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Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (from the uyd archives) November 15, 2014

November 2014:
When I am struggling, friends sometimes say: “Go read your own blog!” Well, this past week has been a doozy of curve balls and losses. I recalled the blog below, from December 2010. I’m a bit embarrassed to share it, because it feels like I’ve been mostly depressed since then! Truth be told, the past 4 years have, indeed, been a severe string of betrayal, physical assaults, family hostility and loss. So, yes, I just went and read my own blog. Because this one – written in the midst of processing a trauma – is “Holly at her best.” Transparency, counsel, action, hope, resilience. Onward.
Thanks for reading. Love to you and all. OM Shanti.

*  *  *

(December 2010)

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist

When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.

So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.

Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.

Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!

You must know that you can swim through every change of tide.  – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.

It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.

Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.

So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.

I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.

Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer

Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood.  My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness.  Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god.  I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection).  At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment.  Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.

Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music.  I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles.  I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles.  And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.

My parents are not to blame.  The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had.  As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me.  Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.

I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life.  Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity!  Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma.  My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans.  That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time.  This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.

Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher

For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others.  I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better.  Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.

Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns.  Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.

Our December [2010] class focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past.  All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.

Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity.  At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens.  Sometime life throws some curve balls.  And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.

I was hit by a pitch this past summer.  The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding.  Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone.  I lived in fear.

Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock.  I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.

Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist

At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again.  I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions.  He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.

While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Somatic Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Somatic Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs).  It was subtle and yet powerful!

With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it.  On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter.  Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time.  Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.

Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience.  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder

Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered.  This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness.  It was tough.  I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows.  I could feel my entire body vibrating.  Tears flowed.  I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing.  But I knew I needed to stay in the process.

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter

This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past.  It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.

Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically.  One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again.  I’m just not there yet.  But I will be.  I will bounce back.

You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer

To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs.  But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.

Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life.  You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.

I am scared. And I am growing, too.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.



My Father Is My Super Hero June 13, 2014


High School Hunk And Super Hero In Training

My mother is my Guru.  And my father is my Super Hero.

You may have read my blog about Mom being my greatest teacher.  I’ve re-posted it on her birthday, her death anniversary and Mother’s Day…

Why have I not celebrated Dad in a blog?  The man has supported me – carried me, really – through so many things. Our bond is deep, and our love is strong. Particularly now…

It’s time.

*  *  *

Memory #1: I’m just a little kid, transitioning from taking baths, and learning how to take showers. I’m terrified of getting water in my eyes, and extremely sensitive to the cold. Our hot water heater is small; so short showers are essential – as is not using hot water elsewhere in the house while someone’s in the shower (i.e. doing laundry, washing dishes, simultaneously showering in another bathroom). It’s winter. I’m alone in the shower, and the water goes cold. I howl out in pain. Somewhere out in the house, I hear my father yelling at someone. Then the bathroom door opens – Dad to the rescue! He wraps me in a dryer-warmed, fluffy towel and sits me next to the heater, which he’s cranked-up to high. He leaves, shuts the door to keep in the warmth, and goes out to yell some more.

Memory #2: It’s summer. I’m probably about, oh, 8 or 9 years old. Dad and I are in the back yard, by the gazebo that he is building by hand, from scratch. He’s trying to get a nasty knot out of a piece of tangled rope. He’s failing and extremely frustrated. He growls, “Damn it,” throws down the rope, and stomps inside the house. Holly to the rescue! I pick up the rope, patiently un-do the knot, and take it to my father.

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Memory #3: As a pre-teen, I start to sense my father’s immense frustration with my mom’s alcoholism. And, having witnessed Dad’s grief when his sister – my beloved Aunt Jeannie – died from cirrhosis of the liver, I try to make my mom stop drinking. It’s Friday evening. The family is getting ready to go to synagogue for Sabbath services. My mom makes a gin martini to take with her in the car. I spill it out in the kitchen sink. She slaps my face. I sit next to my father in silence for the rest of the night.

Memory #4: In very early childhood, I overhear my parents arguing about money. My father says that, if I had not been born, they would not have financial problems. I would not recall this event – plus the fact that I was an unplanned child – until adulthood, during therapy. For most of my life, this “core wound” had subconsciously shaped my negative self-image as an unwanted problem, plus, engrained my own financial problems. My father is not at fault; he is not a bad person. Such fights are normal between parents under great stress of hardship. My father spoke out of frustration; and he didn’t know I could hear. The kicker? For decades during my own active alcoholism and through tough times in sobriety, my father would give me money (adding up to a great amount in total) – ignoring his own limitations, enabling my pattern of financial instability and reinforcing my “core wound.” Again – nobody’s the bad guy in this unfortunate twist of family dysfunction. The outcome? A bittersweet emotional and financial dependence that would leave both my father and me depleted…


Dad & Me, Nashville, Father’s Day 2013

Memory #5: June, 2013. I find out that my father has serious financial challenges. Having accepted so much from him over the years, I immediately blame myself. Although one of my sisters assures me that it’s not my fault, and encourages me not to take the blame, I still feel partially responsible. That Father’s Day, I visit Nashville to observe how Dad’s doing in general, and discover that his dementia is worsening. I decide that if my DC job search continues to yield rejections, I will move closer to help Dad with his finances and his life until he passes on. I move to Nashville in September – without savings, and without a job. I live on loans from friends while trying to secure work. Nothing materializes. While I spend time managing and improving my father’s finances, my own are crushing me with worry. Family dysfunction rears its ugly head, and due to irrational decisions beyond my control, I am legally removed from my father’s affairs. I return to DC to start from scratch…celebrating some victories on behalf of my dad, but completely broken, inside and out – and, heartbroken at leaving my beloved father.

These scenarios sum up Dad’s and my relationship – two people trying to save each other, amid a backdrop of historical family dysfunction, hardship and stress. Not the healthiest dynamic, we know.

Still, we love each other more than anything in the world. And love is rich with mistakes and forgiveness, imperfection and acceptance. Dad’s and my love is messy, for certain – but it’s our mess.

*  *  *

My father is my Super Hero.

He once blamed me for the family’s money problems. He enabled me financially for decades. And through his enabling, he rescued me from dying.

On Easter Day 1990, I floated around the French Quarter in a soul-shining haze of gratitude for life. Days before, I’d stumbled around my New Orleans neighborhood in a drug-induced haze from a botched suicide attempt – my 2nd in one week.

I’d become unemployable, and was spending most of my days in the same pattern: Wake up with a stranger and drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my dad’s Exxon credit card. Make my way to the French Quarter, buying a quart of cheap tequila on the way. Sit on a curb, eat 7-11 sandwiches, drink out of a paper bag and listen to street musicians. At the end of the day, go drinking with the street musicians. Take one home. Wake up the next morning and start over.

Little did he know…my father was financing this debauchery. Had he not, I’d probably be dead. Despite living dangerously, I had my own apartment, control over its key, and, a car with gas in it and a phone in the case of emergencies. I had money for food, and money for booze. I didn’t have to ask strangers for help, and I didn’t have to live on the streets.

Still, I was clearly lost. And compulsively stuffing a lifetime of unaddressed trauma  (results of family hardship and addiction-related events) into a tequila bottle did not remedy the internal self-loathing and defeatist thoughts. So I decided to give up. Twice in one week, I combined as many substances as I could buy and steal, and went to sleep hoping to not wake up – yielding failure both times. Apparently, suicide was not meant to be. The 2nd time, I resigned to stick around and spent the next 12 years seeking the desire to live. I would still drink alcoholically; I would still depend on my father’s money; I would still leave jobs, men, friendships; I would still jump all over the map trying to run from myself; I would still end up living at home at times; I would still battle with my internal negatives.

Simultaneously, new influences started to chip away at my self-reliance, avoidance and denial.

On October 22, 2002, at age 37, 12.5 years after that Easter awakening and six months after my mother died from complications related to alcoholism, I crawled into the rooms of 12-step recovery. I started to pick up the pieces of 26 years of active addiction, and began my current journey of holistic healing through yoga, recovery, therapy and other wonderful resources, responsible living, and, amends for past mistakes.

I called my dad that afternoon. “I just went to my first meeting,” I told him. “Good,” he answered, exhaling, with a tone of relief in his voice.

He did know.

*  *  *

Moving to Nashville meant the chance to pay a great debt to my father. Or so I thought.

Despite what happened – the financial ruin, family conflict and emotional depletion – I am grateful for those seven months (what I now call a “successful fact-finding mission”). In fact – due to all that happened, I had the opportunity to see the big picture clearly, to face the facts of my relationships with my siblings, to discover the reality of my father’s financial patterns, to redefine my relationship with him, to enjoy a major emotional breakthrough, and, to embrace a new way of thinking.

Those negative stories associated with my “core wound?” False. I am not an unwanted problem. The happy ending to this story? IT’S NOT MY FAULT.

Hitting my own financial, emotional and spiritual bottom during my attempt to “save my dad” actually saved me. So again, in a roundabout way, Dad rescued me. Had I never gone to Nashville to face his and my financial realities, patterns and mistakes, I would have never been freed of that debilitating “core wound.”

Amazingly, since planning my move from Nashville back to DC, I am no longer paralyzed by negative thoughts when trying to apply for jobs. I no longer feel a shameful, guilt-ridden debt toward my father. I know what I owe him – and that is LOVE.

Liberated, I have moved into a fresh, new phase, uninhibited by false beliefs that used to paralyze me and squash any chance for adult development. I am embracing life with more passion than ever, rediscovering true connections with friends, cultivating community in my beloved hometown…and…working my ass off!

Dad has always been my consistent source of encouragement, faith and unconditional acceptance. He’s been my champion, my cheerleader. I can’t tell you how many times he’s said, “Don’t let it get you down!” when the hard knocks hit. He has always, constantly told me how much he loves me, how much he believes in me. So now, when I call him to consistently report good news about work and life, he is thrilled.

I’m finally growing up.

*  *  *

Let me tell you how much one grows up while spending the prime years of adulthood drinking reality away: Not at all. Addiction leaves no room for personal and emotional growth. Today, at nearly 12 years sober, I’m still undoing old patterns, making up for past mistakes…and…committing new ones. The difference now? I am aware, accountable and willing to take action to change.

I typically don’t spend a lot of time defending myself, because I have faith in my character. Still, I will say this:

Some may believe that my father’s current state of financial woes and related issues is all my fault. Those people can have their blame game, their misdirected anger and their battles. I’ll take no part. I know exactly how I contributed to my father’s current condition; and I now know the other factors at play. I am not the problem. I am a daughter that shows up, that accepts responsibility, that would do anything for her father – just as he did for me. Over many years of feeling that I “owe him” for giving to me so freely, I’ve taken action to serve him however possible – by sharing life with him, cleaning and cooking during visits, spending quality time, and, showing my love for him in many ways.

I have grown to feel completely at peace with my sincere efforts, and plan to continue them, along with direct financial amends, as soon as I am able. I’m saying this here, now, with all as my witness.

And that, my friends, is the end of my explanation and defensiveness about this issue. Let’s move on…

*  *  *


The Man Today, Relaxing, After 80+ Years Of Leaping Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

Have you ever noticed that, when the Super Hero swoops in to rescue the distressed victims, she or he never asks: “So, what happened, guys? Why are you in so much trouble?” That selfless hero just plucks ‘em up, no questions asked.

Over and over, my dad jumped into fires, hot water and quicksand to pull me out. He saved me – whether or not I deserved to be saved, and whether or not it was healthy for me…or him.

Someday I will tell you more about how my father positively influenced my life, my diverse cultural yearnings, my commitment to good health, my career direction and more. How he’s the guy behind my percussion talents, my yoga class music choices and my love for Washington, DC.

But the most notable way my father influenced my life? He once regretted my birth; and then he saved me from dying. And most recently – after seven months of tough truths, humbling honesty, stressful interaction and unconditional love…after coming full circle in our relationship and shedding old stories that no longer serve us – he reawakened my passion for life. Finally, I can absorb all those years that – in addition to supporting me financially – he heroically scooped me up, kept me warm and held me high.

I love you, Dad. More than I can express. You are, and always will be, my Super Hero.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all. OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Peace, Peace, Peace.

*  *  *

(Note: I read this piece to my father before publishing it; and we cried together out of love and respect. He approved publication. Also Note: Whenever I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even historically, way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)




Love: Anger’s Remedy March 1, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  The final word…

*  *  *

BuddhaSunspotsSo.  I’ve been getting these Ayurvedic massages.  To address the pent-up anger and stress I’ve been blogging about.

Clearly, it’s working.  After last week’s session, I could not even make it to my own front door without sobbing my face off.  The guy is brilliant: that day, in addition to his usual bodywork, he placed his warm hands on the back of my heart chakra and just stayed there for what seemed like an eternity.  I wanted to cry then, but I didn’t.  I wanted to cry later, when he smoothed my furrowed brow with Ayurvedic oils and cradled my head in his hands.  But I didn’t.  After I got dressed, he asked me how I was feeling.  “Like I need a good cry,” I answered, and headed home.  I cried my way out of his building, I cried along the sidewalk to my place, I cried up the steps to the entrance.  I had to stop to cry in the stairwell to my floor.  I practically sprinted down my hallway…busted in my door…curled up on a chair.  And cried.

This massage therapist is not just tapping into the intellectual, heady anger that I analyze, understand, explain and write about.  In the most skillful, gentle and nurturing way, he’s reaching a much deeper, organic part of my emotions.

He’s breaking into my heart.

When I stopped crying I thought, “I wish that love would always be my first response when someone is unkind to me.”  This is how I like to respond.  It’s how I’ve seen myself respond.  But for a period of time since December, most of my first responses were a dizzying blend of anger, blame, shame, self-loathing and sadness.

So I think this guy is onto something with his Ayurvedic touch.  And I’m just gonna let the tears flow.

*  *  *

Today, I’m feeling back to my normal self.  I’ve encountered unkindness, conflict and challenge over the past week or so.  I’ve responded with understanding and compassion – and, at the right times, detachment and indifference.  In addition, I’ve returned to my practice of silently wishing wellness for each person I see on the street while walking between classes and errands.  In general, I am feeling patient, positive and peaceful.

I’d like to believe that the massages alone are responsible for my shift back to center.  That caring hands resting on my heart chakra would instantly restore my softness.  Wouldn’t it be great if a “magic bullet” or “shot in the arm” were sufficiently healing?  In no way do I mean to diminish the authentically medicinal affects of Ayurveda.  The fact is, for me, healing that leads to restoration and growth requires more than one remedy.  If I want to continue bypassing synthetic medication to manage my triggers and related emotions – and if I want to avoid falling back on self-medicating – I must subscribe to a diligent prescription of wellness efforts.  When I sway from my tried-and-true influences and routines, I completely lose balance.  The “tests” to my serenity over the past two months – a string of experiences where different people have been harmful, malicious or inconsiderate in some way – would have felt less threatening and caused little (or no) response had I been aligned with my healthiest practices.

I’ve come to embrace this recent period as an opportunity to witness my reactions – or, more commonly, my overreactions (inward and outward) – and practice self-compassion.  I have been feeling enough heightened emotion and stressed energy to warrant a step back from my usual “fix it” approach, to cut myself some slack, to vent honestly and openly, and, to consider these challenges as somehow related to the intense personal shifts in values, principles and beliefs I’ve been experiencing over the past two months, as well.  I’m grateful to have this understanding!  Still, it has been humbling to see myself habitually on-edge and upset – not my usual warm, smiling self.

Growth does not always feel like a sweet explosion in the heart.

*  *  *

Earlier, I mentioned working on “pent-up anger.”

More accurately, I would say that I am working on healthily processing strong emotions – my recurring “favorites” are grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger.  (Nothing original, I know!)

Why strong, recurring and “pent-up?”  Growing up with addiction, growing toward violent environments and growing away from solutions, I spent much of my life ignoring the core wounds and root causes behind my own destructive tendencies.  In other words, I stuffed decades of grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger.  Heck, I’ve been alive for 47 years, I drank alcoholically for 25, and I’ve been sober for only 10.  So I’m still catching up on what others learned all along their lives – how to constructively manage very normal emotions.

And, I’m still healing.

Through many years of yoga and recovery practice, I have learned a lot about my history of trauma.  I have come to face and analyze my past quite sufficiently.  I know everything about my trauma.  However, self-knowledge does not avail thorough healing – my body and heart have not fully processed through it all.  This recent series of emotional triggers felt very chemical, tangible, even physical.  They revealed that I must take a step back from my primarily heady analysis, which has not addressed the deeper effects of trauma.

One friend suggested that I “get out of my head and punch things.”  I’m not likely to throw punches, but I get what he means.

I can certainly reach into the cracks of my sweetly breaking heart and coax out the tears.

*  *  *

Clearly, if I want to answer offences with healthy responses, preserve my own serenity and add to the compassion in this world, I must maintain and condition my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

This is, by far, the hardest personal transformation work I’ve done in a while.  Some days I think that I will never change, that people will never change, that the world will never change.  I want to give up and quit.  But to give in and surrender is to acknowledge that, indeed, people and the world might never change – and that I have 0% control over that.  But I do have 100% control over changing myself.  Changing my thoughts leads to changing my responses; and changing my thoughts and responses leads to changing my state.

If today I discovered all of my yoga workshop flyers taken down, I would think, “Someone must have taken it home as a reminder,” or “Maybe the shop owner needed the room,” or “Maybe another yoga teacher felt scared about his/her income,” or “I’m calling on the love of my friends to remind me that this is not personal.”  In order to keep my peace (and therefore contribute to the peace in the world), I would deliberately choose a positive, forgiving, compassionate or loving response.

Inner peace has returned, and I feel hopeful.  I had many tools to help me get here.  (* See “MY TOOLS” appendix, below.)  But I am a little tired.  Thank god for Ayurvedic massage!  More than a tool, it is a gift that allows me to be nurtured, honor my grief and weep.

Spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson says: “Healing works through a kind of detox: things have got to come up in order to be released. That is true of our personal issues, and also our collective issues. We can’t just push the darkness down, pour pink paint over it and then pretend it’s not there. We have to look at it, accept that it exists and then release it for healing.”

‘Nuff said.  Trudging on with determination, hope and love…

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

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* MY TOOLS come from yoga, other spiritual sources, addiction recovery programs, friends, healers, and countless other resources and influences along my journey of healing, growth and transformation.  They are effective for addressing a heightened state of crisis, for balancing-out post-crisis, and most importantly, for preventing crisis.  Below is a comprehensive (and darn exhaustive!) list of “notes to self” that summarize my tools.  In essence, they all say the same thing: take care of yourself!

RothkoGreyCrop(Dec12)CALMING THE STORM:

Call Out The Troops
Cultivating a circle of embrace and wisdom calms the fire.  The unconditional support of friends, advisors and inspirations can motivate constructive action.  Recently, when I noticed that all of my yoga workshop flyers had been taken down, I called one of my best friends and said, “I am livid.”  I vented – starting the healthy process of managing anger.  Later, still in an emotional tug-of-war, I reached out further.  A friend exclaimed, “They can tear down a flyer – they can’t tear you down!”  A Facebook pal dedicated time to meditate “with” me long distance.  And I absorbed this helpful message, written to yoga teacher Elena Brower from her friend: “‘I know you fly from feeling like a speck of dust to knowing you’re divine, but in the stream in-between, the best part…is that you are sharing.'”

Stick A Pin In It
“We’re as sick as our secrets” is a recovery slogan and “Nothing to Hide” is my personal branding slogan!  Rigorous honesty keeps me emotionally and physically sober.  At my 10-year anniversary, a friend said, “We always know how Holly’s feeling; and that’s probably why she’s alive and sober today.”  Like a pin in a balloon, sharing openly deflates the problem, and makes room for solutions to flow in.

When horribly triggered by something that I’ve previously shrugged off (i.e. my flyers disappearing), I must pause to recognize that I’m in a state.  “HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)” is another recovery slogan.  Sober friends suggest keen awareness of these four states, which can cause loss of serenity, and potentially, addiction relapse.  Over the past months, not only was anger plaguing me, I was also skipping meals, eating snacks instead of nourishing food, isolating, staying up late and not sleeping well.  At a recent meeting I heard someone share that her “HALT is out of whack” – and I woke up.

Hold Your Tongue
“Restraint of tongue and pen” (or “thumb and send”) is pure brilliance.  When I feel wronged, my adrenalin is high, and healthy communication goes out the window.  It is wise to take a giant step back (or walk out the door) before responding to the harmful person.  Skillful communication – or, the realization that nothing needs to be said – will arise in time.  Writer Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Accentuate The Positive
When anger and other destructive feelings possess me, I must firmly point the mind to positive thoughts, experiences and facts.  I can list my loving, trusted friends.  I can read a thankful e-mail from a student.  I can recall accomplishments.  I must place myself in positive light.  When I told a yoga peer that I was stuck in self-loathing, he lightheartedly shared: “Something to consider: the self you loathe is not you, it’s…an illusory ‘you.’  Krishna, situated in your heart, loves the real you more than you loathe the illusion you think of as you.”  Although not a Krishna devotee, I can certainly accept his love when feeling horrible.

Give Thanks
Taking the time to meditate on gratitude is an amazing antidote for fear-based emotions.  When I dwell upon what I have, it’s hard to be consumed by what I’m afraid to lose.


Rise And Shine!
At best, I am a generous, thoughtful, compassionate person.  As well, I am a survivor of many serious violations and assaults, I am susceptible to PTSD and I am a recovering addict.  This means my best self can be challenged at times.  As one might guess, I have been evaluated by medical professionals.  As one might not guess, I have been advised against taking synthetic medication – and encouraged to continue my devoted yoga, recovery and counseling activities.  My morning Sadhana (see “Peace Tools: Morning Routine”) is like medication for me.  It guarantees excellent spiritual, physical and emotional health, and is like an insurance policy for constructive thoughts, attitudes and actions – plus, I absolutely love and enjoy it!  However, guess what I abandoned during the month of December, for various reasons?  Hmmm…

Listen To Your Body
Along with the emotional evidence of imbalance, I’ve also been suffering from digestive problems and middle-back pain: physical ailments of the 1st three chakras.  The negative emotions associated with imbalanced lower chakras are fear, guilt and shame.  Ah-ha!  This is all coming together!  In her brilliant book, “Eastern Body, Western Mind,” Anodea Judith writes: “The first thing I tell my clients or group members when they wish to develop their third chakra is to give up the attachment to being safe.  In clinging to safety and security, we remain as children – powerless and wanting the world to be shaped for us.”  BAM.  I am now incorporating yoga poses for the lower three chakras into my daily practice.

Cool Your Jets
To make matters worse (which of course, I’m prone to do, being human), I pretty much abandoned my pacifying diet in December.  According to Ayurvedic medicine, my Dosha or body/character type is Pitta, which is very fiery by nature.  Needless to say, it behooves me to follow a diet that soothes digestion and therefore pacifies strong emotion.  It also protects everyone around me!  The Ayurvedic massage has been a nudging elbow in the ribs (hahaha!), inviting me to return to what works.

Suit Up And Show Up
I have been cutting back on addiction recovery meetings.  Not smart for a girl who wants to stay serene.  The other day, a sober elder said, “In my time in this program, I’ve seen one thing unfailingly lead to relapse: not going to meetings.”  People sometimes ask why I still go to meetings after 10 years of recovery.  I plan to go ‘til the day I die for three reasons: to be in the room when a newcomer walks in; to be of service; and, to stay sober.  Period.  The program of recovery is the only thing that has kept me clean these past 10 years (after 12.5 years of trying/failing to stay sober via yoga or therapy or religion or eating healthily or whatever).  Meetings maintain my physical and emotional sobriety.

Clean House
I can’t expect to be trigger free – that would be impossible.  I can, however, enhance my well-being and therefore cultivate healthy responses to upsetting situations.  To be well, I must address unresolved emotions from past experiences.  The processes of looking back at our own actions, admitting personal responsibility, making amends, offering/requesting forgiveness, and clearing away resentments are part of many spiritual, recovery and self-examination traditions.  I first practiced taking a moral inventory as part of the Jewish High Holy Days, or, Days of Atonement, which fall in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur.  In her Yoga Journal article about the process of “recapitulation,” writer Sally Kempton said, “Whether we call it ‘confession,’ ‘karma cleaning,’ ‘wise reflection,’ or even ‘moral inventory,’ … you dissolve a lot of the sludge that you carry around in your heart.”  The focus is on admitting my part, not on blaming the other – even if they are at fault!  Although painstaking, cleaning my side of the street pays off with liberation.

RothkoPurpleGlowCrop(Dec12)WHAT TO AIM FOR:

Kill ‘Em With Kindness
Mean people rock.  They can be great teachers and motivators – if I allow them to be.  The night I was bottoming out on chaotic emotions about my missing flyers, professional baseball player Justine Siegal posted her TEDx video, “Following Your Dreams When Others Are Mean,” in which she describes, “I felt defeated, but I thought – ‘I’m not gonna let ’em stop me.’ There were some really mean things that were done and said. I decided that when others were mean, I would be kind back. And the reason for this was not because I needed them to like me. I just wanted to keep my own peace. I knew that if I let the anger consume me… I wouldn’t be able to move forward. And I needed my own peace – so I could keep that power within, to do what I’m passionate about.”  Amen, sista.  I have to remember that all people have their own pain – just like me – that causes them to act out – just like me.  When I am at my best, my natural response when I sense that someone is in pain is to wish them well.  I might paraphrase the Buddhist metta prayer, “May you be free of suffering” or chant yoga’s “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which has the same meaning.  C’mon, if I could tap into the Yoga Sutras to cultivate compassion for the guy who mugged me in 2011 (see “The Yoga of Being Mugged”), I can certainly find kindness in my heart toward these recent ankle biters.

Listen To Your Elders!
Timing is everything.  Over the past few weeks, ancient gems of wisdom came my way (via contemporary teachers):

“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”  By the time I read this quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, I had finally returned to this mentality.  I am again able to think kindly and understandingly toward all (most of the time…and if not immediately, promptly).  Thank god.

“The mind manifests anger when it jumps to the defense of the ego, and that sends our intelligence out the window: we loose our capacity to distinguish between the conscious self and the unconscious matter of the mind and body. We think ‘I have been offended’, but the ‘I’ that was offended is the false ego, not the real self.”  Philosophy teacher Hari-kirtana Das’s recent yoga blog, “The Art Of Anger Management,” visits a number of yogic texts for explanations of and solutions for anger – with admirable humility and hilarity at times.  Check it out.

“Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart.  …a hardness in us will dissolve.  We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear.  …and it opens us.”  To share all that I have gained from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” I’d have to copy the entire text here.  Trust me – read the book.

“It was only when she lost all sense of hope, that her ego had finally loosened its grip…, that her heart allowed space for the divine to enter and work its charm.”  This moment from the classic Hindu story “Draupadi’s Sari” describes when Draupadi – who is being wrongfully undressed by an evil king – releases her desperate grip on her clothing, throws her arms in the air and yells “Krishna!”  (Post-Publish edit: I neglected to tell the end of the story!  As soon as Draupadi lets go of her sari, Krishna hears and answers – the wrap becomes endless, so she cannot be neither disrobed nor dishonored!  Thanks to Hari-kirtana Das for reading and reminding!)  This harkens back to my friend’s reminder that, once we surrender our hearts to divine love, we need not fear anything.  We can let go.  In the past I’ve said, “Allowing love into my heart can sometimes be like using a jackhammer to plant a seed,” and, “Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart.”  From here on, I’d like to loosen my grip on power tools and kitchen appliances…

Make Room For Love
“Pratipaksha Bhavana,” as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the process of replacing negatives with positives.  The Sutras do not encourage stuffing the very real troubles that come with certain challenges, but invite the mind to deliberately shift away from dark thoughts, in order to shed light on a new perspective.  From life coach Laurie Gerber: “The perfect replacement for fear is always LOVE.  May you and all beings everywhere find the strength and presence of mind to replace fear with love, over and over and over.”

(Note to self: May I bring positive and loving thoughts into my mind and heart the moment I feel dis-ease.  May I always remember that love is the remedy for anger.)

Again, thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.


Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week One January 4, 2013

HappyNewYear20122013(Dec12)I like to say that my personal brand slogan is “Nothing To Hide.”

In this blog, I’ve shared about addiction and recovery, violations and PTSD, yoga and non-violence, depression and celebrations, challenges and solutions.  Because I have thankfully found my way (and been helped) through a great deal of hardship in life, I like to tell my story honestly – the tough parts, the growth, the transformation and the solutions.

But there is one area of my life that I haven’t shared about here.  Because as of yet, I have not found the solution.  I have not transformed.  I am not growing.  And I am ashamed to tell you about it.  So far.

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One week ago I launched this “Full of Shift” series (for background, see “The origins of ‘Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy’” below).  Since writing the blogs for Days 1 & 2 last week, I’ve simply posted daily “Full of Shift” reflections on my Urban Yoga Den Facebook.  Below are those posts, plus added commentary, for Days 3 through 7 (today).

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12/30/12. Day 3.
No long blog today – just a quick check in, for the record.
This wind is sockin’ it to me! It’s blowing things all over the place!  While lighting my incense and chanting this morning, the message was – New Energy Is Here!

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12/31/12. Day 4.
MAKE ROOM for the unexpected.
Delights and disappointments.
Successes and failures.
In that spaciousness –
community builds,
honesty emerges,
respect deepens.
Make room.
This reflection came to me during meditation this morning, as I considered the unusually good outcome of the unexpected bad news I received on Friday.  Due to miscommunication with our yoga studio’s building owner, I found out (only 3 days in advance) that I could not use our wonderful studio space for my annual New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa event.  Disappointing, and potentially a failure for all involved.  Stress skyrocketed – but I did what I know best!  I reached out for help, shifted into “crisis resolution” mode, and found solutions.  And now, because so much has come together – community, people, space, rhythm, creativity and more – the situation ends up being a great success and delight for all.  Happy New Year!

*  *  *

01/01/13. Day 5.
After so much recent work on intention, and holding space while others dig into theirs, what came to me this morning during meditation is: I still struggle with how to make all the pieces fit together for sustainability. Ah – more information for next steps. Onward…

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01/02/13. Day 6.
Big questions arose in this morning’s meditation.  Primarily: I see clearly that I urgently need to MAKE ROOM.  But how?  First I must make room in my mind to hear the answer!  Hence this 30-day ritual.
Later, I came across this on Facebook.  I don’t know who Dr. Robert Anthony is, but I’m just going to believe him today.  “Any dream that can pass through one’s screen of logic into the Subconscious and is earnestly desired, can be obtained.  Once you give up all the “logical reasons” why something cannot work for you and allow your new dream or goal to enter your Subconscious, it’s an idea whose time has come.”  – Dr. Robert Anthony

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01/03/13. Day 7.
End of my 1st week.  Last night, at midnight, and under the waning moon, I prayed desperately to know what I need to let go of in order to make room for New Energy.  “Whatever you want me to, I will let go of it.  Take it away from me.  Anything.  Just take it.  Please.”
In an area of my life that I am ashamed to reveal, I am horribly, horribly stuck.  Last night I was pleading for answers.  And this morning, as soon as I woke up, I got them.  I think.   I scribbled:
“How do I make room for fresh energy?  By letting go of ego.  By quitting the old patterns of self-reliance, self-centered fear, old stories and negative beliefs.  Old patterns of sharing the solution for everything else and not admitting this unresolved problem.  I must take the risk of exposing myself humbly, honestly and earnestly.  I must ask for help and surrender to the care of Higher Powers (spirit, friends, community).  I am wincing as I write this.  The idea of admitting how bad it is turns my stomach.  But, what do I have to lose?”
After I wrote this, I lit my incense and chanted my 108 “Asato Ma”s.  And then I drafted a very honest letter to those I can trust.  More will be revealed.

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Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

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The origins of “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy”

Over one month, from the Full Moon of 12/28/12 to the Full Moon of 1/26/13, I intend to awaken before dawn, light a stick of my new incense (a holiday gift, appropriately branded “New Energy”), practice Pranayama (yogic breathing) and chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (“lead me from falseness to truth, from darkness to light, from things that die off to that which is everlasting”).  As with all of my other intention “projects,” I am not trying to force a specific outcome – simply to ask how I can bring New Energy to my life, to listen to any answers, to witness the subtle yet abundant shifts of late, and to see what evolves.


20 Years of Yoga. 10 Years of Recovery. 1 Day at a Time. October 16, 2012

Over the past 20 years, yoga has changed me.

This journey of cultivating a constructive way of living has guided me through many styles and teachers, many stops and starts, and many hard-learned lessons. When I first started practicing in 1993, the transformation felt quick and intense. My insides were uprooted and exposed. I started to see myself clearly. My self-centered, self-reliant nature had landed me in the vice-grip of substance addiction. Long-term change was necessary, or I would die.

Thankfully, yoga gradually dissolved those destructive patterns; and after my 1st 10 years of practice I became flexible, willing and teachable. Still addicted, however, I reached an all-time low in 2002 – and I surrendered. I finally reached out for help.

I am deeply grateful to share that next Monday, October 22nd, I will observe 10 years of sobriety – and 10 years of complementing yoga’s foundational design for living with a recovery program that addresses the cunning, baffling and powerful disease of addiction.

Our October class focus is Change – how has yoga changed you? See you soon! OM Shanti.


A Jewish Yogini at Midnight Mass December 29, 2009

24 December, 2009, 1pm

I have Christmas fever!  The spiritual kind, not the shopping kind.  I mean, this is big.  What a beautiful ritual to acknowledge the birth of Jesus – or as Isaiah says, “the wonderful, the counselor, the prince of peace.”  An all around GOOD guy.

To me, Jesus represents the ultimate human – flawed, open-minded, willing, seeking, serving and striving for goodness.

I just listened to classical WETA’s (public classical radio in DC) live broadcast of the King’s College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve 2009.  Here is the program (  The music was very traditional this year.  I was checking out the 2008 program, which included songs by Bertolt Brecht and William Blake.  Pretty modern.  Maybe someone complained, so they went old school this year.

Here is a little background on the tradition (  “The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury but at that time Bishop of Truro, in Cornwall, for use on Christmas Eve, 1880.  Tradition says that he organized a 10pm service on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral and that a key purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.”

Clever guy, that Benson.  Way to keep those drunks off the streets!

So the King’s College Festival was very moving.  Listening to it live, I couldn’t help imagining the English audience in their Christmas Eve spirit, observing the twilight service in a beautiful chapel with loved ones.  Mmmmmmm.

I love ritual.  In Judaism our High Holy Days happen in the fall – my favorite season due to its cycle of shedding and planting.  The combo of the HHDs, related atonement/reconciliation and autumn awakens me into spiritual action.  Sitting in synagogue with a crowd of repenting Jews is energetically intense!  Add to that, my anniversary of recovery from addiction falls in the Autumn; and my sobriety program includes periodic moral inventories and amends.

Beautiful that my birth religion and current spiritual practices overlap.

Aside from the HHDs, I think Winter Solstice is my 2nd favorite “holy-day.”  Marking winter’s shortest day and longest night – and launching the lengthening of days – Solstice feels like a sparkling promise in the midst of darkening weather.  A tonic for winter’s hibernation tendencies.  A natural yin-yang balance of darkness and light.

How amazing to have spent 2009’s glorious pre-Solstice day in our blizzard, sharing lively, bright energy with my friend Matt and bringing warmth to the cocoon of falling snow and intensity of grey skies.  Again, the balance.

My 3rd favorite holy-day is the festival of Diwali, which also occurs in late Autumn (see “Diwali Intentions” post from October).  Apparently, in India’s history, there were many historical accounts of the triumph of good over evil during this season.  Therefore, most Indian religions (Hindu, Sikh, etc) observe Diwali as a festival of lights.  In preparation, the house is cleaned, oil lamps are lit and sweets are eaten!  (

Anyway, back to Christmas.

In his 1944 Christmas “speech,” 12-step recovery program pioneer Bill Wilson said, “How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness; that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”

This eve I’m heading to a 6:30 yoga class at Past Tense, where I teach.  My mom and I used to have a Christmas Eve tradition of driving around the neighborhoods to look at holiday decorations.  So after class, I’m going to wander Mt. Pleasant and see how the neighbors did this year.  We’ll see if Mom chimes in with her opinions from above.

After that, we’ll see.  I have an idea but I’m not certain…

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24 December, 2009, 8:30pm

Mmmm, Chinese food.  I almost forgot about the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food and watching a movie on Christmas eve.  After flow instructor Emma’s relaxing and Silent Night-esque yoga class (and a cruise through the ‘hood to look at twinkly lights with yoga pal Tippi, who generously donated her hot pink gloves to a hand-less snowman), I stopped by Mayflower Chinese Restaurant.  These noodles are yummy!

Instead of watching a movie, I’m listening to WAMU’s (NPR in DC) old-fashioned radio show, The Big Broadcast, which is airing a very odd story about Joe DiMaggio and a Christmas angel cruising around 1940s NYC saving people from doom and gloom.  Huh?

It’s 9:30.  I’m still trying to decide on something for later…

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24 December, 2009, 10:30pm

Some of my friends are really suffering emotionally and psychologically these days.  I feel really, REALLY grateful to be willing to seek and use tools to address suffering.  I must.  They say, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  (Just who are “they,” anyway?)  If I drop into suffering, there’s always the danger of sinking into that gripping darkness that I frequently battle on this life path.  But that’s just my path.  Whether or not my friends are willing to seek and use tools, I need to JUST PRAY for them.  They are in pain.  So I’m shifting my attitude from worry to compassion (Pratipaksha Bhavana, Jai!) immediately.

In fact, I think I’ll dedicate my entire Midnight Mass experience to all who suffer.

Yup, you heard right!  I’m going to Midnight Mass.  Alright, I have to get out the door and down to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Merry Christmas, y’all.

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25 December, 2009, 11am

Attending Midnight Mass reinforced my love for all fellowships where a group gathers in faith.  All of my life, I have been drawn to the collective conscience of people moving toward one heart-felt purpose.  I have experienced the similarities between separate rituals from different origins, proving our oneness.

Sure, at Midnight Mass, some people are not gathered to connect to a higher power.  Some are there for status, social life, obligation and so on.  (And some are around the corner at a nightclub, drinking their faces off – I know because I had to wade through them after floating blissfully out of the Cathedral at 1:40am.  We need to send the ghost of Archbishop Benson to gather up those drunks next year!)

At the same time, in Midnight Mass, regardless of motive, everyone’s humanness shines through, from the giddy Buddha-like smiles to the rebellious “I don’t want to be here” frowns.  Midnight Mass is the perfect blend of heaven and earth, body and soul, mind and spirit, self and ego.

To me, the differences between religions, faiths and practices is not important.  I embrace and celebrate the common threads among spiritual groups – whether Cuban and Native American ritual, African and Celtic rhythms, Jewish and Christian history, yogic and Buddhist ethics, and on and on and on.

But that’s a whole other conversation on interfaith connections.

Instead, suffice it to say that this Christmas, a Catholic Mass reminded me that we are one.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.