My Journey

The Journey, by Mary Oliver:

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

‘Mend my life!’

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do—

determined to save

the only life you could save.

I first heard this poem when I was at the threshold of 30, about to leave my first husband, and bursting with new passion for what was to be a twenty-year career as a therapist.

From today’s perspective, I can feel different parts of this powerful poem resonating at different stages of my life. That first time, it was the urgency to escape that I felt in those first two lines: ‘One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began’. I found the energy to leave an outworn life and begin a new one.

A decade later, with a full practice, a steady relationship, new adventures into energy medicine, healing, magnetic fields, at last I discovered a spirituality that felt tangible. When I read Mary Oliver’s poem to clients, it was like a challenge. So many of my clients were beautiful, powerful, talented women who were about ten years younger than I. They were in their ‘wild night’, and I saw many of them as needing encouragement in leaving old ‘voices behind’…

Within six months of celebrating my 40th (Spanish tapas, many friends, much dancing), we immigrated to Canada to live on an island where we grew our own fruit, vegetables and flowers, Bob fished once a year to stock up our freezer, and I drank the purest water I have ever tasted in my life.

In B.C I eventually helped more women to find their voices too, and for several of them ‘the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds’.

I deeply loved my work with these women, but I myself felt the oppression of too many clouds… And fortunately Bob felt this too, so we returned to the US. Specifically, Tucson, which is renowned for its blue skies and clear starry nights.

Now on the brink of 50, I live in a co-housing community, I have solar panels, and I work as an ‘Integrative Consultant’.  I live the values of today’s growing spiritual, political, ecological and economical awareness. But I’ve lost my starry-eyed optimism, my idealism and my powers of persuasion. My perspective has changed because I’ve lost the courage of my convictions. I’ve experienced the loss of funds, friends and dreams through economic crisis, death and heartbreak. I’ve also experienced illness that I found challenging or nearly impossible to heal…. Humbling indeed, for a so called ‘Healer’, but that’s another article!

I don’t preach because so many of today’s 30 and 40 year olds are the choir. The paradigm has shifted. They get it. They know about the power of beliefs and the influence of the heart’s magnetic field. They embody what I was merely grasping at their age, about our capacity to heal and the interconnectedness of all things… And I hope they can build on this. I hope they don’t have to experience devastation and insecurity ever again. Like a mother or a big sister, I am awe-struck, protective, and truthfully, a little envious of their faith.

Today, as I pause for a rest, the words that resonate most profoundly are ‘It was already late enough, …and the road full of fallen branches and stones’. This is such a lonely image.

The spiritual path requires increasing levels of consciousness. This is the price for discovering the power to create. Being carefree is still the goal, but now, one slip results in my falling harder than I’ve ever fallen before.

I do have ‘a new voice’. Some days it is a full, hearty laugh that shakes the roof! Other days, I can barely hear her, but my listening skills are honing! I’m re-examining everything I once was so sure of, brick by brick, testing the metal of my deepest held beliefs, which I took to be foundational. Uncertainty and humility are my bread and butter. ‘Determined to save the only life you could save’… has become my single focus. I tread as mindfully as I can where the road becomes treacherous, relying heavily on my heart, as though my life depended on it.

Being alone and being supported by friends along the road are two very different experiences. For decades I have helped to foster that natural bonding tendency between women, and witnessed it’s healing powers! I’ve reminded others that we don’t have to do this alone.

So once again I’m building a new house out of the ruins of the old ones. I can’t say what it will look like or what sort of weather it will have to endure, but it’s dawning on me that it will welcome my friends and their gifts of love. Do we ever stop learning? I’ve had many people tell me that they’re sick of working on this issue, or that they have already ‘done all the work’ on that issue! But although the landscape changes when we ascend the spiral up the mountain, and our vision changes, the lessons remain the same. We just need to remember, we need to reach out, and we need to receive once again letting in the love to the next level, from this deeper perspective that we have forged.

Catriona O’Curry is a consultant based in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, Bob. They like to travel to Seattle, B.C. and Europe in the summers.