The story starts with presence.

One recent morning, I woke up early to watch the sunrise. I thought it might teach me a thing or two about grace.

I’ve been renting a cottage in Southern Shores, North Carolina, where I came to do some healing. A woman I met during my recent travels referred to the Outer Banks as a ‘thin place’ — a place where the distance between heaven and earth is minimal. After a few weeks here spent witnessing the days fold back onto the horizon in colors more wild than I could imagine, I wouldn’t argue against that.

Time does and doesn’t pass here and it is splendid. The hours pour over the day like slow molasses, while lemon yellow butterflies flit around, curious and frenzied. There are pine trees with needles the length of my forearm and quirky, contorted canopies of live oaks to seek shade and respite. The air is salty and the ocean breeze reminds me of play. The boundaries of what’s known and unknown are blurred. And I cannot think of a better example of consonance than this.

Walking toward the water, the horizon line is always the first thing I see. And each time I feel a sense of clarity. An inner smile of peace. I remember that possibility lives in unknown spaces.

Overhead, a single gull passed north to south in a quiet, smooth line. While white-cap waves thundered, swallowing the beach in fits of lingering bites. And I could tell it was going to be a good day just by the arrangement of the clouds. By the way the cirrus fanned out in electric colors of warm oranges, purples, and pinks.

A strange, new thought came to me: where I stand today cannot work if I am standing next to somebody busy with who I was yesterday. And the self-referential application of this thought had me dumbstruck.

Overcome with emotion, I hugged myself.

I’d never done that before.

Usually I’d feel too silly and self-conscious, worried that someone was looking at me. It felt odd. Curious. I liked it. I held on.

Then I breathed in.

Receiving.

I listened to waves and the gulls and concentrated on the feeling of my own heart. Breathing in felt like the words thank you and each exhalation felt generous and giving. The waves continued to crash with effortless stamina, and three brown pelican cruised low along the inky-blue Atlantic.

I felt emotional.

And then the words "I’m sorry" trembled out of my mouth.

It all felt very strange because I only came to watch the sunrise, though it felt good to say them so I said them again. And again and again until the words became, “I love you.” I said, “I love you” over and over, loudly and proudly, and then broke down and cried.

I’d been so terrible to myself for so very long.

I walked along the beach for a little while and let the moment sink in. My heart felt soft. Relieved. Porous and immense. I made it. I carried myself over the threshold of despair.

...

I live with a lot of trauma. And it’s trauma rooted in loss and violence which has impacted the whole of my life. Darkly.

However, my coming to terms with my trauma did not happen smoothly. Rather, it happened as a series of missteps and stumbles, as life lurched and staggered around me, from one seemingly safe place to another. It was exhausting.

Until one day, when living each day became far too painful, I accepted an invitation to enter into a deep and intentional study of what raged my heart.

Two years ago, I set out on a healing journey. A journey which would take me across seven states and four countries, where I’ve been able to explore my stories carefully and closely. A study of self-interest that ultimately evolved into self-love. The ultimate precursor to healing.

Through a process of anchoring into my sadness, I learned to understand its necessity.

I am even thankful for it.

Thankful because a practice of gratitude allows us to acknowledge and bear witness to all that sustains us —including our suffering.

Because it is through suffering that we can awaken the deepest possible compassion and wisdom. We can end the cycle of self-abuse and unnecessary pain. And once the heart expands, love is possible.

By taking the time to heal ourselves, we are better placed to honor the divine energetic thread that connects all beings. We can be more loving and careful with ourselves, as well as others. And only then can we experience the rising sun of joyful freedom, where the cracks in our hearts once were.

Gratitude dismantles the illusion of separateness. The same separateness that causes low feelings of anxiety and depression, which tirelessly remain propped up by expectations and want. Bringing attention to the present moment invites you into a space of both truth and mystery. Into a thin place where heaven is on earth.

The graceful intelligence of all nature is the elegant dance of oppositions. Oppositions which share the same divine stream of energy. A combined practice of presence and gratitude allows for a gentle unfolding into expansion. Into wholeness. A space where beauty understands that truth is both hard and soft.

Things will happen to all of us over the course of our lives that we didn’t initiate. We will be hurt. Daunted. Changed. At times it will feel irrevocable.

However, I’ve started to think of life as a large classroom. As if each moment we encounter is in service toward our evolution. This perspective has helped me feel grateful for everything — even the dark night.

A spiritual path depends on cultivating our own capacity for love and compassion. First, as nourishing food for ourselves, which is then harvested in plenty so we can feed others. The divine alchemy of presence and gratitude get’s us there. And from there, our lives can be abundant. Because with love in our hearts, we will never go hungry. Without hunger, we can be free.

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Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, educator, and seeker — seeker of truth and beauty. Her work explores themes of trauma, heartache, loss, and family violence, reminding us to ask ourselves, who are we afraid of? You can follow her on IG: @beautystills or drop her an email to share a secret or two: heart@ardentheart.me

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