The Quiet Truths - Transforming Trauma Into Beauty
The white canvas hammock is damp as it holds me. My head falls gently to the right, my half-open eyes taking in the turquoise waters and the distant right-hander peeling over the shallow reef. A reef I found last night with my left hand as I surfed one more wave toward the setting sun. I trace the laceration with my finger and thank it for the lesson: on these island reef breaks, it is best to exit early!
My mind is still and relaxed, like the leaning palms I hang between. Only occasional thoughts trickle in: like, how did I get here? And, is this real? The latter being a question which enters my mind quite frequently these days. It usually comes with a massive smile and a burst of warmth through my chest as I know that yes, this is real. I am two kilometres from the equator and surfing for a living. Dreams do come true. I take my GoPro and shoot a quick selfie. I can sense this moment is far too precious to let fade away.
Only six months ago I was a paramedic. An Intensive Care Paramedic to be exact, meaning it was my job to attend the more serious 000 calls. The scenes where people were dead or dying; the cardiac arrests, the mangled wrecks and my least favourite - the hangings. Only six months ago I was dying with their deaths. Fighting against a clenched jaw, a tightened chest. My anxious breath short and shallow as I donned my royal blue uniform, as I zipped up my black boots and prepared for another day’s work. I didn’t want to wear those boots anymore. My body knew it. But my mind was slower to follow. My mind had reason. And logic. It wanted income and certainty and security, the gifts that my long paramedic career had given me. But my body was screaming ‘enough’ and if I had learned anything, it was that the body always knows. It knows what we truly want, what the heart calls for, and my heart was calling - no screaming - for change.
“Miss Kate…” My head turns toward the local boy who drives our boat and I return his sweet smile, “we will leave in ten minutes”, he warns, though in island time that means thirty. I tell him thank you and remain in my hammock, knowing I have plenty of time to continue my musing. I crunch my stomach and lift my head, taking in a long sip of cool water, preparing my body for the next few hours under the midday sun. It will be the second surf of the day, yet I know it wont be the last. It is my job this week to test every wave in the area, and there are almost twenty. I’ve already decided this resort is perfect but we can’t hold a retreat here unless the waves are good enough for our clients. I break into a massive grin. This is real! My breath is long and deep, no tension in my shoulders now.
I had been a paramedic since I was twenty. I had prided myself on being proficient, knowledgeable and most importantly, kind. If anyone had asked, I would have told them that I loved my job. I would have told them that I was happy. And I was. But something was creeping in. At first it was subtle, a gentle whisper of a voice. It spoke of ‘more’ and of ‘less’; more happiness, more light and less depression, drunkenness, and death. At first I could only hear it in meditation, in the silence, in moments of connection with my deep inner self. I let my mind toy with it; I let it dream of something different. Yet it felt far away and crazy. I had doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I content? I found a life coach. We did exercises together. She asked me “if you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?” My answer? I’d lead surf and yoga retreats for women. My mind dismissed it, the way mind does when it can’t see a viable way to make a dream reality.
For one more year I continued on. I told screaming children that their father was dead because their mother, who spoke no English, could not understand. I cut hanging lifeless bodies from rafters and held a dying man’s head as he spewed blood onto my steady fingers. I wrapped countless drunken men and their excrement in blankets. My jaw began its clenching. I read about manifestation and made a vision board and began to construct a hypothetical future. At first I was uncertain. Was I crazy? Who did I think I was? And then I discovered the missing link. The key. You can have anything you want, as long as you believe in what you ask for. I made a choice to believe. I made hundreds of post-it notes with affirmations and desires. I put every desire into the present tense, as if it already existed. “I want to lead retreats” became, “I lead successful surf and yoga retreats”. And I believed it. Within two months my life transformed. In a bizarre chance encounter with a mutual friend I met Lulu Agan, owner of SwellWomen, a successful company that runs global surf, yoga and wellness retreats to empower women. Turns out she had been manifesting a partner.
The speed at which the opportunity presented itself was startling, and as a consequence my mind could not catch on. Fear gripped me. Could I really leave a thirteen-year career and a steady income for this? It seemed insane. My mind, in all its logic, decided I would stay on as a paramedic and play with the retreat aspect part time. My jaw clenching intensified, my body knowing what my mind did not. If I would not honour my body, then nature would. She intervened in what I now call “a series of breakdowns”. In the space of ten days just about everything broke: first my car, then my fridge, then my dog, my heart and then finally, my house. Wading through four inches of floodwater in the wee hours of the morning, I lifted my head to the sky and I surrendered. I laughed. I cried. I resigned. I put my things in storage and moved out of my house. And a week later, fully embracing SwellWomen, I sat in a private villa in Sri Lanka. My own private butler leading me to a private-chef-prepared five star meal.
The boat’s motor fires up and snaps me from my memories. I wade gingerly over the coral reef toward it and count my blessings. There is not an ounce of regret inside me just gratitude and joy. Gratitude that I have found the courage to step outside the boundaries and toward my dreams and the courage to believe. Gratitude for post-it notes; for the one’s that still hang on my wall. Big dreams like becoming a best-selling author, and small ones like finding the perfect new house. And for the one’s I’ve had to take down as they quickly became reality; one’s like ‘SwellWomen Retreat Leader’ and ‘Travel Play Live’ guest writer. Gratitude for the mysteries of the universe, for the ways in which we truly don’t know. For how magic and beauty is everywhere. But mostly, gratitude that after all those years of seeing so much dying, all I really see now is the wonder of living.
Written by Kate Duncan