My name is Tina Tongen and I’ve been on my healing journey since 1993. I grew up as the oldest of 3 in a family pained by dysfunctional alcoholism and heavy relational wounds. This story is all too common and the disconnection it creates within oneself and between family members is very real. At 16 I was depressed. Although I had caring family and friends around me, I felt disconnected from their support since the best help they could offer was, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I tried to go with that attitude, and I learned to keep my painful emotions inside and to try to look like I was “doing fine.” But I really wasn’t, so at 16 I began to look for other ways to understand and heal myself. I didn’t want to “affect others negatively” by talking about it, so I began taking yoga classes and meditating. I read, “The Dance of Anger,” and “The Dance of Intimacy,” by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D as I did what I could to reconnect with my heart. My mind didn’t know how to process the pain, and my attention kept moving away; so to keep my mind engaged I rewrote every word in an attempt to take it in and “get it.” I filled up college-ruled pads of yellow paper with 3 rows of text per line about how healthy families relate and I was so angry at myself and my family that I was in tears. I told myself to stay focused, yet the more I tried to understand what I needed the more difficult it seemed. I didn’t know how to be kind to myself when I felt so inefficient at feeling and understanding my emotions, so I pushed myself to keep reading, writing, and learning what I could. I was in my first real relationship and I wanted to communicate and relate. Since it was not safe to feel and share my emotions with my family growing up, I had the habit of withdrawing.
Even though people were kind to me, I was very uncomfortable with all social interactions and I spent a lot of time reflecting and looking for peaceful, beautiful things in nature to support me to connect with my heart. I’m very grateful to have this strong inward connection with nature that supports me.
I went to Al-Anon meetings, bought and read 3 or 4 Al-Anon books, underlined passages that made sense, and worked the steps with a mentor. Although I didn’t have any breakthroughs yet, I had started my journey to connect with others who understood my pain or at least allowed me to express it without telling me I was “wrong” by getting angry with me or changing the subject. I attended Unity Church regularly to expand my positive experiences with people. By this time I had been in a 10-year relationship – gotten married and was going through a divorce – and I was on another growth spurt to heal the misunderstandings and pain. I participated in several 3-day immersive trainings, “Understanding Yourself and Others,” and “Loving Yourself and Others,” offered by the Upgrade Center in Tallahassee (somewhere around 2005 – 2007). I took acting classes at the home studio of Marlene DuBois, an acting teacher at FSU; I wanted to learn how to “play” with others, but I was terrified. We did an acting exercise where one person stands in the space and another person enters the space with them. The first person then says 1 word – what they’re experiencing. I only ever wanted to say, “friend,” or “sister,” or the like; I would not allow myself to name emotions or experiences I was not comfortable with. I expected myself to be “cheerful” and”positive,” and to “have a good attitude.”
Life went on like this and I came to a crossroads in 2008 when a friend told me that she was going to live in an ashram in the mountains of Colorado for the summer. I remember thinking that I was not able to do that, and I felt pains of jealousy and uncomfortable emotions roil in me. It was difficult to feel it clearly at first, but I could tell that I actually wanted that experience. Instead of succumbing to ideas of duty and “responsibility,” I looked up Shoshoni Ashram in Rollinsville, Colorado. I called them. I started to make plans. Before I knew it I was gazing down over the mountains from a plane, then taking a bus to Nederland where a member of the ashram picked me up by car. I lived at Shoshoni as part of the community for 6 months, and the 7th month as a guest in the 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training. I lovingly joke that my time as part of the community was “yoga boot camp.” We had a strict daily schedule 6 am – 8 pm (with 1 hour of free time a day, and 1 day off a week), and if you didn’t show up, you were asked to leave. My days started at 4:30/5 since I did my daily sankalpa (intentional spiritual practice) in the morning. At an elevation of 8600′, the starry mountain sky is incredibly peaceful at 5 am. I walked in awe everyday to the “Ma Shrine,” a small building dedicated to the feminine aspects of the divine. It housed several versions of Tara, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kali, Durgama, Vajra Yogini… I can’t remember all of them, but I was delighted to be surrounded by the concepts held in these strong feminine forces. I carefully flipped the brass offering bowls, then filled them with water to catch the day’s prayers. Sensing my breath and body, I sat and chanted my sankalpa of Lakshmi puja every morning for 5 months. My last month there Baba switched my sankalpa to Ganesha puja in the main temple, and I continued it for a month after I left. Something shifted inside me with this ritual. Showing up at the same time – everyday connecting with my intention and my voice – the concept of “abundance” with this puja went from an idea of how “I should be grateful” for good things in my life to an embodied, physical vibration I felt connect the fibers of my being. Then I’d go the the Big Temple to chant the Guru Gita and meditate with everyone. Chanting & meditation started and ended each of our days. My time at Shoshoni with our shared experiences, Navaratri and Mahasamadhi celebrations, fire puja for Baba while he was traveling, making pottery and art, and watching the Ramayana together as a community has filled me with many wonderful experiences that has grown my buoyant heart, able to soothe the difficulties I faced in myself while I was there. I remember how much pressure I put on myself as I did my daily seva, and how difficult it was to get everything done. It seemed like I had too many things to take care of. My 7th month, in the yoga teacher training, I learned more about Yoga philosophy and practice. At the end I was sad to leave, but very grateful for my time living within this community. I celebrated by hiking the mountain to the Buddha Rocks, and visiting Baba and his family for Satsang and gifting him 3 nesting bowls I’d made at Shonoshoni’s pottery studio. I’d inscribed the rim of each bowl with a quote from the gurus in the lineage. It was a very grounding experience for me to live within a culture that’s highly structured and interdependent. I began to experience the rhythm of the things I could depend on. Chanting, dancing, and meditating together twice a day everyday, eating food together, cleaning up together, and relying on each other to take turns picking ice off the sidewalks and start the fires at 5am to warm up our buildings, and cook breakfast for the community of 12 to sit together and enjoy… these are cherished memories that give me the experience of understanding why it’s so important and satisfying to serve others. Seva is selfless service. I’m grateful to know the heart of yoga.
I was tempted to stay and be part of the yoga community long-term, but could feel that my individual will wanted a chance to experience and express itself more strongly.
I had started to practice Ayurvedic healing modalities at the ashram, and I really loved working with people one-on-one, so in 2009 I moved to Boulder and began the 1000-hour Massage Certification and 500-hour Associate of Occupational Studies degree from the Boulder College of Massage Therapy, which sadly, closed in 2013 due to not being able to raise enough funding as a nonprofit to keep the doors open. It was the 2nd oldest massage school in the nation and held in high esteem as it provided 38 years of contribution to the field of massage therapy with the student clinic where we worked with the public and numerous community service sites where we offered massage therapy as our supervised internships. Through this program, we provided clothed table massage to the Boulder Vets to help them connect with their bodies before their group meeting, I provided pain relief to pre and post-natal mamas and cancer-care patients at the Boulder Community Hospital, sports massage and injury healing to University of Colorado and University of Denver athletes, recovery for triathletes immediately post-race, and offered support through chair massage to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House to lessen their stress and maintain their health as their children received care at nearby hospitals. BCMT was a leader in actual research being done in the massage therapy field, and had an outstanding reputation. My 18-months there fed me in new ways and empowered me to make a real difference in people’s lives. The closure of BCMT was immensely saddening. And so was the passing of one of my mentors, Elaine Calenda, from brain cancer was a powerful inspiration in my training with her love for the profession with her numerous stories of working with all kinds of people in New York City. She’d seen it all.
My mind and heart still held quite a few old, fearful beliefs, and I gravitated towards communities looking at these more directly. I attended two Avatar trainings (the 3-Day “Resurfacing” and the 10-Day “International Avatar Masters Course“) where we worked with identifying how our beliefs create our reality. This gave me practice in sensing my body as I work with my mind, and set my focus to notice how mind, body, and emotions effect each other. I did have a breakthrough here with the help of my Avatar Master (a level of training attained to be proficient in supporting others to look at their beliefs), Summer Jones.
She stayed with me as I was having a panic attack from doing this vulnerable work in the middle of the Weston conference center in Denver surrounded by lots of people. My mind and heart raced, but she steadied me by asking me to repeat the exercise to notice my beliefs and if there were other, competing beliefs happening as well. I wanted to run from the room. I definitely felt like giving up on myself and I thought I was hopeless, but Summer stayed with me and helped me to return my focus to notice my beliefs. It seemed to go on forever and I was so frustrated my whole body heated up and I started to cry. Then surprisingly, something shifted in my experience and it wasn’t so bad anymore. I could relax. Ever since then I’ve been able to do group work with much more ease. Trust in the process of staying focused has grown, even when I feel discomfort. I’m grateful to Summer, as this was an important shift for me.
I attended the 10-Day International Avatar Masters Course in Orlando with a mixture of excitement and resistance. It was a lot to feel and experience at one time, as I spent my younger years in rural Minnesota with lots of space, and here I was processing mental and emotional beliefs in a huge conference center packed with students from all over the world at nearby tables with translators. Part of me loved it, and part of me needed some quiet time to adjust! Symptoms of a cold had me stay in and miss part of one of the days and I remember how much apprehension I experienced with whatever we were working on that day. It was a full-body emotional experience of fear, and then I got all stuffy and clogged up, felt horrible, and couldn’t even talk clearly. So I stayed in my room and rested for half a day. It’s a wonder how our mind-body creates things like a cold to help us to rest when we need down time. Ultimately, I gained the experience of sharing some fun and some focused growth work with a group of people I felt “safe enough” with. Even though I don’t practice that work, I’m grateful for how it has expanded my perspective and for some of the tools I learned to shift my awareness.
The Integral Center in Boulder was another home to me, with it’s relational workshops, regular T-Groups, Authentic Relating workshops and gatherings, Buddhist meditation opportunities, visiting teachers, speakers, and singers, etc… I loved it there.
Leslie Bruder invited me to train with her group at The Institute for Phenomenal Touch from 2012-2016 and with this group I received so much connection, understanding, and shared appreciation that it basically transcended my mind’s ability to fight. I’m profoundly grateful to Leslie, Cedar, Mary, Christina, Jonathan, Andy, Jack, Budelfka, Deborah, Kristen, Reilly, Tracey, Leanna, Todd (Scott), Kim, Drea, Kayleen, Jessa, Eric, Robin, Alex, Lisa, Ali, Coco, Melissa, Ora, Ateret… you’re in my heart. I received the most tender care, attunement, and contact, the depth of which helped me to stay with my body as it reacted to how much pressure my mind’s ideas of responsibility placed on it and I was surrounded with loving friends as I had a panic attack and I couldn’t breathe, and instead I hyperventilated for several minutes as dear friends held me and helped me to feel safe as my nervous system expressed the terror it had been holding. I was looked at with compassion and awareness… not trying to fix me or change me. Just allowing me to be, feel, and let go. I am beyond-words grateful.
I studied with The Ridhwan School (aka Diamond Heart / The Diamond Approach) from 2011 – 2017, and this will forever be home in my heart. The group of people here that have are too numerous to mention, to you and to our teachers Carol, Andreas, Anne, Gina, Alex, Hameed… thank you for your dedication to this work of directly exploring what it is to be human and for creating a stable community within which to safely do inquiry, grow our capacity to see ourselves more clearly, and grow in maturity. The depth of compassion I witnessed and experienced throughout 6 years with this group has brought me into heart. Gratitude only begins to explain it.
Temple of Infinite Possibilities Women’s Circle with Dawn, Tracey, and Tina as Trinity. Sisters supporting each other to listen to our hearts, explore and express what matters, believe in ourselves & each other. I gotta say, I’ve learned so much. Thank you!