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Chapter 1: Running Water: Transformation, Enlightenment, Passion, and Purpose

If You Hear the Message Three Times, Listen
Patricia Heller

On an island in Hawaii, an ancient cave leads down to a beautiful, large underground lake. It's hard to find. Hawaiians protect their spiritual places by not marking them. The islanders say that P'I', the Goddess of Fire, formed the underground cavern as she prodded the area with a stick in search of an appropriate home site. Instead of striking fire, she struck water. Thus P'l' moved on, eventually making her home in the fiery crater of the Kilauea volcano.

Climbing up to the entrance of the Waikapala cave, one immediately senses the spirit of this serene yet rugged area of Kauai, a feeling the old Hawaiians call mana, which translates into "a power that emanates from sacred places." Once inside the cavern, it's about 40 or 50 feet down to the lake, lit only by the opening to daylight. A handful of the participants in the Sacred Space Conference I was attending used the mana of this deep, dark lake as a kind of spiritual bath. Swimming together, they made their way across the water, held their breath, dove under a ledge, and surfaced in a small blue lagoon. There they felt as honored as if it were a heiaus, a place of worship.

Although I was wearing my swimsuit, I came up with an excuse not to join them. I'd always been a water baby. I was a lifeguard, a synchronized swimmer, and a certified scuba diver. I knew the importance of swimming with a buddy. But at this point in the sensual, heart-pounding, altered space of Kauai, I felt I could do anything and be just fine. I wanted to experience this sacred place alone.

Several days later, I returned to the cave unaccompanied. Our conference teacher told us with a smile that to find the cave entrance, all one had to do was turn left and cross the street at the two egrets. A joke, to be sure. Yet, as I walked across the one-lane bridge over the Wainiha River on the road that ends at beautiful Ke'e beach, there they were, two stately white birds standing in the field directly across from the footpath that led up the hill to the cave.

Because it was a gray, dismal day, I had the cavern to myself. I quickly took off all my clothes, placed them neatly on a clean, large rock, and touched my toe in the water. It was comfortably warm. I dove in.

In my mind's eye, I had imagined how it would be: my long, naked body gliding gracefully to the spot where I would dive under a rock wall and magically surface on the other side in a mystical blue lagoon, a sacred place where questions would be answered and lives transformed. I thought with a smile, Perfect.

As I hit the water, I was mortified to find I was gripped with such cold, I thought I was going to drown from the shock. I felt as if I was being sucked down into a black abyss. What happened to the warm water?! Panicked, I struggled to find a way out of the imaginary vortex swirling around me to get back to the safety of the land. Although I'd made a shallow dive, it seemed like hours before I broke the surface, gasping for air. The cold hit my body so hard, it pushed the air out of my lungs. It was only 20 feet back to land, and though I swam as fast as I could, the journey seemed endless. I remember thinking, What the heck is going on? The water wasn't cold when I tested it. Why is this happening?

When I got back on dry land, I dressed and sat on the rocks for a while, more curious than shaken or disappointed. The last lines from "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the rock Broadway hit Jesus Christ Superstar came to my mind. They poured from my heart as I sang in this acoustically perfect place.

He's a man, he's just a man
and I've had so many men before in very many ways.
He's just one more.
Should I bring him down? Should I scream and shout?
Should I speak of love? Let my feelings out?
I never thought I'd come to this.
What's it all about?
Yet, if he said he loved me, I'd be lost, I'd be frightened,
I couldn't cope, just couldn't cope. I'd turn my head, I'd back
I wouldn't want to know.
He?s scares me so, I love him so, I want him so.

At first, after spontaneously singing this, I was afraid I was falling for the conference teacher. I got embarrassed about this for a moment and then let it go. Becoming a groupie for anyone certainly wasn't my style. So what was going on? The obvious, that I was afraid of surrendering to something higher than myself, never occurred to me. I kept asking, Who was I singing to? And what fear was so intense that it could have caused this bizarre reaction? What would turn warm water freezing cold?

I slowly walked back alongside Makana Mountain to our beach houses, enmeshed in thought. I considered the metaphor of "diving" into my own subconscious to understand why I couldn?t make the cave dive. That only confused me more. I walked on. Even my roommate, who wasn't a great swimmer, had gone to the cave and had successfully made the dive alone.

I was glad I hadn't broadcast my intentions to anyone at the conference. I didn't want my ego bruised a second time. I'd felt enough embarrassment at dinner the night before when I'd mentioned I was writing a book. Inevitably, I was asked, "What's the title?" I hemmed and hawed, uncomfortable that I had to dance around the fact I didn't have one. Trudging on, I continued to think about my book, a book on my own self-healing.

Now, that had been a long journey.

Twelve years spent going to endless doctors, accepting any treatment that offered even a modicum of relief for my "incurable" illness. Twelve long years before I could accept what I'd always known in my heart, that we all have the ability to heal ourselves. I smiled when I thought how stubborn I'd been about letting go of the search for answers outside myself. When I finally was able to grasp the possibility that we have more responsibility for what happens to us in our lives than I'd thought, I still had to hear the message on how to get well three times in three different ways before I could accept and understand it.

As I walked on, I continued to muse over that for a while. Letting go of old beliefs is hard. I had to hear the answer three times, three times. Maybe that was another metaphor for my life. I needed to listen more closely. Then it hit me, Wait a minute, I realized. What was I saying? That's it! If You Hear the Message Three Times, Listen!

That's the name of my book!

I had gone to the cave to be transformed in a blue lagoon. I had some vague notion of a Hollywood-type production with me, as Esther Williams, swimming off into the water to receive the meaning of life. Bring up the blue lagoon lights, boys, Patricia's on her way. Transformation would have included golden white light exploding everywhere and me with a sainted, beatific look on my face, hands in prayer position, dressed in gossamer white, levitating back to shore to live the rest of my life in a serene holy state of grace.

I did get answers and had my life transformed that day, just not in the style I'd foreseen. Instead of the sacred vision I imagined, I starred as more of a cartoon character, shooting up out of the icy pond, legs spinning around at the knees as I raced across the water leaving puffs of clouds behind in my frantic attempt to get back to shore.

When I left the cave without making my sacred dive, I walked home deflated. Gone was any ego about being a great swimmer and going it alone. Gone, too, were my expectations of coming out changed and enlightened. I was humbled, vulnerable, and open.

My cave experience taught me that in order for me to hear the messages coming through to me, my ego has to be put aside in one way or another. Tough order. I don't want to count how many times my ego has had to be distracted so a message could be heard.

While I was motivated by ego to begin a transformational journey (ego took me to the cave), it wasn't until after the black needle came out (the illusion of cold water) and punctured my ego-inflated balloon that lasting changes or insights took place (the name of my book).

I started my dive that day with an attitude that I could walk on water. Learning happened only after my bubble burst and I found myself in the water, up to my neck in humility.

My path was sealed that day. With a name, my book would become a reality. Could I quiet, distract, or surrender my ego enough times to hear all the messages I needed? And, was there a right way to go about this? ...

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