Identity is a story that comes in three basic parts. First is communion – who we are connected to, who we love; second is agency – what we have done and contributed in our lives; and third, redemption – how we have transformed the bad things that happened to us into something good. Most of us can site many times we have created happy endings from nasty situations. This is one of mine. It takes a long and winding road with a cast of characters (many who shall remain nameless) and extraordinary experiences, each adding a major milestone. Redemption would take well over a decade to be revealed to me.
OK, here’s the bad thing. My best friend betrayed me by having an affair with my husband which I didn’t find out about until two years after my divorce.
When I met her, I was 29, divorced with two kids, and commuting from a NY suburb to my Manhattan job on the Penn Central Railroad. My neighbor Fred introduced us saying she had a good weed connection. Our friendship began just as I was beginning to date the man who, within three years, would become my second husband. My BFF danced at our wedding. She became the sister I never had.
In the second year of my new marriage, my family moved from NY to Texas. Dallas launched my princess career. He had a great job, making lots of money. We got a great house. My kids were enrolled in a great private school. And, no longer needing to work, I built an art studio in the house and put my National Academy of Design training to work as a portrait sculptor. Life was full of carpool, art, tennis, jogging, and socializing.
My long, lost sister was a constant presence, no matter where we were. Our first Dallas summer of 100+ degree days, we rented a house for a month on the beach in Long Island. BFF arrived to visit with a surprising new practice – Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a sect that believes we can unlock the limitless potential of our inner lives and achieve Buddhahood in this lifetime. While she was locked away in her room chanting, nam myoho renge kyo for long periods of time, we were snarkily chuckling that she sounded like a buzzing bee. She tried to get me interested. “Herbie Hancock and Tina Turner are Buddhists” she said. I would have none of it.
The following year, during one of her regular visits to Dallas, I was suffering a highly unusual and excruciating migraine headache. BFF knew just the cure – chant nam myo ho renge kyo. I was desperate. After about 20 minutes, my headache was gone. And thus began what the Buddhists call, shakubuku, the initiation process into the Buddhist practice. She connected me to a local chapter where I could meet people and learn to recite the gongyo, the morning and evening prayers. From my first meeting, I was captivated by the sound, the harmony, the vibration, and the joy of these people chanting together.
Through my regular practice with this chapter I came to know the family of TV star from the show DALLAS. While they were residents of California, they spent each of their summers in Dallas for location shooting of the show. Seeing my work, they commissioned me to sculpt a portrait of their two boys, who were about eight and three years old at the time. As summer turned to fall and they prepared to travel west, they asked me to shakubuku a woman named Carolyn, the ex-girlfriend of a doctor who had rented them their house the previous year. Happy to oblige, I arranged for a meeting in which I taught her to chant.
Carolyn was the most dazzling, free spirit I’d ever met. She was a model, a dancer, an actress, and a pothead. I would regularly go to her house where we would chant for a while, then smoke a joint, and go to one of Dallas’s luxury watering holes for champagne.
Carolyn introduced me to her friends, a husband and wife who owned a resort in Mexico and were purveyors of the drug Ecstasy, or MDMA, which, at the time, was still unknown and unclassified by the Drug Enforcement Agency. In other words, legal. Ecstasy was a life-altering experience. I’d had a commonly reported reaction – I felt my heart opening in a way that I can feel to this day, so many years later.
One evening during a small cocktail party at my house with Carolyn and her friends, our doorbell was rung by a young family. Enter Blair and Stephen, and their 18-month old son, Seraphim. They had been on their way to their home in Austin and had stopped by to meet the resort owners just to say “hello” and give them thanks for the wonderful time they had had at their resort. With our hearts Ecstasy-wide open, we invited them to stay, which they did, for three days.
Blair and Stephen were the personification of The New Age. During our time together, they taught me how to rebirth, a type of breath work invented by the therapist Leonard Orr. The basic idea is that you can heal whatever ails you by re-experiencing the trauma surrounding your birth. It’s really just conscious, circular, yogic breathing that can be done lying flat or under water with a snorkel. Traditional psychologists have voted to discredit it. But, for me, it was extraordinarily powerful.
Blair and Stephen were aspiring breatharians. (If you’ve never heard of breatharians, think “vegetarian,” only substitute breath for veggies.) I know. But stay with me. They believed that it is possible for a person to live without consuming food, purely on prana, Sanskrit for life force, IF you could eliminate all toxins from your body, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Go ahead and Google this. There have been many articles written on breatharians and breathariansim. At that particular moment in time, they were subsisting as fruitarians and followers of Baba Muktananda and Siddha yoga, working to scrub their souls clean.
Blair was a practicing medium. She channeled a Canadian Catholic priest from the 1800’s named “Father Andre.” This was the first time I had ever encountered a channeled being. Blair would go into a meditation, and with her eyes closed, a new voice sprang from her lips, with wisdom and guidance for those in her audience. Father Andre told me that I was like the sands of the desert, beautiful but frequently shifting, and failing to give solid ground to my children. I could see it. This harsh counsel came with a strong recommendation, “You need to do the est Training.” Naturally, I picked up the phone and enrolled in the next program.
Est, an 80-hour two-weekend training, was developed by Werner Erhard in the 1970’s. Est promised “to transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself.” In truth, the training stopped my self-doubt and striving to be someone I was not, and actually produced a sense of perfection and responsibility. I came away from est feeling as though my life had taken a dramatic turn. I stopped drinking and drugging and encouraged my husband, whose drinking I was always working to keep up with, along with several of my closest friends, to do the training also.
As an enthusiastic and tremendously appreciative participant, I became a holy roller advocate for the training and guest seminar leader, leading evenings about the training to enroll newcomers. That’s where I met Lisa, my newest best friend and certainly the smartest and funniest woman I’ve ever known. Lisa was 11 years younger than I and 11 years older than my oldest daughter. We became so close that my husband had suggested that she could support my spiritual needs while he supported my financial ones. This didn’t work out so well. I was living a sober life with my husband, with whom I could find little in common, and simultaneously falling in love with Lisa. We divorced one year after the training.
Lisa moved in the day after he moved out. Her brilliance transported me from my desolation and fear to excitement about the blank canvas that I was. It would take a couple of years before I could come to terms with the failure of my marriage.
With no husband to support me, finance instantaneously became a priority in my life again. The job title, ‘princess/sculptor’ did not seem promising for generating anywhere near the income I needed to maintain the lifestyle to which I had become accustomed. I had to come up with a new career, and fast. Forced to examine what I had done in my life, I was completely stymied at how to combine my experience in visual art, sales, business analysis, and mother, and articulate it in the form of a new offer. And to whom would I make this invaluable offer?
Lisa connected me to a program on entrepreneurship that was being given by a Werner Erhard connection, Fernando Flores. Some background on Flores: At 29, he was the youngest minister in the Salvador Allende presidency. Remember the American-backed coup in Chile in 1973? Allende died and Flores was isolated in a political prison at the hands of Augusto Pinochet. After three years, Flores was released through the efforts of Amnesty International and went to Stanford to do his Ph.D. His doctoral thesis “Communication in the Office of the Future” provided important distinctions that Erhard used in his training.
The course on entrepreneurship created a huge opening for my career. I was introduced me to the fundamentals of the philosophy of language and the inevitability of the coming boom in the personal computer industry. From my years in the corporate world, I could readily see an offer to business. I returned to Dallas, a complete novice in the computer world but ready to start a company with Lisa where we sold grey market computers loaded with modems, floppy drives, and communication software.
Our first big break came with a contract with a global software company in Dallas. We were doing so well that we interested an investor in our business. Needing a staff, the first person I thought of was my old BFF who had been trying to find a job in Dallas for years.
The business venture was a disaster. We naively gave away 51% to the man with the money. Within a year, he had fired us and left us holding a $100K debt on a line of credit with which we had bought computers that our partner had sold and collected on. And while Lisa and I were fired, my BFF stayed on. It seemed that she had conspired against us, something we could hardly understand. Until the following summer when my ex-husband confessed his affair with her.
I called her immediately. At first, she denied it. When I told her that the information came from my ex-husband, she deflected by saying, “it was another time.” I offered her the opportunity to clean it up with me. She declined. I fell into a rage which turned into a righteous obsession that I couldn’t shake without several months of therapy and deep work on the nature of forgiveness.
No longer living together, Lisa and I bootstrapped a new business. Recognizing a substantial need for greater competence than our customers in communication, I immersed myself in a long-term program with Flores in the philosophy of language. Flores committed that if I would give him three years, he would teach me how to think.
In my third year of the program, a group of students went out for a night of salsa dancing. There I met Cristián, a Chilean man who studied with and worked for Flores. The moment I saw him, I knew I had to dance with him. Within two years we married.
Our highest priority was to live together authentically. One of our first commitments was to tell each other everything we didn’t want to tell the other. And in so doing, we delved into the depths of our humanity, discovering more and more of ourselves and each other, healing our shames and traumas, and continually expanded the limits of what is possible in an intimate relationship.
We have been together for almost 30 years. During this time, I developed the agency aspect of my identity. Building on my education, I created a program called Mindful Collaboration. I have become known as a virtuoso coach and team developer, working with the leadership of Fortune 100 companies.
Another significant connection came from my relationship with Flores. I coached a man named David who was struggling to create a new business. We became friends. I introduced him to a training called Avatar that was conducted at my friends’ resort in Mexico. There he fell in love with a woman who moved him to Mexico where he encountered Huichol shamans who completely changed his life. A few years later, David offered me the gift of vision quest, a traditional indigenous ritual where one goes alone to the mountain, fasting for days, sitting in a small corn circle with nothing to do and nowhere to go, praying for a vision. The mountain showed me the intricate, sacred, interconnectedness of all life. This great gift answered the question I didn’t know that I had, but was the force that had been driving me, “why am I here?”
The portrait of my life is drawn by connecting the dots of these remarkable encounters. Meeting the mountain was a dot that forms the heart of my portrait, like a keystone holding it all together.
Bringing the sacred into our lives has given our couple a palpable resonance, one that has had people constantly asking what it is we know. Ten years ago, we began to offer a course together called The Dance of Relationship that shows that love is a dance everyone can learn. We share our most significant commitments and provide practices for mastering the moves of the dance. The course awakens the heart of all who come.
We have become great learners, Cristián and I. This is the secret to redemption – find the gift in those failures and pain, use them to become masterful in life. I sit in great gratitude to my old BFF for putting me on the path of learning and finding my amazing partner. Without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today.