a decade of rediscovering
(Spring 2006, Age 42)
I loved school, but after my bachelors, I never went back. Instead, I invested myself in the classroom and later in the home–reclaiming the security and sanctity stolen from my childhood.
A decade after becoming a parent, these words bubbled up inside me:
I can’t find my pulse.
My right thumb was still pressed to the inside of my left wrist when another mother responded from across the fire circle:
We can’t have everything, Kelly. You have a good marriage, beautiful kids, a nice home. Be thankful for that.
I winced, recalling a similar dismissal, years earlier, following my second miscarriage.
I want everything, I said.
(The trouble was I didn’t know what I wanted.)
A friend offered her family’s summer cabin in the woods of Maine so I took off, by myself, for a handful of days, spreading my belongings around the place (drawing pad, pencils, pens, books, snacks) until it was brimming… with me.
That first afternoon, I tried each of the beds in each of the rooms, including both sides of the loft; but despite picking just the right one, I discovered that my family had become so much a part of me that I couldn’t sleep without them.
I couldn’t work either.
The next morning, I grabbed the park pass left behind by previous guests and headed out in the vacant mini-van to a place called Acadia. Soon, I was high on nature and solitude–immersed in the kind of sweet space I forgot existed–in–and around me.
And yet, a disturbing fantasy accompanied this freedom; one which continued even after I returned home.
I saw myself turn the wheels of my mini-van off the ring road, over the cliff, into the sea below.
At my therapist’s urging, I reserved Autumn… for me.
As the boys climbed onto the school bus, I held my breath, anxious and uncertain. But as I watched the yellow bus lumber down our dirt road and out of view, I leaped into the air and let out a squeal.
That day, and every day after, was new shoes and sharpened pencils.
The Vein of Gold, by Julia Cameron, served as my guide. I spotted it in the non-fiction stacks at the library the previous winter where I went searching for any sign of myself under the debris of other-hood. Now, I splurged on my own copy and slowly began the work of self excavation–writing, collage, artist dates.
And yet, shoulds continued to shadow each day:
Should be looking for a job?
Should I be going back to school?
Should I know what I’m doing? (I didn’t.)
A woman in short shorts and a glittered tank top in the Wal-mart Photo Lab illuminated what I was doing for me. She leaned in behind me at the copy machine as I xeroxed photos for my Narrative Time Line (an assignment from the Vein of Gold), and asked:
Are you in college or something?
Embarrassed to be 42.
A mother. And nothing else.
(Not even a master’s degree. Or a job.)
But suddenly, I knew what this time was all about.
The college of ME.
Friends uplifted my journey too, especially those who couldn’t imagine it for themselves, particularly men. One morning a colleague appeared at my front porch, and handed me something rectangular and heavy across the threshold:
You’re a writer, he said. Write.
I hugged him, awkwardly, because I was still in my bathrobe, and because I hadn’t returned to work that fall like everyone else, and because–who gives someone a laptop?
I took it everywhere.
On that first morning beside the pond, a dragonfly landed on the screen, and then moved to my hand, accompanying the dance of my fingers as they tapped across the keys.
I spent those Autumn days writing and playing and learning–until the pond grew too chilly for wading, and the first snows dusted the world brand new.
As I rounded the corner of my semester, I sought punctuation–a graduation of sorts–just for me.
I selected the Celtic Wisdom Retreat because it fell on the weekend before my 43rd birthday, and because it had the picture of a snow flocked Evergreen beside it, and because my name is Kelly–my mother’s maiden name–Gaelic for Warrior.
The gathering was intimate and introspective, and I filled every moment in between with activity. At the top of my list was something called YogaDance which happened each day at noon.
I tentatively stepped into a large circle of drummers in a room called Shadowbrook and found myself moving with rapturous joy, immediately followed by the urge to weep.
I pushed that curious sensation down and kept on dancing, but the next day it returned, even stronger, accompanied by a song about motherhood, which forced me to my knees, in the privacy of child’s pose, where I released, in convulsing sobs, the holding of two conceptions, ended intentionally, at the age of 16.
And then I went home, and started a new job, and returned to the workings of my mind, and only occasionally pulled out the Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training flyer that I’d stuffed into my backpack and then into my desk drawer.
When the snows melted, and spring awakened the land, I took out that purple flyer one last time, and then crumpled it, tossing it into the recycling bin.
That same evening, after my husband got the boys up to bed, a favorite tune came over the stereo, and my hips began to move, and I turned the volume all the way up, and the boys came running back down, and we danced together, in a dark and wild impromptu livingroom party, while my husband watched, at first annoyed, and then amused, from his perch upon the stairs.
That night, as I slipped under the covers, I whispered the words that I hadn’t been willing to say to myself:
I have to do that training.
The next morning, I changed my mind, but my husband emailed me that afternoon to say that he had enrolled me himself, and that the training began in two weeks.
Suddenly, I found myself living in a dorm room with a dozen other woman, dancing from dawn to dusk.
Training to become a Let Your Yoga Dance Instructor was an absurd and desperate detour, skewered by what I heard when I looked in the mirror:
What the fuck are you doing here?
I should have been out earning a Master’s Degree, but each time I imagined myself back in school, I felt confined–both in body and mind–and especially in future loan payments for a “career” I couldn’t (and wasn’t ready to) define.
The music softened my angst as did the pleasure of new friends–from as far away as Japan and Wisconsin–along with the soothing coincidence that one of the staff assistants had the same name as my beloved grandmother.
I dreamt of reclaiming Lila in my life, with a child; but two miscarriages, followed by the birth of two sons, left me without a daughter to pass along her name. I thought of a cat or even the piece of land we bought in Vermont, but neither fit. It would be quite some time before I realized that that my Lila would be my work in the world, and that her name, in Sanskit, meant–the play of consciousness.
I finished my training that June, and returned home eager to begin in a new position as the Director of an Educational Program. By late Autumn, however, I was so restless that I returned to Kripalu for a weekend intensive.
The life coaching workshop took place in a room called the Sanctuary–as it had been when the building was first built by Jesuits–which reconnected me to my University days with the Jesuits in Philadelphia and London.
It was in the Sanctuary, in the East, seated across from my coaching buddy, that I shared my ache for travel–long denied since becoming a parent–and first inspired by my grandmother Lila, who gave me a doll from a different part of the world each Christmas, and talked about the trip we would make together.
My buddy, seated cross-legged in front of me, suggested that I incorporate more color into my life–an idea which I resented for its simplicity–but even so, when I returned home, I began to infuse my infuse my bedroom with the rich reds and oranges of India.
Over the next handful of years, I didn’t travel, or return to Kripalu, but if I passed through the Berkshires, I might stop in, just to breathe in the energy there, and to remember who I might be.
Gradually, I claimed writing as my work in the world, realizing that despite the absence of a writing degree, I had been writing, every day, since 18, even if it was only to myself, in journals.
I began a book about coming of age, and then another about becoming a mother; and during that time, I discovered blogging, which led to the birth of several blogs and unfolded into a position that took me first to Chile, and then to Japan.
Alongside this expansion, I made the decision to embark on a year-long study to earn my yoga teacher certification. This focus lent a strong spine to year that would require radical vulnerability.
A third book stirred–along the bone of my deepest loss–the tragic accident which ended my grandmother Lila’s life; and just as I decided to move forward with the work, I had the opportunity to honor her unfulfilled dream.
Lila dreamed of working at the United Nations, but dropped out of college after her junior year when she found herself pregnant with my father.
As I wrote through the first draft of the book about loosing her, I unearthed moans of grief so ancient and encrusted that they left me trembling and awestruck.
Those were dark, painful months, where I slept heavily between chapters. Until this time, writing had always been a companion, but no longer. I was adrift and lonely and scared.
I reached out to an intuitive for direction, and she made it clear–Lila wanted to help–but not until the drama of my grief was behind me.
This response was so characteristic of my grandmother that I took it to heart.
In March, after I completed the first grief-filled draft, I traveled to New York to serve as an NGO delegate at the 56th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.
I felt Lila quickening inside me, and I began to understand that my loss was bigger than a grandmother.
Soon after, I made the agonizing decision to leave my communications position to explore a growing sense of something I didn’t quite understand…
The Divine Feminine.
During this time, I worked for myself–leading classes and retreats and workshops–while still longing for a return to Kripalu–placing a picture of it in the top left corner of a dream board–and desiring not just a single visit, spaced years apart, but something with a thread of continuity and relationship that I couldn’t imagine possible.
As I approached 50, however, a ripening sense of sovereignty took shape inside, fueled by the memory of Lila at the same age.
Simultaneously, a health challenge ushered me into a deeper intimacy with the mystery of the Divine Feminine. This drew me back to Kripalu, mid-winter, for a week to attend to my health.
The Ayurvedic immersion took place in the very room where I began at Kripalu–the Orchard Room–where 7 years earlier, during a shamanic journey led by the Celtic Wisdom teacher, a lion dropped an apple branch into my open palms, reminding me of my powerful birthright and destiny to serve.
As I looked out at the orchard, now deep in snow, I took in a rich lecture about the roots of Ayurveda, and learned that both my grandmother’s name, and her sister’s name, had Sanskrit meanings. This connection, though hardly intentional, served as a thread, knitting us closer together, and pulling me toward some great unknown.
That previous year, just as I began working on the book, I’d spent a winter week with my grandmother’s sister. During this time, Soma and I fell into a greater intimacy, and on our last evening together she began to talk of something she never had before…
“I saw the accident on the news that afternoon,” she said. “Later, when your father called, he asked if I was sitting down.”
In between Ayurvedic sessions at Kripalu, I dropped into the noon YogaDance classes, and on the last day of my program, I had the pleasure of reuniting with my teacher Megha. Shortly afterward, I received an invitation to assist her with her Let Your Yoga Dance teacher trainings.
I should have said no. I deeply doubted my capacity, and these trainings were a huge volunteer commitment of time and energy; but April, June, September & November of 2014 planted me back at Kripalu for a week at a time until Debbie at the front desk knew me by name.
During one of those trainings, I bunked with the young woman who had assisted my own training 7 years earlier.
Lila and I fell into an easy and lighthearted friendship.
And still my doubts resurfaced in the mirror:
What the fuck are you doing here?
Now that I’d left my job and was self-employed, I couldn’t afford these weeks away, and yet my soul insisted I say, Yes, without telling me why.
The answer came when I stepped inside a circle of new dancers and spoke the intention I hadn’t known I held:
It would be some time before I understood to whom or to what I was to be devoted; and even longer before I realized that Kripalu had become my University. My Masters Degree. My apprenticeship with devotion.
This led to an audacious thought. What if I were to return to Kripalu in my area of greatest passion.
What if I were to assist writers?
Immediately, I wrote to three authors before I could chicken out, and almost immediately, I received a polite, but certain, decline, which threw me into a sea of shame.
I kept at it.
January, February, and March of 2015 brought me back to Kripalu to work alongside masters. One of my returns was as a student for a week-long course with author Anodea Judith, entitled: Creating on Purpose: The Spiritual Technology of Manifesting Through the Chakras.
Though I now led dance and yoga and writing through the chakras myself, they weren’t what drew me. It was the book about my grandmother, now in its third year of in-completion. My utter frustration with the work pushed me forward, even raising my hand, when the presenter asked for a volunteer.
I found myself back in the Sanctuary, seated face to face with Anodea, where I confessed –to a room full of strangers–the belief that held me back:
It isn’t fair to have everything.
Tears streamed down my face as I wept at the unfairness in the world–the pain and the suffering–particularly in my family of origin.
In the silence after the tears, something else surfaced:
I had been holding back for too long.
I stood outside a temple, steeped in fresh prana, drenched in white light, expansive and fulfilled, having just served on a symposium for women and voice…
This vision, like a kaleidoscope, re-arranged the disparate pieces of my longing, and reminded me that the book I was writing was part of a journey, not the destination.
Even still, when Anodea invited us onto our backs for another guided meditation, this time to the Wishing Tree, I scoffed. I already knew what I wanted: to finish this damn book!
Despite my resistance, however, this journey revealed two surprises:
One, that the book was my offering in return for the granting of a wish;
and two, that the wish was waiting for me beside the tree.
When you move forward with one dream, other dreams move forward too…
(Anodea Judith, Creating on Purpose)
While I worked through the chakras in the Sanctuary, other pieces of my life fell into place. A friend messaged with the offer of an apartment so that I could participate in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women again, this time with my son, Lloyd.
Another message came in from a well known author–the one who had originally declined my offer to assist–asking if I was still available.
My week of study at Kripalu was followed by a week at the United Nations and then another weekend back at Kripalu, after which three opportunities came in at once–for the same weekend in May.
As my life grew more and more aligned, I experienced a recurring phenomena: Choices presented themselves less often as good and bad, and more often as good and good–forcing a choice—which is excruciating for someone like me who wants it all.
In the end, when presented with an anniversary getaway or a chance to assist either a Yoga & Meditation retreat or a writing workshop with Julia Cameron (the author of Vein of Gold—–the guide that found me in the library stacks all those years earlier,) I found a way to marry two of the goods together while painfully letting another go.
The program placed me back in the Sanctuary, which isn’t a small thing given how many program rooms there are at Kripalu.
My husband and I were housed in separate dorm rooms, which was odd, but also lent an sweetness to our 25th anniversary getaway as we delighted in rediscovering one and other in the hallways each morning.
With my Casey at my side as a fellow assistant, I found myself softening into socializing during break times which led to an easy camaraderie with another couple.
While the four of us lounged on the couches that Saturday night, our new friends shared a scene from a favorite film where the Protagonist tosses a ridiculously large sum of money into a campfire.
I cringed, and moaned, but then in a flash of recognition, pronounced:
I burn money too!
I explained about my year of assisting, but the husband shook his head, insisting that what I offered was a great value even though it had no monetary compensation.
His wife quickly added:
I burn money too–
Explaining that she traveled to India each year to volunteer her time with women screenwriters.
Like a pebble skipping across the pond, my mind flashed on the synchronicities:
This may be what opened me so fully to the prana meditation that Megha offered during the closing session the next morning.
While I scanned my body with breath, I felt an awakening on my left side.
Just then, I realized that I hadn’t fully opened to the feminine with regard to my book (or my life.)
For a moment, I remembered the Wishing Tree, and what I saw there, but with the flicker of my attention, she was gone.
When we arrived back home, one more synchronicity awaited us. Among other notable screenwriting successes,our new friend wrote the screenplay for our favorite film from our wedding year.
There is magic and synchronicity and opportunity, and then there is laundry and emergency root canal and declined class enrollments.
As spring blossomed into summer in the Green Mountains, my work on the book stalled once again, and I forgot about the vision that sustained me through winter.
In a moment of despair, it came back, and I immediately googled: women, voice, international… but the worldwide net only mocked me, leading back to Vermont, where someone else was working with women and voice in the northern part of the state. I moaned in frustration, pulling my hair from my scalp; but as I did, I felt a crack inside, out of which came these words, that weren’t mine:
I want to form a non-profit.
What will it do? my younger son asks.
(I was his age when Lila was taken from me.)
I don’t know, I say, but I’m going to name it Lila.
But won’t people wonder who she is?
I’ll tell them that she was my grandmother, I say.
(I smile when I consider that Lila could also be my granddaughter some day.)
An online search reveals that Lila is already taken, so I spend day after day and night after night struggling with variations that ultimately lead to a dead end, and to the questioning of everything yet again:
What if there isn’t a larger purpose for me?
What if I never finish this book?
What if I’m fooling myself and should just get a regular job like I was supposed to do years ago?
I go to bed in despair, and wake to a dream that reveals what was carelessly forgotten…
There at the Wishing Tree wasn’t a book or a job or any thing at all…
I trembled as I took Lila’s hand in mine, and I felt all my chakras align at once.
What’s next, my older son asks after he reads this piece.
What do you mean, I say, sensing a sharp challenge in his tone.
Nothing, I say.
Then what are you doing about it?
I pause to consider his question– the question that I face every day–What am I doing?
With an exhale, I admit what I’ve learned is absolutely necessary at times like this:
I don’t know.