find your voice. [an interview with karen]

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On trusting intuition, summoning inner strength, chasing that which resonates, and leaving the ‘not bad, but not right’ relationship that we’ve likely all experienced.

“The way I’ve always lived isn’t really to plan things or think too much…” Karen* begins, “I sort of move through my life on gut instinct. And, that’s how all my major life decisions have happened. Something in me says ‘yes’—and then all of a sudden it’s happening.”

A statement that’s as powerful as it is pertinent. Even as we peek into surrounding cafes, sourcing the perfect grounds for our conversation to unfold, she’s seemingly guided by a quiet intuition. I follow her lead, noting the innate process she invests into sourcing a safe space to talk.

The teashop is too packed. The coffeehouse only offers a cramped corner table. That bakery’s vibe is just bizarre. It’s a bit too brisk outside to curl up under a park tree, and—although in hindsight it makes sense—at the time, the idea of pulling up a barstool never even surfaces.

We poke into a bookshop-turned-café. She turns to me smiling. “This is perfect. Don’t you think? Yeah. This is great.”

Cuter still, after ogling their impressive organic tea selection, she decides our original table-and-chair option isn’t quite right either. We comb through rows of books, mugs in hand, and stumble onto a pile of floor pillows.

 This is it. I know it. She knows it.

So here we are. Cornered by literature and cradling our Lemon Ginger concoctions. As she knowingly announced upon entering the shop, it’s perfect.

“There’s this thing within The Yoga Sutras,” she begins, propping pillows behind her back, “There’s Prakriti and Purusha. And Prakriti is everything. It’s the universe, it’s the books on these shelves, it’s your skin, it’s our conversation. It’s just everything.” Smiling, she settles into her cushions, “And Purusha is The Seer. And The Seer exists in all of us. It’s without ego, it’s without any kind of judgment. It’s not even seeing so you can take action. It’s just pure, clear seeing.”

Karen continues, “The Seer exists, and if you can be clear enough to like….see that The Seer is seeing, then you can take action. That’s what meditation practices can be for. To see all the spinning and all the craziness that the mind does, and realize ‘okay, that is craziness. That is spinning. Just stop.’” She pauses, “And in those milliseconds where you actually do stop? The Seer can arise.” Karen erupts into giggles. “But, it’s really hard.”

Despite over a decade spent studying, practicing, and teaching yoga, it took one last, terrible miscommunication—via telephone—for The Seer to seemingly suckerpunch Karen in the face. “I had never really understood that concept before!” she exclaims. “Where it was just: PURUSHA! Seeing! Seeing! Clear seeing! In one moment of stillness, I realized my partner was never, NEVER going to love me the way I wanted, and deserved to be loved.”

“I saw that it was going to be 10 or 20 or 30 more years of me trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I saw that it wasn’t working. And look, he’s an amazing man. He’s funny and sweet and brilliant and caring. But just, not in any of the ways I needed him to be. And it wasn’t fair for me to ask him to be anything other than who he was.”

She closes her eyes for a moment, lost in the memory. “With Purusha The Seer, you don’t get to reason with it. You don’t get to say ‘welllll, you knowwww, maybe…but sometimes…’” Karen pauses.

“I saw The Seer seeing. And I saw that what I was doing wasn’t going to work anymore.”

Sure, it could be argued it was a lifetime of subdued shifts in the making that prompted Karen’s Seer to shoot through the roof. But regardless, it was a specific phone conversation with her boyfriend of 10 years that at least initiated a giant fucking crack in the ceiling.

“It was our 10-year anniversary,” she explains. “He had just started this job that was so, so stressful. So, he just was not available or present at all. He was in Chicago for business, and I was really starting to worry that he wasn’t going to call.” Karen closes her eyes. “Anyway, he wound up calling—not for that—but just to like, check in. You know, after being gone a few days…we had that kind of relationship, right? Very far apart…” She continues, “So he’s talking about work for awhile, and finally he’s like ‘what’s up with you? What’s going on?’ and I paused for a second and said ‘well…you know…today is our 10-year anniversary… and I was really anxious that you weren’t going to remember…and it made me feel bad.”

Karen leans back. “And there was just this loooonnnggg silence. And I waited and waited. And when he finally spoke, all he said was this sarcastic, condescending ‘Wooooooowwwwwww. Congratulations.’ And then more silence.”

After a few moments more of stilted conversation, Karen hung up the phone.

Inhaled.

Exhaled.

“It was the verbal equivalent of being punched in the gut,” she explains. “I sat there breathing, like ‘okay….okay…this is happening now.’ And, really, that’s when The Seer started to stir. In a matter of two days, I went from being like ‘okay so maybe I need to make some changes over the next couple of months’ to ‘well…I think I need to leave him sooner then that’ to just ‘I. NEED. TO. LEAVE. RIGHT. NOW. RIGHT NOW. Now.’” She crosses her legs, readjusts a pillow. “By the time he came home a few days later, I had a place to house-sit for a month and a down payment on an apartment.” Karen grins, “I was gone.”

A curious book connoisseur invades our pillow corner. We both freeze. Pretend to act cool.

A decade prior, Karen was juggling very different priorities. “I’ve been teaching yoga since 2003, and I landed in this amazing opportunity to basically co-teach at the studio of a woman who would become my best friend.” Karen continues, “She had so much respect and faith in me, that it just became this place where I could totally and completely flourish. We had our little community and we were all plugged in…and then…you know, her life suddenly imploded. So, she wound up leaving her partner of 10 years, closing the studio and relocating to San Francisco.” Karen bursts out laughing. “Meanwhile, I just had a complete freakout. My whole world had been built around this arrangement with her—for a long time it was my main income, my main plug,” she pauses,

“my main anchor.”

Mid meltdown, Karen headed down to Big Sur with her best friend, for a yoga retreat at Esalen Institute, the nation’s famed mecca for alternative healing therapies. “It was INSANE!” she exclaims. “There are these amazing, natural hot springs there, and it was monarch migration season, so there were just swarms of butterflies everywhere.” Karen likely catches the faraway, blissed-out look on my face, and starts laughing again. “But even though we were there training and doing yoga and all that, things felt so chaotic and confusing. We were sharing this cabin with a really cool massage therapist, and I remember at one point asking her if I should go be a massage therapist.”

Karen continues, “I mean, I really wanted to learn more about anatomy and alignment, and what was all going on with the body—but I didn’t really want to be a massage therapist, you know? So I asked our cabin-mate about that, and she just laughed and was like ‘Um, no. You should definitely NOT go to massage school if you don’t want to be a massage therapist. That’s ridiculous.’” Karen smiles. “And then she said ‘you should go to Rolfing® school. That’s what they teach you there.’”

Suddenly, Karen cracks up. “Meanwhile, I hadn’t taken a crap in like six days. And I was doing yoga ALL DAY EVERY DAY. My body was just having this complete meltdown, and my friend was like ‘Karen? What are you—literally and figuratively—holding in?’” More laughter. “I just thought that was a really potent question at the time.”

A couple of days later, over drinks with her girlfriends, she announced the idea of studying at the Rolf Institute. Her pals were nothing less than supportive—to the point where when Karen tried to backtrack with a ‘well…I mean I would go to the training…but it’s during August in Seattle!’ they chimed in with a ‘Karen…how many times have you had August in Seattle?’”

Their point was made.

The gals finished their drinks, and Karen continued to marinate. After shelving all things Rolfing for a couple more months, she finally opened the Institute’s website, clicked, and committed.

When August approached, she took off for her first-of-three, Colorado-based training sessions. “Seriously, I got there and was like…THIS. This is what I’ve always been looking for. Like, my whole life I’ve wanted this. I just didn’t know what ‘this’ was. It was like a homecoming of sorts.” Karen beams. “I have always been a really kinesthetic person. An intuitive person.

And school just allowed me to develop and hone that skillset.”

She continues, “Rolfing is this incredible, collaborative experience. It’s not about someone coming in to me, to ‘fix’ them, or coming in for some temporary relief. It’s about re-patterning how you move in your body, how you relate to gravity, how you look around when you’re out walking and living and breathing. It’s about changing your life. It’s about changing how we interact with the world.”

Karen’s excitement is evident. “The body is this dynamic, changing entity that has a brain, a soul, memory, feelings, expectations—all of it! And when you’re working with someone to change their posture or curb chronic pain or alter how they feel in their body after an accident or something, we have to go back to the brain. We have to go back to the nervous system. Because THAT’S how we change.” Her words spark to animated hand gestures. “We don’t change by having our tissue rubbed. We change by changing ourselves.”

Karen spent the next six weeks pouring into her studies, and as the first round of classes wrapped, returned to Seattle. “At this point, my relationship was kind of imploding.” She grins. “Another implosion!”

“You know, once I started school—and my boyfriend and I had been together for five years at that point—it just became pretty apparent that he was not available for me at all. Back home, our landlords were renovating our apartment. He was basically kicked-out during the entirety of the project, and, as a result, he was really destabilized and ungrounded during that time apart…which meant that he had no room for being there for me, when I was going through this very different, kind of freaky experience.”

“I remember, on the last day of our training,” she explains, “they allowed us two hours of closure.” Karen smiles, “Which is funny, because at the time I was thinking ‘what could I possible say to these people that would take two hours?’ But, that was the first time I understood the concept of closure. There were 14 of us in the class, and what we could do was go up to one person in the room, and say whatever we needed to say to that person, and they had three options.” Karen continues, “they could say ‘I hear you,’ ‘I don’t agree with you,’ or they could be silent. But it was not a dialogue at all. Really powerful.”

She continues, “and my amazing teacher came up to me—this is a woman who is so expansive and so wide and has such an open-hearted approach to setting people on their path—she came up to me and looked at me and said, ‘Karen. You are SO much more powerful than you actually know.’ And then she paused and said, ‘Actually? Maybe you do know.’ And I was just silent. It was really intense to hear that.”

“Going to school was just so empowering. I was finally doing what I was meant to be doing all along.” She readjusts her pillows, and continues. “So when I came back, I had so much more of a voice in the relationship. And from there, it only got stronger and stronger.” Karen smiles, “I started telling my partner what I really wanted. I mean, it was a gradual, baby-steps sort of process, but still. It’s scary to do that.”

She pauses. “It’s the scariest thing to do that.”

When things at home weren’t improving (let alone changing), Karen laid down an ultimatum. “I said, ‘look you either start going to therapy and start figuring out your stuff, or…what are we doing?’” She shrugs. “And I said to him, ‘if I continue on this path, ALL I’m going to do is get more and more and more and more open. And, if you’re not going to do any part of the work…then we’re not going to be able to keep meeting each other. That just wouldn’t make any sense.’”

He never did start therapy. Instead, they got a puppy.

Karen erupts in laughter. “I know! I know…we got a puppy…” She reaches for her tea, still smiling, “And hey, the relationship was temporarily saved!”

Soon after, she returned to Colorado for her final round of Rolfing training. “I finished in December of 2009, and came back, and got totally sideswiped by the fact that he didn’t understand what it meant to open a business. I wasn’t going to go work for someone. I was going to open my own shop, you know?” she sighs. “And he just didn’t get it. He didn’t get how amazing it was that I made rent in the first month I was open. You know? That’s a HUGE fucking deal! And none of that meant anything to him.”

Karen adds, “There was just a lot of really difficult times in that first year of me starting my practice. When you build a business, it takes TIME. And I needed him in my corner. Supporting me—not financially—but emotionally and energetically. And there was none of that.” She continues, “All that, coupled with the fact that he didn’t ever even want to try Rolfing himself. I just, never really felt that he believed in it. So, I was constantly trying to prove my worth and my value…”

Another piece to Karen’s overarching puzzle: she opted in for her first-ever silent retreat. “One day a friend of mine sent me an email about it, and I was just like ‘YES. Yes.’” She continues, “It was a five-day retreat, with this full-on, schedule of up at six in the morning, and meditation, and movement. We were REALY getting in there,” she grins.

“But it was the first time in my life,” Karen explains, “where I’d ever experienced just being in the world without relating to another. Like, I’d spent my whole life orbiting around another—whether it was my boyfriend or my sister or my best friend…or the other person in the room who I didn’t even know very well!”

She snags another cushion from across the nook. “Even in the sense of just like ‘um…well…I kinda want to go on a walk right now…do you want to come with me?’ or ‘oh hey, I’m going to go check out that soaking tub, feel like joining?’ It was silent. You couldn’t ask permission from people. And that was the first time when I realized ‘oh. I’m just me. Like, totally alone. Floating through this world.” Karen closes her eyes. “Not only that, but that it was perfectly okay.

That I didn’t have to relate back to anyone else.”

Karen returned from her retreat, and promptly signed up for voice lessons. She laughs. “Yeah. I literally went to find my voice.” Karen continues, “I love singing SO much. And, I would always just start crying! My entire life this would happen. It was so annoying, because I just wanted to sing, but as soon as I’d start, I’d cry. So, I found a teacher, and told her right out of the gate ‘look, part of this is so I can get better at the technical aspects of singing, but a bigger something is going on, and I need to get to the bottom of it.’ And my teacher was like ‘right on, let’s do this.’”

“It was this thing where I think I just had to sing and sing and sing, and cry and cry and cry, until it was all gone,” she continues. “It was less a historical excursion, and more just a ‘present moment’ exploration.” Sure, it gave me some necessary context to singing in general,” Karen explains, “but it also just gave me a handle on what my voice can do, and that was just really, really powerful.” She smiles, “I could finally sing and not detonate something inside of me, you know? It all just kept shifting.”

It was after her partner’s call from Chicago, while likely curled in the fetal position with her now-grown pup playing at her feet, that all those slight, subtle changes at work within Karen finally clicked into place.

“I wanted to make sure that I would never look back on the experience of leaving him with any kind of regret—for how I behaved, for what I said to him, for how I treated him,” she explains. “And, of course there were hours and hours of talking and trying to come to some kind of ‘solution.’ I mean, we owned a house together. We owned a dog together. We had spent 10 years growing up together. But in the end, our parting was a huge gift.” Karen pauses. “He helped me pack my car, you know? It was the hardest thing for both of us, but we moved through it with so much love.”

Karen smiles, “and there is no regret.”

She adds, “And now? I am free. Free from him. Free from the weighted oppression that relationship caused me.” Karen grabs for her tea. “I had just been trudging though this undergrowth for SO long—just living with someone who didn’t believe in me, or at least didn’t ever verbalize that they did…It was like, when I finally let go of that, it was all so easy.” She laughs, “The logistics sorted themselves out. It was like the red carpet was rolled out for me.”

“From that point,” she continues, “all I’ve done is just soar higher and higher. Towards like, what I am meant to be doing. What my work is and what my path is.” Karen clutches a pillow to her chest. “I’m excited to just keep growing. I’ll be 37 this year, and I feel like I am just now hitting my stride.

Karen grins. “And that feels really good. Really, really fucking good.”

*names have been changed

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