Updated: Jan 22, 2021
In my life, the thing that has always made my soul feel the most weary, more than anything else, are the ignorant, misguided judgements and projections, that seem to so easily fall out of people's mouths. They do so much damage, seen and unseen.
I have been guilty of it myself, we've all done it. Some of us have made a career out of it. Some of us have made it a life-long quest to absolve ourselves of the driving force of a wounded ego that is behind it.
Having grown up in a small religious community, I am the most sensitive to religious ignorance that has not evolved. Evolution is scary to any culture or religion. The more you know, the more you know that you don't know everything - and that means you have to take a step back, reconsider and eventually, evolve. The more you evolve the more you have to surrender and the less control you feel that you have. (Until you come to fully know surrender - that she is the ultimate in control that you can have, the truest power that you can wield.) Until you know that though, you are controlled by fear.
You are afraid of surrender because you don't want to lose control.
But you never had control; all you had was anxiety.
So many times in my young life, when I heard adults say the most ridiculously ignorant, outdated and fear-based statements, all I wanted to do was yell something along the lines of:
"Oh for Pete's sake, just because it was true for one person, one time, in some country 2000 years ago, doesn't mean it's true for everyone, forever. They thought the world was flat back then, NEVER FORGET THAT."
Although, truth be told, scholars, Greek and Christian, even 2000 years ago, did hypothesize that the world was a sphere. It was the general population that was slow to adopt it. Which is usually how it goes. If you've read some of my other blogs, like the one on cholesterol and mental health, then you know that I find outdated statements about anything very irritating. For example, when I come across groups that still believe that fats in the diet are the cause of high cholesterol, I want to yell:
"Oh for Pete's sake, just because it was true for one scientist, one time, in North America IN THE 80s, doesn't mean it's true for everyone, forever. They thought mullets where cool back then, NEVER FORGET THAT."
So, today, in honour of all the yelling I have never done. I write down my very best story for you. This is the most pivotal moment of my whole life. Not because I learned something new, but because the experience allowed me to finally embody something old. Something ancient, universal and profoundly true. Something I had always known deep down.
(BTW. As it turns out, I am telling you this story on a day when the funniest story of my whole life, is also about to be broadcast for the world. If you appreciate the heartwarming, worldview-shifting story on this page, then you may want to complete it with some humour. You can find that emotional roller coaster of an interview and my funniest story on Crazy Canuck Truckin's podcast It's here, or if you prefer Spotify, it's here. A YouTube version is here.
Here we go...
Like most little girls, I had dreams of Cinderella's Castle. When my parents announced that we were going to Disney World, my 9 year old self was ecstatic. We flew to Florida that January. I trembled with excitement as we entered the park, I had had visions for weeks, of walking into the castle and climbing up the towers. I could hardly contain myself.
We got to the drawbridge and as we crossed it towards the castle it began to feel like my eyes were lying to me. There were people at tables, eating food. I didn't understand. What were they doing in my castle?! I started running into the castle, looking for the doors that would take me up to the towers of Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel.
There were no doors.
I began to get frantic, I ran back outside onto the bridge and looked at the sides of the castle, wondering if I could climb the edges of the moat and find a door. I looked up at the towers, grief began to well up in my little chest. I ran back through the castle to check the other side.
If you were there that year and you saw a 9 year old girl burst into crocodile tears on the drawbridge of Cinderella's Castle, for no apparent reason. That was me.
I made a decision that day. That would never be me again. I would climb those towers one day. No one was going to stop me. I started forming a plan for my life that very day.
By the time I was 12, my plan was mostly worked out, it seemed pretty straight forward to me. I told no one about it though.
I was to leave the small world I grew up in and head out into the bigger world. I had work to do in this life and I knew exactly what it would look like.
Once I was out of the religious clutches and paradigms of the world I grew up in, and did not agree with, I was going to live a life of adventure and stories. I would become a rockstar, sign autographs and be on the radio. I could see myself on the stage and my name in the charts. I was going to live in The Big Apple, wear high heels and sexy dresses, drink champagne and have credit cards. I could taste the finery. I would most definitely live on the other side of the Atlantic, in a cool European City. I felt this was really key. I could almost feel the oldest energy of ancient cobblestone roads and the memories that still vibrated in the stone walls. I would have a cool job and travel for it, one day I'd dine with royalty in the Middle East, Aladdin style. (Remember those fruit shaped jewels hanging around in the old illustrated children's book? From before Robin Williams was the Genie? It was going to be like that.) I'd study natural medicine as well as music. I'd find proper castles, no more Disney bullshit. I'd find them, walk right into them like I owned the place and climb the ancient stairs I'd been dreaming of since I was 4. Somehow it was all gonna fuse together to form something really cool that I would do one day. Eventually I would take my universal education back to where I came from and help people. I could feel that I'd be relatively poor until I was 40, I knew I had a lot of lessons to learn, they would be expensive (they were.) Finally, I would write a wildly successful book about it all and then I'd be that interesting person at dinner parties that tells the best stories and says the most profound things in two sentences or less.
As it has gone, it would seem that only thing left on that list is to finish my book.
In a different blog called "What exactly do you do anyway?" I have written a few details down of some of these adventures, you can read them later if you want. Today I am going to tell you about the Middle East.
I am one of those people that almost always had the answer and didn't know why they had it. In elementary school, teachers would sometimes ask questions at the beginning of lessons to demonstrate a point - we were not supposed to know the answer. Except I usually did. I'd often get that 'How the hell do you know that?" look from my teachers. I swear they'd sign affidavits to that point even now, as being back here, it seems that none of them have ever forgotten me. My journey and assignment in this life seems to have been about affirming and confirming, and then reaffirming, for myself, all that I already know. I don't know why that's the mission I was given when I was born, but when I surrendered to it, life got easier for me.
One of the things I always knew was that the attitude in the community I grew up in, the attitude towards non-christians, towards heathens, Muslims, other religions and spiritualities, was fucked up. I had an innate knowing that we are all the same. I was born knowing that - so the culture I grew up in was shocking to me most every day of my life. That world and the gross injustice and crimes committed in it, that I witnessed, in the name of god, created a systemic sadness in my body that I later spent years in therapy to get out.
When I was in high school I remember hearing a woman talking about Loreena McKinnet and her newest record, that one where she is wearing the long black dress, and she said, "that means she's a witch." And I remember almost blurting out, "that means you're an ignorant jerk." I was about 14 when I thought that. They didn’t have eye roll emojis back then, but I could have used one.
There was a period of time where a crazy ass evangelist came through town a couple times and scared the jesus loving shit out of everyone. Come to think of it, I wonder what happened to him, wait.... let me check. We didn't have google back then. I barely knew the difference between RAM and ROM at that time. (wait. are those even still things?) So hold on, I want to check...
oh god. he's still at it, still propagating fear fuelled, HPA axis triggering, sympathetic nervous system stimulating, pre-frontal cortex shut down stuff and all the things. (I know that's a terrible sentence, but that's what it deserves, I'm leaving it that way.)
good for him. fear sells hard. I bet he has a really nice house.
He came into Winkler with a holy hell fire vengeance. Scaring everyone about the apocalyptic end times, how close we were to them, telling us Bryan Adams and Celine Dion had occult references in their songs and whatever else he felt like scaring people with. And I remember the second wave of him, it was when I was in grade 12, end of the school year. He came through town again.
Some of the girls in my grade and I, were sitting up in the grade 12 lounge, they were going on and on about the end times and all anti-christ everything that was everywhere. I had just fucking had it. I was leaving soon, and I was getting bolder. We were about to graduate and exams where the following week. I finally looked up at everyone, closed my biology text book and binder, folding them neatly into each other, so I didn't lose my place, and I said:
"Well that's great everyone, but just in case the world doesn't end tomorrow, I'm gonna go study for my biology exam. In the library." And I left.
It was the beginning of the leaving. It would take 10 years and then another 10 years to totally leave it all behind. Religious wounds, the barbwires around your self-worth that get wrapped around you the second you say out loud that you were born broken, and need saving and cleansing, are sticky and easily infected. Damning yourself to conditional love that must be earned, that is 'free' the same way that your credit card points are 'free,' and accepting a list of things to do that you will do with the quiet motivation to avoid eternal damnation, takes a lot of work to undo.
I stuck around for a year after high school, and then I went to the city did a year of bible school, looking for something more. Maybe a different denomination had the answer. That year of bible school is where my soul was almost crushed completely. (more on that another time, it was bad) I went to university after that and halfway through my second year I quit that and toured with my band...
(and now I will Intentionally skip half of my book and we will head over to 2008. At the time that this pivotal story begins, I was married to a banker and living in England. We had a flat in Little Venice, in London. Jude Law lived down the street from us and Michael Flaherty was across the canal. It was that kind of life. I'll tell that story another time as well.)
So there I was, in the old European city on the other side of the Atlantic that I had planned on. We'd moved from New York and its high heels, to London, a year earlier. Before New York, I'd been on the radio, signed autographs, won awards and even gotten onto a bill with the Mathew Good Band. I'd done it all and now I was studying nutrition, had a new biology text and was unhappily married, and living in London.
One typical weekend, hanging out at the Montreaux Palace in Switzerland on vacation, as you do, I got a call. It was my colleague Kathryn. I worked with her and her husband, Guy Meadows (he's now known as "The Sleep Doctor" in the UK.) We worked out of a little clinic and pilates studio in Little Venice. She also worked in a physiotherapy clinic in Notting Hill. She was calling me because the owner of the physio clinic, Tony, had just had some of his international clients ask if he could bring a nutritionist along on their vacation. He and his staff were already scheduled to travel to do therapy and movement classes for them, but he didn't have a Nutritional Therapist on staff. Kathryn just happened to be there at the front desk when this discussion was happening and she piped up, "We have one!"
6 days later I was on a plane, to a country in the Middle East, to work for the Bin Laden family.
These were people that my upbringing had told me I should be afraid of. People that Western Media had suggested I be very afraid of.
What did I think of all that? Well, once again, me and my reliable biology text book were, like, "Fuck it. This is gonna be amazing. Chances are good that death will not occur. We're outta here."
Wasn't the library that my biology text book and I went to this time tho - it was a palace.
Here's what most people don't know about that massive family. In Osama's generation there are about 36 brothers, I don't know how many sisters. His father had 6 wives (pretty sure that's right, I am doing my best with what I remember them telling me.) This generation all only have one wife now, just so you know. Most of those women have masters degrees from universities in the USA. The family business is architecture and construction. I hung out with them in one of the palaces they had built themselves, during my time there. The family publicly disowned Osama in 1995 for his involvement with the Taliban. (and you just did the 9/11 math in your head so I won't point it out for you.) As much as I am dying to tell you the funny thing they told me about him, I can't. lol. Sorry.
When we got there, we checked into the resort they were putting us up at and then headed over to the place (palace) where they were staying. Tony and I walked into the main "building" with our host and I almost fell over. I looked over at Tony through the side of my head and whispered. "I can't look at you till we leave cause I'll don't know what to do with this." The scene before my eyes was a throne room, for lack of a better word, 30 feet high marble pillars, a sparkling Red Sea on the other side of the tallest windows I'd ever looked through, and stair cases. Also marble.
Our kind host sent Tony off somewhere, the gym probably. He took me into the 'kitchen' to meet the chefs and cooks that would be doing what I told them to do for a couple of weeks. I met everyone and then he took me into the other kitchen, with more prep space, freezers and fridges, etc. Then he said this to me, casually, matter of factly, like he was talking about how to make jello, he said "This is for when kings come."
"Uh huh. Sure." I thought, inside my exploding mind, "cause I have a kitchen for when kings come, in fact it's being renovated while I am away...working for the Bin Laden's...in a palace... on the cliffs of the Red Sea. Oh, and I love those 6 metre windows downstairs, that look into the "pool." Very cool. I need some of those"
You get the point.
Those weeks felt like all the best things of my home that I remembered. There were three families. Two brothers and one sister, they had their significant other with them, and their children. Watching them, dining with them (in a dining room full of chandeliers dripping with massive Swarovski Crystals, just like my Aladdin book) it felt like my family - my big ass, bursting at the seams with love, Mennonite family. With all the love and sibling pettiness and teenage angst and the mom's keeping it all under control. The first time I joined them for dinner, one of the men, whose wife had hired me, made the situation very clear to me. He said "you need anything or want to know something, ask her." (pointing to his wife) "She's in charge, even of me. I just listen to her."
We all burst out laughing.
A grandmother was there and she had brought her two best friends from childhood along. So there were three sweet little old ladies running around the palace all the time, usually laughing their heads off, giggling at the very least. Full of joy and love and wisdom. I adored them. One of them was well known in Saudi, as a most devout religious woman, she had the whole Koran memorized. As the time moved on, their English got "better." They began to trust me and become more and more willing to engage. Conversations started happening.
I also had a driver that drove me to the market and carried my bags for me. It was surreal. Tony and I got superstar treatment at the resort. I soon learned that the secret word was "I am here working for the Bin Laden family."
The men came and left on the family jet throughout the weeks, to check on constructions projects in the Middle East and into Russia. When they were there they were working on plans for a free hospital they were building. The family's philanthropy is quite well known in their country.
I wanted to teach them how to make healthy cookies as a nutrition class. The ingredients for that class were picked up at Whole Foods Market in Kensington in London and put on their jet and flown out for us. I am not lying.
When Tony had arrived the day before me, our host had met him on the tarmac and walked off the airport property through a big gate. He didn't get a stamp in his passport.
omg. sometimes when I tell this story I don't even believe myself....
One night we all went out for dinner to the restaurant over at the Four Seasons. We had the whole restaurant to ourselves, I've never been treated so well in a restaurant. It was unreal.
At one point, after dining together back at 'home' we all moved into the main hall with our Turkish coffees. We started talking about my former music career. There was a guitar in the seating area and they asked me to play a song for them.
So I tuned the guitar, walked up on to the small marble podium type thing, where the king and his son sat when they visited. I sat right down in the king's chair. (I mean, why not?) and sang them one of my original songs. You see, this family are close friends of the royal family. They built and maintained all of the royal properties and the country's holy places. It was close enough for me as far as the whole 'dining with royalty' part of my plan. I mean, would you complain?
Towards the end of my stay the devout religious woman, who was was so full of wisdom that you could almost see it as mist in her eyes, turned to me with intention. We were sitting next to each other at a big round table, I had just finished teaching my last nutrition class. (That class survives to this day, in the evolved form of, "There's no such thing as healthy food.")
She asked me, "So what do you believe Sonia? Are you a Christian?"
I looked into the depth and knowing in her eyes and I said, "Well, I was raised that way, but a lot of it doesn't work for me. I went searching but didn't find what I was looking for, so I left it behind. I guess I am still trying to figure out what I believe..."
She paused, looking down for a moment and then back up at me. (Wise and insightful people always pause before they say wise and insightful things.) She reached over and softly put her hand on my hand, that was resting on the table. She took a gentle breath and then in one divine sentence, she affirmed, animated and brought to life, everything I had ever quietly believed.
She said "Well don't worry about it too much Sonia, it doesn't really matter much what you believe... because you have a pure heart."
I felt spirit and the divine and the love that connects us all, run through her to me like a buzzing of electricity, like the light of the brightest darkness splitting truth.
And it wasn't the feeling that I was never going to be the same, no, it wasn't like that. It was a feeling that I had just been permanently and irrevocably thrust back onto the path that would take me back to who I already was.
Here she was, this woman that my culture and religion had deemed a vile sinner, the anti-christ, ungodly, unclean, seeing me for who I really was and speaking a universal truth into my cells that I would never doubt again.
There were no christians and no muslims in the room that day.
After that day there would be oh so much more for me to peel back, of course. In many ways it was the beginning of the true quest for the real holy grail, the return to myself. It was a scene suited for Enigma's 'Return to Innocence,' if there ever was one. As I would discover, there was so much more to heal, so many more painful lessons to help me get to here, but I never again questioned what I had always known. It was only a matter of uncovering the love and sacredness of all that we all ready are.
"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."
The next morning, I ate breakfast on the most magnificent ocean-front 'deck' I've ever seen or been on. Looking out over the sparkling Red Sea at Tiran Island, I realized I was looking at the place believed to be the spot of the parting of the Red Sea. Which was a weird thought at that moment. And as I sat there, having Rice Crispies and cold toast with the Bin Laden's, I had an epiphany about my own self and life. I remember the vibration of this thought as if it happened just now.
"If I can start a nutrition course one year ago, not even be done and wind up working for the freaking Bin Laden's, in a palace, dining with Aladdin grade jewels dripping from the ceiling, sitting on a throne and singing a freaking song, surely I can go back to Canada, chart on radio, get my closure, and then leave the industry on my own terms."
So I did that too.
Out of that mission, for closure of the devastating musical thing that had happened to me, which I will write about another day, came my Christmas album "Carol." On that album is the song 'O Come O Come Emmanuel." I deliberately rewrote the lyrics and dedicated the song to the Bin Laden Family.
If you'd like give it a listen, my version of O Come O Come Emmanuel is here, on Spotify.
Below are the lyrics. I rewrote verses 2 & 3 to satisfy my need to yell out loud how I felt the world should be.
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
Oh come thou wisdom from on high
To hold close all that love and truth imply
To use the path of knowledge show
And teach us in all that her heart knows
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
Oh come desire of nations bind
To see one heart in all of mankind
May all our sad divisions cease
Crown love itself the keeper of our peace
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
It's not hard to see the relationship between the title of this blog, the tone of this song and where these women were from. I was with them mid-December of 2008. With the first true 'Christmas Star' appearing in the sky this year, in over 800 years, on the Winter Solstice no less, I knew it was time to write this story down. And then I got asked to perform for the first time in 10 years this Christmas. And I knew for. sure.
I'd love to tell you so much more about them, I had conversations with all of them, I loved them all and every moment I spent with them. They were wise and loving, just like my very white and very mennonite aunts and grandmothers here. That palace felt like home. And I got to climb to the top... well, I got to run actually, up the spiralling marble staircases, to even fancier rooms. And also down the marble stairs, to the bottom, to the movie theatre. Ha. I was a child, an adolescent, a daughter, an adult, and a professional those weeks, all parts of me were embraced by them and all those parts started healing.
I highly recommend working for them if you ever get the chance, be sure to accept the dinner invitations too ;)
And so here we are now, on the last day of the hardest year on record for many of us. The Dark Year of the Soul. This year felt like my final ass kicking against the barriers I spent a whole childhood building against true love. I've never felt more whole, I have never liked myself more and I have never given less of shit about what anyone thinks of me. I have shed the layers, deconstructed the mental models and paradigms that tried to take my voice from me, like our little mermaid Ariel and the Sea Witch. The barriers are gone. The barbwire lashes have healed and I have my voice back in full.
I will leave you with a poem called "10 Years" at the end of this blog. I wrote it in 2002, shortly after moving to Toronto for the publishing deal that I lost. It was at that moment that I became aware of the saboteur in my life. Of all of the "almost, but not quite" dreams that had slipped through my fingers, like the cinderella castle.
My quest for the life I wanted had begun long before that moment, but my quest to remove the barriers from actually manifesting that life, began the day I wrote "10 Years."
If you are on this journey, then take the poem as your own if it resonates. If 2020 has pushed you to the brink of wanting to uncover all that lies beneath, then take it as a beacon to guide you through the dark night of the soul. If you have already walked that dark night, then read it as a memoir, as a congratulatory hug from me to you, a solidarity of the best kind.
If you need a song as well, then I'll also share the song that initiate so much of the journey for me. You see, Loreena McKinnett and I are from the same hometown. We both left for more, for music and our souls. We have both been ignorantly, incorrectly and maliciously called witches by people in the place we are from. (I consider it an honour to be in that club now.) Her recording of 'Dante's Prayer' broke my soul open one day, it was released the year I started working on my first record "Close your Eyes." , which I released, on crutches and with a minor concussion, in 1999. (As a friend recently pointed out, it's always a suspense novel with me. haha.) "Dante's Prayer" is a prayer of the dark night of the soul, and it was the portal through which I began the unseen part of my most serendipitous journey.
From the prayer:
"Though we share this humble path, alone.
How fragile is the heart.
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly.
To touch the face of the stars."
We all have to walk that night. It's not always 10 years long. Sometimes it's 20 years long, like mine was. Sometimes it's 6 months. Some people walk it in their last breath here on earth. All I can leave you with, beyond the poem and the song, are the wise words of my teacher, Jewels. She said to me once, of the dark night, and of the tsunami of pain that comes with rumblings of the universe, after you have let it know that you are ready to heal:
"There are two things I can promise you, Sonia. The first is that you will feel like you are going to drown, many times. But I can also promise you something else: you never will."
And I never did.
So I am sending out a blessing to you all, if you will receive it, for 2021. My hope for you is to know the power you can wield with true surrender - that you then come to know that the deeper the surrender, the more buoyant it makes you. It was this deep surrender and the letting go of the fears that held me back and held me down, for so many decades, that always brought me back up to the surface.
Whatever 2020 has brought to you, pushed you into, stretched you past, I can tell you two things without a doubt.
I can tell you with certainty, that this surrender will do the same for you as it did for me and has done for all those before us.
I can also tell you that no matter how high the waves get, no matter how afraid you feel in a moment, you will not drown.
There is no way out today
The Heavens are closed
Change these lies
Release these ties
So I can touch the Universe
Have I forgotten the day that God remembered me?
Until the pain is gone
Until the emptiness is all alone without me
Carry me away from this day
This misery of indifference is a viable comfort to me
To pretend I am more than I believe
To feel freer than you let me be
I stand for Beauty – and maybe Truth
But I understand neither
I haven’t seen either
I am timid in my eternal quest for you – I am perfect – but I cannot ask for you
Though your name is mine
My pen refuses – I cannot write it down
Now there is stillness in the Heavens
Peace on the wars of Earth
There is no drug – No thought that fits
No transcendence that meets my needs
For I need to feel that you are there
Beyond the beyonds of my horizon
Farther than the farthest places that reach
Are you everywhere? - Are you everything?
I need to feel it all
I must feel that this flesh I live in is alive
So will I bury my fear today?
I have known your presence for so long
My protector – My escape
I have always known you
and I might miss
I might remember
But I will not take you back
For I have spent the fortune of my soul
To uproot – To tear apart – To leave behind
There is no heart left for you to consume
No blood for your survival
For you cannot have me
You may not be me
You cannot have me