A Road to Awakening: Discovering love, joy and connection through a process of transformation.
I don’t remember many events from my childhood, just bits and pieces. But somehow, I remember how I felt. There was a general sense of gloom and doom and a feeling that things just wouldn’t work out most of the time. These emotions were embedded in me, and for some reason beyond my understanding, it has been a life fascination of mine to try to find a way out of it, to find a better way, and understand why I felt the way I felt. And why the things that came about for me came about. And because of this fascination, I unknowingly embarked on a journey of transformation and awakening.
Horses gave my childhood meaning and purpose.
Growing up in Sweden, I couldn’t figure out what life was all about nor the purpose it served. Nothing felt like it had meaning. I would contemplate the meaning of life, but neither I nor anyone around me seemed to have any answers. From my perspective, life hurts, and people hurt, and with that, I had a strong motivation to get away from it all.
The only time I felt at peace was when I was at the barn with horses. I was happy there and felt a sense of purpose that I felt nowhere else. I would arrive at the barn and smell the smell of horses and hear them munching on hay and immediately feel ok inside. I felt happy at the barn because the horses live in the moment, and I was able to feel their sense of presence.
Years later, I realized horses don’t think about what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow as long as there is no perceived threat like a wolf coming around the corner to eat them. They will simply, happily, munch away at their grass in their paddocks all day and be present by default. Looking back, I’m so grateful to have had the horses as they gave me some reference point of what it felt like to love and be loved unconditionally.
We had everything we needed but I still wanted more.
In my family, we had everything we needed: food, clothes, and education. All our basic needs were met. But for me, there was something much more internal, something that felt like it was missing inside. I remained deeply dissatisfied with my life—and this is how I lived for many years to come.
I always wanted things to be different than what they were. The thoughts in my mind about everything being shitty were endless, and it was exhausting. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to with no motivation to get up in the morning. Growing up and becoming an adult seemed like a doomsday scenario. I felt lost and alone.
My Struggle with Depression and Addiction.
And so, the journey began with low-grade depression and intense restlessness that slowly turned into suffocating anxiety. Early in my teenage years, I turned to alcohol, quickly followed by drugs. At first, it started with innocent parties on the weekends, which later evolved into parties that lasted days with even more drugs. I really thought that partying was the answer for many years, and I never wanted it to end.
The darkness that I experienced during this time is one of the reasons why my underlying urge to find answers was so strong. For me, I see those many years of darkness despair, and hopelessness as the initial impetus to search for answers. Since I didn’t have a sense of purpose or feel connected to anything outside of myself, I did what seemed to make sense: search for alternate ways to feel good and seek out alternate realities through substances. It was a path towards something and felt far away from the status quo, boredom, and numbness.
Of course, this was not a healthy path to be on. But at least at the time and for several years, drugs gave me a direction, purpose, and willingness to go on with life.
My dark days were also part of the awakening journey.
Throughout time, I’ve come to understand that the ‘dark days’ are as much a part of my spiritual journey as attending AA meetings or sitting in meditation. The intense negative feelings of despair and helplessness were also a unique part of my self-discovery.
Experiencing negative AND positive experiences is integral to understanding oneself and one’s soul. The pain makes you raw, and the intensity opens you up just as much as falling in love can do. It’s like when you crack an egg—you break it—but then you get to see the inside.
“I stayed sober and kept showing up to AA meetings one day at a time.“
The Turning Point: My First Moment of Surrender
On July 23, 1998, I had a moment of awakening that forever changed my life. After a long night and day of drug use, a close friend gave me the number to AA, insisting I call right away. When I agreed to call, it was at that moment that I was able to surrender completely. And because of this, my life changed in proportions that are still hard to fathom.
Fear kept me sober.
What had happened that night in July, that took me years to realize – was that my actions of that final, long night of drug use scared the living daylights out of me. For the first time, I was afraid of myself and losing my life. Because of this fear, from then on, I stayed sober and kept showing up to AA meetings one day at a time. This fear kept me sober for several years. I later learned from a prominent addiction psychiatrist that fear is the most important emotion in early sobriety. Recovering addicts won’t stay sober without it.
Sobriety, Yoga and Meditation: My Path to Awakening
Going to meetings was hard for me. I had not interacted with people during the daylight for years. Much less when I was sober. Even though I enjoyed going, I was not used to the intimacy of the camaraderie, the laughter, the stories, and the connection between all of us struggling with the same affliction. I was broken and so insecure I sometimes stuttered during conversations. But each time I went, I felt a sense of relief. I felt like I belonged, and I felt nurtured. And that’s why, as for many, I continued going back day after day and year after year.
A New Chapter: Moving From New York to LA
At this pivotal time in my life, I moved from New York to LA, while simultaneously, the yoga movement had just begun to take off in LA. Yoga helped me stand myself; I was frazzled and borderline manic, without a clue what to do with my daytime hours. For years, I hadn’t even been awake during the day. So I started going to yoga every day, just to have somewhere to go. Yoga became the first doorway to discovering something beyond myself and beyond what was directly in front of me. Yoga got me in touch with two things I had NEVER paid attention to earlier in my life: my body and my breath.
Discovering Yoga and Meditation
In the late ‘90s, I went to my second yoga class at City Yoga in Los Angeles with Naime Jezzeny. At the end of the class, we laid down in savasana (corpse pose), and I suddenly experienced a moment of stillness and relaxation that I had never felt before. It was as if a door opened, and that door was what kept me coming back to yoga.
As the years went by, I started to meditate for a few minutes here and there and took classes to learn more about yogic philosophy. Here, just as at meetings, I felt connected and an inkling of what it feels like to belong, to be a part of something—something greater than myself.
“I felt a sensation of all-encompassing love for myself and all beings.“
Even though I was so broken and suffered many years of debilitating depression, I just kept plugging away in this newfound reality. I kept going to meetings, I kept going to yoga, and shockingly enough, I kept trying to meditate. I kept meditating even though I could only sit for a minute at a time, and every second felt so uncomfortable. It felt like someone was rubbing me with sandpaper. It was excruciating at first. What blows me away is that I don’t really know why I tried meditating in the first place. Even with all of the discomfort, I kept meditating year after year and still do to this day.
My Transformative Year with Sally Kempton
In 2006, I signed up for Sally Kempton’s year-long course, the Transformative Journey. I was first introduced to Sally through City Yoga, and during that year-long transformation, we had three retreats and homework in between. I had many moments during that year that changed my perspective on life forever. However, the moment that stands out the most was at the first retreat in January. It was wintertime in Joshua Tree, so it was like a cold moon landscape.
My Revelation of Love as Life's Purpose
As I walked from my room towards the meditation hall, I felt a sensation of all-encompassing love for myself and all beings. And it was at this moment I realized LOVE was all that mattered, and love was really the meaning of life. There it was—LOVE—so simple and so obvious but not something I had ever considered before. Through love, we feel connected to other beings, and through love, we find purpose. So, of course, at that very moment Sally came walking towards me (no coincidence), I said, “Oh Sally, it’s all about LOVE!”
And she replied, “Yes, indeed dear!”
Getting to Know My Inner Self
Not only did sobriety change my entire life, yoga and meditation did too. When I say the course of my life, I am not talking about physical locations or careers; I am talking about the inner journey. The person I am today: more present, spontaneous, focused, engaged, kind, surrendered, forgiving, and loving—all characteristics that I have gained from my spiritual practice, especially my meditation practice. I believe I acquired these positive attributes from knowing my inner Self. These qualities resemble who I truly am and who we all truly are, deep inside.
I believe it was grace that showed me the way. Step by step and year after year, I began to slowly piece together the puzzle of healing.
This path to my inner Self, the true awakening journey, and the one I am still on to this day started almost a decade after the last night of drinking and drugs. It took my mind and soul over a decade to become balanced enough so I could be aware enough to understand my inner life. Before then, it was too painful to be inside myself— all I wanted to do was run.
“Meditation taught me to understand myself.“
Through meditation, I found what I had been missing.
I was only able to discover what had been missing because of my practices, specifically my meditation practice. Being silent and becoming friends with my inner Self enabled me to see my underlying patterns and reasons why things had turned out the way they did. Meditation decluttered my mind, and by doing that, I developed the ability to see through the weeds.
Without training my brain with meditation, my mind was too frazzled and frantic to have insight into anything at all. Meditation taught me to understand myself. I discovered what it meant to have an observing and witnessing mind, one where I am no longer ruled by thoughts and emotions. I am not thrown by every single thing that happens, and I am no longer afraid of negative emotions taking hold of me.
My practice led me to true connection.
I learned about feeling connected through my practice, connected to the beings around me, humans and animals, and those I love deeply. I discovered what it felt like to feel truly connected to others around me and to myself. By softening my shell and letting down my iron-clad guard, I began to find a connection to others too. Because of this self-discovery, this connection to myself, I no longer had to protect myself because I was no longer afraid of being hurt. I found a way to surrender to the fact that I might feel pain or be hurt, but that no longer mattered. Pride and fear began to fall away, and strength appeared.
As this inner Self became the one I gradually began to depend on, with time, I realized that searching outside myself for the answers had come to an end.
A Sense of Purpose Beyond My Wildest Dreams
These days, the sense of purpose I feel is beyond my wildest dreams. Like most of what has transpired, this determination and drive are not something I planned for. Purpose, I discovered, doesn’t just come in the form of a career, but can be found anywhere and in anything, even the smallest of places. It all depends on the value and importance a certain thing has. I now find my purpose in every moment of every hour of every day. And when I’m fully surrendered, present, and loving unconditionally.
Grace showed me what awakening is.
Connection, love, and purpose, such simple things, were the building blocks that were missing when I was growing up. But somehow, because those building blocks were missing, I never gave up and kept going against all odds.
Somewhere there was something, a guide, or a force that led me to where I am today.
However, in hindsight, I know that it was grace—combined with my willingness to keep at it—that let my journey unfold the way it did. I didn’t turn away from the unfolding. I let it happen and I allowed myself to learn from all of it, the good and the bad. Somewhere there was something: a guide, or a force that led me to where I am today.
My Journey of Self-Discovery and Spiritual Growth
It all began with the initial smells, sounds, and feeling the presence of the horses at the barn. Traveling and seeing the world continued my evolution, as I learned to understand joy in the mountains of Italy and found connection during long walks in London, and later continued in discovering the intense energy of Manhattan.
Later on, in sobriety, I felt a sense of connection and purpose in the beauty of the common struggle shared by alcoholics. And finally, in my late 20’s, I understood what it was I had been looking for when I discovered spirituality through AA meetings, the 12 steps, and yoga.
The Wisdom and Mission Ahead
Over the years, I was lucky to meet numerous spiritual and wise humans who showed me the way. And now discovering unconditional love in the eyes of my daughters and animals. Finally, I am so incredibly blessed to have found my teacher Sally Kempton, who brought meditation into my life.
I am on a mission to prove that the ordinary is indeed where you find the zone, the flow, the love, and the joy of life. I am motivated to continue doing the things in my life that create the most joy, love, and connection. I hope that this immense joy for life will also rub off on you, creating the inspiration for you to get excited about your own life.