The brain is all that matters, right?
We all begin somewhere. Heather and I have been heartstorming and going back. Way back to when we first knew that there was something other than our cognitive, logical brain that did the thinking. My first career was as a behavioral therapist so all I believed for a long time was the stimulus-response sequence. I believed we, as humans, operated like rats. We notice something, we want it, we are rewarded, we want more. Or we’re punished and we want less. Basic conditioning. It was simple to think this way. As I lived life, I noticed there was more.
I was familiar with my body in that it ate food, slept, pooped, experienced sexual arousal and orgasm, and it felt pain. Back in 2008, that was it. I didn’t know the wisdom, trauma, and freedom my body contained for me to discover. Here is where my connection with my body begins…
In 2008, I had a Master’s degree, aspired to be a wealthy sex therapist, and I was broke. I lived in an intentional community in Chicago so I was among passionate, intelligent people. I volunteered as a therapist for Chicago Women’s Health Center – my favorite place in town. I was navigating life and career blindly. I mistakenly thought that being outfitted with awards, a degree, and my name in well-known journals would land me my dream job. I was already an entrepreneur and I didn’t know it. I looked for ways to practice independently as a budding therapist. I tried to connect with doctors and collaborative practices in Chicago and everything was a dead end because I wasn’t licensed. It was a catch-22. At the time, I had also ended a relationship with a narcissist, although I didn’t know that’s what it was called back then.
My first taste of Intuition
I was sinking quickly into despair and crippling depression. I tried everything to crawl out of the dark hole. Nothing seemed to help. I paid attention to signs. When a book grabbed my attention, I picked it up. I followed my desires. Reiki spoke to me even though I had zero clue about it. I had one magical session while traveling in Guatemala the year before (that’s a fabulous story!). All of a sudden, I needed to be attuned. I didn’t know what any of it meant. I just knew I had to do it. That was my foray into “energy healing” and feeling things in my body I had never noticed before. I lived with 13 people in a wonderful house and I asked to practice on people. It was the first time I learned how to trust my intuition (I didn’t use any of these words back then).
Everything was outward though. I was doing for others to take the attention off myself and my pain. I was serving others because that’s all I knew what to do. It helped because I loved witnessing people “heal”. I remember one young woman I did Reiki on. She stopped having periods due to an eating disorder and after one session with me, her period returned! I was amazed. I felt honored and happy to have somehow (I didn’t know how) contributed to her healing. However, I wasn’t helping myself. I continued to explore and practice Reiki on friends but not much on myself.
I picked up a book on PMS and natural cures for it. I had extreme cramps, mood swings, bloating, and breast tenderness before and during my periods. I wanted to heal without meds. It was an older book and I followed its prescriptions almost to a tee. It spoke of yoga, acupressure, diet changes, and natural supplements. It was how I became vegan. After 28 days, my mood swings disappeared thanks to the diet changes! I didn’t do the yoga or acupressure though. Somehow I was resistant to using my body. I thought that the diet change was enough and was already extreme for me although I was a vegetarian. Ten years later, I understand why I was resistant to getting into my body and why most people are (this will be a later story in the Origin series…stay tuned).
Every remedy was temporary. Change didn’t last long. Feeling good didn’t last. I picked up a book called The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs. The cure included taking Omega-3s, exercise, light therapy, community connection, sleep, and taking action. I did everything the book said except exercise. I might have dabbled in exercise. Nothing lasted. I started going to yoga classes. I spent time with my friends and community. I slept too much. I took action all the time. Nothing lasted.
I felt ashamed to be broke and to ask my parents for rent money. I had odd jobs that made me feel worthless. I was getting paid peanuts even though I had a Masters from a prestigious program. I thought about leaving Chicago to pursue sex therapy opportunities. I looked around the country. I didn’t want a regular job. I decided I would stay in Chicago and keep going. Everything seemed to be a dead end. I was stuck. I couldn’t work the way I wanted because I didn’t have a license and no one would work with me to help me work toward a license. I fell deeper into depression and I began to notice suicidal thoughts. The thoughts plagued me daily and I felt afraid. I knew something was very wrong. I reached out to two best friends and asked them to check up on me because I didn’t trust myself. That was a big step for me to ask for help.
I had a lot of people around me and I felt more alone than ever. I believed I was an outcast. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way all the time. One day, I was weighing my options. For all my life I was fiercely against psychotropic medication or anti-depressants. For the first time ever, I began to think about medication. I needed a reprieve from the crippling despair.
At the same time, I remembered my best friend telling me about a meditation retreat that lasted 10 days called Vipassana. I thought she and it were nuts. She said it helped her immensely. Synchronistically while I was considering medication, I read a short article on Vipassana meditation. Then I remembered another friend tell me about the retreat. Everything began to converge and I knew it meant something. I looked up Vipassana and discovered there happened to be a full-time center very close to Chicago! I had close to zero meditation experience. I have to do it, I remember thinking. I applied for an upcoming course, seeing that it didn’t cost anything (which shocked, delighted, and scared me. I felt suspicious of spiritual/religious institutions). The course was coming up soon and I silently prayed to be accepted even though it was short notice.
It was medication or meditation. Those were my only two hopes.
I received a call from the center asking me a bunch of questions. They said I couldn’t do yoga or Reiki during the course. Fine. I was all in and would do anything they asked. I was desperate.
I went in for 12 days total. It was silent, which I welcomed. I had not interest in talking to anyone. I was a mess. We were asked to refrain from writing, reading, listening to music, and anything that wasn’t meditation, eating, or sleeping. We were asked to stay the whole time, no matter what. For 10 days, it was me and me. I had to face myself. I cried all day, every day for the first half of the retreat. The only talking allowed was with the teacher at appointed times during the day. The only thing that kept me going was recorded dharma talks at night by Goenka, the teacher who brought these retreats to the West. He seemed to speak directly to me. He made me feel like I could go on another day. There were many people at the retreat and we meditated silently as a sangha (community).
I felt completely alone. I felt bat shit crazy. I believed I was the only one experiencing crippling pain. I had crazy sexual fantasies (since sex was my addiction). I did everything NOT to meditate for days. I made up songs, sang in my mind, came up with numerous creative projects, thought and thought for hours. We sat in meditation for a total of 12 hours per day. Finally, one day I gave in and began to do what the teaching asked of me. All I had to do was notice my breath for the first four days. Then I had to notice every body sensation in a painstakingly slow manner for the rest of the retreat. That’s it. Breath and body sensations. At some point, we were asked to practice not moving our body at all during group sitting periods. These periods would last at least an hour. Sit for an hour and not move? Insanely painful.
There she is
I felt intense body pain. I cried and felt snot run down my face. I was committed so I sat without moving as much as possible. It was the first time in my life I felt my body. It fascinated me. I cycled through intense emotions. I cried incessantly. So much so, that the women’s course manager directed me to the teacher even though it wasn’t the appointed time. I sobbed and was clearly disturbed. She said I needed help. I didn’t want to burden the teacher. She asked me to go see him. I don’t remember what I said to the teacher.
It was along the lines of “I’m in so much pain all the time”.
All he said was “feel your sensations and do not react”. That’s it.
I thought “you’re crazy. That’s it? That’s all it takes. Fine. I’ll try your way.”
That’s when I began to meditate for real and miracles occurred.
As days passed, I stopped crying. I became curious about sensations. When thoughts arose, I noticed them and returned to noticing sensations. I noticed sexual urges and intense thoughts and I would return to noticing sensations. The thoughts didn’t go away; I changed my focus. I returned over and over again to sensations. They changed quickly and not so quickly sometimes. I felt intense physical pain sitting for long periods of time. I sunk into the pain or whatever experience I was having.
Equanimity (non-reaction) was repeated throughout the course and I didn’t know what it meant. Anicca Anicca Anicca was repeated (Pali for impermanence) throughout the course. Everything arises and everything passes. Do not hold onto anything, Goenka said. Do not attach to anything. Do not give meaning to anything. It all comes and it all goes. Do not attach to pleasant sensations. Do not avoid unpleasant sensations. They all pass.
By day ten, something profound happened. Somehow I felt bottomless compassion. I felt light and abundantly joyful. I felt calm and at peace. I learned the nature of the Universe and I learned it from being and paying attention to my body. How the fuck did that happen? I was amazed. I was convinced. I was ready to take on the world. I knew I could handle anything that came my way. I felt humble and grateful. I had very little money and I donated (dana in Pali) some money to the center anyway. At the end of the course, we were asked to give in generosity what we could to make it possible for others to meditate. It wasn’t payment for food, lodging, or the teaching. It was paying it forward. Over the years, and many more courses, I donated over a thousand dollars.
Homeward bound back to myself
When I returned home, everything looked different even though everything was exactly the same. I felt different. I meditated daily for hours. I felt my body deeply and I felt it disappear. I felt one with everything. It was profoundly magical. Nothing disturbed my peace for awhile.
Shortly after the retreat and through the magic of life, I found an incredible job working as a group facilitator and therapist for a psychiatric day program in a hospital. I adored that job. It gave me abundance in ways I would have never imagined. I didn’t know it at the time but that job set me on my journey even deeper into my body. Before meditation, I would not have applied for it. Thanks to meditation, I felt a deep gratitude and humility I didn’t have before. Before meditation, I was arrogant and felt entitled. I cried when I was offered the job and practically got on my knees in front of my new boss in gratitude.
Meditation brought me into my body in a way I had never experienced. It took me out of my head where thoughts plagued me and confused me all the time. I learned about the nature of sensations, desires, emotions, and reactivity. It was my beginning.
Over time, I stopped meditating and of course, the depression rushed back in. Then I would do another course and the benefits would return. Cyclically, I would stop and lose my compassion, move farther away from the wisdom in my body, become depressed and angry, and I would do another course. This went on for years. The benefits of meditation didn’t last because I would stop. The thoughts were overpowering and make me stop. I didn’t know about the ego and the inner critic and my inner mentor. I was still slave to my thoughts. I didn’t completely trust myself. I still thought and was made to believe I had to do it on my own. I didn’t understand sangha truly. I remained a pleaser for many years still. Even with the benefits of meditation, I still didn’t know how to connect with others intimately. I didn’t understand intimacy outside of sex. It would take many more years, more practices, and trauma to teach me.
The next part of my origin story shares how I healed from chronic body pain. The next puzzle piece to being in my body…
What is your origin story?
When was the first time you connected with your body deeply whether intentionally or accidentally or by necessity? Let me know by commenting below or sending me your thoughts through email!
I love you fiercely!
Follow along in my adventure and choose your own toward freedom with the EPIC DIY Guide to being a Radical Pleasurist. Get it below!