In Memoriam—Katherine Dufrane and her gifts to Yoga on High

Katherine Dufrane, a founder of and friend to Yoga on High, died this past week, which prompted me to think about the many profound gifts she offered to us.

Contemplation: Katherine taught us a specific contemplation practice long before Yoga on High ever existed. A small group of people including me, Linda, and Martha began working with Katherine to learn about subtle energy through reiki in 1998. Almost the first thing she taught us was a practice in which we listen to the mind, heart and intuition to see what we know about any particular question. The practice reveals very deep and complete answers, especially when practiced in a group where each person gets a bit of an answer like the light reflecting off a many sided prism, and the group’s combined insight is greater than any individual’s.

For years we did group contemplations each week as we met to practice our energy work together. Eventually, longings illuminated through our deep listening led us to start Yoga on High.

Questions: Katherine was the queen of interesting open-ended questions that could be asked and answered many times. There was no fun in finding just one answer, when there were so many ways to explore an issue. “What is the nature of healing?” “How do I receive intuitive information?” We never studied by reading someone else’s ideas, rather we asked questions and learned from our own direct experiences.

Non-Doer-ship: Katherine may have coined the term non-doer-ship as a description of our approach to energy work. She had previously trained in a system of energy healing that “did” a lot with the energy, moving it this way and that, undoing blocks and such. She found that she preferred a way that was more gentle and trusting. She believed, and taught us, that being able to sit with whatever was present in a person (maybe ourselves!) was enough. She knew that whatever wanted to heal in us often showed up with painful physical and emotional symptoms and that by staying with those symptoms and asking questions that supported a healing process, the symptoms would often transform on their own.

Clean Language: As we worked “in the energy,” meaning an altered state of consciousness brought on by practicing and receiving reiki, we learned to ask simple yet specific questions. “What is happening now?” “Where do I feel it?” “What is it like?” “Are there edges to the sensations?” I can still hear her soft, sweet, slow voice as she spoke with total interest, “And when it is JUST LIKE THIS, what is there for you to know about this?” There was never any attempt to get rid of anything or even to change any experience we had. (see non-doer-ship) Our language was free of evaluation or judgments and free of advice (the absolute hardest part for me). The total focus was on the person receiving the energy and what they were experiencing—not our ideas of what was happening, what was needed or what we thought. The absolute trust was that every person has inside them all that they need if they are present to themselves with enough acceptance and patience. And under her tutelage, we experienced the truth of that teaching over and over again until it became a part of us as well.

The Yoga on High Reiki Program: Katherine was the first director of our reiki program which started at the same time we opened the center. I credit her wisdom at the beginning for making our program as effective and rich as it has always been. All of the early partners worked closely with her as did our current Director of Reiki, Jodi Patton. We have trained many people over the years using her gentle approach.

Keith Dufrane: Can I mention her husband, Keith, here for a moment? Because of her involvement in the birth of Yoga on High, Keith did all kinds of special projects for us. He is a very handy guy and put in the mini-kitchen in the office, took backs off of folding chairs so we could do backbends through them, fixed the benches on the patio, and put rubber moldings on the bottoms of studio doors so sounds from one class would be less likely to effect another class. And much more. Thanks Keith

Presence: Katherine’s ability to stay present in the face of challenge and distress was legendary. It was safe to be crazy with her and know you would eventually return to something more like “normal.”. In her presence it was safe to feel deep wells of pain that would have been terrifying to experience alone. When she was sitting with you, you found containment, safety and often deep relief. She also loved holding space for people experiencing wild, ecstatic states and knew how to be with a person in a way that amplified those feelings and helped them to internalize and remember them. She often modeled the experience of awe and deep love of the Divine so that those around her knew it was available and knowable.

Community: Katherine was not a hierarchical teacher. Just as she was teaching us in every moment (sometimes officially as the teacher), she was also our student from time to time. She learned from everyone around her, treasuring our insights and experiences as much as her own. This made it easy to foster a community of people who all learned from each other. This has been all the more precious as we have supported her and each other during these last months of her life. We each carry treasures of wisdom from her and will now share these with each other—and with you.

Enlightenment: Katherine’s sincere wish for most or all of her adult life was to be enlightened in this lifetime. For her that meant that she wanted to be guided by and living in the Light of the Divine always. She wanted to give and receive love fully in every moment. She oriented her whole life toward fulfilling this desire and it bore fruit for her. Toward the end of her life she shone more and more like the sun, even as her body weakened. Every time I saw her I felt her inner radiance shine through in a way that made her totally beautiful. She expressed her love for each of us in clear and very personal terms. Even with people she didn’t know well, she was a vast, loving presence. In one of our last conversations I reminded her of an intention I had heard her speak about--living fully in love—and how powerful it had been for me to witness her saying it with such conviction. She gazed at me with an almost quizzical, surprised kind of look and said that yes, the fulfillment of that intention has been living in her these last weeks and months in a way that truly delighted her. It has been a gift to me and all of us who practice yoga to see such Realization modeled.

I want to be careful not to exaggerate in a way that makes you think that you could never wake up like she did. I believe Katherine’s message and her life showed us that we CAN. If she could do it, so can we. The underlying message was that we are already enlightened right now, just as we are. Please for the fun of it and the community of it, let’s awaken together.

How to Die: Her final teaching to us was how to die without resistance having lived a fulfilled life. As a friend said after her death, she had done the inner and outer work to go quickly and easily once she was done here. She left instructions for Keith and other friends and care-givers about how many things should be handled after she was gone. On a more subtle plane she had explored subtle energy states in reiki and meditation for years and had a “map” of the terrain she believed she would travel as she left her body. She took care of any details, inner and outer which might hold her back. She welcomed hidden and wounded parts of herself and wove them back into the fabric of her being with loving acceptance. She brought healing to painful relationships. Keith said she never once asked, “Why me?” but quickly relaxed into what the reality of her physical condition as her health deteriorated. As she began to truly let go, her death was faster than any of us imagined it could be. When she was done, she slipped away and was FREE.

I write this blog as a love letter of gratitude to my dear friend and teacher Katherine Dufrane. I have many other personal gifts from her, including the love of the mystic poet Hafiz and conversations and practices that were just for me. What I have listed here are a few of her gifts to all of us who practice and teach at Yoga on High. Thanks Katherine—Love and Blessings to you for all time.