Let Freedom Reign

July 7, 2011

I can’t even imagine the month of July without our country’s annual celebration of freedom, honoring the birth of the United States of America and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a day that deserves grand patriotic displays from sea to shining sea — backyard barbeques and hot dog eating contests, flag-flying parades and booming bursts of fireworks.

My passion lies in stories of personal freedom – individual declarations of independence and the stories surrounding them. So, inspired by sparklers and celebrations of liberty, I’ll fondly recall my own story about some red rock boulders, an unlikely cowboy, and a mesmerizing moment in the Wild West that set me on my road to personal freedom.

My Cowboy Cactus

Many moons ago (or in my case, many sunrises ago), I worked as a producer of fashion photo shoots – beautiful locations, beautiful models, styling beautiful clothing. It sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? It was and it wasn’t. The flip side of the glamour involved impossible deadlines, demanding clients, and physically challenging conditions. I schlepped piles of merchandise and heavy gear up rugged snow-capped mountains, across dark and stormy seas, down snake-infested jungle ravines — often bathed in sunscreen and smelling like bug spray.

On this particular morning in the spectacularly beautiful Sonoran Desert of the wild American West, dawn was fast approaching — and chaos was looming.

The park ranger was refuting the shooting permit.

The catering truck was lost. The set wasn’t built.

The models? Late.

Horse trailers? Early.

And clients? They were nervous, very nervous.

My job was to make it all right – to make everything perfect (for everyone) – all before first light.

So, I did what I always did – swilled more caffeine and ordered the crew to step up the pace. To help ready the set, I rolled up my sleeves and started moving some of the enormous red rock boulders by myself. Mid heave, the cowboy horse handler approached me and asked where he should place the horses. I glared at him and barked, “You’re early! I don’t need the horses until 8 – not a minute sooner! Do me a favor and stay the hell out of the way.” My fast-flying fury didn’t faze him. He stood and watched me as I struggled to move boulders weighing more than I did.

As I jockeyed to move a particularly large boulder, he stopped me in my tracks. He gently but firmly asked if I could feel my legs. Staring into his crystal clear blue eyes I burst into tears and the huge red rock fell from my arms. I looked down at my leg and saw blood gushing from my right shin to the top of my dusty work boot – a thick, six-inch cactus spine had pierced my flesh.

Time stopped.

The cowboy held me in his arms as I cried what seemed like a lifetime of tears – not because the cactus needle hurt, more because it didn’t. In between the heavy sobs, I heard him say the most profound things: “The weight of the world is not yours to carry. You can free yourself from struggle. Let your body guide you home.”

As I’ve reflected over the years on this series of events, I’ve realized that in that moment, I “got it”. I understood that all the pointless struggling I had been doing in my life was of my own making. Like Sisyphus, I had been moving immense boulders up a hill, only to watch them roll back down. Repeatedly.

The moment I dropped that desert boulder was my point of no return – my moment of breaking free. 

I’d like to tell you that I rode off into the sunset with the steely-blue-eyed cowboy shaman, singing songs of freedom.

I’d also like to tell you that the connection I made to my body that morning has never been lost.

I’d even like to tell you that I forever left my propensity to struggle amidst my glamorous circumstances. But I’d be lying.

What I can tell you is that mystical cowboy-cactus experience changed me. My heart broke wide open and I tasted personal freedom. That luscious taste of freedom was the catalyst for me to make the journey home to my true self.  And what an adventurous journey it is!

As I mentioned before, stories of personal freedom are a passion and as I share mine, I anticipate the stories I’ll hear from you. Have you had thoughts, feelings or actions that have held you captive?  Is there a freedom you’re longing for – freedom from self-defeating thoughts, freedom from stress-filled habits? Whatever you are on your journey, I’d love to hear your stories…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Maryna May 3, 2012 at 12:57 am


This is beautiful. What a magical story, so beautifully told. I love that it didn’t end happily ever after and that you continued the struggle in spite of “seeing” all this wonderful wisdom. It helps me appreciate all the angst of my own struggle. How interesting that I chose this moment to find this gem on your website.

And of course you’re funny and your writing is so charming that it’s like a mind-massage reading your posts.

Thank You!!
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Lisa May 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Thanks so much Maryna! Oh how I wanted to write a happily ever after ending (preferably with me riding off into the sunset with the handsome cowboy), but the truth is so much better because even though it’s somewhat gritty and painful at times, it’s real. And being real is how we help each other. Enjoy your ride, but do watch out for cactus needles!


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