Welcome to my blog..

"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty

When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.

I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.

As of September 2013 I started teaching writing as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. While was blessed for the opportunity, after four years of being an adjunct, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in NYC and working with writers one on one, which I adore. I will die a happy person if I never have to grade an assignment ever again. As of 2018, I also started leading writing retreats to my beloved Orkney Islands. If you ever want two weeks that will restore your soul and give you time and space to write, get in touch. I am leading two retreats this year in July and September.

I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with a new book recently completed.

I now work full-time as a freelance writer, writing workshop leader, coach, editor and writing retreat leader. Contact me if you are interested in any of these services.

Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.

For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

In 2017, I launched a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. You can also contact me through that site.

In May, I directed my newest play, On the edge of/a cure, and have finally updated my publications list, which now includes an award-winning chapbook of my short-story White shoe lady, which you can find on the sidebar. I also have become a certified yoga instructor in the Kripalu lineage. What a year!

And FINALLY, I have created a website, which I hope you will visit, The Unadapted Ones. I will keep this blog site up, since it is a record of over 8 years of my life, but will eventually be blogging more at the website, so if you want to know what I am up to with my writing, teaching, retreats and so on, the site is the place to check (and to subscribe for updates). After eight years I realized, no, I'm never turning into One Thing. So The Unadapted Ones embraces the multiplicity that comprises whomever I am, which seems to always be shifting. That may in fact be reality for everyone, but will speak for myself here. So, do visit there and thanks for coming here, too. Glad to meet you on the journey...

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Bye bye 2019 and the 2010s...I am ready for the Roaring Twenties.

I wanted to write a year summary and felt daunted, then realized it should be a decade summary and was more daunted. This decade has been a rollercoaster from start to finish.

A thumbnail (the details are all here in this blog, at least from 2011 onward, with reference to 2010).

At the end of 2009, things were looking up. I had finally finished my PhD and was dragging myself out of the worst of the grief over my miscarriage in 2007, a day after my wedding.

But at the very end of the year, my 19 year old cat died while I was in the US (at the time I lived in London) and then on that day I had what turned out to be the last phone conversation with my father on his birthday (same day my beloved cat died). A few days later, at the beginning of 2010, he was rushed to ICU, and I flew out to Sacramento to see him before he died. I have written about that prior, but that floored me...but also clearing out his storage area I found photos of my grandparents when they were young. So while I was in a grief fog clusterfuck, I also found a seed of what would become my life for most of the decade, writing about my grandmothers. But first, months of grief fog for a father I barely knew, who I lost twice, once in life and then again in death.

This decade has been like that. Oh joy, then death, then in the death grief fog a seed...and something grows...then joy, then death, then...rinse repeat.

My second marriage, begun with such hope and joy that was cruelly crushed the first day of our honeymoon (the miscarriage), was disintegrating in slow motion by 2010 and by 2011 had ended. That along with wanting to work on this book about my grandmothers—which desire also had contributed to my closing up my London based theater company, Apocryphal—led me to make a leap with no safety net back to the states. I say no safety net because when made decision no job or place to live, but I was rich in friends, one of which let me stay at her place to make that decision.

In the summer, I spent time with my cousin Darcy, celebrating her remission from cancer, and  researching our shared grandmother, my mother's mother, in Minneapolis. Earlier that summer I met the lost part of my grandfather's family, lost because he had had to change his name during the Red Scare to save his job. I found clues to his real identity in all the stuff in my father's chaotic storage unit in January 2010. Again with the seeds.

Then, poof, back in NYC...where I discovered Inwood at the top tip of Manhattan when trying to find someplace I could afford, and moved here. That was a great find. The parks, the green, and then in October, the beginning of autumn in Inwood Hill Park was a revelation. This was October 2011. I had found a job at Bronx Community College and then later at Hunter.

Ugo the IWW (Inwood Writing Workshop) cat
A month later, I adopt Ugo the cat, who I found online at WaHi Cat Colony. He was an adult cat, so harder to place and still available. When I saw him, I knew he was mine.

I then am shortlisted for a full-time teaching post back in UK in May 2012 and fly back to interview and audition for it. They choose someone else. My ego is bruised, but I am so grateful for the ability to come back to NYC that this is the feeling that takes over.

My stepfather Tom sends me a lovely affirmative note about this.

A week later, Tom is in the ICU. He dies a few days after my birthday, Bloomsday (during which I read him Ulysses) and Father's Day. I am holding his feet when he dies and feel giant waves of love that almost knock me over. I am devastated and moved. I have a dream of a net and a diamond. Indra's Diamond my mother says. She is more bereft than me. Who wouldn't be?

I end up finding my own apartment on the top floor of a five-story walk-up in Inwood. Tom left all his kids including me (his step-daughter) a small amount of money, which was enough to furnish a new place (with Ikea and Housing Works and Freecycle). I got it all ready for me to live in, including my own study. I began to work more in earnest on my book. And decide to take some extra time to sort out my life.

Then comes Hurricane Sandy. Happily, my apartment survived and Inwood had electricity, so was able to host people up here who were stranded downtown. Sadly, we lost some huge trees in Inwood Hill Park. The beginning of understanding how vulnerable NYC is to climate change sinks in.

A couple months later, a friend who I had met at a meditation retreat where we were accidental roommates talks me into online dating, and I meet my future husband almost immediately.

Didn't see that coming. I was just trying to get a date before I turned 50.

John and me in Montreal at Botanical Gardens Valentine's Day 2013
Much happiness ensues of course, because it's super fun to be in love. Then of course all the issues rear their head about money and citizenship, since he is Canadian. Very long story short, we do everything by the book and he ends up down here, but there was a bunch of stuff he had to deal with in Canada and that all was way more complicated than he would have wished. We survived it all, but it was challenging, as in years of being challenging, in an apartment I had chosen for me alone, not two people.

On the happy side, I kept working on my book, got support from a crowd-funding campaign (all this is in blog circa 2014) and other votes of encouragement. John helped me with all of this and has been a relentless (in a good way) cheerleader of my work. I was given fellowships to residencies, and that helped, too. I directed a staged reading of ''whatever God is..." and Ian W. Hill directed My First Autograce Homeography (1973-74) at The Brick, all in 2014. My first short story publication as an adult also happened in 2014 with The God Thing, which has since been nominated or been a finalist in some awards, which is gratifying.

There have been many highways and byways with the book, The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani, and with luck it will get published fairly soon. That is a long story that I cannot give details about, because much is in process. But it had been a steep learning curve for a theater chick to figure out publishing, and wow, it's different, but OK.

However, I was beginning to figure stuff out and making some headway when I came back from a lovely yoga retreat at Kripalu in December 2016 to a phone call from my mother that David Berry, my ex-stepfather, the playwright, had died suddenly of a heart attack, boom. I have written about that a lot too. But his sudden death floored me. It was two months after the DTs struck the US, and I was convinced that is what killed him, a gay Vietnam Vet artist. What greater insult than a homophobic insane person who had 'bone spurs' that he used to weasel out of service in Vietnam.

I lurched through another series of months in a grief fog, but also managed to finish another book I had begun in September. However, I was adjunct professoring, and it was killing me. I was exhausted all the time, and the pay, in case you don't know, in terms of hours work, is basically minimum wage.

I realized it was killing me right around the time I read a book that is the most iconic book of the decade for me: The Body Keeps the Score. I mark the time I read that book (early 2017) as the moment when I realized I was not a broken toy. But instead had a normal response to severe traumatic events. I cannot overstate how important this moment was. How healing, and how much my life has changed since.

From then on (Feb-March 2017), I mark as an existential shift in my understanding of myself and the world. I quit being an adjunct and decided to go full-time freelance, which has worked better than I could have dreamed. I decided to go to Westray, one of the Orkney Isles in Scotland in June, where I had not been since 2010. I had written my PhD there, and fallen in love with Orkney in 2003. It has always felt like a spiritual home, and some part of me feels severed from my soul until I get back there. I had postponed this trip a number of times because of my relationship with John and trying to work out schedules and time, etc. But I knew this time I could postpone it no more. My mother and John were going to go with me, but then could not for separate reasons.

Two stones from Ring of Brodgar in Orkney
Dear reader, I went anyway. And that made all the difference.

I stayed on in the olde Manse overlooking where the North Sea and Atlantic meet and revised my second book, Girls Meeting God, to get it in shape for submission, and taught my first ever private writing workshop, on this small Orkney Island, which was a  success and a revelation.

John meanwhile was able to sort out his Canadian albatross, and so when I returned, we were in much better shape on many levels.

Thus began the life I have now: writing, teaching writing workshops, coaching writers, reviewing manuscripts, editing, and sometimes back to theater.

Speaking of which, when the #metoo movement began in 2017 that allowed me to write my stage text On the edge of/a cure. Working with MoveOn and their text team to help elect Doug Jones in December 2017 allowed me to have a reading of this play. I did not realize until seeing this political work effect a positive change how paralyzed I had been...ever since watching DT stalk around behind Hillary Clinton on the debate stage. I could not move during the debate. Literally. But did not realize how totally paralyzed I was in terms of a certain kind of voice until I wasn't.

On the edge of allowed me to speak about things in a way I never have done before. It was also possible because of reading The Body Keeps the Score and Leigh Gilmore's Limits of Autobiography. In 2018, another play I had written in response to another trauma response I was having because of various terrorist incidents, Shit, was produced by IATI as part of their play development program. I got to see another director work with my texts and that was lovely.

Other reading that inspired me along this journey include Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Quartet, Joan Didion's everything, Jennifer Egan's writing, and the ongoing ever present influence of Doris Lessing. With some key assists from James Baldwin and David Foster Wallace. Yeah, it's weird, I know that. If you know me, you understand the breadth, depth, and gaping holes in my weirdly selective knowledge of Whatever.

2018 saw the expansion of the freelance work, up to and including starting a retreat for other writers in Westray, an experiment that succeeded enough to repeat it in 2019, twice, and yes, going again in 2020. I also tried again in the spring of 2018 to heal from the traumatic miscarriage in 2007. I went to a workshop at Kripalu hosted by outside teachers that was so wrong it was almost hilarious. But  when I went to the Kripalu yoga classes I felt at home. I made a decision: I would become if at all possible a Kripalu yoga teacher so could be part of carrying on this important lineage, which is the opposite of spiritual bypass faux positivity crap that makes my skin crawl.

Back track to the shit storm of 2016, to remember that was the year also that my beloved cousin Darcy's asshole cancer returned. So the drumbeat underneath all my activity was: how long does she have left and how could I help? The answer was: all I could do was make phone calls and send crystals and gifts when possible, and she would die in September of 2018. My biggest fear in leading the retreat in 2018 was that she would die before I got home. Instead I just got a severe case of frozen shoulder. And the news Girls Meeting God was a semi-finalist for a book prize. The gods are fucking weird. In 2018 John was able to travel to Westray with me, and we had a week together as a 5-year-delayed honeymoon, so that was cool, too, but again all was overcast with the reality of Darcy's illness, the shoulder, and starting a writing retreat. Someday, we will have a proper honeymoon.

I was able to get to St. Paul at the end of August to see Darcy before she died. I wrote about that, too, and someday maybe that will get published. It took me well over a year to write about it even as a short essay. She was the closest I ever had to a sister so the word 'cousin' doesn't cut it as a term to describe her meaning to me. Suffice to say her dying plummeted me into a grief fog that was so complete, I have almost no memory of autumn 2018. I do remember trying to revise my book and sending it in, leading a workshop somehow, going to her memorial in November and then my memory does not return until December 2018 when I went to a very good healing workshop run by Aruni, who is a Kripalu veteran teacher, on grief, loss and renewal. Without that series of days and sharing with a few other people who were equally poleaxed by grief, I am not sure I would be functional.

The one thing I was able to do consistently throughout 2018 was text with MoveOn and that helped the Dems flip the House anyway. Did thousands of texts a day, like clockwork. I am proud of the work I did and the many, many others who did so, too.

Then in 2019 I focused on healing. I had intended to do yoga teacher training in October 2018 but my shoulder ixnayed that. (The body Does keep the score.) I began studying Qi Gong with Alicia Fox, which was transformative. I decided not to try to write because I was exhausted. I taught two workshops, though.

Artistic discoveries of this year that were revelatory include Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim in January and April, her paintings gave me life. The fact she knew a hundred years ago her work was not legible until the future was amazing, and now they quiver with meaning. In October, I discovered Betye Saar at the new MoMA. She is in her 90s, and only now being discovered. If you are a female artist, you best live long to see your work recognized in your own lifetime.

Graduating on Summer Solstice at Kripalu
I also directed a staged reading of On the edge of/a cure. That was both incredibly healing and challenging work that took place between February and May 2019. By the time I was done with that, I was ready to finally do the Kripalu yoga teacher training in June, which shifted me irrevocably. It was the capstone I intuited it might be that drew all the parts together, all the fragments somehow settling into one person. I have written a lot about that, too, but mentioning it here again because key to so much. Getting underneath fixed, linear story has been a cornerstone of my artistic project and lo and behold it's the cornerstone of yoga, too. Fancy that. But to embody this rather than just have an intellectual or artistic framework is a whole other level of living it.

At the 2018 retreat I worked on a novella and short story. The short story White shoe lady won the Nomadic Press chapbook contest in May and was published in December, and the novella I am about to begin revising. In the 2019 retreats, I began writing about my nonlinear journey through yoga. I am writing a lot now. If I had not allowed myself the long down time, though, I don't think I would have the reserves I do now.

During 2019 my workshops and retreats doubled and I now have numerous coach clients, and my own work is beginning to find a home. I am now teaching yoga, which may not seem like a big deal, but me it is huge, because to teach the way I do means embodying radical self-acceptance and compassion, so it keeps me honest.

the shelves that John built! So much more space & writing can breathe (me too!)
And equally, I spent the last week before Christmas organizing my office and the last few days doing the same thanks to John building me new shelves. John is doing well, too, in school and full time work, thriving in a city he moved to in his fifties, not a small thing.

In other words, instead of rushing off somewhere Else to heal or whatever, I am here, in my own space, in my own skin, in my own life. I am 56. It has taken this long. Oh, and I finally created a website, which relates to all this, because I brought together all my various moving parts. The Unadapted Ones. Check it out. Most likely my next blog post will be there, the one that greets the New year and new decade. This is the one that sums up the decade this blog covers. Maybe I am more settled now. I fear saying that, however, less it calls upon a real or psychic earthquake... I began this blog in lieu of a website in 2011. I wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up...

For 2020, I am present and accounted for, accepting reality as it is rather than as I would hope or fear it to be (as much as possible, understanding no one human ever totally can do that). If I keep staying sober one day at a time in February, I will be 33 years clean and sober. I should add without that rock solid ground, None of this is possible. And without the companionship and counsel of many other people who also stay clean and sober one day at a time, I would be bereft.

So...Happy New Year. Happy New Decade.

Find what brings you joy and go towards that more. Accept what is weighing you down is in fact weighting you down, and if possible, slough it off. And if you have any trauma in your background, and you have not read it yet, for the love of all that is holy read The Body Keeps the Score.

Let's help carry each other to shore.

path to Maes Sand outside of West Manse in Westray

the water the shore the distance the light the shadow...Westray
le puffins at Castle O'Burrian, Westray

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Chapbook published and FINALLY a website!

One of the reasons I have been so silent of late is creating a website. Finally! Back when I started this blog in 2011, I mentioned the need for a website, but I started this blog instead. I called it Somewhere in Transition, because I was, between so many identities and then more than I even knew, between countries and relationships and so much else besides.

Well, this year, I finally have found a way to put all these fragmented parts of me in one place, the aptly named website: The Unadapted Ones. Please do check it out. This blog will eventually migrate over there, since there is a blog option. As of now they coexist, and you can link to this blog from that site, but am guessing in about a year, I will be mostly there. I won't take this blog down, because it's a record of eight years of my life, and also still has the most comprehensive list of publications, etc.

However, this was a big step, and when I pressed 'publish' on the site, I felt nauseous, but so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, so go check it out and tell me what you think. You can subscribe to that site, too, and get updates on all parts of my life, including: publications, writing workshops, writing retreats, coaching and manuscript review services and yoga classes, among other things. I will be adding features and sections over time, but wanted to publish it now so finally had a place to send folks instead of grumbling about how I don't have a website yet. My favorite thing is, I finally have all the wonderful testimonials people have written me over these past few years about my teaching and coaching and retreats all in one place. Hurrah!

The other big news is my short story White shoe lady, which won the Nomadic Press Bindle Award in May is now published as a limited edition, illustrated chapbook! You can order here! I wrote this story on Westray in 2018 during the first writing retreat I led there, and it was inspired by growing up as a young child in rural Maine in the 1960s. Support a great press and order the chapbook! You can then read the story, too.

I hope to have some more good news to tell you in a month or so, but it's still being worked out so can't make it public yet, but fingers crossed and all that.

So, here's to bringing all the pieces together and embracing The Unadapted Ones!

Monday, December 9, 2019

In Blue review

Sometimes I use my blog to review theater that I see that interests me enough to write about it, and this is such a time. I was lucky enough to see In Blue, written and directed by Ran Xia at The Tank in NYC on Friday night (running through December 15), and wanted to share some thoughts on that.

The play does not reveal itself easily. The subjects are poet and playwright Else Lasker-Schuler and Blue Rider painter Franz Marc. I am on not an expert on either of them, and am not going to pretend to be for this review, though I am a fan of The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) school of painting, its most famous member being Kandinsky. I went to the play in part because of a memory of going to the museum in Munich devoted to this work back in 1984 and being blown away by the riot of colors and the sheer energy of the work.

Franz and Else's connection is not clearly factual or fictional, though according to the play there were postcards Franz sent to Else, and he illustrated one of her poems with his famous blue horses. But the sense of In Blue is that it is working much like abstract-expressionist paintings, vivid imagery that does not cohere to a specific story in the naturalistic sense of that word. What makes it hold together are the performances of Alyssa Simon and Finn Kilgore, who are grounded in each moment wherever it may go. Simon as Lasker-Schuler especially needs to move through multiple levels of presence, sometimes even within the same sentence, and does so with grace, ease, and humor, whereas Kilgore is an anchored fictional presence, seemingly evoked from Lasker-Schuler's memory and dreams. The direction and use of the beautiful set designed by Sarah Adkins and lights designed gorgeously by Becky Heisler McCarthy is imaginative and wonderful to watch unfold (sometimes literally). And, a special shout out to the costume designer Florence Lebas for sourcing the historically accurate and drop-dead gorgeous Lasker-Schuler shoes, which alone are worth the price of admission. The musician, Luke Santy, who is credited as performing a 'live score' is also a delight, and his presence and live music, including his interaction with Simon, adds a necessary present tense sense to the moment to moment flow of this multi-layered piece.

I am not attempting to be overly oblique here, but just wanting to evoke a sense of what it is like to watch this show. At first I became obsessed with dates (since many were mentioned) and where we were from moment to moment. Then I gave up and it got easier to follow. In the end, the bits, like in a Blue Rider painting, revealed themselves as a whole. The difference between theater and a painting being of course that the painting you see all at once whereas the play accumulates over time. So, I would counsel patience while watching, as it will all eventually come together, not in a linear whole but like a certain kind of painting or experimental music.

I do recommend going to see this play, as it gives insights into the early 20th Century, with some uncanny and uncomfortable parallels to our own tumultuous beginning of the 21st, and to a kind of love and connection via art and words that transcends—albeit in a troubled fashion—even such inconveniences as death and time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Yoga for Writers and (over)Thinkers - an invitation to a workshop

Integrating my teaching of writing and yoga has been a goal of mine for a while, since yoga has been of incalculable benefit to my writing practice. Yoga in the broadest sense of that word, including the various paths described below that include not only asana and pranayama (postures and breathing) but also meditation and intellect/self-study. Below is the flyer followed by a long form invite to this workshop, the first of which is happening December 8 from 1-4pm. If you are interested, get in touch, because it is a small studio and space is limited.

Yoga for writers and (over)thinkersstrengthening the container, cultivating the witness

You are invited to participate in a 3-hour workshop that integrates a number of yogic paths in order to give you as a writer or (over)thinker resilience as you move through your writing or any intellectual/creative practice or perhaps simply a thorny life issue.

At the beginning of the workshop we will focus on asanas and pranayama (postures and breath) to give you a series of techniques that you can bring with you to integrate into your every day. You do not need to be an experienced yogi for this workshop. These will be simple exercises and movements, that when repeated throughout the day can have a profoundly strengthening effect. This can help your body from seizing up into writer’s ‘slumpasana’ and all the attendant aches and pains that can go along with that. As anyone who writes (or works in an office) for a living knows, this seemingly un-physically challenging position of sitting and typing can create issues in our backs, necks, shoulders, wrists and legs, especially as we get older. There are simple things you can do throughout the day to loosen your body and breath practices to aid in concentration and also undercutting stress response. This section is considered Hatha Yoga, the path most people think of as yoga: the body as a mode of transformation.

We will then work with forms of meditation as ways to settle into and receive answers for any knotty questions about your writing or other life issues. This is Raja Yoga. This will also be where we begin to cultivate the witness. The witness is that which watches us think and act. In Kripalu yoga we talk about cultivating a compassionate witness; Swami Kripalu (1913-81), the founder of this lineage said: “Self-observation without judgment is the highest form of spiritual practice.” This self-observation applies to the pranayama and asanas as well, but in meditation we are engaged with this task in a direct way. We will also discuss tools for actively cultivating the witness in order to ‘ride the waves’ of intensity that can emerge in writing and in life, rather than jump off into the many modes of distraction and diversion.

Throughout the workshop we will also be walking the less well-known path of Jnana yoga, the intellectual path of self-study. This is when the writing comes in more directly. Throughout the workshop, you will be invited to write and engage your mind in what your body and heart are discovering on the mat. 

If you have a pre-existing writing practice, I encourage you to bring whatever it is you write on or with (assuming it is not WiFi dependent) and even some of your work. There will be opportunities to investigate any rough patches you may be having either with the content or process of your writing. I will invite you at the beginning of the workshop to set an intention regarding any of these questions, so the questions will be brewing inside you throughout, with a chance to invite new perspectives on these questions throughout the various stages of the workshop. If you do not have a writing practice, these exercises can be applied to any thorny issues in your life or other creative/intellectual endeavors. 

We may have time to read some of what you write to one another, perhaps in pairs, perhaps to the whole group. One way of strengthening the witness is allowing another to temporarily act as your witness; the experience of conscious listening can be quite transformative, both as the receiver and the listener. This can include reading writing or simply speaking, then hearing from the listener what they received. It is not a critique session but instead a way to simply hear, after you have spoke or read, what another heard from you, and to hear yourself either read or speak aloud, without interruption. 

What you will come away with after the workshop are some tools you can use in your everyday life to ground your body and breath, thereby strengthening your ability to write or create in any way, which manifests as enhanced resilience to continue creating and living through rough patches. While this workshop will be focused on yoga for writers, these tools can be used in relation to other forms of creative and intellectual endeavors, including writing as a form of self-study. The practice of cultivating the witness is useful no matter what you do in life, as it offers methods to move through even the most challenging times without checking out. 

If interested, please reserve a spot, as the studio is small and space is limited. 

Sunday, December 8, 1-4pm, Inwood Movement, 5030 Broadway #613. 
Subway: A to 207th or 1 to 215th.

Fee: $60 advanced payment/$65 at the door (assuming there is space). Contact me at andwearebreathing@gmail.com with any questions. If you want to attend but money is an issue, get in touch. I don’t want to turn away anyone for lack of funds. In relation to this, if you can pay a little more, please do, so I can subsidize a spot for someone who cannot pay the full amount.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Offering gentle, meditative Kripalu yoga classes for Every body beginning on Sunday, woohoo!

So, it's official, I am teaching yoga now as a KYT & RYT 200 certified teacher! Started out small in August, and the classes are continuing now that I am back in New York after another great writing retreat in Westray, Scotland. I may teach more but for now it's Sundays at 1pm at Inwood Movement, which is a lovely intimate studio.

The flyer I designed (!) is below. And if you want to know more about Kripalu yoga, scroll down a couple posts to where I describe why I think Kripalu yoga is special and you can read more. And of course you can get in touch with any questions if you are interested. I am happy to bring this type of yoga to other spaces and workshops, so if you have a studio or a space or a group of people who might be interested or want a private session, get in touch.

This along with my writing workshops is my joy. The photo was taken by my dear friend and excellent photographer Jill Nierman when we were in Stromness in the Orkney Isles together before the writing retreat in Westray in September. She captured how I feel about yoga and writing and the Orkney Isles all in one...as I have said many times, I am rich in friends. Who also happen to be wildly talented. A plus.

Monday, September 9, 2019

on unconditional love and grief

It is a year since my beloved cousin Darcy died. I wrote a letter to her for her sons, at the behest of her husband. He had asked those of us close to Darcy to write memories down while they were fresh and she was still alive. I wrote and sent mine to him a couple days before Darcy died, which was a few days after I had visited them in St. Paul. Because my sadness today puts me at a loss for words, but I want to honor this anniversary, below are excerpts (with some adaptations for public context) from that letter. And below that are a couple photos.


Dear Darcy,

My first memory of you is Jani telling me about how you and she picked strawberries. She clearly adored you, and I was so envious. You were the granddaughter in Milwaukee, the one of whom she was so proud. 

We first met when I flew to Milwaukee for Jani's memorial service. You were (almost?) 12. I was 16. You told me years later Jani had told you all these wonderful things about me and you were intimidated, but there was no need. I was just a scared, freaked out teenager. But we got along as I recall, though to be honest my memory of that time is hazy, other than a very strong felt-sense, that I think most likely emanated from you and your mother, which was of warmth. I was attending a boarding school in New England on scholarship. Warmth was in short supply. 

Because of so many reasons, great and small...we were not in touch again until we were much older. We met again at my parents' dining room table in Maine, and I remember feeling: we are related. I remember also feeling: I don't feel related to anyone else. Because I had never had that feeling until meeting you again then. It felt strong. I finally understood the phrase: blood is thicker than water. As an only child with a fairly random-chance childhood, I had never felt this.

Was it the tilt of your eyebrows? Your sense of humor? The mix of deep warmth and deep skepticism? A certain depth of soul that I find rare, maybe not because depth of soul is rare, but perhaps it is not always easy to recognize in those to whom we do not feel kinship. We were both Jani's granddaughters. That was clear.

The time we got to spend in Maine in 2004 was a gift. S was 4 and L was a baby. J had to pick me up at the Portland bus station because I had made the mistake (never to be repeated) of taking a cheap bus line to Boston that literally burst into flames on the highway. All were safe but sat at the side of the road for ages. I barely new J but as will come as no surprise to you or anyone else, he was gracious about this late night guest washed up hours away, and we had a nice chat back to Damariscotta.

You and I had time to talk, but this visit was about your mother, Carol. She was dying of breast cancer then. You were so worried about her and doing everything you could to make her comfortable. Meanwhile, you asked me about my own life and affairs of the heart. Again, the warmth. 

And from Carol, too, who was insistent we go on the whale watch come hell or high water. Sound familiar? It should. And that was a lovely day. Carol was happy. I think it was hardest on you, though, because you could see her pain. You are always so aware of your surroundings, and especially the cares and concerns of those who are lucky enough to bask in your love, which I think is infinite. I know you would scoff at that and tell me I'm exaggerating, because that's what you do, and like me, you find every reason on earth to be on your own case, but I wish at least for this moment, you could stop and see yourself how I see you: loving, kind, crazy smart, funny, wise, and yes sometimes sad and angry, because why wouldn't you be? But always present. Always. Present.

Another lovely memory I hold in my heart is the time I visited you all in St. Paul in 2011. I think James picked me up and my first memory of your house is L marching me up the stairs (he was 8) to meet his plastic figurines. One looked like a Dr. Who character, which led to watching Dr. Who (with parental agreement of course). L loving it, S being afraid of the monsters, and asking me about them, walking down in his PJs with James to make sure they weren't real, asking for a hug. I was stunned that an 11 year old could speak so articulately about his feelings, but then again he had you and J as parents, so why should it be a surprise?

Once again, unplanned, I was an emotional wreck because of my second marriage ending (I took on this aspect of the Jani personality apparently). And you wanted to help, and I wasn't having it, and you - in your warm way - basically told me I was being an asshole. Which I was. You were right. I have always been grateful for that conversation. You probably don't remember it that way, but it was done with such kindness, it didn't hurt, because you said it from love.

Other times during that trip included lovely moments like sitting on beanbags (I think they were?) in Walker Art Center watching a slideshow of Nan Goldin's photos of children, so beautiful and So unsentimental. Her aesthetic suited us both right down to the ground. We also went to a yoga class together that I loved instantly, gentle and wise was your yoga teacher. Afterwards, we discussed without going too far the senses we got there. The intimations of things not seen. Larger than us.

This is where I feel the most connected to you in the end.  I know you are agnostic, whereas I believe deeply in something I cannot explain but has saved me one too many times to be easily dismissed. But I think deep down you have had this experience, too. 

I remember too and will never forget our brief - all too brief - goodbye conversation on the sofa when you told me about dragonflies, that they are ancient but live such short lives, and in their short lives they are so busy - mating, making more dragonflies… but how you loved it when one would alight on your arm when you were younger. You were somehow wanting to link to this to the fact that it was OK we were saying goodbye. You could not remember what you wanted to say, but I think you said it:

Ancient but brief. Something about life. About our connection perhaps? It is how I feel it anyway. S walked in the door soon after that, your brother had driven him from Grinnell. The mood changed, and then I did have to leave, it was so late. I don't remember the actual moment we said goodbye, perhaps because we said it a number of times that night. You told me you didn't think you were dying "right" and I feel like I didn't say goodbye "right" - which for both of us was precisely: typical.

These are snapshots. There is so much to be said. There is nothing more to be said. You are my heart. As are your sons, and I hope they know that. If they ever want deep background, I can give them the book that is half about Jani, who is an influence like no other. I am here for you always, and them, too.

You wrote once you loved me to infinity. And I wrote back I love you to infinity and back.

And I do.

I love you to infinity and back.

Julia xoxoxo……

Darcy on left with brother Jonathan, sitting on legendary Jani's lap

Darcy and me in Maine in 2004, her young son's head visible

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The unbearable sadness of sadness

So, here I am taking a train to a ferry to my favorite place on earth...the Orkney Isles to lead a writing retreat, so I should be happy, but I am sad because it is the anniversary of the last two days I saw my cousin alive last year.

While she has been with me in spirit since she died—I have felt her love it is palpable—her loss here on earth I find so unacceptable and cruel.

I am also jet lagged and so am tired, but am also finding this anniversary time deeply difficult. I hate how many people are taken out by cancer, too young. So I am looking out the window and taking photos from the train, and so happy to be taking this journey, while also feeling it is difficult to breathe because of a sense of grief overcoming me like a giant weight on my chest.

That plus the world of political insanity both in the US and UK make it hard to feel happy about much.

I guess I am writing about this here and now on this train because I have the time to allow these feelings, and also as a reminder to anyone dealing with grief that deep sadness about loss knows no linear time line.

I want to say, too, that seeing Darcy a year ago today and tomorrow was such a profound gift. And that today while I am sad, I am forever grateful for that time, and also grateful that today, unlike a year ago, I do not have a frozen shoulder.

In general, I have a lot to be grateful for but cannot shake this heavy feeling. I am struck by the fact that for all of my supposedly knowing better, and how I would say this is irrational to anyone else, that when feeling deeply sad, I somehow judge myself for this sadness, as if it is a moral failing. I know this makes no sense, but I always remember at times like this a friend saying to me a long time ago "I am so ashamed of my pain." I did not understand what she meant. She was in her mid-30s, I was 23 or 24. I now know. I also know it is not necessary, but I think pain plus exhaustion = judgment.

That is OK if I can witness this phenomenon without judgment, and sometimes the way I need to witness is to write it down. I keep feeling like to post this I need to have some kind of happy note, but it's not there, so going to post it anyway. I can say that out the window is lush green, hills and valleys and fields. There is a lot to love about my life now, and I do, but still there is this sadness. Both are true.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Moonshots, yoga, and writing retreat on Westray

I woke up to see a post of the broadcast from the Apollo 11 flight to the moon fifty years ago. Watching bits of it made me cry. I remember watching it with my mother back in 1969, tired because I was 6 years old, she was waking me up to see Neil Armstrong step on the moon. They looked so fragile, black and white snowmen ghostly, bouncing lightly on the surface like they might fly away, but there they were on the moon, and the adults were excited. I think to me at that age it seemed like a dream. But I knew it was important.

This time, seeing the image of the earth from their tiny little return rocket, all of the fragility, all of the beauty flooding into me.

And I am here in Westray, Scotland (part of Orkney Isles), my spiritual home, writing and writing and writing, about my yoga journey mostly, which was and is rocky, not at all a happy, clappy ride into bliss or whatever. But working with the Yoga Sutras and seeing their depth, so grateful for the transformation I experienced during the yoga teacher training at Kripalu, which feels more real the further away from it I am, because it was not a rosy time. It was a really challenging time, with some amazing moments, but through that rough road I transformed.

The Yoga Sutras embody an experience I had many years ago, a sudden illumination early in my sobriety, but one that I did not have a strong enough container to launch me into transformation. Instead it was there to save my sorry ass through many years of hurling myself into what Rumi would refer to as "mean-spirited road houses."

But it did save me, because I did not drink again. I am alive, and now, only now, do I feel I have any of the tools I need to begin to embody the reality that was shown to me so clearly and yet so shockingly in 1987 at a bus-stop in San Francisco of all places. Not the primary location one would choose for a life-altering spiritual experience, but there you go. My life is nothing if not filled with the spiritual smashed up against the quotidian—to be perfectly honest I would not have it any other way.

So what does the moon landing have to do with any of this? Moonshots I suppose, those moments you shoot ourself out there wondering where it will lead but knowing you literally have nothing left to lose other than either a sense of being stuck or some other prison cell you are finally ready to leave.

And now, because one of those moonshots for me was starting this writing retreat in Westray, I am reaping the benefits of one such leap of faith. Here now writing with other women who are also writing, for many hours a day, in a house that is silent from 9am to 5pm, a luxury all of us love, the luxury to Not socialize or respond, but instead to be absorbed in one's own thoughts and writing. For women especially, socialized since the gate to respond, listen, receive, mirror, etc., this is a gift. We need to allow ourselves time to sink into our selves and Selves, our voices, our own ideas, listen to the subtle shifts, Not perform, Not make someone else feel better and etc.

Everyone seems to be having breakthroughs with large projects—the kind you cannot wrap your mind around without large chunks of time and space. My breakthrough is simple: I am writing. After months of grief-induced silence, since November, I can write again. This alone feels like a huge gift. It's a bit creaky, of course, but it's happening and ideas are flowing out of me. Of course it's just a draft and will need lots of rewriting, that's a given, but that is also totally OK.

I also did the final edits on White shoe lady for Nomadic Press, so that will be coming out as a chapbook in the near future. Not sure of the timeline, but you will of course hear of it. I don't think I wrote a blog post when won the Bindle Prize (their chapbook contest) because it came as such a shock. This was a story I wrote here in Westray last year and was rejected all over the place, though some were 'nice' rejections, from places like Granta, so I had some hope...but also felt despair because I had been submitting it for months. So, if anyone out there is a writer, please use this as inspiration and Keep Submitting your work.

Also, hot tip: yoga and meditation to start your day helps. A lot. So honored to lead that most days here, and some days on my own out behind the house, Orkney wind energizing me, breathing me alive...and sometimes Qigong as well, gathering the energies, bringing them back inside and writing all day long.

Today I have been editing an excerpt from the book project I am drafting in hopes can be legible for a reading tomorrow. We shall see.

And of course the beauty of this place cannot be overstated. Some photos below. All are from or near the house. I could not feel more grateful. This place is a gift. This place is my home. So is New York City. Go figure.

Maes Sand, the beach a few minutes walk away

Maes Sand

Puffins here and below! A cycle ride away.

The extraordinary water of the North Sea where it meets the Atlantic - crystal clear

The retreat house, overlooking all of the above

Sunset close to 11pm

View outside my window at 3am—in the summer it never gets truly dark

Thursday, July 4, 2019

"I'm getting closer to my hoooome..."

Just aged myself with that title.

But as anyone who knows me would know this means...I am on the train headed north to the ferry to Orkney.

I have two places on earth I consider home. NYC and the Orkney Isles. I love islands. Crowded islands and way less crowded islands. With waterways that meet, specific currents, energy coming from the stone, and something that cannot be pinned down.

I am now on the final crazy leg of this journey. The great part is the train is usually half empty and the  other part is because it's such a wendy way, what is about 2 hours or less by car takes 4 hours by train, but it is a beautiful four hours, so I am good. That plus all the extra space means I am happy.

Had a wonderful time in Glasgow and Edinburgh before the journey, first seeing art in an exhibition Home Where Home Is Not, that I am honored to have been asked to respond to with a "performative tour" (no I'm not sure what that means either, but happily I get to decide what that means so it should be fun). The exhibit was created in conversation with women who live in NorthEast Glasgow, and the work has been made by Birthe Jorgensen and Sogol Mabadi. It's extraordinary, half of it is at Plat-form and the other at Glasgow Women's Library. Go see it if you can. My response, which will be in conversation with whomever shows up, will be on July 21 from 2-4pm, beginning at Plat-form, with a bus that takes everyone to GLW in between. Having had a chance, even if jet lagged, to engage with the work, I cannot tell you how excited I am to contribute even a little something to this exhibition. Come and play with me if you can.

Next was staying with friend Jules in Edinburgh. We met when she was on my writing retreat last year in Westray (the same one I am going to lead now). She, too, is an incredible artist and writer, so we were able to talk about so many things and ground in the way too people of like minds and experiences can ground. A soul friend. As is Birthe. I am lucky that way. The biggest and most consistent blessings in my life have been my friendships.

Got to see Edinburgh from Jules' point of view, which was enlightening. I like ground eye view of cities more than tourist eye view or event-specific. The quotidian is where my heart lies, not the grand gestures or the city's frosting. Jules made gorgeous meals, and we took long walks, and one afternoon I just...napped. Which was delightful. Plus she has a cat named Tiger who is the female equivalent of Ugo in terms of size, coloring and temperament.

Now I am simply traveling, which - once the luggage is stowed, I have a seat and a little space (and a view out of the window) - is my happy place. I am however always taken aback by the nerves the accompany each stage of travel, even when I have done it before and know it will be OK. I was able to use techniques learned at yoga teacher training to accept these emotions, not push them away, and thereby let them move through. Understand there are reasons for that anxiety, some from my past, and that trying to suppress that makes it worse. But there is also a way to accept without just getting stuck there. "BRFWA" as it's called at Kripalu...aka Breathe (as in, you know, breathe), Relax (find a way to just be in whatever place you are without too much resistance, and check if the body is clutching at things real or imaginary), Feel (acknowledge and let yourself feel whatever you are feeling even if it is "irrational" or "disproportionate" - letting go of the judgment long enough to, you know, just feel whatever it is you are feeling), Watch (cultivating witness consciousness, a compassionate eye that watches all the fluctuations of your mind and feelings, which is also you, but not a part we usually acknowledge, and that part also connects to the larger universe, so is kind of a portal in a way to an awareness of connection to all that is, but in this instance is simply a part of you that can watch without judgment), then finally Allow - with witness consciousness in place, there is a container that is strong enough to allow the feelings, to ride the wave of whatever is happening, so you don't have to push it away or cling to it, so you can let it be...just as it is.

When I have used this technique at each stage of travel, I have come in touch with a rather terrorized little girl who was wrenched in many directions against her will. And in many cases (not all) the changes were not good. Sometimes they were, so it was a crapshoot. This is the level of vulnerability that comes up when I do one of my favorite things: traveling. So, with BRFWA, I get to be in touch with that, have compassion for that little girl but also assure her that things are different now and that I'm here. And we are OK. This may sound kind of cliche or self-help-y, but when felt deeply in my experience, it has been transformative. What creates stasis is when I try to push that fear away, because I was told I had to do that from about 3 years old, so when pushing these uncomfortable (read: embarrassing) feelings away, I am reenacting, however unwittingly, a level of abuse.

By using the full technique, starting with the breathing, I can allow the little girl the full range of her feelings, thereby liberating years of stuckness, and the effect is I feel lighter and more energetic. Not by trying to be "positive" or whatever, but by allowing in Reality in its full dimension/s.

So, here I am now on a train, happy as a clam, writing this blog post. I may go through some anxiety later, but right now, feeling happy. And the fact is the feelings change. "This too shall pass" applies as much to happiness as sadness. It's like the Scottish weather. The sun can disappear quickly, but so does the rain, the sky is ever changing, the clouds have so many colors in them, infinite varieties of blues and grays and whites, and they are always moving. In Orkney, with its high winds, which are usually a constant, this phenomenon is on fleek. The land is varied in height, but with very few trees so the view is 360 degrees - you can watch weather systems come in and out, tides and currents shift - and where I will be staying in Westray with the writers on retreat - we look out to where the Atlantic and North Sea meet.

At Kripalu for 26 days in the Berkshires, I began to really understand the attraction of mountains, which has never been a big thing for me. But looking out at the mountains day after day going back and back to the horizon, all the layers of blues and mists and fog and grey and green, I saw how peaceful that is, too. Any buzzing thoughts fade into insignificance in the face of the mountains' gentle solidity. In the same way these thoughts melt into insignificance in the face of ocean tides.

It is a gift to go from that to Westray, from one place to another of deep calm.

I write this while a young mother chases her little kids up and down the aisles of a train, one screaming periodically, and am aware of the privilege built into my life wherein I have the freedom to do the things I do. And I am profoundly grateful for these gifts in my life. I don't have hardly any money, but I do find a way to hurl myself into the world, and so far, like the trapeze artists who have to let go of one bar and hang suspended before caught by another pair of hands or to catch another bar, I have been caught or sent something to hold onto, so many times.

There have been times when I have felt alone, isolated, and profoundly hard done by, but in the end, even after these fallow periods, something new emerged. This is not an "it's all good" post, because I don't think things I and many other people have had to endure are "good," but this is a gratitude post, because I do feel lucky that I have managed to rally so many times...

with a little help from my friends...

(or, as Rumi would say, the Friend.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What makes Kripalu Yoga special?

Why, I'm glad you asked.

I had a lot of answers to this question before doing yoga teacher training at Kripalu, based on 18 years of practicing in this lineage. I would have told you about sensations of meditation in motion, the gentleness of the practice, how it asks you to tune into your own body, and the mysteriously wonderful feeling after a practice or during savasana when integrating the class.

But now that I have gone through the teaching training, I have a whole new appreciation of what goes into making a Kripalu yoga class what it is, and a real understanding of why the training is so challenging.

I could go into a lot of technical things, but that would be of little interest to many, so will focus instead on the crux of the matter: it is all about compassion, for the self and for each other. What this means is: to become a Kripalu yoga teacher, to practice and lead with this level of compassion, and inspire it in your students, you need to find it for yourself.

So, whatever residual bits or chunks or say, I dunno, reservoirs, of self-hatred you have in you have to be somehow exorcised, because it turns out that the only way to be compassionate to someone else truly is to have it for yourself. The Bible says "love your neighbor as yourself" but if you don't love yourself, how the hell are you going to treat your neighbor? Probably not so well.

Yeah, so, this is the crux of what was challenging for me, and the reason I am so proud that I made it through the process. Whether it was through self-laceration or self-judgment, or in the middle of the training, practicing poses that injured me so that I had to stay still for a few days, I had to face up to all the ways I hurt myself...and find a way to stop.

Some people told me this kindly, some in ways I could not or would not hear or somehow seemed to boomerang and make it worse, but the fact remained: they were all right, whether conveyed skillfully or not. I had to get the monkey off my back.

And there was only one way to do that, also made clear by yoga philosophy: let go of the stories. All the stories. The stories we tell ourselves (I tell myself) about what we/I can or cannot do. The stories others told us when we were growing up or in school about what we could or could not do. The stories literally and figuratively inflicted on us, either through overt or covert abuse. Traumas big and small, complex or straightforward...that all leave traces, scars, engravings on our souls AND on our bodies.

The biggest story I was told from the gate, verbally and nonverbally was: you are weak, there is something wrong with you physically, you are somehow awkward, your eyes are weird, you are uncoordinated, and etc. Add to this verbal, physical, and sexual abuse and you have someone who is no fan of being in her own body, and if reminded - horrors - in a mirror - will flee, fight or freeze - it is so terrifying.

So, what brought all this up were the practice teach sessions, when I needed to allow others to observe me. I wrote in an earlier post about one of the worst episodes with this, but the fact is this happened to varying degrees no matter how skillful the mentor or viewer. I had to ask one of the assistants at our lunch "study hall" to write stuff down while I taught someone so I could get used to this without freaking out.

Now, before this I had directed plays and taught university classes with people watching me. I had defended my PhD in front of others (obviously). I have had my theater work loved and loathed by critics, but it was practice teaching yoga that nearly broke me.


Because I was having to be Embodied in front of others, AND help them to do the same WITH others watching. Given my personal history this felt and - even now typing these words even after a successful final practice teach that gave me great joy and led to certification - still feels terrifying. The only difference is now I have found tools to help me deal with the terror.

I don't know if attempting to teach another kind of yoga would have made me feel this way or not, but I damn sure know that teaching Kripalu yoga did, because it requires a level of compassion that leads to empowerment of the students, through specific languaging yes but also something more subtle. So that trying to do this meant all the voices and abusers came crashing down to contraindicate that ability.

The ancient voices did not win (see above in re my final practice teach) but they were and are Loud and Scary. Which means of course, I will sure as shit continue to teach yoga, because whatever happened at Kripalu the 26 days I was there, everyone I see now notices it. People comment on how I look, my posture and my bearing. As one friend said, it's like a whole lot of something fell off your shoulders.

And I have a feeling that just like with recovery, I'm going to have to give it away to keep it.

I also want to honor the teachers we had this past month, Jurian Hughes and Rudy Peirce, who  have to give of their hearts and souls to share this teaching with us, the coordinator Sachi, and all the assistants, Deb, Kathy, Michael and Kristin...and the other guest teachers...it does take a village to make a Kripalu Yoga teacher.

Finally, in honor of this, I share with you some yoga selfies I took in my kitchen today - yep, kitchen warrior poses. Virabhadrasana 1 & 3. Because, it's me, and to show you that indeed any Body can do yoga. Taking selfies does not come naturally to me. This took a battle with the aforementioned voices. But here they are. When I teach, I will invite people into this gentle, compassionate practice, whether you think you are a "yoga person" or not. If I can do it, so can you.

P.S. I turned 56 in June...so, this is 56.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

PTSD and its aftermath - how to hold space

Yep, my time at Yoga Teacher Training was indeed transformative, and I am now a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher - yay! Throughout the process was laid bare and vulnerable in ways beyond what thought was tolerable. Thanks to a skillful trainer and assistant, and some people outside of the Kripalu program I could reach out to who are part of my recovery community, I was able to walk through some triggering events, and now on the other side, feel confident I can teach the kind of yoga I want to teach: gentle, compassionate and meditative for anyBody, especially those who feel disqualified from yoga because not young, thin or bendy. This is what drew me to Kripalu Yoga in the first place. I realized this month that I also want to reach out to rehabs and detoxes to offer this type of yoga, since it can be very helpful for the difficult physical transitions of the body as it attempts to let go of drugs and alcohol, which is in my wheelhouse.

However, there were moments when I was not sure I would make it because this training makes you have to come into touch with the core of your being, including the traumatized bits. Not that anyone was traumatizing per se, but if you have been scared out of your body from a very young age, and then not only need to be in it to do yoga but then be in it enough to teach others to do the same While Others Are Watching You Do This...is another thing altogether.

In savasana (a meditative, restful time lying on floor at end of most yoga classes), I had a felt sense of how challenging this would be for me and began to cry. Afterwards, I went to talk about this to the trainer I had a feeling would get it and they did (NB: I am going to use 'they' as a gender neutral way of discussing people here, because I want this to be about principles rather than personalities, and if you know where I studied and with whom gender designations would give it away). Even though this person did not have a complete understanding, they did have the ability to understand there was something large going on and convey both an ability to hold space for that while also conveying faith in me that I would get through it. This was done not by using fake psychology, but simply reminders to breathe and stay in the present. Conveying both that I was seen and also—importantly—was not a broken toy who needed to be fixed or somehow pitied.

This is the key to accepting someone else's PTSD response.

What is a PTSD response, you might ask, and how would I know it?

Basically it's this: whatever form it takes, it does not track with what you can see in front of you as a person. If that person is generally confident and then is in a puddle of tears, definitely a good possibility they have been triggered. The reason this kind of seemingly atypical response is different than some kind of pathology is because PTSD is a manifestation of what is/was actually a Very Skillful response to what was an impossible situation that kept that person alive. So if someone dissociates or melts down in some obvious way, that is not a sign of a pathological breakdown but instead defense at what appears to be like the original trauma. Yes, it may seem out of line with the situation at hand, and YES, please for the love of all that is holy trust me on this, THE PERSON KNOWS THIS.

So, examples of less than skillful responses include telling a person who is crying after a disappointing-to-them practice teach in part due to the fact someone they have never met has been watching them while writing stuff down with what appeared like a grimace on their face, that they need to "deal with their negative self-talk."


Let's break this down as to all the reasons this is a bad idea.

1) As above, the person crying knows they are having a disproportionate response. This is not news. This person has been triggered, and if that person is trying to tell you that and all you say is "you have to deal with your negative self-talk" you know that (a) the person is not seeing you and (b) that person has decided that you Are a broken toy and worse—since clearly they do not have a clue what is happening—they can somehow Fix you.

2) Even if you were right and it was only an issue of "negative self-talk" to keep pointing that out is judgmental and therefore would make this syndrome worse.


3) If it is a PTSD response, this insistence amounts to blaming the victim and has the effect of not being useful information at all, but instead can have the effect of feeling humiliating.


What would be more useful in that scenario?

Something like the more skillful trainer did on numerous occasions:

1. Saw me for where I was and acknowledged it.

2. Made it clear that my vulnerability was not frightening to them, nor was it somehow off the charts or pathological in any way.

3. Reminded me of yogic principles (for instance Kripalu yoga has a wonderful system for "riding the wave" of seemingly overwhelming emotions: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow). When reminded of this, and assured by the presence of this person that I was Not a broken toy, I could then use these tools on my own and Find My Own Way Out of the PTSD Response. In other words, this is empowering. It is not either pathologizing or condescending, nor is it fixing, which is problematic because it makes the person feel they are incapable of finding their own way out.

Is this hard to pull off? You betcha. Have I met lots of people capable of this? No. But is it something that can be cultivated in oneself? Yes, I believe it is.

The key issue, however, is this: You Must Be OK with Your Own Vulnerability. If you are afraid of parts of yourself that are vulnerable or that perhaps you judge as "weak" or "unseemly", then you will not be able to hold space for someone who is truly melting down in front of you. Because the part of you that is scared of your own vulnerability will recoil and feel the need to label or pathologize or fix the person in front of you.


So, what I learned in my 26 days of Yoga Teacher Training is that I can survive my own worst meltdowns and fears. That I could find a way, after the first major one with the less than skillful mentor, to protect my own space and energy field (thanks to a friend who offered me a QiGong protection mudra with movement, and also remembering some of my own tools from my 32+ years of recovery). That I can distinguish between what is mine (aka baggage bringing to an interaction) and the less than ideal responses of some people. That when I feel humiliated in many cases this is because I have allowed someone to see a vulnerability in me they are not themselves prepared to cope with so feel the need to shut me down by labeling it or trying to fix me. That even so, that person or people are doing their best and that their vulnerability is manifesting as a fear of mine. So that in no case–and I want to emphasize this—do I think anyone was ever trying to hurt me in any way, and that at all times even these people who inadvertently hurt me did have my best interests at heart. However, there is this deep work one learns to do if having spent a long time in life recovering from trauma/s and various ways of coping with said trauma/s, and if one has not done this work or maybe even if one has not had to do this work, there is a certain lack of understanding brought to the spaces I ended up inhabiting at a few key phases during my training.

Having said that, there was the skilled trainer and also an assistant who had an instinctive understanding of what was happening and offered useful tools at key times. And the trainer was able to help me process some of the more difficult interactions.

But the main thing I want to convey here is this: even if you find yourself as someone in a situation with someone having a PTSD episode and you don't understand it: (a) hold space as much as possible, (b) listen to what the person is saying, (c) affirm their strength for being there in that moment, even if in a somewhat disheveled or perhaps dissociated state, and tell them both verbally and non-verbally, that you have confidence they can endure whatever they are going through at the moment and encourage them back to the present moment where—assuming you have done all of the above—it is safe. Also, and this is key, do not assume you know why or what has triggered this or what their background is or is not. If they want you to know, they will tell you. If you talk to them, however seemingly compassionately about their "rough life" when you don't even know what it was, again the person will feel singled out and pitied. If they want you to know the details, you will find out.

You can Always say: wow, I don't have this experience and am not sure what to do, how to offer help,  and ASK the person is there something I can do? And then believe their answer. Finally, if nothing helps, consider reaching out to someone else you know who you think may be better suited to the task. In other words: be humble, don't assume you have to know how to deal with it, but be ready to find out you do not, and admit to where you are. Then you, too, are showing vulnerability, and become safer.


I hope this is useful information. Finally, if you have a friend or loved one who deals with PTSD on the regular (or you yourself do), I cannot recommend The Body Keeps the Score highly enough. This will give you the information you need to understand what that person is dealing with on a physiological level, even aside from the obvious emotional distress. When I read this book a couple years ago, it marked the first time I did not in my heart of hearts feel broken or beyond repair. I saw what made up the symptoms in my brain and body, and had a compassion for myself and others who similarly suffer. I saw we were not beyond redemption, we were skillful survivors of impossible situations, either in childhood or as adults or both, domestic or in war or both, and that given this knowledge and self-awareness we can find how to navigate the world in a way which is less fractured. Perfect? No. At times triggered? You bet. But with compassion.

"The highest form of spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment" said Swami Kripalu.

I agree.

Peace out.