While it’s designed for safety (keeping pedestrians off the busy freeway), there are many times when the tunnel feels less than safe. It’s dimly lit, so when I pass through after dark, it’s hard to see what might be hiding in the shadows. Its walls are covered in graffiti and there are often signs that people have been taking advantage of the shelter and obscurity of it to do some late-night partying. In the summer on my bike, I am often fearful I might puncture a tire on broken glass.
While the tunnel offers shelter from the elements and a brief respite from rain or snow, it’s also lower than the ground around it and there isn’t proper drainage, so rainwater collects in large puddles on the concrete floor. In the Spring, when snow is melting, it’s nearly impossible to pass through without rubber boots.
A few days ago, I passed through the tunnel and found it especially treacherous (see photo). Melting snow and slush had frozen into an unpredictable landscape that made each step dangerous.
As I was reaching the far side of the tunnel, I looked up from my careful concentration on where to place my next step and saw the light streaming in. The bright sunlight made me pause for a moment to appreciate what it meant to near the end of my careful, dangerous journey. As I stood there, my body almost involuntarily took a deep, lung-filling breath. It felt like hope.
That’s very similar to how I felt last month when I landed in Costa Rica, where I’d traveled to spend a couple of weeks at my friend’s farm working on my next book and the new course that’s launching this week. After two years of no travel, two years of social distancing, two years of anxiety over COVID, two years of supporting my three daughters through big transitions (and one through complex medical challenges), I felt like I was finally arriving at the end of a long tunnel.
When my friend Mary picked me up at the airport, I burst into tears. I’d been holding so much anxiety for so long, tiptoeing through the treacherous tunnel, that I just needed to release it before my body could fully relax and enjoy the sun and warmth of Costa Rica. Once the tears settled, so did my body and breath.
Like that light shining on me at the end of the tunnel, Costa Rica offered me light and hope again (especially after what has been a long, cold, and hard winter here in Manitoba). It invited me to stop holding my breath and stop tensing my leg muscles for every step I needed to take in the unsafe territory of the pandemic.
Sometimes when we’re in the middle of the tunnel, we forget that the tunnel ends. We assume we’ll always be afraid of the next step, always be holding our bodies tense, always be breathing in that shallow anxiety-ridden way. Unfortunately, when that kind of anxiety is present for a prolonged period, our bodies assume they need to stay in high alert, and we get stuck in an activated state. I remember that feeling so clearly after my divorce, when a naturopath told me I’d developed adrenal fatigue from too many months of high stress. Our bodies can only take so much before they start to protest.
With Easter coming up this weekend, I’ve been thinking about an Easter eleven years ago when I entered one of the hardest, darkest tunnels of my life. We found out my mom had cancer, and two days later I told my husband we either needed to separate or go for counselling. (I wrote about it the following Easter, and now, when I read that post, I feel so much tenderness for past-me who was feeling hopeful that life was settling. She didn’t yet know that the tunnel was about to get darker.)
What I keep having to relearn every time I go through a tunnel like that is that the tunnels are the places that shape us most. Tunnels cause us to pause and take stock of our lives. They remind us that there’s no point in carrying extra baggage, especially when every step must be taken carefully. They help us re-evaluate what’s important and, like a kiln that turns mud into stone, they strengthen us into vessels with strength and purpose.
The tunnel I walk through regularly is dark and hidden. A lot of people in the city don’t even know it exists, because it’s not in a high traffic area. You only arrive there if you happen to live in the area or you know it exists. From the road above, it’s entirely invisible. Almost every time I pass through it, I walk through alone.
That’s how tunnels in our lives often feel. They are usually times of loneliness and isolation, when we find ourselves set apart from the people we love because nobody really understands what we’re going through and we don’t know how to talk about it. In the years between that fateful Easter, when told my husband I was ready for a separation, and the day five years later when we finally gave up on counselling and separated, very few people in my life knew what was going on. Many were surprised when I told them we’d separated. I simply didn’t know how to talk about it.
Part of the reason I do the work that I do is because I don’t want people to feel so lonely when they pass through tunnels like that. I want them to know that there are others going through similar tunnels, and others who’ve been through the tunnels before them. I want them to find encouragement and hope in community.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve created my newest course, Know Yourself, Free Yourself: Self-exploration as a Path to Liberation and Love. I know that self-exploration can be challenging and lonely sometimes, especially when we learn hard things about ourselves and we have to dismantle old belief systems or disrupt maladaptive patterns. I don’t want you to have to do it alone. I want to offer you guides, companions and insights to help you navigate the tunnel. Consider this course to be like a flashlight that helps you find safe passage through.
The route that I walk that includes the tunnel is nearly 10,000 steps long. Only about 100 of those steps are through the tunnel. That means that for 9900 steps, I don’t have to deal with the challenges of the tunnel. When I’m in the tunnel, I often overlook the fact that it is a relatively short period of time, but when I emerge, the steps that take me home feel much more carefree and easy.
The course that I’m creating isn’t just about tunnels. It’s about liberation and love. It’s about the light at the end, when your body feels relief and hopefulness and you know that you have grown and changed and will never be the same again. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all of my years of going through tunnels, it’s that when we surrender to the tunnel, we always feel more freedom on the other side. And that freedom is worth every challenging step.
If you’re in a tunnel right now, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I want you to know that there’s a light at the end. I hope that you will see it soon and that you will discover that the tunnel offered you gifts you didn’t know you were gathering along the way.