finding meaning in everyday life

October 16, 2016
by Rachel

One of My Greatest Teachers, part 3

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger A. Caras

Part 3. The final act. If you are one of those people who cannot read a story where a dog dies, I commiserate with you, and caution you that this is one of those tales. I’ve written about my pets throughout this blog, and about Amos in particular in part one, part two, and a guest blog post. He died on October 4, at the age of 13. It hardly seems possible that I’ve lived without him for nearly 2 weeks.

I moved into my first and current home at the beginning of May 2008. The following week I applied to adopt a dog from Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota. I’d had my eye on Amos and a couple other dogs for weeks, but once I had a home visit and was approved to begin meeting dogs, I had second thoughts about Amos. He was under socialized, morbidly obese, and just finishing treatment for heartworm disease. He was a wreck of a dog and I wasn’t sure I was up to the task of helping him. But his foster mom called me and asked me to just come meet him and see. So I did.

Never having adopted or even owned a dog, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but one of the adolescent daughters in the foster home answered the door and escorted me to the master bedroom, where Ann, Amos’s foster mom, sat leaning against her bed with her golden retriever, Logan, next to her. She was a very experienced foster mom who later told me she wondered what I would think of having to come to her bedroom to meet Amos but he was too scared to be anywhere else. He was lying on a dog bed against the wall – obese at 109 pounds, panting heavily, and with a beautiful coat except for his shaved back. He was so overweight the veterinarian had to shave him to find the correct spot to inject treatment for heartworm disease. Not knowing what else to do after introducing myself to the family, I sat down cross-legged on the floor a couple feet from Amos. He heaved himself to his feet and lumbered over to me, placed his nose against mine and licked my chin. Then he plopped back down on his dog bed as Ann began to cry, telling me, “He doesn’t do that to just anybody.” We talked for an hour as I petted Amos and he fell asleep, drooling on my leg.

The following morning, I was in court waiting in the hall for my next hearing when my friend and coworker Jason sat down next to me. He had heard about my meeting with Amos from our friend Jill. “So it’s a love match?” he asked.

I hemmed and hawed. I was scared as hell this dog would require too much of me, but the rest, as they say, is history.

At the end of May 2008, Amos moved into my home and Jason came to visit. Really, his visit was also our meeting for trial preparation, which normally would have been held in our office, but he agreed to come to my house so I wouldn’t have to leave Amos alone that first weekend before an intense week of trial. So we finalized our strategy and discussed witnesses as I fed Amos peanut butter on a spoon in an attempt to lure him out of the corner of my living room where he was hunkered down. We knew our case was a loser – sexual abuse where our client left his DNA behind – but we fought like hell. Jason and I talked by phone one night that week about the next day’s witnesses.

“I hope Amos turns out a lot better than this case will,” I told Jason.

“Me, too,” he replied. “Amos has you so he has a chance. Our client was lost a long time ago.”

I knew Amos was getting closer to the end this past month. For a big dog and his breed, 13 is a very respectable age. Still, watching him struggle to get up the steps and groan in pain when he laid down or rolled over, was hard to endure. He had bad hips, exacerbated by excess weight and years of inactivity as a backyard breeder’s stud dog in his early years. All the walks, supplements, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, massage, essential oils, and pain medicine I gave him over the years couldn’t change his history. And then one night right before bedtime, his back legs simply gave out and he couldn’t walk. As calmly as possible, I pulled the car out of the garage and knocked on my neighbor’s door to ask for help because I couldn’t lift all 85 pounds of Amos by myself. My neighbors kindly helped put him in the car and drove me to the emergency vet, which was very busy, but quickly made a room available for me and Amos.

My neighbors came in to say their goodbyes with tears in their eyes. They had grown to love Amos, too. “He sure did love his walks. And his treats,” Tom said.

I smiled because in the last couple years Amos did love his walks. But the entire year it took to teach Amos how to walk on a leash was probably the most frustrating experience of my life. Somehow, though, he came to look forward to our short jaunts around the neighborhood, peeing on the neighbors’ lawns, saying hello to other dogs, resting his hips with a short sit, and nudging my hand to prompt quicker treat delivery.

Tom and Jenny offered to stay but I said we’d be okay alone. I wanted time to be with Amos and say goodbye. As we sat on the floor of the exam room, Amos panting and me petting him as I reminded him of the story of how we met, he rested one of his big paws on my leg. Even in his own anxiety he was comforting me. It reminded me of the time several years ago when we had a wicked thunderstorm. Amos was terrified of storms, usually panting and pacing until he hunkered down into a safe spot. That evening was no different. I laid down on the floor nearby in the dark; the storm was raging and had knocked out the power. I reached out my right hand to rest on him to offer him comfort. As I did so, he reached out his front right paw and rested it on my shoulder. Always thinking of me.

After he was gone, one of the hardest things was knowing I would never touch him again. I have come to understand this year in massage school how much I enjoy touch, both giving and receiving. Some part of me had known it for years but directed it into my pets. Never again will I feel Amos’s soft curls, silky ears, and inordinately large paws. It was so hard to leave him in that room.

The next day I wrote Amos’s obituary to share with friends:


Amos spent his early years in a kennel as a neglected stud dog of a backyard-breeding operation. Upon surrender at age 4.5, he was morbidly obese and sick with heartworm disease and nearly died. But his foster family nursed him back to health with love and patience. In May 2008 he was adopted into the Regenold family, where he slowly learned how to be a dog – playing fetch, walking on a leash, and barking at noises. A year later his sister Charlotte joined the family and taught him the joy of squirrel and rabbit chasing. Amos became an avid snuggler, ball chaser, and crotch sniffer. In his later years, he came to love his walks, rolling around in the grass, and barking to announce his arrival in the backyard. He tried to befriend every dog he met. Being a golden retriever, Amos loved all food, but especially apples, peanut butter, and hot dogs. In the end, his spirit was still strong but his back legs were not, and he left this earth with his mother at his side on October 4.

Amos leaves behind 2 sisters, 2 brothers, and a mother, as well as many friends and neighbors. The family asks that the next time you are adding a four-legged member to your own family, consider the ones who may take a little more work but will lovingly transform your life one tail wag at a time.

Rest in peace, my beloved boy. An eternity with you would not have been long enough.

And the day after that, I created a photo collage to celebrate Amos’s life:


Photographic celebration of Amos’s life.

When I texted Jason about Amos’s death, he responded, “The two of you were quite a pair when you met. Mutual salvation…and devotion.”

Oh God, yes. Exactly that. Somehow Amos and I healed each other’s broken places. He didn’t know how to be a dog and I didn’t know how to be a human being. Somehow he lost weight, learned to love walks and fetch, people and dogs. And I went from a lawyer with no life outside work to a woman who walked away from the law to build a new life, supported by a community of friends.

When I shared the photographs of Amos with friends, one said, “Oh my goodness how he loved you!” while another said, “Amos was gaga over you.” Amos loved me extravagantly. His chocolate brown eyes were always gooey with love for me. He enjoyed other people, but for him, I was the sun, the moon, and the stars. A few days after Amos died, I was reminded of a friend saying to me once, “You don’t deserve Amos.” She was referring to her opinion that dogs are really too good for us human beings.

For the first time I thought to myself, What if I did deserve Amos? What if I did deserve to be loved so extravagantly?

I loved Amos lavishly, in my own turn. I couldn’t pass by him without touching him, petting his big head. Every morning I rested my heart against his for just a moment to feel that exchange of love between us. Before each walk, I looked into his eyes and told him, “You’re so famous ‘cause you’re Amos.” (You know the silly things we say to our pets.) And after each walk, I kissed him and told him how wonderful he was and that I would love him until the end of time. Sometimes I would hug Amos, and while I fervently agree that you shouldn’t hug most dogs because the gesture doesn’t translate well, Amos was an exception. He leaned into my hugs, or if he was lying down, he would wrap one foreleg around my neck to hug me in return as he delivered sloppy kisses.

I’m beginning to believe it is possible to deserve to not only love, but be loved, so extravagantly and devotedly. For me and for you.

Amos taught me that.

With gratitude,


Question for reflection: When you allow yourself to feel how much you love someone (anyone) in your life, what would it feel like to allow yourself to be loved that way in return?

© 2016 Rachel Regenold

September 17, 2016
by Rachel

Success Dressed in Failure’s Clothing

“Often we see a couple who has separated or divorced and look with sadness at the ‘failure’ of their relationship. But if both people learned what they were meant to learn, then that relationship was a success. Now it may be time for physical separation so that more can be learned in other ways. That not only means learning elsewhere, from other people; it also means learning the lessons of pure love that come from having to release the form of an existing relationship.” – Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love (HarperOne 1992).

Invariably, when people learn I was an attorney at the public defender’s office, they will ask some variation of, “Was it difficult to represent guilty people?” Early in my career a woman at a party asked, “How do you sleep at night?” when I told her my profession. I was so startled by her rudeness and ignorance that I couldn’t formulate a response. (I came up with one later that I’ve never had to use because no one has been that rude again.) Truthfully, it was sometimes hard to represent the guilty. Not always and not necessarily for the reasons you may think. Nobody has ever asked how hard it was to represent the ones I believed were not guilty. Those are the ones that keep you lying awake nights, the ones that tear you up inside, leaving invisible scars that settle into your tissues.

Early in my massage training at the beginning of this year, an instructor reached over to massage my shoulders as I sat on a stool in class. “Oh, public defender shoulders!” she said. I laughed and asked what that meant. “Well, shoulders are usually about responsibility and you carried a lot of responsibility in that job.”

My shoulders slumped in agreement.

“Public defender shoulders” became my excuse and a classroom joke. When fellow students asked me to relax my shoulders, I replied, “This IS relaxed. I have public defender shoulders.”

My career as a public defender ended in 2015. The year before that I was appointed to represent a man on appeal who had been convicted of second-degree murder after returning from war and killing his best friend. My client and I spoke regularly via phone about his case and I came to be very fond of him and his family, and I also came to believe that a serious injustice had occurred in his trial. Somehow his case felt connected to my yoga journey. The weekend prior to arguing his case before the Iowa Court of Appeals, I had my first weekend of yoga teacher training.

We won in the court of appeals but the State requested, and was granted, review by the Iowa Supreme Court. While we waited for that next phase of the appeal, I sent my client information on yoga for veterans with PTSD from the Veterans Yoga Project. He began practicing yoga every day in prison. I continued with my teacher training.

In the early spring of 2015, right before my last training weekend, I traveled to northeast Iowa to argue this case before the Iowa Supreme Court and 350 members of the community. Due to a mistake by the court, a second case of mine was scheduled as well and so I argued two cases back-to-back. Normally nervous on such an occasion, particularly with such an unusually large audience (maybe a dozen or so people usually attend oral arguments when they are held in the judicial building in Des Moines), a steely calm had settled over me that week as I worked out my fears on my yoga mat. At the community reception after the argument, I was startled by the number of citizens who came up to speak to me about my cases or the law or just to say hello. When I looked around at the end of the night, both attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office and all the members of the Court were gone. I alone remained talking to the public.

The Court usually takes several months to decide a case. By early June I knew that I had to make a life-changing decision about quitting my job before the Court made its own decision about my case. Several years before I had lost a murder case as a trial attorney and the blow was emotionally crippling. A year and a half later, I transferred to the appellate office, thinking appeals would give me the emotional distance I needed to do my work without being personally devastated. By 2014 I knew the “problem” was really me. I took my cases too personally. I invested in my clients too deeply. Whether I was in the trial courtroom or rifling through pages of trial transcripts, safely ensconced in a cubicle as an appellate attorney, mattered not. I decided, win or lose my veteran-client’s case, I would quit my job at the end of the year.

In the middle of June 2015 the Iowa Public Defender Office held its annual conference in Des Moines, at which we could earn our continuing education credits, and at which I had volunteered to teach a couple free yoga classes to relieve stress and the ache of sitting in chairs all day. It was also with bittersweet feelings that I was honored as Attorney of the Year for 2015. The very next day, I lost my case. I pulled up the decision on my home computer, waiting breathlessly at 8:30 when the Court issues decisions online each Friday. My cat Louie refused to get off my chair, so I knelt in front of the computer. I remember feeling incredibly grateful that I was already on my knees because scrolling down to the words that indicated we lost would have brought me to my knees anyway. When I called my client at the prison that morning to tell him we lost, I burst into tears.

The very next day, a weight seemed to settle upon me. It was as if someone had draped a cloak over me that was weighed down by stones. I was incredibly frightened. How was I going to do everyday things, let alone put everything into place so I could resign? Not by coincidence, I’m sure, a friend had given me a free session with his healing touch practitioner and I had scheduled it for a week or so after the Court’s decision. The healing touch practitioner was able to lift that depressive weight from me, and without even knowing about the case, she said, “There is some case, some client you care deeply about. You need to know there is nothing more you could have done to change the outcome.” I burst into tears again. After the case had ended, I anonymously sent my client a book about yoga from the Prisoners Yoga Project. He knew it was from me.

Every time I’ve had bodywork in massage school this year, grief has oozed out of me as I drove home thinking about this case. This failure. The fact that my client is parted from his family for 35 ½ years. And then came Acupressure class in June of this year, a subtle modality using fingers or thumbs to press points along the meridians of the body, much like acupuncture but minus the needles. Receiving acupressure had a strange effect on me; I was waking at 4:00 AM and didn’t care about food. (I have NEVER not cared about food.) I was stressed because my car was in the shop for 3 days, only to come out with the same problem it had going in, and my home air conditioner had to be replaced. It was also the one-year anniversary of the loss of this case, and I was feeling it keenly, crying each night as I went home. Until one night I was crying on the table in class; my partner continued to quietly work on me as tears puddled in my ears. My instructors came to work on me as well, pressing points on my head and feet. I hated the vulnerability of it, the crying in front of others. My armor was failing me.

As I was lying in bed that night, I remembered something I read that day in Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. That week I had also been adding to the misery by thinking of my romantic failures over the years. So I pulled out Williamson’s book to stop the self-flagellation and stumbled on the quote at the top of this post. This case was a loss, no doubt, but maybe it wasn’t a failure? My client has moved onto the next stage of the process with a new attorney to continue to seek justice, and I still hold out hope that he will walk outside the prison walls one day and return to his family. Yet, if that doesn’t happen, perhaps he will find a different kind of freedom through yoga, even within prison walls. I know, without question, that he made me a better person and a better lawyer, and it is because of him that my yoga journey has changed. Next month I’ll be attending training in trauma-sensitive yoga at Kripalu in Massachusetts so that I can work with others to release old traumas held within their tissues.

What about my shoulders, you ask? To that, I’ve added my stubborn and mistrustful neck, which I blogged about last time, and gluteal amnesia. Yes, you read that right. It turns out my gluteal muscles don’t fire like they’re supposed to, so other muscles are compensating. And the term for that is gluteal amnesia. I swear I didn’t make that up. When I told a classmate about my public defender shoulders AND amnesiac glutes, she quipped, “So your shoulders want to save the world but your ass just can’t be bothered?” Perhaps that will be the title of my memoir!

I was so engrossed in my neck and my ass this summer that I had completely forgotten about my shoulders until I was in Chair Massage in late June when a classmate working on me said, “Wow, you have great shoulders. So soft, hardly any knots.”

“What????” I asked, pulling my head off the face cradle, thinking I must’ve heard wrong. I didn’t. Other classmates have made the same remark since June. My public defender shoulders have melted, releasing over a decade of responsibility on the tables at massage school.

With gratitude,


Question for reflection: What relationship has ended, or is ending, that you could view as a success instead of a failure?

©2016 Rachel Regenold

July 28, 2016
by Rachel

Two for One Special

“Mindful touch and movement grounds people and allows them to discover tensions that they may have held for so long that they are no longer even aware of them.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Viking 2014).

Who doesn’t love a bargain? I know I do. Still, when licensed massage therapists I know told me that not only would I learn new skills in massage school but I would find healing for myself as well, I was skeptical. Not that I didn’t believe them, but I was arrogant enough to think I had done so much work what more could be left?

It’s ok to laugh here. Guffaw even.

Earlier this year when I was emotionally wrung out by yet another bodywork class, I asked a friend, “How much more old stuff can be stored in my body?”

“A lot,” she replied.

“Fine!” I huffed, and we both laughed.

Thus, in May I began the first 50 hours of Traditional Thai Massage on the Mat with some trepidation. I had never heard of Thai massage until I began looking at massage school but I was immediately intrigued because of its connection to yoga. The therapist works on a large, cushioned mat, using compression and massage strokes, while moving the client through yoga poses. Even though the client is clothed, this modality sounded so much more intimate because the therapist uses her body to move the client passively through stretches. Plus, there were only 4 students signed up for the class, so it would be small and intimate. Nowhere to hide. Still, I was determined to try it and knew the group would be dedicated.

I found myself preparing for the 6 full days of class like I did when I was an attorney preparing for trial or oral argument – cleaning the house, stocking up on groceries, doing laundry up until the evening before the first class when I practiced yoga to calm myself. I had to be battle ready.

The first few days we did a lot of work opening up each other’s hips as we practiced Thai massage on each other’s lower body. By the third or fourth day, I was more than happy to move on to the upper body because my hips were sore. Bridget had me lie on my back on the Thai mat so she could demonstrate how to pull a client up to a seated position. She bent down, asking me to take her forearms, as she squatted and slowly pulled me into sitting. She asked me to stop helping along the way. This wasn’t the first time I heard that. A number of times one of my classmates would ask me to “relax” or “let go” as they worked on me because I have a tendency to try to control the movement even when I’m playing the part of the client.

After the third demonstration, Bridget sighed, “You’re still helping.” I was baffled by what she meant. I had consciously relaxed my limbs so the only part of me that was working were my hands connecting to her forearms, I thought. At her direction we partnered up to practice the move; Bridget stood nearby as my classmate asked me to reach for his forearms.

“Relax your neck,” Bridget admonished while my partner gently pulled my upper body off the mat.

“What?” I asked.

“Here,” Bridget said, tapping gently on my forehead with her index finger. “Let your head fall back while he pulls you up.”

“That is so annoying,” I replied through gritted teeth as she continued to tap. Grudgingly I let my head fall back as I relaxed my neck. “I feel like a newborn! YUUUUUCCCKKKK!”

Bridget told us to practice the move again.  Hating every minute of it, I practiced again with my head hanging back.  I told myself this was a lawyer thing – a consequence of being so cerebral and having spent my life on intellectual pursuits. “My head goes with me everywhere!” I protested to Bridget. To prove my point, for the last day of our class in May we invited friends to practice a 2-hour Thai Massage; I invited a lawyer friend of mine, certain she would also hold her head up during this pose. Imagine my dismay when I slowly pulled her to sitting at the end of our session and her head lolled back in a relaxed manner. My friend and I were similar in many respects – only a few years apart in age, we both practiced the same type of law for nearly the same amount of years, and we both held a deep love for animals and reading. But I knew one of the deepest differences between us was a starkly different childhood experience.

When the first half of Thai massage concluded, I had to admit to myself once again the great lengths to which I have gone to in my life to avoid letting others do anything for me. I am extraordinarily good at doing things for myself. Only last year I began seeing an energy healer recommended by a friend. During one session we talked about the faith it would take for me to make the leap from a stable income in a job I no long had passion for to teaching yoga and attending massage school. On paper, to my rational self, the leap didn’t make one bit of sense. It was not well planned and carefully controlled like so much of my adult life. My healer told me softly, “You’ve been thinking and planning ahead since you were 4 to 6 years old. You’re safe now. You don’t need to do that any longer.” I wept at the thought of a child so young feeling the need to do that. And then, all rational thinking aside, I took the leap and quit my job.

Just as I acknowledged my unwillingness to let others help me, the universe gave me the opportunity to do just that. At the beginning of June as I started a course in Acupressure, my car broke down and spent 3 days in the shop. Gritting my teeth, I asked friends for rides to the mechanic, to school, and to a meeting. They rose to the occasion marvelously, helping me without a second thought, even as I felt guilty for needing help. “I should be able to do it on my own” – the resounding theme of my life – played endlessly in my head.

A couple weeks later, one of my Thai massage classmates and I got together to practice before the second half of our class began because Bridget had encouraged us to do so and we didn’t want to forget how to do this new modality we loved so much. When my classmate suggested we try a pose from a Thai massage book, where the model’s head was relaxed back as the therapist pulled her up, he said, “Your head will be sticking straight out.” I laughed. I really did try to relax my neck, but as he pulled me up, he said, “Relax, let your head go.”

I was stumped. “I thought I was!” I said.

“Nope, sticking straight out,” he replied, and we both laughed.

Later in June, as I walked my dogs, I was pondering the fact that I have completed half of my massage training already. For the first time it hit me how much I enjoy touch, both giving and receiving. This came as a surprise to me since I was well into my 30s before I even liked for people to hug me. I had known massage school was a gamble for me since I did not come from a touchy-feely family. So enjoying touch seemed very new to me. But as I let that feeling sink in I realized this enjoyment of touch is actually very old. It’s a part of me I suspect I suppressed very early on so I could fit in to a family that valued intellect and strength but not emotional displays.

As July and the second half of Thai massage rolled around, I began relaxing into myself as a yoga teacher and student massage therapist. So one day in class when Bridget demonstrated a sequence on me, she pulled me up from the mat a number of times as my head dangled. “Way to go, Rach!” one of my classmates called. It had been a conscious effort to relax my neck, but only a momentary one. I knew I could trust Bridget. I knew that I was safe.

Practicing Thai massage, July 2016. Photo by Bridget Ryan.

Practicing Thai massage, July 2016. Photo by Bridget Ryan.

That night as I was lying in bed pondering the day’s events, an old memory surfaced that I hadn’t thought about in years. Events transpired in my home that caused me to run away and land in a youth shelter for a week when I was 12 years old. I had shared that memory with close friends and a therapist over the years, but for the first time I could stand back and see it not with anger, fear, or resentment but with compassion for my girl-self and the difficult choices I made at such a young age. I believe bodywork brought that memory to the surface so it could finally be healed, nearly 30 years later.

My mother invited me to lunch the weekend after I completed the 100-hour course in Thai massage. After we shared what was new in our lives she told me that she had caught up on my old blog posts and she read the one where I described my parents as unreliable and asked what that meant. I winced. I knew she and my dad might read that and it wasn’t my intention to hurt them, but it was my truth. Over the years my mother has approached the subject of my childhood a number of times and each time has been met with my barely-suppressed rage and rapid departure. For the first time I was able to respond instead of react. At the end of our conversation I told her, “I have shamed and blamed you for years but I don’t anymore. I don’t want you to feel bad about my childhood. You don’t need to worry about me, I’m fine – I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Plus, the flipside is that I’m grateful. I have friends who had great childhoods but are too scared to leave a way of life that makes them unhappy. The way we lived gave me the courage to make this leap and know I’ll be just fine.”

With gratitude,


Questions for reflection: How has bodywork or movement been healing for you?

Copyright 2016 Rachel Regenold

May 13, 2016
by Rachel

Let Your Dreams Out of the Barn!

“Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life we have refused again and again until now.

Until now.”

– David Whyte

One day in March I went free roaming with my friend Marla; we spent the day wandering wherever life took us. We began with an excellent breakfast because everyone needs a little sustenance before an adventure. And we ended in the car with Marla driving us around the back roads of rural Iowa south of Des Moines. Something about that drive inspired Marla to tell me about Francis, the man who had kept a car in her parents’ barn for the last 10-15 years. Marla’s parents had gone to an auction and her father was bidding on a Mercedes that Francis wanted, so Marla’s dad let Francis have the car. And when Francis didn’t have anywhere to keep the car, her parents volunteered their barn. Francis paid them rent, and in exchange Marla’s dad started the car up regularly, kept the rodents out, vacuumed, put air in the tires, and put plastic over the car for protection. When Marla’s dad passed her mom kept up the care of the car until she went into a nursing home.

Now Marla is responsible for her mother’s affairs and every few months she receives a check from Francis and a note signed “Francis & Buttons.” Marla has tried returning the checks because no one is caring for the car any longer, but Francis insists on paying rent. To Marla’s knowledge, Francis has never worked on or driven the car in all the years it’s been in her parents’ barn.

“That story makes me sad,” I told her. “It makes me think of people’s dreams and how they never let them out into the light. . . . I think there’s a blog post in this somewhere.”

Marla smiled and said, “I think so, too.”

I don’t know Francis (or Buttons) but I can’t help but wonder what happened? Something about this Mercedes caught Francis’ eye, causing him to bid against Marla’s dad and ultimately get him to acquiesce so Francis himself could have the car. Then he made arrangements and payments for its care for years. I imagine there are plenty of explanations for this, but it saddens me to think that he might have had dreams of fixing it up to drive or sell, or maybe tinkering was just a hobby. What prevented him from doing that?

Sometimes dreams start out this way, don’t they? Something catches our eye and our heart and we take a step toward it. Like Marla’s parents, we have people in our lives who will help us tend our dreams even when we aren’t actively pursuing them ourselves. But sooner or later if we don’t go after our dreams, they become a burden, some hulking thing lurking in the shadows that makes us feel guilty and full of regret, wondering, “what if?”

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this in the context of creativity in her latest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books 2015). She gives the example of this amazing novel idea that she fell in love with; she nurtured and researched that idea, but then life intervened. She set the book project aside to deal with her life. When she tried to return to the book later she said she “was looking at nothing but the empty husk of what had once been a warm and pulsating entity.” She still had all the research and materials but she couldn’t make a go of it no matter how hard she tried. Not long after, another author published nearly the exact same story that had once been her idea. She doesn’t claim Ann Patchett stole her idea but that genius, dreams, creative whimsy, whatever you call it, will only wait so long before it passes on to someone else.

I had this exact experience happen, though I didn’t know how to explain it at the time. I was writing a memoir about my law school experience. Now, Scott Turow has the classic about his first year at Harvard, One L, and there’s the Paper Chase. But my take on it was going to be about a Midwestern woman’s 3 years of law school on the East Coast. I dawdled and dabbled and talked about it more than I wrote it. Then I learned that another woman had published my book! She was an Iowan who had gone to law school on the East Coast and wrote about all 3 years of law school from a woman’s perspective. I was furious. But I had no one to blame but myself. I let my dream rust in the barn. Others had encouraged and nurtured the project but I didn’t. I was still paying rent on the mental and creative space it took up but not getting anything out of it other than a little guilt and regret. Now all I have is a bunch of journals, emails, and partially written chapters that no one will ever read. It reminds me of song lyrics I heard nearly 20 years ago that still haunt me: “I’m having a going away party/Don’t worry it won’t be a loud party/Because dreams don’t make noise when they die.”

I loathe regret. When I was having a difficult work situation years ago and trying to decide whether to speak up or pretend it wasn’t happening, my sister Michele told me that in life she often found that the biggest regrets she has are over things she didn’t do. Sure, she did things she wished she hadn’t. But what galled her was wondering, “what if?” That really resonated with me then, so I chose to speak up at work – it was painful 5,000 different ways – but I don’t regret it.

So now that’s one of my guiding principles: Will I regret it if I don’t try this? Will I always wonder what could’ve been?

Does that mean it always works out when I say yes, I want to try this? Nope, it sure doesn’t. Yet, I don’t have to wonder. I know. I hate being hurt and rejected but I hate wondering “what if?” even more.

I know it’s scary – hey, I’m the crazy woman who left the practice of law to teach yoga and go to massage school in my 40s. I’m well acquainted with the dark side of “what if?” What if I go broke and can’t pay the bills? What if I’m a terrible yoga teacher or massage therapist?

It’s a short road from the auction yard to the barn, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s a long one, filled with regret.

The dream I’ve been nursing for a few years is to offer private yoga sessions. Even before I went through teacher training this felt right to me. I participated in a 2-year spiritual program that had an optional third year that would allow me to become a spiritual director. I opted out of the third year to attend yoga teacher training instead. I knew I would use the deep listening, intuition, and discernment that I had honed in the first 2 years to offer what I refer to as “spiritual direction on the mat” – working with mind, body, and spirit one client at a time.

Except now I’ve been a certified yoga teacher for a year and I still haven’t offered private yoga. Oh, I can give you the list of excuses. 1. I had a full-time job. (Got that out of the way in December.) 2. I didn’t have the space to offer it. (I lined up space earlier this year.) 3. I didn’t have the knowledge or experience. (Teacher training + teaching group classes + studying anatomy in massage school + additional training in teaching private yoga + my own experience on the mat and in life.)

I’ve run out of excuses. So it’s time to let this dream out of the barn!

The first 3 people who email me with YOGA DREAMS in the subject line will receive a one-hour individual yoga session for the promotional price of $25. That’s only $10 more than your average drop-in class but this one is designed for your needs alone. Do you want to learn more about yoga or would you like more relaxation and less stress in your life? I’m here to help! Feel free to share this promotion with friends who may be interested. (Here’s the fine print: This offer is for a one-on-one private session to be held in the Des Moines metro area; if the offer is not redeemed within 60 days it will be forfeited. Payment must be made at the time of the session.)

UPDATE: Thank you for supporting my dreams!  All 3 private sessions at the promotional price have been claimed.

If you’re interested in learning about my yoga offerings – private sessions or group classes – click here.

With gratitude,


Question for reflection: What dream(s) are you ready to let out of the barn?

Copyright 2016 Rachel Regenold

April 24, 2016
by Rachel

Killing Me Not So Softly

“In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“Who wants to be the demo for neck work?” Dianna called out to our Therapeutic Massage level 2 class.

“Me, me, me!!” I replied. I had been looking forward to receiving and learning how to give neck work since I was still seeing the chiropractor for my own neck issues. It was mid-February and we were nearing the end of this class. Our small group of 9 women was becoming a little goofy and we were all very giggly that night as I took off my top under the sheet on the massage table while Dianna, the instructor, left the room to wash her hands. When Dianna seated herself on the stool behind my head, she shifted around to the right side of my body, saying, “First, we’re going to learn a little pectoral work, then move onto the neck.” I was a little disappointed because my neck was hurting but I knew we’d get there eventually. Dianna raised my right arm and undraped my side to access the pec muscles that lie under the breast. As she pressed her fingertips into the flesh under my breast I sucked in my breath at the immediate pain. She moved in deeper as she described what she was doing, gently moving my arm back and forth to help release the adhesions, and continuing the pressure on my pec muscles until I called out, “STOP! Please, stop! It hurts too much!”

I was near tears but didn’t want to cry in front of the now-quiet class, so I made a joke instead. “Who needs water boarding to torture suspects when you have this?” I asked. Dianna joked in return that her next job would be at Guantanamo Bay. I dubbed this technique “the armpit torture.”

Dianna explained how many people’s pec muscles are tight for various reasons, such as sitting at a desk or behind the wheel of a car for hours on end. I was unable to pay much attention to what she said or really enjoy the neck work she demonstrated on me. I was also reluctant to practice the pec work on my partner after the demo, knowing how painful it was for me. I knew the reason mine hurt. Not only had I spent years at a desk, but I had injured my shoulder several years earlier, and apparently my pecs had tightened as they compensated for muscles that could no longer do their job.

When the class ended the next night, I told Dianna I’d see her again for an elective in Bamboo Massage beginning in late March. “I promise you won’t be the demo for pec work in Bamboo,” Dianna replied, smiling.

“You use bamboo in that spot??” I asked, incredulous. “That IS torture.”

At the end of March, I returned to school for Bamboo Massage, where we learned to use tools to go deeper in massage without being hard on our own bodies. A few days in, Dianna announced that the next day we would start with pec work. I cringed while students who had been in Therapeutic 2 with me laughed kindly, remembering how much I hated the dreaded “armpit torture.”

That night I felt very tired and reluctant to be around people, though I had started the week full of laughter and energy. It was just a fun elective and I hadn’t expected a deep emotional release. But the impending pec work made me think of how I had injured myself in September 2011. I had just begun taking yoga that summer and had felt a bit of twinge in my right shoulder during some poses but didn’t think much of it. Then I took a few days off work in September to scrape and paint my 1948 single-car garage. It ended up taking 5 whole days to do the job. Five days of vacation time spent scraping and painting in blistering hot weather. Very early on I tore something in my right shoulder and I knew it, but I refused to stop or ask for help. I took ibuprofen, tried to use my left hand more, and kept on going. For days afterward I could only walk one of my dogs at a time because my right arm wasn’t working properly.

I didn’t go to a doctor. Mostly I was able to perform regular tasks after the first few days. It wasn’t until several months later that I realized my refusal to address the problem was a problem; when I looked in the mirror one morning before I put a shirt on, I realized one of the muscles of my right shoulder was more prominent and developed in an unusual way. My body was compensating. I could no longer raise my right arm without pronating it first. I had adapted some of my yoga poses accordingly. I was still in mild pain whenever I used my right arm.

On Valentine’s Day 2013, as an act of self-love, I scheduled a forgiveness session with my spiritual director to heal old emotional wounds from someone in my life who had hurt me. I had no idea it would heal physical wounds as well. As a treat for the deep emotional work I knew I would do that morning, I had scheduled an hour-long massage for later in the afternoon. My shoulders and neck were always tight, so I asked my massage therapist to focus on those areas. She began with my right side and as she worked around my shoulder blade, suddenly my shoulder dropped into place. Except I had no idea it had been out of place. My massage therapist was stunned into stillness for a moment and I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. Afterwards I asked, “Did something happen with my right shoulder?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “It dropped. It was so amazing!”

“It felt like a big energetic shift, too,” I said, not even sure what that meant as I said it.

“Oh, it was HUGE,” she replied.

That day when I went home, simple tasks that I had come to expect to be painful, like flipping a light switch or turning on the tap, felt absolutely normal. There was no pain. I could move my right shoulder in completely natural ways. I was astounded. I enjoyed pain-free movement for a few days before I decided to test my shoulder in some yoga poses at home. I felt something grinding together and then I was in pain again. Back to square one. I had experienced some kind of magical healing but I had screwed it up by pushing myself too hard. Again.

Later that year I finally asked for help by going to acupuncture and working on the emotional issues behind this injury – my insistence on pushing myself too hard all the time and my refusal to ask for or accept help. Once I had healed, I strengthened and stretched my shoulder through yoga. When I began massage school earlier this year I’d say I was back to about 98-99% of my old shoulder abilities. I knew there was still something not quite right but I was willing to live with 98-99%. Until Dianna stuck her fingers in my armpit and I called out in pain.

As I sat journaling the morning we would learn pec work in Bamboo Massage, I began to cry, thinking back to the first massage I ever received. In 1999 my friend Christi was a massage therapist I met in college; she was one of the few students who knew I was going through chemotherapy. I had few friends and kept to myself. As my cancer treatment was coming to an end, she asked if I’d be interested in receiving a massage. I had never had one and felt awkward about it but I agreed. Once she gave me permission to be quiet and relax, I began to enjoy it. Afterwards she asked how it felt. “Good,” I replied. What else was I supposed to say? She nodded and smiled.

Several weeks later we met to chat, after my entire world had come crashing down. “I didn’t want to tell you at the time because I didn’t think you were ready,” Christi said. “But when I was working on you, I felt like something in you needed to be broken.”

I nodded ruefully. “It did…. It has.”

I had very carefully constructed and controlled my world while in cancer treatment, as I did throughout my adult life. My friend Shelly had accompanied me to many of the appointments for various tests, including the incredibly painful test of my bone marrow – a drilling of needles into my hip bones to extract marrow and a bone fragment – after which Shelly gave me ibuprofen and I went to my part-time job. But the first time Shelly made a mistake by not meeting me to take me to an appointment like she had agreed to do, I cut her out. I had accepted her help but she had let me down. Better to do it all on my own. She apologized profusely but I told her I couldn’t take the risk of being disappointed again. Our friendship withered away and I went to appointments alone.

I told myself I could do all of this – college, a part-time job, cancer treatment, and applying for law school – on my own. I was fortunate to have very few side effects from the chemo so I could continue a regular life. I even kept most of my hair, though it thinned and became more orange. Why did anyone else need to be tethered to a hospital room by an IV drip for hours on end every 2 weeks for 7 months like I did, as chemo dripped into my veins? I brought novels, homework, music, and crafts to keep me busy.

Occasionally I had moments of “weakness” when I wished there were someone else to take some of the load. After 3 months of chemo, the oncology pharmacist reported that my white blood cells had dropped to a dangerous level. Really, I was lucky they had withstood the chemo so long. “What pill do I need to take?” I asked in a bored tone.

“No pill,” she said. “You’ll have to have injections, once a day for 7 days, then 3 days off.”

“For how long?” I asked, mildly panicked at the thought of daily sticks.

“For the rest of your treatment.”

“Do I come here every day then?”

“No, we give the syringes to you and you do it at home. Whoever you live with can do it for you, if you like.”

I lived alone. They gave me a piece of fake skin to practice sticking. If you lived with someone, he or she could stick you in the back of the arm. If you lived alone, you could stick yourself in the abdomen or the thigh. Every night before dinner for 7-day stretches, I’d take a syringe out of the refrigerator, remove the cap, squeeze the flesh on my belly and think, I cannot possibly do this. And then I did. Because I had to. There was no one else.

My carefully-controlled world fell apart after I graduated from college and my treatment didn’t go as expected. Only then did I ask for help, when I was broken and everything was in pieces.

I sobbed as I showered before going to Bamboo Massage. It’s time for that part of me to die, I thought. It was time to let go of the me that so carefully protected myself from the possibility that someone else could hurt me, destroying myself in the process. As I drove to class, I listened to an old Jewel album that was popular when I was in cancer treatment. Her lyrics from the song “Deep Water” made me cry even harder: “You wake up to realize somehow your standard of living got stuck on survive.”

I didn’t want to simply survive anymore. I wanted to live and thrive.

When I got to class and partnered up with another student who had been in class with me before, I said, “I want the pec work today. I need you to be ruthless. Even if I cry, and I probably will, I want you to keep going, ok? And if you can’t do it, it’s ok, I’ll ask Dianna.” My partner agreed and after we watched the demo, asked me which side I wanted her to begin on. “My right,” I said. “Let’s get it over with.”

My partner nodded and set to work. She started with her fingers to make sure she found the pec muscles before she used the bamboo. I took deep breaths to relax because I was scared of the pain to come, so I was a little puzzled when it didn’t hurt. “I don’t really feel any adhesions or anything,” my partner told me. Secretly, I thought she must be in the wrong place, though it felt like she was in the vicinity.

“It doesn’t hurt,” I told Dianna as she walked over to observe. Dianna’s eyes widened in surprise. My partner withdrew her fingers as Dianna dove in. I tensed a little, expecting excruciating pain, but there was nothing.

“Oh, Rachel, it feels completely different in here,” Dianna told me.

That night I wept tears of gratitude. And when I began my next elective in Lymphatic Drainage Massage, I shared how scared I was about taking that class and what it might bring up emotionally since my cancer had been of the lymphatic system. My friends in class checked in with me daily to see how I was doing. I asked for help and they rose to the occasion.

How did the miraculous healing of my shoulder occur during that massage on Valentine’s Day? How did my pec muscle heal? I can’t explain the strange alchemy that occurs when we do emotional work and bodywork together. I just know that it does, and that the healing is profound.

With gratitude,


Question for reflection: What emotional wounds are you holding in your body that you’re ready to release?

Copyright 2016 Rachel Regenold