Tag Archives: Wettenbostel


10 Mar

The past few days I have been coming undone as the cloak of winter seems to have abandoned me. Spring has started showing her face in Wettenbostel.  Recently when talking with a friend back in the States on Skype, she shared her hesitancy for the end of winter.  She and I are in similar situations… both spending much time alone and both in transition.  She is in the rural Northeast after having lived many years in New Orleans… so the winter and solitude for her too has been an adjustment.  But like me, in some ways she found the forced solitude of winter was like a warm and comforting blanket.  She wondered if she would be ready for the change, the end of hibernation when the snow melted.  I can see what she means.

The good news about coming out of slumber is the beginning of feeling good.  Moving more…mentally, physically.  After being so still for so long.  Shivering in the cold.  And now, as the snow begins to melt and visitors and people speckle the world of the Seminar Haus, the shift for me is sometimes a little daunting.  I feel somewhat like a grumpy bear being woken from sleep.

That being said I see that I continue to grow.  Growth is such a funny thing… it brings one to a space of humility.  For me the humility lies in the fact that many simple things are challenging to me… and being with that and moving through it anyway.  Not stopping.  Taking another step.  And another.

The good news of this emerging spring is the development of strength.  Strength that starts in the physical but I can’t help but think it also extends to the mental, the emotional.  They are all connected.  Since the wake of my host bear from hibernation there has been an injection of energy and a request for more physical tasks to be done around Wettenbostel.  Recently he asked me to help with loading and unloading the lumber that was cut… even the “big” pieces.  And these past few days it has been digging up the garden from last year preparing it to be planted again.

I have to say that I am proud of the work I did these past two days in the garden.  For me, it was no small task.  There were three large patches of garden beds (big by my suburban eyes… not sure what my Canadian host in Germany would agree…) that I dug up and turned over the soil…with a shovel.  Step by step…until hours later … it was complete.  A few people stopped by to say hello while I was working and commented… did Michael (my host) help you out with some of that? Nope!  I said. I did it all by myself!

Being physical feels good right now and I think it is just what the doctor ordered.  But I am still mindful to be balanced and not push things too hard. I am finding my body is stiff and bristly in unexpected places and often my legs feels locked to the ground like led.  Digging in the dirt helps.

The benefits of my work and growth include simple things… like riding my bicycle down the street to visit my hosts and just feeling so good for that moment in my own skin.  And having that feeling ground and supersede any negative and toxic thought that wanted to brew in my mind.  And sometimes, that is enough.  Noticing these things is the gentle way that I love and nurture myself through my process of growth. The good days, but also the painful days. The awkward moments. Ah. Compassion.

So I am practicing the seeds of compassion with myself as I prepare the garden beds for the fertile grounds of Spring.  Happily receiving the gift of compassion from others here in Wettenbostel during some of the more challenging moments and days.  And… hesitantly… coming out of hibernation.

Photo by Michael Hartley

Being Powerful

6 Mar

Another day in Wettenbostel.  The winter sun is beginning to allow for some warmth and it is a joy to feel Wettenbostel getting closer to the edge of Spring.  Today we saw some geese flying.  Their beautiful “V” shape broke down as their flight pattern shifted into chaotic circles suspended above the fields as if their leader had lost directions or forgotten where they were going.

Today I continued to work a little with my host out in the fields cutting down trees.  At this point the trees have actually already been cut and mostly we are collecting the wood and getting the branches out of the field as the farmers are getting closer with their tractors.  The fragrance in the air lately is less than desirable as the farmers have also begun…fertilizing.

As I work outside with my host, he continues to push me to my “growing edge” in the area of strength.  Not just emotional strength or courage in that way, although he pushes me there too, but physical strength.  Growing up in the suburbs and having lived until Wettenbostel in the city, I do not have must practice or experience with outside physical labor.  Perhaps I was a little spoiled in some ways growing up in the suburbs… not ever really needing to lend a powerful hand outdoors.

Chatting casually the other day while unloading the wood my host and I discussed our upbringing.  His in Cananda, both of his parents professional people who decided to live on a farm.  Inexperienced as they were, it was still part of his culture and world to be in, depend on and rely on the outdoors.  I told him I grew up in the suburbs.  When we wanted firewood we went to the grocery store and bought it!  It would never have occurred to us to go outside and chop down a tree and then cut it up ourselves.  The idea would almost have been funny!

But here I am in northern Germany in the country and fields of Wettenbostel surrounded by forests and homes that rely on firewood to help keep them warm.  So we continue… to collect and chop the wood.  The other day I gave a try at using the axe to chop a piece of wood myself.  Ever the Aikido instructor, my host showed me a method to ground myself, get centered in what he calls “ki” energy, and use the momentum of my body to chop the wood.  This was a very new experience for me… using my body in this way.  The first few tries I laughed as the axe bounced off the wood.  But after a few tries… some success.  The blade sunk a little into the wood and began to split.  That was good enough for me.  I would live to chop another day.

Today while we were unloading the firewood I worked until all that was left were rather large pieces of wood.  I looked at them through my spoiled suburban eyes and thought, I will leave those for him and prepared my mental escape to get away from the work.  Unrelenting as he can be, my host encouraged me that I could actually lift all of those pieces myself.  I just needed to think about things differently.  Don’t use my arms to lift, he said.  Your arms are the weakest part of your body.  But they’re good for holding onto things!… Use your legs he urged and showed me how to roll the large wood to the back of the trailer, crouch down in a lunge and receive the wood with my legs and mostly just use my arms to hold onto the wood.  And you know what, it worked!  I was able to lift and carry all of the large wood left in the trailer.  I noticed it took what in yoga we refer to as core strength… that space that runs through the circle of our middle… that and the strength of my legs.

These experiences bring up for me my own insecurities about being powerful and being a woman.  I notice how I can back away from my own power in the name of being a “woman”.  And not just when lifting logs out the back of a trailer, but in other areas of my life.  I find I am hesitant with power.  Uncertain of its application and my access to it. It is useful for me to be challenged to explore it.

I finished emptying out the trailer as my host shared with me a story of this large Buddha statue he found years ago that was just “meant” to be his.  Beautiful as it was, it was big and heavy! He was able to get it back to his home, at the time in Canada, but did not have the strength to unload it.  And then one day he said, he just “knew” that he had enough “ki” energy to lift it.  So he did.  And he was successful!…

I shared with my host that the other day someone asked how old he was and was surprised when they heard the answer was 65.  They thought he was much younger. My host is not your typical 65-year-old man.  You might not keep up with him if you go out dancing with him and he may possibly be the one to shut down the place.  He maintains a huge garden and during Seminars on the weekends he is cooking up a creative storm in the kitchen.  He commented that with the practice of Aikido and Reiki you can’t quite stop time, but you can access enough ki energy to stay youthful.  I buy it!  For me that also lives somewhere in the space of spirit as I have other “older” friends who also live in the timeless youthful space.

So today, new experiences in being powerful.  And new ideas about the possibility of power.  No matter what your age, your gender and even… if you grew up in the suburbs!


1 Mar

For years now I have had this feeling… like I have been bound up as if tied up with tape… perhaps gagged and often unable to move very freely, let alone breath.  This feeling expands and contracts.  Sometimes very noticeable.  Other times less. If you would like a mental image for it, you can refer to the tarot deck.  The 8 of swords…  there she is. Tied up with seemedly no place to go.  In my years of reading the tarot she has shown up more than once in my own readings.  “There she is again”, I would think… never quite sure what to do with her.

My experience with the 8 of swords and being in “bondage” is that it usually takes someone besides yourself to get out.  Kind of like that game where a bunch of people join hands and make a human knot… and then often an outsider is required to coach the group as they detangle.  When detangling oneself, it helps if that external person is someone wise who you can count on.  With that in mind, I have started back seeing my therapist from New Orleans.  We are meeting every other week via Skype. She has a good eye for detangling… and can see things and offer suggestions in ways that just would not occur to me.  She is resourceful.  In my work with her, the  theme for me is “softness”… learning to explore and be with the challenges I feel and face in my being and my body in a way that is soft.  Holding them, as she says, in a way that is loving, patient and compassionate.  It is a good practice for me. I have a habit of being a bully with myself.  It is also a practice for which I need… support.  And an external eye to see things that I cannot see.

The past few days in Wettenbostel my host seems to be coming out of his winter sleep.  No longer frost on the ground but still a good bite in the air, he has a fiestiness to his energy like a bear coming out of hibernation.  He has recruited me to be of assistance in his latest project… chopping down trees.  Here in Germany, or at least in Wettenbostel, the local Forrester goes around and marks all of the trees that are suitable for cutting.  Then those trees can be cut down by, I believe the end of February.  So these past few days, chop, chop chop…down they went.  I made myself useful by pulling the cut off branches out of the farmers land and into the clearing of trees.  “You did that must faster than I expected…” he said.  Always nice to receive a complement.  And what can I say, I thought, I just moved… and dragged the trees.  And then it was done.  It was good to be out in the fresh open air and doing some physical work and I may have had  little vigor myself in my movement.  Sometimes its nice just to work and not have to think.

Today we continued to clear out the trees and loaded the trunks which my host cut with a chainsaw into his trailer for chopping.  He tried to recruit me to use his smaller chainsaw the other day… but even it felt “heavy” to me.  Not quite what I wanted to be doing… holding something that felt “heavy” that happened to be a chainsaw!  He teased me and said I am a physical wuss.  Well, perhaps so… but in that moment I did not see using the chainsaw in my immediate future.

He intends to teach me how to chop wood.  Something I am open to and willing to give a shot… yet, of course as a physical “wuss” I will not push it too hard as I imagine those are musicles I have perhaps… never used.  As he is also a martial arts teacher, I imagine there will be some technique to the chopping besides swing the axe and hit the wood really hard.  We will see.

But no chopping for me today.  Instead I departed my work with my host and went to give a reiki treatment to the queen of the Seminar Haus.  They are both Reiki Masters and enjoy receiving treatments.  It is not quite a regular thing around here, but Reiki is readily used to heal physical wounds and also help smooth over and move through challenging times and emotions.

I have been spending some time lately on helpx.net…a website for international work exchange.  It connects hosts who have a room and board to offer to travelers in exchange for some work in their home, business, farm…castle…  I am taking some time to see what else is out there in other countries and perhaps someplace or places new to stay.  It is an amazing website and resource.  Some hosts welcome travelers for shorter visits like a week.  And other are seeking “helpers” as they are called to be with them for months.  We will see what unfolds.

And otherwise, just another quiet evening in Wettenbostel.  Some good energy in a little outdoor work.  A skype appointment with my therapist today.  And practice, and experience in being kind, patient and compassionate with myself… with the intent of being unbound.

Nothing is Permanent

27 Feb

It is a quiet Monday with a morning-like feeling that has drifted into the early afternoon.  The business of the seminar weekend is over and so far today the only sound I hear around the seminar house is the birds chirping outside.

This past weekend we hosted a group that does Gestalt Therapy.  They are a regular group here at the Seminar Haus and long-time customers.  So, they were quite surprised when they received some news this weekend.  The Seminar Haus has decided to close.  I feel a sadness in me even as I write it, but after many long years of hard work and an unusually slow season the decision has been made.  It’s funny, even though I have only been here for a short while and understand the decision… I still find it hard to believe it is closing.  I guess as with everything, there is a time to stay or hang in there and there is a time to let go and move on.  Things come and go in our lives.  Nothing is permanent.

I have learned this lesson so well as much of my life and my world slipped through my fingers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Today my relationships and my life is very different from before Hurricane Katrina.  The remnants of my belongings are kept in a small closet-like storage unit just outside of New Orleans… and even that I am conspiring with local friends to be rid of as I plan for future travels beyond my one year adventure.  As my belongings and many friendships and relationships have changed or fell away like sand drifting through my fingers, here in the midst of the latest change at the Seminar Haus, it seems for me there is still more to let go of.  It is not always clear to me what that is, but they live now in my life in the form of ideas, old attachments and resentments, my identity – who I think I am or who I think I should be.  In the ebb and flow of change, it continues to give way.

This seminar weekend was a little crazy for me.  Like a car sitting in the cold of winter for months without use, I found myself a little slow as I attempted to start my engine to shift from the silent pace of my winter life to the quickening of preparing the house and then working this weekend at the seminar.  A quick shift from months of quiet days with time to myself, I found it a stretch for me to extend myself and my energy to the more intense pace of a typical seminar weekend – a busy house-filled with guests, earlier mornings, full days assisting with preparation of food and cleaning up after meals.

Even amidst feeling somewhat frantic and squirrel-like in the activity of the weekend, I noticed and felt a shift within myself and my relationship to the participants of the seminar world.  In the past working the seminars I was nearly unseen in kind of shadow in the kitchen.   I now take heart in seeing, feeling and being more connected to the returning and new participants.  As the guests left this weekend I was grateful to receives hugs in departure.  It felt so good to be appreciated and to hold onto another human being, even for a moment, as they left on their way.

One participant asked me this weekend, “how long will you be here in Wettenbostel?  are you planning to stay?”  “We will see”  I respond as I am still exploring new places to be and visit.  I have to trust what is next for me will unfold even when I am uncertain…

My only defense in my changing world when it feels that things are slipping away beneath my feet it is to continue to practice being present.  This weekend a seminar guest, also a fan of Dan Millman, shared that Dan says we are all peaceful warriors in training.  I appreciate the in training part as I often notice my feelings and emotions darting from side to side.  Lately I find I need to exercise, go take a run just to allow some of its intensity to leave my body.

The weekend seminar has come to a close and I take a little time to feel my feet walking on the soft ground around the Seminar Haus.  Connecting to the earth and  the golden fields, I do my best to return to the only place that is now home to me.  The quietness of the moment.  And noticing the tenderness and strength of my own heart… even amidst what feels like an instability.  Alas, I see it is true.  Nothing is permanent.  And I do my best to soak in the moment and allow what is gone or is leaving to be on its way.


21 Feb

Another day in Wettenbostel.  It snowed last night.  My child-like delight for snow has diminished some after a month walking on the frozen earth.  Nonetheless we got a little sprinkling of it, just when I thought Spring might be marching in.

We are preparing for a seminar this weekend.  Generally a typical thing at a Seminar Haus, but alas as it has been quiet here for the past two months and my preparations today for this weekend feel a little unrehearsed.  I did my best to get the house ready as the new group arrives on Thursday.  We had some unexpected problems today with a few pipes breaking and some water leaking.  My hosts amaze me at times with the work and pace that they keep up.  Responding so quickly to the next emergency at hand.  Today it was the pipes.

When things get a little hectic in life or in the day I find I need to pay special attention to myself to keep me grounded.  Today I took an afternoon break of chanting, a little yoga and a walk down the road just to feel my body and my feet connected to the earth.  I feel so many changes happening within me, sometimes I feel like I might fly away.  I do my best to shift my focus to the here and now and not get lost in emotions and excitement of people around me.

I had an unexpected gift today.  As my host was working on fixing the pipe leak, his student unexpectedly arrived at the Seminar Haus.  He is a young German boy/man, about 17, preparing for his final test when he leaves what we would call high school.  It is a challenging exam that is the entry way for students to study further at university.  He meets with my host, a native Canadian, every week to practice and ask questions  regarding his English.  My host needed to pay attention to the leak at hand and couldn’t shift his energy to his student… so he asked me… to teach him instead.

When the student arrived I could see this may be happening and started asking myself if I would do it.  Should I offer to do it?  I asked myself… shying away, I thought no… no… no…  and then I was asked, and of course I said yes.  The student’s name is Marcel and I am impressed with him and what he is undertaking, what he knows, and what he wants to know.  His extensive test requires that he take an oral exam where he communicates completely in English.  Not a small undertaking.  Marcel mentioned his challenges with speaking and writing English, but he was able to communicate this all quite clearly in English!  I compared him to a typical American student with a second language and his capacity and expectation for speaking and writing English was far beyond what is typical of a second language in the states.

Now we get to the courage part.  As I have mentioned before, I sometimes feel uneasy with myself.  This feeling can be very intense and hit me at unexpected times.  A success for me can look like having an entire meal in a restaurant with a new friend where I don’t feel like I want to crawl out of my skin the whole time.  I don’t totally understand why this is so for me, I have some ideas, but alas there it is… and here I am in my life now… feeling this way.  So while on one level, helping Marcel out with his English studies was easy.  I am confident with my English and have taught in the past… on another level for which I cannot explain… it is … hard.  And that is where the courage part comes in.

Often when sitting one on one with a person talking I become extremely self-conscious and I cannot breathe.  And then I become aware that I cannot breath, and that just makes the cannot breath part worse.  I become hyper sensitive with myself and my body and being in relationship to the person across from me and it that moment it seems there is little I can do about it… almost like something in my body or being is locked up and cannot be released.  And while this is going on, I am doing my best to not look like this is going on…It is not fun, but I suppose it is something I must continue to explore and work with for my fun, my life, my healing.  So meeting and talking to a new person, and teaching one on one with an unexpected German student, for me takes… courage.  And so it goes.

I suppose we all have our little things for which we must summon up our own personal courage.  Things that perhaps we judge ourselves for or hide from others… I have to be patient with myself.  I cannot respond to myself as I think I should be or wish was so… but rather what is actually so.  Because that is where I am.

That being said and breathing challenges aside, it was great to work with him for a little bit.  He is smart and it was fun to assist him with his work and his studies.  And we may do more in the future… which will help him and… yeah, it will help me to.

So what about you?  Are there any little challenges that you face in your life that for you take big courage?  Where are your secret places where you summon your courage that go unnoticed by the world?  I would love to hear from you!

And for now, it is soup and fish and me having a little dinner in the Wettenbostel kitchen.  Bye for now from the still snowy days of Wettenbostel.  Calling for a little warmth and sun as we prepare for our weekend seminar.


20 Feb

I am just getting home from a weekend in Hamburg.  It’s funny to me what a relief it was to arrive back on the grounds of the Seminar Haus even though I was only gone for the weekend.  I am tired and relaxed from my weekend and in the kitchen drinking some tea.

I traveled to Hamburg to attend another healing seminar led by my friend Olaf Cobus and his colleague, Lore Bergmeier.  Together they make a great team.  It was the fourth seminar in a series of five.  The theme for this weekend was… “Loslassen” which is a German word that means “let go” or release.  It was a powerful workshop.

We began the seminar with exploring the idea of holding on to something. We each were given a pillow and were invited to hold onto it the way were holding onto something… anything in our lives.  We were asked to get comfortable with it and find that special posture, that special way we were kept “it” ours… perhaps we may even feel the need to hide it or protect it.  Or maybe, we had more than one thing to hold on to… and if so, we were encouraged to grab other pillows, blankets etc.  And then, once we had fully appreciated our pillow and our experience we were asked to consider, like apples on a tree.. how ripe was the “apple” that we were holding on to?  Was it time to let go?

Lore compared our life journey to a boat floating down a river.  The scenery is always changing.  She said there are times in life when we are called to hold onto something and it is ours to hold.  And then the scenery may change and it is no longer there… and often rather than let the boat move on and allow the scenery to change we reach for a tree on the side of the shore and try to stop time and stop the scenery from changing.  It never works, but there we are left grasping and clinging trying to keep what was ours.

Later in the day we did movement work with Olaf.  His work is very different from anything I have experienced so far on my healing journey in alternative medicine and healing work.  His work encourages you to be in your body and pay attention to things… you never really considered paying attention to before!  My favorite exercise of the day was when he had us experimenting first in our own bodies, how it felt to let our feet and hands guide us in movement throughout the room…listing to our hands and feet… not our brains!  As we became more comfortable with that, we found a partner and explored being in our own space in our own body, but also being connected to that person.  Feeling their energy in relationship to ourselves.  We experimented with how far we could go away from that person and still feel connected to them and when we needed to draw closer.  And then we moved to the idea of group… feeling ourselves, knowing that our partner was there and also being aware there was a group there.  It was lighthearted and fun and a playfulness fell into the group.

I was glad to see in myself growing the possibility that I could feel me in relationship to someone else and a group.  The exercise had me feeling safer within myself… actually being able to feel me and be conscious of myself in relationship to others.  It was particularly interesting for me when during the exercise I was partnered with a man.  I was so nervous.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  My partner was someone that I have some relatedness to so we could laugh about it as I shrunk at the idea of letting my guard down and being open in relationship to him… I just didn’t feel safe.  And then Olaf coached us.  He suggested that my male partner take a supporting role… and that I be in charge.  And I was amazed at what a difference that made.  I felt much more at ease in being there and playing with moving hands and feet with him and we both noticed a dramatic difference in the lightness of the energy between us as we did the exercise.

The day was good and hearty and long.  I spent the night in Hamburg and today made the somewhat long journey back to remote Wettenbostel.  And now, like a slow-moving boat… I can feel something shifting in me in its wake.  Something new is letting go like waves rumbling deep beneath the surface.  I am feeling the flow and the changing scenery of the passages of my world.  Tired and grateful for the nourishment of my time in Hamburg.

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!

Love me tender

30 Jan

It is a juicy cold winter day in Wettenbostel.  The temperature is -6 degrees… luckily, that’s celsius not farenheit.  But still, it is cold enough. Bundled in wool, I love it outside, for a little bit. But mostly, I am grateful to be warm inside!

I cooked the most delicious food for myself today.  How is it that sometimes you can cook the simplest of things… broccoli stir fry and rice… and it tastes SOOO GOOD!  I have a little break in painting the ceiling of one of the seminar rooms, my latest task here at the Seminar Haus.  I ran out of paint.  Alas.  So in the meantime simply tending to a little cleaning in the kitchen.

As I bask in the warmth of the kitchen I hear the voice of my friend, Reiki Master and counsel, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, saying  “Use your alone time wisely” .  Hmmm… I find myself thinking.  What exactly is using my alone time wisely?  I think…in part…I am beginning to find that answer.

As I continue to listen to the story of Iyanla Vanzant on my new audiobook, Peace from Broken Pieces, her story unfolds and I listen intently.  The story has moved past the tragedy of her childhood and has blossomed into her world as a successful spiritual teacher.  What has struck me today as I listen is her spiritual practice of turning to God when she needs an answer for herself and her life. Guidance along her journey. Her practice is to immerse herself in prayer for 5 or 6 days until she feels she has an answer for herself and her life.  That is it, I thought today.  That is wise use of my time… going within, using the tools of my spiritual practices, to nourish myself and to seek and explore what it is I need to know for myself and my life at this point in time.  I check in with the Tarot cards, an old friend and confident.  They agree as they reveal to me the Hermit card… a time for being alone and connecting deep within.

When I was a child I used to have this sort of unusual experience.  The word I used to describe it was feeling like I was in a straw, like a vortex of energy was slipping and sliding right through me…and I was part of it.  As I grew older my recollection of this feeling came and went.  And then one day… it revisited.  I was assisting at a course taught by Landmark Education known as the Wisdom course.  One of my favorite courses in the Landmark curriculum, it was a series of powerful weekends that span over the course of a year.  As someone who was assisting… my role, my function was to be of service to the course and the participants.  The role of assisting during a course always keeps you hopping.  Being present, paying attention, and being available to do what is needed to make the course happen.  Whatever it takes.

It was during the course that I felt this feeling again.  This straw-like notion swirling through my body.  Now a little older than when I was a child, I at least had some modicum of wisdom to be able to pay attention to what it was that I was feeling.  That feeling, that sensation I could discern was oneness, our “we-ness”, that space in the cosmic soup where there is no you or no me… but we.  And it is my understanding that I was able to experience that feeling once again during the course in the context of authentically being of service.  Giving of my heart and giving up my me to be in service to others.  In that space, the I or me just kind of slipped away and what was there?  We!

That moment was a spiritual breakthrough for me.  It reminded me that our spiritual essence has been connected to me my whole life.  I have had that feeling, that straw-like sensation on a few more occasions since then.  Sometimes I experience it during a Reiki treatment.  … and ultimately it seems that is what I am returning to… like a slippery slide.

So here I am…being a Hermit in Wettenbostel.  In the still darkness of winter. A little breath of sun today as the temperatures get a bit more frosty.  Taking time out for a few earthly pleasures like yummy food and, okay, watching a movie or two on my computer.  But intently basking for a few days in my spiritual practices… Reiki, chanting, A Course in Miracles and yoga… exploring that deep place within.  Ah, feels so good.  Feels like some love.  Some time just to…love me… tender.

Photo by me from the snowy fields of Wettenbostel


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.

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