stop-634941__180The Yoga Sutras offer a set of practices – the yamas and niyamas – to support us in becoming more masterful. These yamas (the ‘vows’) and Niyamas (the ‘hows’) invite us grow stronger and more intentional in our practice on and off the mat.

For me, one of the most important (so far) has been the Niyama known as Tapah, a Sankskrit word meaning ‘to burn.’

On the mat, Tapah is the willingness to stay in a deep squat in Chair Pose or hold my arms over my head in Mountain. We learn that the edge of our comfort zone is not necessarily the limit of our ability – and that sometimes, that edge is the beginning of freedom.

Off the mat, Tapah is the restraint that I apply to help me resist cravings – when my favorite binge-foods and binge-watches start calling my name. Tapah fires up the will forces, inviting us to stand firm and keep holding the inner ‘pose’ of a person who makes heather choices in food and entertainment.

Though some may describe Tapah as a way of firming our resolve, a conversation with willpower. For me, Tapah seems to be more about softening into willingness.

The willingness to believe that I can.

The willingness to let myself try.

The willingness to make free choices .

Which is what I did today, when, while driving toward the office, I was ambushed by a burning need to stop at the thrift store.

Thrift shopping, for me, is not about saving money – it’s about discovering that glittering jewel in the pile of castoffs. And when I feel ‘called’ to the thrift store, I often experience it as guidance – as if that ‘jewel’ is sending out a bright beacon to make sure that I find it.

Which may or may not be true.

But that’s how it feels. It feels important. It feels imperative. It feels, if I am honest about this, like an addiction – complete with cravings and, as you will see, desperation. Which is how I know that even though it FEELS like I want to go to the thrift store, it’s more likely that I am avoiding some other feeling.

And with me, it’s likely that feeling has something to do with standing in my power.

I don’t notice this at first – and, so today, as the beacon from the thrift store began to take over, I began altering my route. I skimmed the edge of the highway instead of getting on. I choose the side road that could more easily slide me over to Route 59. I made several other tiny adjustments to make it easier to stop at the store – just in case I decided to.

But then, at a critical juncture – I stopped at a stop sign and woke up.

What am I doing? I thought. I already made this decision – I’m going to the office. Instantly, I felt the pull of the opposing narrative. I saw myself walking through the thrift store, falling into the sensations of color and texture.

I felt uncertain, unsteady. I felt anxious.

In the past, these unsettled feelings like these would have triggered a reaction – I’d HAVE TO feel better  so I’d choose the thrift store.

But sitting at that stop sign, realizing that I was sitting at an edge, I pulled out Tapah – the willingness to feel uncomfortable and immediately, I became curious.

What is here to see? I wondered, feeling into the question. Feeling into the nature of the thrift store, the office. Which is when I began to experience, consciously, the nature of craving.

I saw how craving lies to me: 

– about what I need (to always feel pleasure, to never feel empty, to always be satisfied, to never feel discomfort).

– about my ‘lack’ and my ‘brokenness’ and my ‘incompleteness’.

– about my ‘history – the so-called evidence of my inability to follow through, to finish things.

I saw, at the same time the nature of willingness.

Willingness listens:

– to what is really here. Me sitting at a stop sign. Profoundly uncomfortable.

Willingness waits:

–  patiently letting me settle down and get used to these feelings.

Willingness sees:

– what I really need (engagement, freedom, self-expression.)

Willingness offers it, unconditionally- when I simply let myself feel.

At the stop sign, I realized that the ‘jewel’ that was calling to me from the thrift store was a shadow image of the jewel that was waiting in my office. A shadow that formed when I hit the edge in myself – and my willingness to engage a project that feels this lovely, this special, this …. loaded.

Cuz wow, it’s uncomfortable to be driving toward a promise like that.

When I let myself see – and feel – the terror (and pain) of not being sure I can live up to that promise, I was able to face it.

Facing it, I was able to apply Tapah – the willingness to feel uncomfortable. Let’s see what happens, Tapah invited me, just as it does on the yoga mat,

Which is how I made a free choice: To try.

As the craving let go, I felt the pleasure I could have received from shopping slide away and I felt the profound emptiness of sitting in a room with my own ideas and not knowing how I am ever going to make them into books.

But I felt something else, too, something new. Courage. Burning courage: aka the Tapah of willingness to do hard things.

11218711_10206466889884626_7629294037929060676_nI drove to the office.

I put my key in the lock.

I opened the door

and there,

waiting on the desk where I’d left it last night,

was my work.


My personal Ph.D. matters because expansion toward light matters. My yoga matters because it matters to me – and, as the constellating center of my world, my well-being touches and heals the well-being of all inter-constellating beings. Your joy matters to me because my joy matters to me and I see the inter-constellating nature of creation.


11218711_10206466889884626_7629294037929060676_n“… This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life…”
– excerpted From David Whyte’s “The House of Belonging”

So, you’ll remember that, this summer, I was choosing whether or not to enroll in a PhD program at Pacifica University in California. And if you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that I made that decision: I won’t be going.

This was a big decision, involving a commitment of three years time and over a hundred thousand dollars in tuition. (Translated, that means, one hundred thousand dollars of debt – because I don’t have that kind of cash lying around.)

The program, with its emphasis on Archetypal Psychology, Mythology and Dreamwork,  was REALLY calling to me but with reflection, I could see that it called because it had ALWAYS called – I mean, that work has called to me all of my life. And I’ve answered the call. I am already pretty studied in that work – and already working with it in my own way.

And going to Pacifica would have challenged some pretty important choices I’d already made:

  • the choice to live debt-free and stress-free,
  • the choice to build relationship and intimacy with the people close to me,
  • the choice to be close enough to offer support to my mother and her caregiving team;
  • and the highest choice, I think – to move through each day led by my conversation with guidance. In other words, the choice to listen to and to follow my heart. 

And my heart was whispering, more emphatically each day: You do not need this program to complete yourself. You are already on that path. It’s time to walk it your way. 

It was time, also,  to discern exactly what ‘my way’ might be.

My heart used all of its tools to get my attention.


And envy – my heart sideswiped me with envy. It happened when I  was sitting with a group of friends I’ve known since childhood and, as everyone was discussing their travels, I felt myself suddenly sliding backward – as if the chair I was sitting on had wheels and was being pulled out of the circle, as my friends compared hotels and beaches, safaris and excursions. 

I wish I’d done that.
I wish I’d been there.
That sounds amazing.
I want that, too. 

I remembered how, back when I was 19, 20, 21, I was absolutely certain I’d be pulling my travel bag through airports, filling my passport with colorful stamps for the rest of my life. And at that age, I was. I lived in Paris for four months. I ate the spiciest curry I’ve ever tasted – inedible -in London. I sunbathed (in my underwear – I’d forgotten my swimsuit) on the Costa Brava and, later that evening, I had my first taste of Calamari. Sautéed in garlic and oil, I loved the strange fish – until the waitress, who didn’t speak a word of English, managed to communicate what calamari was by sketching an octopus on a paper napkin. The next night, I was in Barcelona – wine-soaked and barefoot – dancing in a moonlit, cobblestoned courtyard. 

When I was 25, I returned to Paris with my mother. At 26, my husband and I traveled through France by train, staying in a beachfront hotel in Nice.

When our children were small, I filled a scrapbook with clipping from Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic. I wanted us to SEE and experience EVERYTHING together!

But it would not turn out that way: my husband didn’t like traveling and money was tight. When I started working and there was money, there was little time for journeying. Wistful, every New Year’s Eve, as cataloged the trips we hadn’t taken, I’d resolve: This year, things will be different. 

Over time, I replaced my love of travel with (an addiction to) NYC restaurants and a few local sidewalk cafes. I packed away – or lost… or maybe, burned – the travel scrapbook. My son, who inherited my travel bug, has now seen more of the world than I have and our daughter, currently in Hawaii, is on her way to meeting his record.

I tell you this to underline the climate in which I was making that Pacifica decision last summer: It was a time of longing. My heart seemed to be expanding, and returning to a kind of ‘original’ shape. Though I’d thought the life of travel and discovery was lost to me, my heart was reaching for it anyway.

Which was part of the lure of Pacifica – all the way over on the other side of the country. To attend, I’d need to travel to California once a month and that felt like a good compromise – and one that I began to dream, might get me traveling again to other places.

And that thought – right there – was the clue that began to open the door to my decision. I was thinking of Pacifica as a stepping-stone that would somehow grant me permission to do what I really wanted to do, which was travel.

And if that was the case, I realized, that 100,000 dollars would be much better invested in some good luggage and airline tickets.

Now, instead of a PhD program, I’m embarked on a living “Personal PhD” project of my own design. (And I must thank Lianne Raymond for that phrase. It planted a seed of bright hope, which instantly started constellating in me.)

It begins with this sweet small ‘room of my own,’ a rented office with three huge windows overlooking a working horse farm – in a building filled with artists making art.

Here, I plant the seed that my discussion with Lianne (and you) lit in me. It is here that I am outlining the curriculum – and the syllabus – for my next great adventure: the next three years of my life.  

So far, it looks like this:

Daily devotional practice – yoga, meditation, reading and writing.

Art-making, Photography. Collage. On my own and in groups, with you.

Teaching yoga, as a step toward teaching my own work on wider platforms in 2016.

Dream work. Study. And research projects – and the beautiful book projects which will inevitably emerge from this.

Interviews with creative soul friends.

Selected Classes – which fascinate, stretch and perhaps, scare me a little. (Like Mathematics, Music and Advanced Astrology.)

And of course, great big sigh of relief, I will travel to the places which have called to my heart for a very long time.

As I set myself these challenges, I feel buoyed, energized and alive with hope. I plan to live this heart-led, soul-fed journey out loud and I invite you to come along, and perhaps, to join me on a Personal PhD project of your own.

Yesterday, as years of notes – years of my own work – spiraled around me on the floor, I saw how all of it had constellated this moment in time, and this project.

I am the project.
I am the PhD of my own life.


Amy Oscar: Soul Caller from Amy Ozarow Oscar on Vimeo.


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