Before Angela began her studies at Meridian, she was already a therapist in private practice. Her career felt good and was soul aligned.
Angela had been considering a PhD for many years, but she knew it would require a large investment of time and energy, and she hadn't found a program that was aligned well enough with her career that she felt compelled to commit.
Angela had considered a PhD, but she knew it would require a large investment of time and energy. She knew that, if she were to commit to a program, it would need to align with her career, but she hadn’t found one that fit yet. Angela traveled to Northern California once a month to work with Anna Halprin at Tamalpa Institute. She was drawn to dance and creative movement, and she saw Anna as the right mentor for her needs. Rather than weekly therapy with someone nearby, she traveled to “sit at the feet of this amazing wise grandmother and learn from her in art of movement, and the art life process and all of that.”
Through this connection, she found out about Meridian University’s PhD program and looked into the course requirements. She realized she already had about half of the course textbooks in her library, as she was already interested in exploring their teachings.
It was a beautiful moment for her, thinking “I can read these books, have rich conversations, be evoked in a powerful way, have personal growth, and get a PhD at the same time and work with Anna Halprin? Yes.” Since she was already licensed and working in private practice, many people wondered why she needed the PhD. She had no idea either, but it was an intuitive and spirit driven process for her. Angea was waiting for that strong ‘Yes,’ and Anna Halprin was the one. After learning about Meridian, she decided: “It's a yes for me. I know that.”
“I did not find a better partner for that journey that I was on. It was speaking the language and opening the doors to all of these other people speaking the same language, too. Honestly, that's been one of the largest experiences for me. It was like an instant, ancient and present community.”
Angela described that she felt like she was holding this little torch all on her own in her world, and then realized there was an entire university of writers, poets, and philosophers that created a community around her.
Angela found her experience at Meridian to be a hero's journey. The process was engaging, she enjoyed learning, and the material she encountered changed who she was. Besides acquiring information, knowledge, and skills, she felt that she was a different person upon graduation than she was when she started.
While Angela didn't have a specific goal for her PhD at Meridian, she was following the ‘Yes.’ After finishing the program, a few of Angela’s friends and classmates performed a ritual together to initiate and cross the threshold. During this ritual they each described what it was like to have completed their degree. Her friend said, “It's like a cloak that I can put on. And when I don't need it anymore, the conversation or moment is over, then I can take it off and hang it back up.”
This comment resonated the most with her, as she feels like she now has a cloak that she can put on.
“It's interesting to watch myself navigate the professional space a little differently. In the back of my mind, I've always come from the place of speaking of soul and ritual and ceremony and Shadow Work and darkness. I've always done that. And a lot of times, I'm one of the only voices doing it because I've been in academic circles (my master's is from UCLA) so I've not always been in kindred space. It was a lot scarier for me and I would edit more. Now when I put that cloak on, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking ‘At some point, you're going to find out that I have a PhD and I'm a doctor.’ And so, it helps me stand up a little straighter as I offer these concepts and beliefs, suggestions, and offerings that have always mattered to me and meant something to me, but I feel more of a relaxed confidence.”
This relaxed confidence also gave Angela a push to more formally and explicitly name the work that she’s doing and shift the focus of her practice. For a long time, she specialized in eating disorders, binge eating, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and trauma. Now, she’s started to shift the way she presents herself and has started to truly own the service she provides. She is more vocally and confidently talking about her work doing initiations, and using ceremony and ritual as a way to do that. This has become more central to her practice and she is able to say, honestly and with pride, that she specializes in initiation, rites of passage, and integration of Shadow Work. She describes being interested in her own process, while part of her is living it and another part is watching and wondering what’s going to happen next.
”I had a sense that there was a more powerful way to combine my interests. I had some training in spirituality; I had my license to practice therapy; and I'm also a certified yoga teacher. I had and did all of these things and was working with dance and art and movement and creativity. I had these pieces that I knew made sense. And to me, it's all the same information, just spoken, said, administered a little differently.”
She knew there must be a way to join these elements together, rather than walking out of her therapy office to go teach yoga. She had a sense that there was some way it could come together more powerfully, but didn’t know what it was.
In the past, Angela provided yoga retreats and workshops, where she integrated her psychology and spirituality practices, but the primary channel was yoga. Over the last few years, she has seen herself moving toward more small group, personal, and couple retreats where she can provide a saturated experience and people get to have a cultivated 24/48/72 hours that really holds. She suspects that those will not just be around personal growth, but specifically around initiation.
Angela is now in Ojai and has moved her practice into her home space. She is cultivating the home space to be more conducive to holding small workshops and personal retreats, which has been a significant professional shift.
Angela imagines that the crux of what the rituals and the personal retreats will be about is those moments where people have said yes to growing, but find it to be terrifying. She will work with that around initiation to help people name and find the gold in it. It will be about finding out what's calling them and then helping people through ritual and the retreat step into the next ‘Yes.’
Angela’s dissertation was about the necessity of madness and the periods of life that are the most destructive, like a break from who you know yourself to be, in a way that's pretty terrifying.
She says, “a lot of times those moments are like an invitation to initiate to the next level, to step into the next version of who you'll be.”
She emphasized an undomesticated piece, going through the mad woman to get back to the wild woman, as the core of her being. Her retreats will be held with individuals and groups who are working with the feminine aspect and are reclaiming the wild woman archetype. In the decades to come, she hopes to start to develop circles, or groups and communities, with retreats and cohorts of powerful humans doing these things together.
Over the years, Angela could see that how she was moving through the world was different than some of her beloved colleagues. She states, “there's a difference between an upper world initiate and an underworld initiate, and the journey is very different. And if you're someone who is more of an underworld initiate working with shadow, dark, trauma, or moments of madness, the journey is different. And if you try to put it into an upper world journey and just work on mind and positivity, it just doesn't work. I definitely am called to create a pathway for underworld initiates to help guide them through the process and recognize the signs and symbols.”
For the first time in her life, Angela also started doing collaborative work. Her partner is also a psychotherapist, so she sees them doing more work with couples and couples retreats. She also hopes to build a curriculum around the process of what she’s starting to call the underworld initiate.
Beyond a curriculum, she sees opportunities for a book, workshops, retreats, and online courses. This could be through work with psychedelics, work with intensive breathwork, or near-death experiences, but she feels the work she’s doing is welcome and valuable in those arenas. She has been able to dig deeper into these arenas in the last couple of years and sees them in her future as well.
After 15 years of practice, she has experienced a wonderful wave of new information, new excitement, new understanding. She describes it as feeling open and generative, almost like a second life.