I met Shine Tretter and her sister, Emily, at Lokahi, a communal living compound in Maui. Both of them grew up in a loving family that taught traditional Christian values and practices. When those values no longer spoke personal truth to them, they had the courage to follow their own stars. In many ways, the following words from Shine encapsulate the call to freedom at the heart of the book, The Smile on a Dog: Retrieving a Faith That Matters (downloadable for free here).
My life today is a unique fairy tale, quite different than I imagined when I was a child. Sitting here on my back deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset, coconut trees waving in the breeze and the sound of children giggling and playing, is a dream come true. A dream I didn’t even know I had.
I grew up with loving parents in a wonderful home, but I felt a lot of anxiety as a kid. Anxiety about school, church, and the soccer games in which I competed. We lived in a sweet little neighborhood, and I spent a lot of time outdoors. I felt a strong connection with the wooded area behind our house, so I spent hours by a babbling brook that had a mysterious, magical appeal. It sparkled with a sense of freedom that matched the freedom within me. A sense of freedom that over time grew dull and dim, eventually stuffed so far away that I had forgotten it existed.
So, at 25 years old, I walked away from my life as I knew it. I left my job as a social worker living in the city. I sold most of my belongings and drove out West. Something was calling me, something I could no longer ignore. It was the call of freedom.
From where I sit now, 30 years away from that enchanted little girl in the woods, I believe our society has evolved (or devolved) to diminish freedom. Imagine if we all followed the deepest calling of our souls. Would we allow ourselves to be cooped up in an office all day? Or sit in rush hour traffic? Or spend only two days a week with our families and the rest working? I have come to realize that the conventional trajectory of so many folks might have an allure of freedom, but in reality, it’s a life chained to materialism and starved for fulfillment. Fancy cars, designer clothes, and that condo on the beach sparkle with illusory joy, but do they bring us any closer to love, truth, or our deepest selves?
Finding the courage to step outside of the norm was the biggest obstacle between me and my dreams. This was something I had never done before. Even though I always wanted to shine my true colors, I was afraid of what others might think. I played it small and quiet to avoid judgment, but I had a mediocre life, feeling safe but empty. I believe the first breakthrough happened for me when I ended an uneventful relationship. This was something I held on to for so long, thinking it would change, but it finally fell loose, leaving me light and free.
This had a domino effect; I suddenly had ample time to focus on myself. I dove heart first into books, practices, and events that fed my soul. Then, when I moved to the West Coast, I began to find my soul family. I traveled around to music festivals and gatherings that had a common theme of spiritual growth and self-development. Eventually, I made an impromptu trip to Maui, where I landed in a small, intentional community focused on spiritual development using sacred plant medicines.
During the five years I lived there, I went deep into physical cleansing and emotional healing. I woke before the sun to practice kundalini yoga. I fasted on coconuts and cleansed my liver. I sat in ceremonies with ancient-plant teachers to illuminate the truth within my soul and clear my spiritual lens. Something inside me merged with the natural elements around me. I became highly sensitive and intuitive. Perhaps I had always carried these gifts, but they had gone undeveloped. I was able to manifest anything I desired into my reality: financial wealth, a beautiful home by the sea, vibrant health, and eventually my partner with whom I now have three beautiful children.
I believe we all have the capacity to make our wildest dreams come true. It takes courage to step beyond our edges and trust that life will meet us there. It requires shucking off the baggage we carry and freeing ourselves from inhibition.
The freedom we chased as children is our birthright. We simply need to claim it!