Featured Image: Floating in Hotspring Near River. Rio Grande del Norte National Monument / Photo credit: James O’Donnell on Adobe Stock
A solo journey to New Mexico becomes a marriage ritual
By Amanda Burgess, Editor, JourneyWoman
Sometimes, a single life change or crisis can send a person scrambling in search of renewal. For Jeanne F., who splits her time between homes in northern Arizona and the Mississippi Delta in Tennessee, it was a series of them. The hits just kept on coming at warp speed, knocking her back to her knees every time she tried to pick herself back up.
Her 25-year marriage ended. All three of her daughters left for college, leaving her with the sharp-edged grief of a truly empty nest. She was nose to the grindstone, working full-time and part-time to make ends meet and pay off student loans she incurred earning her RN while working and raising a family. She entered into a doomed relationship that left her devastated when it ended. Then the kicker: She was implicated with a group of nurses in a medication error case and lost her licence (the case was later reopened, and her licence was reinstated).
“This was 2012 and unemployment was at a new all-time high, and despite monumental efforts, I was jobless, devastated financially and spiritually, my health declined, and I lost most of my friends,” she says. “I was fat, over 50, travelling from couch to couch and state to state, depressed beyond belief. I lost my car, my home, and all of my possessions were auctioned off when I could not pay the storage rent.”
Some would say she’d lost everything. Jeanne didn’t see it that way. She had everything she needed to rebuild: Two milk crates, an inflatable Queen bed, set of sheets, a quilt, a few books, a coffee mug, bowl, some clothes, makeup – and a whole lot of grit and determination. She was hired to paint houses that were being flipped, which allowed her to live in them as she worked, saving every penny to buy a used car.
“I continued to paint at night and went into medical services marketing by day. I loved every minute of it and did exceptionally well because I know clinicians and their needs,” she says. “I went from new girl at the bottom of the totem pole to top producer in 16 months. Boom. A rocket. I made it, this time 100% on my own. I rebuilt my life. I had a little place with a fireplace and a view of downtown near the baseball stadium. I rented out my garage and driveway space during games tor fun money to travel.”
Bottom-up success story aside, all the years of trauma, loss, heartbreak and homelessness had sapped her lifeforce. She was physically exhausted, emotionally spent, mentally depressed and running on spiritual empty. She was in need of total renewal. As disconnected from life as she felt, she had a fluttering inside that felt like hope.
“It was like being outdoors in the complete dark where you cannot even see your hand, and then the stars come out and the ancient night sky – the same sky your ancestors saw – takes your breath away,” she says. “I felt connected. I took some trips to just sit in front of my grandparents’ and long-gone aunts and uncles’ homes. I felt connected with them, thanked them for the lessons in maintaining a strong work ethic, frugality, growing and preserving goods. I survived because of what they taught me.”
That spark of hope rekindled the dreams in Jeanne’s heart. She began to dream of mountains. Deserts. Rivers. When she’d been hopping couches and states in her search for work, she drove through New Mexico. She saw raw beauty in the cracked, dusty landscapes, and had a strong premonition that she would live there one day (and did, for two years). She saw signs for Ojo Caliente Spa, and knew she’d go there one day too.
So that’s exactly what she did. Located 50 miles from Santa Fe on Route 285 between Espanola and Taos, Ojo Caliente is a mountain oasis steeped in history and healing. Its mineral springs have been deemed sacred by the eight Northern Pueblo tribal communities for nearly 3,000 years.
“The ruins of a Pueblo community are on top of the cliff next to Ojo. There are still pottery shards all over, and people understand they are sacred, to be respected and left be,” she says. “There is something incredibly powerful and primal about being immersed in a deep pool of water, surrounded by stony cliffs, under a New Mexico sky. You cannot believe the stars you see under a black velvet sky. It is womb-like.”
After the death of her husband Gabe in 2018, the prospect of going through life solo filled Amanda with dread. She faced her grief, anger and loneliness in a two-week solo travel adventure in New Zealand.
Desert moon / Photo credit: Paul Moore on Adobe Stock
“I am like an egg. New life. As the shell dries, I review my life and choose new directions to take, choose to work on eclipsing out what is not working and no longer serves me – a purge,” she says. “Then I choose what I will replace it with. I have evolved as a human being immensely in the last eight years as a result. I crack my clay shell off my body, releasing toxins and old dead skin. I shower outdoors right there, washing off the negativity of the years, releasing the toxic experiences and wash my mind, body and spirit, ritually cleansing myself.”
No ritual cleansing is complete without a relaxation experience. From her first time and with every visit, Jeanne follows up the mud slathering with the spa’s Ojo Dreamin’ package. It’s 130 minutes of mind-body rejuvenation that starts with an 80-minute custom massage with hot herbal towels, a scalp massage for hair repair and finishes with an energy-balancing reflexology foot massage.
“It exactly suits my needs – it pulls stress right out of your body and mind,” says Jeanne. “On my first visit, I needed to stop long enough to think and process my thoughts, realizing that I had left important parts of myself into deep neglect. I needed time to feel gratitude for surviving and to identify and acknowledge the lessons this part of my life gifted me with.”
After that first visit, Jeanne brought the man she ended up marrying there. It was his first spa experience. Now, the couple makes it an annual pilgrimage – a treasured ritual of their marriage. She has brought a few friends that were in search of healing and life direction. She brought her sister who was starting her life over at the age of 58 with nothing except what she could fit in her car. All found healing there.
To the woman who had rebuilt her life from the ashes of her old one but was nearing burnout, Jeanne has many things to say. “Let go of fear – it is very powerful and feeds stagnation. You will miss opportunities if you live in fear. Prepare yourself for the life you want,” she says. “Write yourself a new narrative. Literally, write it down! Draw it. Paint it. Surround yourself with these images. Write and rewrite it as you go along. We all have an inner warrior woman. Write her story. Draw her. Keep her nearby.”
Ojo Caliente suffered a fire in the summer of 2020 and is temporarily closed as it rebuilds. The spa hopes to open in 2021, and Jeanne plans to go there when it does. “I want to lend my own energy to the healing of Ojo Caliente, which has been so good to me.”