Walking a different drummer/spiritual path in a secular world

A little over a week ago I started participating in an on line class called “Co-Human Harmony“.  The idea is to work on understanding and tools to help create bridges in a divisive society or situation.  I signed up because I think it’s so important right now and because I realize I even have a problem quite often about joining groups who are working for peace or justice (i.e. theoretically same view as mine) because I frame these issues so differently.

I’m loving the class but also struggling for the same reasons.  The quite valid point of the class is to learn tools for bridging divides where people are, which is generally not in a place of understanding or accepting non-duality.  And I’m realizing I’ve moved so far along the path of looking at everything from a spiritual/metaphysical viewpoint, I’m having trouble answering some of the course questions within a more “practical” framework.

I believe so thoroughly we’re all divine beings who are made of energy which is part of one unified field.  And I am so used to using tools like (1) moving into heart energy and shifting a room with it or (2) chanting lovingkindness for someone with whom I’m at odds or (3) doing a meditation that balances energy between me and another person before we actually interact, that I think in those terms for bridges and healing rifts.

The teacher has pointed out it’s fine to think in those terms (and has encouraged me to continue) but for these situations we’re addressing how to be in a room with, say, a Neo-Nazi, and find a way to connect as humans so we can talk.  And I’m guessing as we move from studying the theoretical framework to more practical applications it may become easier to just use and apply new concepts.  But right now I’m floundering in attempts to talk about my understanding of various passages, videos, etc. on which we’re asked to comment without talking about energy and chakras and stuff.

I’m really seeing how far down this spiritual path I’ve gotten.  I know, I know, seems goofy after this many years for this to be a new thought.  But I’ve wound up mostly hanging around with other spiritual seekers who’ve been at it for years and though I know intellectually that most people don’t think this way, I’m rarely confronted in person with how totally different the drumbeat to which I march really is.

Since most of the folks who regularly read and participate here lead deeply spiritual lives I’m very interested and curious to hear your thoughts and stories about participating as a spiritually-enmeshed person in secular affairs.  Comments are welcome but I’d be even more excited to see some of you write posts about living spiritually in a secular world.

BTW, I’ll still be continuing the People Power series but as I work through this class I’ll likely switch back and forth in topics.

I like my aging face

For some months now I’ve felt like I’ve been in some sort of hibernation/incubation mix, drawn to studying up on a bunch of current events issues and unsure what’s next.  Finally in the last couple of weeks a couple of epiphanies have arrived.  The first will take several posts so I’m writing up the second one to open.

Lately a number of articles and insights about aging have cropped up, during a spell when I’ve often enjoyed my graying hair in the mirror as well as appreciating my aging face.  They’ve had me contemplating myself as an aging woman.

Time Stopped

Aging has been an odd process for me.  Like many with a long-term ailment like chronic fatigue and/or fibromyalgia, in many ways my life froze at the point in my mid-thirties when normal life stopped.  For many years I had trouble conceiving of myself as having moved anywhere past that age.

At the same time, the process of moving toward wellness included lots and lots of bodywork and a faithful yoga practice combined with some other movement practices.  Once the process of aging caught up with me enough that I could no longer hold an illusion of being 34 🙂 I had transformed my body from stiff and pained and barely mobile to strong and lithe and flexible.

So I find myself at 66 with a body that feels younger than it did in my thirties and a face that clearly says “66” in a life that felt like a couple of decades went missing.

“Not Fair”

Clearly somewhere along the way I drifted from feeling 34 to seeing the aging reality in the mirror.  Having, in most conventional senses, lost 25 or so years, my initial reaction was, “Not fair!”

Alternating amongst angry and mournful and denying, I grappled with “losing” most of the middle of life and finding myself old and still struggling to get past all the health and emotional issues   Not fair!

Again, because my body was coming back to life and my muscles were serving me better than ever, denial became an easy refuge.  As long as I didn’t look in the mirror, I felt so much better it was hard to reconcile the “old” thing with the state of my physical being.

I never landed on anger or grief or denial for long and through it all I could manage to look at what I accomplished during those years and have a little re-think.

I Earned This Face

I can’t remember how many years ago I quit dying my hair (I’d gone prematurely white around my face in my early 30’s and, like so many, once I started, I kept going too long), but an appreciation of the gray look has been growing ever since.

Lately, as mentioned, I’ve been seeing a lot of photos and posts about amazing “older” women.  Soaking in the tub one recent day and pondering some of these “signs” I flashed to the image of my long graying hair when it’s down and my face with its wrinkles and the deep circles under my eyes that tell me my kidneys are still being squeezed by muscles and I’m not getting enough sleep.

Suddenly I felt love.  I earned this face.  When I look at the photos above I see a progression that may not be as visible to those who haven’t lived it, but to me is clear.

The toddler me is still open and bright; it’s a photo taken before I shut down.

By the time of the graduation photo taken at 17, my face is frozen and the muscle issues have already pulled my eyes back farther into my head than they should be.

The next photo, at 45-ish, was taken after I’d been doing spiritual work for 10 or so years, after going through the Fisher-Hoffman process work and I can see a little more openness, but, not having started work on the facial muscles, my eyes have pulled even farther back.

In the final photo — from last week — I see a face much more open.  My eyes have moved farther forward.  Not all the way yet, as final recalcitrant core muscles continue to work out of the web behind my eyes, but they’ve moved and appear more open again. Still in progress, but a visible confirmation of accomplishment.

I worked hard to move from the girl with the frozen face to the aging woman with masks removed and brighter eyes  I’ve faced into dark depths and wandered down entangled pathways from which I could not see a way forward.

To the outer world my life moved nowhere except from one U.S. state to another to another, but in my essence, at the core of my being, I have traversed a thousand miles of wilderness, facing down the lions and tigers and bears.

At 66 I stand on the brink of being the healthiest I have perhaps ever been.  I’ve jettisoned neuroses and useless beliefs and large pieces of what I thought was my personality.  I’m still not positive where the next phase will find me but I know I’m finally going to be living life as me and on my terms.

I earned this face.

Sage advice: muscles

My knowledge of muscles is taken from many places.  From a section on anatomy and muscles in my yoga teacher training, to info on muscles liberally dispensed by yoga teachers and multiple body work therapists to reading on my own, I’ve been learning about muscles for 30+ years.

The key factor I would emphasize is that most of us are woefully ignorant about our muscles and the central role they play in our health, well-being and ability to get around.  Western medicine largely ignores muscles, so many problems go undetected because they don’t even look for damage when you’ve fallen or been in an accident.

It’s worth learning about your muscles and seeking assistance outside of allopathic medicine in order to maintain muscle health and to restore it to balance after injury.

Emotions and muscles

Since this is everyone’s least favorite aspect, let’s get it out of the way 🙂  At times of trauma and/or drama we tighten our muscles and often the emotions evoked by these events wind up locked in knots in the muscle.

When you start opening the muscles, whether through practicing yoga, getting body work or treatments like acupuncture, those emotions and the memories associated with them are going to surface.

I think it’s one of the biggest reasons body work may plateau; resistance to remembering and/or releasing leads the person unconsciously to tighten.  In yoga people prevent these openings by getting out of a pose as soon as the muscle starts to relax enough to let those memories and feelings rise up.

Getting clear of old issues almost always needs to include some work on muscles in order to open the flow and restore essence.

Strength and Flexibility

America has somehow come to the conclusion that healthy muscles need only to be strong.  It’s a persistent misconception even though multitudes of people who work only on strength have wound up suffering pain from the impact of having muscles that are rigid but incapable of flexing.

Natural movement through the world requires muscles to have both the strength to make certain movements and hold certain parts of the body upright and the flexibility to allow you to balance, and to adjust to the motions life throws at you and, even more important, to allow vital force energy to flow throughout your body.

The nadis, or energy channels, through which prana (chi, qi, vital energy…) moves go through the muscles.  Rigid muscles restrict that flow.  Western thinking and medicine understands very little about energy, but energy and its ability to circulate is crucial mentally, physically and spiritually to good health.

After 32 years of yoga I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think it’s one of the best ways to get your muscles into the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.  A good yoga practice works on balance on many levels and one of the important features of a good practice is performing poses for both strength and stretch.

The Pain Place and the Source of Pain May Not Be the Same

The first serious massage therapist for me used a combo of sports medicine and the trigger point therapy theories of Dr. Janet Travell, particularly as shaped by Bonnie Prudden in Myotherapy.  Because muscles are interconnected, a holding pattern in one area will spread –given enough time, tightness can spread throughout your body — and may create a tight spot that hurts somewhere else.

If you work only where the pain is, you will not get rid of the problem.  Practitioners who know how to follow patterns* can figure out where the source of the problem really is.  When that piece releases, others will be easy to open.

Margaret, that first practitioner, often worked on my neck, couldn’t get anything to budge, moved down to a giant ball of knotted muscles at the top of my achilles tendon, worked there and then went back to my neck, where the muscles would now respond.

In Body Patterning, practitioners learn to see patterns in muscles and will often release several other areas before working on the place where you’ve indicated pain.  They’re releasing pieces that are holding that one and the spot you may think is central will not let go while the other patterns hold.

Another aspect of this is that your brain will numb out much of the pain if you have tight, sore muscles all over (or in many places).  Then it will zero in on one or two specific parts where you will experience the pain.  They’re not necessarily the places of origin for your problem.  Sometimes the pain is just referring from the pattern that’s the real issue.

Find a good practitioner –making sure you check on the training and experience — and trust him or her to work wherever you most need it regardless of whether that turns out to be the place where you feel pain.

When I do Flowing Body work on myself or with students, I generally do triggers of release for at least three areas and work with consciousness not only of before and after, but what has been affected by what.  For instance, during a recent knee problem, I did the triggers for ankles, knees and hips and noticed the ankle release did the most for the sore knee and the hip release was also more effective than the knee releases.

Another I’ve noted frequently, as have many students, is that releasing the ankles will often release something in the neck and/or jaw.  Almost every release will cause people to lower their shoulders even if no work has been done on shoulders.  Pay attention as you practice yoga or other exercises as to which movements bring relief where.

Muscles and Bones

Many muscles are connected to bones which means muscles pulled out of alignment can pull bones out of alignment too.  In the early years of trying to work my way out of fibromyalgia –harking back to Margaret again — the massage therapist prescribed chiropractic appointments to help.

Once the muscles have pulled bones out of whack, it often takes work on the bones as well to get the muscles to release.  If you’re not keen on the invasiveness of traditional chiropractic work, try Network Chiropractic. which doesn’t use the bone crunching technique and instead is gentle touch.

Therapy and Self Care

Over time I learned that body workers can help a lot but if I don’t do anything to help in between appointments, progress is exceedingly slow.  There are a variety of things you can do to help

I’d already been doing yoga when I began getting massages, etc. so that has always been a natural piece for me.  But it was when I lived in the San Francisco Bay area that I became conscious of helping along more.

I’d moved out to Marin but still wanted to go to the same massage therapist and also liked going to Kabuki Hot Springs, a Japanese bath place with wonderful sauna, hot tub, steam, etc.  To save trips over the bridge I started booking the massages on one of the ladies’ days at Kabuki and going in to soak, sauna, etc. first.  The therapist quickly noted my muscles were much easier to work on from the deep heat work right before the appointment.

Then, years later when I started doing a trade for Body Patterning, I only had an appointment every other week and I knew I needed to do something to maintain from one visit to the next.  Yoga had always helped but not enough.  And the commute to Kabuki Hot Springs had become a couple thousand miles 🙂

I’d done Robert Masters’ Psycho-physical Method to tapes for years but found it unwieldy for regular practice.  I began doing some of this work in between appointments and gradually re-worked it into sets of my own which dropped some pieces and joined various disparate parts in his classes into sets that worked well together and then combined it with yoga

Practice in between helped and I began a practice of doing 30-60 minutes of this work shortly before massage appointments, with a long soak in a hot bath right before leaving.  Suddenly I was being told that I had released more since the last appointment.

Normally practitioners get a number of things to open and then a combination of repetitive motions performed in life and the pulling force of patterns still holding in your body take the progress backwards a few steps (say 4 steps forward, 2-3 steps back).  Then at the next appointment the practitioner spends 15-30 of the first minutes of your appointment getting you back to where you were at the end of the last appointment.

So doing your part through practices that maintain progress and making sure you’ve done all you could before an appointment, you can move much faster through the body work to healthy muscles.  Very little time needs to be spent on getting you back to where you were and most of the appointment is about progressing further.

Problems Arise Slowly

It’s amazing how little it can take to start a problem with muscles and then it may take years before you feel the pain.  Yup.  Years.

I know I try the patience of some of my students with my emphasis on form in doing yoga and they don’t really believe me when I tell them doing it wrong can cause injuries.  If they’re not being wheeled out on a gurney at the end of class, to them there was no injury.

But do a pose wrong — or watch TV daily with your head turned or tilted or sit with your hips uneven, etc. — and keep doing it wrong and one or more muscles can be pulled a little out of place and/or strained enough to create a small knot.

At the time and perhaps for some time to come you probably won’t feel any pain at all.  But you’ve started a pattern. And if it goes untreated, the muscle will lock into the slightly-off-position and the first couple of knots will pull more of the muscle into knots.  Once that muscle is far enough out of whack it will start pulling all the muscles around it and causing them to tighten.

You might have started off pulling a muscle in your right hip out of place and a few years later it’s expanded until you’re having pain in your left shoulder and since you haven’t even done yoga for two years, you have no idea that doing it wrong started your problem.

The same is also true of having an injury and failing to get help.  You may stay off an ankle for a few days or go on bed rest for a spell and feel okay enough when you move again. But there’s a very good chance the trauma and the automatic tightening of muscles around it has set a little pattern.  Left untreated the pattern will remain and keep reaching out to affect more muscles.

The best way to protect your muscles from injury is to stay aware in the now.  Learn to do any exercise properly — and if your teacher can’t carefully explain the details of how to do something correctly, FIND A DIFFERENT TEACHER!!!  Also take care about positions you engage in routinely — how you sit, how you hold your head.

If you do an assessment and realize you’ve been twisting your neck when you sleep or sitting with one hip higher than the other, etc., seek help on identifying any patterns that have arisen and releasing them before they’ve turned into 20 patterns.

Bottom line, your muscles are important and you are the best steward in maintaining health.  Do what you can to keep them healthy and any time you have an accident or injury or feel a strain from repetitive motion seek help from alternative practitioners who actually understand muscles.


*i.e. cranio-sacral or body patterning

Something’s Calling?

Barbara Franken of Me, My Magnificent Self has invited a third round of posts on Awakening Experiences which will be made into another e-book. This entry is perhaps more about the next stage of my journey than awakening, but I see it as describing another step forward in awareness.

As indicated in my last post I’ve been sporadically contemplating “What’s next?”. The question crops up periodically as I’ve been tired of this healing thing for a long time and ready to move forward. But to what?

It’s not that I hang around constantly fretting over the future. But this whole journey started as a way for me to learn not only to live a happier life but to find a career path that felt like me after a lifetime of trying to please everyone else. I rarely liked the choices made for others and I’d lost any sense of who I was and what I wanted to do. So I do have an interest in moving forward.

I’ve joked many times, if I’d realized at the beginning the journey would lead me into so many deep hollows and twisty byways I probably wouldn’t have started. Along the way, the spiritual tools my early mentors handed me wound up adding spirituality to the journey; I admit it was not part of my original quest. The spiritual side leaves me aware there’s a flow and life is easier when you connect with it. And I keep getting glimpses — “knowing”– or flashes of insight about where the current is heading, so I’m trying to interpret and understand.

Called to Teach?

Early on writing felt like my calling and I spent a long time working on unlocking my inner writer. Something I did easily and naturally as a child and teenager eluded me. While I pursued the idea of writing fiction, various prescient teachers intertwined with insightful flashes of my own to suggest a different path.

In the mid-90’s, several of my spiritual teachers started dogging me about how they knew I’m a leader and here to teach. A couple of them bugged me periodically about getting out there and teaching. I could sense the core of truth in their reading of me but also had no idea what to teach nor, as it turned out, how to teach 🙂

Eventually I decided that maybe teaching through my writing answered the calling, got help creating a web site and started posting “Tips for the Spiritual Journey”. Which was fun to write but led nowhere, to no audience…

Called to Journey for Peace

Moving ahead to the mid -aughts, a friend with awesome right listening skills gently probed with ever more deepening questions until I realized I felt called to work for peace. Some time later my “Journey to Peace” class was formulated. I’d also been trying to teach some right speech classes.

Many of the people who took the classes said they got a lot out of it but I rarely drew more than 1-3 at a time. It took several years to learn enough about the rhythm and flow of teaching to structure the classes with a good mix of lecture and practice. But the classes were costing me more often than they made any money and I was reaching so few people it seemed pointless.*

In the meantime I’d developed my movement classes — which began purely as an aid to my own muscle issues — and taught yoga and my own movement stuff to the same pitiful results. The efforts reached a point where almost simultaneously the unwinding muscles in my head reached a debilitating pinnacle and I threw in the towel on teaching classes.

Somewhere in the midst of that, I wound up guided to start this blog and thought perhaps it was my teaching path. And then when I collected a crowd of lovely folks who already know what I’m teaching but didn’t seem to reach anyone else, I gave up thinking of the blog as the conduit for teaching.

Ahead of the curve

Several years ago I had a breakthrough three-hour session with local healer Osunnike. One of the most profound moments I didn’t completely understand at the time, except that it was key and I’ve kept coming back to it.

In my memory she actually stopped for a moment when she picked up on this piece but it may have just felt so important to me that I ceased noticing her ongoing healing. Suddenly she started telling me she could see how far ahead of the curve I am on a lot of things and how hard it is for me to be trying to get it out there when most people don’t understand my message. She sensed great loneliness and sadness that few were understanding what I could see clearly. And she told me the day was coming when people would be ready to hear me.

At the time I was working on getting my movement classes out there and feeling this area wasn’t ready for it, so I asked if that was what she meant. She said it was only a part of it; there were many ways in which my teaching at the time was ahead of general understanding. I wasn’t sure I understood, partly because calling myself “ahead of the curve” sounded arrogant or beyond where I could see myself at the time.

When I wrote about the experience I didn’t say much about that piece of it because I needed time to let it sink in and to understand it better. Lately, as the muscles blocking my third eye have been opening, I’m getting more flashes of “knowing” and moments of sudden insight.

Among the insights I’ve been sensing: (1) the bigger part of what Osunnike meant referred to my efforts on what it takes to move toward peace; and (2) my writing here about peace and some of the things I’ve been trying to say about women in my women’s issues series will soon be understood and this long spell of feeling like an unheard failure will be over.

Near the time of these insights, I spoke to fellow blogger Linda, of litebeing chronicles and she mentioned my writings on peace. She told me she follows lots of blogs on spiritual topics but nowhere else did she see a discussion of peace quite like mine. And she encouraged me to writing about it. It dovetailed with my growing sense of being “out there” in what I’m saying. But I could also see if I keep on writing then when people are ready to hear this, a big body of work will already be there for them.

All of this has me contemplating the blog again and ruminating on peace and what we can do from here. I’m seeing this as fulfilling the teaching path so many mentors foresaw long ago. And connecting Osunnike’s insights to the “leader” part of their insights. The threads of teaching and writing joining the thread of thinking ahead of the curve…

Right now I’m just still moving through the last stage of the healing journey. Impatient, obviously 🙂 But I like the sense of direction as I flow toward the next phase. Maybe the exact place I’ve been meant to head all along?


*A few students have told me the class affected them deeply and continues to be an impact so I also reflect on the possibility those few were the only ones I was meant to teach at the time…

When I grow up?

Twilight, Ashland walled garden

I’ve not meant to be so sporadic about posting.  Lots of yanking around the eyes and sleepless nights contribute to lack of brain power for writing.  But I’m also realizing I’ve been in a time of gestation about writing and what I am or am not meant to do with it.

It’s part of an ongoing inner shift and debate I’ve been exploring for some years (including in previous posts).  When I first started on this spiritual journey I was sure writing novels was my path.  A great deal of my early work centered on removing blocks, rediscovering childhood creativity and generally trying to awaken my inner writer.

One novel and several novel attempts later I began to question whether fiction is even my genre.  And when my guidance nudged me to blog, I wondered if this was my path.  Eventually I came to treasure the community of friends I’ve made through blogging but to question whether my writing here serves any purpose as a life path.

And of course there’s the general questioning as I’ve released and transformed and shifted my way from neurotic, negative Nancy (my real first name) to level and lighter Leigh (my more-beloved middle name).  I’ve let go of so much in the last 25 or so years, I’m sometimes not sure who I am and less sure of what I’m here to do.

Eventually, as the regular crowd here knows, I decided a big piece of my purpose is this long, convoluted journey of healing on every level.  The yanking lately is showing me clearly the muscles in my face have just about finished unwinding (as always with the caveat these last pieces are the very tightest so slow going…) and a new chapter is dawning.

I’m still very unclear as to what the new chapter is or looks like but lately more and more signs and portents have been pointing a way.  Next post I’ll explore this more, but let’s just say I’m sensing strongly that coming back to blogging about peace is the next direction.  Or I’m heading back to an old direction? 🙂

Dipping into Peace and Love

A another blogger — also a friend — asked me recently to post something about being peace.  I’ve been re-reading old posts and giving it some thought ever since, without quite landing on what I’d like to write.

In the meantime I felt drawn to yet another Steve Nobel meditation and I think it will make a nice opener to what I’m thinking may be a series of posts reflecting on peace.

This one, “The Sun Goddess Amaterasu Transmission. Embracing A Higher Flow of Pure Grace” is almost entirely about filling with grace and love and light from the Divine Feminine and I found it amazing.  If enough of us start resonating with this level of grace and love most or all of the time the world will shift…

Outage blessing: a shift

A couple of weeks ago a big storm took out electricity for a couple of day (previous post) and then our phone/tv/internet service went down for a week.  When the electricity came back but the other stuff was still out I pulled out some DVDs to have something to watch.

I’d been drawn for a while to re-watch some “positive” stuff, like Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” or “What the Bleep”.  But you know, have to remember how to get in DVD mode and find the stuff to watch, so it kept getting put off…  But with DVD the only possibility, the draw became compelling.  So I started with the Louise Hay.  As I watched for what was probably the sixth or eigth time since i bought it, I suddenly felt like a switch flipped.

Having been aware of her mirror work for years, I finally actually went through all the exercises in one of her more recent books about it a couple of years ago.  I enjoyed it and felt like it did some good, though years of work on similar things meant it didn’t feel like a big change happened.  But I’ve long been aware of a gap for me between my intellectual understanding about positive thinking and my ability to hold on to positive thoughts.

Many people I’ve known over the years have seemed to just flip a switch upon encountering Ms. Hay or Eckhart Tolle or whichever “you create your reality” guru they found.  It’s always amazed me that someone could turn it around so fast.  Sometimes I realized they became very good at saying only positive things but it didn’t necessarily mean they’d really cleared the negative thoughts or explored their origins…

On my journey I realized in increments over many years that lots of old personal and ancestral issues created endlessly looping negative tapes in my thought patterns and that I didn’t know how to turn them off.  It’s taken years of release work, self-examination and creating positive thought loops to progress slowly into a more positive mindset.

But suddenly as Louise and friends discussed loving yourself and mirror work, something in me went, “yes, of course, I love myself.”  I’ve been smiling and looking in the mirror to repeat variations of loving myself affirmations daily ever since and spontaneously looping positive thoughts through my mind at intervals each day.

I’ve waited a while to write about this, wondering how well it would stick.  Must admit the constancy of it has faded a bit over the course of a couple of weeks (probably time to watch the video again?), but by and large I’m still finding myself running affirmations through my mind and smiling into the mirror daily.

It feels like a big shift.  One that was fed by all the work on shifting, sorting, examining and changing that went before, but a shift nonetheless.  Quite a blessing to receive from an outage!

The week+ with no Internet or t.v. has also changed my viewing and on line habits a bit, as I actually watch instead of half watching more things, take more time away from computer and t.v. to read, cook, weed, etc.  I have to say, frustrating as it was, the blessings were greater than the inconvenience.