The rain started softly at first. Then it fell as if it had some vengeance to mete out on the soil.
Anyone who has gone tent camping knows the deafening sound of rain on canvas, which I have come to love. But this night was my first experience. In fact, it was my first of many experiences.
It was dark and I was unable to stop my mind from racing. I felt strange and alone in my new denim sleeping bag. It was decidedly mature – unlike the Holly Hobby ones some of my friends had at sleepovers – and cool – but not like temperature cool. In fact, it was a rather hot material for an August night on the beach!
I would have flung the bag open to get some air if it weren’t for my feeling of fear and vulnerability.
Never mind that my best friend was just inches from me. She could have been a mile away.
Then with a startle the thunder and lightning came and the realization that there was a thin piece of fabric between me and the terrifying elements of nature.
The thunder seemed to echo my alarm.
I felt exposed and vulnerable, but my 11-year old self could not put it into those exact words.
The lightning struck the earth, just like it had struck my life six weeks prior.
My father died suddenly on June 23, 1974. At least his death was sudden for me. Seems that everyone else knew it was coming, including my older siblings. I was still in shock. My school year had just ended, and I was excited for the summer. He died a few days later.
That summer was surreal, turned upside down. During the course of everyday life, and everyday situations, I would temporarily forget. But then suddenly recall my recent fate.
My father is dead.
My friends’ mother, obviously looking to help ease my pain with a new experience, invited me to join them on their annual camping vacation on the beach in Montauk, NY.
The ocean beach was one of my favorite places in the whole wide world. The beach for a whole week was a dream come true! My mom approved.
And this night was the very first night I was ever away from my family. The first night I slept in a tent. And the first night I felt helpless amongst the fury of the natural world.
And then IT happened.
At first, I thought that I peed in my pants. A warm gush in my sleeping bag. What was going on? I managed to get my friend to accompany me to the camp restroom. We pulled on our sweatshirts and grabbed something to cover our heads and ran.
In the complete darkness of the beach with occasional lightning strikes, we ran towards the light.
And then I saw, and recognized, my very first experience as a woman, according to traditional cultures. My first menstruation.
And then humiliation. My friend, two years older than me, did not get hers yet. I was so ashamed and embarrassed!
Indigenous cultures have rites of passage to formally initiate a child to adulthood. The first menses biologically represents this transition to womanhood. But in our modern world there isn’t any ritual or ceremony, nor any process that helps in this shift.
I was at the most vulnerable point in my life. I see it now that my carefree youth was gone.
…In that circle, I was alone, really alone.
In that circle, I was empty, really empty.
In that circle, I found a garden of wind and thunder and my own song.
Aloneness became my Lover and emptiness my Release and Fulfillment.
For a time, I became whole and I began to realize the Source of that garden.
Then the real work began.
Stevens, quoted in Cohen, D. (1991). The circle of life. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, p. 69
Over the years, I have not shared this memory often, as you can imagine. I’ve told it only a few times in my life. So, having received little “daylight” the significance of my story had not been given much thought.
The deeper symbolism of this experience only became apparent when I was preparing to write my next book on profound nature experiences.. As I probed my life for an awe-inspiring experience to recount, I kept being guided to my adulthood. I thought, “have I no experience from childhood to share?’
As this memory rose to the surface of my consciousness, it started writing this essay. It wasn’t coming together, so I left it for a month or so. As it sit here now, I see so much more than what initially was there.
It was as though the lightning was within my body. The lightning struck deep inside and forever changed me. I felt more alone, separate. But more importantly than that, I feel that I was marked, or rather “illuminated.”
Indeed, the symbolism of a thunderstorm has visited me throughout my life.
In my late 30’s I was going through what some would call a mid-life crisis. Each area of my life, career, marriage, and home life was being turned upside down. I was being called to do something more meaningful in my life.
At this time, I started paying more attention to my dreams. They seemed to guide me in my everyday life.
One night, I had a visitation of lightning on a profound level. In one dream, an Epic Dream, I was struck by a lightning bolt. And my body was suspended two feet in the air. As I floated there, unable to move, I wondered if I was dead. But then I woke up.
A few years later, when sharing this dream with a shaman he gave me deep wisdom into my past and my calling. It was then that I realized that a lightning strike was not only to initiate a shaman but to deepen their skills and their divine connections. It was meant to be a grand light switch either in waking or dreaming life. And since then, I’ve had several dreams of getting struck.
After having these connections with lightning, I believe that contemplation of the symbolism and metaphors of life provides a richer, deeper experience of life that can help us understand who we are. Awesome childhood experiences of nature are just the beginning. We are open to the wonder and curiosity of the natural world and our place within it.