Tag Archives: Paxil

New Beginnings

29 Apr

Well, it’s official.  My year of being in Europe is coming to a close and it looks like I have the pleasure of extending my time here.  Why is it official you ask?  Well, my flight back to the United States was on Tuesday, April 23 and… I wasn’t on the flight.  The strangest things about it is that not getting on that flight was… quite natural.  I took note of it… the day the flight was supposed to leave.  I paid special attention to my intuition the days before in case, for some reason, for my highest good, my insight demanded that I get on that plane.  But it didn’t happen.  I called to officially cancel my flight the morning of my flight, shared the news with one of our visiting Canadians, and then ate my oatmeal for breakfast.

As this year of travel is coming to a close it seems as if it is also a time… of new beginnings.  New beginnings in the space of not knowing what is next.  New beginnings in the space of being in Europe… without a ticket back to the States.  It is new ground for me… and on that ground I am growing.  I can see, imagine and feel what is next… without a deadline.  That door of returning to the States is always open to me, and I will take it when I feel the time is right… but in the meantime… so many other doors are open to me as well that feel oh so rich and inviting.

As I have spent most of my year in the expansive world of the Seminar Haus and Germany, it is still a thrill to me to look at another country… France perhaps… and consider the possibility of being there.  I am  somewhat of an “unexpected traveler”… making the decision to come to Europe at the last-minute in the face of many life changes… and so I am not a traveler with a lush traveling bank account.  Therefore, I am patient.  I keep it simple.  And I do my best to enjoy the time and lessons where I am.  And when the time and situation is right, I will head to a new destination to enjoy the time, experiences and lessons there.

From my time in the country in Wettenbostel I have learned that I really can do simple quite well.  It is not too startling or an upset to my psyche to be surrounded by potato fields and to have the plans for the evening to be a stroll in the flowering fields.  I don’t mind my neighbors being trees… and ponies…and goats… and a few people…or walking outside and more than anything hearing and feeling the silence and fresh air surrounding me.

I am grateful for my spiritual practices that are cornerstones for me and my time in Wettenbostel at the Seminar Haus.  Nearly daily, and some days twice a day, I make a visit to the altar of my yoga mat… greeting her with my breath and my patience.  Allowing myself to move and feel and being restored in that way.  Lately I feel pulled to spend more time doing yoga and bathing in its healing and nurturing impact on my body, mind and spirit.

It is hard for me to believe, but there was a time when I didn’t do yoga.  A time when yoga was foreign to me.  Raised in the suburbs of the mid-western United States, yoga was not something that I considered for myself.  I had a friend in New Orleans who grew up in Vermont and had been doing yoga since she was 18.  She knew I had challenges in my life and had often suggested yoga for me…  She would have a hard week at work and talk about her Saturday morning yoga class as returning to the love… or getting the love.  But at the time I just didn’t get it.  It wasn’t until the wake of  getting off of the anti-depressant Paxil that I seriously considered yoga.  And one day I did it… I just took the leap and committed myself to yoga starting with a class one day a week.  It was the place I went to find myself… to begin to unleash my pain and sorrow and surrender to something greater than myself.  And here I am 8 years later, still worshiping her.

It is a quiet Sunday night in Wettenbostel.  The crazy birds are outside my window singing their relentless sweet songs.  We had guests this weekend celebrating a 40th birthday.  They “took over” the whole compound, even the kitchen, and so mostly the staff here found ourselves dismissed for the weekend.  We would retreat from time to time to our hosts home up the street and share a little dinner prepared in his kitchen and watch a movie.  But mostly, we took it easy and laid low, which felt like a welcome respite.

Today as the party was coming to a close, my host and the visiting Canadians prepared themselves to head to Amsterdam to join in the celebration of Queens Day.  With the spirit of the trip being to party hard,  I chose to stay behind and enjoy the wake of stillness left in the space of the weekend party diminishing and their departure.  My porch companion Dan, too is gone for a few days as well as my hostess traveling for the week at a seminar.  So it is me here… to delight in the juicy peace that I need from time to time.

Enjoying the time alone, I am grateful for the fullness of the experiences of this past year and for some reason, somewhat relaxed at the possibility of the future.  The tulips are blooming in the garden and as May nearly creeps in, it is just starting to look like spring.  I can begin to feel the warmth of the sun, warming my heart, as I look forward… to big and little changes ahead, some things coming to a close and the promise of new beginnings.

Photo from the flowering gardens of the Seminar Haus.

Graduation Part 1

16 Feb

Well, the snow is beginning to melt in Wettenbostel, although this morning the green grass is coated with a layer of frost.  Is this the beginning of the end of winter hibernation?  While there has been joy and satisfaction in my snowy, isolated winter escape, I must admit this extended period of time alone is starting to rattle me a bit.  I am exploring new places to be.  My inner voice reminds me to be patient even though I feel a sense of urgency within me.   Ah.  I breath in and out.  I try to ground myself in my body, feeling my feet in my slippers as I walk across the cold house floors.

I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night.  It is a film based on the book and true story of Dan Millman.  I was drawn to it as I am taking an on-line class of his through dailyom.com called the 4 minute workout.  What I like about the workout  so far is its careful attention to stretching and moving all parts of the body – even parts I had forgotten about!  The movie is based on the story of Dan, a talented college gymnast, who meets an unexpected spiritual teacher at a local gas station who can do things Dan can’t understand or even imagine.  After shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident, Dan relies on this teacher to help him reshape his thinking and his world.  The film is a good reminder of the art of being present.  A concept I will employ as I continue here in the quiet halls of the seminar haus.  As my Reiki teacher Elizabeth and Mr. Miyagi say, “wax on, wax off.”

The other day on Facebook I noticed a quote from spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant that caught my attention.  She said “There are times when we do not recognize it is the time to move forward.  When life is ready for us to move and we resist, life will move us by any means necessary.  What may feel like a disaster is actually a graduation.  Remain open to being guided, supported and protected by the universe.”  I really appreciated that in the face of the “disasters” in my life.  Reframing those situations, feeling them in my body and mind as a graduation feels like a useful shift in perception.

One of my life’s graduations happened about 6 years ago now… known by many of you as Hurricane Katrina.  When I was writing my last blog entry I described getting off of the drug Paxil as one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through… As I wrote that, there standing in the background begging for attention was yet another challenging time..the experience of Hurricane Katrina.

I was living in a ground floor apartment in New Orleans at the time.  On Carrollton Ave.  I had been off of Paxil for about 2 years and was still a little daunted from the journey.  I clung to the safety of my apartment and had just a small handful of people I allowed into my life.  I had recently taken my first degree Reiki class.  With it came development in my healing and a new  community of support.  I was living a very “bohemian” lifestyle.  I had no car and rode my bicycle everywhere, I read tarot cards in Jackson Square and had a part-time job selling kites at a local store in the French Quarter.  While there was much about this colorful and simple lifestyle that were dear to me, I screamed out for something that felt more secure.  Money was scarce.  I sometimes found myself digging for ten or twenty cents so I could buy myself a banana or two. I yearned for something that felt more stable.  “I want to live more civilized!”  I cried out to the universe.  And I guess she heard….

It was August 2005 and I was preparing to attend the Landmark Forum, a weekend seminar designed to help you transform your life.  I was inspired to attend by my friend Christian.  He invited me to an introduction to the Landmark Forum, and after attending I felt a little spark in my eyes that had long been in the shadows.  The only things that seemed to be in the way was… the money.  In the Landmark Forum, when registering you are encouraged to look at what is “stopping” you… as likely that same issue stops you in other areas of your life.  And they say that is when your Landmark Forum begins… during registration and the issues and challenges you face.  So there it was.  $400.  It looked like a mountain to me, someone who had been collecting change to buy bananas.  My friend Christian had contributed the initial $100 for me to register.  Now I needed the remaining $300.

It was mid-August and my Landmark weekend was just around the corner. The new owner of the home where I rented my apartment was an old friend of my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth.  And, as fate would have it, she used to be a seminar leader for Landmark Education.  Elizabeth suggested that I call her for advice.  Nervous and shy to reach out to others, I mustered a little courage and gave her a call.  And here is what she said.  She told me to make a list of all of the people I could borrow money from and then pick the last person I would ever ask and start with them.  I told her that I did not yet have my money for the next months rent and I was concerned about doing the Forum and coming up with rent.  That she advised me was my risk, my decision to make and she wished me good luck.  While we were still talking, my sister called in on the other line.  There she was, the last person I would ask for money.  I answered the line and took a leap and asked her for the money.  She and her husband responded in a most generous way and agreed to give me the total amount I needed to attend the seminar.  We made an agreement for me to do a little design work for her husband’s business in exchange.  Still not knowing how I would pay for my rent, I threw some caution to the wind, completed my registration and I was on my way!

The night before I was to leave for the Forum, Elizabeth, her husband Bob, Christian and my friend Mark gathered in the living room of my little apartment to see me off.  I was surprised at how nervous and emotional I was.  “I am just going away for the weekend” I thought.

The next day I rode in the carpool of folks driving from New Orleans to Houston, about a 6 hour drive.  I stayed in Houston with a Landmark Forum graduate, a friend of Christian’s.  Her name was Kess.  A sweet tender-hearted woman, her little apartment was the perfect place to stay.  It felt friendly and welcoming.

Attending the Landmark Forum was kind of an “outing” for me back into a more mainstream American society.  Tucked in the bohemian world of New Orleans, I had not been in high-rise buildings, intense central air-conditioning, flourescent lights, and square rooms with beige walls in at least two or three years.  I had not been in rooms filled with professionally dressed people and women wearing make-up and neatly done hair-dos.  It was a little startling at first, but little by little, I made my way.

It was Saturday of the Landmark Forum when they made the announcement that there was a category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans.  In the context of the Landmark Forum they teach that we are “meaning making machines” and the stories of our lives have only the meaning that we assign to them.  So within the context of the course, I did my best to view the news in a positive light.  And the weekend course continued.

By the end of the Landmark Forum, I saw someone new and yet familiar when I looked in the mirror.  It was me.  Only somehow, it was me that I had not seen in a very, very long time.  My eyes looked focused and clear and there was even a glimmer, dare I say a spark of light in them.

My friend Mark had called.  He at first thought he might stay in New Orleans and ride out the storm, but then late on Saturday night he had a strong gut feeling to get the hell out of there.  So he packed up a few things, and grabbed his cat and his neighbor.  Next he went by my apartment and grabbed three things – my laptop, my cat Sophie and my guitar.  They made their way together through the grueling traffic-ridden evacuation on his way to meet me in Houston.

Mark and I had been friends in New Orleans for quite some time.  In the wake of getting off of antidepressants he was the first person who I felt I could relax with… exhale. And one of the few people I felt could actually understand what I was going through.  To say that Mark was “my boyfriend” were never words that felt quite right coming out of my mouth.  But he was someone I was connected to and could count on.

Mark and company arrived in Houston after being on the road for some 22 hours or so.  Kess was generous enough to welcome everyone into her home.  Me, Mark, his neighbor and the two cats – we all camped out in the living room of Kess’s one-bedroom apartment.  The hurricane came and went and it seemed perhaps the worst was over.  But then the flood waters started to flow.  Levees had broken and the water from Lake Pontchartrain began to fill the city.

Living in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina, you hear and you read that the city is a bowl.  New Orleans is below sea level, and shaped bowl-like surrounded by water.  We were always told, when “the big one” came the city would fill up and be flooded.   It was just a matter of time.  Secretly I thought we were exempt from that.  That it would never happen.  And there it was.  It was happening.  I have to admit, as the waters began to roll into New Orleans, I silently hoped it would give me a way out of my life and life circumstances.  There were so many things that I just wanted to wash away with the storm.

When it became clear that New Orleans was in the midst of something of disastrous proportions, we all began to plan and explore our next step from the bunkers of Kess’s living room.  Cell phone reception for New Orleanians was down which made it difficult to be in touch with people.  Mark and I had decided to see our way through this together and his neighbor was seeking a new place to find refuge.  In the wake of the Landmark Forum, I suggested that we look at this as an opportunity to create something that we really wanted.  It was apparent that for at least the short term going back to New Orleans would not be an option.  We did not want to stay in Houston.   I called my parents and heard that a college friend from Austin, TX had been in touch.  Her message was, “I just have this feeling… I know that Nancie needs to come to Austin.”  Mark and I agreed, Austin seemed like a good place to be for a little bit.

Mark and I did our best to be responsible and handle as many details as we could up front.  We made the smart decision of calling FEMA right away and filing an early claim.

Elizabeth and Bob had evacuated to Houston and we met at a Starbucks.  We sat with one another in a state of shock and disbelief.  It was good to be connected  even in the foreign territory of Houston with  its big, busy modern ways and landscape.

I called my friend in Austin.  Her name is Rita, a powerful little Indian woman and a force to be reckoned with.  She armed us with phone numbers from craigslist of Apartment complexes offering deals to Katrina “evacuees”.  She and her husband generously offered to put us up for a week in a hotel in Austin while we found a more stable place to be.  By the end of the week we departed Houston and made our way to Austin.

We arrived in Austin, wounded and weary, and met up with Rita and her husband at a local taco place.  Welcomed into the bosom of Austin, the owner of the restaurant treated us to a complimentary meal that evening and gave us free t-shirts from his place.  We spent that week in a hotel considering what was next.  Amazed, we found ourselves looked for apartments as we needed a place to stay.  Neither Mark or I had any money.  But within the week, with the blessing of a “Hurricane Katrina” special and a free first months rent, we found ourselves signing a 6 month lease.

I called Elizabeth from the new place.  In a state of shock I said to her, “…I think I live in Austin…”

The Road Less Paxil

10 Feb

Greetings from the frozen tundra of Wettenbostel.  Perhaps that is stating it a bit dramatically, but suffice to say it has been cold.  My litmus test for cold – my Canadian host, raised where it was so cold that a child once died walking to school, agrees… it is cold outside.  And so…it must be true.

It is the reality of hibernation here in Wettenbostel.  We have had no seminars since before the holidays. My painting project has progressed from the ceiling of the seminar room to the walls.  The adventure on the colder days consists of running, quickly from the main house to the Big Dojo where I am painting.  On bolder days, an afternoon stroll.  I must admit that the cold air feels fresh shooting through my body and is perhaps something that I have needed after thirteen years of living in the steamy heat among the bayous of New Orleans.  Even so, I feel like a pioneer living in the big house, feeding the fire that helps heat the house with coal like a mother feeds her child.  I walk briskly, scarf and mittens intact, scrambling from my comfortably heated room through the cold air of the hallways to find respite in the general warmth of the kitchen.  Even in the cold, I am grateful to have the sanctuary of the Seminar Haus to stay for a bit.

I have relocated to an upstairs room which does not regularly connect to the wifi on the seminar haus compound.  I find myself unwilling to leave the cocoon of my warm room.  So here  I am dangling into the bathroom connected to my room reaching and grabbing for a few internet bars.  So far so good.

I have had a visitor here for the week.  A young woman named Rachel visiting from Australia through helpx.net.  Generally, communication is not a problem between us as… for the most part… we speak the same language.  The city of Perth is her home and it heralds a warm climate.  She has spent at least half of her week here in the winter of Wettenbostel looking a little… blue… and not because she is sad, but because she is cold.  I have done my best to pass on my cold weather tips I have gathered… perpetual hot tea, wool socks on feet, scarf on neck, layers, and of course… wool, wool, wool!

The solitude and stillness of winter continues to feed time for exploration… I am exploring the possibility of teaching English as a second language here in Europe and also looking into my next place to visit for a bit (thinking sunny and warmer!).  Of course I am still tending to the fires of my personal healing and well-being.

As some of you may know from past posts, I was on the anti-depressant drug Paxil for about ten years.  I went through the challenge of getting off Paxil about 8 years ago and thought I should just leave that in the past.  But, as Iyanla Vanzant, spiritual author and teacher, says, you know that you have healed something from your past when you can talk about it without anymore anger, sting or trigger.  Me and Paxil – we are not there yet.  I thought perhaps it was best to be quiet about my challenges with Paxil, on and off the drug, and leave it in the past.  However, being quiet does not always set one free.  It can do just the opposite.  It can be suffocating.

Paxil, as some may know, is a popular anti-depressant prescribed for a whole host of things – OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), depression, social anxiety… and more…  I was put on it at the age of 22 in 1993 assured that in a few years I could stop taking it.  I was just to use it as a means to get me through a tough time. I was on Paxil for ten years because of its challenging withdrawal symptoms… As the title of one article about Paxil taunts, Paxil is Forever … As stated by an attorney representing a class action suit against the makers of Paxil, “the scariest part about this is that there are people out there trying to get off this drug who are experiencing these horrible withdrawal reactions. They think it’s because of something wrong with them, when it’s really the Paxil – – and then they take even more and further exacerbate the problem!”  Amen sister.  They’re singing my song.

After doing a little bit of internet research, I found and contacted a law firm that handled a class action suit of about 3000 people on Paxil around six years ago.  The suit was for non-disclosure of withdrawal symptoms.  They won the case and as a result the makers of  Paxil, Glaxo Smity Kline, now are required to make public the withdrawal symptoms and can no longer advertise that it is non-habit forming.  An ABC broadcast tells the story of how Paxil had found in their research that more than 21% of those taking the drug experienced withdrawal symptoms and the company hid that research.  These withdrawal symptoms, as they were with me, can be so severe it seems nearly impossible to get off the drug.  People have written their stories and programs for successfully getting off of Paxil and one non-profit called the Road Back even offers a series of vitamin supplements to assist in the process.

Just a little bit of research has shown me that there are thousands of Paxil and former Paxil users who either can’t get off of the drug or went through a life changing experience getting off of it.  It is almost of epidemic proportions.  For me getting off of Paxil was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life.  And if I had not been 100% no turning back committed, I am not sure I could have done it.  I wrote more about this experience in an earlier blog, Unburdening. For me, it helped having a period of time where I did not work.  I sold my car to cut down on expenses.  I started taking yoga.  I joined an on-line Paxil withdrawal support group. I bought a pill cutter to slowly wean myself off of it (liquid form is now available for that purpose…).  And when my mind and body felt like they were going to go astray, I kept the book Prospering Power of Love close at hand to focus on and read it like a mantra. Now, eight years after being off of the drug I can say I earnestly no longer have a physical or psychological desire to be back on it.  But there were many times even years after being off of it, I wondered if I could make it and my life and my being felt like they were turned inside out.

When I stopped taking Paxil I was about 32.  One of my motivations for getting off of Paxil was wondering, if I wanted to have children, what impact these drugs would have on an unborn child, marinated in Paxil for 9 months.   And sure enough, those instincts and, gosh, common sense really, were right.  The latest litigation against Paxil?  You guessed it – birth defects.  I also, of course, wondered what these drugs were doing to me and my brain long-term.  I have not yet found much research on that, but I am still suspicious that some of my current challenges are a result of long-term effects from taking Paxil for ten years.

In my reaching out recently I have been connected with quite a few resources regarding Paxil, getting off of Paxil, and antidepressants in general.  Great information to have upfront if you or someone you know is on Paxil and would like to get off of it.   Please keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor and I did not personally used these resources below when getting off Paxil. Here they are:

The Antidepressant Solution by Dr. Joseph Glenmullen helps safely guide you off of antidepressants like Paxil.

A man named Mr. Fiddaman wrote his own guide of how he got off of Paxil.  If you email him at fiddaman64@blueyonder.co.uk he will email it to you.  He also has a blog about it…http://fiddaman.blogspot.com/

The Road Back is a non-profit organization that has uses vitamins to assist through the withdrawal process.  The website is theroadback.org

And here is a site where you can report your side-effects to the FDA… http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/default.htm.

quitpaxil.org is an on-line resource to support people getting off of Paxil.

And of course if you are experiencing challenges going off Paxil, you can always contact me.

I will continue to write in my blog about my adventures with Paxil.  And what about you?  Do you have any stories or experience to share about Paxil or other SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) drugs?  Perhaps your own personal journey.  I’d love to hear from you.  Your challenges, triumphs or experiences, encouragement…  Please write!


25 Jan

Greetings from the cold walls of the kitchen at the Seminar Haus in Wettenbostel, Germany.  My hands are cold and icy as I take a moment to write a little in the cool winter air.  Preparing yet another pitcher full of hot tea… nourishing me on the inside and I suppose nourishing my spirit as well.

My current project here at the Seminar Haus… painting the ceiling of the Big Dojo, one of the buildings in the collection here.  I must confess, I feel far away from the inspiration of Michelangelo… and I have a pretty good kink in my neck, but in general I am glad for the work.  It feels good to have a place to come to put a little time and energy on something.  To focus on something as simple as dipping a paintbrush into a bucket of paint and then applying it carefully along the seam of the ceiling and its many beams.  While I am painting I have been listening to an Audio book by Iyanla Vanzant.  She is a spiritual author who I have enjoyed over the years.  There was an offer on-line for a free audiobook … so I took advantage of it and downloaded Iyanla’s latest book, Peace from Broken Pieces.  I am not that far into it, but listening to it is like eating some sort of food that I didn’t even realize I was hungry for.  It is satisfying.

My time here in Germany and Europe, as I have written, continues to be a time of healing for me.  A healing path that began most notably with a personal crisis my senior year in college, then ten years of  a steady diet of Paxil … and well, the turbulent journey off getting off of Paxil and life with the puzzle and experience of the trauma that lied underneath.  The journey of healing has shown to me that… it is a process, unfolding, leaf by leaf, flower by flower… and year by year.  You cannot rush healing… perhaps accelerate it at times, but it is its own mystery, its own path.  And at most what you can do is take it and yourself one step, one day at a time to see… and try not to take things so seriously.

I started practicing Reiki about 8 years ago.  I found my way to a first degree Reiki class not long after getting off of antidepressants.  And it, in its own way, was a miracle for me.  The beginning of release.  Sometimes it seems that in healing oneself you must first go down a long and sometimes lonely journey to get to the bottom of the well.  And just when you think you are at the bottom… you are still not there yet.  Still more.  Still deeper.  Still more to lose, give up, surrender.  Healing has shown many different faces to me… despair, loneliness, rage, laughter, unspeakable beauty.  It is in the depth of her invitation that I have found something balanced and beautiful and it is there where I rest my hat.

In Iyanla’s book, she shares her own journey and expresses that she has come to believe that each of us choose our lives… our parents, our families, hurts, traumas, joys and laughter… as our perfect spiritual curriculum.  And it is the perfect curriculum, just for us, as its ultimate goal is to lead us back to God.  And in that way, all the characters in our play of life become heroes… the good and the bad as they have been the exact gift that we needed.  That have sent us to pray, to meditate, to take a different path.

And so, here I am, in the latest chapter of my healing.  I find myself in the lately quiet space of Wettenbostel.  A village of almost 60 people set amongst the potato fields in Germany.  Listening at times to the silly stories of my host and his friends here.  And much of the time on my own and independent.  In the quietness of the woods amongst no one but the trees surrounding me, I see and feel that I am here for my healing.  It is not always glamorous.  I often struggle.  But my time here seems to be folding me into a gentler surrender with myself as the woods and the land hover around me and protect me like a nurturing mother.

Listening to Ilyanla, I am reminded I am on a journey.  I am reminded to be tender and kind with myself.  And I am activated by the idea that my life is my perfect curriculum.  Everyone’s journey of healing is different.  And for now, mine has sent me to Wettenbostel.  Land of the wild pigs at night, late night hot tubs, and quiet nurturing nature.

Photo by Michael Hartly.

Words of Wisdom

6 Jan

Mmmm… content in the warmth of my room tonight in Wettenbostel.  The wind is blowing outside.  A little rough.  Some wind.  Some rain.  A door blown open now and then.  It is about 7:30pm, or should I say 19:30… and it is a time when generally and lately I have been at the Seminar Haus by myself.  The grounds itself are fairly big… enough to feel a little separate from the booming metropolis of Wettenbostel.. population I think 60 or something like that.  The wind blew in my hosts this evening with a little food.  Always a delight to see… my hosts… and the nourishment of course.  Some food for me.  Some food for our groups that is arriving sometime tomorrow evening.  I am told the group this weekend is a young Christian group… young as in 20 somethings.  A little different from the tone of seminars since I have been here… often intense groups and subjects.  Generally middle-aged and above diving through issues in Gestalt or couples therapy.  Sometimes yoga groups and then of course the is the Tantra group….but that is another story.  So this weekend should be a different tone from past seminars.

Tonight has been a pretty chill night.  My household chores are done and I have spent a little time musing on my computer.  I watched a little video on Ted.com by author Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book Eat, Pray, Love.  I like her.  There is something about her as a writer, as a woman, that I find comforting.  Her presentation was on creativity.  It invited me in to consider… my own creativity.  And after that, I did a little chanting.  You know, my standard nam-myoho-regne-kyo plus the daily practice of reciting the Lotus Sutra.  These chants are the cornerstone of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.

I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism a little over a year ago by a friend, Lilly, who I know through my New Orleans Reiki group.  And then I was invited to their New Years 2010 celebration by my friend and Reiki Master, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin.  It was an afternoon celebration of Nicherin Buddhism, chanting, and a wonderful, warm and social buffet lunch afterwards.  It is then I learned that Elizabeth had become a member and received what is called her Gohonzon, a scroll with Chinese and Sanscrit characters on it and the object of devotion in the practice.  She said she felt pulled to become a member and accept the Gohonzon.  She added that it gave her a breakthrough in her life in an area where she had been stuck for years.  Really, I thought.  “Should I do it?” I asked her. Wide-eyed, she nodded yes.  Ready to jump in, I leapt ahead and made an agreement to become a member of SGI on New Years day 2011 and within weeks I received my Gohonzon.

I received a book with the Lotus Sutra and a practice CD and quickly began to learn to chant the Sutra.  It was fun and I enjoyed having some place to put my attention, devotion and energy on a daily basis.  Lilly, a long-time Buddhist, was thrilled and an avid supporter.  She and her husband updated an alter they had for my Gohonzon and in a whirl of energy they delivered it to my home and prepared me for my practice.

I was encouraged to chant for what I wanted and situations I wanted to change in my life.  At the time I was selling gourmet mushrooms at the local farmers market in New Orleans.  “Chant for your mushroom sales, ” Lilly said. “I guarantee they will grow!”  So sure, I did it… and I have to say… that my mushroom sales went up.  In fact the doubled from what I was selling at the time.  So I kept chanting.

Mostly I was chanting for my healing.  My moving through my “whatever it is” that has been challenging me… most notably since my senior year in college.  Healing from life after ten years of the anti-depressent Paxil, the challenges of life after the drug, and the I wasn’t so sure that was troubling me beneath the surface.  So I chanted for that.  And chanted.  And I still chant for that.

Months after becoming a member everything in my life shifted and left me racing to find my bearings.  So many changes all at once…which opened the door for me to leave New Orleans and visit for a while here in Germany.  So I leapt.  I leapt in a space of enthusiasm and joy.  And I leapt in a space of uncertainty and discomfort in the face of the many challenges I still felt with myself.

I chanted for specific things as I prepared for my journey to Germany, piecing it together on virtually no budget and  a “wing and a prayer”.  I had bought a ticket to London through an online sale.  From there I needed to make arrangements to travel to Germany… and I wanted a place to stay in London for the night before I headed out on the next limb of my travel.  So I began to chant.  Chant specifically… for a free place to stay in London.  Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  And with Lilly’s insistence, I didn’t give up.  Didn’t give up as the trip was nearing just weeks away and still no place to stay.

And then it happened.  It was a Monday night and I was heading to the Tulane University campus for a Landmark Education seminar.  I was “assisting” or helping out with the seminar.  On my way in, I saw a familiar face in a unfamiliar environment.  He was a seminar leader who lived in Austin, TX.  I knew him from my time living there and participating in Landmark Seminars post-Hurricane Katrina.  I did a double take and confirmed it was him and learned that he and a few other folks were visiting the seminar from Austin.

I arrived in the seminar room and greeted my friend and  “boss” for the evening who was leading the logistics for the seminar.  She knew about my upcoming travels and desire for a place to stay in London.  “You know” she said, referring to my friend and seminar leader from Austin, ” his mom lives in London and she hosts people sometimes when they come to town…”  What?!  I thought.  No way.  You have got to be kidding me!  I was so amazed and delighted and the wildness of events coming together… and my possible relief at fitting another piece of the details of my “miracle” journey… that is how to go to Europe with virtually no money. Later that night he and I chatted and with a little good fortune, we were able to arrange for me to stay with his mom for the night in London.  I was glad to offer her and her husband a little Reiki in gratitude.  And, as it turns out, his mom had practiced Nichiren Buddhism for about 15 years herself.  Interesting…

Nichiren Buddhism has been a lovely segment of my time here in Europe so far.  It is an international organization with groups that meet in villages, cities and towns all over the world.  Here in Wettenbostel, I have connected with an SGI group in Hamburg.  I have met many people there, visited with them and chanted with them in their homes.  I also have connected with Nichiren Buddhists closer to Wettenbostel in near-bye Lüneburg.

While visiting the Black Forest I was able to connect with two SGI different groups.  One in the lovely city of Karlsruhe and the other, an intimate gathering at a home in a village not far from Karlsruhe.  Both places brought me a little… I don’t know… peace.  There was something in me that just felt at ease… much-needed respites on my journeys.  Some care, some comfort and hospitality.  And the comfort of community… no matter where I am in the world.

So I continue to chant.  I chant for my healing, my life and my journey.  I chant for my friends and my family.  In this Buddhism they say the most important thing is to be happy.  And that is why we chant.  And I am learning from my time and practice that being happy isn’t about blissfully eating bonbons on a cloud.  It is meeting the challenges of my life as the unfold, doing my best to take responsibility for them, and continuing to move forward in my life and face them.  And not ever giving up.  So I chant, I chant for courage to face the challenges and discomfort with myself and my life.  I chant for healing.  I chant for inspiration.  I chant for love.  Ah, it is so good.  Nam-myoho-renge kyo, which literally means “I devote myself to the Lous Sutra.”  For me, true words of wisdom.

Being in Balance

31 Oct

Balance.  Ah… that elusive pendulum… moving from side to side.  I think at some point, afraid of losing my balance…I just stopped moving at all… tried to stay very still.  Frozen.  This is not a good strategy for balance.  It promotes something that is a little more like… I don’t know… a rock…  Unmoving.   Unmoving rock=no balance.  I don’t recommend it.

So here I am starting to move and sway just a little bit in the locomotion of the balance of me… in Europe… in Wettenbostel.  For me, part of being in balance was just taking the leap and buying a ticket to come here over five months ago.  The beginning of motion…. of moving the rock.   A much-needed shift that was somehow essential for me.  I can remember not too long ago in New Orleans sitting at a Tom McDermott concert in City Park listening to his smooth sounds on the piano partnered with clarinetist Evan Christopher… and although I was enjoying the music… I also felt a creative yearning in me… that was somehow denied.  Not just denied, but that I felt like I had lost access to.  I asked myself, my greater wisdom… I know I am creative, but right now I don’t feel anything like creative.  What can I do to access my creativity again?  The answer I got was… leave the United States.  A little more fertilizer for the seed that was already planted.

I have learned that balance for me starts with simple thing… like getting a good night sleep, walks outside and being connected to nature, doing my regular healing practices like yoga and Reiki.  Drinking plenty of water, not eating sugar and eating healthy and balanced (not always easy for me here at the Seminar Haus!…) And remembering simple things like just listening to music makes me feel great… Some areas of balance for me are still being revealed.  When to go out and play.  Learning to set good boundaries with people.  Connecting to and listening to my heart.  Staying grounded.  Learning to work again… with persistence, fun and quality… and learning when, if no-one else will, to give myself a break.  Ah, there is a way.

My bicycling traveling German friend here in Wettenbostel, Jörn… who for the time being is not traveling and really not bicycling either… but still German, has been a good example for me about work and quality.  Somewhere programmed in his German being he has an immaculate work ethic, working thoroughly and diligently on every last detail.  It is really quite something to see.  Now don’t get me wrong… I have tried to influence him with some of my Big Easy, Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez attitude… but there is a time and place for everything, for all of it.  Balance.

Back in New Orleans, even before Hurricane Katrina… I took some time to make a big change in my life.  A move toward balance.  I took myself off of anti-depressant medication after being on them for ten years.  Paxil.  And in that experience, that rebirthing into me… I found there were many things that were no longer that easy for me anymore.  It was hard to concentrate.  Challenging to work.  Challenging to think clearly.  I got overwhelmed and anxious easily and found people and crowds sometimes too much to take.  I was moody.  Emotionally volitile.  At that time I found comfort in a friends who somehow understood or could relate to the intensity of the experience and transformation… one was a recovering alcoholic who had nearly killed himself drinking and the other had a stroke.  With them I shared an unexpected but shared experience of relearning some basic things and getting a new understanding of who I am and how to function in the world.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.

I had a nice conversation with my host while preparing breakfast for the seminar this weekend.  Some of his past experience includes work as a therapist with amazing experience in the healing and therapeutic worlds.  I shared with him my experience with getting off Paxil.  He acknowledged me for getting off of anti-depressents and shared that, in his opinion anti-depressents can really change the chemical balance of your brain and even damage it.  And while I aspire to create healing and wholeness for myself, I do feel impacted by the experience of being on Paxil.  The painful brain synapses that felt like electrical jolts in my brain while going off the drugs were a small indication of that.

So balance.  And learning, exploring and seeing ways of working and living again.  Trusting spirit.  Living today and letting things unfold.  So for today, after a busy weekend of work, I will relax.  Be in nature.  Maybe paint a little.  Just a day in Wettenbostel.  My life for now in Germany, in the flow.  Seeking balance.

Photo by Michael Hartley


2 Aug

You may have noticed that I have a new heading and name on my blog… gypsy woman!  And yes a wandering flower at that.  How does one become a gypsy woman you may ask?  I suppose it all starts when you begin to go with the flow, listen to within… and finally take a leap. That and losing all of your personal belongings… twice… doesn’t hurt…  I got a clue of my impending wandering ways while staying at someone’s home in New Orleans.  She gave me the book called “Tales of a Female Nomad“…  Was she trying to tell me something?…

I have always had a little bit of a nomad in me, from living in London for a semester in college, summers in California and Wisconsin while studying in college, and then, later taking a 6 week drive around the United States in my early 30s…friends wondering and asking… what are you doing?… and even, what are you running from?

All wandering aside, I must say this transition into and passage of adulthood has been quite… unexpected.  Beginning with my launch out of college it became clear that I had to put MY plans aside, because something else was happening… something else was going on.  Just months before graduation from the University of Tulsa I found myself… paralyzed… I was unable to concentrate, couldn’t stop obsessive thoughts.  I was locked in fear and feeling like I needed to try to hide it from everyone around me.  I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, was highly anxious and sheepishly found my way to the college counseling center.  They sent me home to my family for a long weekend break… then I returned to school and white knuckled my way through the rest of the semester.  After graduation rather than big jobs and opportunity, I found great humility as I was barely able to function let alone just be.  I began seeing a therapist.  As I sat in her office sobbing for reasons I did not understand, she eventually put me on antidepressants and that was the beginning of my relationship with Paxil.  30mg a day… Years later I spoke with the woman who was my therapist and she encouraged me to see that time in my life as a beginning.  And a beginning it was… of unpacking… unleashing.. and God, eventually just learning, some days, to let it be…

The antidepressants did not light up my life, but quieted my mind enough so I could function in the world.  Despite my general melancholy, I was able to work a few years in St. Louis and then I chose to go to graduate school at the University of Missouri, Columbia to prepare for a career in Student Affairs at Colleges and Universities. This led me to my job at Newcomb College at Tulane University and… beautiful New Orleans!

New Orleans was and has been… a trip.  After three years in the University environment I left for new adventures.  I moved from the University neighborhood to an area known as Mid-City near Bayou St. John.  I found myself surrounded by a pedestrian community, coffee shops and artists.  It was the sort of neighborhood I had always dreamed of living in.  But in this experience, there was one thing I needed to attend to… the next order of business in my life… it was…getting off of antidepressants.

I had been on Paxil at this point for about ten years.  I had no experience of myself as an adult without them, could only imagine what sex might be like without being on them and also thought, gosh if I got pregnant what would these things do to a baby?…  Previously, whenever I would try to get off of them my body, mind and emotions would react so severely I just decided that I was not “ready” yet.  But this time was different.  My conviction was clean and determined and I was clear that this was the end of me and antidepressants.  I was working a seasonal job for the local Jazz Festival, a chaotic yet creative place to work.  The doctor I saw who wrote my prescriptions for Paxil asked… are you sure this is the best time to do this… and I thought… it is as good a time as any…

Getting off of antidepressants was a major transition time in my life. It may have been worse than the experience that had them prescribed to me in the first place…  I gave up everything I didn’t need in my life so I could keep it as simple as possible as my mind and my emotions were erratic and in a very brittle state.  I even gave up my car so I would not have a need to work more to earn the money to pay for it… …  I joined an on-line support group of other people getting off Paxil that I found through an on-line search.  It was a nice anonymous way to be supported and to see and hear that there were other people having the challenges that I was.  Many people on the site were very angry and felt misled by the medication as its side effects and withdrawal symptoms at the time were not disclosed.  For me and other people, Paxil is one of those antidepressants that is difficult to stop taking.  I used tools like a pill cutter to cut my pill in half, then in half and half of half so that I could oh so easily and gently wean myself off of this…  finding comfort in my on-line support group that the symptoms I was experiencing were not unique to me and in fact a reaction to getting off the drug.  I experienced strange flashes of pain in my brain like synapses, nausea and my level of anxiety was off the charts.  And I cried.  And cried.  And cried.  When I initially got on the drug no one mentioned that it would be difficult to discontinue use.  I began to buy things like herbal tea to help me to relax a little to try to get to sleep at night…

One day I met a man named Mahdi Fard at the local coffee shop.  He was writing a book and was part of a healing team exploring methods for life and spiritual growth.  I soon met his wife Stephanie Jupiter and other members of the team and found myself working and learning with them.   One of their messages was a commitment to excellence and that first we have to make a commitment to excellence for ourselves.  That inspired me to be my champion in my effort to heal and be whole without antidepressants and I began with attending a yoga class once a week.  Yoga, a new practice for me and something I found quite foreign at the time, became a place where for an hour and a half  I could begin to lay my burdens down.  I took classes with a soft and caring instructor,  Sean Johnson, the owner of a studio called Wild Lotus Yoga in New Orleans.  The studio was about 5 miles away from my apartment and I made a commitment to ride my bicycle there every week.  It was a challenge at first, but soon it became my bliss.  My refuge. That weekly class was a pillar for me and I looked forward to it to get me from week to week.  The class was so gentle and kind and loving as my body slowly started to soften, relax and open up.

It turned out that one of my neighbors in my apartment building, Scott Attias, was a Licensed Massage Therapist.  We got to talking one day and agreed that we would do a trade with each other… I would design some promotional materials for his massage therapy practice in exchange for therapeutic massage for me.  I had never had professional massage before and was not all that comfortable with the idea of being touched, but my body and my being were aching so much I knew I had to take this direction.  I could not have asked for a more gentle and kind person to assist me in healing at that time.  I was in such a fragile state and he was able and willing to be with me in that space and treated me very gently without judgement.  He also turned me on to an author named Catherine Ponder and specifically her book called the Prospering Power of Love.  I used this book like a lifeline to get me through the day.  So simple but beautiful and elegant in its focusing on love and affirmations.  I found my mind was prone to erratic distractions and I used this book to keep me focused on something beautiful and lovely.  I would read it on the bus.  I even used the ideas and affirmations to get me through the end of my seasonal job at Jazzfest.  When others were getting stressed and freaking out… I would go into my own little world and meditate on love and the messages of the book.  I didn’t let myself drift into the stress of the event and meetings etc.  And for the most part I looked and felt peaceful. I remember one day at Jazzfest a colleague, worn and ragged, looked at me and said,  “why is it that you look like that and we look like this?”  I looked peaceful because I was working very attentively to keep myself focused on love.

A few years later I moved to a new apartment in the same general Mid-City neighborhood.  Still feeling very hidden from the world and learning to function, I found my way to Reiki… or should I say Reiki found its way to me.  One day while walking down Carrollton Avenue I saw my Massage Therapist, Scott.  I shared with him the spiritual growth I was experiencing working with Mahdi and his group and that I felt an instinct that I could heal with my hands.  His response was, you should try Reiki.  Ding!  A light bulb went off within in me.  I knew it was for me.  I found out years later that Scott knew about Reiki because my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, had contacted him.  And she contacted him because she was struck by his attractive promotional materials that were… designed by me as she was looking for someone to design a brochure for her Reiki practice.  So it all came full circle.  The next day I found a flier for Reiki at my yoga studio and soon after  I attended my first degree Reiki Class taught by Elizabeth.  It was my first time spending an extended period of time with people… perhaps since I had gone off my meds.  The class was all weekend…. Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.  I felt a little nervous and awkward…but was clear that I wanted to be in the class!

In first degree Reiki you receive four initiations connecting you to the Reiki energy.  After just the first initiation the energy is flowing through your hands and you can give yourself a self-treatment.  During the Reiki class for the first time I felt something let go… something in me that  I was holding onto so tightly and so deeply I hadn’t even known how to let go.  It was my first true deep experience of some relief since I had gone off the meds and it gave me … hope.  Hope that I could possibly relax and be at ease with myself, others and my body.

I explored other ways to increase my sense of well-being.  I looked at my diet and began eating healthy and eliminated sugar and caffeine from my diet.  I began attending regular Reiki groups and connecting with and meeting new people through Reiki.  I met older wiser women who felt safe and comfortable like warm milk.  And even some young, fresh exciting energy…  One bolt of energy came in the form of a new friend, Christian Callen, then known as Herb… tall, handsome and sweet with lots of enthusiasm.  He had been doing personal work with an organization called Landmark Education and was encouraging me to attend the Landmark Forum.  I attended an introduction to the forum and was excited and delighted to feel some possibility in my life after so many years of so much challenge.  I was hesitant to participate in the weekend as it cost about $400.  As it turns out my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth had also done work with Landmark Education and had met her husband through that work.  She also knew my landlord through Landmark Education and they were old friends.  I learned that my landlord was a former Seminar Leader in Landmark Education and Elizabeth encouraged me to ask her for advice.  You see, I didn’t have ANY money to attend the Forum and once I did have the money, I still didn’t know how I would pay rent for the upcoming month.  So I asked my landlord what to do.  She said it was my decision… my risk to take and her recommendation was for me to make a list of people I could borrow money from and start with the last person I would ask for money and ask them.  Just then my sister beeped in on the other line.  There she was, the last person I would ask for money.  So I took a risk and asked her and she and her generous husband said yes and I took a leap and went to the Landmark Forum in Houston, Texas.  And that weekend, while I was at the forum in Houston, Hurricane Katrina hit… The good news was that I didn’t need to worry about coming up for next month’s rent anymore…

But the truth of it was, being in the Landmark Forum and then participating in Landmark Seminars in Austin, Texas where I relocated for a bit pushed me back out into the world.   It wasn’t easy.  I didn’t always like it, but I was doing it and that was what I needed at the time.

And now here I am in Germany, sometimes stumbling, still unfolding.  And I have been off of Paxil now for about 8 years.  Still learning to relax and play.  Practicing being present and allowing things to be. And exploring being at ease with myself and others… but now in a whole new context!  Sometimes daily I still want or need to retreat or feel unease for reasons I don’t totally understand.. but I am moving and shaking in my own little way.

It’s so great look back and see all the faces and powerful, lovely people who were so critical to me in my healing during that crucial time of change.  And today I feel lighter and easier… but still shifting and growing.

And for those of you reading, friends and dare I to think… strangers, I am so glad you are there.  My cheerleaders back in New Orleans who will never give up.  New friends and relations in Europe, inspiring me to have courage and helping me to open my heart. Friends and family throughout the States.  Thanks for supporting me!

And, yeah additional support at this time would be… well, extraordinary.  Support to enable me to make the next move.  Support to take a risk and say yes to an invitation or opportunity!  This can be prayers, words of inspiration, connections and direction…and it can be money.  If you like, you can contribute to my journey and my blog through the contribute section.  Any contribution is really honored and appreciated. And thank you to those of you who already have contributed.

And, if you like you can contribute to and be a part of the exciting…

What is this you ask?  A simple, easy and affordable way to support this Gypsy as she continues down the road of growth and lessons in life, learning to be herself (myself), learning to trust, let her guard down, explore and expand.  And learning to trust spirit, a higher power, God as my true caretaker and guide on this journey.  Interested?  Here is how you can contribute.

Make a commitment to donate a small amount monthly for the remainder of my journey…(through May 2012). Choose a contribution level and donate your initial gift via the link below. In future months you will receive a friendly monthly email reminder with a link to make an easy on-line payment.  As a “thank you” for donating to the scholarship fund you will receive a complimentary distant Reiki treatment… plus, good karma, as well as my appreciation and gratitude…


The Wandering Flower.  For $5/a month help this wandering flower soothe her soul.  You will also receive a complimentary 15 minute Reiki Treatment.

The Blossoming Rose.  For $8/a month help this blossoming rose satisfy her spirit.  You will also receive a complimentary 20 minute Reiki Treatment.

The Playful Posy.  For $10/a month help this playful posy regain her strength.  You will also receive a complimentary 25 minute Reiki Treatment.

The Soulful Sunflower.  For $20/a month help this soulful sunflower begin again.  You will also receive a complimentary 30 minute Reiki Treatment.

The Flowering Lotus.  For $50/a month help this flowering lotus know and trust.  You will also receive a complimentary 60 minute Reiki Treatment.

To participate and contribute, simply use the donate link below.  Enter the monthly amount of the level at which you are contributing.  And that’s it!  In future months you will receive an email with a simple link for your next offering.

A few things I feel inspired to do at this point include:  working more with the organization Art of Living and attending their Art of Silence Course , I’d like to spend a month in Berlin for opportunities to learn, live and grow, I want to purchase a bicycle or repair an old one to give me a little freedom to move around while living in Wettensbostel and even traveling.  And I want to say yes to invitations to go visit and be with people in other areas of Europe.

Currently I am making my way in Europe through the generous opportunity to do an exchange with my current hosts… cleaning rooms at the seminar haus, some light cooking and meal preparation, some gardening and weeding…  I have given a few Reiki treatments here in Europe and also some distant treatments for friends back in the States.  And I even have the inkling of a graphic design client. And as always I am open and available for work.

Whew, well, it is Tuesday evening here and today has been beautiful, warm and sunny…  Thanks for taking the time to read this blog entry!…The day is coming to a close and I am ready to relax and let go.  So, until the next time…

Yours in spirit and adventure,

Gypsy Woman (also known as Nancie, I mean Teresa… or… well..you know…)

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