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.

The healing process: a primer

People ask me about this because I’ve worked on it and continue to work it, in my personal life and as a professional in healing arts. I’ve documented bits of my own healing processes in this blog: from a severe childhood trauma, 20-year-old injury to my sacroiliac joint, a hiatal hernia, leaky gut, and more. I guess I have a little bit of street cred.

P.S. I’m still learning.

We live in a world with broken people and broken behaviors in it, including us and the things we ourselves do. Sometimes you know you’ve healed. You’re done. Sometimes it’s more like a spiral that you revisit as you get on with your life, mature, and find the resources to heal even more deeply.

You need breaks — because healing can be intense and you need to rebalance and integrate, which happens mostly in the non-conscious and is part of the process.

Even on your deathbed, the possibility for healing exists. We are all works in progress. It is a hero’s/heroine’s journey complete with allies, mentors, obstacles, blind alleys, discoveries, expansion, adversaries, stages/gates, divine aid, a transformative learning experience every step of the way.

Healing is multifaceted. It can be physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, seemingly by itself or in any combination, or all of the above, as well as outside of these realms beyond our capacity to understand. Everything is hitched to everything else, and we don’t know what “everything” is. Two-thirds of the universe is dark energy and no one knows what it is. We live inside a huge mystery.

It’s not necessarily linear. We can use linear strategies — I want to get from Point A to Point B — and it’s always a good idea to leave room for quantum changes, because they happen. People get visited by angels, get messages in dreams, recognize signs that provide direction in mundane life, health issues spontaneously disappear. And more. Always, and more.

Healing takes skill, and you can learn to do it, from your own experiences, from experts in it (healers, therapists), from non-professional others who’ve healed themselves, from getting informed about it (please be discerning, don’t believe everything you read, and maximize what’s helpful to you — if it’s hurtful, minimize it, but denial is generally not a good strategy).

Sometimes healing doesn’t work, or it is partial. It’s not exactly something we control. We are all mortal. The body wears out eventually, no matter how well you take care of it. Accidents, epidemics, natural disasters, unhealthy people with agendas or weapons or leadership roles exist. Accepting that anything can happen, that everything living has a lifespan, gives us a deadline, so to speak, and can prompt us to do some of our finest healing work. Who do you want to be next year?

There are issues that we simply don’t yet have the knowledge to heal. We are creatures of habit, conditioned by the past, and often those habits detract from healing. Examining and releasing your dysfunctional conditioning — beliefs, habits, patterns that don’t serve — is important.

Waking up is a synonym for healing. What is your place in the universe? Who are you? Why are you here? What’s your purpose? What do you bring to the table? What do you want to bring to the table? How can you make the world a better place, one day at a time, one conversation at a time? What is real? What is delusion? How do you know?

Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life.

~ Dogen Zenji

You may think you’re alone with your suffering, but you’re actually not alone. Someone, somewhere, has gone through something very similar and come through to the other side. Seek them out, learn from them, learn from each other, share resources. Shame keeps you separate. I like Brene Brown’s work on shame.

Everyone gets wounded. Everyone is vulnerable — although, word to the wise, find people to share with who are compassionate, who can empathize. Not everyone is. Develop your compassion, including self-compassion.

There are some prerequisites: first, you need to believe that healing is possible. Beliefs are powerful. They run deep. They often run the show without your conscious awareness until you make it your business to become aware of them and question them. Is it true? Check out Byron Katie’s The Work to dive in.

Next, in order to heal, you have to allow yourself to heal. This is important, even when you are going to a healer. Yes, healers can “do stuff” to you, but you are the one who lets it work. This is a skill. Surrendering is a skill, and it has to do with allowing yourself to be open to change that’s beyond your control. , and it

This can be quite scary for some. Please recognize that needing to be in control may be exactly the thing that keeps you from healing. Healing is bigger than the you that you know, and it’s mysterious. Healing means taking risks to allow the unknown to happen, and it also means expanding into a bigger version of you that you’re not familiar with yet.

If you could heal using only what you can control, how’s that working for you? Wouldn’t you already be healed?

Finally, you already are a healer. When you get a scratch, it bleeds, scabs over, the scab falls off, and the skin has knit itself back together. Hurts and disappointments diminish over time and possibly, with perspective, may even come to be seen as blessings in disguise that called on you to grow and heal.

As long as you are alive, life wants you to heal and provides some resources. You can get familiar with and cultivate those resources.

What is biodynamics?

Biodynamics is a western approach to wellness. Osteopath William Sutherland (1873-1954) began exploring the dynamics of the skull and its membranes and fluids, establishing the field of cranial osteopathy, from which craniosacral therapy and biodynamics evolved.

After years of sitting quietly with patients, listening to their body-mind systems, Sutherland and other cranial osteopaths became aware that something other than tissue manipulation was helping their patients heal from all kinds of conditions. They learned over time that the more they just listened and the less they tried to do, the more their patients’ inherent healing processes took over, returning their systems to healthier functioning. Over time they learned how to support and augment the healing process with their presence, attention, discernment, and intent.

This way of healing came to be called craniosacral biodynamics, biodynamic craniosacral therapy, or just biodynamics. As a separate modality from cranial osteopathy, it’s been in existence for nearly 40 years. Although biodynamics shares some elements with biomechanical craniosacral therapy, it focuses more on perceptual awareness of the fields in and around us.

Biodynamics, although Western in origin, resonates with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs about emptiness, form, transformation, compassion, and oneness, as well as shamanism.

Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion

I started this blog to document meditating every day in 2010. My blog posts got kind of boring and I ended up broadening the topic, but before the year ended, I had made some big decisions, changing my approaches to work and home that resulted in living a more authentic, self-realizing life.

Selling my house and quitting my job with no clear path ahead were not changes I would have undertaken had not my meditation practice compelled me to make them for my own well-being and trust that the Universe and my own capabilities would come through. There was uncertainty along the way, and luck, but I figured I could always rent a room and do temp jobs to support myself, and that gave me courage. (I rented a room and did a few temp jobs on my path!)

However, I really wanted more than that for myself: I wanted to own an affordable, paid-for home in Austin, Texas, and I wanted to do work that I really loved. And I got those things.  Meditation helped me understand that not living authentically was no longer possible for me, and I’m happy with those decisions. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo probably had fibromyalgia

While continuing to learn more about fibromyalgia, I found something interesting: Frida Kahlo probably had it.

If you’re wondering what fibromyalgia is, the Mayo Clinic says it’s a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Symptoms sometimes begin after a trauma, surgery, infection, or significant stress. Women are much more likely to develop it.

One researcher, Manuel Martinez-lavin, says it’s likely the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had fibromyalgia. The bus accident that badly injured her at age 18 must have been quite traumatic and was followed by many stressful surgeries. The accident left her with chronic pain, well documented in her art.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-11-07-37-amThe Broken Column

Continue reading

A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too.

Continue reading

The rapture of being alive

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life… I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell

This quote has been a long-time favorite and is included on my Favorite Quotes page.

I want to go on record as saying that one of the times when I most feel the rapture of being alive is when I’m practicing biodynamic craniosacral therapy.

It’s like meditating together, but with much more connection, yet totally safe because nothing is expected.

I don’t know what else to say about it, except that if you want to experience it too, I’m happy to do a session with you.

 

 

If you want to get better at healing others and/or self, read this blog post

My wonderful craniosacral therapy teacher of the past few years, Ryan Hallford, wrote a blog post entitled Soft Mantras for Hard Lesions. Although specific to biodynamic craniosacral work, in my opinion it applies to so much more – all types of healing work with others and all healing work on self.

ryanSubstitute “stuck places” for lesions and consider his statement that this post is about our mindset when encountering them, and you can understand how applicable this is to all realms of life.

Toward the end of the post, he lists three mantras (internal prayers) that a person intending to heal (self or other) might find helpful to ask.

I’ve read this blog post three times now and decided to write down the questions to carry with me at all times. This is a practice I use when I want to integrate something new into my being. The writing of it helps me commit it to memory as my pen moves across the paper letter by letter, word by word, and carrying the written paper with me signals my commitment to integrate it.  Continue reading

When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint

There’s an old saying that people go into healing professions to heal themselves.

I believe it’s true. I went to many healers seeking healing of my own body, mind, heart, and spirit. All of those healers helped me, and none hurt me.

Could I have saved myself pain, time, and money by knowing which kind of healer I needed most for what issue? Yes. I didn’t have a guide, just my own knowledge and intuition and willingness to see what worked.

For the longest time it never occurred to me that I could become a healer. I liked the people who worked on healing me. Their work seemed more interesting than my jobs in government and technology. They were obviously caring people who had honed various kinds of healing skills, and the healing work seemed to be an extension of who they were, not just a job they did.

When I finally began to think about what I wanted to do in “retirement,” healing came to mind…and here I am, in a new profession, offering massage therapy, bodywork, and changework.

For 19 years, since a car wreck on April 24, 1996, I have had semi-chronic pain in one of my sacroiliac joints. In the accident, my lap belt held, my shoulder belt didn’t, the air bag didn’t deploy, there were two head-banging impacts that bled or turned into a goose egg, I was knocked unconscious, and my sacroiliac joints took the brunt of the trauma when my upper body was pulled away from from my lower body.

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Last week I got the help I needed to know how to fix it.  Continue reading

Report on effective treatments for fibromyalgia

A few folks with fibromyalgia have come to me for bodywork. Fibromyalgia, if you don’t know, is a condition of chronic pain with tender points located in various places on the body.

There’s a lot of mystery about it. It used to be thought by doctors to be “all in the head” (which basically means they don’t know, so it must exist just in your mind), but we know better now. A couple of years ago, scientists pinpointed the cause.

In my bodyworker role, I’ve noticed that some fibromyalgia sufferers prefer very light touch, while others prefer medium pressure and don’t mind, in fact prefer it, if I do deep tissue work in the tensest, tightest places, such as the upper trapezius. Continue reading