Growth Stories

The We Space: The Energy Between Us All 1024 683 Thayer Fox

The We Space: The Energy Between Us All

Have you ever stared into a person’s eyes for a few minutes without speaking? Does the thought make you cringe? Do you long for deeper connection in your life? Is there a gap between how you feel about someone and your communication? What if I told you that when we tune into the space between us, without cluttering it with words, something magical happens. I spent a year exploring the “we space” by participating in a course called the Evolutionary Collective.

After thirty years in the New York City shrink offices, I believed that growth was all about me storming through my inner landscape with a flashlight and a microscope. Sometimes the work called for a toothbrush and other times a pickaxe.

Not a group person, I have always identified as a lone wolf. It’s ironic that AA saved my life because it’s a group setting. Dread is still my dominant default emotion before every developmental workshop I attend. Little did I know that my first workshop was the gold standard of GROUP.

After working with Jeff Carreira for two months, he suggested again that I attend an introduction to the course that he was teaching with Patricia Albere called the Evolutionary Collective. The name was weird, the location of the orientation was inconvenient, and I said yes because something had already started shifting internally after talking to Jeff regularly. I wanted more.

When I walked into the midtown west loft space on a Saturday afternoon, I freaked out. Men with facial hair sat chatting with middle-aged women in flowing clothes on brightly colored furniture. Everybody was enthusiastically greeting each other. I saw Jeff in a doorway that lead to another room and bee-lined over to him. He was talking to a tall, red-haired woman who stood inside the room. Jeff hugged me and introduced me to Patricia Albere. She held my hand as she shook it and stared into me with x-ray eye contact for an extended period. Pulling away first, I awkwardly asked if I could sit down inside what was set up like a classroom. I pretended to read something on my phone until the session began.

I learned later that Patricia was an original member of the EST organization (currently called Landmark Education) and was trained by Werner Erhard as a teacher. She became a teacher trainer in EST and Landmark. You don’t need to know a thing about her to realize that she is a force.

I can’t remember anything that Patricia and Jeff said that day because I spent the entire time in my head reviewing my comfort level and judging the people around me. What I do recall was a partner exercise with a man seated next to me. We were instructed to stare into each other’s eyes in silence for five minutes. Every minute dragged by as I self-consciously stared into this stranger’s eyes, my heart and mind racing.

Patricia rang a bell and then instructed us to share what was happening in the space between us. I had no idea what she was talking about and was relieved when my partner volunteered to start off. I will never forget what he said; “there was no space between us because you sat in your head the entire time.” He didn’t deliver those words sweetly either. Panicking because I was now a spiritual workshop failure, I felt like I was going to cry. I explained that this was my first time doing anything like this and I was uncomfortable. He said my fear and anxiety were my ego ‘s way of keeping me separate and asked me if this probably showed up in other areas of my life. Ouch.

After working with a few more partners that day, I became slightly more comfortable with the eye gazing exercise. Something in my body opened up, creating a softening in my heart space. I even hugged a group of women before I left.

When I arrived home, Daniel asked me how my “weirdo workshop” went as he stared at a Football game on the TV screen. He barely glanced over as he spoke and the communication felt hollow after what I had experienced. Wondering if this was a sample of all my relationships, I instantly responded that I was going back for the full weekend orientation in a few weeks.

I wasn’t sure about any of it, all I knew was that I wanted more in my life than casual glances. A week later, Daniel asked if he could come to the EC weekend with me. Noticing my surprise, he commented that something had been different about me the past few days and he wanted to experience for himself what caused it.

We both ended up joining the EC, as it’s referred to by its’ participants, for the following year. The commitment was three weekend-long retreats and bi-monthly Monday night calls. We also were assigned rotating partners to do a phone version of the eye-gazing practice. We did a lot more than stare into each other’s eyes over that beautiful year. I understood the power of commitment and intention. Getting out of my head and into my heart was gift enough. There were and still are many fascinating people in the EC. I met two mothers there who became soul sister friends. Almost six years later and I still have a monthly call with Jeff and a group of women from the original EC who live in Massachusetts.

The year spent exploring the “we space” changed me. I never realized that there is a dance of energy happening inside us and between us all the time. In every interaction, there is a space that opens up, be it two people, small groups or huge organizations. When we tune into serving that space and step away from self, love, we access the divine nature inside us all.

Patricia now runs the EC on her own; it’s bicoastal; here is the link: http://www.evolutionarycollective.com

How Random Encounters Can Change Our Lives 1024 696 Thayer Fox

How Random Encounters Can Change Our Lives

Sometimes random encounters can change our life forever. This was the case when I met Jeff Carreira for lunch at a vegan restaurant in 2012. The next time you meet someone through unusual circumstances, stay open and allow the bigger picture to reveal itself in time.

I was desperate to feel differently, willing to take any measures. The funk I felt was similar to the bottom I reached at the end of my drinking career. I had become sober and grown immeasurably. How the hell did I end up spiritually bankrupt again? Every line item that I thought was needed for a happy life was checked: husband, kids, apartment, friends, personal trainer, and designer clothes, etc. On the outside, my life looked ideal, but according to what blueprint? Whose plan was I following anyway? Had I unconsciously been trying to recreate a better version of my childhood? Had I been hanging out in yesterday’s transformation for too long?

Meeting a middle-aged man who was a teacher at a spiritual community for lunch definitely took me way outside my comfort zone. When a man of medium stature with curly dark hair walked in and looked over, we identified each other immediately.

Our conversation was awkward at first until Jeff asked me why I was there. Three hours later, we were still there, holding hands across the table crying. “What if you had the same exact life but felt entirely different? That is what I can offer you,” Jeff said with certainty. It was a movie that I would have turned off a day before. I had no idea what he meant, or how he could make this happen, but at that moment I trusted him fully. “Give me a week to think through the best way to work together. I have a lot on my plate right now and don’t normally take on private clients” he said, as we were getting up from the table. A week was way too long, but I was in no position to push him.

Jeff also mentioned joining forces with another teacher, Patricia Albere, to run a year-long course called the Evolutionary Collective. Jeff asked if I would be interested in signing up for that group. I informed him that I was NOT a group person. All this talk of spiritual teachers and year-long commitments was more than I could handle. Working one-on-one with Jeff replicated the shrink model I knew well.

To my relief, Jeff called a few days later. “I have thought about it, and I can’t wait to work with you. I think talking at least once a week is important.” Over the moon, I asked if we could begin that day and he agreed.

https://jeffcarreira.com

Do You Believe in Magic? 1024 683 Thayer Fox

Do You Believe in Magic?

Do you believe in magic?

Unbeknownst to us, events in our lives are often set into motion long before they take place. Steve Jobs said it best in a commencement speech that he gave at Stanford in 2005:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Here is the full speech:

https://youtu.be/D1R-jKKp3NA

I adopted this concept after hearing Steve Job’s philosophy. It has made a drastic difference in the way I internally frame every event in my life. Nothing is random. Everything is to be used. This story is an example of the dots connecting.

Every summer, I spend time on an island in Maine. In August 2009 I attended a birthday party, where a man named Gerard Senehi was introduced to all the guests as a “mentalist.” He spent the next hour bending spoons and reading people’s minds. Always enamored with the mystical world, this was the closest I had come to witnessing psychic abilities described in the parapsychology books I studied as a child.

Later that evening, I approached Gerard outside on the porch. At my request, he handed me a business card. “Flip it around. That’s your birthday?” he asked. 1/23 was written in black ink, my birthday month and day. Speechless, I thanked him again and walked away. I wanted to call him immediately about an upcoming family party until I found out what he charged per performance. It was too much to shell out at the time, and I kept his card in my wallet, knowing the time would come to reach out. Here is Gerard’s website, because I know you are curious:

http://www.experimentalist.com/

In the Fall of 2011, I was changing wallets and came across Gerard’s card. I called Daniel at work, and we decided to throw a party for a group of close friends. I called Gerard, and he agreed to our early February date. We met him for dinner in January to communicate our expectations for the event and get to know each other. We learned that before moving to New York City, Gerard had spent many years in a spiritual community. The group aimed to create awakening through meditation and other practices. Fascinated, I listened intently.

After the party, we made a plan to have dinner with Gerard and his wife. The timing of the dinner coincided with my new sober spiritual bottom. I didn’t even want to go until I remembered Gerard’s background.

Over a vegetarian meal, I expressed my confusion and hopelessness. Gerard emailed a few weeks later to say that he had someone for me to meet. His name was Jeff Carreira, and he was one of the teachers in the spiritual community.  Skeptical and curious, I reached out to Jeff. The rest is magic.

How Random Encounters Can Change Our Lives

 

How I Came To Believe in God 1024 683 Thayer Fox

How I Came To Believe in God

Today, I love the word God. It’s direct access to power that I cannot tap into on my own. My strength depends on my relationship with this simple word. When I say it, hear it, or read it, I am reminded to get out of my way and get into faith. You can’t be fearful and faithful simultaneously. The word God creates space. It is a relief that I don’t have to figure everything out on my own. I have no idea what or who GOD is, and I don’t care.

I grew up in a Christian household where God was a man with a beard. We went to church every Sunday, and I thought it was a drag. I didn’t have an issue with God; I just couldn’t figure out my relationship with the old man, so it made me uncomfortable.

At the age of 10, when my puppy died, I knew for sure there was no God. When I was 17 my father died and my belief that “God is dead” was reaffirmed. In my 20s I believed that I was the ultimate authority, or I would transfer that power to any man I was “in love with.” Christmas was the only time I stepped foot inside a church for 15 years.

At the age of 29, I started going to church every day, to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the first 11 years of my sobriety, I rarely used the word God. In the rooms of AA, and in the literature, they tell you to use whatever you are comfortable with as your higher power. It just can’t be you. I used to say nature, the universe, and group of drunks (GOD as an acronym—people in the rooms of AA who have transformed their lives), until April 2015.

My son Griff was admitted into the ICU at New York-Presbyterian on a Saturday evening with a fractured skull and a massive hemorrhage. The doctors told us that surgery was too risky. They needed the bleed on the brain to clot by itself. That first night, I prayed regularly. Not to the ocean, or the members of AA, but to God. Eventually, a feeling of peace overcame me as I let go of Griff’s life. I handed him over to God, clear that I was never in charge. I was ok with either outcome.

That moment opened me up to a connection that I had not experienced before. It took me a few more years to get here. If I try to track it, there is no linear path. I read Mysteries of the Kabbalah and Mere Christianity. I learned Transcendental Meditation. I read the Buddha Bedtime series to Griff regularly. I attended two Tony Robbins workshops, in which he uses the word God liberally, and no one walks out in a huff. I visit Redeemer, a Presbyterian church that takes place in the Hunter College auditorium. I have watched three women I work with, transform in front of my eyes over the past six months.

I still don’t identify solely with being a Christian. I love Buddhism, as well as pieces of all religions. Giving up self-identifying labels has been a game changer; I want the option to say I am something else tomorrow. And whatever I choose to be, will always include God. The past year has been the happiest year of my life. If the word God offends you, that’s your filter. Keep reading anyway.

 

* My favorite Nietzsche passage as a teenager from “The Gay Science.”

The Gift of Being an Alcoholic 1024 683 Thayer Fox

The Gift of Being an Alcoholic

Grateful for my DNA, being a recovered alcoholic is the best part of my life. I cannot fathom another way to experience this life other than through the wide-eyed wonder of sobriety. For the past fourteen years, I have plugged into energy beyond the limited container of self which has allowed me to be a light giver; part of a solution in this big, messy world.

My mindset as a child was drastically different. Born with an existential crisis raging inside me, I felt stranded here. Is this it? There’s got to be more….? People often ask about your first childhood memory, and those two lines repeated regularly are mine. Sobbing as I watched ET is another early memory. I identified with his longing to return home. I didn’t know where my home was, but it didn’t feel like it was on Park Avenue. After reading more on extraterrestrial life, I started taping notes on my window pane at night so my alien family could locate me; beam me the hell out of here.

When this didn’t happen, I shifted my focus to finding C.S Lewis’s Narnia by knocking on every inch of wall in our apartment. After exhausting that possibility, I started studying parapsychology and the occult, asking spirits from my Ouija board to send me signs. Increasingly detached from the movie set world around me, I became acutely aware of the subtext, the conversation occurring beneath the spoken conversations being had all around me. I noticed how people’s words and energy didn’t match. The awkward gestures, the break in eye contact, the divide happening in the most well-intentioned interactions. I longed to connect with people beyond the sterile, soulless way I witnessed.

The opportunity to drink presented itself at age 11. I was at my older friend Edith’s house up in Maine, where my family spent our summers. She taught me what proof meant on a bottle of alcohol and how to replace the alcohol you drank with water so your parents wouldn’t catch you. My first drink was a shot glass of Wild Turkey. It burned my throat going down, and I was concerned that it would damage my esophagus for a few minutes before a warmth overtook my body. Everything softened, my friend looked hazy as we stared at each giggling uncontrollably. We climbed out of her bedroom window onto the roof and lay in the sun for hours listening to The Grateful Dead. A secret portal to another world opened at last.

I drank to quiet the voice in my head. I drank to make the world more bearable. I drank to experience a connection with other people. I drank because of a genetic predisposition that I inherited from my father. I drank because of the undercurrent of anger in my home. I drank to be “cool” and create an identity for myself. I drank to be loved. I drank until I couldn’t remember why I needed to drink in the first place.

Alcohol helped me cope with painful events. When I was seventeen, my father shot himself. His decision tormented me until at the of age twenty-nine, buried alive under years of mistakes and self-loathing, suicide seemed like a logical escape plan. I stockpiled prescription medication asking myself every morning if today was the day that I would end my life. Alcoholism is a progressive disease; it works until the wreckage outweighs the relief. Once the elevator starts descending, it never goes back up. When suicide becomes a re-occurring, rational conversation; you have reached the basement.

Giving up drinking was not a conscious choice that I made one day. The series of random people and experiences that flooded my life at a critical time had nothing to do with me and can’t be written off as coincidence. Something that resided deep inside me chose life. For the first few years, I hated going to “meetings” in church basements. Apparently, AA was the last stop on the train where losers came to complain. I didn’t believe that I had anything in common with them; my story and pain were unique.

The best part of AA is that you don’t have to like it or want to be there for the process to work. If you don’t drink, go to meetings and work the step program with a sponsor, you will transform in spite of yourself. You can share about how much you hate it there, and people will smile and tell you after the meeting how much your rant helped them.

I heard many people share at meetings that sobriety restored them to the way they were before alcohol kidnapped their souls. I didn’t understand this concept because I never had a self, there was no material worth keeping. I dumped my broken Thayer shell and started building from scratch.

Inside any AA room, people are in different phases of recovery and the context is always growth. We unzip our personalities at the door, committed to sharing our truth from a deeper place than personal opinion. It’s an inclusive, no matter what community filled with pure emotion. Strangers saved my life.

Freedom is knowing that I am only rowing the vessel of my life, relinquishing the navigation to a force much more majestic than my limited brain. Today, I can step outside myself, show up and serve another human being without strings attached. The best part is that I can’t claim credit for what I have become.

For myself, I don’t believe in the anonymity part. AA was established over a hundred years ago when alcoholics were locked up and given electroshock therapy. When I want to connect with someone new, it’s the first thing I tell them, what they need to know about my story to know me. It’s the gift that I have to give away. Aside from being able to help someone else who struggles with any addiction or knows someone who does, my life is a stand for transformation.

None one is damaged beyond repair. Being broken is only a story. When I came to understand that the most shameful parts of my past inspire and support others, I stepped into strength. Becoming useful gave my life meaning. The darkest corner inside you? The one that you built cement walls around years ago and don’t dare discuss with even your closest friends?

Your gold is waiting for you there.