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There’s a big difference between knowledge and self-knowledge, and as the saying goes, you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.

We all start out on the same shaky footbridge, literally taking baby steps and holding on tight as we learn about ourselves in relation to the world around us. Tentatively, we make our way across the precipice throughout the course of our childhood, with our emotions and our feelings, large and in charge leading the way.

But once across, and once in tune with what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling, we begin to ask the bigger questions such as why we think and feel the way we do.

It took the better part of twenty years for me to gain a foothold on the other side. To find a launching off point on my quest to know myself. Maybe I have the fact that I didn’t go to college to thank for getting an earlier start than most in that regard.

With the exception of my father, I am the only one in my family of twelve that did not go to college. For a long time, I let that story define me. I allowed it to feed my insecurities, allowed it to stop me from loving and pursuing knowledge for its own sake until it dawned on me that that notion was ridiculous. I could still learn about any damn thing I saw fit to learn about by devoting as much or as little of my time becoming knowledgeable about things that actually interested me.

Because I worked from home as a painter, I was able to listen to books on tape and averaged one or two a week, so I caught up fast.

But it wasn’t until I had kids, and perhaps more importantly began scheduling time away from them to be alone, that the urge to get to know myself, began to grow with some urgency.

“Self-knowledge is not clarity or transparency or knowing how everything works, self-knowledge is a fiercely attentive form of humility and thankfulness, a sense of the privilege of a particular form of participation, coming to know the way we hold the conversation of life and perhaps, above all, the miracle that there is a particular something rather than an abstracted nothing and we are a very particular part of that particular something.” – David Whyte Consolations

I was like a tight bud ready to unfurl once conditions were optimal for my growth.

Time spent away from my family, away from the rigors of motherhood, and working and keeping the details of day to day operations running smoothly was like being gifted a magical key that would unlock any door.

Before long, just walking in the woods alone on a deliciously warm day, was no longer enough. Every silent stride left me aching for more. More of what, I couldn’t even tell you. All I know is that I never ran out of questions despite how rare it was to be given the answers.

Every question I had about myself seemed to lead to a new question, an unbroken chain of unknowing and I followed them like a trail of breadcrumbs knowing intuitively they would lead me home.

The first time I attended a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat, was the first time I got a taste of my own soul, and it left me hungry for more.

It’s hard to put into words what spending that much time in silence did to me other than to say I learned more about myself during that time than perhaps at any other time in my life.

Still, I wasn’t satisfied.

It was precisely that lack of ever feeling satisfied with my life and not knowing why, that eventually led me to my next adventure, Holotropic Breathwork.

From their website:

The name Holotropic means literally “moving toward wholeness” (from the Greek “holos”=whole and “trepein”=moving in the direction of something).

The process itself uses very simple means: it combines accelerated breathing with (loud) evocative music in a special set and setting. With the eyes closed and lying on a mat, each person uses their own breath and the music in the room to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This state activates the natural inner healing process of the individual’s psyche, bringing the seeker a particular set of internal experiences. With the inner healing intelligence guiding the process, the quality and content brought forth is unique to each person and for that particular time and place. While recurring themes are common, no two sessions are ever alike.

One of the most unique and powerful dimensions of Holotropic Breathwork is its revolutionary expanded cartography of the human psyche described by Stanislav Grof. Experiences occur, and transformation happens, not only in the biographical dimension – our life history from birth up to the present moment. But they also encompass what Grof calls the perinatal and transpersonal dimensions of the psyche.

The workshop was being held in upstate Vermont, about a four and a half hour journey from where I live.

Driving there into the night in the wind-driven torrential rain did little to settle my nerves, and coming upon a downed live wire across the road (just as a cop was arriving at the scene) meant an additional half hour detour, which had me seriously contemplating turning around and calling the whole thing off, but I was determined to go through with it, so I kept going.

Along the way, I thought a lot about how I had come to be on that road during this stage of my life, both literally and figuratively. I’d been searching for answers about myself for years by this point, and the long dark drive getting to the workshop gave me the opportunity to reflect on just how far I’d come in my journey.

I still felt tremendous amounts of anxiety surrounding certain areas of my life, but by this point, I trusted my intuition more than I ever had in years prior, and I knew in my bones that every time I risked following my heart, it led me where I knew I needed to go. My then-recent decision to homeschool my children as well as to stop eating animals were both perfect examples of what I could accomplish once fear was not a factor.

It was still raining when our first session took place the following day. My new roommate would be my partner, and we both agreed that I would go first.

In a Breathwork session, each person has a partner (sitter), who is there to provide water, tissues, blankets, etc., but most importantly, focused attention to their breather. Then, in a subsequent session breather and sitter exchange roles.

I remember stretching my body out along the length of the mat before being covered with a light blanket, then pulling the silk eye mask I had brought along, down over my eyes in an effort to focus my attention on my breathing.

I was told a typical session lasts anywhere from two to three hours, and I remember thinking, what if this doesn’t work? And how am I supposed to remember to keep breathing as fast as I possibly could for all that time? And if it doesn’t work, am I just supposed to lay there and fake it?

Turns out I was worried for nothing. Within what felt like only a few minutes of hearing and feeling the extremely loud music which was reverberating off the floor straight into my spine, coupled with intensely fast breathing, I was in an altered state.

I immediately sensed my left hand going numb while contorting itself into strange shapes and positions before settling in a twisted position up around and under my head.

I was extremely uncomfortable as I tried desperately to move it, but it was as if my arm and hand were cemented into place. Strangely, throughout it all, I was still somehow conscious of my surroundings despite being in a trance-like state, and within only another few minutes of feeling this pain coursing through my arm, came the realization that I was stuck in the birth canal until suddenly, I wasn’t.

With my arm now freed, I managed to roll over onto my right side, and when I did, I immediately felt the impact of being thrown onto the hard earth in the middle of the same field where I had landed (on my right side) after being thrown from my horse years earlier.

I could smell the grass and felt a sense of peace wash over me just as it had then, as I laid there contemplating what I believed to be my imminent death. But in my next rapid-fire breath, I was now holding my dead dog who had died in my arms many years before, and I began sobbing uncontrollably when I realized there was NO part of me that was ever okay with me dying.

I have no idea how long I laid there weeping on the floor, but I remember having to remove my mask (while keeping my eyes shut) since it was now soaked from my tears.

A short time later (?) I sensed a different rhythm, both in my body and in the choice of music they were playing.

I was immediately transported once again, only this time I had a guide.

I don’t understand how I knew this since this guide had no physical body, but somehow I sensed what I guess I would call the essence of this (person) and understood (him) to be my grandfather, a grandfather that in real life, I had never met.

The music in the room took a tribal turn just as (he) took my hand, and together we rose up a totem pole where I became the eagle at the top after he let go of my hand and I began to fly.

I was aware that I was in yet another realm, a vast emptiness that paradoxically seemed to encompass everything that ever was or ever would be.

It was in that moment that I felt the essence (again, no physical body) of my mémère who had recently passed, as she collided with me, came through me and into me, becoming part of my body. Becoming one.

Becoming love.

It was all love. Love was everywhere and everything. It was the most overwhelmingly beautiful experience I had ever had and one that I will never forget.

I could feel more hot tears rolling down my face, and I let them come.

After a few minutes, I came back to ground, back to my rapid breathing, and then felt my hands begin to tingle.

My hands – that in reality were now flat on the floor beside my body – began to grow roots. Thick roots sprouted from my fingertips down into what was now the rich red earth below me. My whole body felt rooted, and I began to sense that there was something or someone buried beneath me.

Somehow I knew it was Inkanya, the injured wild lion we had attended to during my time in South Africa. I learned that he had died a short time after I left the country, and now he was rising up through the earth below me, then through me and straight into my horse, Chico, who was suddenly by my side. I was sure he’d be spooked by this, but strangely he had zero fear. He simply laid down beside me as peaceful as could be. Predator and prey, now bonded in this bizarre world I’d been transported to.

A world devoid of fear.

Like waking from a dream, the spell was broken a short time later. I was unaware at the time that I was the last one left still laying on the floor. The music was still playing over the loudspeakers, but softer now. The woman “sitting” for me had been relieved by one of the people in charge of the workshop when she became concerned about my physical wellbeing, I’m guessing because of how often she had seen me break down.

I slowly opened my eyes and assured her I was okay, then mentioned that my neck and back did still hurt quite a bit, so she told me to relax and breathe and let go.

As she began massaging my back, she explained how it’s not uncommon to store pain deep inside our bodies, pain that we remain unaware of until triggered, and no sooner had she said those words had her fingers found it, and once again I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

When I finally emerged from that room a short time later, I felt like a new human being. I took some time to write everything down in my journal then stepped outside to find that the rain that was predicted to last all weekend had stopped, so all I felt was the warmth of the sun across my face.

All I felt was love.

“What we recognize and applaud as honesty and transparency in an individual is actually the humble demeanor of the apprentice, someone paying extreme attention, to themselves, to others, to life, to the next step, which they may survive or they may not; someone who does not have all the answers but who is attempting to learn what they can, about themselves and those with whom they share the journey, someone like everyone else, wondering what they and their society are about to turn into.” – David Whyte Consolations

For so long, I had been searching for the path that I thought would lead me to some preordained destination, never realizing there was never a path other than the one I choose to make.

Be who you are.


Today is my mémère’s birthday. She’d be one hundred and four years old were she still alive today. She will always be alive in my heart. I dedicate this post to her.



About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

2 Replies

  1. Oh My God Amy!!!! This one I think is my new favorite!!!
    The fact that you remember so much and shared so much and wrote so incredibly beautifully
    I could feel myself there on the mat!! So, so beautiful!!! Thank you!! You just made my day, my week! ♥️

    1. Thank you, Linda! I’m glad that I wrote it all down in my journal back then – didn’t realize at the time I’d be sharing that experience with the world someday, but it really was amazing. Glad you liked it! Love you!

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