The Menstruation Manifesto

It’s Personal.

The wait in the gynecologist’s office was longer than the process of having my IUD removed.  While I waited, however, I did get to examine my vagina and my internal reproductive organs quite thoroughly.  “What kind of mirror do they have in that exam room?!” you ask?  Well, I confess I carefully studied the poster version of what my vagina, uterus, and ovaries medically look like.  (By the way, did you know vaginas have ridges?  I feel more enlightened now that I know other things besides potato chips have ridges.)

img_3152As I stared at the poster on the back of the examining room door, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of that area inside me is truly the colors of Pepto Bismol and purple SweetTarts.  A concoction of pinks and purples and whites housed in a sterile environment where no mess of blood, hormones, mucus, fatty tissue, or water float around.  And, if the poster is accurate, then all women should have 10-15 wisps of pubic hairs around their genitalia; and that hair would be short, soft, and smooth and brownish-blonde, not a Brillo pad of “little, black. . .little, black. . .little, black, curly hairs.”

The female gynecologist and her nurse came in.  She asked me to lean back and put my feet in the stirrups as the pink paper cloth covered my nakedness from the waist down.  I felt the metal clamp open up my cervix and a slight cramp seize my lower abdomen.  The doctor looked up and threw the tiny “T” shaped piece of plastic and black thread into the trash.  “All done,” she said.  She peeled off her latex gloves, tossed them into the trash, and stood up.  I sat up and took a deep breath.  I felt slightly different, but not too much.  I got the entire lecture of using condoms and protecting myself from STDs.  She reminded me that I probably would start bleeding in a few days, so I should purchase some tampons and pads.  Right as I asked for a small “maxi pad” (an outdated term showing I haven’t had a period in years), the nurse opened the cabinet on cue and handed me the neatly packaged in pink period pad.  I thanked them both and dressed myself (noting that the blood was already trickling out of my poster-perfect pelvic region).

A few months prior to this visit, I had my annual gynecological exam at this office by the same doctor and nurse.  When I mentioned that I wanted to have my IUD, the doctor looked questioningly at me.  “Are you trying to get pregnant?” she asked after a short pause.

“No, I just want it removed,” I replied.

“Huh.  Why?” she asked as she reviewed her clipboard with my medical history attached to it.

“I just want to feel where I’m at in my body.  In my menstrual cycle,”  I explained.  “I want my period back.  It’s been gone for 3 years and I just am curious and want to see how I’m doing,” I rambled on and on like this while their silence filled the room.

“You want your period back!” she exclaimed.  “You’re crazy!  I never want to experience that again.”

I blushed, not out of embarrassment, but out of anger.  I didn’t want to explain or justify myself, but here I was doing just that.  I resorted to my defense mechanism of humor and laughed and said, “I just want to be able to use the 30 Rock Liz Lemon excuse ‘Oh, no, my period!’ whenever I am feeling emotional or stressed out.”  Chuckles filled the room and their attention was diverted.

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I get their response, though.  The period is 100% an inconvenience most of the time.  It is bloody, messy, and painful when your cramps amp up and you have a headache.  When you have to go through two tampons in two hours or you use almost a whole roll of toilet paper just to feel “clean.” Or when you spend more time in the bathroom at a restaurant, you want to die a million deaths.  Achy breasts and emotional waves of sadness and anger can be painful both physically and psychologically.  And the cost of an environmentally friendly box of tampons or panty liners can put a dent in your pocketbook. (I guess environmentally friendly feminine products are the new trend along with gluten free and non GMOs in food.  Toxic shock syndrome aside,you want to make sure the sewer water isn’t polluted by your blood, right?)

After declining on my first visit to allow a male student resident to examine me (and feeling guilty while Doogie Howser bumbled through the preliminary exam questions), I began to realize that our healthcare system favors the rote questioning and sterile treatment of patients.  I noted some practitioners don’t listen to our basic needs or see us as individuals.  If I was indirectly being shamed for wanting to feel my body and its flow again, how must other women feel when they want to have their tubes tied, ask for contraception, learn they have an STD, or have a doctor jam his finger up her anus while he presses on her stomach to check for ovarian cysts all the while telling her to calm down and that it’s not as bad as a prostate exam? (True story.)

For me, my body is an amazing vessel and a wise teacher.  It teaches me about pain, about where my emotions are stuck, where I am holding my breath and why, and it allows me to feel pleasure and joy among many other things. (Oh yeah, and it allows me to justify to eat lots and lots of carbs and sweets whenever I feel ravenous and drained of energy.)  My menstrual cycle has always given me guidance and allowed me to tap into my intuition and sync my actions with the phases of this ancient cycle that has been in sync with the moon for most of my womanhood.  Why, then, must I try to justify what is a personal decision to listen to my body’s wisdom?

It’s Political.

The answer to the above question is that I have to fight to protect my body.  My body bleeds for me, literally.  It is my duty as a woman to take care of it and to protect its wisdom and its daily functions.  When I showed up for my annual gynecological exam a few months ago, I presented my insurance card.  Insurance that I am paying for through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I am not ashamed that I have chosen to use the ACA as a way to insure myself and be able to afford (and that’s the big word – afford) to be able to have my lady parts examined for optimal health.

But “The Man” is trying to keep me down.  (To keep us all down, honestly.)  Even before reproductive rights became a legal issue, with Roe v. Wade being at the forefront of that debate, women’s inner plumbing was a “hush hush” topic.  Deemed impolite and improper to talk about not only in mixed company but also between mothers and daughters and women and their friends.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your mother or her grandmother if they ever had  necessary, in-depth discussions about puberty, menstruation, hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, sexuality, childbirth, abortion, or (God forbid) orgasms.

It’s 2017 and some of the taboos on those topics have been lifted.  Yet, we are a nation wrapped up in a patriarchal system who still clings to outdated Puritanical undertones of wanting to repress women (including transgendered men and women) and strip away rights to their own bodies.  Want affordable healthcare so you can get screened for breast cancer and ovarian cysts?  Sorry.  You’re a bottom-feeder who is trying to strip away taxpayer’s money.  Need to have a hysterectomy and go on hormone replacement therapy?  Well, it will cost you.  Lots. And we will judge you for being “less of a woman” too.  Want to go to Planned Parenthood for education on safe sex or affordable gynecological exams to ensure you are not living with the HPV virus?  Sorry.  You’re a baby-killer and you should go straight to Hell, and do NOT pass “Go” (because it would fall on the taxpayer to get your ass out of jail or keep you in there, anyway).

But:  want to keep your penis up and going all night long?  Sure.  Here are some pills and tons of commercials to make you purchase these magic beans.  And, your health insurance will cover that, so no worries.  Just check and make sure your heart is up for the ride.  (We have pills for that, too, by the way.  Just ask your doctor.)

The fact that we feed into this divide by supporting either “Republicans” or “Democrats” on issues of sexuality, reproductive health, and gender stereotypes (to name a few), shows how we are looking at the issues from a divided mind.  We cheer on our political “team” and boo “the opposition” and we demonize the acts and consequences of sex and pretend that the complications of being human and engaging our sexuality and using our bodies can be regulated only by state and federal law.

Rape, abuse, and abortion happen.  Frequently.  We cannot deny it and we should have open discussions about this, not just in Congress where one party is fighting the other party for political power and aligning themselves with either alt-right religious zealots or ultra-liberal elitists, or PACs and lobbyists, all who can be equally as intolerant and self-serving.  Instead we should have these conversations in our circle of friends and within our families and communities.  And although this blog is a digital medium I willfully use it the way I want to, online discussions and news clips on Facebook statuses only go so far as well.

img_3572To be a woman in this body which has the potential to hold life and invite in a man to her fullest depths is so hard and so scary and so intimidating at times.  I can’t think of a time when I haven’t felt vulnerable carrying around my sexuality or my sensuality.  I have stories, as I know most women in my circle do too, where I have been violated or humiliated.  Or made to feel somewhat criminal or unethical for supporting abortion (which I cannot stress enough is a personal and moral decision that can only  be made by the one whose body is experiencing her individual journey through this life).  I have guilt and shame wrapped around the idea that touching my body when I am alone in my own home is gross and ugly and debasing and somehow just wrong and proves that I am a lonely old spinster who can’t get a man to do it for her and make her feel complete.

I’ll be damned (and I’ll not pass “Go” and I’ll not collect $200) if I sit back these next four years (for the rest of my life, actually) and allow decisions to be made about the bodies of the other half of the human equation without my voice being heard.

And if we’re lucky, maybe Morgan Freeman, as the “voice of God,” will call from the heavens that Viagra and Cialis are no longer covered by insurance companies.

It’s Spiritual.

Long before my body was part of a political agenda, I inhabited it fully with the innocence and knowing of a child.   I swiveled my hips in the kitchen of my childhood home while I listened to Michael Jackson (and then later Janet Jackson and Madonna) and knew instinctively where the beat would drop at the same time one of my hips and shoulders dropped too.  The beat was inside of me – resonating all through my feet, hips, heart, hands, shoulders, and head.  When I danced, I felt connected to a greater realm that went beyond the four walls of my house.

Somewhere along the way, people (some family members, teachers, preachers, and creepy peepers in the form of neighbors) told me to stop shaking my hips and acting “sexy”.  I didn’t understand what that meant.  I was dancing out of a sense of joy and pleasure.  I felt so connected to my body.  And I felt powerful and strong and alive.  How was that bad?  But, over the years I hid that part of myself and it translated into hiding my beauty, my sensuality, and eventually  being afraid to fully express myself sexually.  Yoga returned some of that life back into me, as did therapy, burlesque and belly dance dance classes, along with sheer will and determination.  And all of that led me to this place in my life where I dropped the school marm act and stepped more deeply into my wildness.

In this day and age, we have become too domesticated.  We have put ourselves on mental and emotional leashes and tried to turn everything and everyone around us into a more docile or subservient form of the truth.  We walk around with jaws clenched and take shallow breaths.  Our shoulders and necks ache.  We turn to our phones and check to see if the latest statuses on our social media either correspond with our ways of thinking or evoke any forms of emotions in us so we can click “like” or “love” or “laugh” or occasionally “sad” or “angry”.

And we ignore and shun the seat of our creativity – our hips, pelvis, low back area – and we become achy, stiff, tight, and wobbly.  True, some of the physical pain is straight up gravity and DNA.  We also have to take into account our modern way of living.  But underneath all of that, our emotions are trapped and our joys are blocked.  We believe that sensual pleasure is a dirty term.  We equate sensuality with pornography and romance, when what it really means is engaging all of the senses to experience the world we live in.  Our senses and our emotions, just like our bodies, are our wisest and most ancient teachers.

However, in today’s world, these three entities (emotions, senses, and our bodies) are put into boxes, analyzed, examined, and ruled over.  The mind-body-spirit connection is “poo-pooed” in some circles of society as being “metaphysical mumbo-jumbo” or just for “weird hippies” and “alternative thinkers”.  So, we close up our bodies, our hearts, our minds and subject them to domesticity and a linear way of being.  Yet, our hips cry out to be expressive.  Our desires ask to be heard.  The drums of our inner selves beat incessantly and we turn up the chatter on the news to drown it all out or give into our fears that the risk to be joyful, wild, playful beings is not worth it.

This is why I returned my body to its most natural state to let it be fully heard.  If I’m lucky, I will have a choice to get contraceptives again if I so desire.  But right now, I desire more to tune into that part of me that knows the flow like that of the creeks and the ancient rivers.

My period is a monthly reminder that “This too shall pass.” That I have another cycle of emotions, regeneration, growth, and daily deaths to pass through where I wax and wane and move and flow through my life.

I once read a passage by the scholar and philosopher, John O’Donahue, where he writes “The body is in the soul.”  What a beautiful concept.  It resonates so deeply with me.  How can I be “unholy” when I physically live within my soul’s realm?  How can my emotions, my sensuality, my sexuality, my personal expression of my outer and inner worlds be regulated by unjust laws and regulations and cruel judgments placed on me by some extreme lawmakers and their constituents who use religion as a way to control the spirituality that I wake up into every day of my life?

We put way too much emphasis on the biological aspect of giving birth to a human, or what constitutes a human being and when, instead of making space for all of the women and men who can harness the powerful, nurturing Divine Feminine within themselves and give birth to their own creative, individual lives by following the innocence and knowing of their heart’s desires.  We travel through this life in our own physical vehicle that either has a penis or a vagina (or in the case of transgender people who have had the unique experience of traveling in both types of bodies).  The body is in our soul’s field of play and consciousness.

For me, my soul does not play and create  in the field of mythology where my body came from the rib of a man to give him comfort and pleasure.  Nor did it arise out of a temptation to convince him to sin and be expelled from a paradise or be shunned by an angry and vengeful god.  It did not arise from a woman who gave birth to two sons who were so divisive that one murdered the other out of blind rage and then started a race of exiled beings who had to spend the rest of their lives punishing themselves and each other; sacrificing their sons or their flocks or cutting flesh from their genitals to appease a god who demanded their repentance through constant sacrifices, war, and death and only spoke to chosen men through visions or burning bushes.

imagesInsteadimgres-2, my soul plays and creates in the realm of dreams and wilderness where creek beds turn into mountain streams; where soft, lush moss grows on ancient stones mixed with quartz, mica, hematite, and garnet.  Where ferns gather around the tall oaks, maples, and hickories and listen as the birds sing their unique and fleeting songs.  Where mushrooms grow from the decay of life that once was and their underworld of dark rich humus and beneficial bacteria help trees send messages to their sisters and brothers miles away.  Where visions of goddesses and stags, crones and ravens roam this wilderness and whisper their words of encouragement while lighting my path as I come out of the grogginess of a deep sleep.  Where I shed my fears and insecurities and step fully into not just my womanhood but my being with human skin.

Endings and Beginnings

One of my managers asked me the other day what are some of the differences between my old job as a teacher and my new job as a crew member at Trader Joe’s.  I stared at her for a little too long, bags of salad in my hand and boxes at my feet. My brow furrowed into a questioning look.  I searched for the right words that wouldn’t come out as smarmy or cliched.  Nothing is the same.  And that’s the whole reason I’m here.  It is like comparing apples to oranges (oops, I used a cliche).  Except I never received the round, shiny apple from an overly enthusiastic student hungry for knowledge at the beginning of a beautiful school day and the oranges here are in bags, stacked neatly in a bin waiting to be grabbed by hungry, overly enthusiastic customers.

I gave her some lame answers about not having to think, plan, or scheme ahead and deal with any teenage drama or angry parents.  I mentioned how nice it is to not have to think about work or take anything home with me nor work late hours at home to get ready for the next day.  She smiled.  She is kind.  She was reaching out to me and trying to connect with me and build rapport.  I was grateful for her attempt, but I had to fight back tears in the middle of the produce aisle.

The rest of that day I was a bit rattled.  I heard myself telling customer after customer that I “used to be a high school English teacher” whenever I was engaging in small talk and sharing the reason why I moved out here three months ago.  I couldn’t give myself a new title of “writer” or any other creative moniker that distanced me from what I used to be.  I haven’t fully untangled my mind from identifying as a high school teacher.  I have not accepted that part of me is dead.  Grief is settling in and it is manifesting in awkward places like when I am ringing up customers, eating my salad in the break room, or dipping up soup and slices of grilled cheese sandwiches in the demo kitchen.

My workdays are spent in pure physical labor tasks where my body is engaged and developing muscle memory.  My mind is focused solely on the task at hand.  It is only when I am prompted by a coworker to talk about my old job that I begin to let some of the old memories materialize into hazy mental images that have been tucked away in some hidden corner of my mind.  I am surprised by how little memory I have of teaching after 18 years of the career.  It worries me.  I question if I have completely erased that part of my life.  On break, I check my phone and see that I have two emails from former exchange students who are back in their home countries.  They ask how school is going for me.  They do not know what my new life is like, and they still have me locked in their memory as their English teacher who shared with them her passion for American literature and writing.  Somewhere across the globe and in small pockets of the United States are young people who know me as only “Ms. Hoelscher” and either love me or hate me or remember to put a comma or a period in a certain place when writing an email because of my attention to grammar on their essays.  I was once a high school English teacher.  But what am I now that I have no one sitting in a classroom with me for fifty five minutes a day, five days a week for 180 days out of the year?

One afternoon, a coworker grabbed my box cutter out of my hand while I was stocking shelves and began to chastise me by saying, “Never, ever, ever. . .” Then she realized my safety was on and that I am left handed and have a left handed box cutter so my actions look “off” to her.  I stood there and smiled and listened to her apologize as she handed me back my cutter.  I went back to work knowing she was just trying to give me a veteran tip and help me adjust to my new job.  A few minutes later, however, tears pooled up in the corners of my eyes and a sense of embarrassment and shame flooded over me.  I wondered if this is how my students felt whenever I was harsh with them.

Another day I gave a break to a coworker who was working the demo kitchen area.  She is very good at her job and did a great job training me on how to run a smooth kitchen the week before.  She worried that I would be too overwhelmed for the 10 minutes she needed to use the restroom and eat a snack.  I listened as she fussed and  went over the small details on how to ladle the soup into the cup and put the grilled cheese slice on the plate.  I nodded and smiled as she reminded me to fill up the cider sample cups and be friendly to customers.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that this was an easy job in comparison to dealing with 100 teenagers a day, tolerating the loud noise in the hallways before and after school and during passing periods,working 12 hour days, mentoring emotionally conflicted students, calling parents and taking work home, staying after school for an extracurricular assignment, grabbing copies out of the run down copy machine while grabbing a snack, peeing before the five minute bell was up, answering random questions in the hallway, rushing to the classroom and beginning my lesson, and also managing bad behaviors and technical difficulties while still managing to teach a complex lesson on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” in under 55 minutes.  I can handle 10 minutes of ladling soup into a disposable cup, placing a piece of grilled cheese on a paper plate, and smiling at customers as they wait patiently for free food.

Thankfully, I have moved away from feeling shell-shocked and fearful on a regular basis like I did in late July and early August.  I am only now coming to terms with the fact that my old life is dead and gone and will never return to me.  Pain is settling in and manifesting in places like my neck, jaw, shoulders, and upper arms.  I’m sure the lifting of heavy boxes and scanning and bagging people’s groceries are the physical cause of this outer layer of pain.  Whenever I find myself talking about my former life or reliving memories (good and bad), I feel my body shifting to this protective mode so I don’t start crying while I sweep up spilled tomatoes and onion skins off the floor around the vegetable and fruit bins.

I realized that my attachment to my old identity was a way to protect myself from feeling lost in this new skin I am starting to grow.  I have no idea what to call myself when people outside of work ask me what I do.  And I find myself feeling sad when customers find out I’ve lived here only 3 months and ask what did I do before I came here.  I am stuck.  Am I a writer?  Am I a former English teacher who is on sabbatical?  Am I a yoga teacher?  Am I an artist/creative person?  Am I a crew member at Trader Joe’s?  Am I a dead beat (as one customer asked one of my managers when they asked about his former life)?  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  All of these questions swirl around me as I walk my dog down Weaverville’s Main Street or scan a box of Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s and cauliflower rice and cases of wine.

img_3060On Halloween, we were encouraged to dress up for work.  I didn’t have a costume until the last minute when I decided it would be fun to follow the traditions of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and use humor and love to commemorate my old self.  I dressed up as a zombie English teacher, complete with a bruised apple, composition notebook, and a Great Gatsby bag as accessories.  I let her come out and play and be seen.  I remembered her and remembered how good she was at her job.  How she created solid and creative lesson plans and adjusted them according to her students’ various levels and needs.  How she listened as a student came to her crying about her boyfriend and her fears of becoming pregnant.  How she was yelled at numerous times by frustrated students and angry parents and stood her ground and took the verbals hits and then went home and licked her wounds and ate ice cream in front of the TV.  I remembered how she once farted in front of a class of 30 sophomores and ran out of the room straight to the restroom to discover she had food poisoning from the Mexican restaurant she ate at the night before.  Then, she came back to class and taught like nothing had happened and finished her day running to the restroom between the five minute bell periods.

I loved her.  I still do.  I am just not her anymore.

The next day, I decided to put her to rest and give her a beautiful ceremony up in the mountains in a tiny alcove of rhododendrons and Mountain Ash berries. I had bought a bouquet of marigolds, sunflowers, rosemary sprigs, and yellow and purple flowers.  I brought it with me on my drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Craggy Gardens, an elevation of over 5,000 feet.

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In front of me was a semi-private dead end trail, no more than 20 feet away from the parking lot.  There was a circular clearing.  I spread out the flowers in a mandala.  I said a prayer and thanked Ms. English Teacher for all the years of protection and lessons learned along the way. I sat down and closed my eyes and silently asked myself, “What needs to die and be released?”  After a few moments, memories that had been stuck inside of me and that I was having troubles recalling, came flooding forth in a stream of chronological order:  from my first days as a student teacher, to my first year as a teacher with her own classroom at a local junior high school, all the way to the old Belleville West campus to the new one right up to the day of my last goodbyes.  It was like watching a slide show or a movie where my life flashed before me.

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I would gladly share all of those memories, but they are enough to write a book.  And who knows?  Maybe one day I will.  The more important thing is that a wave of bittersweet memories and a twinge of melancholy flooded through my mind and body and came out in the form of silent tears.  I cried so much that my lungs heaved and snot dripped out of my nose.  I wiped away the tears (and the snot. . .sorry grass) and inhaled deeply and exhaled out of my mouth while my chest shook.  Something inside of me had broken and released and all of that tension and pain I had felt for weeks in my jaw, arms, shoulders, neck, and chest dissipated.  I could finally breathe in the fresh mountain air and I took it in small gasps until I finally settled into a steady and calm rhythm.

I wiped away a few more tears, straightened my spine, and then asked myself, “What needs to be born inside of me?”  Hints of the creative self and the written word came to me.  Time in nature and a deep connection to the trees, plants, animals of my youth and the ones in front of me swirled around me.  Some sense of teaching and communicating through creativity and movement flowed through my mind and body.  Yet, no real answers came.  Momentarily I tried to plot out my future, and that’s when the tension started to arise again in my body.  I shook my head and settled back into my hips and legs that were connected to the earth.  No need to know right now.

The next day, I went to my small writing critique group and got excruciatingly honest reviews of a piece of fiction I’m trying to write.  I sat there and listened to the necessary feedback where I have gaps in point of view, too much telling and not enough showing of what the characters are going through, and awkward sentences that take the reader out of the moment (just to name a few critiques).  I listened graciously and accepted the feedback (I mean, I did ask for it).  I left not feeling defeated, but definitely feeling wounded.  This is what it feels like to show off new skin that hasn’t fully formed yet, I thought as I drove back to my apartment.

It was way too soon to show that piece of work or let alone claim myself as solely a writer when I haven’t had enough time to work on old skills and talents that have been dormant for at least 18 years of my adult life.  I am capable of teaching what makes a good story, but I’ve never really had time or gave myself a chance to write one.  Besides, why only limit my skills to writing?  I think I have a lot more creativity inside than just pushing myself to become a published writer and calling myself a “success” so as to justify why I left a comfortable life (even though that life felt like a tight, itchy sweater).  I now have time to flex my creative muscles.  I have a job that allows me to work my body and calm my mind.  One in which as soon as I walk out of the doors I don’t have to think about until I walk back in those doors.  I have money from the sale of my house and backup money from investments I made outside of the Teacher’s Retirement System.  For now, I am O.K., and I don’t have to put a label on myself at all.  And that is O.K. too.

I am like a baby giraffe on roller skates.

One day I will be something else.  But for now, the transition can be awkward, messy, funny, strange, sad, scary, and down right mystifying and magical.

I’m working with what the Transcendentalists and Romantics call “mystery”.  As Emerson once wrote, “What lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters to what lies within us.  And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen.”

It is now a matter of exploring what lies within.

 

Asheville Time

I clock in to my job at Trader Joe’s and I begin my training by shadowing a seasoned worker for the entire 8 hour shift.  I have learned much in 7 days.   I stock product on the shelf and I talk to customers and help them find items.  I barely know the products we sell and I rarely know where they are located.  I figure it out anyway and I get lots of help from my very cool and friendly co-workers.  Last night, I learned how to use the cardboard baler (a task that if done improperly could maim you) and I loaded up the cookie and snack aisles for about 4 hours non-stop.  I worked second shift last week.  This week, I will work the early morning shifts and learn how to run the cash register and all the detailed tasks that go along with this particular job.

I have been spending my shifts with predominantly men and listen to them announce their “bro love” in words that consist of “dude,” “fuck,” “asshole,” and other creative cursing phrases that are said in jest. This is genuine locker room talk that has no malice or perversion to it whatsoever.  They punch each other in the arm, steal the box cutters off each other’s hip holsters, or give each other high fives in passing.  One morning, I came in at 6:30 to help stock shelves before the mandatory store meeting at 7.  A guy next to me, who is a profound meditator and wears mala beads and talks about listening to Tibetan singing bowls as he does his chores around his house, dropped a head of lettuce on the floor and got upset with himself.  His friend nearby picked it up for him and then twisted his nipple and cajoled him before moving on to his task.  My work mate laughed and said, “Thanks, dude.  Sometimes I can be such a vagina-whacker.”  I laughed and he noticed me and blushed.  He apologized profusely and I told him we were cool.  “Aw, dude, thanks,” he said and then asked me about my yoga practice and gave me tips on how to better my meditation practice.

All the guys now call me “dude,” and they have started pulling out my box cutter from my hip holster, giving me high fives in passing, and cursing like sailors in front of me.  Towards the end of the night, one trainer and I stocked wine bottles and talked like hillbillies as we searched for the “pea-nut no-ear” and “Shar-don-ay.”  Another guy nearby took down his man bun and started metal thrasing in the middle of the aisle to the rockin’ 80s tune blaring from the speakers.  Heavy metal hair guy later gave me two rules I should follow while working here:  1.) Put Things On The Shelf (P.T.O.T.S.) and 2.) Don’t be a “dick.”  Easy enough.   It is a sweet relief and a welcomed initiation into the realm of happy, good natured male energy.  I am working my body and my mind is at rest.  I can relax and know that as long as I work hard and am nice to customers and my co-workers, I don’t have anything else to worry about.

I had coffee with my friend Randi the other day and we walked past Trader Joe’s to the coffee shop nearby.  I saw two of my coworkers cross the street and my heart swelled.   Their Hawaiian-themed colorful tshirts marked them as members of my new tribe.  There went my new friends who sang their work tasks in the middle of the aisle and smiled at me and laughed when I made a really clever joke.  There was the young woman who talked books and “deep shit” conversations with me in the break room.  Inside that space were managers and crew members probably dancing to the grooves of Chaka Khan and rapping as they sliced open boxes of brown organic rice or singing to Huey Lewis and the News and making up new lyrics as they walked a customer to the frozen food aisle.

These men and women are artists, writers, musicians with mad skills and creative advice.  I have also cultivated friendships with some strong, beautiful women outside of Trader Joe’s who are published authors and teach in either the yoga studio, or local colleges and universities as well.

It has been a blessing to not have to come home and worry about grading papers or writing lesson plans.  I don’t have to solve people’s problems and I don’t have to handle bad behavior or manage up to 30 teenagers (and sometimes their parents and the administrators and random students in the hallway) every hour, every day, five days a week.  The “Sunday Dreads” that used to fill me with anxiety of the upcoming week are beginning to fade away from my consciousness.  I am in the process of divorcing myself from my old self in which I had married myself to my job and my duties and sense of profound responsibility and mentorship.

I am working on releasing myself from old baggage and bondage and stuck-in-the-groove recordings of negative thoughts I use to tell myself about who I believe I am.  I am shifting away from identifying as a former high school English teacher and I am giving myself permission to tell people I am a writer.

The pace of living here is much slower and laid back than I am used to.  About three weeks ago, my friend Alex and I drove up Lonesome Mountain Road.  It is about twenty minutes away from here and is filled with twists and two tight hairpin turns.  We were going to have dinner with my former neighbor, Darby, and his buddy Leigh.  Leigh built a treehouse on the edge of a trout pond and Darby is living there while he searches for land and a home to buy.  The treehouse is a compilation of dreamed up ideas and ecologically sound ideals, and it is riddled with piles of used lumber, old tools, and a compost toilet nearby (i.e., a “poop in the woods” hole in the ground that is covered behind a tattered tarp).  We arrived an hour later than planned and Darby was still grilling the meat and sweet potatoes and yams.  Leigh asked for us to gather around for an offering before the evening began.  He passed around a roach clip with his best marijuana rolled tightly into a joint.  Darby and I stepped out as everyone else partook in the ritual.

img_2734I walked down the edge of the gravel road and admired the beauty of the place.  Here before me were wildflowers and marigolds rich in abundance and color.  No streetlights were around and the setting sun was beginning to dip below the tree line.   My dog raced with someone else’s golden retriever.  Both became muddy and exhausted on their foray around the property.  Leigh, Beth, Ron, and Barbara all walked down to the pond to harvest water lettuce and other vegetables and greens from Leigh’s garden.  Darby bustled around the tiny space.  He lit the stove’s pilot light and cursed when the flames shot up and wrapped around the cast iron skillet.  He popped back outside to check on the grill while the others were still moseying around the pond, ogling all the wild things in their presence.

I asked where the bathroom was.  Darby pointed to the tent about 50 feet away from the treehouse.  I knew this was the “compost toilet” he had mentioned.  I shook my head and started that way.  Darby has complained numerous times that he can’t bring himself to poop in the woods like a bear.  Although this pooper and makeshift shower has a compostable filtration tube that you have to aim into before it is washed away by the underground water system and filtered through the rocks and sand, Darby says it feels more natural to him to poop in a bag and dispose of it when he goes into town every couple of days.  “It seems more civilized that way,” he told us when the topic got brought up again for the third time that evening.  I hated to tell the man that he was one step away from adult diapers so I marched myself out into the woods, away from the contraption to let myself flow freely with nature.img_2742

When I came back inside, Darby was griping about Leigh’s lack of initiative and unwillingness to thank him for all the work he’s done.  He went on about how he cleans up the place, cooks them breakfast and dinner every day while Leigh smokes another joint.  Once their morning routine and bickering is over, they go outside and work on constructing another out building across from the tree house.  Leigh walked in on Darby’s tirade and smiled at his best friend.  Darby put his arm around him and said, “We bitch at each other, but at the end of the day we just fuckin’ bang it out, don’t we man?”   Leigh shook his head, his curly white locks shaking in front of him.  He patted Darby on the back and sauntered over to the table.  He turned up the Bob Marley song on his computer and shoved a cracker and slice of cheese in his mouth.  All was right with their world.

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Later in the evening, Leigh had us gather around the campfire outside and he did a “two minute” ceremony where he mumbled out his gratitude for all of us being in his home.  His buddy Ron scratched underneath his chin, shaking his white beard that was tied up into a braid.  Ron replied, “Yeah, thanks, man for having us out here.”  We all said our thanks in this ritual while Darby hustled around and offered us our meal of either BBQ chicken or venison and sauteed greens from Leigh’s garden.  We finished the evening with an apple cobbler I made and talked about art and writing.

When we left, my friend pointed up to the night sky.  We stood near my car and looked upward.  The Milky Way was twinkling above us in shimmering dots of yellow and swirls of purple and pink.   I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life.  The doorway to an infinite realm stretched out above us.  Below was the dirt and the grass and us.  All these elements and more from those stars.

Days and weeks have passed by me at a snail’s pace.  Yet, I also exist in a swirl of creativity and waves of emotion.  I feel more connected to this land and this city now that I am developing a routine and meeting more people.  I still struggle with opening up to that same creativity and emotional surge that is brimming under the surface.  My head tries to work out the logistics of my new lifestyle.  It worries daily about money, bills, connections, schedules, friends and family, and any other scheme or strategy it can lock onto as a way to keep me safe and keep me small.   I try to dance the dance between creative freedom and expression and living practically and sensibly.  I still have this belief that I must accomplish some type of creative project and become successful with it in order to prove to myself and others that I made the right decision to come out here.  I also struggle with this imaginary time line where I believe that I must choose a definitive date to end my sabbatical and have something to show for it before I go back to a “normal life” and a “normal routine”.

My heart, on the other hand, is swelling with emotions and longing to be expressed.

I struggle so much with this desire to be purely creative.    Thankfully, an eight hour shift of putting things on the shelf, bagging groceries, and being nice to people erase all fears and doubts for the day.  After work, I was free to go with a small group of friends to Max Patch bald an hour away.  We hiked up to the Appalachian Trail pass and witnessed a 360 degree view of the mountains and the gradual changing of the leaf colors.  My dog ran in and around us.  We sat in the grass and looked upon the swelling moon that was just beginning its tour of the horizon.  The sun was to our backs and warmed us as the mountain breeze blew over us.  All of us sat in silence, alone with our thoughts.  

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I laid back in the grass and let out a sigh.  These mountains have called me and I have heeded their call.  It is not up to me to work out and carve out a “normal life” that brings me money, success, recognition, or a comfortable pension.  I am to be worked on by the grandmotherly love and ancient energy and medicine of these mountains.  All  those who live in this area or visit here have said the exact same thing.  These mountains heal and offer up gifts to those who are willing to receive.

I rested my head on the tufts of grass behind me and could still see the soft curves of the mountains.  My friend asked me what I was thinking.  I said to him, “I’ve never let myself do anything like this before.”  I honestly don’t know what I meant by those words.  It was the best I could come to expressing that I was healing my old wounds and letting the cool breeze, the mountain landscape, and the pure clean air erase all traces of self-doubt.    Two tears dripped down the sides of my face and landed in the dirt.  I closed my eyes just as my dog jumped over me.  The mountains were working their magic on me.

This is Asheville time.  There is no rhyme or reason or linear way of being.  It is as near to mythical time as I can get.  I must yield and open up to these gifts.  They will come out in their own time and in their own way.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll put on my Chaco sandals and buy a Subaru (the official car of these mountains).  Then I’ll be able to drive to town in style and meet Darby for a cup of coffee after his daily dump.

 

 

The Cracked-Open Heart

On nearly a daily basis, I have moments when I ask myself a series of questions: “Why am I here in Western North Carolina?  Why did I leave my old life behind?  Is this the right thing to do?  How will I know when I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing if I don’t even know what that is just yet?”

A series of serendipities this weekend delivered me a piece of the mysterious puzzle I have been trying to solve.

On Saturday, at the suggestion of my new neighbor, I went to the literary festival in Burnsville, NC.  The drive to Burnsville was thirty minutes of glorious scenery of undulating two lane highways towards a soft, rolling, layered backdrop of gentle mountains.  The trees are beginning to yellow and already there is some type of brush that has turned a fiery orange and yellow.

img_2642I walked up to the old brick building of Yancey County Public Library at 8:45 a.m. and watched the last of the fog peel away from the distant mountains and reveal a glowing sunlight on the tops of the trees.  I was there to attend a writing workshop hosted by local writer and teacher, Jennifer McGaha.  She is a lovely woman with a sense of humor and really challenging and interesting writing prompts.  By the time the nearly three hour session was over, I was fighting back tears of tenderness I had unlocked in my writing, most of which I didn’t share with a single soul but my composition notebook.

Across the room at another table facing me was a beautiful woman who had snow white hair, a sweet face, and the cutest red shoes that I coveted all morning long.  She shared a piece of writing with the group that was so descriptive and emotionally moving that I knew I had to talk to her afterwards.  I felt so drawn to her (and I wanted to know where she got her shoes).  She invited me to lunch with her and Jennifer.

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Through their kind words, listening ears, and probing questions, they validated me as a writer and as a teacher of writing.  I soaked up everything they said and internally I was fighting back tears.  Not of sadness but of sheer gratitude.  Here before me were two women gently mentoring me and holding me accountable to my dreams.

fullsizerenderLater that evening, I attended the ending lecture of the three day festival.  The speaker was David George Haskell, biologist and writer who is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his beautiful book The Forest Unseen.  I had only read two pages of his book the day before when I purchased it and my ticket.  Something inside of me told me to forgo my cheapness and spend the money to listen to him talk about the natural world.  He spent one entire year observing a square meter of forest in Tennessee.  What he learned and what he shared resonated so deeply within me that I cannot even begin to articulate it.  Just imagine Charles Darwin meets Charles Dickens meets Mary Oliver.  This man has the mind of a scientist, the master craftsmanship of a novelist, and the heart and soul of a poet.  He reminded us that the beings in the natural world are relational not to just one another but to us as well (they’re our “blood kin” literally if we believe in evolution).  His message was that we must pay attention to the particular so as to be able to see our part in the universal.  Through this practice, he learned:  1.)  that there is an opening for everyone to experience the unspeakable beauty in this world; 2.)  that there is a sense of the fathomless brokenness in things – from a sense of feeling so lonely to trying to understand the universe and humans inability to communicate with their natural kin; 3.)  that the pain in just one square meter of forest is extraordinary and we must learn to live and appreciate the duality of the beauty and the suffering and not try to create a resolution between the two.  (See?  My words are incapable to do his justice.  I mean, we gave the man two standing ovations, for God’s sake.)

At the end of the lecture, I noticed no one was clamoring around him to bend his ear or have him sign their book (I realized later I missed the pre-lecture book signing).  My knees shook and my heart fluttered.  I knew I must go over to him and thank him for being my teacher this evening.  When I spoke, tears alighted to my eyes.  My heart was overflowing with so much gratitude and incomprehensible desire to know more about myself through the natural world and his understanding of it.  Why did I uproot myself and plant myself hundreds of miles away from the rippling cornfields and blue skies of my Midwestern world?  Why am I in these mountains, sometimes alone and lonely, overstimulated and confused, or peaceful and laid back?  Why was I almost crying in front of a stranger who spoke his truth and his beauty not more than 10 minutes earlier?

I collected myself and he was so moved by my tenderness that I saw him put his hand over his heart.  He pursed his lips into a smile and he lowered his shoulders and became very humble when I asked him to sign my book.  Another impulse came over me and I told him about my time last year spent in Colorado where I “attuned to the particular to see myself in the unversal.”  He became very excited and he noted down the name of the psychologist (Bill Plotkin) and his foundation (Animas Valley Institute).  He assured me his work was now on his radar.  We both discussed how it is important to start re-wilding ourselves as a society and learn again how to talk to nature and let nature talk to us.

Which leads me to today.  My two new yoga friends suggested I go to Warren Wilson college so I could spend some time in nature and write and attune to the particulars of my chosen world and path.

I spread my blanket in the shade of the glorious meadow that was covered on all sides by these divine, feminine, graceful mountains.  I began to write, hoping to capture some sense of beauty and inspiration.  What happened instead was that I became agitated and annoyed.  Out of nowhere, tiny insects began biting me and buzzing my head.  A big black ant came marching towards my thighs.  A tiny green spider crawled over my foot.  My dog strayed too far away from our sitting area and I had to stop writing and call her over.  I held on to her leash and she pulled and strained and walked around me as I tried to balance my composition notebook on my lap.  She spilled her drinking water and frustration welled up inside of me.  Birds started to pick up on my frustration and they became noisy.  I was ready to call it quits, when I heard myself ask, “Why must you always try to orchestrate everything with your mind?  What if you just sat here and tuned in to what is happening in and on your body, in your surroundings?”img_2663

 

I put my pen and notebook down.  I closed my eyes.  I took a breath.  Then another.  And then another.

A gentle breeze picked up and evaporated the sweat off of my upper lip, my armpits, and behind my knees.  The breeze acted like a balm and suddenly all of my itching went away.

I focused my attention on the particular area of my heart.  The breeze picked up and blew steadily against me.

I said a prayer of gratitude for all of the goodness that has been happening to me.  And without warning, I began to cry.  And more than cry, I started to sob.  My mind wanted to start to rationalize why I was sobbing, but my body stopped it and asked it to be silent and just let this wave of sadness pour over me.

That’s when I felt a lot of compassion, more than I have ever felt in all my life.  Compassion for my dog who was hot and tired.  Compassion for the ant that I had chased away.  Compassion for the birds that were searching for food.  Compassion for my friends and family who have their own fears and obstacles to overcome.  Compassion for the constant struggle we all have to just stay alive and thrive.  Compassion for these mountains that are ancient and weary but ready to nurture and give more life to their space on this planet.

In that moment, the wind enveloped me.  The birds began to sing even louder.  And right before I pushed through the other side of some type of release, I remembered to include myself in this chain of compassion too.

I do not need to know the answers as to why I am here.  If I only came here for this pure moment of utter gratitude and compassion that cracked open my heart and allowed my tenderness to pour out with no shame or embarrassment attached to it and no need to withhold it, then that was enough.  A piece of the mystery was revealed in that moment when I chose to give my tenderness and practice a second of compassion here in this world where I am a tiny leaf on this great tree of life.

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Loosening the Ties That Bind

I have made a conscientious decision to stop writing about and talking about my fears and anxieties.  I know that by being raw and vulnerable and opening up those wounds and exposing them to those of you who read this blog especially has been like a balm for some of you.  It’s good to learn that others have fears similar to ours.  It makes us feel less alone in this world.  It comforts us to know someone else out there is struggling and if that person can overcome their fears and push through them, so can we.  Brave heart warriors  willing to dance with these darker emotions are needed to help us navigate through our own emotions and help us evolve.  However, I am putting aside my warrior ways for now.  I have fought the good fight by standing in the trenches of the dark emotions and facing them head on.  And a lot of wisdom and magic have come out of those moments and have prompted me to grow and change.  A lot.

To quote one of my favorite authors and creative mentors, Elizabeth Gilbert, “Fear is boring, because fear only ever has one thing to say to us, and that thing is ‘STOP!'” It’s time to push on through to the other side of fear.  It’s time to shed the old skin of the badass warrior woman.  Time to take off my Wonder Woman bracelets and slip into something a little more comfortable and lighter.

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What prompted this decision to stop focusing on the fear was because I suffered three weeks of physical chronic pain right before and after my last blog post and am just now coming out of that.  I have started seeing the old biological patterns of fear in my body that have been there since I was at least 16:  the achy pain in my right side and outer hip/buttocks region; the wobbly leg syndrome; the tight calves; the low blood sugar and erratic sweating that makes me pass out (which thankfully I haven’t done since I was a teenager).  My parents and doctors never really could figure out what that was all about.   I’ve had bouts of this freakiness since then in various forms which culminated in pain a few weeks ago where I could barely walk up my stairs into my living space.  Prior to this episode, I had not experienced even a small degree of that pain for over 4 months.  That was immediately after I made the freeing decision to begin this journey.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that part of the chronic pain is from asymmetry in my body (my hips are a little “wonky” and an X-ray once showed my knee joints are slightly misaligned).  We are also a society that sits a lot and weaken our muscles and I’ve been sitting more than usual these past few months.  I also must face the reality of being 41 and I’m more than likely starting some perimenopausal symptoms where muscle and joint pain is caused by shifting hormones. And I’m aware that sometimes my diet and the wrong type of exercise (like hiking up and down over 500 stairs at a state park and then driving home and falling asleep instead of stretching out my muscles) can exacerbate it.

All of that scientific stuff set aside, I know in my heart-of-hearts this chronic pain is also a result of old biological patterns in my body that have been prompted by some fear-base mentality I have carried around nearly all my life.  I’ve lived a good portion of my life being “stressed out,” worried about the future, or always believing something bad was going to happen even if everything is good and pleasant at the moment. In the past three weeks, I have become aware of the fact that I clench my jaw any time I feel too happy or excited about all the possibilities before me.  I sit watching TV with my inner thighs squeezed together so tightly that I am sitting up on the knots of my butt muscles.  I drive down the street and feel my rib cage is so tight because I have shallow breathing.  And every time I take notice of these bodily sensations, I scan my mind and find that without a doubt I am living some part of that moment in fear and panic.  I even get afraid of the thought of being in pain that I seize up and don’t want to move.  Then there’s the flip side:  I move too much and overstretch because I’m trying to shake out all the antsy feelings within me.

What was I afraid of?  It couldn’t be some big bad predator like a saber tooth tiger out to get me, (although my body was reacting like that was the case).  If I examine my fears closely, I can say I was afraid of being too powerful.  Too beautiful.  Too sensual.  Too creative.  Too loving.  Too free spirited.  Too much.  So, I shrunk myself down to stay in the game of living a scripted life.  When, in reality, every part of me was longing to be free of 35 years of schooling.  I’ve been living that life since I was 5.

So, today, I decided enough of following that script.  Enough of living completely in my mind and strategizing my next move (although, let’s face it, I’ll probably always be somewhat of a strategist and planner.   Those are some awesome skills to have as they set me up to make the bold move that I did).  Enough of worrying about people telling me they’re envious of me.  Enough of feeling like I’m being selfish for making this lifestyle change.   It’s time to live directly from my body.  From my heart.  From my spirit.

Every single day for three weeks now, I have softened into my body, meditated, accepted the moment, and given thanks for at least three things that have happened to me, no matter how big or small.

IMG_2516Today, I focused on sweetness.  I asked my body what it wanted to do today.  What did it need in order to feel whole and happy.  It asked for a strengthening yoga practice followed by longer, softer, gentler stretches and holds.  I gave that to my body.  I asked my spirit what it needed.  It asked for 20 minutes of silent meditation and prayer and to be in nature by going to the University of North Carolina’s Botanical Gardens.  I gave that to my spirit.  I asked my heart what it needed.  It asked for a day’s outing to eat a sweet meal, go to my favorite store “The Bee Charmer” in downtown Asheville, and to people watch.  I gave that to my heart.

Yet, my fear wasn’t about to be left behind.  It flared up in the form of a shaming voice that told me that I really shouldn’t eat the Challah French Toast stuffed with honey cream and blackberry sauce with two strips of bacon.  I became aware of the masquerading fear and silently said a prayer of gratitude when the waitress brought my meal.  I ate it with reverence and a sense of pleasure.  Fear’s voice said, “You shouldn’t eat sugary things.  This is bad for you.  It could hurt your body and you could get a cramp in your leg.”  I smiled and took another bite, savoring the creamy texture, the sweet and salty mix of blueberry and bacon.  Silently I let my body speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This meal is eaten in gratitude and with pleasure.  Your opinion no longer matters.”

When I went downtown, I heard my fear speak in the form of guilt as I purchased some local honey, a t-shirt, and a necklace with a drop of honey in a small amulet.  Fear’s voice said, “How dare you buy anything for yourself.  You don’t have a job anymore and you should not buy anything that isn’t for mere necessity.  You’ll regret this when you’re on the verge of being broke and you might go homeless.”  I smiled as the sales clerk handed me my lovely purchase and silently I let my heart speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This purchase was made in gratitude and with pleasure.  I will use all of these things as a reminder that my life is so very sweet.  Your opinion no longer matters.”

I arrived at the Botanical Gardens, which is on the UNC campus and right near a busy road.  I started walking over the bridge and down to the creek and could hear the traffic through the pines, the sycamores, the ashes, and the laurel trees.  The chirping of the birds was competing with the whir of the engines.  I again heard my fear speak, but this time in the form of judgment.  Fear’s voice said, “This place is terrible.  How can it be beautiful when there is so much urban traffic flying by?”  I smiled as I climbed over moss covered stones to sit near the creek and watch butterflies and dragonflies dancing with one another.  Silently I let my spirit speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This time outside is spent in gratitude and with pleasure.  The birds, the bees, the butterflies, and all the other creatures are perfectly content living here.  In fact, they’re thriving.  And these flowers, plants, and trees, give shelter and a loving touch of Mother Nature to remind us to stay connected.  I think all of this is beautiful and natural.  Your opinion no longer matters.”IMG_2517

I squatted next to a Red-Spotted Purple butterfly as it opened and closed its wings on the creek bed.  My spirit felt so much love to be watching a beautiful creature up close.

I walked in the sunlight across the lawn to a small trail that led to a gigantic sycamore tree.  I placed my hand on the trunk and looked up and suddenly memories of being a child flooded my mind.  I saw my cousins, my little sister, and me playing on the old tire swing that was hanging from the large sycamore tree in our grandparents’ backyard.  We were so happy and carefree.  My heart filled with love.

I climbed a set of stairs built into the dirt and tree roots, and my footing was secure and I had no pain.  My body was at ease and in its element.  That’s when I realized, I had left my fears behind.

No more will I allow fear to control my days.  This will take mindfulness and some level of self-discipline.  Yet, all I wish to share right now are moments of beauty and love. Of awakening to a higher sense of purpose.  Sweetness and joy.  Insight and gratitude.  Pleasure and easiness.  And from these things, I choose to bring forth all of my creativity and set it to work:  playing, growing, living, writing, drawing, teaching, listening, being, loving, and most of all finding pleasure from the mystery of the unknown.

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The Do-Over

It’s midnight.  My tears have finally dried.  My lungs have stopped heaving.  I have wadded tissue around me and my dog is by my side.  I have cried my first deep cry since I’ve been here in the Asheville area a month now.

imgresMany would say there’s nothing to cry about.  There should be many things I am thankful for.  Just today, I got an apartment that I can move into starting September 7th.  I have made my first big mark on my white canvas life.  On what one of my friends called my “do over.”  Why then all of these tears?

Are they tears of relief or anger?  Maybe both.  I now know I have somewhere more permanent to land.  This cottage has been far from ideal.  It is not the “writer’s retreat” or the “lover’s paradise” I was hoping it might have been.  The pictures on the rental site are nicer than the actual space.  There is a mildew smell that wreaks havoc on my lungs and causes me to break out in rashes every time I walk inside.  Mold once covered the entire insides of my window AC unit and the tiled shower has it in droves.  I scrub everything daily, stirring up more allergens probably than necessary, but I itch so much that I can’t stop trying to clean.  Ants march around my food and the recliner has so many stains I’ve stopped counting.  I don’t read by the standing light there anymore once I found that the light bulb is on sideways and held together by duct tape.  I can’t enjoy the backyard with my dog because it has piles of dead sticks among all the pine needles, gravel, and black plastic pushing out from underneath like blackened weeds.  The cottage gardens are overgrown, and instead of scented wisteria vines and honeysuckle, there are bagworms and spider webs at every turn.  I must face the fact that I cannot get back what I once owned and called “mine.”

Are they tears of grief?  Maybe.  I miss my friends and family daily, yet I do not wish to return to my old life.  That old life was a tight, itchy sweater that I only kept on wearing because I thought I had to.  Because I thought it was expected of me.  And though it wasn’t comfortable, it was comforting to know that the restrictions I had placed on that life at least kept me safe.  Yet they also kept me small.  They kept me in what I thought were my expected roles:  The reliable daughter.  The authoritative teacher.  The know it all big sister.  The eccentric aunt.  The go to friend.  I never dipped my foot into the other part of me that has been calling for a very long time.  That part of me that knows how to be sensual, to be sexy, to be earthy, to be creative, to be divinely feminine.  In my previous life, that larger role was a threat to all these smaller, more comfortable facets of myself that seemed more appropriate in polite company.

Maybe the grief is due to the fact that I have begun to face the facts that I will probably not physically have a child of my own.  That I have no man I deeply love in my life to warm my bed.  To hold me in his arms.  To protect me from all of the elements as I face my inner fears.  I have to face them alone.  With no one else’s help.  And I must confront myself and my fears more fiercely than ever before because as Rumi once wrote “What you seek is seeking you.”  I must surrender to myself and to the forces inside of me that know I can no longer look outward for my happiness.  I have arrived in the location I was meant to be in. Now there is no turning back.  I have mysteriously been drawn to this particular land.  To find within its cool mountain streams the pool of soul-recognition.  Now, I must look deep into that watery reflection and see that I have carried what I have been seeking all along.  And at some point, I must bring whatever that is forth.

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This is my Romantic side calling me.

The practical side of me says “Cut all of the poetic bullshit.  Dry your tears.  You get a do over.  So, don’t fuck it up.  You can’t make any mistakes here because you can’t turn back.  Besides, what’s there to go back to?  You fucked all that up.  So, let’s come up with a plan to make your life easier and get you back to being a full-fledged member of society.”

Are these tears of frustration?  Maybe.  How do I listen to my Muse and bring forth my imgres-1inner Romantic creative and beautiful soul-self on a larger scale yet honor some of the practicalities of trying to get everything organized and managed well enough so I don’t lose what money and resources I have left?  I am being pulled in these two very opposite directions almost every day and I don’t exactly know how to regulate each one.  I came out here to eat good food.  To play.  To create.  To be in nature. To feel connected.  To explore my options.  And any time I start really getting excited by that, I listen to the practical side that worries more about how much money I spent on a Glade plug-in at Walmart so as to ease the mildew smells of the shack, (er I mean cottage).  After each exciting encounter with the new life and the new me,  I then revert to checking my bank statements and holding back on eating out more often.  I choose to stick with tuna fish sandwiches and chips as opposed to experimenting with my cooking or trying out a new restaurant.  It’s as if I have relocated that old, itchy sweater of my past life and keep putting it on again and again in hopes that it will fit and feel good now that I have made some major life changes.

But that’s not how a do-over should work, right? Maybe.  Maybe not.  But just maybe it’s more like the metaphor of reaching the end of your leash.  You keep coming back to the point where you left off and touch base with the familiar in order to remember that you no longer want that anymore.  Then, you grow stronger and braver and again reach the end of the tether you tied yourself to long ago.  And a few strands break, but not enough to set you free.  Or maybe you got a little too scared that it would snap all at once propelling you too forcefully and into a space that’s not ready toimgres-3
catch you just yet.  So, you come back to the start  again, and again.  You regroup before stretching out even farther the next time, where even more fibers of that old rope break some more.  Until one day, you are floating and then flying and then soaring into the new side of yourself that has been seeking you all along as much as you have been seeking it.

 

Wild.

These are ancient mountains.  There is a divinity here among the ferns, the plants, the old trees, the stones.  Fecundity in all things green.

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The wilderness outside is reflective of the wilderness inside.  So much yet to explore.  So much mystery abounds in the moist earth that sprouts white and red mushrooms and dwells inside the crevices that look like medieval grottos at the base of trees.  So much mystery inside my restless heart and creative mind.

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My skin crawls with red bumps all up and down my legs, and tiny, oily pimples spring up across my face every waking moment.   I am disoriented at times, and sad, and irritated, then mesmerized, and finally humbled into submission by something I can’t fully explain.

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My dog sprouted swollen bumps on both sides of her jaw after a restless night of becoming irritated by some tiny creature that lurks within the cracks on the walls or the floor.  She recovers her wellness and her joy at the first scent of the mountain air and the kindness and practicality of the local veterinarian.  He recommends I go on a hike with her as soon as she has recovered.  Here, the prescription is to get out in nature.  To commune with the land as a way to heal.

***

At every twist and turn of the mountain roads and challenges in my daily life, I try to remember to lean into it all and let it be what it is.  No need for perfection.  No need for justification.  No need for analysis.  Just lean into it.  Tap the break at the right moment.  Pause and release.  Then coast and lean into the next moment and curve.  Continue like this: up, down, around, and over the mountain until there is a small space to pull over or a scenic overlook to enjoy.  In either instance:  breathe.

***

There is a space where I may have found my tribe.  In a dance studio downtown Asheville where the live drumming of the West African rhythms can be heard from the street.  Where the instructor, a beautiful, powerful, kind, and joyous woman from the Cote d’Ivoire, counts to you in French and commands the drummers to slow down or speed up by just a simple gesture of her hand.  Here, the drums pound inside of my stomach.  Inside of my pelvis.  At the soles of my feet and the base of my spine. And my shoulders shake and my heart is in control of my joy.

***

My dog and I approach the blue blaze right off mile marker 375 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We are headed up to Rattlesnake Lodge – a deserted vacation getaway in the 1920s and 30s.  Only stone foundations of cabins, fireplaces, and other buildings exist.  It is a popular spot of locals.  Before us is a wet slab of exposed mountain with a cascade of water splashing over eroded stones that are now round and smooth.  I say a small prayer for our well-being but also as a greeting to the ancient ones that inhabit every rock, plant, stream, and tree in this place.  I am entering their world, and I must respect their ways.  We begin our ascent and cross over a small part of the stream before stepping onto the worn path with exposed roots and small, loose stones.  I inhale the damp smell and settle into my body.  Many times I am overcome with tenderness and so much love.  Tears fill my eyes.  “Bring us your tears,” the ferns, stones, and stream whisper to me.  So, I cry in the middle of the forest on a worn path where oak trees act as citadels and twisted laurel branches arc over me and guide me to the white blaze called “Mountain to Sea” trail.  My dog leads.  She seems at home.  Her tail wags and her tongue hangs out.  She is smiling.

***

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A young, green, perfectly shaped acorn drops at my feet.  It is a gift from my friends the oaks.  I pick it up and put it in my pocket.  I swipe away sweat from my forehead and strip off my self-conscious thoughts.  I am becoming wild, and I am no longer ashamed to reclaim that part of me that we have all lost somewhere along the way.  At another stop, I find a stone in the shape of a tulip tree leaf.  It has flecks of mica in it.  I am prompted by some inner guidance to pick it up.  It is not for me to keep, but I do not know what I will do with it.  I place it inside my pocket next to my acorn.  My dog and I continue to ascend until the ground levels out and I see before me a pillar of stones that looks like a sacred altar.  It is one of the remnants of the old lodge, possibly a fireplace for I see the center has been charred.  Here I know that the stone is a symbol of my day of initiation.  I hold it to my chest, say a prayer of gratitude to this ancient land, and then place my stone on the charred altar.  The mica sparkles.  Three large daddy-long-legs creep out from the stones and walk towards me.  The biggest one is right in front of my face and he crawls over the edge of the stone and begins to bob up and down softly.  Maybe I have threatened their home and existence, but my heart knows why they are here:  they’re ambassadors for the ancient ones of this land.   I smile and blow them a kiss.  And a little one walks out from the shadows and joins in the dance.

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Walking southward, I spot a large fallen tree.  There is enough space to walk underneath it.  I see this as my opportunity to shed my old skin, my old patterns and habits, and step into my wild self.  I take a breath, duck my head, and pass underneath.  My dog follows me.  We behold in front of us a pool of stones and part of a stone wall covered in moss.  It is damp and cool in this space and smells earthy.  There looks to be a well where the water is coming from.  I take it all in.  I breathe deeply.  Once more tenderness overcomes me and I shed more tears.  “I am wild,” I say quietly.  Then I say it again.  Louder.  And louder after that.  I turn and face the entrance and I look at my dog and smile.  “We are wild!”  I yell, and I run underneath the fallen tree and out into the clearing, spinning around like the child I once was.

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***

On the descent down the third blaze, I am silent.  I stop and give my dog some water and drink a big gulp of it too.  My boots clump the trodden path and I fall into a rhythm.  A mantra begins forming in my head with each step:  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  I smile and my breath gets deeper.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  My pace quickens.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  The next thing I know, I am saying this out loud and moving quickly, as my dog enjoys the sudden burst of energy.  “I am wild!  I am wild!  I am wild!”  Finally, I see the creek bed at the entrance to the trails.  There is a ledge where the water streams over the black slab.  People have piled stones on top one another at the edge.  Another nature based altar, framed by laurels and rhododendrons.  My pack is heavy and my shorts are riding up my thighs.  Sweat has seeped into the folds of my tshirt.   I don’t look much different than when I started.  Yet, I am transformed.  I have come back to the beginning.  Back to where I belong.

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Weekend Vignette

I.  Plants and Fish Scales

Glossy, shimmering , green heart-shaped leaves cluster together at the base of a tall oak.   The sweet musk of decay perfumes the damp and loamy forest floor.  Sunlight streams through the canopies of trees, while plush moss and feathery ferns rest at their feet.  a wilted creamy-white rhododendron blossom floats in the pooled water that is secured by the smooth, gray,black, brown, and orange river stones.   The water in the river bed tumbles over boulders and slides in between stones lodged in crevices of mud.  I am home in the woods.

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At the top of Mount Pisgah, there is a restaurant that supposedly makes the best trout, caught from the same stream I sat beside earlier this morning.  I sit down at the table with a fellow hiker.  She is here in Asheville to find her retirement home so she can be close to her young son, who is not married and probably is unlikely to take a wife and give her a grandchild she says.  The waitress serves our trout encrusted in walnuts with a slice of lemon and a side of homemade blueberry butter.  We squeeze on the lemons and smother the fish in butter, and I listen as she unfolds her life story in front of me:  from her career as a healthcare consultant, to her two marriages, the deaths of her college friend and her husband, her personal awakening and following of Amma the hugging saint, all the way to her friendship with a 40-something Indian woman who is an educator in Oakland and a published poet as well.  I watch her smile and glow and become animated to have a listening ear.  And I am listening, but I am also marveling at how she slices through the fish and eats scales and all. I pick out my bones and slide the meat off of the scales as easily as I pick out her story with probing, subtle questions and nods of my head.  I begin mentally weaving her story into my story as we look out at our window view of the Blue Ridge mountains that press up against the equally blue sky.

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II. Toe River Stories

Everything grows here in Western North Carolina.  Chestnut trees, oaks, hickories, maples, rhododendrons, thistle, purple coneflowers.  So does my hair. And I have hair everywhere on my body, right down to chin hairs and wisps of baby fine toe hairs that I have to shave almost every other day.  I’ve never been in such a lush environment and marvel at the fact that even my armpits have a five o’clock shadow.

I have driven 45 minutes north through winding two lane highways that go up, over, down, and around mountains.  My destination is the home of George and Sabina, a retired couple from Miami that have been living here for 10 years now.  And it is a dream:  nestled between a hill and a sloping ravine that has a gorgeous view of the Toe River in the distance.  Hummingbirds swarm their feeders and their wings sound like electric fans.  We sit on the wrap-around deck and look out at the dense undergrowth that houses one blooming red gladiola a scattering of purple coneflowers, and so many native trees and bushes that twist and turn and wrap around each other and the large boulders in their landscape.

My dog has discovered their orange cat, Fanta, and she chases him around the edge of the deck that has no barriers to protect anyone or anything from crashing into the ravine below.  I wince numerous times, and George and Sabina laugh and tell me that my dog is not the one afraid of heights, I am.  I shouldn’t transfer my fears to her, they say.  My dog is safe enough and knows what she’s doing because she has a sixth sense of her surroundings.  To ease my anxiety, though, we hop in the car and take a drive down to the river to wade in the water with Lucy and Reef, their Golden Retriever.  There I watch as this nimble and wiry couple, who are my parents’ age or older, skirt over rolling pebbles and stones and sit on big boulders in the middle of the stream.  I on the other hand am having a hard time of convincing my pup that she will not die in the water, and have to pick her up and place her down on a shallow sand bar that has enough rolling water to qualify her as wading in the stream as well.

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We hop back in the van and George drives slowly back up and over the ridge so we can sight see their “neck of the woods”.  At the top of the ridge we come to a clearing and there is a 360 degree view of the mountain range.  I feel protected by these mountains.  It’s as if they are hugging me in this moment and letting me know on some level that I am safe and secure and right where I should be.  Later, at dinner, I loosen up my anxiety about my dog’s walk around the deck and her wanderings off into the woods.  She is in a dog’s heaven and by the end of the night, her border collie instincts have kicked in and she has surveyed her entire border and barks at the neighbor dogs and runs down the hill to smell them and make sure they are safe to let near us, her flock.

By the end of the evening, I have learned about how they grew up in Czechoslovakia (George) and Germany (Sabina) and then under different family circumstances in Buenos Aires, Argentina, only to have met in Munich, Germany, many years later.  George shares with me his father’s classic tale of a self-made man as first a wealthy plastic factory owner to a refugee in an internment camp to a single father of three working in a Czech restaurant in NYC for pennies back again to a wealthy entrepreneur and inventor who died in a small town in New Jersey some years ago.  Their stories grow and take hold of me and anchor me to them and the surroundings even more.  Everything grows here in Western North Carolina.  Even the stories get richer and more lush.

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III.  A Dog Named Ashby

On Sunday my neighbor, Darby, took me with him and bought me a ticket to the annual Craft Fair at the Asheville U.S. Cellular Center. There were hundreds of craftsmen, jewelry makers, fine artists, and potters from the Southern Highland Craft Guild.  If I was rich, I would have bought something from almost every single vendor.  But since that type of wealth is reserved for the Vanderbilts and their collections at the Biltmore Estate, I chose to be the side kick for the day to Darby and his special charm and enthusiasm instead.

Darby stopped at almost every stall and asked the artists questions about their craft.  He took a genuine interest in them.  For the brief moments he was with them, they became the center of his world.  A jewelry designer, named Ruthie, beamed with pride as Darby asked her how she crafted her copper and bronze earrings.  By the end of their conversation, he had bits and pieces of her life out in the open and reflected back to her aspects of her personality like a shiny piece of copper.  One man pulled out his phone and showed Darby all of his tiny metal work he did on personalized bamboo fishing poles. Another man talked to him about his life as a musician and how he taught his son how to play guitar.  Once their stories were in full swing, Darby would turn to me and smile and without missing a beat, I would pick up the questioning and become equally engaged in the person’s story as well.

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When the conversation came to its natural end, I would turn to say something to Darby and find he was gone.  I walked to the next stall hoping he would catch back up with me, and there I would find him either at the next stall admiring some handiwork or walking up and down the aisles with his headphones in his ears, backpack slung over one shoulder, walking on the balls of his worn out tennis shoes, white socks pressed up tightly against his skinny calves.  We would then meet up again and fall into our quickened walking pace.  He would tell me some hilarious story of his own or share something insightful and wise until we got to the next stall and he would stop mid conversation and converse with the next artist who had the pleasure of his company for however long it lasted.  This became our rhythm the entire day.  By the end of our 5 hour tour, our friendship felt natural as if we had known each other for years as opposed to two weeks.

The last stop was at Tom Wolfe’s woodcarving stall.  He is an 80 year old man from Spruce Pine, NC, (about 30 minutes away from Asheville), and is the grandfather and wise master of the folk art of whittling and carving here in the Appalachians.  Before I knew it, Darby had fleshed out his life story and the man shook Darby’s hand and gave me a hug.  I wanted so badly to purchase a carving of his, but I was being frugal with my money.  Darby relieved me of that worry and convinced me that I needed a piece of art from an Appalachian man who has written the book (actually several books) on carving figurines.  This is the man who says he sees faces and stories in his woodwork as he is shaping them. He smiled and said that as he whittles he begins to see faces of old childhood friends and family members now long gone.  We both looked at each other and got a little teary-eyed.  I understood him.  He’s a storyteller.  He uses wood instead of words.  Different mediums, but the intention to express ourselves or capture a person, a feeling, a mood, a scene are the same.

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The old man hugged me again and told me to name my dog.  I said I would.  Darby and I bounced out of the convention center and picked up our pace as we walked down sloping sidewalks to his truck.  He was in the middle of sharing some whacky and wonderful story about his life when I told him I had a name for my dog.  He asked what it was, and I said “Ashby.”  He wondered how I came up with that name.  I told him it was short for two things that have been a part of my story since the day I got here:  Asheville plus Darby.  He puffed up and told me how happy that made him feel.  I finally had a story of my own.

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Heart Center

The white windmills on highway 47 north cut through the deep blue Midwestern sky.  I turned onto a side road and got out of my car to take in the sweeping panoramic views that included waving cornfields, blue wild asters, and a stoic barn in the distance.

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When I arrived at the conference center in North Lake, Illinois, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was there to attend a weekend yoga retreat called BhaktiFest Midwest.  I have practiced bhakti (the yoga path of love and devotion) with Saul David Raye (an internationally known teacher) whenever he comes to the St. Louis area, but this time around I was going to immerse myself in the ancient traditions of kirtan, chanting (mantra), and breathwork (pranyama) as well as yoga poses (asana), and whatever other types of classes were offered.  I was curious to know if I would come away with a “blissed out” experience or if I was fooling myself into thinking that I could let go of conventions and old ways of being and allow my wild self to be present in the sessions.

I hesitated as I pulled in the parking lot next to a hippy van painted with a rainbow cosmic scene of Saturn and a guy on a surfboard.   A sense of loneliness and self-consciousness came over me as one of the volunteers wrapped the green band around my wrist and welcomed me.  Guys with man buns and lots of jewelry and women covered in tattoos and hairy armpits intermingled with men in kahki pants and Birkenstocks and women in all white with scarves around their foreheads.  Were “these people” part of my tribe now?  Did I fit in with hippies, love gurus, and mystics?  There were vendors selling their wares of mala beads, scarves, tie-dye, loose-fitting tops and pants, statues, and even cosmic readings.  I pulled my yoga mat closer to my chest and searched for the yoga room.  I wanted familiarity.  I wanted to distance myself from people who smelled like patchouli and rose water and roll out my mat and go through the motions of poses I’ve been doing for 15 years.  Thankfully, I didn’t get what I was asking for.  FullSizeRender

By the time I got to my second session of the day I had chastised myself for being so judgmental and dared myself to be more open-minded and open-hearted.  These people were fellow seekers of the heart.  People wanting to experience more than the ordinary and to be touched by the sublime.  And isn’t that what I’m doing too on this new journey?  Seeking a place where I can creatively express my emotions and experiences.  Seeking a way of being that is different than my traditional role as a mainstream English teacher, good and responsible daughter and sister, wild aunt, and single woman in a big house.  All roles I upheld by determination and default.

As I laid down on my back, preparing to be guided through a 2 hour session focused solely on the breath, I realized I don’t know that much about life or love as I pretended to know when I got to the conference. As Michael Brain Baker (the teacher, who was dressed in all white, had dreadlocks, and smelled of some heavenly rose watered scent) played cosmic sounds and chanted lullabies in Portuguese, Sanskrit, Hindi, and some other exotic languages, my body became awakened by my deep breathing (two deep inhales through the mouth and one long exhale through the mouth for 7 minute increments that were followed by periods of rest and then breath retention).  The breathing mimicked a buildup to a good cry.  The effect in the room was that of a wounded child sobbing for her mother.  I heard others wailing, crying, and moaning in anguish while my eyes were closed and we were all covered in darkness.  Anger and frustration awakened inside of me.  I wanted them to be quiet so I could have a peaceful, blissful experience.  I focused on Michael’s voice and directions.  I kept breathing, deeper and more fully, willing others to quiet themselves.  The more intense I became with my breath, the more my feet tingled, and then my hands and arms began tingling as well.  I got worried when my scalp tightened and my mouth started to go numb as well, but still I kept breathing faster and more intense.  One of the helpers in the room must have sensed my intensity and she came over and I felt some warm drop of rose scented liquid on my forehead.  Then, I heard her breathing, softly, sweetly, and calmly.  I took her cue and my short-circuited nervous system stopped going haywire.  She stayed with me for what felt like a long time.  Her presence at the crown of my head.  Cool air from the central air spread across my chest and I shivered then breathed, shivered then breathed.  I kept hearing her rhythmic breath and she was never far away from me, even as others cried and giggled and eventually burst into wild laughter and howling.  Next came pure silence as we rested our controlled breathing.  I felt like I was floating due to the fact that we had been oxygenating areas of our body that rarely get the deep benefits from our shallow daily breathing.  Peace flooded the room.  And silence.  And then it happened.  My heart cracked and I began crying.  The man who was moaning in sheer agony and pain across the room suddenly became my brother and I cried for him, imagining I was holding him in my arms, cradling him and rocking him through his pain.  Tears flowed from my eyes, and the man eventually quieted.

IMG_1464In the morning, I went to a nondescript workshop conducted by a 60 year old man with a scruffy white beard.  He was wearing jeans, a buttoned down long sleeve shirt, and tennis shoes.  He played the dulcimer and talked in a meditative voice.  The topic was on freedom and liberation of the soul.  We all have attachments and deep fears and the yogis and mystics say all attachments and fears stem from the greatest fear of all:  death.  He strummed the dulcimer that was in harmony with the pulsating, warping sound coming out of an amplifier.  This grandfather of a man told us we were all safe and that we had been in this cycle of birth and re-death for thousands of years, and would continue until we learned to face our own mortality and welcome it fully and with great love.

He instructed us to close our eyes and take an inhale through our nose, saying to ourselves, “Thank you, Great Spirit.”  And as we exhaled, he said, “I’m coming home.”  It sounded too simplistic for me to see how it could be a profound experience.  Yet, I listened to my intuition and allowed myself to be guided.  Eyes closed, I began to shed my inhibitions.  I tuned in to his voice, his words, his wisdom and guidance.  For awhile, my thoughts and breaths were mechanical and methodical.  The man literally struck a chord on his dulcimer right as I inhaled and said to myself, “Thank you for this breath, Great Spirit.”  I retained my breath for a few seconds; as he struck another reverberating chord, I gently exhaled and said whole-heartedly, “I’m coming home.”  A tenderness and warmth spread over my heart center and I started crying heavy tears that ran down my face and dropped onto my chest.  I kept my eyes closed, but I cried, and I kept the mantra and breath work going.  More tenderness, more tears.  Until after maybe a half an hour the breath became seamless and the words became truth.  A clarity came over me and it excited and frightened me at the same time.  I broke the moment by opening my eyes and looking at the teacher at the front of the room.  Too much to handle all at once I suppose.  Life turned back to the ordinary matrix we function in.  I had caught a glimpse of the sublime, however, and it was no other place but at the center of my heart.

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(P.S., I added this last picture in because it’s true and it’s also a reminder not to take myself too seriously either.  Ha ha!)

The Uprooting

If you ask me about my roots, I would show you the silver-white streaks cascading from my scalp and tumbling over my curls.  I could take you out into the garden and show you my iris that my mom and I planted 2 years ago and how their rhizomes are exposed to the sun so they don’t rot away.  I could give you some family history and heritage on both my parents’ side and you would find it mildly interesting as we have still yet to discover any really salacious details of ancestors who were thieves, ladies of the night, or gypsy fortune-tellers who barely escaped a ravenous mob.   I can discuss with  you my hometown and talk to you about my adopted town I’ve lived in for 16 years.  I could list all the pros and cons of each.  I can even tell you in detail the love of my Midwestern roots and why I love Garrison Keillor and his show “Prairie Home Companion” and the nostalgia it creates when he sing-song talks about the moving mountainous clouds over the rolling prairie and tells the quaint stories of hardworking and honest to goodness good Midwesterners out there.

I’m avoiding talking about the sale of my house and the roots I failed to fully establish in that space.  I’ve lived in 3 places since I moved to this area.  The first was a small apartment across from a park.  The second was the place I stayed at the longest (10 years to be exact):  a duplex with a manageable yard in a middle-class neighborhood.  I loved it immensely, but there was a yearning to grow bigger and try something new.  That’s how I awkwardly found myself in a gorgeous cottage-style 2100 sq foot ranch home with a large yard, vaulted ceilings, open concept, 3 bedroom, 2 bath, all brick home in a really nice neighborhood, complete with a private lake within walking distance.  A  lake I was only privy to in glances among fence rows, past the neighbors’ large homes whose backyards include said lake.

A few days before I moved out, one of my neighbors, a retired teacher in her 70s, was on her morning walk.  My dog and I joined her.  She talked at me the whole entire time – projecting on to me her worries and desires about my move, and her life.  She fretted about me leaving my teaching position and worried about my pension.  She told me I should go and teach school in North Carolina where it’s not as bad as this area.  I questioned her on that, and she said, “You know.  Minorities here.  I’m sure it’s hard to teach.  Move somewhere and teach where it’s not as bad as here.”  I almost started an argument with her, but she then switched subjects and talked about her second lake home that is 50 miles away in a  “non-minority” town.  She was fussing about how she had to clean her lake house here and then go there to mow the lawn of her other lake house.  My dog and I parted ways without a goodbye.  Two weeks prior to that, another neighbor asked me if the couple moving in to my home are black or white.  When I snapped, “I don’t know.  What does it matter?”  He smiled knowingly and said, “Oh it matters.”  I walked away without even a goodbye.  It was time to leave, and not just the conversation; time to leave this neighborhood where some of the inhabitants live in isolation and fear of what is beyond their island of supposed safety and security of brick walls, nice lawns, a man-made lake that has wintering geese and egrets that spike its shoreline.

As I spent the last few days packing boxes and shipping things off to storage, I heard the spray of the broken pipe in the leaky bathroom and heard the sump pump kick in.  I shuddered to think that this home is falling apart from the inside out.  The sound only revealed itself too me after the buyers made an offer and then got their home inspection a month afterward.  The subflooring in that bathroom is rotting out and one day the toilet will be in the crawl space.  The inspection also revealed that the roof in the garage had a leak in it that caused black mold to form in the attic.  I replaced the entire roof for the new owners with the support of my insurance company.  The wiring throughout the home is shoddy and a friend who replaced light fixtures for me found that the original wires to the light fixtures were ungrounded and so he fixed them.  I went back to my own original home inspection and discovered truths I was too naive to understand at the time.  One section stated:  “If leaks are apparent, they seem to be hidden cosmetically.”  In a nutshell, the previous owner (and probably the previous owners before him) just lived in the home.  They didn’t maintain, they covered up or ignored.

I had done many repairs during the 3 years I lived there, and now the new owners will be inheriting more money pit issues because of someone else’s laziness or my oversight or lack of awareness of these issues their home inspection revealed.  Through conversations with my realtor, I sensed that this young couple were still in love with this home and wanted it so badly they could taste it.  I did whatever it took to help them realize their dream. Even lying and crying to the county inspector who was trying to tick off more items to repair on the second re-inspection after I had made all of the repairs he wanted on the first inspection.  I just wanted out.  I was not in love with the home and I was already deep into my commitment to my new life that I fought for it with not just my tiny white lies to the county inspector, but with additional repair money to the new owners, hasty packing, numerous trips to the storage unit or the Salvation Army, electronically signed forms sent from my realtor,  etc., just so I could leave faster.  In my fierce fight and flight, I forgot to mourn my loss.  I forgot to take a moment to say goodbye to all that has been good.  I forgot or ignored the parts of my body that were holding in stress.

I did finally take some time to clean the house and sit in meditation after a solid yoga practice.  I did an old Native American ritual where you burn sage and smudge every room of the house as a way to symbolically clear the energy and open the space for the new owners that would build their life here.  It felt good to actively participate in my departing, but still no real wave of emotion came to me.  I supposed that was a good sign and an indication that some part of me had already left this all behind and that the goodbyes were over with.  And so it came as a little of a surprise when I found myself crying at the kennel on the last day I picked up my dog from daycare.  Here were the sweet people who have loved us for so long and they were sad to see us go.  And I found myself crying when I stood in the Chick-fil-A parking lot one hot afternoon after eating lunch with my best friend Katie and her three kids.  I had just hugged them all deeply and kissed the 6 and 3 year old boys’ cheeks as they told me, “We love ya, bro!  We’re coming to visit you, bro!  Be good bro!”

It really hit me that I was leaving my old life and old ways the night before I left town.   I was saying goodbye to my friend Jenn and her two little children.  We were outside in her front yard, standing near their maple tree that was dappled with the light from the summer’s first full moon.  I pointed out that a young mockingbird was playing in the tree and the grass hours before when I arrived.  We all could hear him singing but couldn’t see him.  We chit-chatted a little more, and Jenn stood with her 1 year old on her hip while her 6 year old daughter danced back and forth between us.  I was feeling just fine and it didn’t resonate with me when she said to me, “You’re off on your new adventure.  I’m so proud of you, Meg.  It takes so much guts to follow your heart.  You’ll do well, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for you.”  It wasn’t until I hugged her that I felt her strong arms hold me close to her and not let me go.  I heard a sniffle and realized she was crying.

When I finally stepped back, I saw tears running down her cheeks.  “Why are you crying?” I asked. “I’m a Virgo.  We’re loyal as hell and we don’t let go of friendships that are important to us.”  I laughed a little at my silly astronomy talk that I don’t believe in, minus the loyalty part.  She finally collected herself when her daughter hugged us and laughed, “Oh mommy.  Turn off the waterworks.  You’re Ok.”  I smiled and gave one last hug before getting in my car.  As I began to pull away, I looked up and saw my friend’s tear-streaked face as fresh new tears fell in the tracks.  My heart broke in that moment.  Here were my roots.  Here was my nourishment and my tending and my loving care support system.  In the eyes of my friend.  Of all my friends and family who love me.  The roof over my head and the walls supporting it and the neighborhood around it were very beautiful indeed, but it did not fill me up with so much love as in that moment of my friend’s heartbreak.  And I now see all of the emotions displayed by the ones I love, whether it be practical concerns, words of encouragement, or displays of hurt, sadness, worry, confusion, frustration, elation, and celebration.  They are what anchor me to my heart and allow me to stay rooted to them, no matter where I am.