Journey to Now

Maneuvering mid(ish)life transformation

Three years ago, a divine discontent set into the pit of my stomach. It began with the thought, “Will I really be a fundraiser for the rest of my life? Is this it?” As satisfying as it is to complete a campaign that serves a mission, as fun as it is to create magnetic communications, build relationships, inspire others with a vision, and make a tangible impact externally, it was no longer enough. 

At first, I thought that I simply needed more responsibility. So, when given the opportunity, I accepted the management duties of a second department at Ananda and expanded my scope. That didn’t work. 

Next, I thought that I was too isolated, that I needed to feel more a part of “the world.” So, I accepted a job at the March of Dimes, tripled my salary, and rejoined society. Very quickly, it was clear that this too was not it.

Two years into seeking answers, I began to feel desperate. I tried on the outfits of new careers with such zeal that it was hard to know who I really was. I tried on the v-neck sweater of a meditation researcher with a PhD. I tried on the REI gear of a meditation teacher for humanitarians. I tried on the cashmere of a best selling author. I considered the recycled cocktail dress of simply remaining a fundraiser, but for a different organization. I donned the fresh pumps of a CEO. Nothing fit. 

Every interview process began strong. I believed it was “the one” and I spent far too much time envisioning my life in this new external outfit. Each time, the daydream ended with dissolution.

I tried to find answers in psychics, astrologers, friends, divination decks, long meditations, and spiritual guides. Each one gave me a bread crumb to follow, but no one could give me the answer. The search was straining my relationships, my energy, and my joy. 

As 2020 dawned, I could feel myself in a process of rewilding. I questioned my faith, my beliefs, my choices. At first this was an intellectual exercise, a process of thinking through each part of me and asking the difficult questions. In time, I began to trust my inner voice and the process shifted into one of feeling. I could feel a truth and decide to affirm it or let it go without too much fuss. The emotion, having moved beyond the need to “prove” my inner voice, was now calm. 

Somewhere midstorm, I wrote a cover letter to the satguru of my spiritual path, Mahavatar Babaji.

Bless me Lord that I choose my life’s work according to thy law of soul union.

Dear Babaji,

Bring me the work that will help me grow compassion, power, joy, and love in my heart and mind. Help me serve the world as I was born to do. Bring me the opportunity where my talents can be useful to others and can help uplift mankind. Help my family to be cared for and always know that my love for them is without boundary. Give me the chance to be brave, bold, humble, and kind.

Love Always, Your Child

The magic did not happen overnight. I prayed daily to be guided by Babaji. I read and re-read my cover letter. Many meditations were punctuated by a desperate call from my heart for an answer, but the phone did not ring for months.

And then, as swiftly as a tropical storm breaks, the phone rang. The voice was not human, she merely whinnied and snorted. But in her mind, she told me to go deeper. She told me to enter the present moment with her. She began to reveal to me through this presence much of what was holding me back. The fear, doubt, and insecurities. She also showed me strengths. The calmness, intuition, and joy. She assured me that being with her in this presence would transform us both.

Now, as I take my first tentative steps along a new path, the path of the horse, doubts sometimes arise. Is this just another outfit? Am I pretending to be a cowgirl now? Each time doubts assail me, a divine Grace seems to whisper through nature to bring me assurance. A red tailed hawk of courage swoops past my face. Snakes of transformation slither through the pastures and rivers. A dove of peace alights nearby. Foxes of overcoming obstacles cross the road as I pass.

Beyond mother nature herself, synchronicities big and small are practically yelling at me their confirmation. In one month a guide along this path, 2 horses, years worth of study materials, supplies, and a wait list of students have all appeared with open arms. This can be nothing less than a miracle.

This is merely the start. Where this path leads I cannot say. What I can say is that I am alive with presence. I can barely write anymore for the need to remain present and absorb this new path is so strong. Writing is in my heart still, but now is my time to listen. And so, I enter into this presence with an open heart and mind. 

These inner deaths and rebirths are terrifying, enlivening, and beautiful all at once. If we invite ourselves to grow, they are inevitable. Here are a few gems that have helped me along the way so far:

  • Trust yourself. When you feel to act, act. When you feel to listen, listen. When something doesn’t feel right, honor your knowing. 
  • Remain flexible. Your belief today may be replaced with another tomorrow. Allow yourself all the room you need to change. Better to be wrong for a day, than wrong for a whole lifetime.
  • Hold on to faith. Faith is born from personal experience, unlike belief. Hold on to that which you know from your own life. When your experience conflicts with belief, break in the direction of you. If you can do that, and remain flexible, you’ll keep learning forever. 
  • Cultivate connection to Spirit. Perhaps you commune with nature to find Spirit. Perhaps you meditate. Perhaps you recite the rosary. Whatever helps you connect with your truest, most expansive Self, cultivate it with all the love of your heart. It will lift you to new heights.

Following Joy

What does it mean to follow your joy? For many years, I’ve been advised to try it. But, for one reason or another, I generally end up following my needs instead. My need for security, my need for accomplishment, my need for purpose.

Astrologically speaking, for all you mystics like me, Saturn and Jupiter sit squarely on each other in my career house. They face off, the one daring the other to take the lead in my professional life. Saturn wants to work hard, strive, succeed. Jupiter wants to radiate light to the whole entire world. Saturn believes the path is suffering. Jupiter believes the path is joy.

Until a week ago, I did not know how to let Jupiter lead me. Until a week ago, I was convinced that my purpose would be found through my blood sweat and tears. And then, I met a girl and a horse and my whole life turned upside down.

In moments, the sleeping girl in me, the girl who used to speak with horses in whispers of love and power and compassion, she woke up. She saw a girl and a horse who needed help and she rose up, bringing in her wake a surge of joy like none other.

The warm summer breezes, cooling my sweat as I breathed the smells of manure and Horseman’s One Step at the end of a training session. That sensation of my body, guiding one of God’s most elegant creations through an intricate pattern of jumps and turns in the arena. The freedom of racing up a hillside together, just me and my horse. These memories came flooding back.

I am not that girl anymore. And yet, she is in me. My dream of rehabilitating horses, saving them from meat-packing companies, has shifted in the last 25 years into new dreams.

And yet, the spark is the same. The need to use my heart, my spirit, and my power to help others is what drives me now. And for the first time, I see how following my own joy can take me there. A path is starting to open before me.

Today, I will once again lift my arms, find my balance, merge with the beating heart of a horse beneath me, and jump. I do it because I know that it will lead me into a more true and beautiful life.

The Dogma of Karma

Last week I wrote about the tragic murders of Dominique Fells and Riah Milton, both trans black women who were viciously killed this month for their gender identities and race. I wrote about karma and privilege. I feel compelled to write more.

Karma is the cosmic law that states all actions, even thoughts, that originate from us into the world return to us at some point. As Paramhansa Yogananda explained, “This is the law of karma: As you sow, so shall you reap. (Galatians 6:7) If you sow evil, you will reap evil in the form of suffering. And if you sow goodness, you will reap goodness in the form of inner joy.”

It is a perfect circle, Divine harmony. In the cosmic law of karma there are few innocent bystanders. Some take it further to suggest that karma is like a piggy bank, we can collect the coin of good deeds and pay it out to avoid suffering.

This belief has never sat well with me. There is, of course, a certain comfort in knowing that justice will always prevail under this cosmic law. Especially when faced with the perpetrators of extreme inhumanity. And, as in all things religious, there’s a difference between interpretations. Perhaps goodness and evil are merely internal experiences, rather than external realities? One can hope.

The flip side of the coin is fairly gruesome. The idea that what you get is what you deserve, always. It can cause an aloofness to human suffering or worse. It can feel callous and accusatory to the recipient of human tragedy. I’m not saying this belief causes everyone to be uncaring, only that it’s a real and present danger.

These teachings come straight from the ancient wisdom of yoga. Who am I to question them? And yet, when a belief does not sit well with us, when it causes us to press the mental fast forward button and move quickly to a new topic, perhaps it’s worth a pause.

What I can tell you is this, staring unblinkingly into human suffering breaks a sensitive heart wide open. If we lean into that suffering, breathe through it, we come out the other side with a deep and abiding compassion for humanity.

I have come to a different understanding of karma. I can’t say that it’s true, only that I no longer need to push the fast forward button. I believe that karma is about learning. I believe that what comes to us is there to teach us something. My privilege and pain. When tragedy strikes, our choice is to let our pain, anger, whatever rises, transform us in ways that make us more compassionate or let it crush us with fear or despair. Or maybe a little of both.

I can’t know the lessons of Dominique and Riah’s murders, nor George or Breonna’s or countless others. What I can know is that their deaths deserve lessons be learned by us all.

Untamed Voyager

I used to believe that it must be hell to believe in hell. How sad to fear for the eternal damnation of our loved ones. Now I know it can be equally hard to believe in enlightenment. It’s a high bar to measure against.

Some among us contort to fit a mold in the shape of an admired one. We hope that if it looks like a saint, acts like a saint, smells like a saint…well, you know. Riddled with self-doubt, disappointment, and despair from our perceived imperfection, we sometimes buckle from pressure. Some fit just fine.

But what if there were another way? What if we could love ourselves all along the journey? What if we could trust ourselves, our longings, our voices, dare I say even our egos, from start to finish?

Wayshowers, the gurus of our world, act as the lighthouse, sometimes also the wind. They illuminate the rocky places and occasionally speed our boat. But they are not the captain. Only we can steer the course.

For many years I believed the captain was my guru. I was merely a vessel, awaiting the turning of my wheel and the filling of my sail. Now I know that I am the captain.

When Swami Kriyananda, a guide of mine, said, “set your own spiritual sail,” to me in my time of need, he meant it.

He did not ask me to let him steer. He did not suggest I wait for the wind to blow. He advised me to lead.

We cannot be captain if we believe our judgement false. We cannot be captain if we mistrust our knowing. Healthy skepticism welcome, but self-doubt, no thanks.

And so I invite you to believe in your inner voice. Listen to your longings. Trust that your desires and traits are planted with purpose. Let the lighthouse and gale support the adventure. But remember, your soul’s journey through this world and the next is your voyage to freedom alone.

Given the choice, my assessment is: I’d rather be me dancing than Mother Teresa praying.

As Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to fail attempting to follow one’s own dharma than to succeed in following the dharma of another.”

Let Us Treasure Hunt

When life calls for change, who or what do you turn to for guidance? The ten question quiz? A psychic, a friend, a hero? Perhaps you are a card reader or a star gazer?

We all seek answers outside. The impulse is so human, so vulnerable, so real. I find myself too floundering for certainty. From friends, cards, stars, books, podcasts, I ravenously consume.

I feel like the bottomless pit of Ganesha’s hunger at the banquet of the proud King Kubera. By the time the palace walls were consumed, Kubera knew the err of his ways and begged Lord Shiva, father of Ganesha, to satiate his son. Only the Divine could satisfy Ganesha’s hunger.

This pandemic is forcing change on us all, whether we want it or not. It is upon us.

Heart pounding, we cling to falling rocks. Unthethered to the norms of this world, we see every word, post, utterance, and rainbow as a sign. A caged bird, wondering at the open door, have we lost sight of the answer directly in front?

There, hiding in our view, is an opening. Perhaps merely ajar, it beckons us. It whispers, ‘come in.’

It is not yet a path. It is merely a step. In the mist of uncertainty we walk forward. We walk with trepidation, without sight, but walk we will into this unknown abyss.

Join me. We are souls adrift, slates clean, with only the spark of longing as our guide. Let us dive for treasure together.

Message me if you need my help. I promise only that I am here for you. I can teach you stillness. I can listen deeply. I am with you, friend.

Quarantine Apathy

As the rain pours and the evening draws to a close, I am swallowed by a prevailing sense of apathy that has grown for weeks in quarantine. At first, this feeling crept into my ambition. It sucked away my longing for a successful career serving humanity. Next, it slipped into my desire for affection. I found myself unmotivated to care for my body. Then it slid into my relationship with my guru and spiritual path. I began to recoil at all outward forms of spirituality. Tonight, it edged into the fledgling pages of my book. Doubts assail me about my ability to write for healing.

This apathy is like the Nothing from the Never Ending Story. It blows in as a storm and destroys everything in its path. I am gripped with fear that this Nothing will leave me empty, that I have lost my way and will never find home.

In the midst of this anguish, from the power of words, a quiet voice calls out. She says that this too shall pass. She reminds me that this Nothing is merely clearing a path for Something. She says, “pray and be still.”

The fear releases its grip a little. I remember that rain brings renewal in her wake. Doubt and depression spring from uncertainty and we are a world unraveled.

That voice, she is my soul. She whispers, “Be still and know that I am God.” I will wait for the change to come.

Lost and Found

I am a chameleon. I have been through so many personas in my short 39 years that it makes my head spin. In a pre-memoir exercise, I’ve been writing a stream of consciousness journal about my life to date. In the process, a stark pattern has become clear, I lose myself in friends and colleagues over and over and over.

There is a process to this losing and a process to the finding too. That will take more than a blog post to explain. When I lose myself, it is complete. I take on the ideas, interests, beliefs, and personality traits of another. This mostly happens at work and it has made me an exceedingly good #2.

I “tune into” the leadership and produce communications, fundraising, and strategic plans that align beautifully with their vision. Each time, I one day wake up. I have no explanation for the timing of these awakenings, they just happen. When they do, it can be quite jarring.

In my personal life, this ability to merge is less useful for success, but equally as present. When I am with a friend, I enter her world and take on her ideas as my own. When I entered a marriage with a self-proclaimed narcissist, I made an excellent shadow to his persona. When I speak with my atheist brother, I experience waves of doubt. When a friend expresses a strongly held opinion, I take it as fact. Or at least I did.

I have been a Northwest grunge kid, a hip hop DJ’s girlfriend, a raver, a manager, a humanitarian, a yogi, a community organizer, a helpless codependent woman, a fierce feminist, a horsewoman, a fashionista, a pothead, a spiritual “teacher?”, a monastic, and a materialist. I’ve danced on private yachts, sang karaoke with Vanessa Williams, traveled to destitute reaches of the Earth to help others, meditated in some of India’s most sacred sites, and experienced moments of inner bliss beyond description. Who is this mess of experiences? Who are any of us, really?

Today, I can hear my inner voice calling out for another transformation. As I let her be heard over the din of other voices and the inner thumping of my “should” demons, I am returning to my knowing. At nearly 40 I feel free.

The yogi would describe this inner knowing as the soul. She is constant, no matter the changing scene of this life. Being a chameleon has it’s upside, but the constant loss of self can be a real drag.

In this chapter of life, I hope to increase the volume of my inner voice enough to allow the chameleon to exist as a tool, rather than a way of life. This is an exercise in trust and empowerment. One would think my daily practice of meditation would be sufficient, but it’s not. I am tired of waking up to find that I have lost myself again.

Transformation is ever-humbling. We let go of everything in order to “live a more true and beautiful life” as Glennon Doyle puts it so well.

I’ll keep you posted on what I find!

Feel All the Feels

For much of my life I have received advice like:

“Let your anger go. It only hurts you.”

“Forgive those who hurt you.”

“Release jealousy.”

I am not saying this advice is wrong exactly, but it can be dangerous for me when I’m trying to grow personally and spiritually. The danger is that advice like this gives no hint of what these negative emotions might be there to tell me.

Anger and pain speak to me when a boundary has been crossed. Jealousy is an unfulfilled desire, roaring for my attention. These feelings have messages and if I use my willpower and spiritual practices to let them go without introspection, I can miss what my heart is trying to tell me.

What would happen if I chose to feel all the feels, rather than release them in meditation prematurely? What might I learn about myself?

I spent ten years wondering whether my first marriage was a mistake. In year three, when he first crossed my personal boundary around infidelity, my anger raged louder than I’d ever experienced. And yet, I found a way to forgive. I began to build a toolbox of emotional avoidance techniques. Sometimes I would exercise the feelings away. Sometimes I would socialize them away. Sometimes I would Netflix them away. And sometimes I would meditate them away. It took a very long time to learn to surrender and allow the feelings to wash over me, so that I might hear the messages beneath their storm.

I get feelings of immense longing when I see progressive leaders doing amazing things. It’s not quite jealousy because that might be too presumptuous, but still, it says something. I get pangs of jealousy when I read incredible literature that I wish I wrote. Guess what, these feelings have a message for me and it’s very clear if I’m ready to listen.

We can choose to feel all those feelings as they arise, lean into them bravely, and allow them to move through us. Once the feeling has passed, like a crashing wave on the ocean, look inside and you may find a useful message from your own heart underneath. It’s nearly impossible to find the message during the storm, but it is equally difficult to find it if we turn the ship and sail to some other shore.

The advice that I now embrace is my own:

Let the feelings of your heart rise and fall.
Let them wash through you.
Take care of yourself and others during the storm,
so all remain safe.
When the quiet returns,
Listen with all your heart for the messages left behind.

A Golden Ticket of Time

Dear my people,

I have been called to go on a journey, one that my heart has yearned to take for many years. Until this moment, I was not ready. Until this moment, I was not brave enough. Today, I am free to travel a new road and I know in my heart that I am strong enough, desperate enough, and untamed enough to brave the wild ahead.

I do not know what this journey will look like. I do not know what lies inside of it. All that I know is that I hold in my hand an invitation. I go forth with perfect faith.

One day, I will invite you to see where I have gone. Through the words that I paint, I will share new vistas that I find with you. I cannot promise that you will like my painted words. I cannot tell you what I will find. But know that it is a deep yearning within me to brave this wild inside and share it with my people.

I have been furloughed from my job. I have been given the golden ticket of time to travel in the confines of my home and family, to the depths of my being in pandemic isolation. I feel protective of this ticket, desirous of this time, desperate to take this journey. I hesitated to even share that this time has been given to me, for fear that it would be taken away by some other calling.

But I have faith. I have faith that this ticket is for me. I have been given three months of time. I will cherish each moment with my children and with my free wild inside. My deepest desire is to excavate treasures and share them, I guess you can call me a miner.

Please know that I am well.

With love,

Gita

Death in a Time of Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has brought our mortality into stark relief. Whether we are among those most vulnerable or not, death seems to be all around us. This is disturbing for even the most hearty among us.

I was reflecting today how death and birth have so many parallels. Both can be beautiful and Divine, but are also unpredictable, painful, and supremely human. Both come with change akin to alchemy and require an inordinate amount of administrativia.

Here in America, we don’t do either very well. We birth in notoriously inequitable hospitals, as if our pregnancies are an illness (not a judgement, I had both my babies in the hospital). The resulting outcomes for moms and babies are the worst among all developed nations. And the end of life? Well, we tuck away our elders in their final years, rather than build robust systems to age in place. We spend tens of thousands to prolong our lives by mere months at the cost of quality connections with loved ones and a peaceful exit.

Here at Ananda, the meditation and yoga community where I live, we do our best to exit with grace. We spend a lot of time practicing death through our daily practice of meditation, introspection, and right attitudes. A dear friend died this week after a many-year battle with terminal illness. And while the grief is as piercing as it ever is, he left with immense grace by his ability to surrender through the process. We’re all blessed by it and by his friendship.

Today, as thousands lie in hospital beds alone, my heart breaks. I wish we as a culture did death better. It wouldn’t fix this situation, but it might bring greater peace to those who are dying right now. If only we spoke of death more, honored the death process, prepared ourselves for what was in store. We may hold different beliefs about what happens after we die, but the process of death is universal.

First, there is the body. It is dying, which means that it is difficult, likely painful. If we spend more time learning to breathe acceptance into the painful parts, might this be less scary? If we experienced pain as a natural part of life, rather than avoiding it at all cost, might we be better prepared?

Next, there is the mind. Could we spend more time preparing the mind to be strong and able to remain calm, even under mortal threat? Neuroscience suggests yes. The brain retains plasticity for our entire lives. There is a sizable body of research that demonstrates that meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, while it simultaneously reduces the activity of the limbic system. In other words, you can train your brain to maintain greater calm and reduce its reactive impulses.

Finally, there is the Soul. This is supremely personal and many Americans spend a great deal of time on this, while others dismiss it entirely. I love that about us, we are free to choose. And yet, I would argue that there is a common thread to pick this one up from: love.

Whatever your faith or none, there are few who would dispute the power of love. The more we spend our lives cultivating the universal love and compassion within us and among us, the more peace we will surely find in our own “final exam” from life.

So, as we walk through the coronavirus pandemic together, let us focus on our breath, on our compassion, and on our love. Let’s remember our common humanity. And if you pray, pray for those who are dying, pray that they may feel comfort in their hearts. Let’s also pray for their loved ones, whose pain is difficult to fathom. And if prayer is not for you, perhaps silence. A moment of silence is worth a thousand words.