My oldest friend just sent me a once-forgotten picture. I'm 16, most likely skipping school with her - with a clove cigarette nearby, I am certain. Our glorious hangout was Pike Place Market in Seattle where I eventually moved to and worked in a year later. To this day, it is my favorite place in the world. It delights me to intimately know the winding tunnels of shops, the familiar scents of fish and spice and wet concrete. This picture represents how I have spent years sifting through the layers of myself to find my Self. 

I'm still in the process. Thank God.

I believe I gain a true heart-connection - a true authenticity - come through experiences that bring me to my knees and through people that I clash with. There is something for me to learn in the internal rub. 

I have grappled with spirituality for most of my life. At 16, I was going through my personal trial-by-fire with the concept of God. I was fascinated and enthusiastic and demanded a genuine relationship, but I didn't know what that felt like. 

At 17, as I was living on my own, I was told by church elders that I would 'lead children astray from God' and I was asked to leave my congregation because I lived with my best friends who were gay. In turn, my shock of betrayal from my spiritual Tribe and my resulting humiliation turned to white-hot rage. I quickly learned what authenticity felt like, and to this day I see how that experience was my greatest gift.

My searing emotions ushered my Embodiment. I was Awakening while I was dying.

In this great transformative process, I literally screamed every four-letter word known in our language at my church, at God, again and again and again. To escape being associated with whom I deemed hypocrites, I tried to be atheist but I couldn't shake the feeling of Divine Grandeur. Where was this unspoken Sweetness coming from in this broken world soothing my broken heart? Then I realized the Sweetness was coming from inside of me, whole and complete and eternal. Yet, this luminous spark needed cultivation to shine and I polished myself through inquiry.

Who am I? I don't know.

I rolled up my sleeves and ventured to find out who I was. I became a social anthropologist studying world religions, the history of World Wars, the history of birth control, obscure mythologies, and art. I became a Wanderlust, traveling around the world and hitchhiking; sleeping on sidewalks, in palaces, on beaches, and in the arms of one-night lovers; finding sustenance from chunks of bread, cheese, wine, and from prayers in ancient churches and street musicians.

My eyes were opened and I saw the world wasn't broken. It’s pure Wilderness! For the first time I tasted color, I felt music, I embodied poetry, I heard hope, and smelled stories.

I also learned that life is not linear. Life is like a spiral. To this day, when I think I've healed a massive wound, another 'teacher' comes along - different face, same message - and I'm confronted with similar energy that I thought I healed years ago. I love it when I recognize familiar bullshit. Recognition within itself is the ultimate change-agent for growth and authenticity.

"Ah... yes, old friend. I know you. You just have a different face. 
Thank you, Universe, for loving me so much that you feel that I can be stronger.  Thank you, Divine Grandeur, for loving me so much that I have more layers of healing to do and more empathy to embody. I didn't know until now."

So when I look upon my 16 year old self, I see Me looking steadily back and I can say say that I am head-over-heels in love with myself. BOOM! That is the only way I can dance and heal and shine in this world.

Fall madly in love with yourself first, scrapes and all. That is where God resides. All other Love will follow as needed to usher in your divine, authentic relationship with Everything. That is Yoga. 

Lily Kessler