Do Not Walk Outside This Area
“There are things known and things unknown.
In between are the doors of perception.” ~Aldous Huxley
What you are about to read is my life’s greatest wound.
The Sunday after Christmas 2012, a day I now refer to as “Fuck You Sunday,” my husband asked for a divorce so he could live the life of a celibate monk. Looking back, the scene seems like a contradiction—my scholarly, yogic-scripture-quoting, and meditation driven husband pushed me over a dining room chair while screaming “fuck you” in rage, shattering every emotional bone of my being.
And so, I fell into the abysmal space of the unknown.
Healing is the transition space, the doorway portal between the known and the unknown. The unknown is both a scary and exciting place. When we suffer a wound of trauma or tragedy, we are forced into the unknown, a free fall without knowing when or where or how we might land.
In the plane, I am safe. Locked inside the pressurized cabin, I am a ticketed passenger gazing out my tiny portal windows at the silver airplane wing. Inside the plane, the world of the plane cabin seems very real and tangible. As they roll metal carts smiling attendants bring you bottled drinks and cracker snacks wrapped in cellophane wrappers. I can adjust the airflow of my own personal fan by turning a nozzle just so. Inside the cabin, I can drift through the sky without a thought or a care in the world.
We don’t want to leave the land we call Familiar. We love its yellow painted comfort zone guidelines. With clearly written expectations, and known variables we feel a false sense of security, as if everything can and should go as visualized, and planned. But, the land of structure and organization is limiting… boring even.
The wilderness of clouds are on the other side of the portal window. “DO NOT WALK OUTSIDE THIS AREA” is printed in bold black block letters across the wing. This stern warning reminds me of the laws and rules that must be followed so that I stay safely confined within the tightly packed rows of seats, storage bins, and safety belts. Securing my seatbelt across my lap in the center seat wedged between indecision and discomfort certainly wasn’t comfortable anymore, but it was familiar.
At the same time, there is a sense of adventure in all of us. A yearning to walk out of this area, to break the rules. A desire to taste the grass on the other side of the fence, to know the world on the other side of the wall. What is fearful and anxiety driven on the right foot is exciting and thrilling on the left.
The silver airplane wing hangs out there, floating and still. The wings of birds are graceful and feather-light and flexible. But this fixed unbendable metal wing seems more mechanical than anything made of nature. Set against the pale organic blue backdrop of pure air, the silver wing gleams in the cloudless light. I longed to get out of my seat, to crawl out of my tiny portal window and stand out there on the area where the rules say we are not supposed to be.
The unknown is the greatest of all fears. Think about it—the three most common fears are death, public speaking, and heights. All of these have the unknown in common. Many of us choose being uncomfortable in the familiar over facing the unknown. Yet, facing the unknown is a human condition that no one can escape.
Even if we are stuck in the rut of indecision, we cannot stay frozen forever because life continues to move around us. When we stand frozen at the crossroads of indecision and confusion, something outside of our control happens. Inevitably, we run out of sky. Something pushes us from behind, or swipes us from the side, or sweeps us off our feet and forces us over the rumble strip of our comfort zone into the big bad unknown.
More often than not, that push or swipe or sweep appears in the form of a trauma, leaving a bloody wound in its wake. Ready or not, we jump, usually beaten and broken from our own resistance, into a place where the roads aren’t mapped out and our GPS has no signal, groping our way through the dark.
Fuck You Sunday forced me to step out of the comfort of the pressurized cabin of traditional marriage, and walk into what I thought was the forbidden realm of potential divorce. I found myself surfing on the wing of the plane, the words “DO NOT WALK OUTSIDE THIS AREA” underneath my toes and absolutely nothing to grip onto. I looked over the edge and peered into the unknown vastness of natural water blue sky. Part of me gazed off into the distance with curiosity and anticipation at the vast possibilities of what I could never know. I relished the idea of riding the current.
And so, I let myself be pushed from behind, swept off my feet.
I let go.
In the portal between the discomfort of familiar and the thrill of the unknown, feeling for light switches, we may catch our fingers on exposed rusty nails and stub our toes on knotty roots. The demons of the mind play a constant game of cat and mouse with our emotions. We are challenged by Grief and Loneliness, Fear and Anxiety, Guilt and Regret. We stumble upon other wounds, invisible wounds, buried within memories, deep inside brain cells.
In the initial free fall I was tossed in the wind, whisked into a hurricane, and drenched by sleet. I lost all my senses, except one. Blinded by the darkness, deafened by the silence, my sense of feeling heightened. My wounds were too deep and too raw to be erased or washed clean by the outside rain and fog. My healing had to happen from the inside out. In order to fully heal I had to FEEL, because the only way out is through. Through the unknown.
Different from the physical wounds that bleed or leave a visible scar, easy to identify and treat, invisible wounds are far out of reach of physical therapy or the setting of a broken bone or the stitching and bandaging of a deep laceration. For invisible wounds, healing is not solved with medication or surgery; rather, it comes while we grope around in the dark unknown edges of our lives, searching for a light.
Light switches come to in the form of friends, mentors, insights, and experiences.
Once I surrendered to my falling fate, then and only then was I able to recognize the dozens of angels soaring on fully expanded wings forming a safety net all around me. They came in many costumes wearing techni-color wings—a breast cancer survivor, a Vietnam vet and his therapy dog, a transgender man, a dominatrix, and many more—empowered me with healing salves of inner strength and confidence and love. Most importantly, they showed me how to see past the storm into the sunshine hidden behind it; they taught me how to cross a minus to make a plus, and flip a negative to a positive.
Healing isn’t always comfortable. Yes, it can be beautiful and loving and tender. And it can be ugly and painful. Whatever we are healing from, we can encounter numerous lights and illuminations. And the spaces between those lights can be dark and dreary. In the search for healing the gashes of our wounds, we journey into the unknown spaces in our souls. That journey, the space between known and unknown, we ultimately drink the marrow of life and discover our greatest gifts.
These angels welcomed me to their dinner tables and guest bedrooms across America…Minnesota to South Dakota, Iowa to Florida, Vermont to Hawaii, and New York to Ohio. From a New Year’s grief ritual at a northern Minnesota cabin in the dead of winter to a cleansing Easter rebirth in a sacred bay of Maui, I offered my tears to Old Man Winter, bowed to Mother Earth, and prayed to the Hawaiian Goddess Pele.
When I landed on my own two feet, I realized that I was never really comfortable in the blissful ignorance of stowed luggage and seat tray tables that hide neatly away. I refused to stuff several “fuck you’s” into the overhead compartment, because going to sleep and waking up at a destination of yesterday was pointless and painful. Besides, the cabin door of my past had been shut and latched.