35 years after a spiritual awakening, nothing dramatic happened

On August 14, 1984, I experienced a dramatic spiritual awakening, but I didn’t know that it was at the time. It took years for me to find a context and to recognize it as spiritual.

Here’s the backstory. I, a single mom and full-time college student, employed part-time in a psychiatric hospital, took a much-needed vacation, leaving my beloved 3-year-old daughter with her grandparents for a week as I traveled from Norman, OK, to Santa Fe, NM, not that far in miles, but my first solo vacation.

In hindsight, this was a sobering period of my life. I was raising my delightful child by myself, with little help from her father at that time, which I hadn’t planned on. I was stressed from working and going to college without much money or support from anyone. My family was in another state, and I had few friends in Norman then, and no money for a babysitter so I could go out and meet people. I felt like it was all on me to make a future for myself and my child, one day at a time.

This vacation meant a lot to me — a break from constant single parenting so I could experience myself as an individual once again, which is such important self-care for mothers. I drove to Santa Fe, my first visit to that town. I believe I stayed at a bed and breakfast, but maybe I camped. I don’t remember what all I did as a visitor to the city that time, but while there, I learned that the Santa Fe Opera was holding auditions for opera companies. Singers from around the country went onstage, one at a time, and with no sets or costumes, sang famous arias for opera directors from around the world who were looking for new talent. Purchasing a ticket was affordable, and I thought going to opera try-outs would be a novel and entertaining experience.

On the appointed night, I wore my thrift store jeans, t-shirt, sandals, and backpack to the Santa Fe Opera — a magnificent structure with a roof cantilevered over the audience and wings open to the hills and distant mountains, an open-air experience in a beautiful setting.

There weren’t many people there, just a handful near the stage, presumably opera directors listening to the singers, deciding who to hire.

I arrived late and stood at the back, surveying the area in front of me, listening to the beautiful, almost unearthly sound of a talented soprano singing an aria. Might it have been something from Mozart? Verdi? Puccini? I don’t recall. To inspire you for the setting, though, here’s my favorite aria, so you can get a sense of the incredible beauty I was hearing.

Meanwhile, dusk segued into night. In the open-air wings on either side of the stage, lightning flashes outlined the hills and mountains in the distance.

Was it sensory overload from the sound and the view, the glorious aria surround-sounding me with the dramatic weather and terrain as backdrop? Was it that a poor struggling single mother stood and listened in this beautiful opera house built for the culturally and financially elite? Both and/or something else?

The next thing I knew, I felt an energy — it seemed to be white light and yet it was palpable — piercing the top of my head and going all the way through the center of my body down into the ground under my feet. There was a strength and an insistence to this energy. You WILL feel this. It WILL be clearly undeniable. It WILL penetrate your being from crown to feet. It WILL change your life.

I was transfixed.

Nailed.

Immobilized.

I don’t know how long it lasted, but it was long enough to make a deep impression. I had no conceptual context at the time to put this experience in. I knew nothing about the energy body, sometimes called the subtle body although at this time, it was anything but subtle. It was an undeniably enlivening, beneficent, mysterious experience.

Having no explanation, I shrugged it off as a one-off experience, and I tucked it away in my memories, wondering if someday I would understand it.

With hindsight, I can say that it gave me strength. Something unusual and special had happened to me. It marked me. Even though the physical sensations of being pierced by white light faded, I had this memory. In some way, I felt chosen, although why me, I can’t say.

At various times since then, I have had a sense that some higher power is looking out for me. It’s not that I never make mistakes or struggle with problems. I do. The real blessing is that I accept these as part of being human, not to be avoided but to learn from. I can change and grow.

Maybe this experience was fuel for getting through some hard years. My mother died unexpectedly two months later, and I grieved hard about losing her, having never imagined raising my child without her presence and advice. I had a bad experience with a psychotherapist. I felt a lot of sorrow and loneliness and struggle for years.

The experience let me know for sure that there’s more to life than just the material world, which was the mindset I grew up in. People I knew just didn’t talk about spiritual experiences. What is this energy that I can’t see (except sometimes I could — another story), that I can’t grasp (but I can now palpate and even feel it pouring out of me now)? Qi, prana, life force… It’s there all the time but mostly ignored, unless you seek it out through qi gong or yoga or energy work — or it makes itself known to you, like it did me.

Years later, I finally connected this experience to starting to practice yoga a couple of years earlier, in 1982, when my daughter was a year old — from the book Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan (amazingly still in print) — because that was all I could afford at the time.

I was so yoga-ignorant then, I thought asana was pronounced a-SAH-na. I of course didn’t have the good eye or experience that yoga teachers use to help students get the most out of each pose. I was on my own, and I was diligently doing some yoga that was making a difference. Luckily, I did not injure myself. Practicing every day, learning new poses, getting into my body, building what we now call somatic awareness, was a highlight of each evening. I didn’t own a mat. I used a blanket or a towel. I did the work in front of me, day by day, as the book prescribed.

I’d always been flexible as a child, able to do backbends, cartwheels, walkovers, headstands, and I enjoyed my daily yoga practice. Sometimes my toddler joined me for a short time — we liked downward facing dog a lot. I finished the Hittleman book and may have gone back through it a second or third time. Once I got a television set, I watched Lilias on PBS and learned to pronounce AH-sa-na correctly.

I got other yoga books. Sometime in the next few years, I learned about chakras, the energy vortices along the body’s midline. There’s a lot of lore about chakras — colors, number of lotus petals, sounds, stones, etc. I don’t remember anyone back then tying the chakras to the anatomy of human body, to the places where the spine curves or to the endocrine glands, but I wasn’t looking at the right sources.

Saharasra, Sanskrit for the crown chakra, is said to connect us to the cosmos and to divinity, just as the root chakra connects us to the earth. Saharasra’s color is white or violet. It’s said to be the chakra from which all other chakras originate. It is located where the anterior fontanelle is in infants, where the coronal and sagittal cranial sutures meet, and is considered to be related to the pineal gland, which we don’t fully understand, except that it regulates the sleep cycle, a foundation for healthy living. Some say it affects performance, decision-making, psychological health, spiritual awakening, and self-actualization.

Doing yoga asanas opens up the channels through which prana/energy flows. My crown chakra opening was the result of practicing yoga for a couple of years. I cleared my energy channels, which allowed this further clearing and energizing experience.

It’s interesting that I now practice craniosacral therapy, a bodywork modality that works with the body’s midline and chakras and uses energy awareness to facilitate the release of restrictions (aka, healing).

I was in Santa Fe earlier in August, and I stopped by the Santa Fe Opera one day in honor of this memory. It’s had improvements and an expansion since 1984. La Boheme and Cosi Fan Tutti were playing that week, and I seriously considered going. However, the tickets were quite expensive, and I didn’t have anyone to go with or the proper attire for the opera, given I’d been camping. It might have been loads of fun, given some advance planning.

Instead, I took a yoga class (Prajna) in a great studio (YogaSource) with a great teacher (Linda Spackman). I attended a dharma talk on community at Upaya Zen Center. I ate some great Indian food at Paper Dosa. I danced and connected with a few people and enjoyed my four days in Santa Fe.

And nothing dramatic happened. It was just life, which is mostly pretty good.

Mid-day thoughts, 7.22.2019: meditation and samsara

It’s been a while since I posted. It feels good to be back here, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and fascinations. I was busy, then spending a lot of time helping a friend in need, did some training and traveling, then a lot more time helping that friend, only to have that relationship unravel last week. It may have unraveled entirely and forever. I don’t know, and I don’t really care right now.

What I do know is that I am exhausted, reclaiming my space, my time, and my energy, while preparing to do some more travel. I’m taking time this week to recalibrate and nurture myself.

Processing is one of my favorite things to do. It’s such a great teacher, a guru, to feel so many emotions arise over time. To allow every one of them to express itself and move through me — it’s great company and also entertaining, this guesthouse. Feeling sadness, anger, judgment, curiosity, incredulity, a few regrets, the amazing aha of a huge insight that was right under my nose, disdain about their assumed entitlement and their obvious discomfort with their choices past and present, the deep compassion I have for them and their road ahead (yes, it’s gonna take 10 years), fears for self and others, stress, unwinding, missing the fun and affection before the criticism set in, recognizing my mistrust all along and the reasons for it, feeling a bit defensive that what they choose to believe are my issues are actually not — although they are based on inconsistent behaviors on their part, recognizing the need for a major shift in the relationship or perhaps shutting that door entirely, caring and yet oddly enough very coldly not caring what happens to them, recognizing they’ll survive, or not, and this break may be just what they need to ground themselves and do the difficult thing, that’s only hard to get started with.

Separation has many gifts.

Shocks instigate growth. Instead of whining about them, we can be grateful for the opportunities to further develop our resources.

I look back to see where I could have made better decisions, to take some responsibility and learn for the future, because there is never just one person at fault — we’re all in this together, always, even through misunderstandings, and even when we need to pull back. A few of my actions (especially the lack of me setting some clearly needed boundaries, in hindsight, regardless of being labeled “controlling”) are glaring at me.

“Knot by knot I untie myself from the 

past / And let it rise away from me like a balloon. / What a small thing it 

becomes. / What a bright tweak at the vanishing point, blue on blue.”

Charles Wright

I look at what’s ahead for me, and I feel pretty good about the choices I have and how to use them well. I can leave this relationship entirely behind (using the famous INFJ door slam — look it up if curious — I’ve done it before, though it’s rare). Closure might be healing, which was the intent in the first place. If we talk, it will be with a therapist present, and I have no idea if that’s going to happen. Either way. Take it or leave it. I have a good life that I”m happy with.

I’m grateful for my friends, one of whom has called me out and also been kind, and another who has been purely embracing and loving.

Mostly, today I want to share how much meditation is helpful. I got away from my daily practice. I missed my daily sit on June 20, and since then have had two gaps of as long as 5 days. I’m getting back on track — I can see how my brain, memories, and equanimity operate so much better when I do a daily sit.

I use Insight Timer to keep a log, even when I use another app (I used Waking Up with Sam Harris for a while). Before June 20, I had meditated for 990 consecutive days. Also in June, I reached the milestone of 1,000 days with a session.

Anyway, here I am living in the midst of samsara with all of its chaos, grins, and grief, and meditation allows me to take a small, temporary break from it.

I sit, I get still, I breathe, I tune into my experience in the present, and my thoughts begin to slow so there are gaps, sometimes long gaps.

In these gaps, I feel my sensations. I feel myself soften. I feel my energy body extend beyond my skin. I feel tensions releasing and leaving my body. I feel my chakras open and spin. I feel radiance in my face.

I feel kindness toward myself. I feel love. I experience an empty awareness that’s full of connection with Source, or whatever you call it in your tradition. I am plugging into Something.Important.

I become fucking Re-Source-full. Empowered. Full of grace and confidence, not the blustery let-me-try-to-impress-you kind, but the “I am present for whatever arises in each moment” kind of confidence.

I am so, so grateful to have this practice, to have experience with it, and I’m especially grateful for having done two 10-day Vipassana courses, which, in video-game terms, each took me to a higher level. Just as they say Rolfing is the equivalent of 5 years of yoga, a Vipassana course is the equivalent of 5 years of meditation. Generalities, of course, but pointing to something important. I hope to do another one within the next year.

The starting place for each meditation is so much more aware than when I began to practice, also after a relationship breakup, back in 2006. I get to return to Source, and that’s what is truly healing.

Loving you for reading this. Thank you, my friends.

Morning download, 3.1.19

Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.

So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying what follows to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.

For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who as a result had PTSD for decades before it was even a diagnosable malady — life can be good again.

I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.

Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Trauma survivors, please savor and enjoy every good day, every good hour even, that comes your way.

It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.

You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so that you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened, the skin unscarred.

Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more. I want to mention that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time, and sometimes a memory shapes our behavior, unbidden.

Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life, because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it. It may start with one peaceful hour.

Investigate peace, and savor it.

Facing forward, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the present that unconsciously reminds the part of your brain that’s trying to keep you safe of a time when you were unsafe in the past, and you react sharply, as if past were present, get flooded with stress hormones, experience the fight-or-flight dance going on.

Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you actually in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself, recovering from the dump of stress hormones. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.

Beautiful self-care is required when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to lovely music. Move your body with care. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.

Afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast toolkit of self-care resources for the activated times.

Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?

What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?

At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.

This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.

Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.

NLP Neuro-Logical Levels of Change.

We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid! We.Don’t.Know.What’s.Going.On.

So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?

By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.

After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.

2018 blog stats

Every year since 2010, I’ve written a post summarizing the year on this blog. Here are the highlights for 2018.

My posts from years past about healing my injured sacroiliac joints have gotten a lot of comments in 2018 from people who are also suffering, and that has brought the most gratification this year, to know that documenting my healing journey offers hope to others.

To summarize that journey, I saw many practitioners in various bodywork modalities for a couple of decades before finding one who truly understood what it would take to heal the injury. I followed her advice, and it worked. My final post, Sacroiliac joint healed!, published in 2017, includes links to all my previous posts on the topic.

In 2018, I had 94,239 visitors and 127,235 views. This is down a bit from 2017, even though I wrote more posts in 2018. I’m attributing the downturn in visitors and views to social media burnout.

Social media has been a fun new toy — and more people are seeking balance in their lives. I’m actually fine with it, as I’m seeking balance too. Writing fewer posts but having them be more germane to how we can live better lives works for me. Plus, I’m a bodyworker and wellness advocate by trade. Less text neck, eye strain, forward head posture, and sitting are better for your health. I want you to be healthy!

I wrote 32 blog posts in 2018, totaling 16,319 words, averaging 510 words per post, a bit shorter than I typically have written.

Of the posts I wrote this year, these have gotten the most views (listed newest to oldest):

The most-read post in 2018 was one first posted back in January 2014, How to drink water with lemon and preserve your tooth enamel. It’s gotten the most comments of any post I’ve ever written. Believe it or not, almost 5 years after it was first published, 40,960 people read that post in 2018. I hope they/you are preserving their/your tooth enamel!

At the end of 2018, I have 292 followers on WordPress, 92 on email, and 605 on social media. Thank you!

The most popular day and hour for reading my blog is Sunday at 2 pm.

And now (drum roll), where are readers from? Well, it looks like this:

  • all of North America except Greenland
  • all of South America except for one tiny country north of Brazil (French Guiana)
  • all of Europe except Svalbard islands
  • all of Asia except Iran, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan
  • most of Africa except Western Sahara, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia
  • I imagine there are some tiny island nations that don’t appear on the map with no readers

As always, it astounds me how connected the world is now because of the internet.

One of my intentions for 2019 is to improve my writing. I’d like to write a monthly post but have each be more interesting, compelling, and shareable.

Thank you so much for reading!

Improving vagal tone

When do you feel safe? When are you on guard?

If you feel safe except when there is an actual threat to your safety, then you have high vagal tone.

If you feel guarded most or all of the time, even when there is no actual threat to your safety, you have low vagal tone. Low vagal tone can be raised. Continue reading

Opportunities to assist in Texas, after Harvey

Please share! Two of my Austin friends have set up GoFundMe campaigns after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas gulf coast, and I want to spread the word. The need in Texas is great. However you can help, it’s much appreciated.

Barbara Newitt grew up in Houston, and her 90-year-old mother and her two sisters still live there, together, whereas Barb has been in Austin for decades.

Her mom and sisters lived a block from Buffalo Bayou, a major waterway in central Houston. Their home was flooded. After a medical emergency, four policemen came to evacuate them, somehow got a boat, and the mom, Lydia, was taken to a hospital. One daughter stayed with her. The other daughter was taken to a public shelter. Continue reading

Sacroiliac joint healed!

Way back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot, and Pelvic rehab update: getting bodywork, exercises, kinesiotaping). I haven’t had much to add since then: getting the belt and wearing it nearly 24/7, using the insoles, continuing to gather information, get bodywork, etc., it just takes time.

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect, but it is strong and tight enough that the joint stays in place. Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out. Continue reading

What people are saying after Zero Balancing

So far in 2016, I’ve done 96 Zero Balancing sessions ranging from 15 to 45 minutes in length. Most were about 30 minutes.

Help me make at least 100 in 2016! [I made my goal!]

The part I love most about giving my clients a Zero Balancing session comes after the fully-clothed bodywork has concluded, when the receiver slowly moves from supine on my massage table to sidelying to seated to standing, taking a pause after each movement, and finally takes a few steps around my office.

I ask, “What are you noticing?” Continue reading

Working from home in the mornings

This morning I got a call from a client I hadn’t seen in a while, wondering if she could get an appointment for bodywork sooner rather than later because she had been experiencing the misery of muscle spasms.

She lives somewhere in south Austin, and I live in Manchaca, and depending on how far south someone lives, it can be more convenient to come to my trailer rather than drive to my downtown studio.  Continue reading

My work in May 2016: a massage therapist recounts what she actually does

I started offering my massage and bodywork clients custom sessions at the beginning of 2016. Clients choose the length of session they want, and when they arrive, we discuss their issues. I figure out how I’d like to proceed (that is, which modalities to use, in which order), run it by the client, get their input and consent, and the work begins. The client and I both know that if we need to change direction in the middle of a session, we can — and sometimes that happens.

Before 2016, clients signed up by length of session and modality (for example, 90 minutes of craniosacral therapy). Once I felt confident about mixing modalities, it made more sense to offer custom sessions, tailoring my work to the client’s needs. But without modality descriptors, I imagine that some people wonder what I actually do in a custom session — and how I work and follow up with clients, how people find me, how my practice grows. That’s the reason for this blog post. Plus, I’ve never really tried to summarize a month of work before. It seems worthwhile.

Continue reading