“Ask me how I know.”
My beloved teacher uses this phrase often during workshops and retreats. It usually follows some piercing insight that would land in my body with the clean weight of a stone dropped in deep water. The implied answer is, I don’t know this because I’ve read it in a book, or heard it in a class, or a TED talk; I know what I know because I had to learn it the hard-ass way (which is the only way,) that is: through blood, sweat, and tears, on my hands and knees in the dirt of real fucking life.
It’s a common joke among yoga teachers and healers that the challenges we are offered become the lessons we are meant to pass down to our students. If you have a sacrum injury, you’ll attract students with similar challenges, and you’ll be the expert on sacrum issues because pain is always the deepest teacher. Same goes for: grief, trauma, divorce, motherhood. Having walked through these rites of human passage is how we gain our truest, most powerful wisdom, and what we know most intimately because we have wrestled with it in the arena of our lived experience becomes the message the world most urgently needs to hear from us.
I teach empaths, healers, and helping professionals how to take up space in their own lives; how to get clear on & ask for what they need; how to develop clear boundaries that help them love and serve as they feel called to do, but also care for themselves so that their work remains sustainable and they don’t get depleted. I teach about codependency, burnout, compassion fatigue, and self-care. I teach about the deep wisdom of our bodies, about how we can access our knowing through our felt experiences, even—especially—the painful ones, and how that knowing connects us to the force that is greater than ourselves: to the Source of life itself, the creative life force of the Universe. I teach about self-trust, self-compassion, and about repairing our relationship with our bodies. I teach about rituals, tarot, and yin yoga.
Ask me how I know.
In 2014, the unthinkable happened. My best friend lost her baby at 20 weeks. It was a long and harrowing process, and it turned my world upside down. This did not happen to me; I have no claim to her pain. But it was near enough to have a profound impact. It’s only relevant to mention this here because I firmly believe that, without that rift in the fabric of life, I would have never agreed to what happened next. And what happened next completely changed the trajectory of my life. It set me on the course toward the hardest lessons, the deepest pain, but also the most profound awakening and, ultimately, the greatest love of my life.
What happened next was that my husband and I opened our relationship and, in time, became polyamorous.
I believed I would be the last person to ever be in an open relationship. At the time, I was obsessively listening to the Savage Lovecast, a love and sex advice podcast. While I couldn’t get enough of the advice on relationship, kink, and queer issues, I recoiled from stories involving open or polyamorous relationships. Why would ANYONE want to do that, I thought. I could never do that. NEVER. I am far too jealous to consider doing anything like that, ever. Plus I would never want to. I was giddily, happily married to my best friend. After 9 years together and with two small children we were hotter than ever for each other. And I, hand on my heart, never looked at other dudes wondering what it would be like to fuck them. Now, I was (still am!) bisexual, and had never had sex with a woman before. And that made me sad, but I wasn’t at the point where that longing was so painful that watching porn couldn’t take care of it. I was completely happy. I had everything I’d ever wanted.
As it turns out, having everything you want isn’t at all the same as being offered the lessons you need to become your truest, most powerful, most impactful self. Pema Chodron says, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” When our nest is too cozy, we may be missing out on the possibility of fully waking up to the potential of being fully alive, fully ourselves, fully realized. When we have everything we want, when we lack the driving force of desire to propel us forward, we might never find out what we’re really made of and what we’re really made for.
The first year we were open was the steepest learning curve I’ve ever been on. It was terribly hard, but also incredibly exciting, and our relationship thrived from working on this joint project together. While I initially was only interested in dating women, after a few months, the idea of dating other men became appealing. Then, almost exactly a year after the open relationship experiment began, I met my current boyfriend.
At first it was a slow burn. His initial OKCupid message to me was the best I’d ever gotten: he wrote a numbered list of things he wanted to chat about, and signed his name with an exclamation point, which made my list-loving punctuation nerd heart skip a beat. We didn’t see much of each other in the first month or so because we lived almost an hour apart, but we chatted every day, and I began to, as they say, catch feels. Which was both exhilarating and scary as shit. My family moved after we’d been dating for a couple of months, so I lived much closer to him. We started having regular date nights (a poly milestone if ever there was one.) It took me months to say I love you, but once I did, we couldn’t stop saying it to each other. (We totally still do—all day every day.)
My love for this man has been the North star that led me through the deepest shadows I’d ever encountered—deeper still than postpartum depression, which is saying a lot. I truly believe that I needed him to come into my life to cast some light in the darkest corners of my soul: onto those cobwebs and old dank boxes full of the conditioning, patterning, beliefs, and habits that were keeping me small, safe, and asleep. My relationship with my husband had always been so smooth and easy that it didn’t really cast light on all the things I needed to heal from, all the ways I needed to wake up. My relationship with my boyfriend brought up every single one of those issues up from the proverbial basement of my psyche, plopped them on the kitchen table, and declared, Time to deal with this bullshit.
I balked. I dug my heels and stomped my feet. I could not, did not want to look at any of it. But with every new box that showed up—boundary issues, codependency issues, issues with my father, issues with my mother, issues about worthiness and shame and patriarchy and toxic monogamy—came the same choice: Do you want to continue to be with this man you love so much, or not? It was clear that if I wanted to stay in the relationship—and for it to be healthy, sustainable, thriving relationship—I would have to deal with my shit. So every time I faced a new box of darkness, to borrow Mary Oliver’s phrase, and was asked if I was willing to dive in, I always said yes. Yes to my love, yes to this man, yes to waking up and being thrown out of the nest. Over, and over, and over.
I believe that we will resist doing the deep work of healing we need to do to be fully awake and fully alive unless there’s something we desperately want on the other side of it, and until we are crystal clear on how painful the cost of not doing such work is. And our soul’s work—the ways in which we are being called to serve our community and our world—absolutely needs us to be clear, strong, fully human and fully awake. I believe our soul’s desire is planted in our hearts as the spark that will spur us on through the muck of becoming our most authentic selves. My boyfriend was mine.
In order to be the person I needed to be in our relationship, I learned to make a safe home in my body in which to ground and ride out the waves of intense emotion. I learned to let someone be in their discomfort without stopping what I was doing and rushing to their rescue. I learned to honor my boundaries and speak up when they are crossed. I learned to value my needs and desires and to ask for what I want. I learned to discern when the stories and beliefs I am inhabiting are rooted in systems of oppression. I learned to connect to and trust my intuition. (It’s no accident that I got my first tarot deck about a month before I met my boyfriend.) I learned to break down a lifetime of patterning and live in alignment with my true nature. I learned to stop making myself small and start taking up space in my own life. I learned that I am worthy to receive love that is as fierce as the love I give, and how to let that love in.
We have now been together for four and a half years, and during this time we have each done some incredible soul work. We are each more fully ourselves, more clear on our purpose, and more capable of showing up in the way we’ve been called to because of how we have fought for and grown inside of our relationship. Our relationship now is sweeter, deeper, and better than I ever allowed myself to dream it could be. And we’re just getting started.
My family is so different now then when we began this journey. It has grown to include my husband’s girlfriend, who lives with us part-time. (My boyfriend shares a home with his wife, and they live just three minutes away.) I used to read a lot of books about monastic living, and I remember this analogy that compared monks to rocks being held together in a cloth bag: over time, the friction of living in close quarters with each other would wear down the rough edges until they were smooth. Our home life sometimes feels a lot like that. (Did I just compare kitchen table poly with monasticism? You bet I did.)
I would not be the teacher and therapist that I am today without my boyfriend, without this oddly-shaped family and the work we’ve put into being together. Everything that I teach, I learned in the trial by fire of becoming the person this partnership called on me to be. I didn’t know what I was saying yes to when I entered into polyamory. But I am incredibly grateful that I did. Because as it turns out I was saying the deepest yes to Spirit, to love, to myself, and to my purpose. And that’s the truest thing I know.