Rebuilding and Renewal

Jul 02, 2024

 

I’ve been retooling and rebuilding my offerings since the onset of the pandemic. I imagine you too have been undergoing a rebuild, or at least contemplating a transformation of who you are, what you do, where you live, or all three. Dramatic change is underfoot. The archetype of our time is death and rebirth, most of you have hopefully answered the hero’s call to adventure, voluntarily letting go of the past and embodying a willingness to face an unknown future, trusting your intuition as a guide. 

This year marks 20 years of my being licensed as a psychotherapist. For two decades I integrated Tibetan Buddhism with clinical psychology and offered weekly consultations and private sessions to individuals and couples with a variety of mental health challenges from anxiety and depression to childhood trauma and relationship issues.  

During this time, I was working within an invisible box, physically I was confined to a cider block office in a building in Manhattan, but also a 45-minute session on a weekly interval drip. Philosophically, I was restricted too, straight-jacketed by the narrow metrics of insurance companies’ expectations for mental health reimbursement and the all too limiting cognitive-behavioral and pharmacological methods that have become the gold standard of my field. Both grossly underestimate the power of the mind and body to heal itself, and as a result of being helplessly embedded in the paradigm of scientific reductionism, both fail to acknowledge the soul. I was uncomfortable with it but persevered because I didn’t see the alternatives. Then I started to have panic attacks, feeling suffocated on Monday mornings on my way to work.

Even before the pandemic hit, I knew these limitations were not serving me or my client’s well-being despite my efforts to offer some alternatives that empowered them in their process of healing mind, body, and spirit. The pandemic was a blessing in many ways, it forced many of us to cross a threshold, moving beyond the limiting spaces and beliefs we took for granted to be our only options or “just the way things are”. For the first time, many of us realized we didn’t need to work or live in confined spaces or within grossly automated routines. We could explore new horizons, break new ground, work remotely, relocate across the country or even abroad, reshuffle our priorities, develop new skills, and even embrace new outlooks. 

I took advantage of this opportunity as quickly as I could, threading the needle at the height of the pandemic to relocate my family to the sacred island of Bali, where my kids now enjoy the wall-less environment and philosophy of the Green School. I’m grateful my kids are slowly returning to nature, exercising their bodies as much as their imaginations, learning to trust their intuition, and unleashing their creative potential. For them, gone are the concrete buildings, the standardized testing, the eight sedentary hours behind a desk, the steady supply of ADHD meds, and the paralyzing onslaught of America’s polarizing politics and fear-mongering media. 

Thankfully, my clinical practice has changed too. My office walls are gone, along with the constraints of conventional therapies, restrictive time-frames, the tight grip of insurance companies, and the imposition of backward-facing institutions. The associated panic attacks that were my soul’s cry for help, are gone too. Rather than be drowned out by Xanax I heeded them as a call to adventure for dramatic change. I embraced risk, reframed missteps as learning opportunities, downsized my possessions and assets, and exchanged comfort and security for a more dynamic, nomadic adventure into the unknown to feel more alive.

I opened a new business in Bali, the Gradual Path, where I now meet clients face to face in sacred spaces around the island, relating more organically as humans and for as long as we need. Recently, I received a client from Venezuela for three full days of intensive therapy and journeying, we shared meals, hikes up sacred mountains, and bursts of focused analysis on breaking his transgenerational traumatic patterns.  Meanwhile, Emily and I turned our villa into a retreat center where we hosted the Crucible gathering for twelve weeks. I'm planning more local and hybrid online offerings this fall including a mentorship program for therapists and coaches. When I’m not working in person, I can work online from wherever I am, be it Bali, Europe, or the U.S. Currently, I'm seeing clients from my family home on the sacred island of Ithaka in Greece, my office window overlooks a grove of three-hundred-year olive trees with the endless turquoise Ionian Sea as a backdrop. These are the rewards of risk-taking, the fruit of volunteering for conscious death and rebirth. A wave of inspiration has come ashore just as the sea breeze blows past my weather-beaten window shutters. 

Over the past few years, I’ve been envisioning a future where my skill set in clinical psychology, trauma work, and Tibetan Buddhism is transferred to an entirely new context for healing, on the road. The clinic office has given way to the pilgrimage trail.

I remember returning from my pilgrimage in 2022, where we became the first group after the pandemic lockdowns lifted to make our way from the Tsum Valley in the Himalayas, through the Kathmandu Valley, crossing the border into India and arriving upon the diamond thrown at Bodhgaya. It was a literal and symbolic “first crossing” into our brave, new post-pandemic world. There was a moment on the flight home when my master Geshe Tenzin Zopa grabbed my hand to express his gratitude for my efforts in curating and executing the pilgrimage, he said, “More learning took place in these two weeks on the road than many months or years of study at home.” It was very reaffirming. I had been incubating for some time how powerful and healing pilgrimage could be, and slowly my intuition was being validated. 

Flash forward several years later and here we are, we had another incredibly powerful tour to Indonesia in 2023 featuring a historic joint Shiva-Buddha ceremony atop the Borobudur mandala in Java, not seen in five centuries. This October 2024 our group of pilgrims heads to Japan where I’ve curated another historic blend of twin tantric traditions between Japanese Shingon Buddhism and Tibetan Vajrayana. The stage is set for a repeat performance of alchemical magic when the sparks of creativity catch fire in the crucible of the unknown.

Looking ahead to 2025, I’ll be offering two more tours, a solo-led trip along the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain in the summer, and a co-led trip with Geshe Zopa in the late fall to an as yet undisclosed new destination in Asia that has me so excited I can hardly keep it under wraps. Both tours are already well in development. I spend as much time attending to the details of a tour as I do one of my therapy clients, vacillating between surgical analysis and deep reflective listening to what emerges from the unconscious. This is why I often say that each annual pilgrimage is like writing a book that only 30 people get to read.

Sincrenisitically, while on pilgrimage in Spain, I plan to launch my new book Return with Elixir, as I continue to experiment with the transference of my skill set in a new context. I’ll be teaching esoteric wisdom about rebirth in sacred Templar sites, guiding Tibetan-style visualizations in ancient churches, exploring pilgrim's dreams after long days of hiking and deep sleep, and asking them to keep a creative journal of poetry and art while we travel a 100 miles on foot across quaint villages, sun-soaked fields, and rugged coastlines en route to Santiago de Compostela. The group will be a self-selected intrepid cadre looking for renewal, ready to push themselves beyond self-imposed physical and mental limits, willing to break down in order to break through, and this composition of participants makes up one of the key alchemical ingredients in the crucible of transformation. 

At times we will walk in solitude in deep contemplation, and other times we will work in dyads of mutual vulnerability or as a large group for shared processing and accountability to actualize our aspirations for change. My hypothesis, as Geshe-la shared, is that more healing can come in two weeks on the road, with these kinds of dedicated participants, employing these esoteric methods, amidst these sacred sites, than perhaps six months of individual therapy in an office. 

If sell-out attendance from prior tours is any indication, I believe people’s priorities are shifting, as they recognize the value that a healing pilgrimage can offer. Yes, travel has become more expensive, but so has therapy, and just about everything else. Rather than saving for a vacation to relax on the beach, people now see how they can use their precious resources for more enriching and enduring experiences that fulfill their soul’s purpose. My pilgrimages are integrative and multidimensional in nature, I combine the vibrancy and excitement of travel to exotic locations, the therapeutic benefits of clinical work, the skills and insights of contemplative education that pilgrims can take home with them after the tour, the sense of intimacy through group work and ceremony, the possibility for service and art projects, all on the road through sacred sites, with historic significance, on the way to a fabled destination. It’s mythology in motion, therapy on the road, and importantly a sense of community with like-minded individuals that gel quickly because of the challenges that inevitably arise on tour. 

So, I’m feeling more optimistic about the post-pandemic world we’ve crossed over into, it’s wide open for a redesign for those of us who seize the opportunity to creatively embrace the new and endeavor to redesign, retool, and rebuild our lives. I hope and trust you are taking the risks to answer the call to adventure, physically, metaphorically, or both, to experiment with your lives and work, and to embrace the risks, hardship, and uncertainty, that are essential in unearthing the hidden gifts within.

I’m sending you my heartfelt encouragement as you go beyond physical and emotional limitations, and want to affirm that you continue to trust your diamond queen of intuition to guide you, even, and especially, when it is into the unknown. For that is where the treasure lies. 

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