How Last Year’s 3 Greatest Challenges Transformed My Life

I didn’t realize how great 2011 was for me until my metaphysical friend Dennis Andres asked me over Thai food for my top three highlights of the year. Strange and wonderful things came up:


At The Summit: Audrey, Sage, Nik, Mike & Melissa

#1.    Taking my sons Nikolas and Sage (11 and 10 years old) up the Grand Teton with their father, Exum Mountain Guide Michael Abbey AND his girlfriend. This was significant to me for several reasons. First off, the Grand is a challenging mountaineering adventure for most adults, including myself. I was impressed to watch my boys persevere through whipping winds, chilling temperatures, sleep deprivation, continuous and strenuous hiking, snow field crossing and technical rock climbing. We achieved 7000 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit at 13,770 feet. The kids learned to use mountaineering axes, carried their own gear, and—except for one brief cold-and-hunger-induced meltdown—were joyful and enthusiastic. Now all this is nice and inspiring, but also significant for me is to have come so far since my divorce as to be able to happily embark on this adventure with my ex, and the woman he left me for. It’s been five years, and my feelings have changed radically from despair and anger, to acceptance and friendliness. I was also impressed to watch how calmly, safely, and professionally Mike guided us. Although I rock climbed with him for ten years, mountaineering is a more serious undertaking, and involving children requires the utmost attention and patience. During high season Mike takes clients up the Grand several times a week, and when we got down he commented on how guiding his own family was far more difficult than he expected. Yet he maintained a cool, controlled demeanor that projected the confidence we needed to carry on. I’m heartened to see how well he engages his career.


#2    Losing my primary job teaching yoga at a community college. I know, that’s not supposed to be a highlight! Dennis asked me if it was tough when I first got the news. I did feel a pang of loss, but my immediate reaction was relief and I said “Thank you.” Neither the dean nor I knew right away how thankful I was. I’d been fantasizing about leaving this job for some time. When Dennis asked me why I wanted to quit, I couldn’t explain it. I loved my job in many ways. I loved my students. I had great benefits. I could ride my bike through a lovely park to work. But I was constantly overwhelmed. My important dreams were falling away, because I didn’t have time to think about them anymore. I felt unhappy. I knew that while teaching is definitely my path, this role was not a good fit, even though I wasn’t sure why. So when budget issues required cutting my classes, I felt bittersweet gratitude that I had been spared, and the universe was forcing me to get back on track towards my Dharma, or purpose in life. One of the first things I did in this direction was start a yoga Meetup group to stay in touch with my City College Students.


Yoga & Meditation Adventure Meetup
Photo Credit: Nikolas Karolides

My Meetup group now has 127 yogis, including current college students and community members. Every Friday that I’m in town, rain or shine, we meet in the park to practice yoga amidst the rustling trees and scampering squirrels. I love this experience of connecting with nature while practicing yoga. Sometimes the lesson is the joy of the sun’s warmth, fall days we’re greeted by gold, rust, and fiery red maple leaves, and on a rare morning it’s the tickle of misting rain. Always, it’s spontaneous and real.


#3    Lost love. This one is the most unexpected for me, and at first I didn’t want to admit this as a highlight to myself or to Dennis. First the back-story. I have not felt inclined to date since my divorce. In five years I’ve gone on less than a dozen dates, and in all cases the experience was lukewarm, resulted in a desire for only friendship, or there was some glaring glitch that killed any thoughts of engaging in relationship—like he got smashed on the first date, smoked or didn’t exercise, or he was still fighting with his former wife. But last month I had this one, really fun date. Yep, just one. It didn’t work out. Although we exchanged a few friendly texts, he never called me or asked me out again. I was crazy about him, and when I realized that it wasn’t happening, I was devastated for a full 24-hours. I was singing Adele’s “Someone Like You” while mincing parsley. I wondered what went wrong. Was it my sleep-deprived delirium from driving 800 miles and the silly things I subsequently said? Should I have not told him I liked him? Am I too fat? Was it that I didn’t dress up and wear make-up or earrings? Or is it my underlying low self-esteem, which subconsciously dictated that I don’t deserve this guy and I energetically pushed him away? Oh, the ranting of a heartbroken female mind! I decided that it was better to be single than go through the torture of dating ever-ever-ever again.


The Players are Swift, Small & Sly

Fortunately four people gave me some perspective. A woman named Connie Baxter Marlow whom I met while playing pond hockey in Aspen, introduced me to “The Trust Frequency” and esoterically reminded me that the Universe loved me so much as to give me the experience that reflected my inner world and my soul’s path. “There is only love,” she said. All this, after we discussed her retreats for aligning our beliefs with our highest selves, and I made a flippant comment like, “So if I believed I deserved love, the guy who’s blowing me off would actually call me?” And she answered, “Yes!!” Oh my, I’ve got work to do! The next day I arrived in Sedona, and Dear Dennis led me through a process where I reflected on why I feel as if I AM good enough to be in a healthy relationship. After what seemed like forever, actually 6 seconds (Dennis was timing), I burst into tears because I couldn’t think of a single thing. Dennis directed me to ignore my brain and listen to my heart. Finally “I am” arose. I deserve love, just because “I am.” This quality of beingness is all that life offers. All we need to do is show up with a spontaneous heart and see what happens next.


Sarah on the cover of her new book!

A while later I was with my dear friends Sarah and Marty, who are both brilliant and amusing in their approach to life. Sarah shared some thoughts she had about me recently that she said set me apart from others, and they surprised me, because they are exactly how I view her! She said I live with integrity, I am authentic, and I strive to grow personally more than anyone else she knows. Wow! I wrote her thoughts down, because embracing these qualities as my own is my ticket to the self-esteem I have been struggling with. Then Marty introduced me to “The Four Man Plan.” We watched a hilarious You Tube clip, and bursting with laughter I said, “You’ve got to be kidding, I don’t want to date at all, and I’m supposed to date FOUR MEN AT ONCE?” In my 20s I once dated three men at once, and it was horrendous running around like that. The difference in “The Four Man Plan” is a specific strategy involving total honesty and side-by-side comparisons (before sex) while shopping around for the most honest, loving and willing partner. Marty pointed out that while my friend seemed to be honest and loving, he obviously wasn’t willing. Meanwhile, we were listening to my estranged friend’s cd, and among other tunes, a sweet cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t think Twice, It’s Alright.” Marty sagely blurted:  “Listen to those songs he resonates with enough to sing so beautifully—they’re about relationships ending! Lost love! That’s the space he’s in!” We laughed some more. Ironically, the first song I taught myself on the piano, specifically so I could sing along, was “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”  Of course it had to end before it began. How lucky I find myself, surrounded by clever and present-in-the moment friends when life gets tricky for me.


I can’t think of a better way to wrap up a year than with a reality check. I loved experiencing the flirtation, the arising of desire, feeling young and silly, the intrigue of the unknown, and finally feeling like it was possible to like someone again. The seed is planted for a bright future, even though it didn’t work out this time. Dylan said it so aptly:  “Well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe…it don’t matter anyhow…” I had a terrific moment with this guy. Memories and dreams for the future can be nice, but the only thing real, is THIS moment.


The Promise of a Bright New Day
Photo Credit: Melissa Karolides ©2012


Check out my website and Facebook page!  Upcoming events include teaching at The Yoga of Writing, an amazing retreat hosted by Sarah McLean, author of  Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation.



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