Month: September 2020


In addition to the morning pages and artist’s dates were weekly readings and exercises.  New doors were pried open as I explored thoughts and feelings I had never questioned – or even been aware of – before.  Amazingly, Julia seemed to know exactly what I needed and when!  At the time I often felt as if she were reading my mind!  I am now certain this was not by accident, but rather from skillful knowledge of and experience with the process.

Anger was one of the first responses released from the vault I guarded so well.  Anger was familiar.  I had watched anger erupt on a daily basis from as far back as I could remember – until I left my childhood home.  Anger had learned to dance with fear.  Fear of making my father mad, fear of disapproval, fear of expressing my real thoughts and feelings, fear of not being good enough to be loved – or maybe even liked.  And the greatest fear of all was fear that the roar of my own anger would break past the steel walls it was locked away in. 

Then there it was, in capital letters on the first page of week three – Recovering a Sense of Power: “ANGER IS FUEL.  We feel it and we want to do something…But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it…..  anger is meant to be listened to…anger is a map… shows us what our boundaries are… use anger as fuel to take the action we need to move where (it) points us…anger is the tool, not the master…not the action itself… action’s invitation.”   I accepted the invitation and started allowing small bits of ancient anger to creep onto the morning pages.  Facing the monsters head on, even for just a sentence or two, deflated the fear.  Then curiosity bubbled and I explored with a newly opened eyes.     

 Sometimes I flew from the pages into action.  Action felt good, and I craved the breeze it brought to stale corners of my life.  Other times progress seemed buried under boulders, or my feet felt stuck in mud up to my knees.  Patience wore thin quickly, threatening a slow suffocation of all I had gained.   Then a reading on growth appeared: “Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward, one step back… Growth occurs in spurts.  You will lie dormant sometimes… Think of it as resting.”  Resting? Who has time to rest?  But beyond my denial of the truth in those words, the strained sensation of needing immediate action began to slacken, like the loosening of a noose that strangled my ability to relax.

 I had left my job of 17 years a few months earlier.  Guilt about not contributing to the household income caused self-esteem to dip below already dangerously low levels.   Ron and I had come up with a plan on how to handle the loss of my salary prior to my leaving.   But my own need to justify my time use by defining and completing valid activities, made ‘free time’ feel more like a curse than a gift.  I was desperate to find other professional work – more to maintain my value as a person then for the value of a paycheck!   I felt lost without definition to my days, and without definition of who I was without work at the core.  I kept exploring through writing and reading the lessons.  One day the following sentence appeared in chapter five:  “Recovery is the process of finding the river and saying yes to its flow, rapids and all… pry ourselves loose from our old self-concepts and find that our new, emerging self may enjoy all sorts of bizarre adventures… this newly positive attitude is the beginning of trust.”   I realized I was struggling through choppy waters, looking for the flow, looking for that emerging self.  Trust was one of those rapids.  Trust in others, but even more so, trust in myself – in my basic worth.   I started allowing myself to feel bits of appreciation for unstructured time, to savor the freedom and trust that another job/adventure would find its way to the surface soon.

A Door Opens

I never took the time to write down my thoughts in a journal – or anywhere else.  They lived an active life in my head, twirling around like a majorette’s baton.  Sometimes they flowed like a choreographed routine.   Other times they crashed to the ground as they twisted and tumbled into each other.  Writing was viewed as an English class skill used as needed to complete a term paper for school or a report for work.  Then the book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron, was recommended by a friend.  I almost didn’t buy it – I was no artist and did not consider myself a spiritual person, so why did I need this book?  But after a skim through in the book store, curiosity prompted me to take a small leap that would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. 

It was a 12 week program.  I took about twice that long to complete it.  But complete it I did – reading every page and sidebar quote and completing every exercise at the end of the chapters.  The basic tools: morning pages and artist’s dates, were added to my to do list.  I wrote the mandatory morning pages at least nine out of every ten days.  The three longhand stream-of-consciousness pages contained everything that popped into my head, no matter how petty, silly or stupid it felt – and no one else was allowed to read them.  The mundane typically initiated the pages, including list after list of what I hoped to accomplish.  Time seemed to be the main ingredient in a cocktail of complaints – never enough time to get the necessities done, much less fit in self –care or creative pursuits.  It became clearer and clearer that though time was a real issue – with work, two busy teenagers, and a large house and yard to care for – it was also a convenient excuse.  As the same unfinished project appeared on list after list, procrastination crept into view.  I conveniently let it slide by without much attention.  But as I continued the morning pages evidence grew, until one day my resistance to moving forward glared at me with accusing eyes.  Did I really just write that on the list again?  Who was I kidding?!   

I also seemed to be forever writing about cleaning, organizing, and clearing out.  But the cleaning never reached an end point and the mess continued to grow no matter what I did.  The state of my home kept my door closed to unplanned visits, with an underlying fear that someone would knock unexpectedly and become witness to… what?  The mess ???  (no more than most other homes I had been in and a good deal less than some).  The dirty floors, counters, refrigerator, bathroom??? (maybe not pristine but nothing to threaten anyone’s health either!)   Furniture, design or decor that were not good enough? (maybe not the latest trend, but put together with thought and effort.) Or was it something less obvious; cleaning as an attempt to bring some order and clarity to the disorder in my relationship with Ron?  Or was it me that was not good enough or clean enough to pass inspection? 

Resentments and agitations were hot topics on the pages while joy and happiness were rare visitors.  But writing repetitive gripes down on paper gave them a place to land, taking them out of the orbit of my spinning thoughts – at least temporarily.  I kept writing, despite the desire to just chuck it all and get back to other things.  Who had time for all this silly self-examination anyway?   But then, just as resistance was about to edge out persistence, something unexpected would spill out of my pen.  Sometimes it was just an odd thought that I wasn’t aware of having harbored.  Sometimes it was a new idea lodged between a list and an annoyance.  Sometimes a few words led to a few more, and interesting paragraphs glided across the page. The pages recorded.  The pages focused. The pages revealed. 

Artist dates were a different story.  The block of time I was asked to set aside each week to nurture my creative consciousness felt like just one more unachievable task.  Then one day I saw Julia on a morning show talking about the dates: “They should be festive and fun… the purpose is to be inspired.”  I had missed this part of the description somewhere along the way, so I tried harder to keep the date with myself each week.  But coming up with things to do was a challenge.  One day I simply went for a walk and picked up brilliantly colored leaves, then photocopied them in various arrangements.  It made me smile.  I used one as a card to a friend going through a divorce with some words about endings, colors, and preparing for new beginnings.  I did feel inspired, and realized it might be simpler than I thought, maybe not such a chore after all!   I sometimes let my gaze drift as I listened to nature’s music on walks in the woods.  I played with water colors with no particular goal.  I watched people passing as I sat in the mall.  I went to garage sales keeping an eye open for small treasures – like the glass lemon squeezer that reminded me of the one my mother used when making dad’s favorite lemon meringue pie.  The dates became as exciting and desirable as Saturday night escapades had been decades earlier.   And I discovered that I often enjoyed my own company more!


We often worked in small groups to practice the techniques we were being taught – in the roles of both teacher and student.  During one such session one of the participants took on a teacher’s role and was particularly critical of my inability to go deeply into certain poses, especially those requiring that ill fated flexibility.   Initially I felt like a failure, knowing I could never meet the expectations being placed on me.  But then I began to realize the failure was not my own, but of the expectations that did not allow for my individual variations – especially from someone training to be a teacher using the philosophies of this particular program!  The memory of that experience returned often in the years that followed, and I hoped that that participant had come to understand that yoga is an individual practice that looks different for each student – and felt sorry for her students if she had not!  It left me with a sense of greater compassion, not only for my future students but for people in general, and the different skills we each have possess.  I realized how important this experience was in my learning process and felt grateful, once again, for an unexpected lesson

One evening, the group gathered for entertainment provided by some of the full time residents at the Ashram.  A small group sang as one person played an instrument I had never seen or heard before – a harmonium – an instrument with a keyboard and a bellows that drove air across a series of reeds.  The words and rhythms were unfamiliar, but felt lively yet soothing at the same time.  At one point a kind of call and response began, known as Kirtan.  The singers sang and the audience echoed.  My habitual resistance to singing in public, outside of a rare ‘Happy Birthday’, caused me to hesitate to join in.   But as the voices rose around me I began to softly follow the chant.  The meditative rhythm and growing sense of belonging and joy raised my volume and closed my eyes.  The song went on and on as the room filled with vibration that became a single voice.  At one point I felt the front of my throat peeling open, like the petals of a blossoming flower.  The eerie physical sensation was accompanied by a bright yellow light streaming in through the center, aimed straight at my heart.  As the chant came to an end so did the sensation, but once again I knew something big had happened.  I felt open and full of a calm energy, connected to everyone and everything around me.  I did not want to talk, there were no words to express the shift inside me.  Upon arriving back at my room I couldn’t resist looking in the mirror to see if any marks had been left on my neck from the experience, knowing the marks were there – just not visible on the surface.

The training drew to a close.  The shared experience had touched many in ways both planned and unexpected.  I missed my home, but also regretted leaving this place of peace behind.  I hoped some of the things I had experienced would follow me, tethered to the piece of paper stating I was now a certified yoga teacher.  I had learned much more than any printed words could express.  On the way to my car, just outside the door to my room, I found an unusual dandelion.  Three separate blossoms stood atop three stems fused together as one.  I had never seen or heard of such a thing before.  I took a picture and wondered what it meant, what reason was behind this curious melding.  I would later come to believe it was a symbol or my own fusion of body, mind and newly grown spirit of hope and belief.  If an ordinary weed could be transformed into wonder, then maybe the troubles waiting at home could also shift towards unexpected favor.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Awareness – 9/9/20

Training included study of the basic four pillars of yoga: philosophy/vision, path/experiential, practice/methods/techniques to help walk the path, and the results of the complete practice – enlightenment.   Further exploration and learning about these four pillars would be integrated into every lesson taught.   Each pillar was broken down into a variety of components to deepen understanding.  The initial component of philosophy caught my immediate attention.  It basically stated: Yoga happens when a person is ready to make some kind of change; what we believe about ourselves and the world is not necessarily true; and discomfort and suffering can be the push towards change.  Right.  This was why I was here, my increasing discomfort with my race through each day, used to avoid pain.  This training was my step towards change.   The basic philosophies of yoga sprinkled throughout the training would enter my awareness with recognition in my daily struggles over and over again.

We learned about the benefits of yoga – far beyond anything I had previously learned – and the movement from awareness to integration and to evolution.  A session focused on increasing our self-awareness used body mapping as a tool.  We worked in pairs to trace each other’s rough outline on body size pieces of paper.  Then we individually used markers to fill in our outline with the colors that felt most representative of how each body part felt – like red for a sore knee or green for a relaxed foot.   There were no rules.  It sounded easy enough.  I colored my hips purple, sore and tight from whole days filled with yoga; legs were calm and green; shoulders were tense and red.  Then I arrived at the throat area.   Red, yellow and orange set it on fire.  I covered every inch, scribbled – hard – outside the lines.  As my hand rushed past any plan from my brain, my heart began to break.  Tears fell.  Sobs followed.  One of the instructors stopped by and looked at me with a kind but questioning look.  I choked out: “I need to go.”, and ran to my empty room. 

My first impulse was to eat something, to swallow down the storm that was rising inside.  I picked up a granola bar but then put it back down without really knowing why.  Then I fixed a cup of tea, but placed it back on the counter before sipping.  I did not want to wash this away, knew I needed to let the sound erupt, open the door that had held everything in for as long as I could remember.  I had always felt that if I started crying, really crying, I would never be able to stop.  Now it was time to see if that was true.  I sobbed and screamed into the pillow, at no one, at everyone, at myself.  Was this the suffering that was driving me to run from task to task each day without stopping?  Was this what was beneath the sense of doom that had prodded me to find my way here?   It was hard to resist squeezing my throat shut to regain control of this passageway that kept my frustration, anger and pain subdued in silence.  But I did resist.   For the first time I could remember I let my voice, my true voice, rise from somewhere beyond the conscious control of my mind.  This was not about being nice, being good, or even being angry or afraid.  This was just about being, without restraints – from others or from me.  I went on for a long time.  It was not pretty.   Sobs finally turned to whimpers. Tears ran dry.  Moans become mumbles.  And then it did end, on its own, without applying any restraint.  I curled up in my bed and made a cave of the covers, then slept through the afternoon, through dinner and on into the night.  My roommates checked to see that I was OK, but then allowed me to burrow away in peace.  Peace.  Was this peace?    

The days continued one by one.  This process was so much more than the yoga I had come to know.   Learning the poses using this method satisfied my innate desire for precision and deep understanding.   But the need for accuracy was tempered with acceptance that the result did not look the same for everyone.  My body had always been rigid and stiff, much like my mother’s.  My leg muscles were hard and strong making standing poses, like warrior or chair, my favorites.  But the trade off for strength was flexibility, making forward bends and twists challenging. 

Mid way through the training sciatica, that had plagued me from the time I was pregnant with my first child, visited with a vengeance.  Acupuncture was recommended by one of my classmates and I found a practitioner nearby.  This was a first.  As the slender needles were inserted into key points in my legs, back, arms and hands I felt a tingling sensation.  Following the treatment pain remained, but felt different – or was I maybe just more patient and forgiving of the body that carried me through each day?  I gently eased through the next few days of training with increased awareness and appreciation for the concepts behind this therapeutic take on yoga – perhaps even more so than those who were not experiencing the reality of limitation.  Not allowing myself to enter into pain to satisfy my ego moved me away from pain and back to my full capacity.  My understanding had shifted, and I remembered a line in our manual, Integrative Yoga Therapy, by our teacher – Joseph LePage:  “the ultimate understanding of life is not something we find outside of ourselves.  The exploration of life is not something we stand outside of, but one in which we invest our entire beings in the moment to moment unfolding of inner and outer awareness.”

To be continued….


The buzz of busyness kept my feet flying. Sometimes I felt like I was gaining and sometimes I felt like I was falling behind – although indicators for gains or losses were hazy since I had no clear vision of where I was heading!  Any direction seemed better than standing still and sinking into the mud that threatened to engulf me if I stopped.  I ran from home to work to school to the condo and to anywhere in between that called for my attention.  I was afraid to slow down enough to catch my breath, to stop long enough to focus on the twinges of painful reality.  My energy was edging towards empty.  Then a small ‘filling station’ appeared on the horizon.   

Training to become a yoga teacher had crossed my mind many times.  Lack of both finances and time always eliminated the possibility – until an opportunity appeared that felt different.  I made a call, assuming it would lead to just one more dead end decision.  A friendly energetic voice answered from somewhere in Ohio.  Somehow our conversation led to where I had grown up.  I was stunned to discover that the person on the other end of the phone, over a thousand miles away, had grown up only miles from my childhood home!  She knew my tiny town and I knew hers! It felt like a sign!  The availability of a payment plan along with a training location within driving distance raised my hopes.  The training focused on learning how to use Yoga as a tool to facilitate the healing process – of the individual, society and planet!  The goals included: integrating the development of wisdom, intuition, insight, and compassion; and learning various yoga techniques to support the journey towards awareness of and connection with the true Self.  It sounded like a tall order.  But the sense of doom that had lingered just below my consciousness for longer than I could remember pushed me forward.  I signed up.  A lifeline was tossed my way and I reached out and seized it.  The ability to teach yoga and supplement my income helped justify the decision, but the truth was that this was about far more than teaching.  It was time to step away from the avoidance that busyness allowed, time to bring the reality of my life into focus.  It was time to take conscious control over the only thing I could – my own actions.

Initially I would be away for two weeks of intensive training, followed by a 3-6 month internship locally.  I traveled to a quiet place in the woods – an Ashram in the hills of Pennsylvania.  I didn’t actually know what an Ashram was, but quick research prepared me for the resident Swami’s and their traditional garb and appearance.  I was housed with two significantly younger women in a small suite of rooms.  Paths meandering through stands of trees and groomed lawns led to multiple residences, the main dining hall, a large building where the training would be held, and a small temple.  Approximately 25 people were in attendance – mostly women, mostly younger, and mostly in better shape.   Healthy vegetarian fare was served ‘cafeteria style’ – bringing back the discomfort of my high school lunch room days as I searched for a place to sit amongst strangers.  The urge to seek out the safety of an empty table tugged at my feet.  I resisted and forced myself to sit with a group chatting away as if they had known each other forever.  It was easier than I had anticipated.  Everyone talked about where they were from, why they were there, and asked the ‘get to know you’ questions that were easy to answer. 

Following dinner we headed to our first group meeting.  Students trickled into the large open room as I found my place on a mat in the back row, succumbing to a habit that rose to the surface before the weight of a conscious decision could hold it down.  Many participants were already actively teaching yoga and confidently displayed their knowledge and skill.  Watching super toned bodies fearlessly twist into postures I had never even attempted was more intimidating than I had expected.  A black raven of doubt flew in to peck away at the possibility that had led me here.  I wondered if I could get a refund and use this gust of fear to lift my wings and fly me home.   Then I began to notice a few people that appeared closer to my age.  The warm up practice revealed some of all ages that appeared closer to my ability level.  I gravitated towards them as I mentally divided the class into those who would accept me and those who would not. 

Our instructors were soft spoken and kind, and responded to each of us as if we were on a level playing field.  Early morning yoga sessions were offered before breakfast to those that chose to join in.  Initially I did not attend, but as my comfort and trust grew, I found my way there on a regular basis.  Teachings on yoga history and philosophy, along with unfamiliar words like ‘koshas’ and ‘doshas’, required more learning and memory than anticipated.  Much of the breath work introduced during sitting practice was familiar. But incorporating the breath as more than a simple accompaniment to movement, using it to actually facilitate and inform movement, expanded my perception of energy flow within my body. Familiar poses were deconstructed into the muscular, energetic, and movement components.  Even simple poses, like mountain, were much more complex than I realized.  Had I missed this part in my classes?  Or was I just now ready to delve into a deeper understanding?  Deconstruction then led to reconstruction, and how to move into poses without forcing or losing the alignment important for maintaining joint health.    As training progressed it quickly became obvious that even the most experienced students would need to alter their movements, and replace the need to make a pose meet visual ideals with honoring the need for proper alignment and safety.  The basic triangle pose was explored, and as instructors helped participants move using the methods taught, confused and startled expressions flooded the room. Not a single student, even the most flexible, could touch their hand to the floor while maintaining alignment. The transformation of what had previously appeared to be ‘prefect poses’ was humbling to all.  

To be continued…