To describe how I came to be who I am today, I need to mention some of the amazing teachers I've had. I have disagreed with their ways at times. And I've distanced myself from them at other times. But in the end, looking back, I am deeply grateful to all of them. They were all and still are outstanding people.
You've already heard about
In my post “Early Years” post I didn’t say much about how my time with Osho and how it had changed my life. So let me do that here. When I met Osho in 1979, I was an arrogant young woman with firm ideas and concepts about life and who I was. In the seven years I spent with Osho I had only about ten personal encounters with him, but they litterally swept me off my feet. Living and working at the ashram, I began to reach levels of ecstasy and celebration I had not known existed. With that also came depths of self-doubt and aspects of "the dark night of the soul" I had not encountered before. My time with him, his often-outrageous teachings, and the many friends I made, opened me up to depths of life I might have never encountered without him.
In order to tell you how I met my most important teacher, H.W.L Poonja, I need to back up to where I left off in my post “Early Years”. So I left Osho’s Ashram in Oregon in 1986 disillusioned with spirituality and enlightenment. After many meanderings and serendipities I got married to Isaac Shapiro and lived for 9 years on Maui. He and I had built a retreat center and I gave birth to two children. We traveled around the world once a year with the whole family and taught courses in self-empowerment. On our path, we heard about a great Indian sage, H.W.L Poonja, who students endearingly called Papaji. He was a direct student of Ramana Maharshi, one of India's most famous holy men. So we decided to go to India to meet Papaji in person. At first, I was reluctant to go. The last thing I wanted was to have another teacher. But slowly Papaji’s directness and clarity began to capture me. His access to truth and the nature of existence and his masterful ability to convey that, opened new pathways of understanding in me. I found a depth of reality I had somehow always known existed, but was never able to reach. It felt like I had finally arrived in the space I had been searching for in my years with Osho.
The nature of Papaji's work was an inquiry into non-duality. At one point, Papaji told us that Isaac and I had reached a deep enough state of non-dual enlightenment and that we should start teaching. He asked us to travel around the world and be available for Satsang (meeting in truth). This was a great honor. We dropped our courses and began to lead Satsangs instead. We did this for a number of years, in fact Isaac is still doing it today. But for me things changed, something was not working for me. Even though we were good at teaching other people about the nature of truth and peace, once the door closed, we would have huge fights. It began to deeply disturb me that we didn't we really practice what we taught. Eventually, I proposed to Isaac that we stop teaching and go home to Maui to "go over the books" so to speak. I felt we needed to learn to live what we taught before we went back to teaching. He refused my idea and insisted on our continuing our travels. So I left the marriage and moved back to Switzerland with my two boys.
Leaving my teaching life, my world and my husband, catapulted me into quite a crisis. All of a sudden, I was in the middle of a fierce divorce and it was impossible to stay neutral and open. It made me question whether the space of peace and trust that had opened in me through Papaji was real. It certainly wasn't my reality now. I saw that, in a crisis, I didn't have the capacity to stay in the non-dual. My mind was all over the place. I didn't have the capacity to reside in a bigger field of consciousness and see life as just a dream. It had become too real for me. I had to do something, I had to find a way to train my mind to not go off on tangents.
Namkai Norbu Rinpoche
Not many people knew Namkai Norbu Rinpoche then, but he is one of the most famous Tibetan Dzogchen teachers today. He lived in northern Italy, not far from the Swiss mountain village where we lived. He teaches an intense level of study that is very ritual-driven, with lots of very specific ceremonies and much bell ringing and chanting. When I heard about him I knew I had to meet him. He initiated me into many different Dzogchen practices and after some time, my mind began to relax from the shock of having fallen out of stillness. I also practiced darkness meditation. The idea was to be in the dark until the darkness disappeared and the world would appear as if it was real. I bought a flotation tank and stayed in it until darkness disappeared and there was only light. I never got to the stage where the whole world reappeared but at least the darkness transformed into light!
But then a strange thing happened. I realized that although my capacity to control my mind had significantly increased, I still was not able to reconnect to the peace I had experienced with Papaji. And the more knowledgeable I became about Tibetan Buddhism, the more I realized how foreign it really was to me. I found inside, a much deeper connection to Christianity, the religion I had grown up with, than I'd expected. My interest in Tibetan rituals began to dwindle and I began to seek out Western teachings.
That’s when Byron Katie showed up in my life. I loved the simplicity of her work. Even though "The Work", Byron Katie's process, was easy to do, it still created profound transformation. I really began to understand, on a visceral level, how the mind creates reality. I decided to become a facilitator. After completing the Byron Katie school, I taught seminars in "the Work" and built my own private practice. I began working for Katie whenever she was in Europe. I translated for her on stage in Germany and Switzerland. We started to spend a lot of time together and became friends. She called me "her enlightened friend". She and Stephen wrote the first chapter of their famous book “Loving what is” at my house in the Swiss mountains. However after after a few years, again my interest started to fade. The simplicity of the method which had fascinated me so much began to feel more and more stale. I was, once again, disappointed, because I couldn't reach a lasting state of happiness. In comparison to the awakening I had experienced with Papaji, my life looked pale and empty.
John de Ruiter
Around that time, Isaac was plannig to move to Edmonton with his new family. He wanted to spend a year there to study with John the Ruiter. This struck me as a good opportunity to become more of a family clan again, for my boys to spend more time with their father, and for all of us become part of a bigger community. So I packed up our house in Switzerland and the boys and I moved to Edmonton. At the last minute, Isaac’s plans changed. His new marriage fell apart and he decided not to move to Canada after all. And one again I was alone with my boys.
Being part of John’s community became my anchor for a couple of years. But then all the controversy around him became too much for me and I withdrew from the community. I fell in love with a man. It turned out to be a very painful story, but it showed me that if push came to shove, as far as love and relationships were concerned, I'd not moved far past the wisdom of a teenager. Despite my non-dual experiences with Papaji, my meditation practices with Namkai Norbu and the work with Byron Katie, emotionally I was behaving like a lost teenager. I realized I had to do something to change that. I had to integrate more of me.
When the student is ready the teacher comes. By chance I found an eccentric teacher who had developed a system to enlighten the emotional body (EBE), at least so he claimed. Just what I needed! I went to study with him in Ashland. I flew to Ashland every month to study and go through a process to reawaken my emotions. Until then, emotions had not been completely welcome in my life. They were part of the dream; the Maya or illusion of this dimension and I believed that emotions simply created more dreams; created more suffering. I had been trying to ignore them and focus on the more spiritual aspects of life.
In the emotional process Daniel had developed, I learned, to my great surprise, that I had actually almost lost my ability to really feel; to feel in an innocent and clear way. I had felt emotions in a dramatic way, shouting and crying and all that, but it was always to get somewhere or to prove something and never just to feel. I had lost that capacity. I had left it behind when I was a child. Reconnecting with the purity of my emotions opened a very different spiritual world for me; one full of personal richness. And now, finally, I was able to combine the "absolute" and the "personal" and live in this paradox. It was a tough journey because it made me uncover many things I didn't like about myself. I saw how much the sense of "not being good enough" had been lurking underneath everything. But slowly and surely, I began to regain a balance. I learned to be happy to live with the paradox that I am a personal individual with quirks and flaws and also a perfect, expansive spiritual being.
The transformation that happened through EBE that made me want to learn how to teach this process. I became an EBE facilitator, built my own private practice and after a few years began to train facilitators. However, after having a big falling out with Daniel, I once again lost a whole identity I'd created. The details are not important here. But what matters is that the separation from Daniel and EBE led me to deepen my own exploration. I had to start from scratch again. But now I knew how much integrating the personal with the spiritual had opened me. My search for enlightenment and the deeper meaning of life had relaxed. I could see that both limitation and expansion had intelligence. My increased capacity to be present with "what is" no-matter-what brought a sense of ease, a trust in existence and joy.
I met David Solazzo. After a few years, we got married and opened our "Integrated Counselling" office in Edmonton together. Working with clients and exploring the fabric of life in a new, relaxed way, I found that a whole magical aspect of my childhood was coming back to me: A more shamanic approach to life opened up again.
Huicholes, Q'erros, Shipibos
As if by coincidence, I met Lena and Jose Stephens who own Power Path in Santa Fe, New Mexico. While I was no longer looking for answers my desire for exploration remained. But now, it no longer came out of a sense that something was missing in my life but simply a delight in adding color to my days. I enrolled in a four-year training with Power Path that brought me to study with three wonderful indigenous tribes: the Q’uerros and Shipibo’s in South America and the Huichols in Mexico. For me integrating the shamanic approach into my life was like coming home. The way shamans relate to nature, showed me how to reconnect with the love I so strongly experienced for plants, mountains and lakes as a child. For me, it was a homecoming on many levels. This was it! Non-dualism, emotional inner freedom and the spirituality of shamanism - What a beautiful combination so rich with paradox and possibility!”
And there you have the nut-shell version of how I came to be who I am now.