Have you ever found yourself exactly where you need to be at the exact moment you need to be there? That was me in New Orleans.
When my sister invited me on this trip two months ago, I had no way of knowing what it would mean in the moment. There was no way any of us could have guessed how much we would need the magicand wisdom that the city of New Orleans harbors in its swampy shell.
But that’s exactly what makes this trip so New Orleans. Four friends, each on their own unique journey, showed up to a sunny porch on Arts Street not because we knew two months ago that we'd have a wealth of breakups, new relationships, job changes, and opportunities to explore but simply because we did. Something had just seemed right. Or maybe something had brought us here. Maybe something had been calling.
As our trip went on, we began to jokingly refer to this three-day adventure as our own little dark and slightly twisted "Eat, Pray, Love" excursion. In just three days, we feasted on Cafe Du Monde Beignets, blackened catfish Po' Boys, Oyster and Egg Benedict, loaded chili fries, locally sourced smoothies, organic hummus toast and more. We ordered Ramos Gin Fizzes and flights of local beer. We laughed with Uber drivers as they shared their stories. We befriended our traveling neighbors and we smiled with locals on the trolley. We collected body art and purchased new gemstones. We ate ourselves silly and we loved ourselves full – and, believe it or not, we even prayed.
The whole "prayer" part actually proved pretty meaningful. Now I'm not saying that I prayed in the traditional way you’re probably imagining (did you really think I would?) but I did pray...
One of the most remarkable things about New Orleans is its rich, cultured history – and the way it embraces that history both good and bad. There is an overwhelming sense of acceptance riddled throughout their stories. Even when discussing times of tragedy, you get the sense there is very little bitterness. There is only an acknowledgement of what happened and the way in which it’s contributed to this city that now pulses with those stories.
This acceptance was unbelievably refreshing. It was captivating to be meet individuals from mixed income levels and walks of life who truly embrace their lives and the place they were living in.
In addition to this acceptance and positive energy, there is something magical that comes with embracing the deep appreciation and practice of Haitian Voodoo throughout New Orleans. One of my favorite descriptions of Voodoo is that it’s a mix of belief systems, specifically Christian and African, that operates on the fundamental principle that everything is spirit – we are spirits of the visible world, there are spirits of the non-visible world, there are the ghosts of our ancestors, etc.
One core beliefs within Haitian Voodoo is the idea that a supreme being or power does not interfere with daily life but instead acts and moves through other beings, or Loa. These spirits are meant to aid in certain aspects of life – like sexuality, or creativity, or spirituality. These spirits are all about reciprocity. Basically, they accept and encourage offerings in return for their guidance.
Now regardless of your beliefs in god or spirits or Voodoo or whatever, try to take a minute to think about the beauty of what the Loa represent.
You are encouraged to bring something to a situation and leave it behind in return for something else, something that you need. My interpretation of this Voodoo practice is that you are encouraged to bring your baggage, and the acknowledgement of that baggage’s existence, with you. You are not asked to throw it away or apologize for it. You are required no penance for existing. You are invited to come seeking and to ask for what you need.
That’s pretty freaking cool, guys.
While visiting the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, home of Marie Laveau’s tomb, our tour guide told us about the ritual that some will perform at her grave by spinning around or stomping three times and then making a wish. The trick, he said, is to say the wish out loud. He once corrected a woman he saw make the three turns and then walk away without saying her wish. He called her back to the grave. “You have to wish it out loud,” he said. You have to be able to ask for what you want.
You have to be able to own your needs.
What a profoundly simple and beautiful concept.
While standing in one of the Voodoo shop, reading and learning about the spirits Oshun and Obatala, I was struck with the reality of how much baggage I had brought on this trip – despite only being allowed one carry on item and one personal belonging. I've experienced quite a bit of growth and renewal lately but there is still so much work to be done. I still have quite bit to work for. As I came upon the alter of spirit of Oshun, the spirit of romance and love, I felt overwhelmingly grateful for all the gifts she had already brought into my life. I offered my thanks and acknowledged my ongoing request for love.
I looked around at our group, which was a unique mix of people falling out of love and in love and even a bit of both, and I was thankful again. I was thankful for this spirit’s existence, buying into all the dogma or not, and the opportunity to learn and to acknowledge all the magic happening to each one of us. Here was a moment to remind ourselves that love, romantic or not, can be asked for and earned. It can be gifted. It can grow and change and fade all the same.
Next in the store came the alter of Obatala, the personification of creative energy and wisdom, and I was struck again with the challenge to admit what I needed. At first I told myself:“you just made an offering. You don’t get to ask for more.”
And then I stopped.
Ans I thought of all the energy and action I had to offer in exchange for my wants and my needs.
And I told myself that it is okay to need. We all need. We all want. We all wish. But, as was demonstrated through the Marie Laveau ritual, in order to receive the things you’re asking for, you have to admit that you need them. Open yourself up to the things you want and they will come to you. Let go of your pride and your fear of asking for help. Stop worrying about what might happen when you acknowledge your voids and instead welcome the things that can fill them. It's a simple concept that we've all heard before, but it can be a hard one to trust: in letting go, you can receive.
Through those graves and altars, I was reminded of all this and that this is my time to ask for things.
This is my time to own my needs: my need for continued confidence in my decisions, my need for strength and patience in my day to day life and my need for inspiration and creativity so that we can keep killin’ it on Tallulahish together.
So I offered and I asked.
and it ruled.
...And then I went on to revel in the beauty of a city full of history, celebration, music, pride, kindness, art, booze, food and so much more. So now I leave you with a few more photos because they can speak a thousand words much, much faster than I can.