Figure It Out Friday: Endorpha, Dopamine and Sera

In my twenties and for most of my thirties, Endorpha, Dopamine and Sera took center stage along the pathways of my brain.  The euphoric buzz created between the three sisters caused my body to stiffen and my nerves to shake as I searched for a place to unload all the energy trapped within.  I couldn’t help it; my youthful body and the biology associated with it automatically welcomed any event that created a chemical dependency.

After clearing my first credential, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I was thirty – two and obsessively waiting for the new academic trimester to begin.  I worked hard to complete my B.A, earn a certificate and was about to start the graduate portion of the program.

I felt ALIVE.

My life at the time consisted of three things: work, school and going out on the weekends. In those days, I drank up all the validation I received from my education until I was drunk; on the weekends I’d crave staying up way past three in the morning, as if were heroin.  As for work? I’d snort up every new experience I was learning in the classroom.  I was definitely using every coping strategy available during those stress filled – yet exciting times. That was 2007.


After the housing market crashed in 2008, I had to fight year after year to keep a teaching job.  The party life was officially over.  All the energy and money I’d put into my two credentials and Master’s Degree amounted to nothing as more and more seasoned teachers were let go. Every summer, as I waited impatiently for some sign of returning to the classroom I would think to myself, I’m thirty – nine and can’t afford to look for another career.

Then, after a five year cycle of the same routine, something broke.  A nearby district, in an affluent community posted positions for the upcoming year.  When I applied, I’d been so beat down by the previous five years I didn’t put much hope in the idea of getting an interview.  This was a highly desirable district and many, many people would be applying.

Once the district sorted through 250 applications with only sixteen positions available, I was hired on at a full time teacher…on temporary contract.  I didn’t care, the interview process woke up the sleeping sisters who had been laying low for quite a while. Endorpha, Dopemine and Sera were up to their old tricks as they coursed through my brain.  If they got me through school; they’d also get me through my first year at a new district as a first grade teacher.


One Sunday night in October of 2013, after a couple of months on the job, I felt the dark cloud of depression hovering over my head.  I hated the feel of depression.  It scared me. The heightened sensation of everything around me and the lack of energy was a weird combination.  It was really odd because the cooler weather and upcoming holidays always guaranteed an automatic high.  Even with Halloween as an incentive, I couldn’t muster up any strength to get me through the next hour.  I hated teaching first grade.  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t find success among the six year old kids.  It was not a good fit.  And to top it off, I had piled on so many extra responsibilities at my new site, I was overwhelmed and over loaded.

I snapped.

The next morning, as usual, I arrived at work before everyone else.  I opened the door to my classroom, placed the pile of teacher edition books I’d taken home for the weekend on the desk, looked around and thought, “I can’t do this today; nor tomorrow or for the rest of the week.”  I took off my lanyard and keys, left them on the desk, got in my car and drove off. Once I got far enough away from the school, I pulled the car over, text my principal and wrote, “I’m so sorry but I won’t be returning to this job.”

I had no savings, no plan, and over a hundred grand in student loans.  I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

What I Figured Out

I have an addictive mind.  I always have.  I can trace it all the way back to when I was a teenager and I found Christ.  I wasn’t satisfied just being a regular Christian, I had to be a saint.  I fasted regularly and prayed obsessively because I believed there was a true formula for holiness and I was going to reach it.  When I turned eighteen and discovered the nightclub…I had to be there every weekend.  When I was accepted into the seminary, my job couldn’t be just any job – it had to be a call from God.

On and on and on, Endorpha, Dopamine and Sera kept coaxing me into believing the next best thing would eventually send me to a place of external bliss.  Just like a drug addict who uses chemicals to experience an eternal high, I used the natural sisters in my brain to balance me out.








Creating Your Own Religion Through Music

I have always found a spiritual experience through music. I think many people can relate to being taken to another realm through a certain rift, beat or lyric.

If music has been a part of my religion, then Michael Jackson and Prince were my deities.

I cannot remember a time when I did not love them both. I danced to their songs while “cruising” around with my cousin in her Honda when she would baby-sit me. I tried to learn the Thriller dance and was entranced by Purple Rain. You know all of this. I don’t have to tell you how amazing they both are. Were. Ouch.

I was inconsolable when Michael passed. I don’t remember ever crying so hard over a celebrity. I watched his funeral live on TV and sobbed. My sisters and I did a photo shoot because we needed to work through our pain. I wore my Michael Jackson button for days. There are still moments that I have to stop and remind myself that he is gone and I realize how terribly unfair it is.

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My life’s dream of seeing MJ live was dashed and I vowed I would see Prince. I would not let that opportunity slip by like I had with MJ.

I saw Prince multiple times after MJ’s passing. I had purple stars in my eyes the whole time. I was wrapped up in his amazing energy. He lit up the entire stage with his many hits and would play encore after encore, sometimes hours apart. He was worth the wait and I could not believe how good he still moved.

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And now, well….it’s hard to say. It’s hard to process. You know this.

How does a religion exist when the founders are gone? Who can run the church of funk without it’s heart and soul? I don’t see much up and coming hope, but maybe I am wrong?

For now, I will hold on to the memories and hits. Thankfully, we were blessed with many.

Mantra Monday: “I Am Non-Violent.”

Ahimsa is the first of the yamas that I will be exploring. The yamas are one of the branches of the yoga tree and are a guideline for behavior towards yourself and others.

Most people would probably deny that they are violent. They may even say they dislike violence. They may have never been in a physical fight and dislike blood and gore in movies. I am certainly one of those people, so when I begin to study ahimsa, I thought, “I got this one!” Ahimsa is the basic tenant of the way I choose to eat and why I follow a vegan diet. Look at me and how good at I am at ahimsa.


The more I studied and explored, the more I realized there was more than one way to be violent.

One of the ways we can be violent to ourselves and others is through our thoughts, which turn to attitudes, which turn to actions.

Oh. I guess I am not so good at it after all.

I can be down right murderous to myself. I can chew myself up mentally and completely change my perspective on a situation.

As I taught this concept to my students this week, I tried to be extra mindful of the violent thoughts I had towards myself. I really took note of this past Thursday. I normally wake up at 4 AM to meditate and journal, but I overslept and woke up in a rush at 5:15. I had an appointment at the gym at 6:00 and still needed to prepare breakfast and lunches for myself and my family. My first thought was “you really fucked up.” I said that over and over as I stumbled out of bed. I begin to talk myself into how the day was now off to a bad start and how I just could not seem to get my shit together. I caught myself about mid-way through the tirade, I took a deep breath and reminded myself I was doing the best I could. I reminded myself that I would still have time to accomplish everything and would be fine.

That happened about 50 other times throughout the week.

I am only half-kidding. I realized I am pretty hard on myself and although I do not need to let up on reaching my goals, I do not need to rip myself apart on the way there.

I tried to make my students more aware of this on their yoga mats. Instead of jumping to “I suck at this pose” can we reframe the thought as “I am still working this pose.” Small shifts in language have made such a big difference in the perspective I take both on and off my mat.

The pose I chose to demonstrate ahimsa is Goddess pose with Lotus mudra. Goddess pose feels so beautiful and feminine to me, with great strength and balance to make it work. The Lotus is a symbol of beauty amongst difficulty. Lotuses rise above mucky, muddy waters and provide beauty in a dirty situation. As we live in this violent world, can we be that lotus that displays kindness and beauty? Not only for others, but also for ourselves?


Figure It Out Friday: Enraptured By A Wrap

Donna Tilly was nervously trying to lock the front door of her classroom which made the collection of keys around her key chain rattle even louder.  I could tell she was struggling as she tried to remember whether left or right was the proper way to find security.  It’s a simple task but can instantly turn into a huge ordeal if there’s twenty other things on your mind.  The onlooking students stood quietly as her frustration grew.

“Do you need help Mrs. Tilly?” I asked, as she finally found the right turn.  She let out a short exasperated gasp – made her way towards me and whispered, “Daniel’s father was killed in an accident last night and he won’t be returning for a while.”  I didn’t remember who Daniel was but any tragedy that involves a  student deserves a quick dramatic reaction.


After two years of teaching second grade, I decided it was time for me to try something different. In my head, third grade was the next logical step in furthering my pedagogy and sharpening my teaching skills.  It was also the year I figured out that no matter how many degrees I had hanging on my wall, there is no preparation for student tragedy. When you work with a child on a daily basis and an event changes their life for good…it can be devastating for all parties involved.

Daniel’s father was well known parent at Crestview Elementary.  All the female teachers from kindergarten to third loved the fatherly devotion to his son’s education.  He attended every classroom field trip and activity throughout the year. Daniel’s father worked an evening shift which allowed him the freedom to spend the mornings with this son.  As sweet and loving as this all appeared – life had other plans.

One Sunday evening, Daniel’s father, two uncles and a friend were driving home in a black Chevy Blazer.


As they approached a major intersection, the driver of the Blazer decided to gun it as the light changed from yellow to red.  The Blazer wasn’t close enough to safely cross the intersection as he accelerated the gas.  Unfortunately, a vehicle was already approaching from the right side before both cars collided.  After the hit, the oncoming car spun out several times before coming to a complete stop.  As for the Chevy Blazer, it spun around as well but met its fate around a cement utility pole:


This light pole is similar to the utility pole.

After everything was said and done, one of the passengers of the oncoming car was killed instantly.  It turns out it was a mother and her twelve year old son.  The boy died.  All the passengers of the Chevy Blazer died instantly as the car WRAPPED around the utility pole and broke half.


That’s all I kept thinking about after I heard the news.  Once I processed the wreckage, I then had to process the casualties: a mother lost her son and mother of three who lost her husband.


When the day of the funeral arrived, the staff collected funds and supplies for the now single mother of three.  From what I learned, Daniel’s mother didn’t have a job and was now responsible for her three kids under ten years of age.

What I Figured Out

I remember during this time, I was going through my own personal struggles with relationships,  It was at a time when I had to make peace with that fact that no church sanctioned marriage, no wedding ring or even being right with God guaranteed happily ever after.  Even if you’re an atheist and you found your soul mate it still didn’t matter.

Tragedy can happen at any time and when it does life doesn’t tell us which direction to go in.  Most of the time we go kicking and screaming but eventually something has to give; either we learn to go with the flow or become so resistant to change that we become bitter.  And maybe bitterness is part of the journey?  Either way, we’re left to figure it out.

Create Your Own Religion Wednesdays

A couple of days ago, Angelina and I were engaging in a long text conversation about spiritual practices.  While Angelina does Yoga and meditation to fulfill her spiritual needs I continue on with my Catholic traditions.  As I move forward and expand my fascination with the divine (and at times obsession with it) I’ve felt the urge to change my daily routines a bit.  As I was mulling over the idea of giving up on them all together, I thought – that would be too easy.

I guess my petition was heard; I came across this book which I am currently listening to on the way to work.

A Religion of One OwnI felt an instant connection with the author who at one time considered becoming a Catholic monk but left instead to create a religion of his own.

The central idea of the book concentrates on expressing ones own way of finding God. Personally, I felt this was another way of saying “stay present” in all situations.

So in order to put the suggestions of the book to good use, I decided to stop and get out of my car on a busy highway and find my own religion.  Every morning before work, I ride upon a road filled with industrial buildings and unincorporated housing which no longer serve their purpose but house wooden pallets instead.

Nestled between the smell of fuel and the buzzing sounds of super charged electrical posts lays a beautiful jasmine bush in full bloom.  It’s not a small bush by any means but a tendrilled monster that has taken over an entire fence.  The white petals stretch far and white nearly covering the green leaves that birthed them.  Every morning as I whizzed by was another opportunity lost to lose myself in their gentle aroma.

Over the weekend, I paid homage to the new out door chapel created by nature herself.

Please enjoy a part of my new religion.



Yoga Off the Mat: The Yamas

I started doing yoga around 2008. After I finished grad school, my overachieving, anxiety induced energy needed to turn to something else to obsess over. One week after finishing my last class, I signed up with a running group and begin training for a marathon. I threw myself into marathon training with the same intensity I did through my education. I pushed myself, ran through the pain and begin amassing damage to my knees, back and feet. I did not let that stop me. Over a three year period, I ran 9 marathons and 8 half-marathons.  I also experienced runners knee, plantar fasciitis and flair ups to my scoliosis.

I started going to yoga to help with the physical pain I was experiencing. I found great relief for my back, hips and knees and learned about a mind body connection. I started using some of the breathing techniques to help me with the ever looming anxiety. I found a wonderful teacher who I believe the universe placed in my life to begin a path towards healing. She often spoke about other aspects of yoga that begin to peak my interest and I realized there was something more there than a great, sweaty class or a relaxing stretch.

I did a bit of reading and researching and found out there were other branches to the yoga tree. 8, in fact. The poses, or asanas, were only 1 branch. The breath itself had a whole branch devoted to it. I had heard of meditation, but felt intimidated to try. The other branches were completely foreign sounding to me, yamas, niyamas, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These sounded like dishes at an Indian food restaurant and I wondered how they would help me hold a handstand.

In 2012, when my father was murdered, I was forced to face my situation and choose a path to healing. Yoga was my salvation. I begin a dedicated meditation practice and used the principles I was learning about yoga to help me with processing the murder and subsequent grief. (You can read more about that journey by clicking here.)

In 2013, I went through my yoga teacher training. I expected to come out thinner, stronger and able to do “hard” poses. I had no expectations about actually teaching. After the 200 hour training, I had a much better knowledge of those other branches of the yoga tree and I had completely forgotten about how much I wanted to look cute in a back bend. I also knew I had to teach. I found a true passion that I wanted to continue exploring and sharing.

I continue to study and attempt to practice all 8 branches of the yoga tree. It will be a life long process. I set the intention this year to bring more of the other yoga branches into my teaching and help my students relate yogic philosophy both on and off their mat. I started off 2015 with teaching my beginner students about the chakras (you can read more about those by clicking here) and planning a chakra workshop for June.

Beginning this week, I will start teaching about the Yamas. There are 5 Yamas, which are also known as restraints or disciplines for ourselves and the way we interact with others. The Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (truth)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (maintenance of vitality)
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

Over the next 5 weeks, I will explore my relationship to each Yama through the Mantra Monday posts, in conjunction with my teaching in beginners yoga class. When I first thought of doing this, I had no idea how I would theme a 75 minute yoga class completely on each Yama, but as I sat down to work on it, Spirit guided me and the classes are all prepared. I am ready to do this work for myself and share it with others.


Figure It Out Friday: Friendships Born In Fear

Ten years ago, as Spring evolved into Summer of 2005, I met a guy who transformed my life from dusk to light.

At the age of thirty – one, I accomplished a goal I never thought possible; I was the first and only person in my family to earn a college degree.  Personally, it was an amazing feat because once I graduated high school, I swore I’d never return to the halls of (m)academia.

I was so inspired by my achievement that I started graduate school soon afterwards.

Towards the last semester of my undergrad, I met Jose; a twenty – one year old who knew exactly what he wanted out of life.  While my life resembled a series of hapless missteps with books and papers scattered all over the floor, Jose walked all over them and into my life.

Our friendship took off from the beginning.  As I look back we were both starting new chapters in our life and our slates had been wiped clean from the past.  He wanted to be a high school counsellor while I studied to be a teacher.  As we moved into graduate school together, we became even closer.  His twenty something year old energy energized me in new and exciting ways.  I went along for the crazy ride as we both dabbled in the lifestyle and night life.  Although I had been involved in the night club scene since I was eighteen, I never attempted any alternative lifestyle before than.  The summer of 2005 was not only a time for new academic beginnings, friendships and new found freedom, for me, it was also the beginning of my gay awakening.

Then, as with all relationships, our time together started to wane.  We’d put our hearts and minds through a lot and it the pressure of it all started to show.  As I was nearing forty, I realized that I had to start focusing on my career and grow some roots.  Jose on the other hand was approaching thirty and wasn’t ready to make a permanent landing.  Without much thought or input from me, Jose left for China to teach English abroad.

I. Was. Devastated.

Today, with the passage of time, I’ve figured out that I was jealous of my friend Jose.  I couldn’t handle that he up and left me without asking if I wanted to go with him.  We had been through so much together I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that he wanted to go off on his own.  In anger I stopped speaking with him after I’d gone to China to visit him because our dynamic was no longer the same.  He met new people, experienced new places and I was left to figure life out on my own.

Almost five years have past since my friend left for China and ten years since we first met. If I were to describe the person I was back then I’d probably start with the word afraid.  I was trying new things and starting to shape new values for myself when Jose came along. His arrival ushered in a new season.  When he left, I couldn’t handle life on my own.  I had grown so dependent, I didn’t know where to turn.

We’ve since reconnected through email but really haven’t established anything new. Life has moved on for both of us and has taken us in different directions.  Last I heard he’s helped open several schools in China that cater to students with special needs. He’s also travelled the world and experienced many different cultures.  As for me, I’ve settled into life and am just starting to begin the process of learning how to live life on life’s terms.


Our trip to NYC together. We had to find and sit where Carrie and Miranda sat in the first movie

Our trip to NYC together. We had to find and sit where Carrie and Miranda sat in the first movie


The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon – knuckleheads


Sedona, AZ


Searching for the Vortex in Sedona

Getting ready for a road trip.

Getting ready for a road trip