By Leigh Hopkins, Viva Institute
Ten days ago, my spirit took a vacation.
I use the word “vacation” euphemistically in place of its shaky stepsister: grand mal seizure. It happens to me sometimes—although this was the first in a long time.
As I was regaining my wits in the ER, a loved one asked me, “Where did you go?”
Without pause, I quietly responded, “I went to the Pink Planet, where I sat inside a crystal mountain for a thousand years.”
Later, I laughed at the response, but with it came a deep inner remembrance of that place: cocooned in a blanket of pink, thinking of nothing, wanting for nothing, safe and at home in silent reflection.
Until today, I have shared this news with only a few close friends because it is so jarring. The collective response has been “Are you OK?! What did they find out? Why did this happen?”
I am OK. They didn’t find anything. They don’t know why it happens.
In Hmong culture, the name for seizure translates to “when the spirit catches you and you fall down.” This description makes sense to me. Sometimes, my spirit is called home.
The first time was September 2007. I was working as vice president at a social policy think tank, and had just finished convening a stressful meeting when I checked out. I lost consciousness for 30 minutes. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember my name, age, or phone number.
In exchange, I returned with memories of a world beyond this one, and since that time, everything has changed.
Within weeks of the first grand mal seizure, I became a raw vegan. Six months later, I created Viva Institute – initially as a fun diversion from my day job to support my new food habit. Soon, spurred on by a love of my new outlook on life and a passion for this new way of being, I sold my house, quit my fancy job, and set off on what my friends jokingly refer to as the “Lesbian-Vegan Version of Eat, Pray, Love.”
The last time I had a seizure was in 2010, just before my Brazilian wife Helena and I bought an organic farm and opened a raw-vegan retreat center in the mountains above Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps the enormity of what would come overtook me, and my spirit flew away for reinforcements.
That time, I came back with the clear message that I needed to write it all down. I launched the blog “Live Your Bliss,” and 3,000 daily readers later, a writer was born. (If you were one of those 3,000 — thank you, I love you, too!)
By the time I met neurosurgeon and author Dr. Eben Alexander (author of Proof of Heaven) at an NDE conference, I was living an entirely new life. I learned that my experience isn’t uncommon – many of us who have seen the world beyond return changed. When Eben and I compared notes at dinner, we agreed that after an experience like a Near-Death Experience (NDE), there is no going back to the “old way.”
In November 2011, my world was rocked again. Just as Viva Institute’s retreat center in Brazil was booming, the unthinkable happened: Helena was diagnosed with cancer. In August 2013, her spirit went on to rest in a place that she tells me is “so much better than you can imagine!” I have seen it, and although it is not where any of us wanted her to go, I agree. É maravilhoso.
Over the past year, I have spent much of my time in silence, grief, and wonder, working it all out in my head…trying to understand what this curious life has in store for me next. The steamy colors of the intense Brazilian landscape gave way to the gentle hues of a soul who seeks peace in the infinitely generous present moment.
Last weekend at Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, author Elizabeth Gilbert spoke to an audience about the tricky business of following your passion. She asked them, “What if you don’t have an easily identifiable passion?”
Or in my case, what if your passion came unglued?
Gilbert urged listeners to follow their curiosity, instead. “Follow it,” she said. “It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough, too.”
When I read this quote, I thought of the many of you who have written to ask me about purpose and passion, death, loss, and the pursuit of enlightenment. Through your letters, I see that my life experiences, combined with this curious ability to walk between worlds, have revealed a new kind of purpose.
Viva Institute has become a harbor for spiritual rebels and curiosity-seekers. Our “virtual retreats” give honor to the unanswerable, the unthinkable, the strange, and mysterious, while encouraging all of you to stay fully present to the many wonders of this blessed time and place.
For all of us, there are times in life when the heavens peel back the curtains to reveal a starlit pathway – a bright constellation of hope when we pilgrims have lost our way. It is a promise that we are never alone, and a reminder that sometimes, soul-searching deserves a vacation.
There’s no time like the present.
Leigh Hopkins is the Director and Co-Founder of Viva Institute, “virtual retreat for the modern mystic.” She holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Education and a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University.
To join Leigh on her next e-course adventure, REGISTER TODAY. Class begins Monday, September 29. New classes coming to Viva Institute later this fall. For updates, sign up for Viva’s newsletter.