Hero's Journey - An insight by Yasmin de Giorgio

I was never one to shy away from life's hardships and challenges.  From a young age I was always playing in the sea and started sailing single-man (woman) dinghies at the age of 9. I'll never forget the first time that I sailed a competitive race, it was blowing over 20knots and I probably weighed less than 30kg.

I guess my battling spirit was baptised on that day. Being so light I couldn't keep my boat flat enough to point high enough into the wind to cross the start line. As I watched the other racers all fade into the distance I kept fighting to cross that line and at least officially start the race.  I could see my mum standing on the shore, wind-swept with a terribly worried look on her face...she was pleading with the safety boat to bring me in. They came out to me and delivered her message but I just shook my head and said, "I am not coming in".  They tried a few more times over the 45 minutes till I was officially disqualified, but I just kept trying until the end.

My sailing career didn't end there, the failure of that first attempt, wasn't enough to discourage me. At the time these moments battling the odds, battling nature, and fighting against the fact that I was an underweight female in a masculine dominated sport, didn't seem that significant. But now as I look back, I realise that these times taught me some crucial lessons. I learnt to fail, I learnt to be humble in the face of a nature that can squash you like a bug, I learnt to live with my fears and I learnt to become strong enough inside to be able to carry on sailing even as the 30 boys I was with went through puberty and discovered it was fun to tease and bully girls. 

I remember sailing in from the last race of the National Championships in Greece, when one of my own team mates jumped into my boat and capsized it. I could have felt sorry for myself sailing in 30 minutes behind everyone else as I bailed out my full of water boat, and I did. 

But I guess during these early experiences I had plenty of opportunities to quit, plenty of challenges and setbacks, and I guess what kept me going was a fighting spirit. A determination to be the master of my fate. Life, like the sea , has its rough days...the question is will you sail out there with the same determination to pursue your goals and dreams? Or will you allow the stormy to weather to scare you back into your cave...into the darkness of your fears with the consequence of you never reaching your full potential.

My mother always tells me that I am blessed with this strength and determination and not everyone has that luxury, but I honestly believe that we all have strength within us, the question is how to bring it out. 

Later on in life, as I was studying at University in Bristol I went through something of breakdown. After spending the first year, as all first years do, heavily inebriated, I fell into a bit of a rut. Perhaps the stimulation of studying Economics wasn't enough to satisfy my desire for adventure, or maybe it just had to be that way, but I steadily began to smoke more and more marijuana, and became less and less interested by the world around me. My boyfriend at the time then broke up with me suddenly, which left me feeling empty and lost.  The combination of both these factors led me down a dark tunnel. All of a sudden I felt like life was empty, like all the people walking around the streets were zombies not really engaging with life. I couldn't cope with the idea of a future that involved the standard, find a stable job, get married, have babies, and wait for retirement.

I started questioning everything. What is life? What is death? 

That last one scared me a lot. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't study, and I couldn't find anyone that I could talk to about how I was feeling. So I smoked myself silly and turned to philosophy. 

The knowledge that one day I would die, and the identity of Yasmin that I rather cherished would just disappear freaked me out. I couldn't imagine a world without myself in it. These thoughts scared me much more than the sea or the wind ever did.

At this time, I didn't find the answers to the questions I had, maybe I was reading the wrong philosophers. Freud is not the one to turn to when you need cheering up! 

What brought me out of this depressive period was another relationship. And it is so often like this for us humans. It is so easy to cover up that inner emptiness with material things and especially relationships.  So although this next relationship saved me from myself, in hindsight I think going through this 'dark night' as opposed to escaping it with a relationship might have stood me in better stead. Instead I choose the easy option of seeing myself glorified in the eyes of a lover, but the rose-coloured lenses often last only so long. And when they start to fade you cling on to the channel of love. You can't afford to lose that love, lest you be thrown back into the cave of emptiness that lies just underneath. That relationship was highly dysfunctional, especially as my partner was very much addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

I couldn't recognise myself in this relationship. When did I become so dependent and needy? So paranoid and untrusting. Even though a part of me knew that all the problems in the relationship stemmed from my using it to cover up my own insecurities and fears, I just couldn't help myself. I let my inner emptiness and fear guide my decisions and control my life.

After leaving University my explorer nature took me back on the adventure trail. My deep desire to travel saved me from falling into the mundane routine of a desk job and unfulfilling relationship. I set my sights on visiting Machu Picchu and I didn't let anything get in the way of that dream. As I set off for 8 months in South America, the friend who I was supposed to be travelling with, and who was supposed to be meeting me there two weeks later called me to tell me that she had changed her mind and wouldn't be joining me.

So the eight month South American adventure became a solo mission. After my initial shock the thought of having 8 months to myself filled me with excitement, albeit with a slight dose of fear of the unknown. My South American trip was everything I had hoped it would be. I climbed high mountains, trekked deep canyons, surfed the longest wave in the world and everything in between. I had time to myself, time to reflect and most importantly experiences that pushed me past the limitations of my mind.

The ultimate of which was my experience taking Ayahuasca deep in the Amazonian jungle city of Iquitos. It is hard to really convey the series of events, synchronicities and 'coincidences' that brought me face to face with the shaman that would take me on my first journey. I was terrified of the idea of taking ayahuasca, in fact I really had no intention of doing it...but when I suddenly found myself having tea with this shaman, all the fears I had just seemed rather ridiculous. The shaman looked at me curiously...as though he couldn't understand what the word fear even means. And looking into his fearless eyes, I myself couldn't remember what I was truly scared of.

So two days later at midnight I found myself in a dark little room with stone seating, listening to the sound of two shamans mixing the legendary Ayahuasca brew. It is almost impossible to share the experience of Ayahuasca. It is too intimate, its significance too bound up in metaphor to be as meaningful to any other heart but my own. But two things I will share. The first is the clear memory I have of the moments immediately after having imbibed the Ayahuasca. As the darkness started to creep over me, and the world seemed to want to cave in, I clung to the safety of the one flickering candle in the corner of the room. It was the only thing keeping me sane, the only thing that was allowing me to hold on to reality as I knew it. So when I heard the words, "apagar la vela", blow out the candle, the wave of fear that engulfed me was unlike any I had felt before. And as that safety line was ripped away from me, my eyes fixed upon a faint ray of light coming through the bottom edge of the door. I clung to it, as the ayahuasca was doing its very best to rip me away from that safety. In this moment, as in so many moments, I had a choice. I could continue resisting the path La Purga was trying to take me down, or I could surrender myself to its thrashing. To surrender to Ayahuasca is to surrender to the abyss. It is a surrendering into intense physical discomfort, as though your personal identity is being ripped from your body.

For me it was a deep initiation that radically shifted my perspective of life.  Surrendering your ego, is in my experience one of the most productive things you can do, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Through this surrendering, for the first time in my life I came into contact with a force greater than myself, yet which at the same time I was a part of. My experience of this divine force that evening, left me crying with tears of bliss for over two hours.  It changed everything.

There was no going back from this experience. If before I had a curiosity for the inner realms, it now became an insatiable appetite. I had found the solution to the inner darkness I had discovered those years before in Bristol. 

As my return back to Malta came into view I started to feel very anxious about my return. How would I reconcile my new experiences with my old life? The inner wholeness that I felt after taking Ayahuasca, meant that I was able to let go of the crutch of my marijuana addiction. I no longer needed to fill the void. Yet most of my friendships were based around getting high. And just as I imagined, my return was a struggle. 

In his book on the Hero's Journey, Joseph Campbell comments, "The whole point of this journey is the reintroduction of this potential into the world; that is to say, to you living in the world.  You are to bring this treasure of understanding back and integrate it in rational life. It goes without saying, this is very difficult. Bringing the boom back can be even more difficult than going down into your own depths in the first place".  

And that is exactly how it felt. The challenges of surrendering my ego in that Ayahuasca ceremony seemed to pale in comparison with the challenge of trying to integrate my new values and attitudes into my world. There were friendships along this way that couldn't take the stress of my transformation.  There were hobbies, places, faces and many things I loved that just couldn't live amongst the new inner environment I was creating. Many aspects of my life had to die in the face of the new way that I wanted to live. It wasn't easy, but my vision for my life kept me going. I held on to this vision amidst the storm of these life changes. My love for my new found values and vision luckily outweighed the fear I had of all the things I could lose.

As I said it wasn't easy. There were many moments of despair, and times when I felt that I was back at square one. In fact I also started smoking again as I just couldn't bear the isolation and disconnection from my friends. With time I started to meet new people who shared some of my beliefs and had experienced similar life changes.  With their support it became easier and easier to be my authentic self and take the decisions that I needed to take to go where I wanted to go.

The final chapter of this intense journey of personal transformation came in my first visit to Bali in 2013. I decided to go there after meeting a meditation teacher called Prabhu Darmayasa. I met him at a time in my life where I was asking for a tangible source of guidance along my spiritual path.  Spirituality seemed so confusing and often things I read about contradicted each other. Meeting him was another ayahuasca. It changed everything.

So I decided to fly to Bali to learn more about meditation and experience Prabhu Darmayasa's teachings further. Just one week before I flew out, me and my boyfriend at the time decided to part ways, and so I left for Bali, with the emptiness you often feel after the end of a relationship. It was an emptiness that was the perfect soil for the seed of divine love I was to receive there. I remember leafing through the in-flight magazine and coming across this quote from Rumi, "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

My time in Bali was incredible. There was so much to learn and I found inspiration in every nook and cranny of the local way of life. But the thing that transformed me most was sadhana.  Sadhana is a form of intense spiritual practice, where you commit to a very disciplined routine for a set number of days. I spent two week, without leaving the centre, meditating for hours every day. I had barely any stimulation from the outside. I limited my eating, speaking and entertainment and turned my gaze inwards. Of course it challenged me deeply. There were moments where I was flying and moments where I felt heavy and empty and dark. Not being able to distract myself with the daily pleasures of eating and other forms of entertainment meant that I was coming face to face with my inner self. And it wasn't all pretty. 

But just like in the ayahuasca before it, to get through these kinds of experiences a part of you has to die.  You have to surrender to your own feelings and emotions and let certain resistances and instincts to close die away. In fact this is even the point of such a practice...to understand who you really are beneath of all the illusions that you think you are.

"The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annhilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment."

I feel like in these two weeks I came to realise who I really was. Like spending an intense couple of weeks with a good friend, and suddenly realising you now know them. These two weeks set the foundation for everything that would come after. My deep devotion to carrying on the journey of self-discovery , my deep devotion to sharing my discoveries with others and to creating something tangible that could reflect both of these.

For me the Grassy Hopper, is a way of continuing my sadhana. It is a way that each day I can offer myself to something greater than myself.  Just like in meditation sadhana, some days it comes easily and joyfully and other days you have to push and labour your way through. The birth of the Grassy Hopper was the beginning of a new stage in my life, and has been a heroic journey in itself (that's a whole other story), but the real changes within myself that prepared me to not only be able to embody my values, but also to build a business around them, started well before.

I truly believe that it is our inner strength and inner wisdom that is the source of our success, materially and beyond. To do anything with meaning, we first need to experience the meaningful. That generally doesn't come by playing it safe, it comes from 'being in the arena', from opening yourself to life and being its humble student.

"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find God; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world." Joseph Campbell