My Journey

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.

David Whyte, from “Sweet Darkness

Outer Resilience

In the Winter between 2008-2009, I returned to my home state of California for the holidays. Some of the most difficult conversations growing into adulthood were somehow always around the Christmas tree or the Hanukiah, both traditional symbols of hope and resilience. In November 2008, Prop 8 California’s ballot measure to ban same-sex couples from the right to marry, had narrowly passed and was set to go into law in the new year. The passage of this law launched what has become my now decade-long career as an activist and community organizer.

Enraged by my family’s support and/or apathy about queer erasure from law, I returned to New York City still completing my degree at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts and worked within the university and with various non-profits in what would become the national marriage equality movement. 

But it wasn’t until three years later, after expanding my LGBTQIA+ activism into HIV hospice and domestic violence prevention, that Occupy Wall Street erupted in the streets of the financial district of Manhattan and I realized something equally as important as my organizing: my wellbeing. Sitting on the sidelines burnt out as OWS responded to worldwide economic injustice, I could barely bring myself to read news from the encampments, let alone attend planning meetings or direct actions.

Aurelie Richards, screenshot from Trans Affirmative Therapy Certificate program at Antioch University

Inner Resilience

Feeling unable to meaningful engage with the world ablaze with political action and battling a secret war within herself, Aurelie retreated to the community which had been her spiritual home since she was 16, the Order of Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition of Zen Buddhism. Part of the Mindful Living Exchange and then living long-term as a monastic aspirant, Aurelie took her Bodhisattva vows and committed her life to healing and transformation.  

During her year-long monastic training she fine tuned the skills she needed to quiet her mind, regulate her emotions, and end the aforementioned war with her. She additionally cultivated understanding of how to integrate mindfulness practices into individual and couple’s counseling, classrooms, and organizations. However, listening deeply to her inner being she knew that she could not remain at the monastery. It was time to accept her trans identity and seek out resources to transition her gender. But first she’d need to transition back to lay life.

Joining as an early member of the Mindful Living Initiative as well as a regional coordinator for Wake Up International, Aurelie disrobed and took her monastic career back out into the world. For one year she organized programming and outreach for the newly formed Morning Sun Mindfulness Center in New England. She was determined through her teaching and coaching, to bridge the values of monasticism to lay life, eastern philosophy to Western bodyminds, as she continued to secretly bridge her understanding of her gender with her current presentation in the world.

Bridging the Gap

Typically referred to as a gender transition, Aurelie refers to her experience as when she engaged fully in the process of “bridging the gap between her inner and outer life.” This meant not only gender expression but an overhaul of the developmental, social, and sexual trauma, as well as systemic violence most trans people experience, in and out of the closet. In this sense it was not simply a gender transition. Attunement, resonance, courage, authenticity, and solidity were needed to step into alignment with herself. This was much broader than what gender could contain, though gender became the motor for her psycho-spiritual and physical transformation.

After finishing her medical transition, she was ready to return to community building but this time as her authentic self and with seemingly infinite skills for sustainable, even generative, activism. She devoted her time and energy to queer and trans visibility and power in rural communities. This included education in the business sector for administration and human resources, skill and resource sharing with her trans siblings, developing a support group run by and for trans women, organizing support for partners of people in gender transition, counseling parents of trans children, mediation for couples exploring non-normative family structures, meditation instruction for LGBTQ people, and collaborations with a trans housing sanctuary and medicinal herb apothecary. It was not long before she recognized clearly: 

I’m a spiritual teacher. I’m distilling all of these delicious teachings I’ve been finding and integrating. I’m expanding them and letting them radiate from me into a practice of counseling and coaching. 

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