I hear his footsteps going down, down, down the stairs. The front door opens and closes, and I'm alone. Holy crap. I can't do this, but I can't do that either. It was 2010, and I had just asked my husband for a divorce. I thought I'd feel free once I told him. In reality, I was freaking terrified because I had never been alone. Instead, I had spent my life building my cage and squeezing myself inside of it. I had hushed the whispers that said, "This isn't it. You don't fit. You're made for something more." And when I ignited the affair that burned down my marriage, I thought I'd burnt down the cage with it. I thought my time in the cage is done, but I couldn't have been more wrong. And I tumbled into the next relationship. And once again, the cage appeared, and that cycle repeated over and over because, I'm just gonna be real right now, I was not a fast learner. And with every relationship, that cage was getting smaller and tighter and more impossible to exist within until a pivotal relationship born out of a swipe right on Tinder.
We fell instantly in love. I loved him. He loved me. We were each other's one. We declared our love to everybody that we knew. Got Facebook official. And six weeks later, it was me that was being asked to walk down those stairs and out that door. And that was the pain that saw me bawling my eyes out on a table after a chi energy release massage, where all the ghosts of my relationships past had revealed themselves to me in a vision. I realized, "It's me. I'm doing this to myself. I'm trying to play all these roles, and they're not working out for me. And I'm just the good girl. And I'm trying so hard to look good enough, to feel good enough, to be good enough."
My healer friend, who essentially is my Yoda, was holding me in her arms, and the pain was so much. It was the lowest point of my life. And I was desperate to get out of that cage. I want to ask you something. Have you ever been presented with something that in the past, you just would've said "Absolutely hell no, no way" to, but right now feels like the perfect solution? Yeah. That's where I was at. So when my Yoda mentioned ayahuasca, I didn't ask too many questions. I just said yes. And what opened up for me in that moment was my rebel side. What if I did something that back in 2014 would be a radical action for a regular person to take? What if I took on that ayahuasca journey?
What if I decided that all of that societal conditioning was just a bunch of BS and that trying to live an appropriate life is just the cage that we put ourselves in? Because really, I mean, who really wants to live an appropriate life, right? Like, ugh! And yet, we're all so busy trying to be appropriate. So I really only had the very vaguest of ideas of what I was getting myself into. I had heard that you needed to dress all in white. And as the taxi pulled up to the ceremonial space, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I'm gonna be with my people. Finally, I'm gonna feel like I belong. And I walked into that space in all my new whites, and everybody else was just dressed in normal clothes. And I realized in that moment, here I am again, just trying to fit in, just trying to be appropriate.
Well, I just had that one outfit, and it was a weekend-long thing. So I really just had to style it out. And that was Rebel Initiation Round One. But the ayahuasca journey? That was pure love. I was a baby held in my mother's arms, and I felt so safe, and I felt so beautiful. And I felt so connected. And I cried for all the parts of myself that had forgotten how to love. And I knew what I had to do. Over the next eight months, I gave up my addiction to people-pleasing. I let go of being the good girl.
I stopped laying myself out on the sacrificial altar of somebody else's desires. And I gathered all the fractured parts of myself back together and loved them into feeling worthy. And then, as Yoda's do, my Yoda reappeared to help me unlock the last door to the last cage. She showed me that I needed to stop being a servant to a corporate agenda. That I needed to become the queen and put on my freaking crown. And I needed to leave my old job and my old life behind. Through all of this, I have learned, or I have created, in fact, some personal truths. I am here to be a rebel. I am here to be a queen. I did not come here to live in a cage and be dulled down. I came here to command, and we have all been fed a lie that if we play by the rules, we'll be taken care of. But in my experience, it's when I don't play by the rules that love, passion, vibrancy, and luxury become available to me. Thank you.
I will take you on a magical journey into the womb of creation. After this, you might start hanging out with your unicorn, have your spirit team make you breakfast, swim with mermaids, or ride your golden and silver dragon into the sunset. Would you join me? And even if not, you can plug in your ears and listen in. It will do the trick anyway. It was the day of my birthday, and I was in Australia, and my womb said "Adventures." The womb is the part of the lower belly where the ovaries are, where women bleed from, where babies grow, and believe it or not, even you men here have a womb - not physical but energetic.
So she said, "Adventures." I was like, "Okay." I knew something powerful, and fun, and mystical was about to happen. A few minutes later, I set on a mission to find a tea tree lake. This lake is said to be an ancient sacred Aboriginal site where women would give birth. Aboriginals are the native Australians. And one of my dear friends, who is also an Aboriginal, she said, "It's women's business there." And my womb was like a puppy's ears when you say a treat. I'm like, "Yeah. Okay!" And like this, I learned to follow her to the most amazing places all around the world, and like this, I followed her to meet the most incredible people on this planet. Some are sitting right here.
So there I went. That day a soft drizzle was touching my skin as I 'Lara Croft' my way through the Aussie bush. It was beautiful. The whole space was silent. It was a vacuum silence. I could only hear my steps through the mud and stepping on the branches. Otherwise, deep, deep silence. I followed the path of the ancient trees that I could smell. And then I saw the lake, and I was like, "Yes, yes, yes, yes. It's here." I also was really well aware that this was a sacred site and that I was not there alone. I dropped down on my knees, and I put my hand barely touching the surface of the water. And I asked, "Can I come in?" Do you know what I heard back?
"No!" "Hey, like what do you mean, no? I'm so wet. I have leaves in my hair. I have branches in my hair, and I came here for my birthing ritual, and what?" Well, I did my next favorite thing. I got butt naked. I sat down by the bank of the lake by a tree, my root chakra tickled, and I started to take deep breaths. I took a breath into my vagina. If I was in a male body, I would take a breath into my testicles. Then I took a breath into my womb, into my belly, into my heart, into my throat, into my forehead, and my crown and back. And slowly, little by little, my body started to soften. I felt the support of the tree, and then I felt vibration rising up my body, bubbling up.
"Ooh, ooh," I sounded, and it was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard in my life. Waves of joy started to flood my body. Bliss and love. And every cell of my body was remembering. I was in these waves, receiving the song of my soul. And as I was enjoying myself, I heard the lake whisper, "Thank you for your offering. Now you can come in." So I did. I'm like, "Okay. Yes." Well, I jumped right in. It was this deep, so it wasn't much of a swimming party, but it definitely was a pleasure party. I dropped down. I covered myself in blood . . . blood too different time . . . with mud, blood only when bleeding, mud when I'm in the lake. And I danced, and then as I was leaving, just gently touching the surface of the water, I felt so much gratitude.
I walked out, and I was born again. On the way home, I remembered a story from Africa, from tribes in Africa, where women, when they are three months pregnant, they go and sit by a tree. And it is said that at that moment, the soul enters the body, the baby, and the woman sits by the tree until she receives the song of this baby of the soul. How amazing is that? And then she teaches that song to her husband, and together then they teach that song to the whole village. And when the baby is born, they sing that song to the baby. And whenever there's a celebration, they all together sing that song. And when that human, if ever steers off the path, they take him or her, with her in the middle or him human, and create a circle. And they sing that song for that human to remember again where they came from, where the home is.
Yeah. I was not born knowing or remembering my song. And the chances are, if you were born in any of the Western countries to a muggle family or into a muggle family, you were not reminded of your song either. I spent years searching. I have been to over seventy countries all around the world, searching for what? Love, freedom to fill in the holes of insecurities. For some, it might look like being in a job that they don't like or in a relationship, or it might simply feel like an imaginary eggshell that's around you. Right? Little did I know until then that I was searching for the orgasmic sound of my soul. And when I say orgasmic, what do I mean? Most of us were conceived by at least one orgasm. Hopefully, it was two. Yeah, exactly. So this vibration that we were conceived in, the orgasmic sound, is the sound that we can hear. And it carries with us along our life and along our journey. And it is very, very quiet deep within. Today I wonder what is the song that you want to sing?
As I appear before you, start to notice what impressions begin to form. What does my attire say about me? The sound of my voice, my stature, my skin color? My name is Nadine McNeil. I'm from Jamaica, where I lived until I was sixteen years old. In 1982 I headed off to Ontario, Canada - first time leaving Jamaica - where I would join a private all-girls Catholic school, Holy Name of Mary High School. There were 325 students. Three were black. Tracey, who was born in Canada, who ran track and field, myself, and my Caribbean sister Jackie from Grenada. And we got teased because we had this singsongy voice. Anyway, our fellow students would often ask us, "Did you live in a hut in Jamaica?" or "Did you wear grass skirts?" A couple of years later, I'm living in New York City. Anyone here from New York? Yeah.
So it's rush hour. I'm on the D train, and the train is packed, and we're all like this, and we're right up against each other. And I said something to the woman standing next to me, and she goes, "Bitch get off me. Go back to your country where you came on your banana boat." And I went, "Oh shit." Now what was interesting was that woman and I shared a skin color. So, then I began to understand what the term racialism means. Racialism is essentially a softer version of racism, but there are more nuances that are mixed up in it. And so began my story of internalizing, silencing stereotypes, labels, identity. This would continue throughout my life. And even when I worked at the United Nations, an organization whose premise is founded on equality and inclusion, I would meet these statements and these stereotypes and these limiting beliefs.
And then, when I would try to share with my colleagues my experience, I'd get about three responses. One would be, "Are you sure you heard correctly?" The other one would be, "Nah, that's not what they meant." The third one would be, "They must have been joking." So I was gaslit up the yin yang.
You know, coming from Jamaica - I'm an only child - I was raised by two married parents. And up until that point, moving to Canada and then New York, I identified with my high school where I lived. The values my parents instilled in me were study hard, work hard, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And for God's sakes, don't get pregnant out of wedlock.
So, here we are, 2020 living while black, and we're still having these conversations. There's a tendency to be uncomfortable about having the conversations, but how do we defy, dismantle the stereotypes without the conversations? Yes, I am a Black woman. Sometimes I'm angry. Other times I'm sad. My heart breaks that we're still having this conversation one hundred years after the abolition of slavery . . . or more.
So my call to action standing here before you is that we start to pause. Think about the labels that we identify ourselves with, the assumptions we make based on what people look like. Nadine McNeil educated in Canada, the United States, and Europe. My CV arrives across your desk. And then I come through the door. "Oh shit. How do I put these two things together?" This is what happens when we fall into the danger of a single story. A Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, talks about this. And she says the danger of the single story is not so much that it's inaccurate. It's the fact that it's incomplete. So we see someone, we make some decisions and assumptions about that person. We treat that person on that basis, and we've lost a whole opportunity to learn so much more.
My repeated experience, no matter where I've lived in the world, is that ultimately we all want to be seen, heard, and loved. Thank you very much.