2020–A Flight Delay

January 2020 did not go as planned. Around the new year I was filled with ambition – beyond the usual new year’s resolutions. I found myself excited to create, to finally build a business and begin sharing my gifts. I bought a website domain, started whiteboarding all of my ideas, and was preparing to take flight. However just before take-off the captain informed me of a delay. A perfect time to reflect on the past half a year. 

Last June I moved back from Asia. I was recovering from a failed community, as my yoga and tantra school was crushed between the combination of a #me-too scandal and woefully weak and misguided leadership in the aftermath. I had not lived in the U.S. for almost a decade except a few short stays or time in my Zen monastery which is like being in no-country. In my mind, I committed myself to at least a year of being a U.S. resident, knowing that otherwise it would be too easy to return abroad at the next opportunity to teach or be in community. I was invited to participate in the creation of a meditation community in Bali and there were opportunities to teach under one of my meditation teachers in either Europe or Mexico. I considered these and other options, but in the end, something was calling me back to the United States. Unable to discern what that call was, all I can say is that it was stronger than the call to continue in the fashion I had been over the last decade.

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I found myself in Boulder, renting an apartment, shopping for a car, considering employment opportunities. It all felt surreal. Although I was in my element, many of my friends were now married, had children in elementary school and in general the community had changed – the Googlers, techies and entitled SJW progressive types seemed to be much more present. At least there was a lot more disposable income around for my new business ideas!

I spent the second half of 2019 in exploration mode – I joined circling and t-group communities in Boulder, I participated in a Men’s Retreat and even had the opportunity to assist one of my teachers, David Deida in an intimacy workshop in September. I did a vision quest for my 40th birthday, I was taking online psychology courses, volunteering at yoga festivals, hosting and joining various ceremonies and events and just simply trying everything. I became very interested in a practice called Authentic Relating, a community movement focused on increasing human connection. Its a loose community, with several affiliated groups in different cities, Boulder being a major hub along with Austin and the bay area. These practices resonated strongly with me. I had noticed over the years, mainly in my intimate and family relationships that I was repeating certain patterns, that left relationships strained and I liken it to having my tongue tied and feet stuck in the mud. Through Authentic Relating I was discovering tools to own and reveal my experience, to communicate more effectively, to resolve conflict and to meet others in more intimacy, something I had been craving and seeking for a long time. I drank the Kool-Aid, joined an organization called ART International, took and repeated several of their courses, culminating in a leadership training that prepared me to begin leading these courses myself. I became involved in a non-profit organization offering this precious work to inmates in Colorado. I saw firsthand that these communication and connection skills are applicable to everyone.

Throughout this period, an attribute of mine started to come more to light that genuinely surprised me – that I do not step into leadership or really take up space when opportunities are present. Fundamentally there was a collapse inside me, a sense of not having anything to say and a belief that no one would benefit from what I had to say. I assumed that as a rather extroverted, charismatic Leo it was easy and natural for me to lead. Yet, in retrospect I see that I often relied on the container around me, the systems I was in and was never fully comfortable standing in my own power. One weekend I sat down and wrote down all of the things that I was knowledgeable at, skilled or held significant training or expertise in. Holy Shit! That’s a big list. And then the shame of keeping it all to myself set it. So it was over the new year that I decided it was time to stop holding back.

I just had to deal with one little thing before taking off – a pesky little cough that had been growing worse since October. Frustratingly, it worsened when I was speaking, not the best situation for a teacher or coach. After a couple of failed attempts with my local clinic to troubleshoot the cough with antihistamines, I was referred to a hospital for a couple of x-rays.

And here my friends is the source of the flight-delay: On the way home from the hospital the doctor calls – “Something showed up in your x-ray, we need you to come back for more tests as soon as possible”. And those tests and their results have been the center and focus of my last 3 weeks.  I will continue with the details tomorrow.

Authentic Relating in Prison

I had never been to prison before. In fact, I had been avoiding them as much a possible. A subconscious fear of confinement had existed within me for most of my life. And yet here I am, entering La Vista Women’s prison in Pueblo, Colorado, walking through a metal detector. As you enter and exit the prison you have so spend a few moments in a space locked between too large metal doors. My heart quickened as I waited for the guard to unlock one of the doors. How did I get here?

Several months ago I attended a workshop called The Art of Being Human, which focuses on improving relational skills with other human beings. It is a highly embodied and experiential course, using exercises to help develop skills to create more profound connection, intimacy and trust with those that we are in relationship with. For me this course was like fresh rain after a drought. I had witnessed in myself how a lack of effective communication techniques had created misunderstanding and suffering in my relationships. And I witnessed first hand how several of the communities I had lived in over the years simply lacked these conscious relating tools, that over time led to an inability to navigate out of a number of destructive and painful situations.

After the Art of Being Human course I became inspired to register for the facilitator training in December and to volunteer with the companies non-profit branch which visits prisons in Colorado, offering a similar two-day workshop for inmates. Fast forward a month, and with a team of 5 volunteers, we traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, set ourselves up in a modest Air B&B and prepared to go into the prison the next morning.

The metal door unlocked and I found myself in the visitor room of the prison, a sterile space with many chairs and tables, several humming vending machines against the wall. Several of the inmates were already in the space, and very quickly I relaxed as I began to feel the welcoming and warmth of the women in the room. We shared some laughs as we figured out how to divide 10 stickers into 24 name tags and prepare the space for the two-day workshop.

The course proceeded and throughout the two days I was able to participate and help facilitate the growth and opening of this amazing group of women. It was incredible to observe the shift of energy from the first morning until the second afternoon when we closed. One of the biggest sources of conflict in women’s prison is rooted in personal relationships, and again and again the women shared how the tools and practices they were receiving were providing immediate relief and improvement in their relationships. For me, there was also a tremendous amount of learning and growth. During lunch or other breaks I was able to learn much more about prison life, the challenges and the some of the surprising sustenance’s and resources that exist within prison life.

During the exercises themselves, I discovered much more about the personal stories of the women – and I was really confronted with the assumptions I held in my mind of who ‘these people’ are and what they are like. Most of these assumptions were really challenged and had to be discarded as I saw that many of these women are just like you and me, except they may have made a mistake in their life, struggled with addiction or have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A very profound moment for me was when I role played with one of the inmates who was being released in a week. In front of the entire group we practiced scenarios that she was soon to be challenged with as she returns to civilian life. There were so many subtle aspects potentially pulling her back towards prison, yet with the support of the facilitation team and the other inmates, I witnessed this woman gain a confidence and insight into how to proceed and I felt much more assured that she would be successful.

I left La Vista with a sense of great connection, humbleness and desire to continue working in this field and helping offer such profound tools to people who desire them and don’t typically have the means to access them. If you are interested in supporting this project, please consider making a tax deducible donation!

Here is a short video from a previous visit to La Vista prison: