It is said that what you are seeking is also seeking you. There are times when it finds you, even though you'd forgotten you were looking.
Tuesday was that time for me. I was listening to a podcast episode from my new friend Jen Mons. I was utterly unaware of seeking my own healing in the moment. Quite the contrary, I chose the episode because my "Spidey sense" told me it might help a friend. The show guest, ZofiaRennea Morales, shares with Mons (and me) a history of a life-altering medical crisis. As they began to discuss Morales's diagnosis and the ways her life shifted during this time, Mons shared that she calls these periods "soul upgrades."
Soul upgrade. That sounds a hell of a lot more supportive than medical crisis, I thought. I'm going to adopt that term! Words have immense power, and anything that helps me frame my physical body and its healing journey in a positive light is welcome. Soul upgrade it is.
Pleased with this unexpected nugget, I listened on, waiting for the moment that would confirm why this episode called out to me for a specific friend. Mons and Morales continued to talk about how our souls call relentlessly for us to step into our light, to fulfill the purpose we incarnated with. Morales mentioned the "spiritual 2x4," an analogy easily relatable to anyone who's navigated their own spiritual awakening.
In case you aren't (yet) one of those people, allow me to divert into an explanation. You are constantly being invited to stand in your authentic power and to shine your unique light into the world. You're given opportunities. You meet people. You hear or read things that rattle your bones. Your truth whispers to you in every moment. Unless you refuse to hear. And then it speaks with a bit more gusto. Struggles usually begin appearing at this point. Things you think you should be doing get harder. You may begin noticing repeating patterns. The same ideas, suggestions, and inferences happen over and over, all around you. The whispers which had grown into murmurs are now verging on shouts. You soul is transitioning from begging to demanding. Should you persist in ignoring these messages, the spiritual 2x4 will be employed.
Something will break. Your marriage will fail. You will lose your job. You home will burn down, or be washed away in a flood. Or, like Morales, Mons, and myself, your soul upgrade will come in the form of a medical emergency or diagnosis. Whatever happens, you won't be able to ignore it. In the rubble of one life ruined, many find the gleaming treasure of their true life, waiting to be claimed.
I'm intimately familiar with the spiritual 2x4. I know why I got hit with adrenal fatigue, central nervous system dysfunction, endocrine madness. I ignored the whispers. I left my soul no choice but to shout. That's part of why "soul upgrade" felt so good to me. It helped me instantly reframe a deeply dark and challenging time in the light of alignment. But I was totally unprepared for what Morales would say next:
"The soul will use whatever is most important to you to get your attention."
When I heard those words, I dropped what was in my hands. My knees buckled. The wind was knocked out of me, just as surely as if I'd been punched in the solar plexus. I sat on my bathroom floor, stunned. If the term soul upgrade was a tweak, this idea was a total remodel. I literally felt everything I had come to understand about my own upgrade shifting, rearranging in my mind, my heart, my soul.
The soul will use whatever is most important to you. Whose house burns down? The person who values that home and its contents about all else. Whose 2x4 is shaped like a divorce? That's for the one who holds marriage and family most dear. Morales, a former biophysicist, became unable to access her formerly reliable, pragmatic way of thinking. And me? What was most important to me when my soul was left with no other option but to brandish the 2x4?
My athleticism. I grew up an awkward, overweight child. I should probably sell my 1917 Craftsman home and sink all of the resulting funds into therapy for what the Presidential Physical Fitness Test did to me in grade school. I detested PE, and my feelings towards the body I was forced to move in those classes weren't much sunnier. I started a semi-regular exercise habit the summer before high school, but that was only to lose weight, a strategy to end the teasing I'd endured since entering the public school system. Later I would drop the "semi" from that habit, but this would be in service of my mental health. My physical body remained, if not an enemy, certainly not a friend.
I did not hold my body as a temple for my eternal soul, nor even as a tool or vehicle to create joyous experiences. It felt more like an obligation, something I had to care for in order to keep my mind, a rather prized aspect of self, working properly. The care of my body elicited an utter lack of passion, a bit like a musty pet your recently deceased Great Aunt has left you in her previously undisclosed will. You feed it, you walk it, but the whole enterprise feels distinctly like drudgery. You could have a better time doing almost anything else. This was me and my body. I fed it. I exercised it. But I did those things for the sake of my my mind, the ethereal me. The physical me didn't quite register as an entity, and certainly didn't garner my adoration.
Then I met a man. A man who held three black belts, in three martial arts. A man who had won state championships for his athletic prowess in school, and who continued to live the life of an athlete throughout his adulthood. I didn't share the ambivalence that ruled my relationship with my body with this man. He could only judge me based on how I looked, on the lifestyle that I lived. I was a personal trainer, a health coach. I was fit and active, sensual and physical. I hiked and camped, lifted weights and knew all the requisite acronyms: HIIT, EMOM, AMRAP, PR. He assumed I was an athlete. And he treated me like one.
You know that thing I'm always telling you about, the thing where your actions directly create your reality? Ask me how I know. Because I was treated like an athlete, I acted like one. And lo and behold, an athlete is what I became. This man taught me to rock climb. I had my own harness and chalk bag. We began competing in various kinds of races, basing our already robust travel schedule around our next physical adventure. I finished my first obstacle race. Then a longer course, and finally a Spartan Beast, a half-marathon length off-road course peppered with more than 30 obstacles. I climbed inverted walls. I could rap out pull-ups, do push-ups on two fingers. I competed, alone, in the STP, a 205-mile two-day road bike race from Seattle to Portland. When I signed up for the race I didn't own a road bike. In fact, I'd never even ridden one. I was constantly seeking my next athletic adventure, and constantly tuning my physical body to excel in that feat.
And I loved Every. Fucking. Second. Before the races and truly impressive push-up variations, we began to take dance lessons. When our favorite place to dance was tragically destroyed in a fire, I was struck by a deep sadness that revealed to me that "dancer" was a part of my self-definition. Movement, of all kinds, was no longer something I did, a chore for keeping my mind intact. A moving body was something I was. Dancer. Racer. Athlete.
For the first time in my 40+ years, I was truly inhabiting my body. And to my intense surprise, I loved it in there! Pushing my physical limits became my favorite pass-time. I had never felt more alive, more powerful, more intensely in love with a part of myself. I was so deeply grateful to have had this experience, no matter how late in life it found me. I imagined myself at 50, 55, 60, continuing this love affair with my body, continuing to explore this facet of myself that I had so recently unearthed. I was deeply attached to this future, to the continuing development of this woman I had become.
My athleticism, and the adventures it allowed me to share with my partner, were the most important things to me in this chapter of my life. And just as Morales predicted, when the 2x4 swung in, that's precisely where it was aimed. First my hair started falling out. Then my endocrine system began to falter. Thyroid medication become necessary. The list of supplements I took began to swing from enhancing performance to eking out enough energy to make it through my days. I began experiencing pain and dysfunction in my left hip and pelvis. In 2019 I finally had to admit what had been my truth for several years: I was biologically exhausted, and could no longer continue living as I had been.
Understand, it wasn't my athleticism that pushed me into this space. At least not entirely. My athletic endeavors weren't the fault; they were the target. In order for my soul to receive the upgrade it was asking for, I had to be forced to recon with the loss of my most treasured aspect of self. And so, like a Batman comic, enter the 2x4. BAM! POW!
I spent several years denying this loss, living a life on hold, waiting for the time when I could resume being that woman. I then spent a period of time mourning her, releasing the attachment I had to this woman whom I might never become again (I shared the transition between these two states in Cleaning Closets). I've since settled into a more peaceful relationship with my "new" body. I can't say I never miss that athlete, nor does my current relationship with movement feel like it fits that title as well as did my past activities. But I've learned to listen to and honor my body in ways that weren't possible for that woman, and I'm grateful for those new skills. Had you asked me on Monday, I'd have told you this transition was complete, that there was no more healing to be done around the finding and subsequent loss of my athlete self.
But this concept of a soul upgrade opened up a new level of healing for me. Through the lens of Mons and Morales's conversation, I came to understand this change in my life in an entirely different way. My soul had been calling out to me for so long. And I had been listening like a teen with a device in each hand, nodding and making roughly appropriate noises at the seemingly right times, but actually paying zero attention. I earned the 2x4, and the spiritual excision hit me precisely where it was aiming. I lost my athlete self. But in her place I gained this self.
Would that I had listened sooner. Could I have lived a marriage of these two versions of me, the fully authentic, anti-hustle, world breaking, intuitively connected, coaching rockstar athlete? Perhaps I could have. I may never know. But here's what I do know, without a doubt. Here's what literally brought me to my knees while listening to this podcast:
Given the choice, I'd choose this me. Knowing what I know now, living as I live now, I would choose to sacrifice that beautiful, powerful, push-up nailing version of me. I would cradle her in loving arms, I would cry with her as we approached the altar, and I would knowingly lay her down there to die. I would surround her strong, fit body with flowers and I would thank her with the deepest and truest gratitude for what she was giving to us. I would play my drum over her, I would sing her soul free, I would leave stones and feathers and shells where her bones came to rest. If it were called for, I would end her life with my own hands. If her sacrifice is the price I had to pay to become the woman I am today, it is the finest tribute I have ever paid.
Do I miss her? I do. She had access to some pretty amazing things that this version of me can no longer reach. But I have access to far more that was unavailable to her. And perhaps its true, what they say. Tis better to have loved and lost. I was her. And in her wake, I am me. A fuller and more complete woman, albeit one with fewer finisher medals and race shirts. My stories involve less KT Tape and more chakras, the word training has an alternate meaning, my community is more likely to celebrate mindset than medals.
But this me is walking her true path. This me is less muscular, but more powerful, more purposeful. She can do fewer gym-nastics, but far more mental calisthenics. The seat of my power has moved inward, to a deeper and more enduring place. For these reasons, and only since I found what I hadn't realized I was seeking, I miss the old me a bit less and honor her a bit more. From these new eyes I see less death, more rebirth. I am humbled by the gift she has given us, by the space that was opened when she fell, the space into which I have risen. From now on, I will bow to her, to me, each time I step into my workout space, but also each time I step onto a stage, into my office, into my purpose. Her sacrifice is my soul upgrade, my gratitude her gift.