Interview with Geri Portnoy about The Trillium Path (formerly known as the waking down path)
Geri: … I had my Second Birth in May at the Transfiguration Retreat (TR). Just prior to that, I shifted from a place of talking about my awakening as if it were something that was outside of myself, to actually claiming and feeling that I Am Awakening — it’s already happening, it’s flowing through me, it’s the process that I Am — as opposed to thinking about it as something outside myself that I’m trying to attain.
Do you want specifics of what happened at the TR that led me to my Second Birth ?
Eduardo: Yes, that would be great.
Geri: Being at the TR I dropped down below the level of my thinking mind and more into the felt experience of my body and what was going on with me on a moment to moment basis. Then I went to a morning offering with Deborah on Somatic Experiencing. She had us do a practice and when we finished that she said, “how do you feel?” When I finished that little practice I felt like I had dropped into myself — I felt like I had really landed in my shoes. Before that moment I always felt like I was standing above myself, or behind myself, or outside myself. Then that moment when she said “how do you feel now,” I felt like for the first time in my life I was here. I was right behind my eyes and I was looking at the world and feeling my feet against the earth in a way I never had before. I never realized that I was feeling this sense of separation from myself, or not fully in my body until that moment.
Shortly after that she had us walk around on the earth and feel the support of the earth beneath us and I actually felt completely connected to the big earth, as if I were being held by the earth in a big field of consciousness, which I was. When I then encountered another person, I felt this discomfort come up. I felt the discomfort in a brand new way because I felt it in the context of this bigger energy that I was, this bigger field that included the holding of the earth, so I was really able to experience that feeling more deeply, the feeling of discomfort. I think it was a discomfort of we had to partner up with somebody, so it was the moment of feeling at ease walking by myself and now I’m walking with someone else and we’re going to interact. I was just able to feel my discomfort and be with it in a unique and new way. Just get completely intimate with that feeling without anything to separate or push it away and not feel it. I felt like I had this whole new freedom in a way to experience myself and life. That was a HUGE shift.
Later that same day I went into small group with Ted and Sylvia. In the small group setting I had a traumatic emotional experience related to my first birth into this world being given up by my birth mother. Somehow that thing got really triggered for me and I was feeling all the emotions around that. Sylvia was holding me and supporting me while I was moving through the intense emotion and really feeling it more deeply than I’ve ever been able to feel it before. I’ve always felt like I’ve had to keep myself separate somehow from those difficult emotions and they would overwhelm me if I got too involved in them. Actually, there was just a great freedom in just fully feeling. It was like that whole living of the deep emotion and deep pain of that kind of separation at birth.
Eduardo: Kind of different than your thinking mind anticipated?
Geri: Yeah, right, thinking mind would guide me away from it to feel better, but it was a paradox lean right into it and I feel it deeply, ultimately, really feel better.
As I finished this deep experience, I open my eyes and I looked into Sylvia’s eyes and Sylvia is awake and I can just see this awakeness in her eyes. I could feel it in myself and in her and in the other people in the group. It somehow metaphorically felt like a second birth , like a… I’m not sure exactly when that shift happened, but part of it happened right then as I opened my eyes and saw Sylvia’s eyes and saw people in the group. It was just this resonance with this whole new level of being; of my own being in resonance with their being. Ted said to me the same thing that he had been saying to me all week, which was, “if this was all there were to life would this be enough?” All week I had been feeling into life and answering him, NO! Awakening has got to be more than this. This could not possibly be all of it.
After that moment, and after that deep emotional experience and then opening my eyes into this recognition of the presence of Being. I just felt myself differently. I felt myself right in the mix of life. Like, right in the group, not separate from the group, it was an immediacy. I was right there with life, not up in the bleachers watching life. Feeling life deeply and living life deeply and connecting to people deeply. In that moment when I felt into Ted’s question “is this enough,” I recognized for the first time that this is enough. I just felt this great relief from all that striving to get somewhere else. “Yes, if this were all there were, this would be enough!” It was like that whatever it was that had been missing, –that felt sense that “there’s something more to life, and I’m seeking that,” — was just gone. I felt like enough; life felt like enough. My experience did not feel spectacular, which was the paradoxical part of it. It wasn’t phenomenal; it just felt kind of normal, normal AND immensely beautiful, rich, and intimate.
Eduardo: Ordinary and extraordinary all at the same time.
Geri: Nicely said, that’s exactly how it felt.
Eduardo: You referred to gazing into Sylvia’s eyes when you opened yours and the awakeness you saw there, could you describe that.?
Geri: Often when I look into other peoples eyes, there’s a distance. Like, I’m seeing their eyes, but I’m not seeing the presence behind their eyes. There’s a vacant look in their eyes, so I don’t feel met. I don’t feel met on a fundamental deep level. When I looked up and I looked into Sylvia’s eyes, there was radiance to her eyes. In the yoga world we call it Tejase or Ojas, it’s like that radiant inner light that shines out through their eyes. So, it was like her eyes almost sparkled, but beyond that, she was fully present; I felt completely utterly seen by her. She was right there. Being met in that way was so powerful. Her eyes, on a visual level they were kind of sparkling and on a felt level there was that deeper presence of her really being right there behind her eyes and fully aware of me and the whole moment. That’s the same thing that I see in Ted’s eyes. Then I looked over at Ted, who was the teacher of the group, and he had that same sparkle, that same, I completely see you. I completely felt seen by him, seen in that way of nonjudgmental, complete acceptance and embrace and presence.
Eduardo: What has changed in your life since then?.
Geri: First thing that I noticed that was different was the sense of immediacy that I felt with life. Like, getting back to what I said earlier about how I used to feel more like I was standing at a safe distance behind myself, kind of behind myself in the bleachers of life, looking down on the playing field of life. But, all of the sudden coming back from the TR, I not only felt myself full and present within my body, right behind my eyes, but I also felt my world as if I were immersed in the center of everything. I felt everything very deeply. Sometimes it felt overwhelming. It felt like there was an intimacy, a connectedness with people, even people that I didn’t really know and even people that I didn’t really like. It wasn’t my mind creating the intimacy; it was more of a felt sense of underlying connection on that level of essence. Sometimes that felt overwhelming for me, so sometimes I would contract away from that experience.
The second thing I felt that shifted was my ability to feel. Since my experience at the TR, I felt connected to this bigger presence, this bigger sense of being okay and held in this bigger field which allowed me to completely feel my feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. They didn’t feel as threatening. It didn’t feel as if that was all I was. I was experiencing the intensity of my feelings, AND there was also this bigger presence, this place in me that’s okay. I felt an okayness AND I was feeling my emotions more powerful and fully than I ever had in my life. That was such a gift. I felt like I am really alive now, I’m really living life; I’m not just escaping life. I can have that sense of peace right in the mix of dancing in the fire of life.
I think those were to two main shifts.
Eduardo: Do you feel like your process is done?
Geri: Well, the first feeling of, Whew! I’m done – lasted about two days. But then I recognized that all my teachers and friends are telling me it’s a continuous journey, and that’s what I’m feeling now. My teacher, Rod, continues to tell me I’m like a toddler now that’s learning to negotiate this new realm, this new way of being. That’s kind of what it feels like. I guess another shift that’s happened since my awakening is the shift of feeling life living me. Like, there’s this force, this Being force that’s surging through me that’s guiding me, that’s calling me forward. It’s very different than just my ego telling me what to do. It’s qualitatively different—it’s much more mysterious. So, I feel like I’m just learning how to let life live me, let this Being force guide me and tune to it and welcome it and move with life in that way.
Eduardo: Sounds like it’s all about trust.
Geri: I guess that’s the threshold I’m at right now. There’s this bit of hesitation about trusting and following Being. I’ve been habituated to follow my logical rational mind. The more I relax into allowing Being to lead, the more magnificent the journey becomes. I pulsate, I definitely oscillate back and forth between trust and a bit of distrust or hesitation, but more and more leaning towards that trust that you’re talking about.
Eduardo: What’s it like to experience oscillating between trust and distrust? It sounds kind of confusing. Have you had much of that?
Geri: I have, Yes, on both sides. Before my awakening I had an event with Ted and Hillary, I had what felt like an oscillation into my Second Birth , so I had an oscillation into a place of feeling deeply connected to everyone and everything. Then as I returned back to my everyday life I oscillated back. That oscillation back lasted several months, like five months, until the TR. At the TR, I went through another oscillation into my awakening. This time I’ve had some oscillations since then, but always if I check in then I can still find that connection to the unwavering dimension of my self. Sometimes it’s so faint that it’s not in my immediate awareness, so I can feel completely, in moment, consumed by my stuff and questioning whether I’m awake. How can I be feeling so much of the messiness of life and be awake?
Someone asked me, I think it was Rod Taylor – if I could trade my awakening in, would I? I had to really think about it. It was like a part of me definitely wanted to trade it in. It was intense. Now, as I’m further down the road, there’s no way. If I could go back, I wouldn’t go back. It’s such a great gift.
Eduardo: What are your passions today, what gets you excited in this place you find yourself now?
Geri: To tell you the truth what really excites me lately is sharing this kind of work and this potential for awakening with other people. I teach yoga right now, and I am feeling like there is a way to supplement my yoga teachings with opportunities for people to dive deeper into the journey of awakening. I guess that’s really what I am most passionate about right now. I’m kind of unfolding into this new era of my own awakening and starting to integrate even the subtle, or not so subtle, philosophical differences between what truly leads to awakening and what is often taught, especially in the world of yoga, as practices. For instance – if we feel upset; when I used to feel upset I would do more meditation, or do more yoga, or do a mantra, but do something to get away from that because something was fundamentally wrong with me. I feel like it’s such a great gift to have the waking down philosophy that there’s nothing to be fixed or changed or transcended when we’re having uncomfortable feelings. Instead, the yoga is to unite with the feelings — to feel them and then they dissolve back into the ocean of consciousness. This whole journey of awakening is really what I am most passionate about right now.
Eduardo: Is that changing the way you teach yoga?
Geri: As I’m going through oscillations and I’m feeling myself more deeply, it’s almost as of I’m coming to know parts of myself that had been more pushed back. A couple weeks ago I was feeling this fiery passion coming forward, about being able to see people’s alignments more clearly, and actually kind of forcefully—in a subtly invasive way—correcting people in their practice. Usually I had been very reserved and peaceful and calm and kind of subdued, so it was like learning to negotiate the new fire that’s coming through me without creating harm for other people, and learning to have more of a refined expression of what it is that I want to communicate. That would have been what felt negative at the time. Then recently I felt a deepening into myself, more of a settling into a deeper part of myself where I am able to express and speak more authentically, and more from that direct personal experience. On this level I’m able to connect more deeply with students. They can really feel the authenticity of what I’m saying, and that I’m not just speaking words from a book or something that I’ve read, it’s actually what I’ve lived. I think that’s really having a powerful effect. The good side of it is being able to meet people and communicate with people more deeply.
Eduardo: Yoga means union, doesn’t it?
Geri: Right, yoga traditionally means union or connection, but historically it’s been a connection to the transcendent, so historically yoga was used more by the ascetics to escape the world and dwell in that united place with the divine.
Eduardo: A transcendental approach?
Geri: Exactly, and so there is a new stream of the evolution of yoga which is a Tantric path. It’s starting to embrace this notion that when we connect to the divine we can connect to the divine that’s here on this earth, that’s here in everything and everyone. So, I feel like yoga is giving voice to that from a Tantric perspective, but I don’t know that Hatha yoga itself is enough to lead people into a true union, a true awakening.
Eduardo: Please explain what you mean by Tantra, in this case.
Geri: Well, the idea of Tantra, being to stretch or extend the notion of what is sacred. Historically there’s been a split between what’s sacred and what’s not sacred. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, abstinence was recommended and sex is not sacred. Often in our culture money or business has been perceived as not sacred, and the holy or the sacred is somewhere out in this refined realm of purity, of Being. Tantra extends the limits of what is sacred, and from a Tantric perspective, there’s nothing that is not a expression of the divine, so everything in that sense is sacred. The old Tantrikas around the 8th century practiced in graveyards because even in graveyards the sacred dwells and they would eat meat, because meat was forbidden in the more Orthodox practices, but there was this notion that the sacred dwells everywhere so the sacred must dwell in meat as well as other types of forbidden cuisine. So really Tantra is misrepresented as sacred sexuality, which is just a part of it. It’s really the inclusion of all parts of ourselves, and all parts of the world as manifestation of the one supreme sacred energy.
Eduardo: Beautiful. Is there anything more you’d like to say about that?
Geri: There actually is integration for me in the Hatha Yoga and Tantra. Most recently there are a couple of streams of Hatha Yoga, I think Rod Stryker is brining forth a stream of Hatha Yoga that is Tantric based, philosophically Tantric based and so is John Friend and Anusara Yoga, which is the style of Yoga I teach. Even before my awakening I taught a Tantra based style of Hatha Yoga. I think it’s very helpful. I think the Hatha Yoga practice took me in the direction of specifically the ability to embrace paradox, to embrace two opposite things happening in the same pose, say, heaviness and lightness. And how my mind would want it to always just be light and never be heavy, but to actually be able to feel heavy and light—feel the bigger embrace of both into a larger whole. That element of the Hatha Yoga practice seemed to facilitate awakening for me.
Eduardo: Thanks, Geri. How do you see your awakening as different from what you thought it would be?
Geri: Most of the stories that I read about awakening were awakening into the bliss and the light and freedom. I had this idea that awakening meant more of a transcendent awakening – awakening just to peace and bliss and light and happiness. This awakening, not unique to myself, but unique from the other myths of awakening that I read about, this unique awaking, my awakening, was awakening to all parts of myself.
Eduardo: Bodily speaking as well?
Geri: Actually that was part of the journey. That was part of the journey where Hatha Yoga was helpful . I was actually becoming sensitive and aware of the parts of myself that were not included in the Yoga poses, something simple like inner thighs not being engaged. So, yes, it was partly physical. It started there with that discerning awareness to notice what’s engaged and what’s not engaged and what part of myself might not accept coming forward. What part of myself am I overly using? Then what I was referring to more profoundly on an inner level, was an awakening to all parts of myself. Like, the part of myself that wasn’t always happy, peaceful and blissful, but the part of me that felt down or depressed or angry or sad or frustrated, or moody. I had always seen myself as this very stable, centered, peaceful yogini, and throughout my awakening I became this more wild, Shakti filled woman with ups and downs and feelings. Feeling this way and feeling that way.
Eduardo: Can you give a couple of examples?
Geri: I guess a simple example would be feeling angry. For instance, historically I used to push the anger away and just dwell on that place of peace and centeredness and on the journey of my awakening. Now I recognize that I have this capacity to get angry. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to go hit people, or act out my anger, but I definitely feel that this a core essential part of my being. There’s a messiness to that. My rational mind preferred that I was never angry, to just be more yogic. Really this awakening has been an awakening to my whole being. So it’s an awakening to all these parts of self and that there is a richness in this whole being textured self, as opposed to just living in a sliver, a tiny fragment of myself. I also noticed that I am awakening to – I used to be very shy, quiet, and now I feel like my voice is coming forth. I have more passion and more desire to speak my truth, to live my truth. So yeah it’s a very unique awakening because I am awakening as ME. Somehow, I thought I was going to awaken as a Mother Theresa.
Eduardo: I have one last question. I’m wondering, as you look back from here, about your path and the teachers you’ve had, that led you to where you are now?
Geri: This is something that I’ve just been contemplating the last week. Really seeing how it’s like a thread of awakening, or maybe many threads of awakening, this tapestry of awakening that’s been woven throughout my life, so yeah, I would say the teaching lineage that lead me into this; there was a martial arts background that originally got me intrigued and on the spiritual path. There was a gentleman by the name of Master Francis, and then there was the Yoga path that I took directly after that. Specifically there are too many teachers to mention, but Tim Miller and John Friend have been two of my main teachers. John Friend is the one who started mentioning awakening. As soon as he started saying we’re on this journey to awakening something in the cells of my body just started to light up. ” I am on this journey of awakening”. I started including that intention at the end of my Yoga practice: “may I awaken, may I help all beings awaken”. Then I met Greg Aurand, who I had a relationship with for a while, who brought me to Saniel and Linda. It was through Saniel Bonder and Linda Groves-Bonder that I came into the work of Waking Down in Mutuality; and they were my first teachers. I hold the greatest love and respect for them and how they guided me through my first few years in Waking Down. Then I’ve has many teachers since then. Greg was a teacher in the beginning and has continued to be a very powerful teacher in my awakening. From Saniel and Linda, then I started working with Ted Strauss and Rod Taylor. Rod Taylor has been my teacher for the past two years or so. He and Ted were integral in my awakening, as well as teachers that I see less frequently, but have still had a powerful impact, Deborah Boyer from that Somatic Experiencing episode at the Transfiguration Retreat. I’ve worked with Sandra Glickman periodically; she’s been kind of a wise sage guiding me. I think all the teachers – because I interacted with them – I felt their transmission at the TR. Mentors like Sylvia, who was there to hold me while I was experiencing the trauma of being abandoned at birth – just so many teachers, all the teachers really. Whenever I would go up and talk to a teacher they were always available, always supportive. One of the things that really helped me too were the books, specifically Saniel Bonder’s books, like White Hot Yoga of the Heart. Hearing other people describe their journey of awakening, it helped to remind me as I was moving along, that there’s nothing wrong. That this is how the process is, that it’s a hero’s journey, that it involves the dark night of the soul. That just helped give context to what I was going through. Ted helped as well with his web site, it has a lot of writings, and I continue to read them.
Eduardo: Sounds pretty helpful.
Geri: Yes, the essays, they’re so helpful. Just the other day I was having a big conflict, and he has this essay all about conflict, how both sides of conflict are Being. His conclusion is that nothing’s wrong. It feels uncomfortable but they’re both aspects of Being. Somehow it was just helpful; it gave me a little bit of relief, a little bit of comfort, a little bit of perspective. Your monthly newsletters, Mutuality Matters, with all the poetry and the art, and the beautiful pictures—those were helpful, as well. I remember looking forward to opening that. There’s just a resonance that was created by reading what spoke to this emerging, awakening, part of myself.
Eduardo: It’s been said that the transmission of awakened Being is resonantly clear and obvious and strong when you’re sitting at the foot of the teacher, so to speak, and you’re sharing company physically together, but it can be transmitted in other ways; through recordings, through video tapes, and even through books, the printed word. That has become more clear to me as over time. That wasn’t so much of a question as it was a comment that you inspired by what you were talking about.
Geri: I like that idea of transmission. That’s such an important part of this work, and it’s what allows the transformation to happen, as opposed to really doing or making the awakening happen. A big part of it was just placing myself in that field of transmission, and through all those means that you mentioned.
Eduardo: This has been delightful talking to you today, Geri.
Geri: It’s been my pleasure Eduardo. Thank you so much.