The following post has been submitted by Jodi Lee Fleming in collaboration with Julie Crawford Photography.
It started with a desire for conversation. Admittedly, I was selfishly looking to have deeper dialogue with a broader spectrum of friends. I was tired of talking about the weather and how busy life is. I didn’t want to complain or hear people complain. I wanted to engage in purposeful talk that would lead everyone involved to a feeling of peace, or at least, a deeper understanding of who they were. I was feeling alone inside of my own head, something that I think I’ve always felt. However, never before had I had the courage to do something about it.
It’s been evident by the interest in this project and by the incredible feedback, that I now recognize how many people were craving the same conversation. I also recognize that despite the number of daily interactions we have with friends and loved ones, the multitude of things we have going on, and the hectic lives we all lead; we all experience varying degrees of loneliness. I’m not the only one.
I committed the year to showcasing several brave individuals who are able to harness the power of their vulnerabilities, seek to find their truths, and work their butts off to be the best versions of themselves.
Each participant was sent a series of questions to reflect on as they worked away at framing their story:
What prompted you to start this journey of self-discovery?
Can you think of a time when your faith was tested or your beliefs were challenged?
When do/have you felt the most vulnerable?
What factors have caused you to stray from your course?
What influences, practices, or beliefs help you stay grounded?
When do you feel most powerful?
What have you been able to manifest for yourself as a result of doing the uncomfortable, messy, and hard work?
What advice would you give to others just heading out their journey?
What do you love most about yourself?
What work lies ahead of you?
If you could define yourself in one word, at this time, what would it be?
In the process of working with these incredibly smart and poignant women (and one man), I noticed a similar trend...they all at some point stated that they still had “lots of work to do” and thus it was, at times, difficult to define themselves or their stories, in one or two final words at the end. For example, She Is: present, She Is: ready, He Is: blessed, etc.
My response to them at the time was not to look at their story as if they were writing some great summative, a synopsis of their life that suddenly ends with a positive noun or adjective. No, I wanted them to reach beyond the superficial tag line of wife, sister, mom, teacher, accountant, fitness guru, etc.… and I asked them to consider who they are right now. Not who they are trying to be, and perhaps not even who they will be in ten years, or on their dying bed. Just now! As Eckhart Tolle writes, “Now is all we ever really have anyway”.
The results were outstanding. I could never have imagined working with a more dedicated and beautiful group of individuals. They all poured their hearts and souls onto paper and shared their deepest fears and actualizations with hundreds, even thousands of readers. I will admit that I was often complimented alongside the authors, but never once did I actually feel that I owned any of the work. This was not about me. This was about providing a safe platform for others to feel beautiful, accepted, and proud.
All twelve of the author’s who participated in this project hold a special place in my heart. Some of them I have known my entire life, others only pulled towards me by the project itself. Like many of you, as I read about their journeys, I shed tears for them, I envied their courage, I sat joyful at their triumphs, and I prayed for their futures. However, what I am truly grateful for are the lessons that each one of them brought to me. I was able to see myself in each and every one of their stories.
I was reminded of my own heartbreak. I was reminded of my own judgments. I was reminded of my own struggles with balance. I was reminded of my own fear of inadequacy, and I was thrust into remembering that the work is never really done. I was always left with the urge to re-evaluate my own choices, forced to ground myself, and excited to uncover the next little piece of my soul.
Very early on in the project, it was evident to me that I personally needed to go back and ask myself the same questions I had been asking everyone else.
Joseph Campbell was an American Professor of Literature who worked in comparative mythology and religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience and offers an intriguing perspective on why we are all here. I honestly can’t recall how I stumbled upon his name or any of his work, however at some point in the past year, I felt compelled enough to write his name down and do a little research. Campbell is best known for his depiction of The Hero’s Journey– a twelve-step process that describes most character arcs in fictional stories (think Luke Skywalker, Hercules, or Ice Queen Elsa).
Aside from using the twelve steps to help you create a complex and captivating movie character, Campbell wanted us to use his ideology to help draw parallels and compare this pattern of character development to that of our own lives. Essentially he explains how at some point in our ordinary lives, we all get called to adventure. In the case of the human experience, he wants us to see the word ‘adventure’ as ‘spiritual awakening’.
This is all rather philosophical and I apologize if it’s a bit wordy, however it all began to make perfect sense to me. To paint a fairly clear picture I’m going to use an example most of us can understand…Finding Nemo!
In the movie Finding Nemo, a young fish loses his mother at birth and is then forced to live within the constraints of his father’s fears of death and danger. In this case, the hero’s journey is not undertaken by the title character, but by Nemo’s father, Marlin. Marlin was likely called to adventure several times before he was actually forced into it. Perhaps there were many times when he felt the urge to release some of his fear and let his son gain his own independence, however those calls were ignored until something much greater came along that forced him to do the work.
Nemo disappears and Marlin must find him. Along the way he meets Dori, who Campbell would argue, is actually a part of Marlin’s subconscious. Dori repeatedly has Marlin questioning who he is, and what his purpose as a father should be. There are a number of symbolic features in the movie, including a whale, which represents the shadow of Marlin’s former self and all of his limiting fears. At a pivotal point in the film, Marlin and Dori end up inside of the whale.
His fears actually swallow him!
(I mean come on…there is no way that Disney writers don’t have degrees in psychology.)
It’s not until he’s in the midst of clinging to the whale’s tongue in an effort survive, that Marlin begins to realize he’s the one holding not only his son back, but also himself. Thankfully his subconscious spirit, Dori, speaks fluent Whale, and tells Marlin that he’s supposed to let go.
Despite not knowing if something bad is going to happen, she trusts that this is what she is supposed to do. Marlin also makes the choice to trust in Dori and releases his hold on his current reality and plummets into the unknown space. We all know that this leads to a re-birth for Marlin, as a short time later he is expelled from the whale’s blowhole with a new sense of strength and purpose.
Of course Marlin’s journey is not over there. He now has to determine how best to move forward with this new understanding and nourish his potential as a father and as an individual.
So here I am, about to compare myself to a cartoon fish.
For a long time I was (and still struggle not to be) a little too much Marlin. I was constantly faced with a fear of not being in control. I was scared of not being viewed as good enough. I set ridiculously high standards for myself, and by default, it lead to unattainable expectations for those that I love. This created feelings of guilt, and I eased that guilt by going out of my way to make everyone else happy. I struggled to say ‘no’ out of fear that I’d cause disappointment, and then of course that directly related to a feeling of being perceived negatively. Needless to say, this was neither a healthy nor sustainable way of living. However, this is who felt I needed to be, and pretty much all I was comfortable with.
On my hero’s journey I was beckoned out of my ordinary life several times before I answered the call. I stayed involved in unbalanced relationships with friends and partners out of love and commitment to their well-being, but not necessarily my own. I opted for easier pathways in education and extra-curricula’s out of fear that if I stuck with my desired choice, I wouldn’t be good enough. I also stifled curiosity and fun because it meant not being in control. All of this happened slowly and gradually but over time it became a pattern, a pattern that has been very challenging to break apart.
I believe that the first call to adventure that I actually decided to listen to, came roughly six years ago. I began to wake up and notice the ways in which I had been starving myself. It felt as if someone else who was living inside of me was desperately trying to help me remember who I was and what I was capable of. It came in whispers of song lyrics while I was driving; odd visits by small creatures or pieces of nature; coincidences that just couldn’t be ignored, and a desire to start believing that I was worthy of more. I was faced with decisions that at the time felt monstrous, but later realized only had the appearance of being scary. I was learning that everything I wanted, everything I was worthy of, was available to me…just beyond my own limitations.
Much like Marlin, I had to learn to let go. I needed to remember that the most powerful tool in my toolbox was trust. By trusting that ‘what is for me shall not pass me’, I was able to release my fears and make room for magic to happen. The key was to lean towards love. In that, a new definition of faith was revealed me: to have fear is not to have faith. I used to walk around believing that I had faith - faith in humanity, faith in God, and faith in good versus evil. But yet I was lacking faith in myself, and I had put limitations on how much I was really willing to trust that all would be well. You can’t have faith and control at the same time.
This meant that I consciously had to turn off the little voice in my head that would say mean things to me. By releasing the hold that my ego had on certain aspects of my life, I started to notice what I had been missing out on. I remembered to pray. Of course, prayer became much more than it was to my 5-year old self being tucked into bed each night. Prayer came in the form of meditation, journaling, and reading material that made me want to think and reflect. Prayer meant asking for a sign and then actually noticing when it was received. Pray and send it away.
Together with my faith, I began to shed the ordinary thoughtless parts of Jodi and started to notice the soul within her. I began to question my daily purpose and notice the connections between the health of my mind and the health of my body. I set out to hear the wisdom and advice of other seekers, and when I couldn’t seem to find the answers I was looking for, I learned how to be patient and trust that they would come to me at the right time.
I also started to forgive. I began to recognize that past injustices by friends and loved ones weren’t actually injustices at all. The boy who broke my heart didn’t do it out of hate; it was in fact, an act of love. He made a decision that I wasn’t strong enough to make on my own, which in turn led me to a love that I am worthy of. The girl who said nasty things about me was just being honest about how she perceived a situation. She taught me that the only actions and reactions I can control, are my own. Of course, the hardest of all these, was making the decision to forgive myself. This is something that didn’t, and still doesn’t, come easy to me. How do you just dismiss the fact that you ignored your call for so long? How do you slough off years of complacency and settling for second best? How do you justify ignoring your own personal wants and needs and even mistreating your physical body?
You don’t. You just recognize that you were only doing the best you could with what you had at the time. Hindsight isn’t meant to make you feel bad. It’s there to give you the clarity you need and to help you retain your faith going forward.
A year ago I thought I had a decent sense of why this project was necessary. I thought I had arrived at a place and time where I was feeling fulfilled at a soul level and had a heightened understanding of my purpose. Although I knew that my own journey of self-discovery was far from over, I felt pretty darn good about where I was sitting. Although I’m very proud of the spiritual distances I’ve travelled thus far, I now recognize that I can’t just sit by complacently and simply cheer on the other travellers. I am at a point where I must nourish my own understandings, continue to open doors, take risks, and think critically about the little signs and life lessons that are presented to me each day.
I made a promise to myself that I will take responsibility for my problems. I make a conscious effort to own my feelings. I notice when I’m experiencing a negative emotion (i.e. jealousy, anger, impatience) and I immediately recognize that there is something inside of me that needs to be addressed. I also try not to project my own fears, judgments and blame onto others. I know that where I’m hurting is where I will find the answers I need.
I am not perfect. I have lots of work to do before I finish my hero’s journey. However, I now acknowledge that without the pain, without the disappointment, and without the nagging call to get up and do something different, life is rather ordinary. So I will continue to ask myself questions, I will continue to wonder what I’m holding myself back from, I will try not to fight the uncomfortable feeling of the unknown, and I will patiently await the joys of my next challenge.
And, so long as you promise not to ignore your own call to adventure, I will be here to have the conversation with.
I am Jodi, and I am not alone.
Let’s take time to offer a little gratitude, shall we?
Thank you to all of the wonderful people who have helped me with this project and whom have continually offered their encouragement and support. I have anxiously awaited your monthly predictions and giggled alongside your excitement and enthusiasm for each feature. I appreciate all of the individual messages and feedback as particular stories resonated with you in unique ways.
I am grateful for the open dialogue that this project created and it’s my hope that you won’t stop talking about your own paths to happiness and the ups and downs that make us all so similar.
I have so much gratitude for Julie Crawford and her willingness to collaborate with me, She jumped on board my ship without hesitation and eagerly signed up to capture a wee bit of vulnerability, all the while making me feel beautiful and strong.
Additionally, I want to once again thank Selina, Natasha, Rylee, Chelsey & Finn, Lindsay, Kezia, Lisa, Meagan, Arlene, Anna, and Donna for saying ‘yes’ and and bearing it all. You are all full of so much light and we are all grateful to have been touched by it.