Talk to me about your life from kindergarten.

Sarah Norrad.

I think my first memory of kindergarten was crying, crying because my mom had left. It was a shocking experience for me to not be with my mother. I do think it’s a hard moment, for the child and the parent when it’s time for them to spend more time separately.

And I remember that was hard for me. I’m sure it was hard for my mother too and she would have to hide in the cloakroom and sneak away so that I didn’t notice when she would leave. I remember that. I know that at that age, I was very contemplated and very much into creating art and connecting with other people. And relationships were always important to me.

Entering school was like this new kind of world that allowed me to experience more love, which was something that I always wanted to feel more love and more connection with. It kind of opened up the space to have all these people that I could build relationships, love, and connection with. And I had very connected intimate relationships like friendships since the time I was very little.

There was something about building relationships that would take me into kind of another world like they were each relationship. I felt like had this kind of magical quality to it. We would create something unique with every kind of close friendship. My friends and I used to write each other letters all the time. I went forward into elementary school, I went to this fabulous elementary school.

My mom raised me and my brother. My father and she were divorced.

She decided that she wanted us to go to a different type of elementary school, not the regular public school. We went to an alternative school called Sundance and Oak Bay in Victoria, where I grew up, Canada.

And it had been an alternative school since the 70s. I’m 37 now. So it was in the late 80s that I went there from the 90s to the late 90s.

The school had started in the 70s. And it was very much based on kind of the, I would say the hippie kind of movement of love and peace and harmony. That was very kind of fundamental to my personality, I believe, and helps to concrete, the importance of relationships further. And you’ll probably like this idea, every morning we’d come into the class and we would all sit around in a circle and on the floor, and everybody would go up and share how they were feeling that day.

Sarah Norrad.

And you take turn by turn, and nobody else is allowed to speak when somebody else was speaking. We had to use feeling words. We were encouraged to be creative with it.

We weren’t supposed to just use happy or sad. We would make lists together of the alternative words to use to describe our feelings and our experience. I learned vulnerability from a very young age of sharing our stories. And that vulnerability encourages connection and honest relationships. Throughout elementary school, I had deep relationships because of this vulnerable kind of sharing we would do every morning. And at the school too, we weren’t separated by age. Every classroom had all ages in it.

It was cool. And the fact that if you were kind of a more quickly developed individual, you could hang out with older people, and if you were not, you could stick with the youngers. And was neat for me. I always have older friends which I find fascinating because still one of my best friends today, I was at that elementary school with her and she still has some of the letters that we’d write back and forth to each other.

We’ve looked at them off and on over the years, and it’s pretty incredible to see at such a young age, we had these rich words and experiences, even though we weren’t adults and living, our kind of autonomous lives, we did have quite a bit of autonomy in our relationships with each other.

So that was pretty special.

And the teachers also at that school, we were allowed to call them by first names and our classrooms are called families, not classrooms.

Sarah Norrad.

There was a lot of love and acceptance, which was quite a rude awakening when I went into high school and that was not the case. But we’ll get there when we get there.

Talking around the topic of healing I remember the first time I experienced a lot of pain in my body I believe I was around 9 or 10. I started to get these bad stomach aches. I remember having to go to the sick room a lot and going to the doctor and the doctor did all these tests and couldn’t see anything wrong with me.

But in the end, I concluded I was under a lot of stress. Back at that time, I was always very aware of everyone. I didn’t know how to deal with all the input of information and other people’s feelings and responses and needs and desires. As healing, relationships and connection were important to me, they were, interestingly enough, also a stressor for me. And without having high sensitivity, it affected me.

And when I can track the time now, like as an adult going back, I realized at that point, the elementary school had transitioned a new principal and had shifted the classes from being all ages to be segregated to age groups. At that point, I became disconnected from a lot of my good friends who were in different classes all of a sudden, because I was in my age group and not able to be with older people.

Talking about grief was one of my first grieving processes. The separation from these friends and people that I loved.

That was hard for me to recover from the heartbreak. It might sound insignificant, but it was a big deal for me because it’s just relationships are so important. And probably they are important for most kids and we just don’t realize it because we think that they are children and they’re so adaptable and which they are, but at that age, they feel things deeply.

That was kind of my first challenge in school in that area.

And then I went into high school and started to realize my sensitivity in high school and specifically with the transition from being at Sundance which was a school of like 100 kids very small. And then going into a school of 1000 kids and just the chaos of being a teenager, even the friends that I had had at Sundance, going into high schools was very hard for us to stay connected, we were all trying to just manage what it is to be that age. Which is the age between being an adult and being a child.

Sarah Norrad.

It’s kind of almost like the Bermuda triangle of living, it’s like you’re taking out and you don’t have the resources you need to cope in life, but at the same time, you’re expected to be on your own and cope with all these other people who are going through the same challenge.

My way of dealing with that was I developed an eating disorder in high school. And it’s, it’s kind of interesting to look at because I believe it helped me cope with the experience that I was having there with the hypersensitivity and hyper-awareness.

All the people around me kind of gave me something to distract me from that because I didn’t have the other skills to be present with all these experiences. That was something I had to work hard later on healing this eating disorder so it was an intelligent tool to take on at that moment.

And then it was something that later on was a big part of my growth and my healing as well.

Yeah, and my way of coping with high school was to just be good and do well and kind of keep under the radar. But interestingly enough, I had always had a high level of spirituality which we did go to church when I was young we went to the Unitarian Church which is a very open church they’re open to all different belief systems and faces but the seed of spirituality had been planted in me young and going back to the elementary school where I had these close connections with friends.

One of my good friends we would do healing ceremonies together where we would have crystals and we would kind of develop whole ceremonies for like, sometimes like I remember hours, as kids play, in our play was often these beautiful ceremonies.

I went away from my first meditation retreat when I was 16 or 15.

And I had become connected to another girl in high school who was kind of into Buddhism and I was into Buddhism and yoga.

I did yoga every morning, even before school and I went away to this retreat, which was on the mainland, so I had to go away on a ferry. Stay at this retreat center, which was a different experience for a 15 or 16-year-old girl. To be away from family and friends and was a passionate meditation.

A 10-day silent retreat, which you took, was pretty intense for someone that age and passionate lineages it’s a kind of I would say it’s a colder kind of spiritual practice where you’re left to experience it on your own. There’s not a lot of support given you sit for long hours and you just stay with yourself.

It was my first experience facing my pain and without distraction, and it scared me to death. I got to see my eating disorder and the guilt and shame, I felt around that. And at that point, nobody knew what I was dealing with at all. So it was a very challenging retreat. And I ended up leaving early. I stayed for five days.

Sarah Norrad.

I kind of forget how it went along. But I had a scheduled interview with the leader of the retreat who is a monk, and I just said, I’m not doing well, I need to go and he realized, how young I was and how challenging it would be.

And I went back home.

That felt like a failure for sure. I should have been able to last even though I was doing something probably way above my level of ability, and maybe above the level that someone at that age should try to practice without more foundational skills of mindfulness in place.

But it did definitely kind of get me on the Buddhist path more, which was always a sanctuary for me to go. To support me through the confusing times and challenges of life.

I finished high school early.

I just wanted to get everything done. In high school, I was also in an alternative program where they would give you chunks of work and you could finish them early if you were gung ho about it. I did that.

And then I also had a government job, because I was pretty competent at getting the work done at school for half the day and then working for the afternoons and early evenings for the government. That was kind of how I got through high school and at the end when space kind of opened up by which I could have gone right away back to school and I didn’t, I decided I wanted to explore myself and with the sensitivity, I always felt, it took on a lot of responsibility.

I think I had a lot of high feeling of responsibility to be a daughter and support my mum

I felt like I had a big commitment to my dad, even though he wasn’t as much in our lives but trying to keep up that relationship and my brother. And I think at that point, I’d get two or three jobs.

I just wanted to be away from all these labels that I’d taken very, very seriously. And so I bought a ticket to Australia and I moved to Australia for a year.

I think I had like $1000.

Sarah Norrad.

And that kind of begin five years of living abroad off and on and kind of a deeper journey of getting to know me without all the labels of home.

And with some kind of distance from the responsibility and the heaviness that I felt I held. It was a good time. It was also a hard time. Some not great things happened. Some wonderful things happened. I was still struggling with a lot of my demons and so that that was not always easy.

I think being a determined and stubborn person, I was still really set on having an alternative life. So it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I came back home to Canada. And I committed myself to stay in my hometown and working on the things that I’d been running from. Because I did realize for myself that outward movement was a desire to get away and to feel safe.

My self-work I think, skyrocketed.

When I came home and I began strong yoga practice and more meditation to heal my eating disorder. And it was through meditation. I was able to learn I could stay with the pain, overwhelm, and sensitivity. And that perhaps I didn’t have to numb out to do so. And I have used meditation almost daily and I still do.

And now I’m part of a Buddhist lineage called the Shambala lineage and I have a Buddhist name and I also have a yogic name given to me by the Kundalini live lineage as well.

So both yoga and Buddhism have been very fundamental to my path of growth and working with pain. So and then the article that you contacted me about, I wrote that at so very, very, very hard time in my life, about five years ago, and out of the blue, although I think I had been overdoing for years I developed fibromyalgia.

This was something curiously enough that I could not get away from so another layer in learning how to stay with things. And how to face the things I was most afraid of which is I was afraid of physical illness. And I had tons of stigmas around having an illness or experiencing chronic pain and had all these belief systems around you know, must be my fault, I must not be pure enough, I must not have practiced well enough, I must not have healed myself enough. I must be doing something wrong to have this.

Being in excruciating pain 24 hours a day, writing became my outlet. I’d always written when I lived all over the world. I kept journals all the time.

I’d always done other work like, when I got sick, I was teaching yoga. I taught yoga to children, really sweet. Three, four, and five-year-olds, and I tumbled into teens. And I also had my own private business of teaching adults. And I was in school for social work, and I was finishing my counseling training at citizens counseling.

I was possibly do going a little bit way overboard with my drive, which I had challenges with my entire life of slowing down.

Sarah Norad.

Which I think is funny because people assume that a meditator and somebody who practices spirituality and yoga mindfulness is calm and level all the time.

But I think a lot of people practice those things because they deal with a very busy mind and driven body.

When I got sick which was about six years ago, I think now, when it said in it was, wow, just another layer of deep, deep healing because I couldn’t move, I couldn’t go out and do things I couldn’t continue to be driven in that way. I suppose my drive then became really about healing because, at that time I couldn’t get out of bed, writing became my mode of creating and interacting with the world and I started getting published and writing for different people and it also really forced me to be brave. Like

I’ve never felt courageous enough to put myself out there as a writer.

I remember being told even though I had a very alternative upbringing that you can’t make money being an artist you can’t have a career in that way, there are so many people and the competition is so high but I think when you’re forced in something and choices are taken away, you just go for it and that’s kind of what I did. I just was like, okay, this is what I have to work with. Let’s work with this.

Going back to elementary school and being open to the practices, kind of vulnerability, and sharing helps with my writing and moving into that kind of place of vulnerability and openness and transparency. It’s been a practice for me as I continue forward and working with Fibromyalgia has been the biggest challenge of my life and is also the biggest bravery and courage and another sort of drive.

Before I knew what I was dealing with, I thought I was dying and I think there’s something that happens when you kind of feel like you’re dying and you’re in constant pain and you can’t get out of bed is you realize that you are very human.

You realize why not take risks? Why not do those things that you know you’re afraid of? If and when you’re able to do those things again because, for a couple of years, I couldn’t do very much at all. From a normal perspective of life, I was doing, and being a lot, which is I think, something that’s overlooked in healing is that healing is really hard work.

Sarah Norrad.

And we avoid healing so much in our society. Because most of the cultures in our world are built around doing. And healing often doesn’t look like doing. It looks like being present through the pain and the breakthroughs and through the growth of oneself past our blocks and all belief systems around how we thought we should be and how we thought the world should be, and how we thought other people should be or how we thought they should have treated us or the love that we thought we should have gotten or the treatment we think we need and taking responsibility to become an adult and to become healers because I don’t believe at all that healing is either linear or is it done one way.

I think everybody’s healing is going to be unique.

That’s why I think, self-help books are the biggest sellers is because one person’s way of healing is not another person’s way. You can’t always use another’s method. You can use a bit of our method I think often, but you have to develop your way. And so the stigma we have around illness via mental illness, physical illness, disease, chronic pain, internal demons, anxiety, depression, whatever I think we’re dealing with. Those can be the biggest profound lessons for growth and teachers.

Part of one of my missions moving forward is to support the stigma being released around illness as being a bad mental illness or physical or spiritual illness. It’s not bad. And I think the more we take away the negativity around it, the less it gets stuck. And the less we get stuck on it being the roadblock to the rest of our lives.

Because it’s really through these illnesses, that we develop the most growth and the most courage. And we get to know ourselves and we get to know our strength and courage the ability to face the things that we’ve run from, I think are often sometimes we as humans wouldn’t do unless illnesses took away our choice of running away. Since the time that I wrote that essay, I have definitely contemplated it for years now.

Can this be my teacher? Lots of people talk about how everything can be our teacher, I think people say like everything but not that.

And I was definitely like that everything but you know, no, no, I don’t want to get sick, everything but sickness can be my teacher and because I think I held such a belief system around what it meant to be dealing with sickness either mental or physical was that I would be some sort of failure contemplating these last six years and dealing with something I can’t get away from at times, there have definitely been practices that I’ve taken on that have helped a ton and I’m quite a high functioning and able to support other people in their journeys.

I am a counselor I have my mindfulness practice and I do work one on one with people. I am able to support others and that’s a blessing. Illness isn’t my entire life.

One of the questions that you asked me: Does our grief and pain and whatever we’re working with go away completely? Do we ever get to a place where it goes away completely? I used to think that was my drive for doing two hours of yoga every day and meditation and I thought like I’m gonna get as pure as I possibly can.

And my idea of purity and healing was not that you would live with sickness? Not at all.

I thought you would be this superhuman glowing being that everybody would hold on a pedestal and you wouldn’t have any fears or you wouldn’t have any roadblocks or anxieties or trauma. But that has really altered for me and I think I always gave other people the leeway to have that, to be spiritual teachers and be human and have the human side.

But I did also have to learn to take other people off of the pedestal because we’re all imperfect and we’re all working with our stuff. And I do believe it’s all a work in progress.