Monday, December 29, 2014

Seventeen years.

Seventeen years ago I walked up Fairmount Boulevard in Cleveland Heights to Jane's house. A month earlier, Tina had informed me that Jane - a luminous light of a human - was sober. We had stood in Tina's cold garage smoking, me with wine glass in hand, when I tearfully explained to her that I knew I had to quit drinking. She cried too as she had been prepping to give me her private intervention speech.

Jane brought me in to her solarium sanctuary and told me a bunch of brilliant and hopeful things but the one I remember was this, delivered in a way that made me understand the words "beseeching" and "grace."

There is so much love.

Then she took me to a meeting, the second oldest women's meeting in the world. Miraculously, I kept showing up. I cried for about a year of meetings and clenched my teeth the rest of the time. I started taking Pilates. I moved, I breathed, I did what I intended to do. Like I said, for an addict, these are miraculous achievements.

I have so many tools now that I use to stay as healthy as I can. Movement, meditation, service work ... these are all in the kit of parts I have put together for myself to stay relatively not crazy. But it is so important to me that I don't forget the addict part of myself ... my inner slick trickster who made me believe that the best thing I could do any given day was to have another Jack Daniels or glass of wine.

I am one of the lucky ones. Michael was not. Jen was not. So many others who are sick and suffering are not.

So with immense gratitude, I offer myself to any of you who may need a hand. Every single good thing I have today is the direct result of this moment, seventeen years ago.

I have added to Jane's promise.

There is so much love. 
There is so much fun. 
There is so much laughter. 
There is so much to do.

Who is ready?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do the next right thing.

Holy smokes.

Has it ever been harder to figure out how to focus one's efforts for the greater good? Is the world falling apart more or do we just have more constantly updating, dopamine-inducing evidence of what has always been an epidemic of humans behaving badly like humans who need more support?

No matter what developmental model you follow, whether Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory or Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or cultural and/or individual trauma theory; even if you haven't studied about how human's behave when they are not getting basic needs met for safety, shelter, community, and purpose, it is pretty easy to see that our collective community is suffering.

When these needs aren't met, when our nervous system is aroused in the fight, flight, freeze response, we are virtually INCAPABLE of moral choice making, long-term planning, empathy and other higher-level cognitive functions. So whether our clarity is mucked up due to forces outside of our control like poverty and abuse or via our dedication to constant online updates and righteous responses, we are pretty much doomed to our current scenario of polarization, depression, violence, and disorder. We are disordered. So we act disorderly.

My mind is naturally inclined to disorder, to move in a thousand directions in search of something akin to excitement in the guise of clarity. I know now from my own study of movement, meditation and the study I call "getting my shit together" plus the wisdom of countless others, I won't find clarity by admiring the problem, again and again and again.

I can only take one step at a time. I can only do the next right thing. If I am lucky, right action leads to right thinking. In the end, that matters less as that the next right thing for me tends to be a place of service and community. That's where joy is. That's where order is.

So today the next right thing was to write. First this, then my play.

Tonight the next right thing is to teach movement, to teach a few others how to embody wellness and breath.

Tomorrow the next right thing is to celebrate the successes of women in recovery with the talented staff of First Step Home, to share the True Body Project with inspiring and challenged young girls in the West End, and to spend time with my son, who is making his own difference in a school-based health center.

And so on. It just might add up to something.

What is your next right thing?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I am what you are.

Before I became unwell enough to surrender to a 12-step program, I spent much of my time hiding my panic disorder and addiction from myself and others. In order to believe this gigantic lie, I had to spin isolating stories about how DIFFERENT I was from everyone else. Remarkably, as my behavior became less admirable, my self-talk became more convincing. 

They don't know what they're talking about.
They can't see the real you.
If they knew, they wouldn't understand.

I would take a bunch of anti-anxiety medication in the morning and bookend my day with a bottle of wine or its whiskey equivalent. In between those two rituals of need,  I would carry on what might pass as a normal human walking through a normal day. Parenting, partnering, working. It is astonishing how long one can hide their true self.

I am lucky. For 16 and a half years, I have had the gift of constant sobriety. Even though my dreams tell me otherwise, where I have been drinking and act like it is no big deal, I never turned back. Yet I continued to struggle with panic attacks up until recently when I finally, upon the advice of my doctor, tried out an anti-depressant for a sense of malaise I couldn't shake. It was as though my head was underwater. I had the feeling I would never by happy again. Was it grief? Was it hormones? Was it the depression my mother experienced most of her life until she died? The depression I loathed? 

I don't know. But I feel better. 

What "better" means to me is that I nurture relationships and moments when I can be present to listening to the true lives of others. Not the part of ourselves that is driven by new social media and business concerns to "brand" our personae and our lives in order to be successful. But the part that is vulnerable, hurting, needing to be seen, needing to heard, needing to just be truthful about how challenging life can be, regardless of your age, race, gender or social status.

When I am better, I feed better things. I feed the True Body Project. I feed my relationships. I feed the truth.

The truth of me is complicated, as is the truth of you. I am a writer. I am accomplished. I am successful in many regards. I am also a recovering addict. I am somewhere on the mood disorder spectrum. I can isolate myself and tell myself stories that are not true.

We need to see and hear each other's complexity. Otherwise, we can isolate ourselves into an eternal loneliness, the final despair.

As Mary Oliver says, "Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine." What I know from my True Body work is that in this same space of honesty lies all of the rest of our truth: our hope, our strength, our humanity, our light.

Let's find each other soon and tell each other our stories. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are you a yes or a no body?

Last week at True Body class at the lovely Shakti Factory, we considered a few lines from this beautiful poem by Pesha Gertler (full poem at bottom of post) called The Healing Time.

It begins like this:

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no

We thought about and shared something in our current life we are on the way to saying "yes" to and all the places where we are bumping into "no." We considered whether the "no's" were internal or external or both. Then we dropped into a meditation to allow our bodies to feel "yes" and then "no." We repeated it a few times, trying to track further into our sense of ourselves to see where "yes" shows up (heart opens, taller, slight smile, pulse increases, hands tingle) and "no" (brow furrows, stomach tightens, head constricts, breath constricts).

We then did a few simple tasks from our "yes" body and our "no" body. We found the tasks easy and enjoyable in our "yes" body and frustrating in our "no" body. When we were in "yes" we saw each other. When we were in "no" our heads were down, caught in frustration, not in connection with anything except our annoyance.

And then we did some restorative poses to increase the feeling of yes in the body (my pal Baxter Bell is showing one of them here below because I learned this amazing sequence from him.)

After that, we did some writing to crawl a little under the surface of the day-to-day shorthand we come to believe as our own point of view. There are few better ways to come to understand how you feel about yourself and the world than to do a fast journaling exercise to a prompt like "My mother's body ..." or "My body has a secret and it is hiding ..."

After some partner work, we promised ourselves to check in this week to see where we lived - as yesbody or nobody, in hope or in fear. It was very telling for me as I moved through my day. I was able to shift to a sense of joy in mundane, simple and even slightly annoying tasks with a bit of a somatic, body reminder here and there.

So join us tomorrow night at 6:30 pm for another True Body class at the Shakti Factory and play with us a different exercise. Or do your own "yes" and "no" reflection and let me know how it goes.

         The Healing Time
                                                Finally on my way to yes
                                                I bump into
                                                all the places
                                                where I said no
                                                to my life
                                                all the untended wounds
                                                the red and purple scars
                                                those hieroglyphs of pain
                                                carved into my skin, my bones,
                                                those coded messages
                                                that send me down
                                                the wrong street
                                                again and again
                                                where I find them
                                                the old wounds
                                                the old misdirections
                                                and I lift them
                                                one by one
                                                close to my heart
                                                and I say    holy
                                                               © Pesha Joyce Gertler

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

True Body Leadership Training -- Why You Should Do It!

I am so happy to report we have an amazing group of women gathering on June 7th and 8th to take part in our second True Body Leadership Training. We have a few more spots open for women who are ready to learn more about themselves in order to be present to the needs of others.

I would love to tell you more. Please email me at for more info and we can chat or meet in person.

Why you should do it? 

Here's why. My guess if you feel called to this work - the work of understanding self and other, the work of presence, stability, sensitivity and healing, the work of listening carefully to fully understand, the work of bearing witness. If you feel called to it, this is the perfect gateway for you to deepen your understanding of how movement heals and how we can create safe spaces for others to step into their best self.  No movement training required. A willingness to learn and to practice and to share of yourself are the only prerequisites!

Here are the details. 


June 7th and 8th, Shakti Factory, Cincinnati, OH, with Stacy Sims, Founder, True Body Project

About the Training

The True Body Project (TBP), piloted in 2005, has been conducting workshops, residencies, camps, afterschool programs and staff trainings in the U.S. and abroad. This is TBP’s first leadership training to authorize and license the use of the True Body Project curriculum and workbook. Part experiential, part lecture/demo, the TBP Leadership Training will focus on helping counselors, therapists, teachers, yogis, dancers and others understand the somatics of stress and trauma, and how to create a body-centered experience in an integrative setting.
It is recommended that participants who wish to include TBP in their programs participate in the entire weekend. However, the Redefining Trauma workshop focusing on how stress and trauma habituate in the body, has a few spots open for those who wish to begin to explore the topic.

Pricing and Structure

$295 per person for entire weekend, four sessions
$95 for Redefining Trauma session only.
NOTE: In order to be eligible to license the workbook materials and run your own True Body classes, workshops and/or after school program, you need to attend the entire weekend and do follow-up work with True Body Project. Ask Stacy Sims for more information.


June 7th – 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
8:00 am – 12:00 pm
True Body immersion, experiential session including somatic sensing work, meditation, writing prompts and partner work.
12:00 – 1:00 pm
Lunch break
1:00 – 3:30 pm
Curriculum study and workbook detail. Integration in a clinical environment. True Body leadership skills.
3:30 – 4:00 pm

June 8th- 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
8:00 am – 12 pm**
Redefining Trauma – how stress and trauma habituate in the body and essential somatic exercises to do help clients integrate mind, body and emotion
12:00 – 1:00 pm
Lunch break
1:00 – 3:30 pm
Curriculum study and workbook detail. How to use the materials in therapy, one-on-one and in groups. How to fund, plan, implement workshops, after school programs, classes.
3:30 – 4 pm
Questions, closing.

Attendees who are approved to teach following this course will receive a license to the PDF of the workbook for a year and/or be given opportunities with the True Body Project after school programs (locally) as apprentices or full teachers or teaching partners and be listed as a True Body Project partner.
**This session can be taken independently

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Trading emails for inhales.

A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching my True Movement class to my regulars who visit me in my home a couple of times a week. We tend to end the class the same way. They hunker down for a Savasana-style meditation, I add some Reiki to the mix, and then I return to my mat and become ready to bring them back up to seated for our final moments together.

So every session I say pretty much the same thing, which begins like this:

"Okay ladies, let's take a big inhale ..."

Only this time, I said it like this:

"Okay ladies, let's take a big email ..."

So we laughed our way out of meditation, which is plenty good medicine all on it's own.

But there was so much truth in that moment. My subconscious spoke to me and demanded I say the words out loud. "You have traded inhales for emails."

The last year has been amazing. In what could have been a lonely time, I was invited to take on a role at the Contemporary Arts Center, where I also worked 25 years ago. I started as a temporary consultant and never left, becoming a full time employee in the late summer. The CAC became my ritual, my family, and my sustenance. I let the work consume me as I am sure in many ways it was a way to avoid grief. And fear.  Needless to say, we got a lot done and I am very proud of my work there with some of the best colleagues I could ever imagine.

Punctuating this year was also a return to Cambodia to do True Body work with the clients and staff of Transitions, overseeing the work of True Body leaders I trained last year, and preparation for a second training June 7th and 8th, plus an upcoming trip to Nairobi to work with urban refugees. When I get to do this work, when I am free to listen to others and provide them resources to restore their sense of safety and confidence and hope, I am my best self doing the work that means the most to me.

I also have a novel to write and a short film to make with some incredibly talented people. Plus another play that is calling my name.

So this summer I will be transitioning back to my life as a teacher, writer and connector. I may be reaching out to many of you to reconnect. I am not sure exactly of the structure of this (and in some moments I am not even sure of the sense of it) but I have to believe that in the end, I will prefer to have focused on joyous inhales and connecting deeply with others over my daily hundred+ emails.

I look forward to dancing, breathing and connecting with you soon!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Energy medicine.

What a night we had last night!

I have been spending time with the girls at Transitions every day, teaching them various body-centered, body-reclaiming concepts and exercises. We have learned about grounding (feel your feet! stand strong like a tree!), centering (breath of fire!), orienting (count your vertebrae as you role your spine up and down!), breathing (inhale into the belly - make it big!) and connecting (sit with your spine against a partner's spine! Make your breathing match their breathing!).

We have created games to inhabit the body. I taught a fake surfing lesson and the hokey pokey.

So last night I had an hour with the girls. I asked them to teach back the various concepts and they stepped into the middle of the circle, one at a time, and without missing a breath or a beat, showed the teacher/healer within and taught the concepts beautifully. We got ourselves pretty wound up after the hokey pokey and surfing so we brought things down a bit toward the end of the session.

Earlier in the week I had done a bit of Reiki with two of the girls. Each of them had volunteered to check it out. So for 15 minutes or so, I sat with each girl, placing my hands on feet and then my hands on head. Last night I asked if either of them wanted to talk about what that was like for them - to explain it to the other girls.

The first girl got into the middle of our circle prepared to show how it was done so I followed her lead. I sat in the center of the circle and extended my legs and feet toward her. I explained to the other girls that the energy we feel when we place our palms near each other is energy you can give or receive as a sort of healing medicine.

With complete confidence and grace and power, this young girl closed her eyes, rubbed her palms together, took a deep inhale and exhale, settling into her job. She put her hands on my feet and dropped into a still space of deep, meditative focus. I may as well have been touched by the greatest Reiki master on the planet. Perhaps I was. It took every bit of my strength to not weep right then and there. That came a bit later, once I was in my tuk tuk on the way home.

The other sweet girl demonstrated the "head" position. And then the girls partnered up and took turns sharing "energy medicine" with each other. I stood and watched these power pairs settle into the experience of healing touch. It blew me away.

These are moments I will never forget. I wrote earlier this week about the complexity of healing. Last night I was reminded by the girls themselves of the simplicity of it.

Touch, breathe, believe, connect. That is some powerful medicine.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Grounding, centering, orienting, connecting.

I have spent two lovely days (out of five) working with the clients and staff at Transitions to understand how the body reflects stress and trauma. It is my hope to give them simple but effective tools to help create a culture of body awareness.

I am often eager to share the anecdotes from my days but it gets so tricky as this work is highly personal and private. The girls' stories are not mine to share. Nor are the staff stories. There is a shorthand narrative that will have to suffice.


From 1975 to 1979 an estimated 1.4 to 2.2 million people were executed in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot. Yesterday marked the holiday that celebrates the end of Khmer Rouge. At this moment, there is much political turmoil and unrest. A young Cambodian woman I met yesterday told me she was afraid. She said, "I was born after Pol Pot but when they had the elections last year, my family was afraid it would be like before and so we packed everything to leave."

For most of us, the scary stories we heard as children reflected a reality far from our own. Hansel and Gretel. Campfire slasher tales. Wizard of Oz monkeys. Here, in Cambodia, each family narrative comes with a horrifying, real-life history of violence, death, encampment and isolation. It is a trauma culture and the "body" of the country is neither grounded, centered nor oriented. The flight, fight, freeze responses are at the ready.

I do not condone violence but I understand it. In a land like this you will likely become victim or perpetrator. It represents the same sad thing - dissociation from any reality except that of fear, whether numbly internalized or aggressively externalized.


Depending on age, the Cambodian staff at Transitions either survived Pol Pot or are first generation after Pol Pot. They have suffered their own traumas and work every day in close contact with girls who are survivors of sex trafficking. Part of the healing process is to work through the trauma narrative - bringing slow light to what has happened to be able to work through it. We are empathic beings down to our marrow. Each cell responds to what we hear and see. So each staff member gets a daily dose of visceral reminders of what it is like to live in a body that has been taken hostage and violated. It is called vicarious trauma or "compassion fatigue."


The girls. Oh, the girls. There are currently 15 or 16 girls in the house. I didn't take an exact count. They range from the ages of 12-18. It is sometimes hard to know their age exactly.

They are sweet, they sing songs, they work on their English, they do their chores.

They also must go to court to confront a man who abused them. They ask to take the screen down because they are brave. And they fall apart, crying, shaking, falling to the floor.

Horrible things have been done to them and they persevere in ways that are hard to fathom.


Somehow, thanks to the vision and constancy of James and Athena Pond and the many, many people on staff and elsewhere who have supported these girls, the fatigued heal the broken, one humble day at a time. Yesterday the staff shared it is so hard to put together a long term treatment plan and watch it crumble. They rebuild the plan and in turn, rebuild the girls. Hopefully, they also heal themselves a bit along the way. It is a slow process, this reconnecting. This is my fourth year and some girls are just now coming into themselves, embodying a fullness and hopefulness for the future.

I come equipped with tons of information to share - loads of documents and solid science and experience.

In the end, I bear witness to each and every beautiful soul here. We breathe together. I put my hands on their feet. We twist and shout. It becomes a somatic kindergarden. And that is exactly where we all need to be.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"Whole" is a beautiful thing.

Where Transitions' girls learn and thrive.
I visited the Shine Career School today in Phnom Penh where the girls from Transitions spend a full school day and/or engage in vocational activities. The staff at Transitions works tirelessly to match these girls skills and interests to meaningful education and employment.

Some girls are easier to match than others. I met one of these girls the first year I visited Transitions. In fact, I wrote about her in my first blog post about the experience. She is especially sweet and lovely and she gave me the tiny ring she was wearing on her finger. Every year I have come back she has been there, constant in her sweetness, yet struggling to find her way in school and other studies. She has been challenged by abuse and has a sort of body and mind dyslexia. Things just get mixed up for her. Even counting is difficult.

But she loves to be sweet and to give gifts and to make things.

I do not know the entire back story (and all the people who made this cool, next part happen) but now this lovely young woman is employed making and designing the most gorgeous jewelry. It is a collaboration with Abolition International called Penh Lenh - which means "whole."

The girl who gave me a ring just designed a necklace for me.
I purchased a bracelet last year and a necklace I am wearing as a bracelet today. These are beautiful pieces that not only go to a great cause but create meaningful employment for girls who need it - the best kind of social enterprise.

And guess what? This girl who struggled with math and with problem solving is now helping with inventory and going to market and writing emails. She helps design and make the jewelry. Before she could barely count to ten and now she can soar past 1000.

She is now wildly confident. Her shyness has all but disappeared. Her language is bold and funny. Oh. My. God. You know? She shines. As do the other girls that Transitions' staff nurtures, every day and often for years.
Rachel works with the girls every day to help them learn to design/make beautiful jewelry.

So buy a piece of jewelry or maybe two. Give one as a gift and wrap another around your wrist. It is a beautiful circle of giving and receiving you can feel great about for a very long time.

Some of the pretty bracelets.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's Not About How You Look, It's About How You See (well most of the time anyway)

Every time I have travelled alone on these adventures I eventually hit a wall.

The first year, I hit the wall in Bangkok, underprepared and under financed to manage a city I had neglected to remember was massive and unwieldy and expensive. I skipped out of town and went to solidify my isolation on a desolate island. Maybe I freaked a little there too, but in an eco-friendly, sit-on-the-beach-with-a-book sort of way.

The second year, I made a mistake and did a home stay in Bali without really checking that out. It was really far outside of Ubud, it was raining, and my friends were all staying in uber deluxe yogi blissed out niceness far away from me. I prayed the bugs would not do me in and was thrilled the next day when there was neither electric nor water so I could justify my instant departure from the pushy well-meaning lady I had rented from.

Last year I got knackered again in Bali, wondering why I was traveling ALONE AGAIN to such an exotic, erotic and spiritual center. I bounced in a cab ride for ever, thinking "never again!" until I got out of the cab and thought "why don't I move here?"

This year I kicked off my travel month with an incredible trip to New Zealand to see my son Nick and Ellie. It was so unbelievably fun and I remembered two things that I had forgotten: traveling with others is awesome and I am an outdoorsy person. We SURFED for heaven's sake!

After that, I arrived in Phnom Penh to get ready to do my much-loved work with the amazing girls and staff at Transitions. It was a longer slog from New Zealand than I had considered, another 13+ hours of air travel plus ferry/bus/airports/tuk-tuk plus a 6 hour time difference. So I spent a day getting my bearings. I spent the next day getting ready for my workshop and five-day program with Transitions.

Truth be told, I was already feeling dispirited.  I missed Nick and Ellie and the constant adventure of New Zealand. In Phnom Penh, you can spend a lot of time not talking to anyone and getting a little too existentially wound up about aloneness, time, grief. So by the time I was getting ready to teach my workshop yesterday, I was READY to connect.

Enter martial law. Or some version of it. Two days short of the holiday that celebrates the 1979 end of Khmer Rouge, there was more bloodshed in an altercation between the ruling party, Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party.  Hun Sens has led the CPP since 1998 and last year's election has been widely disputed.

There is a garment worker's strike and the political situation merging to bring hundreds of thousands of CHRP protestors to the streets. On Saturday the CPP used military force, at least three died, and they called an end to the protesting. The U.S. Embassy in Cambodia suggested that we should not leave the house today as they expected violence to erupt and road's to be blocked.

Well, shit.

So I freaked out a little bit. Not like it is a wussy thing to do in an unstable, developing country with one airport on the other side of the fighting and Delta Airlines on terminal hold dealing with cancelled flights due to snow, ice and global tundra. But it was definitely fueled by my annual dive into loneliness on the road to adventure and service.

I figured out how to get out of town just in time for everything to settle down enough for me to believe, at this moment, I can stay for the week as planned and start my work tomorrow.

But today was weird. We cancelled my workshop at NataRaj in the moments when it seemed everyone would be stuck indoors, before the opposition party cancelled the planned demonstration and called for non-violence. So I had another day to wander around in the heat, again, and find various hangouts to check out Twitter feeds about Cambodian breaking news. I am extremely happy to report that for now, it seems things are okay in Cambodia. I am not sure how long it will last or what it all means, but peace has been temporarily restored.

But it didn't necessarily uplift my mood and by the end of the day I had to do something to shake things up, to set a new tone. I zig-zagged the streets in my neighborhood, seeing if there were any new shops or restaurants that seemed interesting. I took some photos. I stared in a lot of windows.

And that's where I found it, my stuck-in-a-rut-again-but-this-time-in-a-rioting-country cure!

Eye. Lash. Tinting.

Most of the time, I believe 100% in this wonderful saying I found on a sign in Raglan, New Zealand: It's not about how you look, it's about how you see. Today, I needed to care about how I look AND how I see.

I can't control the political situation or knowing when I will leave Cambodia or the ultimate fate of the girls here. I can't will a relationship into existence, no matter how hard I might have tried.

Tomorrow is a new day. I will teach the girls and Transitions' team about grounding, centering, orienting, breathing, connecting and nourishing. And I will be nourished for it. Tomorrow night I am sure I will be back on cloud nine, assuming peace rules both Cambodian parties.

Tonight, I am happy to be reasonably less afraid with my new dark and alluring eyes.