From sinner to saint: My beginner’s mind


“Work was my compulsion; the admiration of others, my addiction. Taking back my life was a labor of love”

DATELINE, British Columbia: DAWN DANCING OTTER — I was raised a Christian. My family, for many generations (so far as I know) has been Christian of one denomination or another. When I was a child, I loved God with a child’s conviction. I was fairly certain that God was an old man, kind of an angry one, with a beard, who lived in the sky. I would pray to the old man every night and sometimes all day long. . . please help me, I feel alone, God.

I wanted God’s approval SO badly. There was literally no way to receive it, though, because I was told I was already a sinner. The thing is, I just really didn’t want to be a sinner. It hurt me so badly that God saw me that way. The default position was that I was a bad girl, incapable of improving if I followed my own heart.

In fact, according to many ministers and Christian teachers, my heart was flawed, so I would follow it to my certain demise. All the while, my parents, my teachers, my ministers would be saying ‘you should know better than that’. I wanted everyone to see that I didn’t always know better. . . I didn’t mean to sin. I wanted to be found innocent.

Curiously, at the same time as I had experienced this very stoic Christian upbringing, I was organically experiencing the nurturing of a ‘family’ of spirit guides. There were nine of them, women and men, who spoke to me in various languages all of which I, curiously, understood. I believe I have known them for many lifetimes.

In my young life, I found socializing really painful. I felt extremely vulnerable to criticism, and I would invariably cry if I had to face anyone with any sort of intensity. My spirit guide ‘family’ would absorb my anxiety and fill me with positivity. I was extremely aware that this spirit guide family was in contradiction to what I had learned in church. I hid it as effectively as I could, knowing I would be rejected — and likely disciplined, if discovered.

I would often lose hours talking to my guides. It seems interesting to me now that at that time in my life I used to talk to them as though I was speaking to tangible people. They would tell me how loved I was, how beautiful I was, how innocent I was, and I drank it in like mother’s milk.


As I grew, I found it ever increasingly difficult to relate to other people and children. I had friendships, but like me, my friends were clinging to our relationship for fear of being totally alone in our rejection. These friendships were tenuous, at best.

In a moment, should someone of higher social value give approval to one of my friends, I was immediately expendable.

The fragility of ‘friendship’ terrified me, and I would retreat to my ‘family’ more and more often. I was starting to wish that I could be ‘with’ them permanently.

When I was nine, I begged my spirit guides to take me ‘home’. I was only peripherally aware that ‘home’ meant ‘not physically alive’. I remember standing in the river behind an empty lot in our neighborhood pleading to the grandmother figure in my family of spirits, ‘Boadicea’:

“Please. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take this anymore. No one understands me. I can’t be this person that they want me to be, I don’t want to be a sinner anymore”.

The next morning, I had been left by my spirit family. The trauma of this had left me rather numb to the events. I fragmented enough over the proceeding few weeks that I almost forgot about them completely until my re-awakening several years later.

After that crucial and life-altering moment, it became ultimately important to me that I be ‘liked’ by everyone. I wanted to be friends with every person I met from then on. More than mere friendship, I wanted everyone’s admiration, loyalty, and confidence. It never occurred to me at the time how much energy this pursuit would require of me.

I constructed very elaborate mask of personality to convince my ‘friends’ that I was utterly cool, unquestionably gifted, and worthy of their undivided attention. Of course, I was under these masks the whole time, petrified of being exposed.

What I find interesting is that all of the things in life that I have chosen to do have required me to be intrinsically engaged with many others, physically, intellectually, and artistically. I danced, I taught, I became a massage therapist, I got married, I had children.


I continually put myself into the precarious position of ‘being exposed’ every day, even though it was perhaps my greatest fear, right along with those huge fears of rejection and abandonment. I would work myself until exhaustion just trying to win the esteem of others (which of course was an impossible goal, as I never believed it when anyone genuinely appreciated me, or my work, anyway).

Eventually I just got sick. My body stopped working the way I demanded it to work.

Work was my compulsion; the admiration of others, my addiction.

I was afraid to stop, afraid of what the wounded part of myself feared might be left over. . . the nothing behind the mask. I got so sick that it was either ‘give up’ my life, or to finally, ‘take it back’.

Taking back my life has been a labour of love since that very moment.


It started with no other option than to give myself ‘APPROVAL’. What that mean’t/means to me is that no matter what I chose to say or do, that there was nothing I could irreversibly mess up. I gave myself permission to make mistakes, to be wrong, to be ignorant, to be an amateur, to have a beginner’s mind. Along with this, I gave myself permission to say “I am sorry, please forgive me” whenever I felt I had been mistaken. I rediscovered my innocent heart.

Thus began my path of learning. It was okay, from that point on, that I didn’t have the answers. It only mattered that I was unafraid to ask the questions. Suddenly, my teachers were everywhere. Giving MYSELF approval felt more satisfying than asking anyone or any’thing’ else for approval. It is kind of funny and ironic to me that I had to be dragged into that way of being, kicking and screaming, sick and heartbroken.

Giving myself approval was the first stage to welcoming love and forgiveness into my heart. Like water, love has continued to dissolve all of those bitter crystals of fear and resentment. Approval was the open door that I walked through to meet my higher self and to welcome Divine Light into a ‘worthy’ heart.

Approval has also taught me the crucial lessons of responsibility and integrity, as now that I have given myself the approval I need to learn, I must step up to taking responsibility for applying those lessons to my choices in life as I co-create this reality.

I have realized I am both a saint and a sinner, and I approve of it all.

Dawn is a shamanic practitioner and teacher from Penticton, BC. She’s a dancer, choreographer, artist, massage therapist and dance/yoga and pilates facilitator (the latter at the Banff Centre for the Arts). Find out more about this inspiring woman at

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21 Responses to “From sinner to saint: My beginner’s mind”

  1. What a journey you’ve been on Dawn. Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m just wondering (and I’m not trying to be funny here – for a change) but what is the difference between spirit guides and the “invisible friends” that some children have when they are growing up. Has anyone done any research on this? Are they the same thing? Because in that case I had a spirit guide too! Which I think is cool!

  2. Namaste, Richard
    That’s a good question. I can only say that it is likely…but I couldn’t be definitive. A spirit guide does that, though, guides us, educates us, offers help, so if that’s the experience you had, I would say, chances are.
    Big Love,

  3. Terrific article – kudos on getting published!

  4. The grounded detail and naturalism of your writing, as well as the universality of the condition you describe, make me want to read a book’s-worth of your story. Everyone can relate to this. Have you ever thought of doing a book? Your phrase, “My Beginner’s Mind,” would make a great title!

  5. Awesome, Dawn!! Wonderful article! ((HUG)) I signed up for the soulscode wire. Maybe I’ll contribute sometime too!! I write too much… always looking for ways to share. :D

  6. WOW! Great piece, so many powerful statements. “I wanted to be found innocent.” I could relate to this statement.

    I loved how you explored what you named the “fragility of friendship”. Very well done!!

    Namaste, Jonina

  7. Spirit guides are not a part of Christian belief. And many seemingly benevolent spirits are absolutely not of God and aren’t out to do you any favors.

    Here is the beginning of the fundamental problem with her foundation. It is wrong.

    “I wanted God’s approval SO badly. There was literally no way to receive it, though, because I was told I was already a sinner.//

    Bzzz wrong answer! Its called the blood of Christ. It cleanses us of our sins. God already loves us that is why he sent His Son Jesus of Nazareth to die for us as the perfect sacrifice. John 3:16 by the way for folks who want the scripture chapter and verse. So we’re already accepted through the Blood of Christ, we’re cool with God now is another way to look at it..

    //The thing is, I just really didn’t want to be a sinner.// Well that is just the human condition.

    // It hurt me so badly that God saw me that way. The default position was that I was a bad girl, incapable of improving if I followed my own heart.//

    Again, bzzz wrong answer. God sees us as His creation and he loves us dearly. And when washed in the blood of Christ, He sees us without blemish. Not as bad girl, bad boy. But as creations He loves dearly. Can one improve on being a sinner by following their heart? No, but they can if they have a heart for God and follow the Holy Spirit.

    //In fact, according to many ministers and Christian teachers, my heart was flawed, so I would follow it to my certain demise. All the while, my parents, my teachers, my ministers would be saying ‘you should know better than that’. I wanted everyone to see that I didn’t always know better. . . I didn’t mean to sin. I wanted to be found innocent.//

    Well gee, to be found innocent, accept Jesus as your lord and savior, pray for the forgiveness of your sins and live for Christ. Seems simple enough.

    //Curiously, at the same time as I had experienced this very stoic Christian upbringing, I was organically experiencing the nurturing of a ‘family’ of spirit guides. There were nine of them, women and men, who spoke to me in various languages all of which I, curiously, understood. I believe I have known them for many lifetimes.

    //And now we jump ship entirely from Christian beliefs. Hmm… I wonder why we are told to build our house on a rock and not on the sand. Here is a perfect example! Incorrect Christian doctrine or doctrine being presented incorrectly led this person to believe that she was always going to suck in the eyes of God. Stoic denotes a lack of love, which we are called greatly to be with each other and so some very smart and opportunistic “spirits” show up and give her the nurturing that she should have been getting from the church and from her parents! No doubt that if these spirits were real that they are fallen angels, not benevolent in the slightest.

    I’m not going to go blow by blow any more. But I am saying that this person was led astray because of building their house of faith on the wrong foundations. And this allowed the demons (fallen angels) to take on a benevolent sheepskin to hide their wolf motives.

  8. Thank you for your post, David.
    It’s interesting that you are in conflict with something I have written about and shared because I had experienced it organically, and your responses have nothing to do with your own experiences, but a typical defensive group think position. This might be out of line, but I would have love to hear about what you have experienced yourself, and then perhaps we are invited onto the same ground to have a discussion. That, to me, is a much more loving approach than to sit and say “wrong, wrong, wrong”. I don’t really care what you believe, it isn’t my place to question it, remember, however, that they are your beliefs, just as mine are my own.

  9. Both Karen Armstrong in her many profound books on religion and Elaine Pagels in her many books, including “Beyond Belief” point out that “Belief” didn’t originally have to do with thinking something was true but in loving an experiential truth. Whether Jesus died on the cross for my sins or not, the important “belief” is the experience of forgiveness which happens from a shift within in understanding the nature of the divine all-loving mystery. Belief as a thought process developed quite late in the history of Christianity. St. Paul, as he reports in his epistles experienced the “uncovering”, revealing of Christ “in me”. It was an experiencial event. Faith is actually more correctly translated from the Greek (and Hebrew) as Trust not Belief

    This probably throws some (possible) light on the question of Spirit Guides also. Perhaps they are not actually external beings although we experience them that way, but rather then uncovering of deeper wisdom which is already within us. I always refer to Moses encounter with YHWH at the burning bush, where Moses asks “Who am I?” and YHWH responds “I will be with you.” I think spirit guides are deep “nudges of the spirit”, actually revelations of deeper wisdom from with, or from that promised and defining “presence” of the divine mystery.

    And, as David, above, correctly points out, we must, as St. Paul reflects, distinguish spirits, because that wisdom within us competes with our own ego projections, and other “energy fields”. Even our desire to hold onto “right beliefs” belies the fear of trusting the deeper mystery.

  10. Response #7 from David disturbs me. I will not say he is “wrong” but it did feel a bit like an attack on this very innocent sharing of a brave souls very real experience with guides.

    I receive guidance regularly. They never steer me wrong and if I listen life is made easier for me and those around me. My guides are gentle beings with a sense of humour. They often laugh at my silly attempts at remaining in control. They never tire of my requests for confirmation that I understood correctly what they have just told me. They are kind, patient and never critical of those around me.

    The #9 response from the other David indicates that one must be discerning about “guides and/or guidance” and this is very true. I believe innocence lives in the part of us that is ego free, the part that has no agendas, the part that surrenders to spirit. It is untouchable, cannot be tainted but can become covered up by our “beliefs” about ourselves and the world. I find that time alone, prayer, meditation and contemplation allow me to surrender more easily. It is from this place that I receive the best guidance.


  11. Len Van Den Berg Reply 09. Jan, 2009 at 7:47 am

    The Book “Awakening Your Soul” is a really good study of our spiritual nature, how the church over the centuries stripped this spiritual nature away from us, and how to go about to restore us to this spiritual nature that is within us.

    Sadly the Church path is a deception, invented to keep us AWAY from this spiritual path, and from entering the Kingdom.

    Jesus teaches one thing, Paul teaches another. Church follows the teachings of Paul, which is accept that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved.

    Jesus teaches “Accept that CHRIST, the anointed One within you is Lord. You can only connect to the anointed One within you by entering the Kingdom, and THEN you will be saved”.

  12. Jesus and Mary Magdalene are actually 2 of my spirit guides…
    I agree utterly that awareness – Christ Consciousness- is an inner process. I found that the church emphasized the actions instead of the inward growth process, and that there was a presumed ‘right’ outcome, as though ‘I’ was an unimportant part of that process so long as I agreed to act and speak the words I had learned.
    As a facilitator, I have experienced that by backing away and allowing participants to take in material, process it, and then educate me on the possibilities of the alchemical response…this to me gives approval for growth and actually nurtures it. I have literally never felt that same nurturing process in a church.
    It is my inward feeling that within my church experiences, I witnessed the objectification of God and Jesus. This process actually left me feeling completely distanced from both. I had to go away from the religion before I could re-engage even the names, because until about 10 years ago, I would have a viscerally negative reaction to the word ‘Jesus’.
    Then I ‘met’ Jesus, together with Mary Magdalene on a journey.
    I have to laugh…I left Christianity only to find Christ within myself.
    Thank you for witnessing me.
    Big Love,

  13. Thank you Dawn for your courage in opening yourself up and revealing your personal journey to self realization and self acceptance. I relate to a lot of what you say about the church’s teachings re sin as I grew up a Catholic. I found the guilt instilled in me by the church very difficult to let go of and it took many years to see myself as sinless and a worthwhile human being. I wasn’t as fortunate as you were Dawn to have spirit guides show themselves to me, but I recall drawing a purple garden when I was a child, or thought I drew it, I don’t really know, that means a lot to me. I don’t know where this “memory” comes from or what it means. Later, because I rejected the teachings of organized religion, I started searching for alternative spiritual salves to my psychological wounds. I was led like you to Shamanism and to the Tarot and through the Tarot to Jung’s archetypes and art. I found my healing spirits in Shamanic journeys and was able to find solutions to challenges in life via the Tarot. As I continued this work for myself and for others I began receiving help from the spirit world. At the same time I started reading about Buddhism, practising yoga and learning to meditate. My journey continues with Past Life Regressions and journeys and regular meditation to the Akashic records to find answers and to release past karmas.

    I was afraid to reveal these things fully before, but Dawn you gave me the courage to do so. I agree with you that every person can find his/her own spiritual answers and beliefs without a church dictating their constricted beliefs to us. I believe that we were given free choice by a loving Divine Presence some people call God which the church unfortunately tries to take away from us. If some people who see Christ’s teachings in such confined way read such books as “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle and “The New Christ” by Deepak Chopra, they would see that Jesus and other prophets taught the same thing, not sin and salvation but love and forgiveness. Only the church has twisted these pure teachings to make people co dependent and support the institution as the only road to salvation.

    As I continue to travel on this journey, and continue to seek answers to who I really am inside this human form, I am finding more and more that spirituality is everywhere, in Nature, in Art, in Music, in Dance, everywhere where love and connection to spirit exists.

  14. Dancing Dawn – I just read a quote that made me think of you –

    “a true warrior cuts through their “story” and steps forth from their vision” – Tom Crum.

    Bravo to you for sharing your journey! You are an inspiration!


  15. For spiritual awakening, we bypass this word “belief” … including your own and others. Over a lifetime, we have acquired soooo many mental concepts, ideas and beliefs. For awakening, we totally empty the basket!

    We start looking within ourselves and whatever we meet, whether spirit guides or some other, we start noticing whether it is true for you right now.

    I might point out that there are many let gos and new, radical realizations. I do not really know where you are on this pathless path right now, but as you are watching within, if you have a question, clarification or confirmation of your direct experience, I am here to help.

    All Love ~ Katie Davis, Author, Awake Joy

  16. It was uplifting to read someone’s journey.

    It has made me think of my child hood and unfortunately I have no recollection of being aware of any spirit guides around me.

    The only experience with guides came about around 6 years ago when I attended a North American Indian drumming and dance workshop. We were guided through a meditation to find our animal spirit guide. It was a beautiful experience, and when I think about it, it makes me smile. My animal spirit guide is a beautiful, brown stallion. I learned a lot from that experience.

  17. I always find it enlightening that many people can read the same piece of writing and reveal their own inner process by keying in on a single word or concept. For me, when I notice this happening, I know that the sensitivity to/of that particular word or concept is my own lesson, battle, and peace to receive, and I remember that gratitude for the lesson is key to receiving it. I am far more interested in truth than I am in being ‘right’. So, Kate and David, thank you for pointing out the word ‘belief’.
    In inquiry, when I hold the word ‘belief’ in my heart, to me, it simply describes the structural course content of my present life lessons. When a belief proves itself outdated/irrelevant/unfounded, it becomes a subject of inquiry and deletion. I am grateful that I have had beliefs because I made choices in life that have brought me exactly to this point.
    I believe and dance in the truth that we are all one in the matrix of the Universal Mind.
    I believe and dance in the truth that we are all more powerful than we can imagine.
    I believe and dance in the truth that we are all contributing to the Collective Intelligence.
    I believe we are all in this together.
    I believe in Me, I believe in You.
    I believe in Love.

  18. Christina Resell Reply 17. Jan, 2009 at 9:47 am

    yes I have several as a matter of fact…

    I have one male and one female that often is with me – female always walk to my left and the male on the right :) We chat quite often… and they are always around.

    Then I have one man who asked if he was allowed to help me when I got attuned to Reiki. He helps me a lot, and often acctually heals me. He is huge :) and have huge hands :) He is teaching me a lot… and often guides me while healing…

    Then I have others who come and go – one indian man who always kiss me on the cheek :) when i arrives :)

    Lots of love Cxxx

  19. Hi Dawn,

    reading your story has made me realise I do have the time to think, thankyou!!


  20. My mother was certifiably schizophrenic and she had several “spirit guides” = but she actually “became” them and spoke in voices. I’m Jewish so I don’t believe in Jesus or the Holy Sacraments. No blood is going to wash away my sins but I am unashamed. 20+ years in therapy have lifted me to a higher plain where I can forgive myself and find my own self admiration. Blessed Be Dr. Sam!
    But nothing can prepare us for circumstances beyond our control that are life altering and cause us to think evil thoughts and consider evil deeds~


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