I could not envision the future, nor could I predict the outcome of such a decision. I knew that I was following my intuition and trusting my inner spiritual guidance.
After practicing an Eastern approach to unite me with a sense of spirituality for over 20 years, I can now say I am truly being put to the task of living within my body like never before. I am essentially homeless by all definitions, with the exception being that I have built amazingly strong and loving relationships during these past 20 years; several friends have come to my support. I don’t sleep on the streets or stand in the food line for meals and I have no permanent address to register with the IRS. I no longer have a sense of permanence about anything.
I am presently sleeping in the house my 83-year-old father lives in—a result of having made a choice to come to his aid after he experienced an acute episode of kidney failure. I have slept here for the past six weeks and have chosen to utilize this time as an opportunity for further exploration into my habits, reactions, fears, biases, attachments and wounds by examining my relationship with my father.
Our relationship has not been paved with warm and fuzzy feelings. Nor has it been filled with unconditional love, positive regard, support, or encouragement to reach out and realize my human potential.
While I am able to recall a childhood with occasional laughter and joy, the majority of the time was spent in fear and uncertainty, not knowing when the next emotional explosion would take place or when the anxiety disorder my father was afflicted with would affect the tone of the household and outcome of the day.
The sibling closest to me turned his anxiety toward me by becoming abusive, while my parents ignored the problem and contained their own anxieties by wrapping them in a neat package known as denial. My mother drank alcohol to suppress her feelings of entrapment and went to church every Sunday. My father controlled her every move until one day after 19 years of oppression, she left him.
The physical and sexual abuse I received from my sibling, along with living in the family system of denial, resulted in leaving my family at an early age of 17 to marry someone I believed would rescue me.
During the next 20 years, I joined the Army to become a Chaplain’s assistant, but what really marked this period of life was the kidnapping of my son David by the man I married. It was eight long years before I was reunited with David, but during his absence, I discovered yoga.
For me, yoga was a method of returning to the source of life that lives within and I began to heal from the past. Suffice it to say that I was well on the path toward wholeness by the time I was in my 30s, was reunited with my son and was beginning to see the light.
I’d started on the path toward awakening.
The entire time I was searching for health, I was estranged from my father. He was living his life. I was living mine and seldom did we communicate. I longed for the relationship most daughters would love to have with their dads—the one I had experienced intermittently as a very young child before the separation began.
When my younger brother was murdered and I had been well on the road toward healing for some years, I was open-hearted with my father. I embraced him and held him in his grief. He had lost his favorite child, the one he had loved and cared for the last 20 years, the one he held dreams for and could relate to. My father was crushed to his knees and I began to pick up the pieces.
Helping others had become a way of life for me, as I continuously and simultaneously pursued my own healing; I had studied psychology and nursing during the years of my son’s absence, determined to make a better life for myself, to not let life take me to my knees and was very familiar with the grieving process after years of psychotherapy working through the loss of my son.
Miraculously, it was the day I completed my therapy that my son returned to my life—on his 13th birthday. Today he is my 38-year-old son, a grown man, whom I have a deep spiritual bond.
The spiritual bond I’ve felt with others led me to also hold vigil at family members’ bedsides while they died and transitioned to the next life. I had developed a deep appreciation for my own spirituality. I would meditate, practice yoga postures and I give as much love as I could to the people I cared for.
So why not do the same for my father? I certainly wanted to find forgiveness for his absence in my life and I truly desired to have a loving relationship with him. My brother whom he had entrusted with his friendship was now dead. He had no other person he could confide in or communicate with. I became that person, 15 years ago.
During these past 15 years, I continued to develop my spiritual practices. I had the opportunity to live at Kripalu Yoga Center for six months and immerse myself in the lifestyle of a yogini. I was fortunate to be able to apply my practice to the work of being a massage therapy instructor.
I loved bringing the practice of being in one’s body to my students—the open-eyed students new to massage therapy, full of wonderment, and questions they were discovering as they began to contact their own bodies and the energies that lived within them.
With the help of psychotherapists, body therapists, yoga teachers and fellow meditators, I continued to discover the feeling of wellness that resides in my body and the spirit that called me to listen. I began to trust the intuition I was contacting; the wisdom of my body became my best friend and the quiet I invited to my life was astounding.
Meanwhile, I continued to practice being a daughter to my father who lives in a world filled with fear, anxiety, anger, mistrust and loneliness. My father’s choices affected mine in the manner of showing me there was another way; I chose the road of risks, courage, love, spirit, embodiment, and life. He shut down; I opened up. I can thank him now for the person I have become.
In two weeks, I will return to my friend’s home in Colorado where I have lived since last May. I am thankful to my friend for opening her home to me, giving me shelter and comfort. My room is set up with the center of it being my altar, prioritizing space in my life for meditation and yoga asanas. The one constant in my life for the last 20 years has been my practice, though admittedly there have been times when I have chosen to ignore having a daily routine.
However, on many levels I have been practicing mindfulness on a daily basis for more than 20 years. When I listened to my spirit and chose to attend graduate school at Naropa University in 2006, I knew I had chosen to commit to the path of awakening at a profound level. I could not envision the future, nor could I predict the outcome of such a decision. I knew that I was following my intuition and trusting my inner spiritual guidance.
After having cared for my mother who died from lung cancer in 2005, I woke up to another level of questioning myself: what was left unfulfilled in my life? What really mattered in my life?
The answer that came to me was to attend graduate school in Colorado, at a Buddhist-inspired college. I was 51-years-old.
Was that a rational decision? A logical one? One based on the protection of my financial security? Absolutely not! It was a choice based on faith and a calling beyond the material world.
The year was 2006. The market value on my house in Florida was looking like a good investment; I decided to hold onto it out of fear that if I sold it I might never be able to return to live in Florida, which at the time was my full intention.
Little did I foresee the future decline in our economy, the tenants who did not pay rent, or the depreciation of the value of the house I had relied upon as my financial security. The illusion I’d had that owning a home as an investment was destroyed.
What I knew I was on a journey toward continued healing. I was studying body psychotherapy and loving it. I was seeking the truth that lives within my body and I was being given answers to many of the questions I had not even been able to formulate until I had come to Naropa. I learned open-eye meditation—a technique I am now able to bring into my life everyday—not only with my clients, but with every situation before me.
I reached my goal of obtaining a master’s degree I had desired since 2009, when the economy tanked.
After serving veterans living with PTSD for a year and healing through past traumatic events of my own life, I discovered I was pretty adept at helping others. In spite of this, I was unable to find employment with the VA. Another illusion of job security was destroyed. I was facing choices that would affect my survival. There simply were not the opportunities to enter into the field of counseling that had been there a few years back.
I returned home to Florida to begin the exploration of what to do next. I meditated daily in my home for the past 14 years, seeking direction. I continued to practice yoga on a regular basis, and appreciated how my body responded to the demands I placed on it as I sanded wood floors, painted walls and climbed on my belly in the attic to trap the rats that had taken up residence in my house. I turned the house back into a sweet sanctuary with newly polished wood floors, sparkling turquoise walls and a meditation garden in the backyard.
But I was tired. I did not like the feeling that I was trapped in a house and was stuck there because there were no other sound economic choices.
My work as a somatic counselor was not being fulfilled by my work in Florida. I was attending to the needs of people afflicted with addiction at a detox center and was working as an administrator at the massage school I had loved and worked at for over 15 years.
There was still unfinished business for me in Colorado.
The love of my life was also unsettled. He and his son had joined me to live in Colorado while I was in grad school and now we were all living back in Florida—my love, his son and his pregnant daughter-in-law were in his house; I was in mine. They all longed for the mountain air of the Rockies, as did I. We all felt the calling to return.
I meditated for long hours asking for guidance.
That guidance came in the way of a job offer from one of the most prestigious massage schools in the country. I was being offered the director of education job with a very good salary. How could I refuse? It felt like an answer to my prayers. Without hesitation I packed my belongings and headed west to set up homestead. I put my house on the market, dropped the price so it would sell and was on my way. I led the way for my chosen family: my love, his son and wife, and my granddaughter to join me.
That was less than three years ago. My plans did not turn out as I’d anticipated. The dreams and illusions fell apart. My world was shattered. I was devastated to realize three months after my house had sold, my family had all moved to Colorado, that the dream job turned out to be a nightmare.
What remained constant was my spiritual practice, my faith in the opportunity to turn all of life’s situations as an opportunity to wake up.
The dream job became a political nightmare. The effects of the economy and the impact of choices made by an unaware board of directors, resulted in the abrupt termination of my job, five days after I had chosen to have surgery for breast cancer. I knew my life would never again be the same. Nothing was the same. Nothing made sense and my material world has slowly fallen apart since, again I was facing issues related to survival.
Thankfully, the spirit of my life has carried me this past year and half through it all.
My practice is solid and steady. I devote at least an hour a day to yoga asanas and meditation. Open-eyed meditation provides me with the ability to witness my father’s despair and suffering with compassion. My private personal practice enhances my professional practice. I am now able to be present with my clients and can hold their suffering with skill and love. The material world I once knew is gone.
I am essentially homeless. My friends and family give me shelter. Many of my private clients I see pro-bono. Somehow I managed to pay my bills this past year, but I do not have the ability to do so at this time.
What has felt like treading water, is now transforming to letting go and floating. At times it also feels like I am drowning and then I let go of the suffering and float, because I remember my spiritual practice; I tap into my faith.
My faith in the God I have come to know and love, that lives within me and beside me, within each of us and all around us, is still here. The energy of my God, the spirit I call life energy is still here, inside me. I feel it
every day. I live it everyday.
As I went through the radiation last year, the humiliation of having lost my income and the disappointments from not being able to find comparable income, to feeling rejection after rejection from employers, I needed to connect with my spirit.
I sought the work I loved: offering assistance to others who are seeking healing. I volunteered my time and skills to veterans and grieving family members, to help them help themselves, to find their homes within their bodies, while serving the higher purpose of my own life. I teach seminars on trauma recovery to body-workers.
With a seminar coming up in Florida in May, I once again feel my spirit guiding me, calling me to come home to Florida. It is where the roots of my spiritual life are, where I discovered being a body-worker and a yoga teacher, where I built my spiritual practice, found the healing I needed to try new things, take risks and explore.
After having been through a year of being close to poverty level income, struggling to pay the bills, realizing my body is still the only home I can count on, the decision to return to warm climate makes sense. My spirit and logic seem to be united.
Logic tells me if I am without shelter, it is more practical to be in a warm climate. To be in a climate that will support my lungs is practical. To live in a warm climate with so many people I have grown to love, admire, and depend upon over the last 20 years… is logical. Since I now also live with having had the cancer scare, I realize my mortality and recognize this body I live in will one day fail me. One day, my body will quit fighting and my spirit will be completely free.
If I were facing my death, where would I want to be? The answer is simple: home.
While I practice my yoga and meditation, I continuously realize that the only home we all can truly count on is our bodies. Mine has taken me many places as I sought healing—called me to massage school in the late
’80s, to the bedside of the dying, to Colorado in 2006 and again in 2009, to Thailand with my son last November learning Thai massage and Thai culture that rejuvenated my heart, soul, mind and body, to my father’s home these past couple months. I touched into poverty again while being in Thailand, without fear, realizing the simplicity that accompanies fewer choices: less things and more time for love for others with less attachments to material objects.
I am feeling ungrounded now, having unplugged my life in Colorado, traveling to Thailand and continuing on to New Hampshire. It has been a journey of the soul.
I willingly accept the consequences of my choices and my actions. I openly accept the groundless state. I am okay with the state of my being now. I am leaning into the feelings of being groundless and embracing the lessons they are giving me. In fact, I am able to be with what is and am open to the gifts of the present moment. I surrender to life like never before and breathe in the peace within my soul, knowing I have followed my spirit to this day.
Every choice has led me back to my center.
And I take this thought to you now: if being in our bodies is the one constant home we can ever truly count on, wouldn’t it be a tremendous offering to bring this practice to our homeless men and woman? Wouldn’t yoga and meditation bring possible life back into our homeless populations? What would it be like to be able to offer a way for them to feel at home in their bodies while the rest of the external world is crumpling, disappointing and sending messages of contempt resulting in feelings of low self-esteem?
I intend to bring yoga and meditation to our homeless men and woman while I continue to practice my own self-healing and recover from being on this planet at this most unpredictable and precarious time. “There but for the grace of god go I,” I say to myself daily, appreciating the love of my many fellow seekers and blessed friendships that keep me off the streets and out of the food lines. I invite you to join me in this endeavor.
Joni Masse is a holistic health Care Provider and teacher, integrating a life-long career practicing nursing, massage therapy, yoga, meditation, Somatic Counseling, directing education, as well as teaching in massage schools (Sarasota School of Massage Therapy, Boulder College of Massage Therapy and Healing Spirits Massage School). She offers independent seminars to body-workers titled “Transforming Trauma.” Her passion is working with Veterans suffering from PTSD and the homeless. She is currently residing in her body, with plans to return home from Colorado to Florida, where she will continue her life’s work. She is currently completing her book “Transforming Trauma.”
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Ed. Rebecca Schwarz