days, we did yoga, got to know each other, and ourselves, better. I wasn’t afraid to get angry at myself, to get emotional, to cry in the middle of practice, to let the tears fall as I stared up at the blue sky in savasana. I knew that the only way to get out of where I was emotionally was to be unrelentingly honest and harsh with myself. I knew that I could not be silent with myself.
On my birthday, that Wednesday, our instructor took us to a little private cove where we all removed our bathing suit tops and sunbathed topless. She begged us to remove our bottoms in the water as well. We swam naked in the cool, crystal-clear, turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. For the first time in years, I felt free. It was pure freedom. Thirty-three years before, I thought, I was cocooned in my mother’s womb, protected by her, and now, I was also cocooned in these clear, freeing, salty waters of Mother Nature, protected by her.
That day I was just beginning to scratch the surface of my changing my soul.
Tuesday of the following week, a group of us decided to go hiking next to our gorgeous hotel in Megalochori. The trail winded down through the volcanic soil, years of explosions evident in the layers. Ash. Metamorphic schist. Red clay. The beauty of the island itself was only surpassed by the amazing churches built along the way. On Santorini alone, there is at least 470 churches. They are sometimes in backyards, by streets, or down mountain sides. This one we were coming up to was gorgeous. The view was spectacular. The white-washed building is made entirely of cement and brick. The details are painted blue and the inside I imagined smelled like an old basement from the 1970s. I paused as I neared the church, I wondered who built it and why. Was it a family church? I stepped up onto a ledge near the path. It was built up for purpose of guiding people along the safest route. I pulled my phone out and opened the camera app. I lined up the shot and took a photo. I put my camera back in my sports bra and took a step with my right foot onto the next part of the ledge.
Within seconds that boulder was tumbling down the side of the volcanic trail that plunged at least 100 feet. Or so it seemed. Everyone later praised me for my yoga training. For my quick thinking. To be completely honest, I wasn’t scared. I didn’t even have time to react. I leapt. My left foot hitting the dirt trail. I tottered before placing my right foot down
In that instant one person’s face flashed in my mind. I didn’t want to say it out loud. It was the person I wanted to forget. The person who let me go. Why couldn’t I let him go?
“Holy shit, are you okay?” Keith, Michelle’s husband, called out from about fifty yards behind me.
“I’m good. That was close.” I wish I had something more witty to say, something quirky or epiphany-ish.
But I was too busy thinking about why the person I cared, who clearly didn’t care about me, was the first one to pop into my head?
Something feels different about this trip, I remember saying to a coworker. A friend recently told me that she believed that before we’re born, we write into our lives various exit points along the way. We are faced with opportunities to take these exits, to cross over. Or we can choose to skip them. Was this an exit point I planned on skipping? Or was it one I was supposed to take and didn’t?
“None but ourselves can free our minds.” ~ Bob Marley
A few weeks before our trip I sent my friends Lori and Deb, both of whom were going on the trip, a message on Facebook. I told them that they needed to hold me accountable for taking a plunge off a “cliff” in Oia, Santorini. Deb was excited at the prospect of cliff jumping, and Lori assured me she would be there to support me. That was my main goal going to Greece this time around. Back in 2014 on the Greece Yoga retreat, we had hiked from Fira to Oia and went swimming at the little cove near Ammoudi Bay. A bunch of us swam out to the old, defunct church, and climbed up its steps, walked to the edge fifteen or sixteen feet above the water. I remember standing, looking down, terrified to see the boulders and rocks, even though they were 30-40 feet beneath the surface. I backed down along with another retreater, taking the steps to the lower level in a walk of shame I would come to deeply regret for the next two years.
On Friday of our last week, I woke at 6:45 and prepped for the hike, packing my backpack with water and a towel, but throughout the morning I constantly imagined taking that leap off the church “floor” fifteen feet down into the cool waters. We started in Fira again and this time the hike seemed easier. It wasn’t as difficult as I had remembered. I think my mindset was to just get to the cliff. Just get to the cliff. You need to jump. I remember thinking that. You need to jump. You need to take that step into the air and into the water. You must.
I don’t remember why I kept thinking that. I don’t recall the logic behind it. Though nothing in life is completely logical, nor is it planned.
We stopped at a church at the mid-way point. A local told our instructor, who speaks Greek, that the painting/image of Saint Elias, survived the last eruption at Santorini Caldera. We stared in awe at the glass that never broke during the quakes. I looked this painting over, studying it. No matter where I stood, his eyes followed. I imagined him questioning me. Why do you need to do this? Why do you feel you must jump off this cliff? I wanted to tell him that it is for me. If I do this, I will feel at peace. The parts of me that I didn’t like would die with that jump. The part of me questioning everything, would die.
We gathered our backpacks and continued on the hike, getting lost and found in Oia, finding our way to the bottom of the town and Ammoudi Bay. I didn’t waste any time, streaming past stores and restaurants. I ignored the shop owners begging me to come inside. I muscled my way past tourists taking their time along the cobblestone streets. Must jump. I paused only long enough to take a photo of a blue-topped church overlooking the caldera. I raced down, past the castle, down the donkey steps to Ammoudi Bay.
I waited for the rest of the group to arrive. We did yoga and walked to the swimming cove.
“You gonna do this?” Deb said.
“Been thinking about it the entire hike.”
“I think I’m going to go, too.” Keith said.
I felt relief. Not that a guy was going, but that someone else was being supportive.
I wasted no time getting into the water. It was cool in the air, but the water was refreshingly warm. I made a b-line for the church. The current was strong and I turned to see who was following me.
Deb. Keith. Erin.
Lori was already waiting with her iphone, ready to take photos.
We found a rope in the corner, used for climbing out of the water. I hoisted myself up, Deb wondering if I needed help. You couldn’t get me up there fast enough. I needed this.
You may be thinking I was suicidal, not being able to wait to leap off a fifteen foot old church platform into 30+ foot of water. I wasn’t. I wasn’t anywhere near suicidal. But I knew some part of me, the part that had been breaking over the last month, that part of me, would eventually fall apart and die after I jumped.
I climbed the steps, hearing Deb not far behind and Keith and then Erin. At the top I walked out to the edge, pausing to locate Lori before I stepped up to the ledge. I looked down. Don’t think, I thought, just jump.
I looked down, my toes curling over the ledge. I remember looking down. Don’t think. Rocks were crystal clear through the water. They looked so close. They seemed to glisten as if they were able to pierce the surface, if I tried, I might be able to touch them. Don’t think.
I leaped into the air. I don’t remember the exact thought going through my head as I was falling, all I know is that it was liberating.
The retreat was called ‘soothe your soul’ but my soul needed no soothing.
I’m not the same person I was three weeks ago.
Pain changed me.
It made me put myself back together differently.