«Return to Blog List My Soul-Friend & Teacher Ioanna Salajan
In early 2009, I received an inner prompting to travel to the island of Mallorca in Spain to spend ten days with my friend and teacher Ioanna. I sensed that time was of the essence. We hadn’t seen each other in person for twenty years. During that visit the depth and sweetness of our connection blossomed into a profound healing for us both. I was also able to give back to Ioanna, in the form of some deep inner work together, a little bit of what I’d received from her so many years earlier. It was a gift from the universe, that visit.
Two years later, Ioanna died in her sleep on February 25, 2011 at a hospital in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I’d emailed her to arrange one of our Skype calls a few weeks earlier and she emailed me back just a few words, saying she was very ill, couldn’t speak and to please “enjoy your youth.” My heart hurt at the abruptness of the message, but more so at the finality of the message. I wrote what follows when I received the message that she had died.
[Note: This article originally appeared in my blog (currently under renovation) in 2013.]
Ioanna was the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I met her when I attended one of her week-long retreats while I was living in Ibiza in my late twenties. She saw me. What I thought was freakish and neurotic in myself (e.g., my second-sight, emotional hypersensitivity and having visitations from spirits), she saw as my not-yet-developed gifts of healing. She invited me to become apprenticed to her, so that she could transmit her knowledge to me. “In exchange for what?” I asked her. I barely had enough money to keep myself fed at that time. “In exchange for you teaching me how to drive a car,” she replied. Ioanna was in her mid-forties and had developed a phobia about driving. We were perfect for each other. If there was one thing I knew I could do, it was how to drive a car and I was confident I could make these driving lessons into an adventure. The first assignment I gave her was to sleep with her car keys (her then-partner’s car keys) under her pillow and to talk to the spirit of the car keys about the friendship she wished to enjoy with them. We were off to a good start.
Her first assignment for me: to spend an evening, in the dark of the moon, out amongst the pine trees and rosemary in a wild part of the island, by myself and without a flashlight. My phobia was about darkness, being alone in the wildness of nature, feeling exposed to the elements (all reflections of my fear of my inner self). Ioanna had my number.
Ioanna taught me, mentored me, guided me toward becoming who I am today. She was a mother to my soul in a way that I’d longed for, and in a way that hadn’t worked so easily with my own mother. I don’t say that with bitterness toward my own mother, but sometimes it takes someone far from home to embrace us with a non-obligatory and spiritual kind of love.
She always had a new book for me to read—Dion Fortune, Joan Grant, Alice Bailey, Rudolf Steiner, Edward Bach, Roberto Assagioli, astrology, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism—and then we had in-depth discussions afterward. She fed me new ideas, challenging me (annoying me!) about my pretenses, my “persona.” She wasn’t a soft, fluffy teacher. She pushed me to be real and to break through my ego-boundaries to have a glimpse of the vastness of my true nature.
During the five years of my apprenticeship with her, we painted together, we meditated, we drew people’s chakra-systems together, we explored non-ordinary reality constantly. We walked together among the ancient, terraced hills and meadows in Ibiza, calling gently for the fairies and nature spirits hiding among the olive and carob trees. We rang the twinkling little fairy bells she’d bought for us in Holland to beckon the magical ones to speak with us.
One time, Ioanna’s ex-husband Richard was visiting from the U.S. Watching Ioanna and me interact in our intensely creative, sometimes breathless repartee, he told us he was going to do our astrological synastry chart (combining Ioanna’s and my charts together). A day or two later, when he presented us with the chart—our grand squares and trines highlighted in bright colors — he announced dramatically: “Damn. The two of you could either plan a murder or start a new religion.” Well, Ioanna and I already knew that!
When I went through a period of despair and depression from childhood issues after my son Daniel’s difficult birth, she distanced herself a bit from me. I remember feeling let down that she planned a trip to Holland the week of my due-date. I now understand that she’d spent so much time—traumatic time—in hospitals (she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and miraculously went into remission just before I first met her), and with her own bouts of depression, that to watch me suffering in similar ways was simply too much.
Still, after Daniel was born, we continued our explorations. When I moved back to the U.S. to be with my father after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Ioanna came to visit us in Maryland. She and I taught several workshops together, which some of my clients remember fondly to this day. Life was graduating me from my apprenticeship with her.
I have a thousand memories of those blessed and magical years. Why is it that we can be living in the middle of a fairy tale, in the midst of a miracle, and not fully realize it? Even today, there are moments when I recognize that a particular inflection in my voice is just like hers, or a facial expression, a turn of phrase—just like hers.
I learned how to teach a workshop from Ioanna, not so much the specific content, but how to hold space in a gentle, conscious, and contained way, so that the Great Mystery may be present.
To be with Ioanna was to be handed a menu of magical and mystical possibilities. She was intimately familiar with so many other dimensions and with so many universes. She painted them, she wrote about them. She communed with them. All this was going on in that diminutive and often frail body.
We laughed hard together—the kind of laughter that has you saying “Oh, my God; Oh, my God!” while you’re gasping for the next breath, laughter so riotous that tears came to your eyes and you have to catch your breath. One time Ioanna said something to me that sent us both into gales of hysterical laughter, because, at the time, it was so true. “You and I,” she said, “are the only people I know who live in a perpetual state of embarrassment!” It’s true, we were both tough and self-assured on the outside, vulnerable and young on the inside.
In a fortuitous synchronicity, my son Daniel and his life-partner Mara were in Madrid during one of Ioanna’s last visits to the Spanish mainland in 2008. The three of them enjoyed an instant rapport and mutual love and respect. Daniel was deeply affected by the news of her death: “I had so much more to learn from her,” he said.
Ioanna, my ancient friend, my soul-mother, my cosmic friend and sister, you were a blessed spark of magic and wisdom on this planet. You touched me with your holy magic and your divine mind. You were wired into the cosmos. You had a direct phone line to Source. You forever altered the path of my destiny on his planet.
I hope to see you again someday. There are many more universes to explore together.
I imagine a time, somewhere beyond time, where all of us who knew you and loved you will gather and sit together with you once again, the sound of your meditation bells guiding us to go deeper, deeper, and deeper into inner space.
I love you. I thank you. Peace. My beloved friend.