I spent 20 years after college pursuing the American Dream: Finding a career, earning a paycheck, buying a house, getting married. I met so many people along the way doing the same things. During that time, I was living life and everything seemed grand. Another 4 years passed and I was doing the same things, but a voice started to grow in the back of my brain. It started as a whisper just out of sight. Just outside of my awareness, but it grew louder. While I had accomplished many things, I had built a life of “mailing it in”. I was living a safe live…..a small life and all along pretending it was enough. I had no idea of how to change it or what I wanted it to change into. I just knew that what I had been doing was not enough anymore. The feeling of being lost grew. While I was pursuing the American Dream, I had stopped pursuing My Dreams.
Then I found rock climbing. It has become the palette with which I paint my life. At the time, I was 44 and weighed 260 pounds at 5’8”. I was certainly not an image of health and fitness. But, that first day, I looked around at all the people at the gym and knew I wanted to be one of them without really knowing why. Slowly I realized that I was seeing people truly happy with themselves. It wasn’t just their youth and vigor, but their drive and awareness of what made them happy. Somewhere along the way, I had lost sight of that.
From my days in martial arts, I had been taught to think of life as a stool with 3 legs: Mind, Body and Spirit. All 3 legs must be fed equally, or your life is out of balance. Get too far out of balance and you fall. Somewhere along my path, I had forgotten and so began the starvation of my Spirit and to a lesser extent my Body. In rock climbing, I had found a single activity that restored and strengthened all 3 legs. The planning and focus required to complete a climb sharpens your Mind and can often bring you to a near meditative state. The strength and balance required to move your body against gravity in the vertical plane builds muscles. To be able to repeat these activities day after day required a reevaluation of how I was feeding the engine that is my body. The sense of purpose, the accomplishment of pushing boundaries of what I knew to be possible began to mend the damage years of neglect had done to my Spirit. Once I took my rock climbing outside of the gym and into nature, I knew it could truly build my Spirit. The beauty and inspiration of nature, the dichotomy of hard rock and green leaves, the serene quiet and peace of the wilderness: These were the things I had been missing.
Today I find myself a changed man in all aspects of life. At 50 years old, I am the strongest and most fit I have ever been in my life. Some day, I will no longer be able to say that, but today is not that day. And while I found what I needed in rock climbing, I know others may not. Each person should seek out and embrace the things that work and learn to let go of those things that don’t work before they become anchors weighing them down.
About the Author: Richard Lonski was born in Kansas City. As the son of a pilot, he was born to a world of travel and exploration. While younger, he enjoyed traveling to new cities and experiencing new cultures. As he grew older, his exploration extended beyond city limits and into the wonders of nature. Richard came out of a decade in the restaurant industry with an affinity for good food (good Italian or BBQ done right please) and drink (preferably of the single malt variety, but any good whiskey will do).
Sharing laughter and joy with friends and family is one of his greatest treasures. It's likely what led him to marry his wife Beth, who is a professional clown and mime.
Richard’s personal exploration has led him down some interesting paths….each one leaving its mark on his life. Puppeteer, Black Jack Dealer, 2nd Degree Black Belt, and Small Business Entrepreneur are some of the more unique things he’s done in the past. He’s only been at his current passion, Rock Climbing, for 6 years, but it has led him on a wild and unexpected ride of sights and personal growth that he looks forward to continuing.
I first met April in a yoga class, but I didn’t really get to know her until she said the magic word, “wine”. So, one day after class we wandered over to Rose Bud and that’s when I met the real April, the one whose real work is in life, who struggles day to day, who is as much a seeker as she is full of answers.
April now lives in Atlanta with her family, but her passion for healing transformation has not wavered. April has been working with and learning from a group called YogaHOPE and TIMBo. TIMBo stands for Trauma Informed Mind Body. Their focus is to enable and empower women to self regulate emotions.
YogaHOPE does work all over the world including Haiti and Africa and soon will be going to Nepal. April just returned from Africa where they worked with the RONA Foundation (ronafoundation.co.ke) who helps widows, HIV positive women, rape victims and gender cleansing survivors.
“It changed my life,” April admitted.
April has been working and training with YogaHOPE since 2012 where she studies the TIMBo modules. Her resolve to service, however, began in 2009 when her sister died from an accidental overdose. Her path led her to joining a teacher training in 2011 and founding Out of the Darkness in 2012. Her grieving was so tremendous, she said, she found comfort working in extreme situations where she “wanted to save everyone around (her) and everyone became (her) sister”.
“I didn’t know how I was going to live through this,” she said. “I was grieving so hard.”
She put together a program proposal and went to Dr. Carol Horton who was already teaching yoga for recovery. April began to teach girls and women coming out of addiction at Chicago prisons in Cook County, those in halfway houses and those leaving the prison system. Sometimes the girls and women would be in hiding because of abuse situations.
“Addiction is a byproduct of trauma. We learn and teach how to take a moment to notice when something comes up. To notice the body sensations, the tightness in your throat, the physical reaction of the emotions,” explains April. “We use breath to work through the emotions and body sensations. Once you start to peel it apart, you find that there are so many layers and so many emotions. It’s difficult. This program empowers women to get control of that and begin to heal themselves. It teaches us to love ourselves and live in our body and not exist in this half living state.”
April has also worked with private psychiatrists and addiction counselors. She saw how this breath work impacted the students and how the healing began. She wanted to know more about why and how yoga could heal trauma. She found there is an emotional anatomy to trauma and claims her breath awareness saved her very own life.
A part of her own healing has been recognizing her own self preservation. Recently she read a book by a paraplegic man, Matthew W. Sanford (Waking, a memoir of trauma and transcendence), whose message is to remember that even though we want to go out and save everybody, we have to remember to ‘protect our own container’.
“That’s what he calls our bodies, our container. And this personal journey is every day. We fight our demons every day to move toward the state of being happy. We have to discern what is real and what is not,” she says. “I believe people go to yoga because they know there is something else there, something deeper. And I believe women need women. Every day is a new day for me to notice my adaptations, to deconstruct and reconstruct myself until I find contentment and a full life, a life fully lived. I used to think I could go out there and help everyone, but the person I would forget about is myself and I’d find myself depleted. It was the same cycle.”
TIMBo, which also has an online program, is now in the process of organizing group settings. When April completes her modules with YogaHOPE and TIMBo, she would like to start a program for women in Atlanta.
“I want to be able to bring people back into their bodies so they can see who they truly are and separate that from their story. I want to help people say, ‘This isn’t in alignment with who I am anymore. I’m done. This pattern just isn’t working for me.’”