My story: from suffering to hope

Published on 26 June 2024 at 01:34

Have you ever felt stuck, or hurt by life events, or confused and lost? You're not alone. I have experienced loss, grief and trauma in my early years and again as an adult. Life and our response to it can bring great suffering, but thankfully it is entirely possible to heal and thrive.

You can explore your inner world with curiosity and courage, expand your sense of self, grow your self-compassion, as well as establish a peaceful mind and a happy life.

The accident

When I was 10 years old, my family (consisting of mum, dad and 2 younger sisters), were involved in a serious, near-fatal, head-on collision with a truck and trailer unit. The world as I knew it was shattered and our family was scattered to stay in various hospitals, or with family members, friends and caregivers, for many years to come.

My mother died 6 & ½ years later due to her injuries, resulting in paralysis, serious illnesses and life-threatening medical events.

I was 17 years old when my mother died in my arms, in an intensive care unit.

It was a heartbreaking, agonising, beautiful yet numbing and mysterious experience. My survival strategies went into overdrive, in an attempt to 'manage' overwhelming anguish. I felt very alone. The following 10 years were spent desperately trying to escape myself and to avoid feelings, which appeared to be unwelcome, in the external world.

A return to my hometown

I never planned to have children. I felt I didn’t want them or that there was no point because I was motherless and couldn’t do it without that pilot boat… my mother. For similar reasons, I never saw myself getting married. If my mum was not there with me, then what was the point.

For several years, I travelled and partied, courting danger recklessly. I felt devastated and hopeless.

I returned to my hometown, on the pretext of recovering from various travel illnesses and too much partying. I was skin and bone. I was wild and deeply sad.

I fell pregnant, rather quickly, after falling in love with a much older man. A man deeply attached to his home and the land. A man who was really a boy at heart, but to whom I felt I belonged. He offered me a sanctuary from my constant running. I needed his cave-like home, to shelter in. Of course he came with his own wounds and trauma too. We needed each other. I was longing for comfort. He offered me that and I fell gladly into his embrace.

Who would I be if I hadn’t become a mother? Which far-flung corners of the globe would I have found myself in, if I hadn’t chosen to anchor in the bay where we then lived.

On the morning I held our wide-eyed daughter in my arms, one life-chapter ended, and another began, and it all changed again, 20 months later, when our son was born, announcing his arrival with powerful screams, while outside the summer heat broke into thunder and lightning.

These two perfect creatures ruled my heart, and I gave my energies to them relentlessly. I had purpose, I had their love, I had wounds to reveal and heal, as motherhood reconnected me with my own losses as a child.

I planted gardens, made cheese from raw milk, baked breads from my own sourdough starter, cookies and cakes filled the tins. I preserved fruits, learned to butcher wild meats, gathered nuts, stacked wood with my man and dug clams in the inlet, to steam open over an outdoor fire. I was occupied with providing and with loving. There was no time or reason to think of myself. It was a time of ignorant bliss and service.

Motherhood and domesticity were an anchor for me, in the stormy seas of my broken heart, yet it eventually ended, as everything does, or changed at least.

Flashbacks of childhood trauma started, disturbing feelings arose, deep sadness was there and now I was in a safe enough place and strong enough to see it, feel it and be curious about it all.

My Yoga journey had already begun at age 28, but now I also started personal psychotherapy and various mind-body modalities.

After 14 years of domesticity, I separated from the love of my life. Soon the children were grown and for the most part, fully-fledged humans.

I became a ghost ship. Decommissioned but not yet scrapped. A boat adrift, broken loose from my ropes and carried by winds and waves.


Into the woods

I left the sunny, big skies of Hawkes Bay and bought 100 acres, in a remote valley on Banks Peninsula.

I disappeared into the forest, seeking meaning and seeking Self, in solitude.

I lived with a cat, at the end of a long gravel road and travelled deep into the dark recesses of grief and loss.

I burned things literally and metaphorically.

I destroyed almost all material evidence of my past life.


I had nights in the middle of winter, freezing and alone, feeling that I was on the brink of physical and psychic death. I crawled into the corners of my creaking old villa, in the company of daddy-long-leg spiders in every corner of the vaulted ceilings, my body shaking uncontrollably with all that it had held… the container could not hold. My walls were crumbling down, and I was tearing at them from the inside with hope.

It was terrifying but also incredibly liberating. After 18 months, I emerged, exhausted and empty, but ready to return to living, in a deeper, more connected way. I had cracked much of the armour from my heart, and I was ready.

I was 50 years old and having a mid-life breakthrough!

I left most of my remaining possessions with the new owners of the farm, putting my art and books into storage.

I took to the road and made a whistle stop, farewell tour of friends and family, then I flew to India.

A return to my soul-home

India felt like a return home, a return to a motherland, a place of spiritual nourishment, of chaos, beauty, the sacred and the profane. It filled me with hope, happiness and curiosity. I felt fully alive. I was plugging into the source of the Yoga I had practiced for twenty-three years, the direct lineage of an ancient tradition, which had saved my life.

In the country of my birth, I had journeyed within, and experienced a profound encounter with my inner worlds, my conditioning, my wounds, my limitations and then the unbinding of all that, was my personal, internal pilgrimage or yātrā.

India then provided the external pilgrimage, to encounter sacred forces, not so readily encountered or honoured in the West or in everyday life.

In India, everyday life is sacred. Temples on every corner, puja bells ringing each morning in the house and in the neighbours’ houses. Voices calling out in prayer and japa. At the time of writing this blog, I have been living in India for 1 year.


I have travelled to divine abodes of gods and goddesses in the Himalayas.

I have trained in esoteric techniques to cleanse the body-mind and prepare one for knowing the ultimate truths.

I have attended daily Vedanta philosophy classes, with a humble gem of a teacher.


The holy is found all around you and it is soon enough reflected within oneself. India celebrates that and has done for thousands of years.

Holy is the journey and the place.

All it requires is curiosity, sincerity, discipline, courage, gentleness and commitment.

India is not for the fainthearted, but for the truth-seekers, the unconventional, those willing to sacrifice, those who have emptied themselves of almost everything but the biggest of questions.


What is reality?

Who am I?

Why am I here?

You don't have to travel to India

If you are curious about these questions too, or if you feel stuck in old trauma loops and have a sense that there must be a way to move through the difficulties, to heal and thrive, but know you need some guidance, then connect with me for coaching or counselling.

My mission is to help you unlock your full potential and to enable you to thrive.

Whether you’re an individual or an organisation, I am here to support you on your journey.

I know from my own personal healing journey, that a peaceful, resilient mind and a meaningful, happy life, full of gratitude and awe, is possible.

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Alice Keen
21 days ago

Gemma you are an absolute ray of hope , you were an absolute GEM and I think you will be a brilliant guiding light for us lost souls much love to you ❤️ Alice

21 days ago

Alice, how lovely to receive your comment. I loved working with you all those years ago in Dunedin. I trust you are happy and well.

David B
21 days ago

Wow - thank you for sharing. The story of a life lived deeply.

21 days ago

Thank you David.

Robyn McLeod
21 days ago

Wow, amazing encapsulation of your life so far, the impact it has had and the gifts it has given. The gentleness and acceptance in you shines brightly to those of us outside looking in. Love you! ♥️

21 days ago

I'm so glad to see your story in the world Gemma, and to see your offerings here. Your love shines through. I'd love to work with you

Richard William West
21 days ago

The beaming smiles in the photos, including yours, tell me how your journey is going. I am not a robot.

21 days ago

Haha non-robot Richard. The journey is always a grand adventure, even the dark, sticky parts.