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Many immigrants do not talk about what they endured back home. They were fleeing that world, and when they left they didn’t want to talk about it because there had been pain and heartbreak. ~ Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

Altar To My Ancestors

Zayde means grandfather in Yiddish. The few stories I’ve been able to collect of my grandfathers’ fathers are scant, but tender, and the stories about the women in my family are even more limited. The photograph above is Zayde Rosenthal who became a widower and married a second wife.

I always felt strangely drawn to this photograph. Perhaps it was because my Aunt Paulie, Zayde’s eldest daughter sat at her antique Singer sewing machine and told me stories of the old country and their desire to come to America. Aunt Paulie came first and worked in sweatshops in lower Manhattan to bring her siblings to America. Although I felt riveted by the stories, I never detected any grief or had any idea about the trauma they carried, that is, until it all began to unfold for me last week.

During the White Awake: Before We Were White workshop (link in Part One), we were encouraged to create an altar to our ancestors. The purpose was to reestablish a connection that had likely been broken. Each individual’s journey during this process was unique, many perilous, requiring much courage to face the trauma that caused the disconnection, but all were deeply meaningful, filling in the dots of our ancestral stories that would have been lost forever. I was surprised how satisfying it felt to construct my altar and feel a yearning to learn more about my ancestors’ history.

Upon noticing my newly arranged altar, someone told me that I looked like my maternal great grandfather! Until then, I had never considered there might be a resemblance or even a direct bloodline between the strangers in the odd photograph that graced my grandparents’ central room in their meager Bronx apartment during the late 1950s. I was told that they had never left Eastern Europe – that they never made it on the boat. To have a photograph taken during that time period in Lithuania, they had to stand for a long exposure requiring a brace to hold their heads still. As I look at it now, almost 60 years later, I imagine the photograph being rolled up and carefully tucked under someone’s arm on a crowded boat traveling across the Atlantic seas. It was then framed in the Bronx, not far from Ellis Island, the port where my grandfather immigrated alone, at seven years of age!

All my grandparents traveled on the boat when they were very young. Three were immigrants from small villages (shtetls) in Lithuania. (Fiddler on the Roof, based on the stories by Shalom Aleichem, was an authentic representation of the villages in Eastern Europe.) My father’s generation was not allowed to talk about the old country, We are Americans, they were quickly corrected. They fled pogroms, the draft, and growing malignant anti-Semitism.

As I researched the villages where my grandparents’ were born, I knew that thirty years later 95% of the Jews would be exterminated in Lithuania. When I imagined what could possibly motivate a mother to put her 7-10 year old child, a mere baby, on a boat never to be seen again… it was just unimaginable to me. What horror did they predict, and why?

From what I read, it wasn’t just the Nazis that murdered Jews around World War II, but many Lithuanian collaborators joined in. It could be one’s barber, dentist, or middle school crush. Could these parents in the late 1800s possibly have predicted what would happen to their children thirty years later? What level of hatred must they have endured to anticipate this? And what did they imagine if they did not let them go? Were my grandparents actually protecting us by trying to erase their past and only look forward to their new American identity?

The workshop led us through ancestral recovery, a necessary step for the collective shift in consciousness mentioned in Part One. If we go back far enough into our family histories, we can find our own indigenous roots. When I began to scrape together the few stories of my family from the old country, I uncovered lumberers and herbalists. I also uncovered the roots of social activism born out of religious and cultural persecution that I would label as heroism. With courage and perseverance, we can restore the disconnection caused by ancestral trauma, and begin to restore wholeness to our family lineage.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. I became so physically ill during this process that I wondered if I would survive the grief that was nearly more than this frail body could process. I did survive this life-changing process and will describe more in the Aftermath and Integration in my final essay of this series.

Here is a gift to begin the integration process. I must express a disclaimer that jumping into forgiveness before processing all of the grief, in whatever form it needs to be expressed, only leads to more suffering. With Heart and Help I trust I will eventually be able to lighten my heaviness. But, hey, there are no guarantees, are there? In my essays, I like to be on the other side of the Great Grief and speak from there. Not true this time.

For now, I will grieve and rage and sick it out, as I have done with all unimaginable catastrophes I’ve experienced through life. And I will await the shift that is ultimately sure to come and turn my worldview inside out, as most multigenerational or family constellation work does. And if I and my helpers have what it takes, healing will happen seven generations backward and forward.

Kuan Yin’s Prayer for the Abuser

To those who withhold refuge,
I cradle you in safety at the core of my Being.
To those that cause a child to cry out,
I grant you the freedom to express your own choked agony.
To those that inflict terror,
I remind you that you shine with the purity of a thousand suns.
To those who would confine, suppress, or deny,
I offer the limitless expanse of the sky.
To those who need to cut, slash, or burn,
I remind you of the invincibility of Spring.
To those who cling and grasp,
I promise more abundance than you could ever hold onto.
To those who vent their rage on small children,
I return to you your deepest innocence.
To those who must frighten into submission,
I hold you in the bosom of your original mother.
To those who cause agony to others,
I give the gift of free flowing tears.
To those that deny another’s right to be,
I remind you that the angels sang
in celebration of you on the day of your birth.
To those who see only division and separateness,
I remind you that a part is born only by bisecting a whole.
For those who have forgotten
the tender mercy of a mother’s embrace,
I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.
To those who still feel somehow incomplete,
I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.

~Vera de Chalambert





And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. ~ Anaïs Nin

Much has been written about The Shadow, originally described by Austrian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, a pioneer of Depth Psychology, an approach to psychotherapy close to my heart that includes the exploration of the unconscious and transpersonal aspects of the human psyche. The Jungian construct of the shadow involves those parts of the Self that we deem as flawed and unlovable, often due to early trauma, and therefore, relegate them to our unconscious. Eckhart Tolle describes it as the painbody, a semi-autonomous psychic entity of old emotional pain not faced, accepted, and let go of in the moment they were experienced.

Encountering the Shadow

Often these traumas have roots in our childhood, transferred by the unexamined (shadow) aspects of those in our family of origin whom we most trusted. Delivered as criticism or rejection, we learn to deny these injured parts to avoid further pain and, ironically, end up attracting to us exactly what we are trying to ward off.

Our shadow reveals our deepest wound, which also holds the key to our greatest healing. Our unexamined pain accumulates and combines with that of others’ to form a collective shadow. Wars have erupted due to our unconscious collective shadows. I believe by working to bring these aspects to consciousness, one person at a time, we can not only lessen the conflict in our own lives, but ultimately achieve world peace.

Robert Bly describes the shadow as the bag we drag around behind us through our life and when aspects of ourselves appear that create discomfort, we throw them into the bag as unclaimed, unlovable parts of our persona. The bag becomes heavier and heavier until we develop the courage to begin to take each dissociated part out to bring it into the light of consciousness.

In shamanism, the shaman, or healer, is seen as one who can walk between the human and spirit worlds to retrieve our discarded parts in order to restore balance to the soul, whether the imbalances are caused by fear, loneliness, addictions, or other ills.

Dancing With the Shadow

If we are courageous enough to enter into long-term, committed relationships, it is likely we will encounter the proverbial mirror that forces us to see our shadow projected onto our beloved. Discerning what is ours from theirs is the crisis and the opportunity of deep intimacy. For me, it took a series of divorces to realize who the common denominator was. During my first and most tumultuous marriage, it was easy to shrug off any criticism as his projections, but when I encountering similar criticisms during my second marriage, I began to recognize recurring patterns.

I don’t believe my rigorous life path of learning through relationships has been arbitrary. I believe it was specifically designed for me to learn and teach others self-love through the healing power of intimacy. As a psychotherapist, being of service has been a large part of my mission and doing my own personal work has been an essential prerequisite. I remember asking my former mentor, “Do I have to experience everything in order to be of service to my beloveds?!” Not everybody needs to experience a curriculum as extreme as mine, but as a psychotherapist, you can only take other people as far you have already gone.

From another former mentor, Werner Erhard, a complicated but significant leader of the “human potential movement,” I learned that in order to truly have a relationship, you must be willing to not have that relationship. To me, this meant that in order to truly have an intimate relationship with another person, I needed to be willing to risk it for my own Truth. This is not an easy principle to follow, especially when the ego is invested in maintaining status quo at all costs, but it is a tenet I have learned to follow more and more as I have matured spiritually. As Maya Angelou eloquently stated, “When someone knows better, they do better.” Choosing our Truth over our egos’ desires is the difference between feeding our shadow or feeding our authentic Self – choosing Love over fear.

Opening to the Teachings

From this end-of-life perspective, sitting still twenty-two hours a day, I have opened into what could be called my life review. Those who have entry into what some call the bardo or the life between lives, either through dreams, meditation, or visions, are able to begin a broader process of self-reflection over their lifetime and begin to identify the themes the soul has come in to work on. My many years in non-ordinary states of consciousness through Holotropic Breathwork, both as a practitioner and a facilitator, has helped me to access these healing states.

Throughout my earlier life I struggled with feeling victimized by energies outside of myself over which I felt powerless. This common pattern is often an imprint from the family of origin. My mother was my initiator in this journey of duality (drama). I was terrified of her and then of my teachers and went on to attract relationships that affirmed this worldview.Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer are three different expressions of victim in the dramatic triangle. (For more information, see the Karpman Drama Triangle – three faces of Victim, a must for psychotherapists and addictions counselors!)

Drama vibrates at a low frequency and like attracts like. To maintain a low vibration, which serves to keep vulnerability at bay, a victim can only draw a persecutor or a rescuer, which then always switch roles. Shadow Work involves bringing each role to consciousness to allow vulnerability and intimacy, a high frequency.

Breakthrough From Drama to True Self

During my breathwork visions, for years I was a Jew in a concentration camp. However, one day, to my shock I suddenly became the Nazi – feeling the power/control of oppressing, enslaving, and murdering others. (This collective shadow, by the way, is the core of racism, or othering, a fear prevalent in the world today. A critical mass must be reached to bring this hatred out of the shadow, one person at a time.) I let myself marinate in these excruciating feelings until I felt the energy complete itself. I didn’t know what to think afterwards – feeling shame mixed with horror that shifted into empowerment, and even liberation.

For me during breathwork, as in life, the most arduous part of the process is learning to stay with uncomfortable feelings. I learned firsthand that it was much more comfortable to experience Victim than Persecutor; the latter forced me into shadow of the motherwound. However, by avoiding the pain, I suppressed my natural fire energy – creativity and passion (joy). I was so afraid of being my mother that I couldn’t fully be me! After this breathwork retreat, I knew my life would be different.

Staying in drama temporarily lessens anxiety, but the cost is one’s true power. The role of Victim (the one down position) was familiar to me. When people emulate the childhood abuser who appeared to have more strength and power; the Persecutor becomes their go to persona during conflict. The Rescuer (the one up position) feels the illusion of safety from the messiness of intimacy, by staying above the fray. Feeling less than was my shadow and Persecutor was the shadow of my shadow. Only when I allowed myself to fully experience this repugnant role, replete with abuse of power, shame, and fear, could I liberate myself and experience Wholeness. In that way, I was my own shaman.


During this sacred time of life review, I want to honor the teachers in my life of which I have only mentioned a few. I especially want to honor my mother who chose to play this role with me in this lifetime. Mother, I know you are with me and I look forward to dancing with you soon with less fear and more joy.

Feeling good is not the point – it’s being connected so that the highs and lows don’t matter. You spend less time at the mercy of all those heavy negative thoughts. – Krishna Das

My brothers were born four years apart and five years later I was born. They slept in a bedroom together and I slept alone. I don’t know when the terrors started, but I had a very hard time getting to sleep. In the new house where we moved when I was three, I was on the opposite side of the house from my parents. I would call to my mother, sometimes frantically, and she never came. I cried myself to sleep every night and sucked my thumb until I was eleven. I didn’t like being alone every night in that solitary room, where the lights from the traffic would shine across my wall and keep me awake.

One time my father came to my bed and asked me how I was feeling. I talked to him about how my legs hurt and he told me they were growing pains. I shared my deepest secrets about how afraid I was of the teachers and how I could not go to sleep at night. He taught me a self-meditation technique to help me sleep; I still use it to this day. Although he came to me only one time, I remember it like it was yesterday. I wonder if they consciously considered whether to talk to me or let me learn to self-soothe. I doubt the latter, because there was little conscious conversation in my home growing up. They just didn’t have the capacity. My fears escalated along with my anger.

I began to refuse to go to school; my teachers were too scary. My mother pretended to call the truant officer to report me, so I reluctantly went. Tough love. My mother was tough and distant, emotionally. It wasn’t until my 50s when she was dying that I actually realized she’d always loved me. Some people never know, so this is not a complaint or a tragedy, it’s just what often happened growing up in the 50s.

Being born in July had its advantages; we lived on a natural lake during the summer. It was a simple, intimate lake, before it became a resort area. I was happy there and so was my family. However, being born in July when the sun was in Cancer meant I had the potential to be hyper-sensitive, moody, and overly dependent/clingy. A clingy child and a touch-me-not mother created quite a challenge for compatibility and connection. The casual lifestyle at the lake nurtured my more positive traits: spontaneity, athleticism, in a community that loved nature. I didn’t fear being alone in my bedroom at the cottage, but when we moved back to city life each year my whole body contracted. The isolation, the inactivity, the stark school with the scary teachers were overwhelming.

My pillow was my transitional object and I kept it until well after I was married. During my early life, I avoided being alone at all costs, and the costs were dear. I clung to unhealthy relationships much too long. I did, however, experience a great deal of self-love when I finally had the courage to leave. Finding the courage to leave unhealthy situations seemed to be the edge I needed to meet what some call the Great Aloneness. There is an expression – we come into this world alone and we leave this world alone. That used to sound sad to me, but once I was able to hold grief long enough to fully feel it there was a shift and I was able to finally feel safe and to begin to love myself, deeply. I see that only by feeling everything, instead of feeling good, can self-love really be acquired. One must grow into it. I certainly had to.

It was only through experiencing the Great Aloneness that I began to understand that in our core we each want the same thing, to feel loved, and when we mature spiritually we begin to know that we are loved. If we follow this thought and are able to stay with it, our Awareness grows and we find that we are Love. When we internalize this, we open to the Knowing that we are all one. I was working at a community mental health center in Louisiana when this awareness began to take root. I remember the timing clearly, because my supervisor asked me to propose a password for the state computer system. I offered, “Allone,” imagining that in our area of the state of Louisiana, at that moment in time, everybody would be using Allone as their password to enter the mental health system! I love that irony/synchronicity. Don’t tell anybody, but this is still my password, or variations of the theme.

The moments I have felt most connected to my heart, connected to my Beloveds, connected to the Universe, have been the times that I Know that we are all inextricably linked, all one being, and that we are only separated by the belief, a mental construct, that we are separate. Many people fear loneliness, but loneliness is never about another person. It is and has been only through the felt-sensation of Oneness that I know this to be Truth.

I don’t for one minute believe that one has to be facing the end of their life to enter this Knowing that we are all one and we are all in this together. Crises can accelerate this awareness. They have a way of cracking open the defensive hardness that appears to separate us. By practicing empathy and forgiveness of the self, the boundaries of protection fall away.

Then, all that is left is Love. And, it is love, that we truly are all in together.

**This essay is dedicated to Kirsten Schreiber, my dear friend, sister of all ages, who nudged me to finish it.

“The mind-body connection is a strong one, but progressive multiple sclerosis can be a buzz saw intent on breaking that bond.”– Marc Stecker


food_piece_of_cake-0262Geez Louise, working for me is not for the faint of heart; especially around the changing of the seasons. If you are thinking of answering an ad and have some trepidation, listen to it. I have some helpers who had been with me the whole seven years I have been in Crestone. Maybe they deserve a medal. If you make it through the first three hours, it is not uncommon to be with me for multiple years. How they do it, I’m not sure. Before the illness, I could not have done it. And some of them are under thirty!

This month’s Care Circle, the meeting with my care team, will be the largest so far. I hope my kiva room can accommodate all the seating. I must be doing something right, drawing such a large crowd. And these people are the most amazing individuals I have ever known. They are completely committed to doing whatever it takes to keep me in my body. I literally owe my life to them, on a minute to minute basis. I have almost always had a lot of love in my life, but this is beyond what I ever imagined. In my early life there was a lack of nurturance to which I attribute the need for this extreme curriculum. There is a T-shirt that reads, “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Well, it’s never too late to bring a wounded infancy to wholeness. I have made the connection between a profound lack of healthy mothering during childhood and a progressive form of multiple sclerosis in prior blog entries. I know of six anecdotal cases reflecting this theory, my own being one. This curriculum can offer hope for the deepest healing; bringing hope to a world in need is a worthy endeavor.

Yesterday, the dreaded occurrence happened: an injury. Fortunately, this is rare, but it is more likely to happen when training new people and they don’t understand my vulnerabilities. During a transfer, the plate and nine screws that held my femur together was torn. Don’t ask. Fortunately, my physical therapist was here and offered much reassurance. That was timely, because I had turned white as a sheet and was ready to pass out. See Shattered, the first chapter in my book, also in my blog if you don’t have a book. This describes my original femur accident from 2007.

I think what happened was, the emotional trauma from the original accident surfaced that had not been cleared. During the night, if I closed my eyes to let go into sleep, I would have an anxiety spike. I instantly made this connection to dying fears. Who gets to be this aware? And, of course, I experienced this in what appears to be slow-motion, so I feel everything, in a big way.

Without an injury, I could live for months, maybe years. The injury is the unknown variable. Perhaps it is the mysterious work of the sacred initiator waiting to midwife me into the next consciousness. That does not instill comfort to this mortal humanoid.

Okay, if I have sufficiently convinced you that working for me is difficult, now imagine being in my place. That would be a quick visit, because living with my circumstances is almost unimaginable to most people, even people with life-threatening illnesses or milder forms of MS. Most of the time it is not so difficult, living my ordeal, observing life from my perspective. It is really a rich, full life.

I know I am living parallel existences. My dreams are as real and as unreal as my waking life feels at times. Some Knowers say that our dreams are more real than this physical reality. I believe that, because I know this is merely a costume for the movie that is my life with this curriculum. Now I get to clear the trauma surrounding my femur injury, otherwise, it will continue postmortem. I have read about people having chronic body issues with memories of being mortally wounded in a parallel existence, or past life if you prefer a linear perspective. Since I sit nineteen hours a day, I have the time and opportunity to release the trauma. So release I will.

Although, my ego would never have chosen these circumstances, I recognize the wisdom in the selection on a soul level. I know that in a blink of an eye, this experience will be over. In the meantime, I prefer to spend my time increasing my consciousness and in service to others. Each moment is another opportunity toward this end, however, gluten or non-gluten, it is not a piece of cake.

“You wait a lifetime to meet someone who understands you, accepts you as you are. At the end, you find that someone, all along, has been you.” -Richard Bach


Siegfried Zademack

I recently shared with my dear friend Alice, who is on a similar Journey as me, that with this illness I believe we are being brought into greater balance. The personal journeying she has shared with me recently has affirmed this Knowing. I wanted to share some of my deep, personal balancing.

I have been particularly touched by a couple I have known for some time, who has been journeying through MS together. One has the illness, but they are together in their commitment of seeing this curriculum through. After David left, I communicated with Stephen to ask what enables him to stay. His response was so profound and personal that I will not share it on a blog; suffice it to say that he expressed reverence and deep love in his serving. Hearing his perspective gave me so much hope for humankind and appreciation for these friends whose lives are unexplainably interconnected with mine.

From time to time, we check in with each other to share strategies and mutual respect. As I near the end of my ten week commitment to The Presence Process* with this week’s theme being, I FORGIVE MYSELF, what keeps coming up is that I need to forgive myself for having this illness. Everything else has been forgiven, but this last piece seems intransigent.

During our most recent communication, I must have shared my pain and disappointment about traversing this journey alone in contrast to their shared path. There have been so many similarities and synchronicities along our respective paths, it is surely not a coincidence.

But for me, David left. Stephen expressed something remarkable to me. “… dearest Aliyah, I have fallen for you in a way I cannot explain. Somehow there is a sisterhood of like souls on similar voyages and somehow the two of you have me on the same liferaft. You make it easier for me to care for [my wife]. I feel that I could be with you in your situation with perfect ease…” That last line was the clincher. I could not stop sobbing. He had struck a nerve. Pun intended.

I was able to see the part of me that is so balled up and black that I cannot possibly be lovable. After all, David adored me and he could not leave fast enough. As I sat with the pain in my being, and allowed myself to soften and expand around this pain, I realized that it was myself that I could not forgive. Somehow, this invitation allowed me to see the deepest judgment I held was for myself: I had been so cruel to my mother when she was sick for ten years of my young life. My mother has long since forgiven me, but I had not forgiven me! My healing with this illness has involved revisiting the primary relationship with my mother, as I have described in much detail in previous blogs.

It has taken Stephen’s kindness and devotion for me to access that place that we can perhaps call the missing piece. I also understand why I could never maintain a primary relationship and simultaneously do my deepest healing. I would fetishize and romanticize the love from others to protect myself from touching into this blackness. I had to hear love from another person, but also someone from the same liferaft. It is a wondrous process to unlock the depths of where we cannot love ourselves.

It is by entering our deepest wounds where illness can sometimes be just the medicine we need for bringing us into greater balance.

*a book by Michael Brown


Go to - -- And you can find it on Amazon!
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. more...

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