When Injury Over-Rides Intention

I returned from my yoga teacher training with much enthusiasm, joy and a feeling of fulfillment. After all, a dream of decades had finally come to fruition. What a sense of accomplishment!

Attempting to connect to my yoga community, I began taking classes at local studios. Many teachers and owners looked askance at me when I mentioned “Kundalini” yoga – either not fully appreciating the technique or not fully understanding how it could be integrated with Hatha or Vinyasa.

I went to one class that advertised “DeTox Fridays” and found a bar of wine set up at the registration desk. When I asked what that was about, the receptionist said gleefully, “Oh, that’s for re-tox after class!” I took my credit card back and left.

Another class was touted as “Healing Saturday” which sounded like something anyone could use. I arrived at the studio early, took my place, and warmed up my body in preparation for class. One by one students arrived, and with each one, adjustments were made with mats to make room for the ever-increasing numbers. The room became warmer, the teacher raised the temperature in the room, and class began. I was exactly four inches from my neighbors on either side.

Despite having a towel on the mat and a large washcloth to wipe my hands, I was slipping and sliding through each asana like a skater on fresh ice. The room became even hotter still, and the sweat was now a downpour on my body. Normally I love the feeling, but I couldn’t hold a pose in position for the soaked towel, mat, hands and dripping from my forehead.

Side plank was called – we all shifted to our sides, raised our bodies, and then the instruction to “flip the dog” (really?!) was made, and legs went up in the air to come down behind the supporting leg – which is when my neighbors foot slammed into my thigh – my supporting hand started sliding – and in order not to fall into my opposite neighbor – I braced myself with my other leg……

Which is when I felt the worst kind of zing of searing pain in my left hamstring at the femur joint that I have ever known. I knew instantly that I had injured either the hamstring or surrounding tissue, and between gasping for breath and adjusting to a child’s pose to center myself, my heart sank.


Eyes closed, breathing steadily, heart racing and pain radiating throughout the back of my left thigh, I was almost brought to tears.

When I felt it was safe to do so, I came up to a sitting position, gathered my soaked towels, rolled up my mat, and gingerly stepped between the narrow spaces of mats to leave the studio.

In the car, I burst into tears.

This was an injury I could ill afford. This was also an injury that should not have happened but for the fact that the studio was crowded: too crowded for participant safety in my opinion, as not only a practitioner but also as a yoga instructor.

I am 62 years old. I know only too well that my body now takes double the time to heal.

A week later, as I was doing chaturanga during my morning practice, something caught in my upper right arm, and I thought my shoulder was going to pop out of its socket. Although I was able to recover, the bursa in my upper arm starting burning as if on fire every time I tried to lift it above shoulder height.

Thinking that a long stretching routine would help the body to unkink and de-tense from these recent reactions – the next day I got on my yoga-wheel and began my routine. Feeling the muscles stretch, the tension subside, and the body relax, I smiled to myself with gratitude that perhaps the body would return more quickly that I originally thought.

For some reason, my ego decided that I could attempt a more advanced pose on the wheel – after all, I was well stretched, warm, and the hamstring and shoulder could benefit from some more work.

I struck the pose, and inwardly cheered to myself — what an accomplishment! – and promptly fell.

The resounding crack in the rib area and the inability to breathe along with the shock of falling left me suspended in time… mere seconds elongated into a sense of hours…. a minute felt like a day.

bruised ribs

Later, after x-rays in the emergency room, and a full examination of hamstring and shoulder, the pronouncement was made: No broken ribs but badly bruised chest wall; nerve damage to the hamstring area; and an aggravated bursa.

The prescription for six to eight weeks of physical therapy handed to me with a compassionate look from the doctor, “I’m so sorry about this. You’ll be back yoga soon. Just give it time.”

Two days later, my youngest dog decided to use my left foot as a launching pad to race out of the bedroom and down the stairs to greet someone at the door. The scream that emitted from my throat felt as if it came from someone else. The pain in my small toe was incomprehensible.

First the swelling; then dark blue and black colors emerged from the skin to become dirty greenish yellow. Not broken, but badly sprained.

Broken Toe

Which is when I stopped all physical activity and spiraled down into a glum state of mind.

It has taken many, many, weeks since these events to return to my center and to accept the causes and conditions of what transpired.

And this is what I’ve learned……

  • Rehabilitation is its own reward; working my body from the very beginning, from the ground up, and from every muscle, fiber, tissue, ligament, and nerve, I am discovering a new way to move, and a newfound strength.
  • My yoga practice is slower, more intentioned, and the accommodations that I have made in asanas are in and of themselves newfound poses. A forward bend may no longer be the 90-degree fold, but instead, it is contained and has a possibility for a future at 60 degrees.
  • The breath informs movement now more than ever; and with each breath the structure of my body is rebuilding itself, discovering its own return.
  • Physical therapy now has me on a treadmill, a stair master, and a rowing machine three to four times a week. I am back in the gym and loving it. Loving the cardiovascular high of endurance and strength. Loving feeling the effects of muscles working back to full capacity.
  • Patience and self-compassion have become easier since my acceptance that I am no longer the 20 or 30-year-old woman I used to be. I have to keep my ego in check as my age really does define me now. To that end, I am willing to accept what a healthy 62-year-old body can and can’t do. It can rebound – it just takes a little longer. It can still perform at its peak but for shorter distances or less time.
  • It is a body that has time and again forgiven me for injuries and harm done to return to loving what I put it through.

Today, I take master classes twice a month in New York with a community of like-minded yoga practitioners. I practice on my own mat using my own techniques. Above all, I respect the limits and limitations these injuries have caused, and I am encouraged by my progress in this journey of rehabilitation and renewal.

As for teaching, I am committed to beginners, and to those with injuries. The former affords me the opportunity to instruct using correct techniques, alignment, and conditions for the practice of yoga. In the latter, my goal is to share solutions with those who have similarly been injured and show students how they do not have to sacrifice their yoga practice while recovering.



Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP, NCRC, is the owner of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC, a private integrated therapy practice in Leesburg, Virginia. Her work focuses primarily on the treatment of addiction, trauma, anxiety and depression. She hosts workshops focused on wellness using Yoga, breath work and meditation to reduce stress and engage in a more balanced life.

Kimberley is a public speaker, author, and educator and is working on her first book.


(photographs are (c) creative commons.)

Making a Dream Come True



My first yoga class was a “demonstration” at the student center of Stanford University in 1969.   The event was hosted by Ananda Marga Yoga and included Kundalini and Hatha Yoga. I had seen flyers all over town, and decided to go see what this was all about.  I was 14 years old.

The room was filled with a mix of college professors, students, older adults, and younger people like me, and I fell in love.  Deeply in love.  Every pose, every instruction in breath, philosophical knowledge shared resonated with me at a deeply cellular level.  I pursued yoga with a zeal and a passion that only a teenager could.

My conservative and somewhat judgmental mother and father did not approve. My mother made fun of my practice, teased me as being “on some kind of kick” that would pass, and my father scorned the “hippie lifestyle.”  As would be the pattern in my life, when I felt that my love and passion was ridiculed and deemed meaningless by others, I imploded and put whatever it was away – in a closet, in a box – or locked within.  It would be years before I picked up yoga again – and then only halfheartedly as the recessed memories kept haunting me.

Some 20 years ago I committed myself to a “new life and a new beginning” and never looked back.  My path of recovery included a dedicated meditation practice, and yoga.
I found teachers wherever I lived, and pursued my practice. A few nasty accidents and injuries have limited some of the more advanced asanas – but they have not stopped me from engaging in my love and passion.

And then in 2015 I met Kia Miller. From the first moment that she walked into the room, she exuded “something else” that I recognized was the “real deal.”  After months in the Northern Virginia area bouncing from one bad yoga class to another I had given up studio work for my own practice.  But I was a student searching for a teacher. In Kia I found what I was seeking.  After months of YogaGlo classes working her techniques, I saw Kia again in person almost a year ago.  The pull to study with her was stronger than ever.  A woman of impressive intelligence, knowledge, and integrity, I wanted nothing more than to immerse myself in study with her.  (It is no coincidence that she is married to Tommy Rosen who I consider to be my recovery and spiritual teacher!)

This was not the first time in my life that I was drawn to becoming a yoga teacher. Dozens of opportunities have presented themselves to me ranging from the Kripalu Center to an ashram in the Bahamas.  But each and every time I either didn’t have the money (often) or the time.  Options of weekend study for the course of a year seemed daunting given a full time job or travel or living overseas.  There was also the whispers of the past that would cast a shadow of doubt and inevitably I would talk myself out of pursuing the teaching certificate.

But not this time.

This time I carved out a month from a private practice as an integrated addiction therapist.  I set aside money for the training, for room and board, and to cover expenses during a month of no work.  As I explained to my husband, “It’s a calculated risk. This is a life changing experience, and I want this dream to come true.”

On Saturday, July 29th, I will drive to The Himalayan Institute in northern Pennsylvania for a 200 hour “Radiant Body” certified teacher training with Kia Miller.

The fact that I am 61 is not stopping me. The fact that chemo-therapy threw my balance off years ago and I struggle with Tree Pose or Standing Pose, much less Dancer’s Pose is not stopping me.  The fact that I may be struggling with Lyme disease is also not stopping me.

Instead, I have been running a mile almost every day with my dogs as part of a conditioning routine to help prepare me. I’ve been working my Omni-balls every day for core strength and stamina. I’ve been going through all the YogaGlo sessions with a fierce dedication that has felt unstoppable.

And so…. as each day unfolds in this journey that has been waiting for me over several decades…. indulge me as I capture the experience through daily postings and blogging.

After all, it’s not every day that a dream actually comes true.

Sat Nam




Our Deep, Driving Desire…

“You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed. 
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
Brihadaranyaka IV.4.5 – The Upanishads

I recently came across this quote while reading Eknath Easwran’s translation of The Upanishads. My heart nearly stopped in recognition of my own life not lived in these words. Written almost 3,000 years ago – timeless today.

• How many times have I known what my deep driving desire was, but ignored it for something else? Only to skew my destiny?
• How many times did I have the desire, but no will
• And how many times did I not fulfill my purpose because I could not put forth my deeds?

In so many ways we can chose paths that steer us away from our true purpose, believing it was what we “should do” for someone else; or what we “should do” for acceptance by others.

(C) Kimberley L Berlin 2017
In my personal story, the result was a series of “careers” that were never meant to be and therefore, never succeeded.

On a certain day, in a certain month, and in a particular year in my life, all that changed in an instant. I had a “spiritual awakening” and surrendered to my own true self. I made a conscious decision to step out of a life of darkness and self-delusion, and enter a life of light to myself.

It was a moment in time when I finally surrendered my resistance to follow my desire and my destiny.

I have never looked back.

How do you break the chains of not following your “deep driving desire”?

How do you change the pattern of doing the same thing over and over and never getting a different result?

In my own journey, I used the three “R’s” to help me discover and define where I wanted to go, how I could get there, and what I needed to do to arrive.

        Recognize, Resolve, and Remove.

Recognize what “it” is. Don’t focus on what you are doing now that doesn’t work. Focus on what it is that you want that does work, that most certainly might work if you gave it a chance.

Maybe we don’t know what that is yet, but if we look, we will find it. Actually, more often than not we already know, but are too scared to admit what it is.

Perhaps you want to go into business for yourself? Or do you want to begin a new job or a new career? Perhaps you want to move away from a toxic relationship. Perhaps you want to use your artistic talent and expand your horizons. Or finally, once and for all lose the weight and never look back? Maybe your dream has always been to travel. Maybe it has been to just live differently.

Become still enough to be able to draw forth the wisdom of your true self and write what comes to your mind. Don’t censor, just allow what needs to emerge to do so.

What does that soft whispering voice, which you keep turning off, actually say to you?

• Is it reminding you to pursue a dream?
• Is it reminding you to fulfill a goal?
• Something you stopped doing long ago and regretted?
• Something you have always wanted to do, but were afraid to try?

Become quiet enough to hear the voice. Then capture what it says.

(C) Kimberley L Berlin, 2017
Resolve to engage in fulfilling that dream. It is a commitment to yourself and no one else.

In fact, you don’t even have to say anything to anyone. Talking about it can diffuse the energy of actually accomplishing the dream. Sometimes it is better to announce that you have already done something, rather than announce you are going to do something.

When we engage in our will, we become disciplined in our deed. The daily regimen of brushing your teeth or brushing your hair are tasks that are performed automatically. When we resolve to a commitment of change, the steps we have to take become ones of joy, not drudgery. Even one minute devoted to the task will embed the discipline in your mind to create a daily habit.

Today, and just today, focus on fulfilling that destiny. Tomorrow will come soon enough

Remove obstacles from that which you wish to fulfill.

Take action each and every day toward removing the “clutter” of your mind and your life. It may be a road of months or even years. It’s not about the time as time is irrelevant when we are fulfilling our destiny.

Obtaining a Bachelor and Master’s degrees took me several years. During that time my focus was on the acquisition of knowledge, the honing of skills, and working toward expertise. The actual degrees were mile markers of my success.

Finances often stop us. What if there isn’t enough money? What if the money won’t come? What if’s… But somehow, somewhere, when we follow our intention, our destiny and our passion – the money always comes, and the money always finds its way into our plan.

There will be setbacks along the way, which is inevitable. These events are not always “failure” as we know them to be. Not “getting” something we seek may sometimes be another form of Grace. We might not see it that way at the time, but if we persevere, we will prevail.

When I encountered obstacles, my path did not diverge. Only the texture and landscape of the road beneath my feet changed.

(C) Kimberley L. Berlin, 2017
Today – you can be blessed with the emergence of a deep and rich destiny. Each day your desire, your will and your deeds can be a reflection of that choice.

Not from thin air – but from a daily reminder that honoring the still and quiet voice within you will create a choir of intention that will surround your being with the Light of your life.

Listen carefully – that sound you hear is the voice of certainty waiting to be heard.

# # #

Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, MAC, SAP, is the owner of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC, a private integrated therapy practice in Leesburg, Virginia. Her work focuses primarily on the treatment of addiction, as well as trauma, anxiety and depression. Using breath techniques, yoga and mindfulness meditation she guides her clients toward solution as well as helping them to uncover the source of their challenges.

Kimberley facilitates a bi-monthly workshop series through MeetUp. She is a public speaker, educator, and currently working on her first book.

© Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW 2017

Not Knowing…


Each week I host a Mindfulness Meditation Group in the building where I work in Leesburg, Virginia.  We are a small but very solid sangha, and each week we gather to engage in breathing exercises, guided meditation, a short talk, followed by a longer sitting practice in silence.

The topics for the short talk have always come very easily – there is a wealth of material that I can bring to our group to help strengthen the practice and guide us toward personal inquiry.

This week I was stumped.  I tossed and turned topics in my mind like tumbling rocks.  Nothing “fit” and nothing resonated.  Each time I came up with an idea, it fell flat.  After three days of picking and dropping ideas, I finally said to myself, “I give up! I don’t know what to talk about.”

It hit me square in my consciousness.  Of course!  Not Knowing.

We all want to know.  Knowing gives us assuredness, comfort, stability and a sense of centeredness.

Knowing what time it is.
Knowing your blood type.
Knowing your likes and dislikes.
Knowing what works in your life and what doesn’t.

Not knowing creates a certain uneasiness.
Not knowing can create a sense of unsteadiness.
Not knowing can create a sense of instability.
Not knowing can create an insecurity in our deepest core.

We seem to have been taught by society that knowing is akin to certainty, and certainty is the only way for us to operate.  After all, this is how we’ve always done it.  This is how it’s supposed to be.  This is the way it is.

If we ask, “Why?” we might find ourselves up against a fair amount of resistance.  From others, from ourselves.  Questioning makes it seem like we are not accepting the status quo.

Perhaps we should be open to not knowing all the answers.
As the bumper sticker suggests, perhaps we might “Question Authority” after all.

Suzuki Roshi, who wrote “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” said:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.
In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

From the Buddhist perspective, not knowing is a very powerful thing.  In fact it creates within us the capacity to be aware, to pay attention and be alert.

Have you ever been given directions to someone’s house and tried to go from point A to point B without a GPS?  Unheard of in this day and age, but not too long ago, this is how we found our way.  We were alert to the lay of the land, to the signs, cross-streets, markers; we paid very particular attention to what we were doing. And when we arrived we had a sense of personal satisfaction that we navigated the numerous obstacles to get to our intended destination  – and afterward, we would always know the route.

Our knowingness can create fixed ideas, notions, and judgements.  Our view becomes rigid and we can’t see beyond our own blinders.  Yet beyond the edges of those limiting shades is a whole universe waiting to be discovered.

When we engage in our mindfulness practice, on the cushion, behind the steering wheel, on the yoga mat, behind our desk – we can begin to see that we have many pre-conceptions, expectations and judgements that can cause us quite a bit of discomfort, if not suffering.  Pre-concieved ideas can easily obscure seeing clearly.

As we become accustomed to “knowing our mind” we can also recognize the patterns of our thinking.  You might even find yourself saying, “Wait – wasn’t I thinking this same thing yesterday?  Haven’t I had this tedious thought a million times already?”

Like the Buddha inviting Mara, the demon of illusion, to tea – we can invite those thoughts, judgements, and rigid ideas to our meditation cushion, and be willing to examine them.

If we are engaged in meditation, attending a sangha, engaged in a practice, we are more than likely seeking an opportunity for conscious reflection, understanding ourselves better, and perhaps having the desire to know our true selves.

Not knowing is fundamental to that reflection and desire because self-awareness is recognized from not knowing.

When we have this insatiable desire to know, to be right about what we know, we are often separating ourselves from others in a dance of distancing borne out of being a know-it-all.  When we feel that being vulnerable will be seen by others as “less-than”, we are missing the point that not knowing is actually “more-than.”

It’s more than most will admit to.
It’s more than playing small while playing safe.
The wisdom of not knowing is a profound acceptance of our human experience.

Gil Fronsdal has said that “a simple but profound way to practice not knowing is to add ‘don’t know’ to every thought you have.”

When we sit in meditation mindful of the activity of our mind, seeing clearly where it wants to go, where it will take us – before bringing our awareness back to the breath and being in the present moment – just gently say – “Don’t know…..”  It can make us feel like the rug is being pulled out from under our precious beliefs – and that’s a good thing.

While I was trying to think of a topic for my talk I felt I had to be relevant, interesting, if not wisdom filled.  I had the belief that I had to bring value to each person attending the meditation session. After all they were taking time out of their evening to attend, offering a monetary donation for the experience…

As I examined my beliefs that were driving me to create some kind of pearls or gems, I realized I didn’t know…. didn’t know what to talk about, didn’t know what to offer.  The more I reflected on that level of not knowing, the more uncomfortable I became.  The not knowing was challenging my pre-concieved notion of my own role.

Finally I had to ask myself, “What would be wrong with not knowing what to talk about?”

Would it make me less-than?
Would it create a bad impression?
Would it make people dislike me?
Would it make people not come back the following week?

I had no answer for any of the questions.  I simply didn’t know.

Accepting that fact opened my awareness to the possibility of using my experience as a topic.

Gil Fronsdal said, “As a Buddhist practice, not-knowing leads to more than an intimacy and open mind.  It can be used as a sword to cut through all the ways that the mind clings. If we can wield this sword until the mind lets go of itself and finally knows ultimate freedom, then no knowing has served its ultimate purpose.”

We often find that the state of not-knowing can be a harbinger to moments that unfold to a discovery of enormous transformative power – and exceeds any expectation we might have held on to.

So may we all draw one less unnecessary line in the sand in our lives.
May we believe more in each other than in our interpretations.
May we open ourselves up to what is possible,
instead of clinging to what we or others believe is a certitude.

May we keep an open mind to our own ideas, and be willing to admit that at the end of the day,
we don’t always have to have all the answers.

May we give ourselves and others permission to not know.



Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP, is the owner of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC, a private therapy practice in Leesburg, Virginia. Her work focuses primarily on the treatment of addiction, as well as trauma, anxiety and depression. Her blog, RisingRecovery.com covers topics related to addiction, spirituality, and “life”. Kimberley facilitates a weekly Leesburg Community Meditation Group through MeetUp. She is a public speaker, educator, and currently working on her first book.





There are a million kinds of prayers.

There are foxhole prayers, “Please get me out of this, don’t let me die.”

There are prayers for others, “Please heal them, make them better, don’t let him die.”

Prayers that bargain, “I swear if you help me now, I’ll never drink again.”

Prayers that supplicate, “Please make me an instrument…..”

Prayers that celebrate, “Thank you for the blessings….”

Since the dawn of time, man has been looking up, and out, and calling upon whatever exists in the stars, the sky – above us – that might be having an effect on us down here,  below.

Reaching out to that “thing” that might possibly be in control.  Of us.  Back then it might have been meteor storms, or lightening, or the phases of the moon.

Today – we are in control of our weather, our environment.   But there are aspects of our lives over which we have not control.

Random acts of Life.

Cancer. Mental Illness. Accidents.  Disease. Addiction. Betrayal. Divorce. Terrorism. Death.

It is then that some of us turn to prayer.

For some of us – this is a way to connect back to the most sacred part of our selves – in order to touch the most sacred part of our consciousness.

I happen to love prayer.  I am not a religious person, not by a long shot.  But I am a spiritual person, and prayer has always resonated with me as a way to connect to that “something“.

When I was young I used to speak to someone upstairs.  That’s how I thought of God back then.  I wasn’t sure what God was, and wasn’t sure how to pray, but knew that prayer was a powerful practice.

Years later – after studying, meditating, engaging in a spiritual practice – prayer has become the most fundamental part of my being and my day.

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Søren Kierkegaard

For Buddhists, there is no differentiation between “us” and the deities. “God” is not out there – he/she is within us. The Higher Power is not outside, but inside.

From the Buddhist standpoint, prayer, like Mindfulness Meditation, is energy.   It creates energy, – it gives out energy – and it receives energy.

Over the years I have come to understand that I am not separate from “God” or whatever I choose to call my Higher Power.  That source is within me.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
Mother Teresa

If meditation is food for our minds, then prayer is food for our soul.

But what if we are Agnostic or Atheist?  Here is a beautiful quote from Ann of Green Gables:

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

My most profound prayer was the night I admitted to being an alcoholic and needing help.  I was literally clinging to the grass beneath me,  my soul breaking open during a moment of clarity.

Sitting on my haunches, my forehead on the ground, the smell of the earth filling my nostrils, I felt the words formulating in my mind and burst through my lips, now smeared with tears, “Oh, God, please help me, please.”

This wasn’t a foxhole prayer.  This was the  moment of opening myself up to the truth of who I was, and what I was.   In between the tears and the sobs, I heard a still voice speak to me.  I felt an ethereal embrace and began to relax into it.  What happened next is another story for another day – but from that day on, I have known that prayer works.

For me – my experience – prayer is the touching within that is the holiest and most sacred of energies.  I began to read many kinds of prayers, and memorized some others.  I began to write my own prayers.

Prayer has since been the cornerstone of my recovery, but also the foundation of my daily existence.  Prayer got me through Cancer.  Prayer got me through a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.  Prayer helped me get through almost losing my husband to an illness.  Prayer helped to center me as I was studying for exams, for licenses.  Prayer got me through the worst days of my life – and prayer helped me to celebrate the happiest days I have ever known.

It’s a big topic – prayer.  Not one I can do justice to here in a blog – or an article – it’s book sized.  And many have written beautiful books on the subject.

But this I know:  Prayers  have been my lifeline to sanity.  They have helped me to center, to become quiet inside – to be still – and listen.  Really listen.  Which is when the quiet voice of that “something” arises, and prayers form on my lips.

I leave you with this prayer….

May we support each other in what we do here,
May we serve each other in our practice,
May our practice inform our daily lives,
And in our daily lives, may we bring grace and mercy to those we meet.



Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP is an Integrated Addiction Therapist in private practice in Leesburg, Virginia. She is the owner and operator of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC.   Kimberley is currently working on the manuscript “Rising Recovery©.”






Sitting With The Hats….or How I Learned to Pray.



When I was a little girl, I used to walk to the church on the corner, and sit in the last pew, with the hats. I have no idea what prompted me to do such a thing. One day, I simply stepped out of our house at 62 Cadogan Square in Kensington, London, and went straight to St. Thomas Moore Church.

I don’t remember the day I started doing this, but I do remember that it became a routine of mine that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would hear the bells toll from my bedroom on the upper floor of our townhouse. In my mind the sound did not mark the time, but suggested a calling. “Come here,” it said. I would stop whatever it was I was doing, go down the endless steps of our stairway to the front entry-way and walk purposefully out the front door. I never told my parents “I’m going out” or “I’m going to the church down the street” or any other normal comment a child would make while leaving their house. My father was usually working in his office, and my mother was doing whatever she was doing – and so I simply exited. In those days, a child of seven could do such a thing. The neighborhoods were safe, even in a large city. There was no such thing as security alarms on the doors or windows, and I never remember the front door being locked.

The church was at the end of a typical London square. The central portion was a gated garden where we used to walk the dogs, or where I would play with my friends. It wasn’t unusual for me to go there by myself and wander around the paths that wove in-between flower-beds and lawn areas enjoying my make-believe world of fairies, elves and sprites. On warm days I would spend hours alternating between basking in the sunshine with my dolls or my favorite book, and cooling off in the shade of one of the large and ancient oak trees that dotted the area. Lying on my back I would look up into the branches above and get lost in how they zigged and zagged this way and that, interconnected, yet always separate from one another. I believed that the trees were “alive” in the sense that they knew who sat near them, climbed them, who carved hearts into their skin. There were several hearts with arrows that seemed burned into the bark with age and it seemed to me that giving a tree such scars was an unkind thing to do. Whenever I gazed up I always thought they gazed right back down at me, and that always made me smile in contentedness.

It only took me a matter of minutes to get to the steps of St. Thomas, and amble up to the large red doors. There was a smell that I loved that greeted me the moment I stepped over the threshold. A combination of old stone – dusty, chalky and white – and polished wood that had been rubbed with beeswax – honed to a shine that turned it into a dark reflecting hue.

The last pew of the church was where the gentlemen left their top hats. I’m not sure if they wore them to just any service – probably weddings and funerals. I presume that they were given a ticket of some sort so they could collect their hats upon leaving, and I always wondered why the men didn’t take their hats with them to their seats in front. After all, the women wore ornate and colorful hats which stayed on their heads during services. Nonetheless, the top hats were lined along the last pews on both sides of the aisle, and it was there I would slip in unseen. I would sit perched on the edge of my seat, back straight, eyes forward. I would imagine that the ushers noticed me, and I do remember one incident when an elderly and gravely gray man with a sonorous voice asked me “to whom I belonged.” I probably answered him with a typically proper British reply “I belong to Mr. & Mrs. Osborn sir. My name is Kimberley and I live at number 62.” In accordance with proper etiquette, I would have stood and curtsied. I do not remember anyone ever making inquiries after that. They must have become accustomed to the fixture in the back who came regularly whenever there was a wedding, a funeral, or any high service. She behaved herself, so they weren’t bothered.

What I do remember was the sense of belonging that enveloped me whenever I walked in to St. Thomas. I was safe there, wrapped in the smell of furniture polish, and caressed by the colors of stained glass that fractured the light above me. The hats smelled of silk and sometimes cedar or mothballs – and they were my companions. Although they were black, there were so many shades of black. Some darker than others, some more textured, some more frayed with wear. Some were stained, others it seemed were brand new – I could tell from the high gloss shine of the fabric, the stiff edges, and the fresh smell that exuded from the silk. Sometimes the hats were grey to match the morning coats being worn.

I did not understand one word that came from the mouth of the rector in the front. Nor did I know the hymns that were sung, although I became familiar with the tunes, and then I would hum along. To this day there are some traditional hymns that give me goose bumps whenever I hear them – catapulting me back to those times when the organ would strike the first note and the ceiling would reverberate with a magnificent sound. I stood when everyone stood, sat when they sat. When prayers were said, and the congregation kneeled, I knew to kneel, and said my own quiet prayers.

There was someone very great above, and it was to that greatness that I made myself known. Eyes closed, I engaged in a private conversation with this being. “Excuse me sir, it’s me down here, and I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you. I hope you are thinking of me too.” There would be many times during the course of my life that I would go back to those simple words, connecting to that Power.

The peculiar thing is that my father was an atheist and had no time or patience for God, any Church, or religion. My mother was an intentionally lapsed Catholic who believed that God had turned his back on her. To be raised in this kind of household and yet have a deep an abiding sense of the spiritual at such a young age remains a mystery to me. And to them, I am sure. How or why I was pulled in the direction of the street corner – seemingly without will – has always remained a question mark in my mind. However, it remains the foreshadowing of a life that has always been engaged with the spiritual and a couple of times, serious consideration of giving up the worldly life for a monastic one.

Despite the elegant address of Cadogan Square and the photo-shoots of the similarly beautiful interior for the glossy magazines of the day, the real scene inside Number 62 was dark, and ugly. Fights. Screaming. Police and red lights. Bolted doors and the stinging smell of whiskey from someone who grabbed me out of my bed. Red wrists as I was dragged down the stairs, threats made as I was shoved out a window screaming bloody murder in terror that I was going to be dropped three floors to the concrete below. I was saved by someone, and my memory goes blank about much of what happened after that. Except that one night my father walked out of the house and never came back.

I remember starkly that the day after he left I went down to St. Thomas Moore. There were no bells, no call to service, no beckoning to a congregation. The doors opened with some effort, but made little sound, perhaps a reluctant creaking. I sidled in to the last pew. There were no hats to accompany me on my perch. No usher to cast a careful eye on me. Nothing but emptiness and silence. I remember that more than anything. Yet both reverberated a sound that was deafening to me. My world had just crumbled, and although I did not know the full extent of what had happened, or why, I knew enough that my days of security, safety, and innocence were over. There was a profound fear snaking its way into the pores of my skin, and settling itself inside me, curling up on the cold stone of my new reality. I sat there for a very long time, looking around, having my ritual conversation with the Important Person above. It never occurred to me to go to the ornate front of the church with the glittering objects, ornate crosses, and perfumed flower arrangements. I knew my place, and I knew where safety lay – in the last pew.

I never saw St. Thomas again. My mother and I moved to an apartment in Sloane Square. It was a busy area filled with shops and restaurants. The streets were noisy with traffic and I was admonished about being very careful when crossing the roads. I was to carry a key to the front door at all times as we kept it locked. The door to the building also had locks, and buzzers that sounded rasp and unwelcoming. Instead of a garden square in the middle of the block, there was a park not far away where nannies pushed blue prams and gathered on benches to talk. Walking there wasn’t safe I was told. It would be years before I would live in an area that had a church on the corner.

But I have never seen top hats lined along the last pew again.



Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP is an Integrated Addiction Therapist in private practice in Leesburg, Virginia. She is the owner and operator of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC.   Kimberley is currently working on the manuscript “Rising Recovery©.”

The Courage to Change


Change does not come easily to us.  In fact, we resist it at every turn.  We become set in our ways, and either we fear a change, or we dig our heels in, not wanting to let go of what we know despite the fact that what we “know” may be unbelievably uncomfortable if not the primary cause of our suffering.

It takes a lot of courage to make a change.  Whether this is a monumental effort or a tiny step, the amount of inner resolve to alter our course in life can be enormous.  Perhaps we want to change a bad habit, or introduce a good one.  Perhaps we have come to realize we need to leave a job, or a relationship.  Or we have come to accept that perhaps those wine-coolers before lunch are starting to be a problem; or the pain medications ran out a long time ago replaced by far more dangerous relief.

The first thing we encounter when presented by the notion of change is resistance.  The defenses we have built around our egos are walls of fear casting shadows of doubt around us.  We may know that our choice is “change or die” but there is almost inevitably something inside that whispers “Die – don’t change!”

According to author Robert Quinn, making a deep change involves “walking naked into the land of uncertainty.”  A powerful statement that speaks of our vulnerability and the potential opportunity to emerge with stability and strength.

From the Buddhist point of view, the practice of meditation and the path of Dharma affords us the opportunity to be on a journey that leads us to becoming who we already are.  It is almost a remembering of what we forgot to remember.  And what we forgot was ourselves.

In the Buddhist practice, we accept the call to change as an encouragement to allow the layers of illusion to fall away.  In the words of Jack Kornfield, “We begin to see that it is often just a matter of remembering and reminding ourselves of the different ways that we are brought to freedom and joy in our own lives.”

Awareness is the first step to change.  And from there, we can examine the nature of what we are holding on to, what we are resisting.  What are we unwilling to relinquish?  What are we afraid will happen? What is giving us pause?

“We begin to see that it is often just a matter of remembering and reminding ourselves of the different ways that we are brought to freedom and joy in our own lives.”  Jack Kornfield

Examining our defenses with self-love and an open heart – not making judgements or berating ourselves – is the process we use to let go what might be holding us back.  When we sit in meditation and allow the thoughts of discomfort to arise, we can look at them objectively and ask ourselves, “Can I see this differently?” and “What is underneath this resistance, and this thought, and this defense?”

Each step leads us closer to the underlying truth of why we might be unwilling to launch ourselves headlong into a change.  Fear is usually the starting point; but what lies under the fear?  And under that?

Each layer revealed helps us to reach the inner truth of our self – a remembering and reminding of the nature of who we are.  In the Buddhist tradition, this is a pure and wonderful self – one that we tend to resist, preferring to believe that we are damaged or somehow flawed.  As Marianne Williamson aptly wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”

When we begin to accept that dynamic and beautiful self “beyond measure”, we break down the wall of fear and throw a light on the shadows of our doubts.  That first recognition may bring us to tears – realizing that we have withheld self-love for so long that it wove a tapestry of warped self-views;  but the tears that arise are a cleansing balm that we need to rinse the resistance and open us to that “freedom and joy” we have longed for.

If we are facing a change, whether it is a small step or a perceived walk off a cliff, having faith that the courage is within us to be present to what arises, and to emerge victorious is the victory itself.