Searching For Spirit
My Journey of Life, Death and Beyond
I grew up an only child in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid 80’s and early 90’s. After my parents divorced, we moved from Antioch to Pittsburgh, where I lived with my mom and Nana in a small one bedroom apartment. I remember how the hot asphalt in the summertime scorched my bare feet, and I carefully avoided the needles that the drug addicts carelessly tossed on the ground.
My family was not religious. Up to that point in my life I had never heard the name of God unless it was spoken in vain. The first time I encountered religion I was about six years old, when my neighbors came to invite me to church. Their names were Grace and Glen. They were tall, dark, kind African people with big, beautiful smiles, and perfect dazzling white teeth. Their home was full of interesting Zulu masks, leopard prints, zebra stripes, statues of giraffes and elephants and all sorts of cool things that a small city kid like me had never seen.
The Southern Baptist church Grace and Glen took me to had a large choir dressed in beautiful matching robes. They sang all in harmony, and everyone was so lively and happy! They handed me a tambourine when I walked through the door and said enthusiastically “Hallelujah Child! Praise the Lord!” I was on cloud nine. Here were happy people! Joyous people! I never knew people like this existed. All I’d been used to was scowls, frowns, and swearing.
I watched with wonder as the preacher stood at the pulpit in his long purple velvet robe and spoke about the blessings of Jesus. He told me to stand with arms wide open, and then he touched my forehead. I fell backwards and knew something had happened, but I didn’t know what, or why. Grace and Glen explained to me that the Spirit of the Lord had touched me and that now I was blessed. I was excited to hear this news! I was happy to be blessed because up to that point in my life I was quite lonely and sad. My mother worked a lot and was gone most of the time, and when she was home she was usually asleep. I often missed my father and wondered why I never saw him anymore.
The kindness of these two neighbors still touches my heart to this day. You never know how just one act of kindness can change a person’s life. Their’s surely changed mine. And I’m sure that being the people that they were, I wasn’t the only person to experience the love and kindness these two gracious people possessed.
That first experience at church sparked a desire in me to understand the Divine. I became fascinated with religions. I grilled my Jewish babysitter on Judaism. I loved making and eating potato latkes and drinking grape juice with her as she explained how the Jews had been persecuted, but they kept the light of the menorah burning for seven days and nights just by the light of one candle. I was particularly excited to hear about how everyone got eight days worth of presents at Jewish Christmas (Hanukkah.) But, when I begged my mother if we could take up practicing Judaism to take advantage of the extra presents and potato latkes, she said no.
Years later, when I was nine years old, my mother remarried and we moved to Idaho. I got a new step family of aunts, uncles and cousins who were very religious, and was invited to start going to church with them. We went Monday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, and twice on Sundays.
I learned that they were called Evangelical Christians, and they had very strict rules. Women were not allowed to cut their hair or wear pants to church. We had to wear our hair up and always go in our best Sunday dresses. We were not allowed to watch cable T.V. except for certain approved movies, and listening to any station other than Christian radio was strictly prohibited. I fell right in with these people, learned my Bible verses and prayed hard and often. We raised our hands in praise and sometimes I felt the Spirit of God truly moving in that church and in me. We would worship until we cried, and it seemed to me, the more you cried, the more Christian you were.
The pastor would preach fanatically from the pulpit, banging his fist and yelling at those in the back row to make sure they were still awake. Sometimes he would get all worked up and red in the face, then start speaking in ‘tongues’. Then the congregation would really pray hard and send people up to him to be touched for healing. We sang all the old hymns like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Victory In Jesus’. I loved the music and feeling like I belonged somewhere.
The kids all went to church camp in the summers. I noticed in my last year at church camp that some of the pastor’s girls were speaking in tongues. I was told that they were channeling God himself. I very much wanted to channel God. I thought if I could just speak in tongues myself, then I could have the awakening and the saving that they told me I needed. I prayed fervently and asked God to come through me and speak in tongues.
“Please God,” I prayed, “Let me be filled with your holy spirit and grace. Let me be saved. Let me be anointed like the daughters of the pastor. Save my soul from sin.” All morning I prayed, but nothing happened. After lunch we came back to the chapel for afternoon prayer time. I was determined to speak in tongues. I just knew I was supposed to be chosen this time- and hadn’t that first pastor when I was little told me that I was touched by God? I sat down, closed my eyes, and prayed and prayed and prayed, but nothing was happening.
Finally I said to myself, “I’ll start talking in gibberish and see what happens. Maybe that’s all it is- I’ll just let it flow out of my mouth and then it will turn into something that God wants me to say.” And so I did. I sat there for maybe fifteen minutes just blabbering and trying really hard to pray at the same time. It was difficult. I hoped I was doing it right. After a while I decided it wasn’t working and so I stopped and opened my eyes.
Everyone in the church had gone. Normally when people spoke in tongues they all came around that person and prayed with them. I was all alone. I began to cry. I wondered why I had failed. What was wrong with me? Soon someone came back into the church and admonished me. “You’ve been a very bad girl!” they said. “You mocked the Lord and embarrassed yourself in front of the whole congregation!” I was devastated. They told me I should be ashamed of myself, that I had disappointed God and my church, and to pray long and hard about what I had done.
Upon hearing about the incident when we returned from camp that summer, my Aunt was furious. She took me aside and scolded me again. “What you did was wrong! Shame on you!” she exclaimed, adding, “You’re no longer welcome at this church.” I was twelve years old.
That is the day that I remember clearly, vividly in my mind, turning my back on God. Clearly I was not chosen. I was not his daughter and he was not my father. I never again stepped foot in that church. My curiosity and deep burning desire couldn’t be quelled for long though, and in my teens I once again began the quest to understand my spirituality.
In high school I found another Southern Baptist church that a girlfriend of mine went to. They had a hellfire and brimstone pastor who loved to preach about the evils of hell. Still, I loved going to bible study each Sunday and singing in the choir and getting to hang out with my friends in our Awanas Bible group.
But as I got older, I began to see discrepancies in the Word that the Pastor yelled and mightily beat his fist on the pulpit about on Sundays, and the lives that the congregation held the rest of the week. I began to see hypocrisy and blasphemy. The kids who pretended to be my friends on Sunday wouldn’t speak to me at school during the week. I finally decided to turn my back on Christianity for good.
Throughout high school I began to look into other religions like Wicca and Paganism. I found some books on yoga from the local library and started learning about Buddhism, the Kabbalah, and Hinduism. I even started attending a Hare Krishna temple where the women taught me to sing Hare Krishna, dressed me in beautiful silk saris and taught me to cook Indian round breads called “puris” and rice with saffron.
Although they each fascinated me, I didn’t feel right about claiming any of the religions I came across as my own. As I got older my life drifted into chaos and disharmony. I was drinking alochol, having sex and smoking weed, generally lost in my own sadness and suffering. I wanted to numb the pain of being a fatherless daughter living with a neglectful and unpredictable bipolar mother, with any sort of easy pleasure I could find.
An Unexpected Turn
After I had turned eighteen and moved out on my own, I was hungry for an adventure, so some friends and I decided to take a road trip and drive from Idaho to California. I had a sweet old ‘76 Volvo I’d dubbed the “Vulva”. She was a sturdy car made of solid steel and covered with bumper stickers.
Somewhere along the way, we’d taken a wrong turn. It was dark and we were somewhere in the middle of Nevada when I started to fall asleep in the backseat, no seatbelt on, a friend driving at the wheel. I heard the driver say “I’m getting tired.” I asked him if he wanted me to take over driving, to which he replied “No, I’ll make it a few more miles.”
That was the last thing I remember before the car crashed. I groggily awoke to a loud exclamation of “OH SHIT!” as the car rolled off the side of the road and into a ditch. I would later learn that he’d fallen asleep at the wheel going well over seventy five miles an hour.
The first thing that happened was that my neck snapped. I felt intense pain so bad it shot me right up and out of my body. My spirit was floating above and then farther and farther away. The best way I can describe it is like the feeling you get when you pass out. The outer edges of your vision become blurry and then it tunnels down into a single pinpoint before blipping out entirely. The only difference is that when you pass out you lose consciousness.
But I was completely conscious. I was aware that I was floating far away from my body, and suddenly I knew what was happening. I recognized it as if I had done it before. It was a very familiar feeling. I was dying. The black abyss I was floating in didn’t seem to be space, but something else. I could tell that the Earth was far below me but I couldn’t see what I was moving towards, only that I felt a strong force pulling me away.
They say when you have a near death experience that your life flashes before your eyes. Well, I would say that was true for me. I thought about my family and friends. I thought about my ex boyfriend and childhood sweetheart. Suddenly I felt what I can only describe as an intense WILL TO LIVE rise inside me! I knew it wasn’t my time. I had work to do. I wasn’t ready to die yet- it wasn’t my time! I needed to get back there! I willed myself to go back to my body.
When I opened my eyes we were on the side of the road. One of the guys was holding me and crying. “Are you ok?” he asked? “Are you alive?” “Yes,” I weakly responded, “But not for long unless you stop the bleeding. You need to put pressure on my wounds. Find a shirt or something to wrap my arm.”
I had severed all the tendons in my right arm and my hand was just dangling there like a limp rag doll. Luckily I felt no pain- my body had gone into shock. I had a severe concussion, and no immediate memory of the accident or even how we had gotten here, to this isolated desert road in the middle of nowhere. “What happened?” I asked. “We were in a car accident.” He told me. “We’re in Nevada and miles away from any town.”
We didn’t have cell phones back then, and even if we did, there would have been no cell service anyway. It hurt to move my head and I quickly realized I had a broken neck. I had trouble speaking and reached up to feel my jaw. It was hanging oddly off my face and I couldn’t feel my teeth. It turned out my jaw was broken in two places. I was bleeding profusely from a skull fracture about four inches long on the top of my head.
Thankfully, the driver was uninjured and ran off towards the nearest town for help, leaving us there on the highway in the cold night. The old dusty mining town of Tonopah, Nevada was a few miles away. It was around midnight and the town was dead. Just a few dim street lights were lit, so he found the only open place in that tiny deserted town- the bar. He ran in and told them there’d been an accident and a girl had been badly injured. We needed help right away.
Lucky for me, the two men sitting at the bar drinking their beers turned out to be volunteer paramedics. They had an old beat up ambulance, so they all jumped in and headed out to get me. They used the “jaws of life” (some sort of metal cutters) to cut open the car, got me loaded on a flat board and hoisted me up and out.
When we got to the tiny hospital in Tonopah, they knew it was bad- so bad they immediately had me life-flighted by helicopter to Las Vegas to be treated by their best doctors. When I woke up from my coma, it was a month later and I was in Boise, Idaho. I had been in Vegas for a few weeks and then life-flighted to Boise. They had put me in a drug induced coma to allow my body time to heal from the injuries.
The gravity of what happened hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw myself in the mirror for the first time. Tears began to stream down my cheeks as I looked at myself in horror. I looked like Quasimoto from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My face was swollen and covered in bright red lacerations. My ears looked cauliflowered out like those of a pro boxer at the end of a fight. My eyes could barely open and my jaws were wired shut so I couldn’t speak. I had a neck brace on and they’d put a hole in my throat with a little plastic tube so I could breathe. My right arm was wrapped up and casted. I didn’t recognize the girl staring back at me.
Several months before I had taken my senior photos, and my mother had brought them and placed them in my hospital room. She wanted the nurses and doctors to know that her daughter had been beautiful once before. I was smiling wide in the black and white photos, and wearing a pretty sarong and a flower in my short hair like an island girl. They shook their heads in pity when they turned from the pictures to see me lying helpless in the hospital bed.
They told me what happened, and how I had gotten there. They told me that it was a miracle I had survived. They said I would need to learn how to walk again, and since I was unable to talk with my jaws wired shut and a tube in my throat, I had to learn sign language to communicate. I needed to learn to write with my left hand, and so I scribbled out my notes on a white board they’d given me.
As I slowly regained my memory of that night, I kept feeling like it all happened for a reason. I knew I hadn’t been in a good place in my life. I knew I had been searching for something, yet unable to quite grasp what it was. As the memories slowly came back, I figured out what it was: I was a spirit inside a body. I knew this because my soul left, went on a journey, and came back. In a way, it seemed to me that my old body had to die to make my soul stronger.
I knew that I would have died if it weren’t for those two paramedics who came to get me. I believed that they were my angels. I felt that I’d been given a second chance at life, and I was no longer afraid of death. I had work to do. I knew then that there was a greater purpose for me. I had found my spirituality- not in religion, but in the experience of death.
Over the years I continued my search to deepen my connection to Spirit. I found and began working with a shaman and spiritual teacher. I joined women’s groups and began doing Goddess work. I committed myself to healing. I went to Buddhist sanghas and learned how to meditate. I started seeking and finding my tribe, my people- the ones who, like me, had a deep thirst and desire for truth, knowledge, and spiritual connection.
I now have a holistic therapy practice where I help others heal from physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma. I know that this is my true calling, and I go with joy each day to do my work. My message is simple- never stop seeking a connection with Spirit- to that which brings you joy, purpose, and enthusiastic abundant life. Healing is possible, if we want it. Now it’s time for me to share my story, and help others on their journey. If my story can help just one person, then when the time comes I can cross the rainbow bridge in peace, content that I have done the work that I was called to do.