In everyone’s life, there are countless experiences that can revolt, confound, or mesmerize. As such, it’s easy to get lost in the characters, stories, and the metaphors themselves. That has certainly been true for me. I call these “the currents” of our lives; the high-tides, the low-tides, the deep waters, the rip-tides, the near-drownings, and even the still waters all leave an important imprint upon us.
Another way to describe “currents” is simply the flow of your life; where we’re taken and how we float through it all.
Before we gain full emotional awareness or maturity, it’s very difficult to understand the reason or meaning for anyone or anything ‘happening to you’. What I do know is that it is generally for “good reason” and that reason is not for my drowning, but for my soul’s journey. My mom had an expression I often heard growing up: “Dios aprieta pero no ahoga”
When we embrace the notion that things are ‘happening for us’ instead of ‘to us’, something inside us begins to shift. Naturally, habitual judgement is suspended and replaced with a deeper curiosity and question: ‘why?’ Throughout my life, I’ve visited this place many times and each time, when I follow the ‘why’ all the way back to its root, I am humbled to my knees.
As I look back on the key events, or currents that either confounded or liberated me, I see 4 general themes or categories for understanding the relevance of people and events to my spiritual journey;
- Supportive (the people or experiences modeled loving-kindness)
- Antagonistic (the people or experiences provided contrast/pain)
- Benign (the people or experience was redirecting my path)
- Awakener (the people or experience was a life-changer)
So, up to this point, if my life were ‘a play’, it could be told in 4 main acts. Think about your own life for a moment; the setting/location, the characters, the plots and plot-twists, the heart-breaks, the lessons and resolutions– and the punchline; what can be humbly and lovingly distilled from the seeming anguish of it all up to this point?
The main ‘acts’ that informed my soul’s journey can then be further broken down into a number of ‘scenes’ or time-bound and/or specific points of experience that involved people, places, or experiences. Yours may be longer or shorter, have totally different categories or descriptors, so I offer this as just one example for how you/we can conceptualize our individual life experiences:
- My parents (supportive)
- My early years (supportive)
- Our relocation (antagonistic-awakener)
- Colonialism, Culture, and Confusion (antagonistic-awakener)
- My formal education (supportive-benign)
- My conventional career (supportive-benign)
- My conventional marriage (antagonistic-awakener)
- Becoming a mother and going back to school (benign-awakener)
- Becoming a caregiver and embracing community (benign-awakener)
- My daughter’s passing (antagonistic-awakener)
- Embracing my vocation (supportive-awakener)
- Living coherently (supportive-awakener)
What follows is a brief synopsis of each of the ‘scenes’ from my life and the way they helped shape me and my understanding of our shared humanity.
My life-story begins with my parents, Mari Fernandez and Santiago Porrata, both first generation Spaniards. I believe that our parents or parental figures are our first soul teachers on Earth. Whether to provide contrast or be supportive way-showers, our family of origin sets the stage for our human adventure.
By the time my parents became parents, they had already stepped away from both the dogmatic and cultural programming of the Church. Because of this, my sister and I were raised with a unique world-view and understanding of life. I was raised to know about the many languages of God (religions of the world) from my Dad who was an ardent student of comparative religion. From my mom, I learned that being good or bad had nothing to do with education, skin color, politics, or beliefs, but with someone’s heart. For me, my parents are and will always be two of my best friends and two incredible souls who sincerely encouraged my spiritual formation through their own lived example.
My father’s encouragement of my intellectual and critical thinking abilities, coupled with my mother’s nurturing of my heart and spiritual life, truly conspired to help me see that I was more than just ‘one thing’. Throughout their own lives, my parents modeled for me that to be fully-human meant to embrace change, grief, imperfection, and seeming ‘failures’ as an integral and even welcomed aspect of my life and life journey.
My early years
My early life was as close to a living paradise as one can imagine. As a young girl, most of my time was spent outdoors and fully aware of the rhythms of nature. Although I had many friends, my favorite time was time spent alone by the sea observing everything the tides brought in and out of my shore; from the countless shades of blue my beautiful ocean displayed, to the diverse creatures that co-inhabited my living playground, I was deeply attuned to the interconnectedness of life from a very early age.
Aside from nature, my extended family (my Godmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in particular) was instrumental to my spiritual formation and oriented me to the critical importance of family/community in times of joy and especially in times of crisis.
On November 3, 1976, my family relocated from the north shores of Puerto Rico to Munroe Falls, Ohio. As a Spanish-speaking 11 year-old, being thrust into a new climate, culture, and language was severely jarring and disorienting. My first two winters in Ohio, the winters of 1976 and 1977, provided an introduction and orientation so traumatizing, it would take me nearly 30 years to understand and integrate the wisdom imbued in these early life-lessons.
In contrast to the first 11 years of my life, my teenage years were painful and agonizing. Not having a strong command of the English language, I turned to writing as an outlet for connection and expression. My first friends from the island wrote to me almost weekly for a period of 2 years. The hundreds of letters I received were kept in a drawer and served as a testament of enduring friendship during a time when I felt deeply alone and isolated.
Then, in the summer of 1979, my three ‘new best friends’ were involved in a car accident as they were leaving my house. That accident would not only bond us, but the gifts and the lessons from that incident would circle back many decades later.
Colonialism, Culture, and Confusion (my teens and early 20’s)
Although I was born an American citizen, I have never, nor do I today identify as such. However, because so much of the success of acclimating to a new culture required going along, I did just that– well, just enough of it.
In truth, I have always been a step off, or perhaps beating to the beat of my own little drum, with my head somewhere in outer space (in full disclosure, I’m an Aquarian!), and knowing, deep within, that the way I was being taught, was not always ‘truth’, nor good, nor beautiful! Still, quite true to my Spanish upbringing, I was infinitely polite.
During my early career I was often praised and rewarded for my ideas and ‘innovative thinking and problem-solving.’ It always confounded me that others didn’t see what I saw. I would often cite my upbringing as the reason for this: “island people see things differently because we know what it’s like to be vulnerable and connected, simultaneously!”
From an early age, I knew things I couldn’t explain. There was a layer of ‘knowing’ and knowledge — information I often couldn’t fully decipher or express because I had no words for it. Sometimes, this put me at odds with others and so to compensate for this, I would negate my own intuition and voice. This is something we all do– we relegate our own knowing and needs to the back seat of life.
Still, my soul and life itself had other plans for me and true to my inherent nature, I followed every beautiful lead. Try as we might, we cannot escape our essential nature, our true selves.
My formal education
For many years, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do. As early as age five, I knew I wanted to ‘teach peace’, but there was no job like that in 1983, the year I graduated high school. Also, my childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut and a nun had already been thwarted by the realities of motion sickness and my unique fashion flair.
For me, being both creative-spiritual and technical-intellectual, felt like a hardship I didn’t want or need. I just wanted to fit neatly and easily into a simple career box. My short-term goal was to move out west to become a graphic designer and wandering gypsy. My dad insisted I should study law or medicine. Instead, I settled for a degree in business administration with concentrations in marketing and communication.
My conventional career
Although I’ve excelled in most professional environments, I always felt like an outsider and the odd person in every job and team I’ve ever been in…and they would probably say the same about me!
From 1986 to 1998, I worked in retail operations and in banking, and then with a Fortune 50 company as a corporate trainer and project manager in operations, education, communications, and marketing. By age 30, I had worked in a number of high profile, multi-million dollar projects. I was earning a great salary and being groomed to become a future leader of this “great American company.” The only problem, however, was that I was terribly unfulfilled and unhappy.
My conventional marriage
I met the father of my girls in January of 1995. We were married from 1996 to 2011. The marriage was difficult and painful. Its ending even more so.
Through this relationship and the contrast it provided, I came to fully understand the true meaning of marriage and partnership. The most profound piece (and peace) for me was that I became a mother during this time.
Becoming a mother and going back to school
I left my corporate job when I was 4 months pregnant with my first daughter, Serena, and began graduate studies in community counseling that same year (1998). I was 33 years old. My second daughter (Camille) was born in 2002. Leaving a promising corporate career and going back to school was one of those things that made no sense to others, but I was honoring my Inner-guidance and a calling so deep within me, that I had no other choice. It felt as if my life depended on it.
By far, becoming a mother is the single-most important and sacred thing I have ever or will ever do in this life. I could write an entire book on motherhood because it bears our attention and re-attunement as a society. Homemaking, a term I once arrogantly and violently opposed because societal programming was pulling me otherwise, became my own life-saving practice and grace.
In the spring of 2006, in my second to last semester of graduate school, my daughter Serena was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. She was 7 years-old. Although it had not been detected at birth due to newborn screening not being in effect in the state of Ohio at the time, she carried two of the most common and lethal mutations for this condition. In that moment, our family was given a ‘life-shortening’ diagnosis and sentence of sorts– one that would alter our course and change all our lives.
Being a single-mother and caregiver
By 2015, I was the custodial guardian of the girls. As my daughter Serena’s condition required, our lives consisted of frequent and prolonged hospital stays at Akron Children’s Hospital. From 2011 until 2018, the girls and I were ‘frequent flyers’, always with our hospital suitcases ready to go any time.
During the 8 years that I was a single-mother and caregiver, and especially during the last 3 years of Serena’s life, I came to realize the importance and life-saving grace of community. Without community, we can easily wither. There are literally hundreds of people who intimately touched our lives all those years. I am humbled to my knees every time I think of all that was given to us— transportation, counsel, comfort, house-sitting, care, food — love in all its beautiful forms arrived with such regularity, I was transformed in the process — like gentle waves carving out hardened rock, I was literally reshaped by the loving-kindness of those who took care of us, our home, and pets.
All those years spent in the hospital informed me in profound ways, too. I learned a great deal about chronic illness, the health insurance industry, our medical system and medicine in general as it is practiced today. Finally, becoming a single-mother and full-time caregiver illuminated the economic hardships that are so common for the nearly 40 million caregivers and many others in our country, too.
My daughter’s passing
My daughter Serena passed away from complications of cystic fibrosis in 2018. She was 19 years-old. The particular flavor of grief experienced by parents who lose a child is unlike any other. It is all-engulfing, vast, and deep. My story with her is its own beautiful life-book; one not solely expressed in words, but in deeds. Suffice to say, Serena is and will always be one of my greatest teachers in this life.
Embracing my vocation
Regardless of the setting or domain, fundamentally, I’ve always been a noticer and a writer. Although my writing can be clunky or clumsy, it is through my willingness to honor this calling, that the quality of my own writing and life has improved.
Although it’s not always obvious, if we take the time to gently look back, we can often see the connecting thread that runs through and weaves the tapestry of our lives and therefore, our vocational biography.
It is my deepest sense that encouraging others to look through their lives with their own ‘magnifying glass of awareness’, can lessen their confusion and suffering. That is the basic reason for this book. Spiritual solidarity is not a belief, but the awareness and appreciation that until we look inside, we will continue to build and co-create the proverbial Tower of Babel.
Living coherently is a practice– it is play! It is not about achievement, perfection, or what anyone deems as ‘success’. Only you can define success for yourself; only you, your soul, knows what that is.
For me, this current work is an applied extension of this understanding and aligns with my own desire to grow and regenerate. Regeneration is not about more degrees, or books, or skills for success. Regeneration is an inside job.
As more of us choose to live from the ‘inside-out’, we naturally become kinder and patient. Because we are in-tune and in harmony with ourselves, our judgements and ‘othering’ naturally seizes. We’re no longer interested in debating ideas or being right. As we continue to mature, we naturally long to be with others who match our own harmony and frequency. Our daily-bread is given to us as we give, create, and co-create. Our work is an extension of our hearts.
Each of us comes to Earth with a purpose and even subtly, part of you already knows what that is. How can you really know what yours is? My gentle suggestion to anyone is that you tune into that which has been prescribed for you, not by cultural programming, but inscribed in your heart and Higher-mind, and revealed through the awareness of what you most cherish and love. Follow that. That is your calling. That is your soul calling you.
Spiritual Solidarity: Chapter 2 – Context