My Story

I will be the first to admit that my story doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share it. True though it is, it need not be taken seriously.  Even as we assign our own meaning and significance, it remains just a story, a bare narrative – unimportant in itself. It is the endless depths beneath which stir me and spur the birth of words.

Honouring self-expression over the desire to be heard affords great freedom. There is no hurry to get anywhere. What I endeavour to express in this life, I already know can never be fully said. All the same, I’ll keep chipping away at it as the days roll by. For now, I will aim for brevity, covering years in broad strokes and diving into detail as I feel. We’ll see how it goes.

I was raised in a small town – Paris, Ontario, Canada – with two brothers, two years on either side. We lucked out. Our parents were awesome people who loved us unconditionally. They still do. My Dad, a United Church Minister, took an exchange one summer at a church in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was about seven or eight. I fell in love with traveling. We explored Scottish castles and the green and grey countryside.  I thought I saw the Loch Ness Monster. Perhaps I did. When I was nine we moved to Australia for a year – Newcastle, New South Wales. It was a great experience – eye-opening.

We settled back in Toronto, where we lived and went to school and church – standard stuff. I had a lot of friends and fun, blending pretty easily in to any sort of scene. I suppose I would have been considered a gregarious youngster. I kept my room tidy. My brothers would say I had a hint of OCD and a stubborn streak. I loved basketball and John Candy. I had quite the sweet tooth. Grandma moved in with us and made me chocolate cakes nearly weekly.

When High School hit I began crawling inside myself a bit. Checked expression. Cloaked in smoke. Nobody noticed – not that I saw. I continued to get good marks and laugh a lot, but I was quietly growing stoned and lonely. I socialized widely, and kept engaged with school and church, but a gulf was expanding within me. At times, it was unbearable. I couldn’t really find any way to address it, so I medicated it with a good dose of partying, booze and drugs (nothing too hardcore). I seemed to be blending in to the scene around me.

The surface picture remained blemish-free – I was polite and kind, well-spoken and well-liked. I put on a good show, surely appearing quite confident much of the time, but inside I was becoming crippled by insecurity and mounting anxiety. That said, I still had an awful lot of fun on the side, and considered life worthwhile much of the time. Music was a key to my survival. I went to a lot of concerts with my younger brother, our cousins and buddies, which seemed to top up my tank for a while. Neil Young helped me more than anyone else. Having concerts to look forward to helped me cope. But overall, the oil in the lantern was drying, and I was leaning more and more on external substances for support.

I was a drop-in/drop-out student at the University of Toronto. I studied Philosophy and Political Science, majoring in English. I scraped by with a bare minimum of effort and involvement, continuing to get decent grades, growing more and more depressed all the while. I hadn’t really had much involvement with girls by this point – a source of angst and shame. In fourth year I was accepted to the Creative Writing program, the lone high point in my University career. I managed to graduate, skipping my convocation for a month-long escape to California.

That little jaunt gave me a glimmer of hope. My bags were heavy, but I loved being out and about. I felt a bit lighter when I got home. And tanned. I started work at a private school near Toronto, Trinity College School, as a member of the Associate Faculty. We were basically Junior Teachers – a dozen fresh grads getting a taste of working life. I served two years there, my second as an Assistant Housemaster in one of the boys’ dorms. I learned a lot, made good friends and had a lot of fun, but still resented myself much of the time for living a half-assed caricature of who I knew I truly was. I experienced a strange tension between deep self-loathing and an incredibly high opinion of myself. I knew I had great potential, but felt so far away from realizing it. I often felt like my own opposite. Constantly falling short of my ridiculously high expectations (entirely self-imposed) kept my self-esteem in shambles.  Little to none of this ever made it to the surface.

I had already been suicidal for a few years, obsessing over it daily, before I ever mentioned it to anyone. I wondered if it was more or less normal. I still had some pretty high highs, though they were increasingly obtained from outside, and my lows were growing lower, always arising from within. I almost sought professional help. But because I was a bright young guy, relatively attractive and well-liked, with a supportive, loving family and many friends, I felt like something was even more wrong with me. I didn’t fit the suicidal profile. So I kept it to myself.

On Wednesday, October 10, 2007, I had a spontaneous out-of-body experience. I floated up out of my body (from my stomach) and joined a stream of white light as I listened to Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ for the first time. Fear of death pulled me back into my body at the same instant that I joined the stream of light – but the disappointment was at least balanced by an intense vibration and general excitement over my taste of the transcendent. This somewhat loosened my depressive tension – for a while. I tried to re-create the experience countless times, with not a hint of hope on the horizon. I began reading up on meditation and downloaded some recordings which were meant to induce the brainwave states of Zen monks. I desperately wanted to calm my mind. But I didn’t keep up with it.

Fearful of falling prey to a career, I hit the road and went backpacking through Australia and New Zealand for the better part of a year. To my great relief, I actually began letting go of some of my junk. I still partied a lot, drinking to excess and getting high as often as possible, but somewhere along the way I began learning to become more present. My Mom had given me a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’ before I left and it began speaking to me. In Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens I had a subtle epiphany, realizing that everything is always fine right now. I knew I could handle life effortlessly by simply responding to whatever arose in the moment. I had all the tools I needed. I felt a deep though fleeting peace as I recognized that this moment is always ok, if only I could find a way to stay in it.

I came home early, surprising my younger brother (my closest friend) for his birthday. He had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been in and out of a few mental institutions. I settled in Montreal to be around him and to support his recovery however I could. He and our cousin owned a restaurant together with another buddy of ours and I volunteered a year there as they were getting on their feet. It was a healthy space to be. It was a home-made kind of place, built with a lot of love and intention. Good people, good music, good food and good vibes all around. Burritoville.  We served organic vegetarian Mexican food.  By the time it became somewhat stable and they were able to pay me, I felt the call of the road again.

I still drank a lot and smoked more grass than was good for me, but it didn’t seem as problematic as it had in the past. I had taken a few breaks here and there (once going clean for forty days), exercising my will-power, slowly building greater confidence and inner strength. Despite these encouraging trends, I still found myself trapped inside most of the time. I had started writing a lot of songs in Montreal, but was far too shy to play them for anyone, except for the odd drunken foray into fake bravery. Ultimately, I still didn’t love who I was being.  I had developed a lot of bad habits – judgmental voices swirling about my mind.

I began preparing for my journey, gradually growing aware of a yearning to go to Spain and get a bike. Dreaming about this journey gave me hope, even as I wondered if I would ever return. I set a date and saved every penny I could. Then I met a girl. It all happened in the space of a few days. Perfect timing, as ever. I tried to deny it, but this girl did something to me I had never experienced before. I had done a bit of casual dating, but had always managed to keep real feelings at an arms length.  Now I had a one-way ticket to Madrid and all I wanted to do was dive deeper into this girl. I was torn, and afraid. But a few months later, I left. I felt like I had to.

In Madrid I partied. I slept a lot, and wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. I wondered how soon I could return to her. I couldn’t just slink home after telling everyone about this great adventure I was embarking upon. As I was prone to doing, I had stirred up great expectations and didn’t want to disappoint. But I didn’t know where to start – so I sat in a park and wallowed. I tried to learn Spanish, lazily. After about a month of this I bought a bike and began riding. Things started to open up for me. I cycled and camped all over Europe, for about seven months, couchsurfing in cities along the way, stopping to explore for a few days as I felt like it. Freedom was deepening. Life started speaking to me, giving me signs – simple affirmations that I was on course. The hard work was learning to heed them without trying to understand them. My great cycling adventure ended abruptly in Munich. I had my ribs and teeth kicked in at Oktoberfest. I laid low in Salzburg for a while, resting and healing with family friends, feeling a bit down on humanity.

Italy hit me in a big way. I left the bike behind and bumped about blindly, letting my path and pace dictate themselves. I began writing in earnest, after several false starts on an autobiographical novel. I had been telling everyone I met all about it, and figured I had better get to work. About the same time, I started studying light and energy, dabbling casually in quantum physics. As I looked more deeply into the nature of light, allowing the curriculum to develop itself, strange alignments began arising, designing my path as it unfolded. Sometimes I wondered if I was dreaming this life. The more I wrote, the more I resolved, as if it were absolving me of my past.  I sensed that I was waking up more and more to the present moment – where life takes place.  I was riding a high.

I met a guy on a train one rainy night and wound up living on his farm in Tuscany (on and off) for about eight months, making it my European home base. I got word from home that the girl I had been pining for daily, the girl I was riding and writing around the world for, the girl I was traveling home toward all the while, was with my old roommate. One of my oldest friends. He was my brother and cousin’s other business partner. It crushed me. A knife in the back, twisting and slicing through my heart. It cracked me right open. I could hardly breathe, eat or sleep for days, wrapped in panic and anger for weeks, pain engulfing me for months. Echoes of anguish have recurred more than a year and a half after the fact. But this jarring pain was also my salvation. It kick-started the process of complete liberation. Somehow, I trusted it. I let go and let it break me down. I breathed into the pain and began facing all I had avoided. I learned a lot about myself. I unlearned even more – a process perhaps more vital than the former.

I wandered on and my path began unfolding with a synchronistic perfection I could never have dreamed. It was actually spooky. My ego frequently had a field day with this – I often felt like I was at the centre of the universe. In a sense, each of us is, as we have always been. But to realize it is a trip. It’s a freaky kind of freedom – not what one would think. Then the work begins.  Dawn is not noon.  True disillusionment can be a far fall, depending how high up one has climbed in the mind.

Now, I didn’t always see this divine perfection in the moment, but as I journeyed on, it became easier to catch myself getting wrapped up in old illusions – stuck in loops of mental movie-making. Gratitude set me free – and I began drilling myself with it constantly. Slowly, I learned to trust life more and more, intentionally habituating this deep surrender to the journey, allowing its wisdom to guide my steps. Before long, my path pulled me straight home.

I was on my way to India, where I had planned to find the answers. But I only made it as far as Istanbul – where it all came together. I was embraced by an enormous rainbow upon arrival and I felt something shifting within me. It took a few days to settle in, but I suddenly knew in my heart that the search was over. I was being called back to Canada. There was no mistaking it. After nearly two years of rambling, I hopped a flight home for Christmas. I didn’t tell anybody. I just showed up. It was fun to be back, and a bit surreal.

My parents bought a condo the same day I returned and I spent the next few months packing up our home of seventeen years. As they moved on to the condo, I moved back into my childhood home here in Paris, Ontario – the manse of St. Paul’s United Church. My present bedroom was once my nursery. I just turned thirty. Full circle. I am taking part in a Young Adult Intentional Community based around food-sharing and community outreach. It is a new program being offered by the GO Project. I have grown more than I imagined I might in the months I have been here, as if marinating in myself, ripening. I rise early to stretch and meditate, then focusing on more tangible creation and connection. I am writing a lot and feeling freedom deepen still. I sense it is endless, this discovery of self through creation.  I have no idea what comes next, but I already trust it. Giddy-up.
🙂

PS….Obviously, a lot happened that I have skipped over. I wrote a short essay for a creative non-fiction contest which focuses mostly on the journey, dense with detail – In Visible Light. Check it out if you are curious for more. Otherwise, be patient, and keep an eye for the book I am working on. A few more months and I should be wrapping up the first draft. Slowly, slowly is the way to go. After all is said and done, we are traveling light.  What’s the rush?

Hanging out by the old farmhouse.

Hanging out in Tuscany.

 

10 thoughts on “My Story

  1. Thanks for sharing James. It is very interesting and encouraging to see God at work in your life. “I will nver leave you nor forsake you.” “Before they call I will answer…while they are yet speaking I will hear.” “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together…” Thanks be to God.

    Liked by 1 person

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