“I don’t know how to ‘rate’ how I’m feeling. I don’t even f*@%ing want to be here.”
Seven heads shot up and stared at the redheaded woman in our circle. A few of us giggled nervously.
“You all have these cool projects you’re presenting, and I just don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Alyssa’s eyes watered and inwardly, we all applauded. Finally. An honest answer.
In an uncharacteristically social moment a few months earlier, I had accepted a friend’s invitation to a “Vegan Creatives” 5-day retreat on Cape Cod.
“I want to get a bunch of my vegan artist friends together to talk about our projects and brainstorm,” Shawna, the retreat mastermind, had explained. She and I had met the prior summer at my Masters program residency, where she had graciously overlooked my penchant for public urination.
Much like the cold sweats I experience when interviewing narcissists for school assignments, as the retreat neared, I began to shvitz. What was I thinking? I didn’t know the hostess or anyone going. Sure, I had my thesis project to present, but I was also in the throes of writing said thesis. Could I handle any more stress?
“JUST GO,” I told myself for the 9,000th time. “It’ll be good for you.”
Arrive at guest house. Meet three-legged, one-eyed dog and attractive vegans #1-7. Eat colorful food and receive unicorn name. Grow concerned that I seem to be having…what’s the word…fun. No. That can’t be it.
Convince Alyssa she too is having, well, whatever these feelings are. Begin stroking each other’s hair. Watch Tracy feed pet bee sugar water. Try to take photo without Dakota wearing a bowl. Unsuccessful.
Eat more colorful food, voluntarily touch beach garbage, and reevaluate entire existence. Can I vote using new unicorn name?
Learn that not only do new best friends save animals, sing, write, paint, cook, act, travel, scale mountains, rollerblade with bubbles and have kickass blogs, but the hostess, Allison Argo, has won half a dozen Emmys. Attempt to steal one.
Say goodbye. Ugly cry.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tuck my Emmy into bed.
“I’ll have you lie down on the left side,” Dagny said as I followed her over to her bed. A shaman, she had explained, had told her that her own bedroom was the energy epicenter of her home. “I sleep on the other side.”
I gingerly sat on the quilted queen-sized bed. This isn’t weird at all.
“Do you want me to turn the fan off? Will it distract you?”
“Oh no, I sleep with a fan. I like it,” I assured her. Dear god, woman, are you trying to kill me? It was mid-morning at that point and, despite being in Maine, the temperature had already crept from unpleasant to swamp ass.
My heart and mind raced as Dagny took a seat in a small wooden chair beside the bed. As if reading my mind, she said, “Before you start recording [on your phone], I’m going to read you a passage I like to read to some of my more left-minded clients.” She flipped to a page in her binder and soon uttered words that put me at ease: “Just think of it like using your imagination…”
I can do that. I’ll just make it up. If nothing comes through, I’ll just make it up.
As she began to put me under hypnosis, speaking very softly, I pretended this was just like any other guided meditation I had tried in the last eight months. It was only later, upon listening to the recording, that I’d learn twenty minutes had passed by the time she said, ever so soothingly:
“Arriving here now is the most relevant time…arriving here now is the most necessary place. I want you to tell me the very first things that you see or the very first impressions that you have as you begin to understand where you are and what is happening around you.”
“It’s all white now,” I said. “But I saw a pick-up truck, on a road, with pine trees on both sides, and I was looking at it from up top. Like, floating above it. I feel like I was the dad. The father.” A lump rose in my throat and my lips and eyes twitched uncontrollably. “I was driving, and I, I…” I started to cry. “Didn’t come home.” I let out a heavy sigh.
I went on to describe a life in the 1950s-60s in a remote wooded area that looked a lot like Maine. I was in my 30s, I said, and “wasn’t healthy.” My lungs felt heavy. I had a wife and two kids, a 14-year-old boy and an 8-year old girl, and we lived in a small, rustic camp on the water.
I detailed my surroundings and it felt as though I was interpreting someone else’s dream, trying to filter the information. Why am I holding a spear in the water if it’s the 1960s? Why am I stacking these cinder blocks? Why is there such black smoke in the air? Why is the pick-up truck the first and last thing I remember?
“I’m driving to work,” I went on. In my mind’s eye the road just kept going and going, through the woods, over a concrete bridge, up a bumpy, unpaved hill. “It’s…it’s…FAR. I don’t want go. I don’t like what I do. I just want to be with my family. I don’t like anybody there. I don’t talk to anyone.” My eyes fluttered and filled with tears. “I’m not a man, like, these guys.”
“Mmm. What would you rather be doing?”
“Something quiet. Peaceful.”
“Reading. Stay home. See the water,” I took a deep breath. “Yeah. Be reading.”
“What kinds of things do you like to read?”
I paused for a long moment, and laughed. “I heard ‘James Joyce’…James Joyce, I like it. …I’ve never read James Joyce…me, Julie, I’ve never read James Joyce.”
I seemed to think I had left my family because I “didn’t take care of myself,” but couldn’t see how I died.
“Let’s move forward now,” Dagny said, and immediately I heard a very familiar sound.
“I feel like I’m riding backwards on a train. I feel, like, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch. I’m backwards,” I said.
“Okay, you’re backwards,” she replied, always softly encouraging me and repeating what I’d said. “Are you really riding on a train? Are you riding backwards on something? Could be a wagon?”
“Hmm. It was a train because I heard it. I’m not the guy anymore,” I said, feeling certain I was a woman now. I giggled. “He wouldn’t be on a train. He couldn’t afford it.
“It’s, like, 1920s,” I continued. “There’s a little dog. A little pug. I’m…going…to see my grandmother? Did you say 1912?” I’d asked, thinking I’d heard Dagny. “It’s 1912. I think.”
I described rolling English countryside and the grandmother I was going to visit. “She wears lace gloves. And a cameo.” I smiled broadly. “She looks very proper, but she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. She has her own way of doing things.”
“Where are you now?” Dagny asked.
“A buggy?” I said, again doubting and filtering the information. Is a buggy the thing with a horse? And if we were so wealthy, why didn’t we have a model T?
“Is anyone with you?”
“Someone’s driving,” I replied. “He’s like…he’s like…” I laughed at the words that were coming to me. “The help. …He’s very nice. I like him.”
Once again I described the setting in detail, along with what I did for a living (“I make things beautiful…I design rich people’s houses; they don’t know I have lots of money, too”), but couldn’t tell how I might have died. A deep, slightly impatient voice spoke from within me, using third person:
“She doesn’t want to see, so we can’t show her.”
With more gentle prompting from Dagny, I had a vision of falling off rocks, my stomach dropping. A latent fear came to life which I relayed still using third person: “She didn’t live long. Both times. Thirties,” I began to weep. “That’s what she’s scared of. Because she’s [in her] 30s [now].”
“She’s in her thirties now, and she’s worried about that,” Dagny whispered. “Right. Let’s ask your higher self, what is your greatest strength that she’s here to leverage, because she’s still here and you have alllll these possibilities of soul family and soul connection and choices, so, there’s no reason that she is dying—”
“She’s the light. She already knows this,” I said brusquely, inhaling deeply. “She’s very bright on the inside.” I paused for a long moment. “She wants everyone to be happy. To see how good it is. They’re very lucky, and they don’t know it.”
“We are all very lucky and we don’t know it, absolutely. So as her higher self, you are allllways showing Julie how very lucky we all are.”
“She doesn’t have to carry it…she doesn’t have to take, take it on. Everybody’s problems. She tries to be like a mussel. Clean the water. It doesn’t work.”
“Is that what the weight struggles are about?”
“Mmm,” I nodded.
“And what IS her mission?” Dangy went on. “Why is she here, right now, right now with Dagny, and right now in this lifetime—”
To show people love. Just BE happy. Just be happy! It’s easy. You don’t have to save the world. You just have to be happy. If you’re happy, then you WILL save the world.”
During the latter half of the session, a friend popped into mind.
“What do you see? What is your connection?” Dagny asked.
“We are the same. The same. We were two fish,” I said, speaking more softly than ever. “Two fish. Two big, big fish. Swimming side by side. Like Pisces.”
“I’m glad you get to see each other,” Dagny smiled.
“Like big, like trout. Like trout. Spotted?” I tried to make sense of what I seeing, laughing at what seemed so absurd.
“That was the beginning,” I sighed. As the words left my mouth, I felt their significance. The beginning of time, and the beginning of me, whatever and whoever that was.
“That was the beginning. Yup. And there have been many other times,” Dagny replied with ease. “Would it be helpful, with your higher self, if I asked your higher self, to do a body scan, and work on her physical self?”
Dagny spent the next five minutes running through the chakras of my body, slowly sending light and healing from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I felt waves of calm, blissful warmth course through my being, a concentrated spot of heat on my right hand, where I’d just experienced an eczema breakout. Over the course of the following 48 hours, my family watched in awe as my cracked and sore right middle finger healed on its own, without any of the bandages or medication I’d been using earlier that week.
Near the end of the session Dangy asked one more question:
“And so Julie really wants to know how she can love unconditionally?”
“Do you think they’ll have coffee?” my sister asked, peering over the edge of a wide toll bridge that would take us past the Hudson River towards a small town in central New York state.
“I was just thinking the same thing!” I said, slapping the steering wheel. “We’ll have to ask as soon as we check in.”
After a two and a half hour car ride from our hometown in New Jersey, we arrived at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York on Friday afternoon, leaving plenty of time to have dinner before our weekend workshop began at 8:00pm.
Omega is a nonprofit, mission-driven, and donor-supported educational organization. For more than 40 years we’ve been a pioneer in holistic studies – helping people and organizations integrate personal growth and social change, moving beyond ‘the way it is’ toward ‘the way it can be.'” –Omega Institute website
We wound through bumpy, forest-lined roads until we pulled into the main driveway. A tan, golden-locked young man greeted us with an easy smile and glazed-over eyes.
“Hey there! Staying here or are you a commuter?”
“Commuter,” I replied.
“Right on. You can go ahead and park in either of these two rows. Have a good one.”
When we’d spot him later that evening, we’d find him still perched at his station, but holding a guitar. We parked the car in the gravel lot and joined a long line in front of a building at the main entrance.
Eventually receiving welcome instructions and a map, we moseyed uphill towards the dining hall.
“I feel like I’m in Dirty Dancing,” I said, gazing at the casually dressed men and women wandering through Omega’s plentiful cabins and gardens. There was something serene about the timeless energy surrounding us. Or maybe it was just the lack of wifi.
As calm and quiet as the campus seemed, the institute was fully booked for the weekend and the food hall was hopping, hundreds of people lined up at the (mostly) vegan buffet.
Commuters like us (we were staying at an off-campus AirBnB) had to pay a mandatory $110 “commuter fee” on top of the workshop registration fee in order to enjoy the food and campus amenities. (Coffee, the staff assured us at registration, would be available in the morning, along with milks made of everything from hemp to rainbows.)
We filled our plates and fruitlessly searched for the vodka station balanced our cups awkwardly as we tried to find a table outside.
All of the tables outside were large enough to accommodate at least eight people; luckily, I’d spotted the phrase “communal dining” in the brochure and had spent the prior two weeks practicing my fake niceties.
“What workshop are you here for?” I asked the man across from me, wondering how many chanterelle mushrooms I could shove into my mouth between questions.
“Psychic Detective,” he replied, spearing a chickpea and giving me the kind of bright-eyed, smiling response usually reserved for preschool teachers and cannibals. “How about you?”
I inhaled dramatically before replying with jazz hands, “Your Spirit Guides Await!”
He nodded as if I’d just said “the sky is blue” and we went on to cover all of the other usual platitudes for the next hour before finding an excuse to leave. The question he never asked, and that I imagine you’re wondering at this stage:
What the f&@% are you doing here?”
I blame meditation. After just a few short months of daily meditation, my sister and I found ourselves exploring other metaphysical curiosities, from oracle cards to crystals to chakra-balancing. Poking around these avenues ignited a spark in both of us that felt too intriguing to ignore.
With time to spare before our workshop began, my sister and I made our way down the hill towards the community lake, passing several people lounging in hammocks. We plopped down in two empty chaise lounges by the water and watched a few kayakers drift lazily in the distance. One of the staff members raked the sand in front of the water for a solid fifteen minutes, a concentrated frown on her face.
“Do you think she misunderstood the term ‘Reiki’?” I asked at one point.
My sister rolled her eyes at my pun and answered, “Do you think people take the kayaks out just to smoke pot?”
Neither of our questions were answered because we spent the rest of the weekend sitting barefoot in a small, brightly lit room with one instructor and eighteen strangers, meditating and channeling spirit guides, angels, and for one unlucky classmate not used to a plant-based diet, farts.
Elizabeth Harper, a walking fairy our instructor, explained in a lilting British accent that we all have one main spirit guide with us throughout our lives, along with one main guardian angel, but you might have other spirit guides with you for specific life events or goals. You can tap into these all-knowing, all-loving energy forces at any time, most especially through meditation. I would tell you more, but apparently I can make a lot of money offering this kind of instruction.
So, did I receive any meaningful guidance or insight throughout the weekend? Yes.
Did one of my spirit guides look like Zac Efron? Yes. Did I love not stressing about finding vegan food to eat? Yes. Did I mention the farter every chance I got? Yes. Would I go back?
A few weeks ago at work, I overheard someone say, “A.S.M.R.” Normally when I overhear things at work, I stare at my computer screen for a minute, open my Google doc titled, “New Ways to Avoid People,” and start furiously typing.
This time I hesitated for only a moment before popping up and walking two cubicles down.
“I’m so sorry I totally meant to didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you say ASMR and I just had to come over. I’m Jules, by the way because despite the fact that I’ve sat two desks away from you for a year I’ve been really busy with this whole Google doc thing. I’ve been listening to ASMR for ages and everything you’re hearing about it is TOTALLY true!”
Many years ago, a fellow blogger clued me into this newfangled phenomenon called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or, ASMR. “Just watch this and keep an open mind,” she said. “I swear it’s not dirty.”
As I watched this pretty, whispering blonde woman, grateful I was in the privacy of my own home, I suddenly felt tingles on the sides of my scalp. It was so pleasant, in such a benign and innocent way, that I laughed out loud. It was similar to the feeling I used to get when my sister or a friend would brush and braid my hair. I’m pretty sure it’s exactly how a dog feels when you scratch behind his or her ears in that juuuust right spot.
I began a nightly ritual of falling asleep to these videos, my ex chiding me as I’d put on headphones. “Gonna listen to your whispers?” he’d tease. He was the only one who knew about this little routine, because, well, it was a little…weird.
As my work conversation proves, ASMR has exploded over the past six years. Some people theorize that the sound of a nurturing woman’s voice brings us back to early childhood. Many people, like me, use it as a sleep aid.
“So the ultimate goal, really,” the instructor said, brushing back a curly red lock that had broken loose from her bun, “is to start seeing the whole world this way: a universe filled with divinely placed signs and symbols to help guide you.”
I shuffled a large, colorful deck of cards for the tenth time, glancing around the room at the handful of other students. There was the older woman who introduced herself as a teacher’s assistant, a gray-haired man with turquoise beads around his neck, and someone about my age, in her mid-to-late 30’s.
We sat in the brightly colored yoga studio barefooted, having all been instructed to remove our shoes and wash our hands as soon as we had arrived.
“When you first get your cards,” the instructor continued, “you’ll need to cleanse them. For today, you can wave them over one of these candles, but make sure to pause on each one.”
She then explained how to develop our own interpretations of the “oracle cards” in our hands – oversized decks depicting vivid images and words.
“They come in all kinds of themed decks,” she went on, adjusting her blue-framed glasses, “and you can mix them however you’re called to.”
We spent the next two hours learning about the importance of color, challenging our initial associations between words and images, and tapping into our “inner knowing.”
Fast forward a week later, and I found myself registering for this:
Yup. That’s right. Part two. I went back for more.
Before the end of the second class, I was accurately predicting which cards I’d turn over – from a deck I’d never seen before!
So what was I doing there? Did someone drug me? Threaten to steal my dog? Promise free tickets to see Darren Criss and Lea Michele?
Last summer, I started tugging on a thread that quickly unraveled, revealing a treasure trove of paths to explore. By “following my allurements,” as a favorite teacher of mine likes to say, my love of learning and reading returned with a bang, hidden in a pile of metaphysical books and podcasts.
Astrology? Reiki? Past lives? Numerology? Near death experiences? Crystals? Sound healing? Chakra balancing? Spirit animals? Astral projection? Telepathy?
BRING IT ON.
The more I’ve explored, the more I want to know. The humorist in me loves that this is all just another way of following the classic improv mantra, “Yes, and.” The humane educator in me loves that this is just another way to acknowledge we’re all connected. The chipmunk in me loves that this is just another way to guarantee I’ll find some nuts. The project manager in me loves that this isn’t woo-woo at all; as Carl Sagan put it, “science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
I’m finally finding words to articulate the strange things I’ve always experienced. And, the funny thing is, the more I’ve started opening up about this, the more I’ve found like-minded chipmunks everywhere. I mean seriously. Ya’ll were holding out.
Anyhoo. I’ll make sure to send postcards from down the rabbit hole.
It blankets the drab and sometimes unforgiving world in a pristine swath of white, sparkling like a new beginning. You always know it’s going to snow because of the sky and the smell. And the stillness. The wind quiets and the clouds create an alabaster ceiling. If you breathe in deeply, your nostrils tingle with a chill that’s more inviting than foreboding, and you’ll catch the faintest hint of ice, a scent that’s almost impossible to describe.
Every March the clock springs forward giving us more precious hours of sunlight, and at least in New Jersey, a crocus or two pops from the ground, winking and promising that Spring is nearly here.
We make plans, eagerly lugging our bicycles and gardening tools from the basement, and then Mother Nature says, “Psych!”
I suppose it makes sense that the ones who face Mother Nature’s wrath head on have something huge in common: gender.
During last week’s nor’easter, I received text after text from female friends and colleagues. It looked a little like this:
Over the next 24 hours, my gal pals rallied as they faced everything from:
…to driving 40+ miles to work…
…to fixing a broken generator…
Yes, sir ma’am. These ladies put the “win” in “winter.”
I’m hashtag blessed to have so many women in my life who handle Mother Nature’s little curveballs with poise wine, grace vodka, and humor. It doesn’t hurt that they now write blog posts for me, too.
How are ya’ll doing? Everybody good? Have (girl) power?
About a year and a half ago, I visited my brother and his girlfriend in Tucson, Arizona. I was eager to see the sights, and after a little coaxing, we drove the long, meandering 25 miles to the top of Mt. Lemmon. Sunny and 60 degrees at the base, there was snow at the summit. Between that and an elevation gain of over 5,000 feet, I never expected to see this:
Almost immediately, I began planning my own Tucson cycling adventure. I would bring along my sister and a close friend, and together we too would conquer Mt. Lemmon.
We arrived in Tucson last week with grand plans: Climb a mountain and drink all the beer.
When I asked my sister and friend if they wanted to drive up the mountain for a sneak peak peek, they gave a resounding, “Hell no!” We had recently done some long, challenging rides, and felt cocky confident.
The night before our trek, a man named Robert met us in a dentist office parking lot with three rental road bikes.
“Eh, it’ll take you a few hours and three bottles of water to get to the top,” Robert said. “I’ve done it a bunch of times.”
The next morning, when we finally arrived at the base of the mountain (a 45-minute drive from our AirBnb), I looked at my sister. “Oh my god,” I said. “I left my helmet in your suitcase.” My sister spun around and spotted another cyclist in the parking lot. “Excuse me,” she called. “Are you from around here? Do you know where we can buy a helmet?”
We were prepared to drive to the nearest Walmart, but our new cycling friend, Gary, rummaged in the back of his car and pulled out a well-worn white helmet. Without a moment’s hesitation, he walked over and began fitting it on my head, pulling the chin strap tightly.
“That should work,” he said with a smile and a nod.
“Crap,” I told him. “I almost got out of this.”
By then it was 9:30am, and the sun felt like it was sitting squarely atop my borrowed head gear. We took off and before long, everything hurt. Numb hands, aching legs, and dull chills – everything I’d dreamt of and more.
Two hours in, my sister and I stopped for our 87th break and said, almost in unison, “Well, I can’t breathe and I’m out of water.”
We were at mile 7.
P.S. – Here’s our friend at the top. She’s a machine. Ain’t that right, KB!