Strolling along, the sun warming my face, I looked up at the palm trees towering overhead and smiled. This was certainly a different way to spend Christmas. I was in Los Angeles, visiting my best friend Lisa, who’d moved to the US four years earlier. Normally, I’d have been spending the festive season with my parents at their home in Suffolk. It would have been a traditional affair – me decorating the tree, time spent together opening stockings, enjoying a roast, ringing round extended family for a chat, and watching Doctor Who on telly.
A Spiritual Christmas Photo Gallery
But this year I’d lusted after something different; I was restless. I had spent the past five years living in Korea, where I’d worked as an English teacher since graduating university – but was that what I wanted to do forever? I was 24 years old and still figuring out what I needed in my life. I hoped this little adventure would help set me on a new path. So, here I was, heading off to spend Christmas Day on the beach. But that wasn’t all I had planned. I really wanted to do a yoga course while I was in LA. I’d been doing a spot of it at home, along with learning about positive affirmations and reading books by spiritual writers, such as Louise Hay. I’d grown up going to church, but stopped in my early twenties and had recently come to realise that I missed having a spiritual connection with something. Because Lisa was going back to work straight after the holiday, I thought a yoga workshop might inspire me while I was chilling out in LA, so I spent time hunting around on the internet. That’s when, during my search, I discovered the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
A slice of paradise Perched on the side of a cliff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the retreat sat on an ancient Native American Indian site and was fed by hot springs. It looked like paradise. I decided to sign up for a six-day yoga retreat and arrived on Boxing Day. The place felt so calm and peaceful and everyone was so friendly – it almost felt like a hippy commune! I spent my mornings doing yoga, and in the afternoons joined all sorts of other classes, where I learnt about the principles of Ayurveda, did a writing workshop and crafting classes and then, in the evening, sat round a fire pit singing, chanting and telling stories.
The atmosphere was wonderful. Everyone was happy to talk about different philosophies and spiritual practices, without judgement or ridicule. I couldn’t believe I’d stumbled across this place on the internet, but was so grateful that I had. After just a couple of days, I felt like I was finally reconnecting with nature, Spirit and myself. Little did I know then, though, just how much I would be transformed. Meeting my demon A few days into my stay I took part in a guided meditation. It was called Feeding Your Demons and was invented by an 11th century Tibetan Buddhist called Machig LabdrÖn. She believed that, instead of battling your inner demons, you should turn them into allies, ask them for help and nurture them. I’d never heard of anything like it, but couldn’t wait to give it a go. Everyone in the workshop was given two cushions, one to sit on and the other to place opposite them, then we were told to close our eyes and feel for any emotional blockages or pain, which we were to project and personify into an object, person or animal.
For no reason, tears started streaming down my face as I sensed my heart, left lung, throat and tonsils were swollen and burning. As I focused more, the burning intensified and an orange light began to expand in my mind, out of which formed a bird, then a snake and, finally, an enormous vivid red and orange dragon. Its eyes full of anger and resentment, it sat on the cushion opposite me. But then I noticed that it wasn’t angry, it was wounded. There was a gash across its stomach. We were prompted to ask our demon three questions: What do you want? What do you need? And how will you feel when you get what you need? Then, we were told to physically swap places with our vision and answer the questions for them.
What I heard myself say filled me with sadness… ‘I want to be heard,’ I said. ‘I want to stop being ignored. I want love. I need you to stop hiding me, to acknowledge me and care for me. I want you to see my hurt and help me. If you do, I will feel safe, loved and free.’ Having vocalised my dragon’s thoughts, I had to swap places again and feed him. Letting him sip water from my hand, I reached out and petted his soft, scaly head. As he drank, his wound healed and he grew smaller. Laying his head in my lap I heard his voice in my mind. ‘I will help you by never letting you forget yourself and your pains, but I will protect you too by never letting them take over. I will never leave you,’ he told me. By now he had turned from red and orange to a pale pink and purple. Then he suddenly became a bright white light that entered my body. It had all been so vivid and real and, as I came round from the meditation, I felt light and free. As a child, I’d been bullied for being overweight.
Even after losing the weight, I was still critical of myself, and struggled to love myself. I knew that the dragon I’d visualised was that self-hate and hurt coming to the surface – he’d even showed me just how hurt I was by the wound on his stomach. And, although he was telling me I’d never get rid of those feelings, I could start tapping into them and using them to empower me, instead of drag me down. That night, I went for an open-air shower, overlooking the ocean. Gazing down at the water I saw a whale swimming, breeching and playing with her young in the moonlight. The moon’s rays highlighted the whale family so beautifully and then, I realised, the rays were illuminating me. That’s when it hit me; we were all natural, beautiful and connected. And, with my dragon’s help, I could learn to love myself. All I’d been expecting from my retreat was to enjoy some peace and quiet and learn more about yoga, but, instead, I’d had a profound awakening. The start of my journey A few days later, I left Esalen and returned to Korea. However, instead of keeping my love for yoga, meditation and spirituality to myself, I began to talk to other people about it.
At a party, I got chatting to a lady about angels. We became great friends and, the following Christmas, her mum gifted me my first set of angel cards. I joined a Goddess network, so I could chat with like-minded women, and also began an art project in which I would explore my own healing process and try to empower others. I wanted to spread the message that my dragon had taught me – that we all have scars to bear, but instead of suppressing them and letting them eat away at us, we can feed off their energy and use them to propel us forward, becoming a stronger person. Of course, my little dragon was never far from my thoughts. He was now the size of a puppy – imagine the little dragon from the animated Disney film Mulan, but slightly less cocky! Whenever I was feeling lonely or lost I would sense him near, or feel him curling up on my lap like a cat. I was soon to discover he had a name too. During a session with an energy therapist, she asked me if I had any pets. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because something is sat on your stomach,’ she frowned. ‘Oh, that’s my dragon,’ I replied. ‘He wants you to call him Orb,’ she smiled.
Not long after, came the realisation that I no longer felt settled in Korea, so I decided to return home. Back in the UK I started doing aromatherapy facials, began giving tarot card readings and trained as a spiritual coach and energy therapist. At last, I felt as though I’d found my calling in life – and it was all thanks to that very different Christmas I spent in LA. If I’d never gone on that retreat I’d probably have stayed in Korea teaching English to the point of resenting it, and I’d never have met Orb, who has had such an influence on my life, and still does today. He’s still with me, and I ask him to come and protect me whenever I’m feeling scared or hurt. If I’m struggling to fall asleep, all I have to do is call for him and I’ll feel the pressure of his little body curl up beside me on the duvet. Orb hasn’t changed colour though, he’s still pink, which I now know represents unconditional love, and purple, which signifies loyalty. He’s like my invisible pet, my power animal, and, one day, I’m planning on getting a tattoo of him across my hip. Above all, though, thanks to him I was able to literally face my demons. It’s true to say that I felt lost when I went to LA, but I returned home feeling so much more connected to myself and that I was, at last, setting out on an exciting spiritual journey, which Orb and I are still on today. He really was the best Christmas present I could have ever wished for.