By Ellen Livingston
When our three children were ages 4, 7, and 10, my husband and I separated and then divorced. I had embarked on my raw vegan path 2½ years prior, and perhaps, for my husband, it may have been too uncomfortable of a manifestation of my independent spiritual quest. We had always been a homeschooling family, with me at home, and I was advised that I would now have to put the children in school and return to a professional career. Our family’s physical and emotional splitting felt like trauma enough – did I have to give up on other dreams too? My soul felt very heavy, and I was waking in the mornings feeling as if I had a cinder block sitting on my chest, with my tender heart crushed underneath.
Friends offered us a vacant condo, and we created a transitional arrangement whereby the kids always remained in the family home, and mom or dad alternately stayed at the condo. In contrast, the other stayed home with the children. It was probably good for the kids, but I hated staying alone in that lifeless condo, so much so that I hatched a plan to take the kids to Florida for a month to find some sunshine in February and hopefully find myself as well. Thankfully, the children’s father agreed to my plan.
I bought us a huge cabin tent for $75 and packed the car and a rooftop carrier with enough stuff to furnish it in true ‘glamping’ style. It was a grand adventure and a necessary reset for me. I will never forget one of our first nights in Florida, attending a huge drum circle on a warm, welcoming beach. There were mesmerizing fire spinners, dancers with flashy beaded skirts, hula hoopers with hoops that glowed, and a man with a colorful macaw parrot on his shoulder. My barefooted kids romped joyously in the shallow surf that glittered in the moonlight as the dozens of drummers beat out a powerful, resonant rhythm. As I felt the whole scene with my whole self, I opened my arms wide and looked up at the moon. A huge wave of something I am going to call bliss washed over me. I shouted ‘Thank you!’ out loud. I felt light and free.
When we returned to a still-wintry Michigan a month later, I purchased a house in a nice family neighborhood. We all began to settle into a longer-term family arrangement and the realities of divorce. I saw a page in a magazine that showed a woman with her arms opened wide, just like me on the beach that night at the drum circle, with the words, “Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.” I tore it out and taped it to a kitchen cabinet, where it remained for the eight years we lived in that house. It became a powerful personal mantra for me and a fun reminder for the kids.
Feeling thus empowered, I made a concrete new plan. I knew something important would die in me if I surrendered to pressure from fearful naysayers who wanted me to give up on homeschooling and the beautiful, spontaneous life the kids and I enjoyed following instead of a more ‘secure’ route with a ‘real job.’ But I did need to earn money now. I invented a home-based business that would include the kids. We soon opened ‘The Sunnyside Learning Center’ in our home. This was a place for ‘unschoolers’ like us to gather two days per week. Homeschooling parents gladly paid to leave their children with us for a day, giving their kids a dynamic social opportunity and themselves a little time for whatever they needed. We filled the house with craft supplies and creative toys and turned the garage into a workshop with a ring of workbenches and bins of wood, tools, and other building supplies. My older children helped plan and demonstrate crafts, and my five-year-old helped sweep the floor and prepare healthy raw, vegan snacks. My best friend joined as my assistant, bringing her two children, and we grew a network of community members who would offer activities of interest to our program.
This worked wonderfully for a few years, and then as we eventually outgrew this arrangement, another good thing organically took its place. I had been holding regular raw vegan potlucks at the house, and participants began offering to pay me for personal coaching. At first, I humbly resisted, knowing that I was still finding my way to wellness, but they convinced me that my relatively advanced knowledge was much-needed and valuable to them. At this time, I also studied to become a certified yoga instructor, and I began to lead yoga, first in downtown studios and then in our living room (which my youngest child would watch from her perch on the staircase landing). I served fresh fruit smoothies at the end of class, and the kids helped me move our furniture out of the way several times per week(!). They absorbed alternative ways of doing life and making a living, and I began to trust that a benevolent universe had my back.
Soon my longing for warm sunshine and wild nature and my appetite for fresh tropical fruit pulled me to the jungles of Costa Rica. I found a way to bring my kids with me, and we all fell in love with that beautiful country! On this first trip (I have since returned more than a dozen times), I attended a workshop in which I was invited to create a ‘Life Statement.’ What emerged from me then has inspired and guided my way ever since: “I am a beacon of truth for others as I live and share my dreams of health and freedom.” At home, I typed up my new statement, printed it onto a piece of special paper made to look like clouds in the sky, and hung it on a mirror in my bedroom. When I would sometimes feel discouraged if it seemed that my earnest sharing about my discoveries of the beautiful synchronicity of a fresh, natural diet was beyond the reach of most people, I would lie in my bed and gaze across the room at my life statement, and slowly recommit myself to this calling, regardless of who was able to use the information.
In the final weeks of the dissolution of my marriage, I’d had one of the most potent dreams of my life. In this dream, I led a group of people up a steep and unfamiliar mountain trail. The trail ended at the top of the mountain, on the edge of a high rocky cliff. I approached the very edge while my followers admonished me to step away to safety. I told them, “I’m sorry, but I have to do this.” And I stepped off the edge of the cliff. As on a rollercoaster when it rolls down off a peak, I felt my stomach drop out of my body, and for a split second, I feared I had made a fatal mistake. But miraculously, I shape-shifted into an eagle. As I soared out across the sky, my vision was of infinite ‘purple mountains majesty’ (that is how it came to me in the dream), and I wondered incredulously, “How is it that no one has told me about all of this beauty out here?!” As I turned my head to look back at the people I had left standing on the mountaintop, my very next sentiment was a deep sadness that none of them would dare to come with me.
A few days after that dream, I stumbled upon a quote by Frank Outlaw: “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.” Serendipitous experiences like this, which I was noticing more and more in my life (a friend of mine calls them ‘winks from the universe,’), deepened my belief that I live in a friendly universe, woven in a force field of love which will guide me if I only remember to keep tuning into its frequency.
There is so much seemingly wrong and grossly unnatural in our world today that I can rail against, being that I am passionately inclined toward respecting basic laws of nature. But I have noticed that when I intentionally keep myself pointed toward the light, I feel better and may have a more powerful positive influence. I wonder how our troubled, insecure world might transform for the better in 2023 if more of us would accept the eternal invitation to bravely turn our faces to the sun, and choose to abide in the light of love and natural truths, trusting our amazingly intelligent bodies and our own innate wisdom.
In this vision, I am not suggesting that we avoid, minimize or ignore the troubles, real dangers, or darkness. On the contrary, my experience is that when I have the courage to look directly into the dark places (including within myself), facing fear and ugly distortions head-on, I am more able to discern truth and access the light. The late Helen Slomovits, who was a brilliant songwriter and very dear friend of mine, expressed this eloquently in some of her lyrics (paraphrased here): “They say ‘Don’t look at the dark’ning of the moon’…But I looked there. And I found beauty, I found knowing; I found safety, my power growing; I found joy in me flowing…..Within me, both are light and darkness; I know them both, and I am clear.”
For me, the most beautiful gift of my simple, fresh raw vegan dietary journey has been that my cleansed body hums at a happier, easier vibration, helping me to realize that I am light, energy, electricity. And I am as naturally drawn to the light rays of the sun as I am to nature’s beautiful, bountiful sun-baked fruits, all of which offer me cornerstones of health and vitality. My curiosity and desire to understand and unravel things still lures me into the shadow places, though I am no longer compelled to dwell there….but simply to embody the wholeness, I feel when I can hold space for all of it, knowing the darkness intimately while I choose to dwell in the light.
For more specific guidance about a raw vegan diet, please see my handbook titled, The Ultimate Raw Vegan Diet Detox and Wellness Program, available at my website: EllenLivingston.com