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To find the fulcrum upon which my entire life turned, the event that set me on this path almost 15 years ago, we have to reach all the way back to my second year of college. I had arrived at Brandeis University very much the idealistic, driven, and disciplined product of my single-father upbringing. Biochemistry was my jam, and I was determined to cure the cancer that took my great-grandparents, or genetically engineer bacteria that could eat oil spills, or just figure out exactly how human nutrition works - down to the molecule. At least one of those.

I loved every moment of the intense intellectual challenge, so much so that I begrudged the liberal arts university for forcing me to take classes in other departments. I signed up for the anthropology course "Medicine, Body, and Culture" only because it didn't conflict with the math and science courses I really wanted to take. It was taught by a fierce, funny, frizzy-gray-haired woman who stopped me in my tracks because she was the opposite of "science" as I had known it, but she had a penetrating wisdom about humans and about life that I had never seen before. Among the assigned readings was the book, "Emotionally Involved: The Impact of Researching Rape," by Rebecca Campbell. Now it wasn't news to me that bad things happened all the time, there had already been deep cuts in the short story of my own life, but this was horror and devastation like I'd never seen. And it finally hit me: it was happening all over the world, every single day.

This experience shattered so much of what I had believed about myself, about others, and about the world. I was completely disoriented and things that used to make so much sense seemed remote and alien. But in spite of the wreckage, a new clarity was emerging that my purpose in this life was to find a way to respond to that suffering in some way, some how, even if that meant only to draw near and listen. I didn't quite see it at the time, but the stories that I read in that book cracked me open not just to the pain of the world, but to my own pain as well. 

The first thing I did was to change my major to psychology, hoping to find some guidance and direction. Not only did I not find what I was looking for, I heartily disagreed with the pervasive, unspoken assumption that suffering is a symptom of some sickness or brokenness in us. We talked about symptoms all day long, but not about their source. And we discussed treatment till we were blue in the face, but no one was saying much about healing.

I honestly don't remember how I heard about Naropa University or the contemplative psychology that they teach there, but I do remember spending an entire day reading every single page on their website. I didn't realize at the time that this move would cost me my relationship my family (they thought I had joined a hippie commune and was majoring in underwater basket weaving - not something they could tolerate), but it would give me exactly what my heart and soul were seeking - and so much more.

The intersection of modern psychological science and ancient Buddhist wisdom at Naropa proved to be fertile ground for my driven, scientific mind, and so began my first deep exploration of my own psychology. Let's just say I had plenty of material to work with. I'm a Type 1 on the Enneagram (and an INFJ, and a double Virgo, Lord have mercy), so I had a superego the size of Africa and an inner critic that could make Ann Coulter look somewhat sane by comparison. What on the surface appeared to be a confident, competent achiever was actually, if you got her alone, a quivering mess of self-doubt and self-aggression.

So I did the only thing I knew to do at the time: try really, really hard. I flexed my discipline into yoga and meditation, and spent countless hours in therapy. I formed deep connections with my classmates, and the bonds we forged in that cauldron of authenticity and vulnerability continue to this day. I journaled, I ate so much kale, I read "Eat, Pray, Love" about seventeen times, I danced, I did anything that seemed like it could give me access to myself in some way. Perhaps most influential of all was Frank Berliner, professor of Buddhist Psychology, who essentially became my spiritual father and with whom I still study and teach. Gradually, I began to heal, and a tender sprout of self-compassion emerged from the rubble. Naropa was essentially where I grew up, where I became myself, and where I was connected to precious thread of ancient human wisdom that I now carry forward in every moment of my life. 

 Just as the lotus emerges from the muck and mud to bloom brilliantly, so does our own brilliant sanity emerge from the muck of confusion

Just as the lotus emerges from the muck and mud to bloom brilliantly, so does our own brilliant sanity emerge from the muck of confusion

 

Here's what I learned at Naropa: suffering is inevitable, but it has it's rightful place on the altar of life and there are profound blessings that can only be found down there in the dark. The darkness is your teacher and I'm here to help you learn its lessons. 

 

About halfway through my master's degree, I started feeling a new tug inside myself. My inner life was unrecognizable from what it had once been; I actually was suffering less, and I had learned to transform the suffering I did experience into healing and growth. But I realized that I didn't just want to not suffer. I wanted to reach for my highest potential, for pleasure and enjoyment, for love, abundance, adventure, all of it. Hard as it was to think of branching off from my beloved Buddhism, I didn't see much there about how to create or invite the life I most wanted to live. 

I searched in many places to find something that really worked, but it was at NLP Marin that I finally struck gold. The first thing they asked me at NLP Marin was, "What would you like?" Now, let me pause to make a quick distinction: while I don't see anything wrong with creating vision boards, saying affirmations, or any other manifesting practices, NLP works at an entirely different level than what your conscious self tells you that you want. Your conscious self can talk about all the things you would like in your life, but it's not your conscious self that's stopping you from having those things. When you can re-solve that which is stopping you, Life's blessings will show up by themselves in the most surprising, elegant ways.

Anyway, when I started working with this question, "What would you like?" the first thing I discovered were dusty old beliefs that went something like this, "I don't have the right to ask for much in the first place and I'm not completely worthy of receiving much anyway." NLP gave me the tools to rewire these (and many, many other) old programs so that I could inhabit the fullness of my goodness, my value, and my worthiness. From that place of wholeness, richness, and deserving, it was like I became a magnet for magical synchronicities, interesting opportunities, and divinely timed blessings from Life. Change at this level means you don't have to try to be different. Life unfolds differently all by itself. 

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Here's what I learned at NLP Marin: the blessings of Life come to us effortlessly once all parts of us know that it's possible, that we deserve to have them, and that the sky is not going to fall on our heads if we suddenly become happy and successful (because, believe it or not, there are likely some [young] parts of you for whom becoming happy and successful is actually very scary, and who have [what they think are] very good reasons for protecting you from it!). 

With the mechanics of language being what they are, I can't tell this story without it seeming like I am the actor, the author, the agent. That's true, but it's not the whole truth. Looking back from where I am now, I see that the entire journey was WAY more accident, coincidence, and synchronicity than it was a plan. The whole thing is so obviously wrapped in Grace and Divine Timing, even to a non-theistic Buddhist like me who still kind of flinches a bit when I use words like that. It's me and it's not me. It's part conscious choice and part surrender. In my workup of things, the surrender is the ground, the space, the context, and the choice is the play, the art, the dance that entertains the space. Just have to pay some respect here to That.


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