I had never been one to call myself a "spiritual" person. In fact, I didn't even see spirituality as something attainable for someone like me. In my mind, that was a word used to describe shamans, gurus and priests -- none of whom I identified with. I was of the fast-moving, career-driven, shoebox-dwelling, all-black-wearing city folk tribe -- like most people in Manhattan. For the past several years, I had lived what must have looked like quite a glamorous life. I bounced back and forth between homes in Manhattan and South Beach and frequented all the hot spots in town with my collection of suitors to wine and dine me. I was routinely invited on tropical island getaways to jet off and forget my cares for the weekend. This began in my early 20s, when a modeling contract had transported me from the purity and simplicity of Oregon to the concrete land of opportunity and chaos that is New York. Within a week of my big city arrival, the velvet ropes parted and I was on the arm of a promoter. He was paid to adorn the chicest venues with lovely little model ornaments, like myself. I met a new circle of friends, and I commenced with my fast-paced lifestyle.
It took me a few years to completely burn out. I was ill-equipped to handle this new life with any sort of balance. Anxiety and major emotional ups and downs were common for me. I put myself on a starvation to squeeze into sample sizes. When that finally put me in the hospital, I had a wake-up call from my body, slowed down a little and was advised to take classes in holistic health. My teachers preached that not only proper nutrition, but also a spiritual practice were necessary for a healthy life. I absorbed the nutritional information on my quest for greater health and well being, but I couldn't imagine what spiritual practice would ring true for me. Church bored me, the Deepak Chopra book collected dust on my shelf and my one vain attempt at meditation proved futile -- all I could think about while trying to clear my mind and find inner peace was how much my ankles hurt as I sat cross legged on the hard, wooden floor. As a final attempt at enlightenment, I decided to give yoga a try. I enjoyed the effects it had on my physical body, but I didn't feel I gained the same mental calmness from the om'ing and chanting that my Lululemon-clad cohorts did. Was I doing something wrong? I was too embarrassed to ask and felt hopeless, so I gave up on my search. Spirituality was clearly for a crowd separate from myself.
A few years later, the things in my life that were giving me a sense of self worth and validation began to seem shallow and empty. I was unhappy and disgusted. I felt really alone and wondered how my peers were feeling okay in the drudgery of this meaningless little material world which had consumed us. Soon after I had begun to question the life I was creating for myself, several of the friendships I had formed in recent years in the city ended in an abrupt and unsettling way. My familiar feelings of stress and anxiety washed over me, and I felt like I'd sunk to a new emotional low.
I couldn't keep living this way. In January 2010, I vowed to make a change. I surrendered to the possibility that life didn't have to be such an emotional struggle. Once I opened up to this thought, something shifted and I began to attract new and wonderful friends, whose souls also yearned for something higher. Through these friends, I was introduced to spiritual communities I felt connected to for the first time in my life. I realized how easy it had been to find friends to support me when I was down or lost in negativity, but true friends and a spiritual community would also support me in my highest thoughts and desires to be a better human being.
With an open heart and mind this time around, I found new tribes I could call my own. I found them in ashrams in India, fire ceremonies in California and fields of wildflowers in New Jersey. Surprisingly, I also found them among my fellow New Yorkers, eating in the same restaurants and zipping by me on the street -- still dressed in black. They'd been out there the whole time, but until I opened up to my desire for a life with more meaning, they'd been invisible for me. The common thread that connects me to each of these groups is our desire to live out our spiritual beliefs on a daily basis in the way we treat ourselves and others.
My year of spiritual thinking has been a journey of self-discovery. It's been uncomfortable and challenging at times, but I am grateful for the practices that have given me an opportunity to go within and make friends with myself, even the parts I wish to disown sometimes. By bringing awareness to those parts, I am able to correct old patterns and roadblocks that hold me back. I feel things more deeply and am more accepting of who I am. It will be a lifelong journey, and I look forward to peeling back the layers over time. Each layer presents a new opportunity to grow and bring more joy into my life, and, in turn, the lives of others.