It’s 7:30 on Friday night and fifty pairs of unblinking eyes are watching me. The eyes belong to my animals. Stuffed ones. Thanks to a little help from my parents, my buddies are lined up so that each fuzzy chin rests with my own along the fold of my hand-stitched quilt. It’s important to me that every one of my animals feels included and wanted. No bear, duck, or dog is left at the foot of the bed.

Mom and Pop kiss me on the brow then do the same for my big sister, Melissa, who is nestled into the bunk above me. “Leave the hall light on!” I call as they tiptoe out of our dark bedroom.

As I fall asleep, something swells behind my forehead. A vision? A message? It’s hard to describe. I become huge and tiny at the same time. I am heavy and light. The space around me becomes infinite, filled with strange shapes and colors that don’t exist in my crayon box. 

I’m a bit scared. I think about whispering, “Melissa, do you feel that?” But I don’t. I can’t. Something about this thing that’s happening seems to require silence, and also, I can’t move my mouth. Can’t move my body. “There is power in you,” they’re telling me. “Try to remember, even when it’s hard. Don’t be afraid.” I lie still and watch, unblinking. I’m five years old.

I’m eleven years old, arriving on the school playground after Christmas break. It’s early morning. I look down at my footprints on the frost-tipped grass. I keep my gaze lowered as I greet friends. I’m a different person than the one they knew last week. Maybe they see that I’m weird now. That I’m different. That I’m broken. On Christmas Day I was full of the infinite. Today, my world is muted into shades of grey. Pop left us. He’s gone forever.

I’m 16. I have lots of friends. I get good grades. I’m cheer captain. I hate myself.

I’m trailing a photographer into the White House Press Room, juggling meticulously looped cable cords, extra beta tapes, and a tray of hot coffee. I’m a 22-year-old intern for The Chicago Tribune’s broadcast bureau in Washington DC, submerged in a world of transcripts, deadlines, and white stained scandal. The relentless pace and dense churning of this city transform my outermost psychic layer, hardening around the the parts of myself that are so tender, to lay a finger there would be agony. I hold the paradox in two fists, so tight my nails cut flesh, palms begin to bleed. I’m lost.

I’m pregnant. My third. I’ll be 33 next month. Nothing makes sense. I don’t know how I got here. I’ve been depressed or dysthymic for too many years, living somewhere on the spectrum of worthless and suicidal. No one knows and no one would ever guess. There has to be another way of being. I think I remember hearing a call once. A long, long time ago.

It’s today. Today, today. Almost 42. I am a human transmitter of light. It pours through my body and touches anyone around me who is willing to receive it. My personal evolution, a surrendering and transmutation of suffering, was nothing short of miraculous. There was no magic pill to take, no doctor to heal, no guru to follow. There was just me and a stack of books on meditation, a pair of eyelids that weren’t afraid to close, a longterm commitment to quiet myself and listen for this thing.

After practicing mindfulness for ten years and teaching spiritually-based mental health to women and children for more than half that time, I’ve come to accept that I’m a whole person, a good teacher. I understand women. I understand depression and anxiety, hardening and softening, doing and being. Standing tall in my power, without apology, I reach my scarred but gentle hands out to help neighbors, and now you, if you’d like it.

There is an omniverse hiding under your skin — boundless and supportive. It gives you goosies, makes your hair stand on end, reminds you to call your mother and turn left instead of right. There’s a road for you to take. Perhaps you’re walking down its yellow-lined center this very minute, or perhaps you are tumbling down its sloped shoulder. Whatever your current position, the road must be acknowledged and appreciated, if only because it’s your chosen way through this life. If you are depressed or anxious or somewhere in between, please hear my story and trust that the very same light that lives in me also lives in you.

The road I took to arrive in this moment was long and curvy, dark and light; and I’d be willing to take that road a thousand times again if given the chance. Not because it was fun or easy or even enjoyable, but because it was mine. I’ve worked very hard to make my mind a happy place to live, to establish easy access to joy, to trust rather than understand my purpose in the universe, to sit deeply into this place where spirit meets bone. There is no end to the journey, no X on a spot. The road keeps going, a daily commitment to Loving what’s inside, even when the outside seems chaotic or ugly or mundane.

While my ego still sometimes whispers, “No, Vanessa. You’re not a teacher. You are not good. You are small and unworthy,” my spirit urges, “Go! There is no time to waste. We designed you to bridge this gap in consciousness and you have work to do.” I had forgotten, the voices I heard, the feelings I had, the things I saw so long ago when I felt safe and loved and tucked cozily into my life. I remember now, and my job is to be sure my earth sisters remember, too.