Essay: kenna totty

Essay: kenna totty

On Urges, Transformation, and Transcendence

As an impulsive person, I’ve frequently found myself in situations without much awareness as to how I arrived in them. Predisposed to impetuousness, the death of my mother in 2013 unscrewed the lid on my facilities for deliberation, and I found myself, more than ever before, following whatever urges I had, for better or worse, without a second’s hesitation. Reflecting on those years - exciting, precarious times of abundance that saw me come acutely alive - I cannot feel regret. But I also feel no inclination to return to the days of saying only yes. 

I believe now that we possess a multitude of urges - from the ones that saw me reveling until dawn on many a less-than-sober night, to the ones that buoy us to our families and incite us to friendship, to the ones that key us in to our journeys on this planet - the ones that, with practice, can awaken us to our respective purposes in this life. It is this last class of urges that interests me now. What a gift, that with the right tools, a degree of commitment, and an open heart (and mind), the universe sends us these signposts - that we can overcome our myriad doubts and flourish, simply by, as the saying goes, going with our guts.

While the form this journey takes is naturally different for everyone, I first followed what I shall deem my spirit urges in 2015. In the grips of an eating disorder and in a relationship that had outrun its natural course, I found myself unhealthy, uninspired, and apathetic to life itself. I had begun a program to earn an international certificate to teach English as a second language and lasted two days before debilitating fatigue and fainting spells compelled me to withdraw. What ensued was a summer of rest and medical appointments that rather than revitalizing and rejuvenating me, seemed to only solidify my identity as an invalid. Frustrated with this dilemma which I perceived as out of my control, I researched my options for restarting the certificate program. (I’d already paid for it, so my lingering sense of practicality obliged me to complete it, and since my health issues seemed perpetual, I figured it was time to get my money’s worth.) I discovered that the courses in my location were booked for the rest of the year but that there were openings in various other cities across the United States. Browsing my options, I felt an inexplicable urge to attend the course in the one city I had not yet visited, Boston. 

I departed Atlanta with a one-way ticket, a month-long sublet, and no future plans, and discovered a city that provided me with thrilling new adventures and connected me with lifelong friends from across the globe. I thrived in a setting that I entered knowing nobody, discovering the value of a smile and a friendly word, as well as a resilience I had not previously recognized. It was as if I had pushed the reset button on my life.

But even as I regained my regard for life and developed relationships with several kindred spirits, an unchecked eating disorder is a ticking time bomb (and yes, this trope is the only expression adequate to convey its deadly power), and six months of hard partying and moving from one month-long sublet to the next, sometimes without knowing where I would be living the very next day, eventually caught up to me. Broken and sure that overcoming my eating disorder was impossible, I felt another spirit urge - this time calling me back to my home in Georgia, to seek treatment and regain balance. Not having anywhere to go, my ex-boyfriend’s family graciously opened their doors to me, and I connected with a therapist who, over the past three years, has not only helped me transcend my eating disorder but showed me how to love myself as fiercely as I had previously reserved only for others.

As the symptoms of my eating disorder abated, I received an outpouring of encouragement to, in others’ words, “return to my real life.” I had earned my teaching certificate and had always wanted to travel - why not finally go teach? Or as someone who loves learning, was not higher education an option? Why waste my best years living on pause in a place I did not feel called to remain the rest of my life? Yet again, my intuition continued to urge me to stay, an urge I often felt uncomfortable with, that I questioned, doubted, and could not, at the time, understand. Through all of my doubts, though, I remained committed to therapy and also began meeting with a yogi to commence healing on an energetic level. With time, I was grateful to find that my spirit urge had not led me astray, for as I stayed with my ex’s family, I gained a family of my own. Working through the wounds of my mother’s death, I discovered that I could access her spirit by developing my relationship with the teenager of the house, that together, we could honor my mom by learning to laugh through the highs and lows of life and by taking joy in the little things.

And finally, last month, the universe once again urged me in a new direction. Hearing of a couple’s experience with ayahuasca - something that had interested me for the past ten years but that I had never gathered the energy to pursue - I felt pulled to Peru to participate in an ayahuasca retreat. Looking online, I discovered a youtube video interviewing a shaman outside of Iquitos, the so-called capital of ayahuasca. Hearing the shaman speak, I felt a wave of peace envelop my body, and without much thought, I booked the only open spot at the next available retreat. As any of the accounts will describe, welcoming Mother Ayahuasca into your body is an experience beautiful, transcendent, yet largely ineffable. Personally, I felt her open my chakras, cleanse my impurities, and transport me to a realm without borders, a realm I can only describe as within infinity. No longer was I a singular entity, instead feeling the interconnectedness of the world around me, dynamic, living and breathing, an organism I was - and am - blessed to be a part of. 

I know I will always carry my ayahuasca experience with me. I understand now that that decade of inaction was a time of preparation that I needed. Though ayahuasca heals us no matter the stage in our journeys, for me, receiving her after reckoning with my traumas allowed me to transcend my past and enjoy a loving present I realize now that, with dedication and consistency, I can tap into at any time. I am still assimilating my experience and know that more lessons are imminent, but presently, I feel called to share my story, and, in doing so, hopefully encourage others to trust in their own intuitive paths. Looking forward, I am taking things as they come, remaining open to opportunities that may arise but focusing largely on the present. Perhaps I will feel called to work with ayahuasca again. Perhaps not. I am content to wait for the urge.


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about the writer: kenna totty

Kenna Totty lives in Statham, Georgia, with her two adoptive sisters and their Great Dane.  She devotes her free time to traveling, reading, writing, practicing piano, and walking in the woods.  Kenna believes in the value of a smile and the healing power of fresh air


Photography: wendy stein

Photography: wendy stein

Poem: darcy luetzow staddon

Poem: darcy luetzow staddon