Two years ago, I was sat beside a friend with our legs dangling over the side of a canal in Amsterdam. The late summer air was already cooling on the cusp of autumn, and so we were sitting close together in order to share each other’s warmth. We also were eating elephant ears, my favorite pastry, laughing while we watched the buttery flakes fall onto our laps and playfully drift away in the wind before landing in the water below.

After a while, my friend reached over and squeezed my hand, an action which bruised my heart with remorse. I was going to miss her. Which was an impossible feeling to avoid since I’d invited her beside the canal that day to tell her I was leaving Amsterdam.

At the time, I couldn’t quite explain why I was leaving a city I loved. There were reasons that could be named of course: the weather was lousy, the city center was noisy and always filled with tourists, and I had no idea which side of the local scene I belonged.

However, none of that mattered. Amsterdam is where I found my adult feet. Where I learned to cope with the same highs and lows of day to day living that all people suffer. And in spite of struggling professionally, personally, and romantically as well, somewhere between all the noise, the misshapen architecture and the quirky, creative energy humming throughout the city, Amsterdam became my home. And so the only intelligence I could offer her was that I was guided by the loving grace of my intuition. For some unexplainable reason, I simply had to go.

...

After nearly six years abroad, I returned to the U.S. And at first, I was hopeful. But the durable path required to tap into my own internal wisdom was eclipsed by a great, swooping need to plug into some sort of identity.

During those first months back, I ambled across most of the west coast trying out various jobs and living situations, desperate for something to connect with. My bones rattled with discomfort, and at one stage, I even purchased and refunded three plane tickets back to Europe, as well as contacted my old boss, begging for my job back.

It would take the whole of a year to understand that the experience of life should mature us. That a certain kind of stamina of deliberate speed is required to transform memories into sources of wisdom. It’s kind of like a slow, digestive process which over time, the spirit retains what’s needed, letting go of any excess. From that perspective, the springboard for change comes from one’s own curiosity, as well as the patience to yield to the unknown.

As it turns out, I had a problem with stillness. Standing still required me to peer into the depths of my vulnerability, as well as the truth that I wouldn’t be happy anywhere because I wasn’t happy with myself. I was living in a world interpreted by others, out of touch with my own inherent value and self-worth.

...

It’s a rather difficult task for a person’s spirit to carry on in a world that is not their own. I’d grown into an adult woman tirelessly concerned with what other people thought, searching outside of myself for meaning, waiting for people to tell me who I was. For years, I allowed my relationships to both direct and define me. It was as if standing on the sidelines of my own life, intimately separate from myself and others.

And then one day, an incredible insight came to me: the well of self-worth cannot be endlessly sourced from the outside. With this awareness, I knew I had no choice but to revise what I thought about myself.

Time spent reflecting on my past seemed like a good start. I thought if I could explore the patterns of thinking which brought me to the present moment, I could start to make shifts toward a more grounded way of being. However, this would require me to sit still long enough to acknowledge the pain I was in, which sounded downright awful.

I would need nurturing conditions to heal. After minimizing my possessions and needs, I entered into six month stretch of intentional self-study. A time of which I sat quietly with my stories, excising my emotional and psychic wounds with truth and compassion, the healing power of nature, reflection, and the secret knowledge of my own solitude.

Part of my journey brought me to the Outer Banks, where overlooking the Atlantic one day, I experienced a moment of pure grace. While the waves thundered along the shoreline, I was touched by the impermanence of all things. That life continually expands and contracts all around us, and if I closed my eyes for too long, I’d miss it. That day, I realized my suffering was really a true friend. That I needed to trust it. Because the challenges I was facing were simply asking me to show up, surrender, and heal. To make peace with my past, and build a bridge back to both life and my home in Europe.

When I availed myself to stillness, I uncovered an emotion that many of us struggle with: anger. As it turns out, I was angry at my parent’s for dying, angry at early childhood traumas, and angry at myself for being afraid not of my own limitations, but of my own depths and talents. I think in a strange way, I was punishing myself, which resulted in nothing short of spiritual roadblocks erected by my own indignant nature.

Anger is wholly incompatible with freedom. And so as I watched the waves roll onto the shore and out again, I practiced forgiveness. I let go of my resistance. And each time my lungs filled up, I was reborn.

Just last week, I arrived back to Amsterdam. And I have to say, I’d forgotten how beautiful the canals look at night. The way the lights reflect off of the footbridges onto the water, like several little lunar pools, illuminating the city. Everywhere I turn, I am greeted with smiles and open arms, welcoming me back home. And in many ways, it feels like I never left. Though, at the same time, I feel confused and uncertain. Confronted with all the strange emotions leading up to my leaving. And as I carefully tread a line between before and after, I wonder: is it possible to return to a place you’ve once been? When so much has happened, when so much has changed, when the heart has both contracted and expanded so immensely?

The truth is, I don’t know. The place nor you are the same. However, I think it’s entirely possible to consider a place and one’s relationship to it in both an old way and a new. Suppose there is more to take in, more to be produced. Such that life is an endless cycle of recurrence; of learning. We have much to learn each day through our own conscious and creative engagement. And it is through that learning that we may come to a resolution of inner peace. And it is the peaceful heart that is ready for anything.

 

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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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