Life at the Center, by Renée Tillotson

My mind searches through all the people I’ve known over 65 years, asking, “Who do I know who has truly re-crafted their lives?” I’m reflecting on our 2021 theme of “Self-Crafting” in the Still & Moving Center Almanac. One long-time friend of Cliff’s and mine comes to the fore. 

I would have to say that our friend was rough-cut. Perhaps “rough-hewn” would describe our friend even better, as if the person had initially been carved from a sound, sturdy log… with an axe, leaving lots of craggy edges and potential splinters. Watching this friend over time, re-shaping and refining her character, has been one of the most inspiring events I’ve ever witnessed. 

[Please note: for the sake of privacy, I’ll use a male/female pseudonym of “Ashley”, or “Ash” for short, arbitrarily choosing the feminine pronouns she, her, hers.]

Our friend has a good soul to start out with, and good principles. Ashley just seemed to have a hard time living gracefully in the world. It was as if she kept stepping on herself and others all the time, acting awkwardly and banging around with her words, even in the best of circumstances. If cornered, Ashley’s sharp wit would suddenly lash out, hitting anyone within reach.

As I say, our friend has always had a good heart. Ash married someone with a young child and adopted the child as her own, always treating the child with the same love that she had for the later children born into the marriage, of which there were quite a few. It was a rough love, however, that could quickly turn into corporal punishment. Nor was their marriage like a quiet walk in the park.

While quite philosophical, our friend seems to have had very little understanding of her own emotional nature; Ashley seemed emotionally color-blind. Ash didn’t appear to recognize when she was feeling sad or nervous, worried, scared or angry, as if she couldn’t see the blues, oranges, reds and blacks of her inner emotional landscape. She didn’t recognize that a storm was brewing until it hit her full force and came crashing through, spewing out onto anything, anyone and everyone around her. And then other times, the sun came shining through our friend, with a shy smile, good humor and kindness.

Needless to say, we all tended to tread lightly near our friend.

Ashley’s spouse was a complex character with a trainload of personal issues. When circumstances got really rough, the pressure resulted in an extreme health crisis for the spouse, who suddenly left Ash and the entire houseful of children and their bankrupt business. Overnight. A shattered world of hurt surrounded Ash on every side.

As best she could, Ashley picked up everyone – herself and all the children. And gradually, something within seemed to change. Ash underwent a period of searing self-questioning: What had Ash done to cause this disaster? The inquiry was deep and honest, unsparing. While recognizing the ex’s complex nature, Ash nevertheless took all responsibility where responsibility was due.

Ash describes that time as having had “a heart cracked wide open.” Somehow, through the pain of it all, a softer subtle body began to form within, Ash reflects. The rash, reactive tendencies had less room to reside. Ashley was self-crafting from the inside, out.

Ashely’s father, who had suffered enormously in his life, spoke with Ashley about the transformative power of suffering. Meanwhile, Rajmohan Gandhi’s biography of his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi led Ashley to an unfolding comprehension of the true power of nonviolence.  Ashley now humorously self-describes as “much less of a terrorist” than before the divorce.

I feel as if Ashley’s crackling sense of humor and genuine humility have served as huge saving graces. Ash has always been willing to be the sacrificial lamb of her own jokes. That sense of humor alongside scathing honesty bestows a distanced perspective for self-observation.  

It seems to me as well that Ashley gained a true Self-respect through the whole process. Imagine watching the very worst that our personality might have to dish out being overcome by the strong, honorable and compassionate aspect of ourselves. Seeing and willing such a transformation to happen, would indeed bring out a sense of trust and reliance on our true, resourceful inner Self, would it not? Ashley had re-crafted her personality and gained tremendous inner wisdom to share with others, humbly, yet with a steady, balanced poise. 

All the children seemed to heal as their parent did. They stabilized and found their paths in life. A ripple effect happened. Ashley now finds a number of questing souls, eager for understanding and self-knowledge, clustering near, ready for Ash’s leadership and guidance.

Painful as Ashley’s journey has been, I nevertheless appreciate reviewing it for the lessons it brings. The pseudonym Ashley intuitively came to mind as I was writing, perhaps because purified ash is what remains once something has passed through fire and been fully incinerated. Hindus, Christians and various indigenous peoples ceremonially use sacred ashes. I bow my head to the life “Ashley” has remade, with finer lines, more gentle speech and a lighter touch.

Thou mayest sculpt thyself into whatever shape thou dost prefer.


Renée Tillotson

Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!

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