Once upon a time there was a gentle flower who came to be in an endless green meadow by a shimmering river between two majestic mountains.
Though the flower was very beautiful, it had particularly delicate petals that could be easily bruised and torn, and roots that could be disturbed with little effort.
Despite this, the flower enthusiastically opened to the world, expecting to be adored for its amazing colors.
He could not have expected what was to come. This is his story.
Part I – Trampled
The little night light at the end of the hallway illuminated the darkness.
Though sometimes my sister would turn it off for sleep, I would always turn it back on. It provided a certain sense of comfort.
The screams in my nervous system echoed the yells from downstairs. I covered my ears, but the horror continued in my imagination.
Even when things were quieter, I started to worry about robbers or kidnappers coming in the night. Sleep often eluded me for fear of scary dreams.
Sometimes I would go lie on the floor next to my parents bed to find comfort to sleep. I was sternly told to return to my room.
At the dinner table, sudden outbursts of rage. Harsh sounding words ‘Stupid.’ ‘Useless.’ ‘Asshole.’
With every yell, every threat, every fist slamming, every cold stare, every insult, and even worse the moments in between, waiting, my little body and mind became more and more overwhelmed.
What was this place that I had come to?
When I was a bit older but still young, I remember crying at a song in a children’s movie about a mouse searching for his lost parents. The lyrics went:
“Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight
Someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight
Somewhere out there someone’s saying a prayer
That we’ll find one another in that big somewhere out there.”
Though I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, the song evoked within me a sense of a great, deep love. A love that I longed to experience in every moment. Where was this love?
Part II – Flower
I remember the first time I was called a fag in the schoolyard. It was at the beginning of grade 6.
I was at a new school and some girls I didn’t know approached me in the recess yard, asking me some questions. I stared down at the ground as I responded, not having the confidence to look up. Apparently not liking the way I answered, they put this unwanted label on me.
Was this what I was?
That ‘f’ word, that dagger to the spirit, that poison to the mind became something I feared hearing, and something I feared might be true about myself.
I knew from past experience that a man being gay or at all feminine was a bad thing. I recalled instructions from my father: ‘stop flitting around’, ‘don’t hold your hand like that’, ‘stop walking that way’. What I took in from media was no better.
Of course, when I was 13 my worst fear was confirmed. I felt an attraction to boys. Those girls were right. I was that awful word.
I turned against myself.
My teenage years were wrought with self-antagonism. If I could mentally deny myself and reduce myself to nothing, I thought, maybe no one else could harm me. Maybe, also, what is wrong about me would change.
In parallel, after a first taste of true intimacy and connection, I fell in love with my straight best friend. While there was beauty in this friendship, on my end it devolved into obsession and shame and destroyed my mental health.
In the months leading up to my best friend leaving town for university (maybe leaving for good, I thought), I began to suffer panic attacks and found myself in a dissociative state that lasted for years. On some level, I am still healing from dissociation to this day.
Soon after, when I finally got the courage to ‘come out’ to my parents, the initial reaction was not positive and was followed by relative silence meant to indicate tacit support. I know now they did the best they could but this didn’t lessen the blow at the time.
There I was at 23 feeling depressed, anxious and totally and utterly alone. But I was also feeling something else which, like a lost memory, was surfacing for the first time since I was very young.
Part III – Resurrection
Allowing my truth to be seen was the beginning of healing. The Light of truth remains a healing force to this day.
In my early-to-mid 20’s I started seeking happiness in conventional ways. I got a Government job, bought myself a condo followed by a nicer one, went out on the weekend with friends, started dating and even had a short relationship.
This was a time of me becoming an individual, a person separate from shame and codependency. It was an important time and there were moments of brightness, yet somehow I still felt empty. Where was this great, deep love ‘somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight?’
When I was 26, looking for meaning I began volunteering as a Big Brother. I poured my entire self into it, even won Mentor of the Year with the Ottawa chapter. I am proud of how I supported my little brother.
This was a time of practicing giving and generosity, but if I am being honest I was still trying to fill a hole in my heart. Over time I became way too attached to my little brother and too involved in his personal affairs. The relationship became strained for many years, though I am pleased that we have recently reconnected.
When I was 32, while on vacation with two of my best friends in Chile, we went sandboarding (think snowboarding on sand dunes) in the Atacama Desert. At sunset, we stood together on the top of a sand dune, surrounded by an otherworldly landscape marked by red sand and volcanoes.
Even there, I still felt the familiar sting of anxiety and discontent. As though carried by the wind, the thought came to me ‘wow, this is the perfect moment, yet I am still not happy.’ I at once knew that nothing in the external world was bringing me what I was seeking.
The most recent decade of my life has been devoted to looking within on the spiritual path. Thousands of hours of Yoga teacher trainings and retreats, hundreds of hours of Buddhist meditation courses, dozens of spiritual books read – all have supported me on my journey.
I have grown a lot during this time. My anxiety has lessened, I have become more confident in myself, I have helped others. But something has still been missing.
Fast forward to earlier this year. I was looking through old Facebook posts and came across a link to a blog that I had written 10 years ago, in 2013. It was about loneliness. My 33 year old self wrote:
“Whether I am lonely by myself or lonely surrounded by loved ones, there is only one common denominator – me. If being lonely is feeling disconnected and unloved, I need to start by connecting to and loving myself, and I will never truly be alone.”
I was shocked. 10 years later and I still felt the same. My ‘great love somewhere out there’ is my own. How had I forgotten? How do I continue to forget?
My friend recently told me that healing is like a spiral. We keep coming back again and again to the same point, seemingly unchanged but actually in a different place. I think there is something to that.
Because of the hurts I experienced I closed myself off to love – I lost faith that the love I seek even exists. I keep circling again and again to this: my spiritual path is a path toward greater and greater self-love.
Conclusion – Opening to the Light
I am grateful that there have been some times, mostly in recent years, where the love I felt within was very strong. To close this tale, I want to share one special story with you.
In 2019 I was volunteering as a mentor at the Insight Meditation Society Teen Retreat in Massachusetts, a role I was honored to take on a few years prior. At the end of one of the wisdom talks one of the lead teachers read a poem called “My Lover is a Woman”, written by Pat Parker, a gay, black feminist from the United States.
The poem hit me like a freight train. Though I could not relate to the female experience or the black experience, no piece of art had ever so clearly articulated queer shame. I strongly encourage you to listen to a reading of this poem.
After the reading was over and the teens cleared the room, I broke down in sobs. I thought I was alone, but after a minute I looked all the way across the room and saw another mentor, a queer person, also in tears.
As though pulled together by cosmic force, we came together and embraced. We held each other for minutes in silence. Now, I cried not only for my own pain, but for their pain, for the pain of all those who were shamed because of love, for the pain of all those who felt like they were somehow faulty.
I was not alone. We were not alone. We were all there together in the Light of truth.
A key insight I received by taking the Yoga Development Course at the Ashram was that healing happens when we simply shine the Light on dark places. The Light of truth. The Light of compassion. The Light of surrender. The Light of love.
When those dark places are illuminated there is nothing to do, nothing to change – the Light, itself, heals.
So if I am that flower – delicate, bruised, torn – I now see that all I need to do is keep opening to the sun. To keep revealing my beauty, again and again, until I rest in it.
This is my wish for you as well – that you keep opening. Thank you for reading.
By Dave Sullivan/Original Artwork by Jamieson Child