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.

imgres-2

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.

 

Advertisements

Lost in the Undergrowth

Last night, I killed a cockroach that was crawling out of the sink drain.  Maybe it was an omen of what was to come.

Nights have been harder than I expected.  My shoulders, neck, and jaw are constantly tense and I can’t get comfortable on the bed even though I brought my own fancy pillows.  Regardless of what time I drift off to sleep, my eyes open at 6 sharp every morning.  Exhausted mid day, I try to take a nap, but 10-15 minutes pass by before I roll onto my right side to try and loosen up my back muscles and shoulders, and I can’t so I get up and try to do something else.  My mind has a grip on my body and it’s holding on tighter than I expected.

The lady I rent from left a binder of places to go and things to do.  I decided on an early morning hike this morning 8 miles away from the cottage.  The directions she left seemed simple enough and I copied them down.  The hiking spot was along the French Broad River.  After my breakfast and a cup of coffee, I got dressed and put on my hiking shoes.  Lucy hopped in the car with me and off we went.  “Edgy” is a good word to describe how I was feeling when I saw the first yellow sign indicating the road had multiple curves.  My solar plexus and the area between my shoulder blades had an odd, fearful energy.  Everything was tensing up, vibrating, and humming internally at the same time.  I ignored the sensations and pushed on through.  “All part of the mountain experience,” I reminded myself.

Curve.  Fear.  Second curve.  Fear.  Ascent.  Fear.  Descent.  Fear.  Curve.  Curve.  Curve.  Fear.  My butt muscles clenched.  A ripple ran through my solar plexus down into my rib cage, seizing hold of my breath.  I exhaled when I came to a small post office. I pulled into the parking lot and yelled at Lucy for her whimpering and pacing in the far back seat, out of reach for me to pet her or pinch her neck.

FullSizeRenderOnce I got my bearings and was reassured by the young man behind the counter that I had the right directions, I got back onto the highway and found what I assumed was the hiking spot she wrote about (turns out her directions lack detail and description).  I was at Alexander River Park and there were parking spaces and two gravel roads, one to the left and one to the right, leading down to the river.  She recommended the left loop, so I took the left gravel road.  There I was met with heavy underbrush and a small trail about 1 foot in width.  Even though this is supposedly a populated dog walking area, no one was in sight.  Wild thoughts rushed through my mind as the current rushed over the boulders.  “Will I be raped or murdered?”  “Will the story of my disappearance by on 48 Hours or some other crime scene investigation show?”  Fear crept up my spine and cinched around my midsection.  My dog was a hot mess too, turning in circles and getting tripped up in the underbrush and in her leash.

IMG_1796

It took less than a minute to get down near the river.  True, the scenic view was gorgeous:  mist rising off the river and fog lifting off the gray-green mountains.    The scene was less than peaceful to the ear, however.  The river moved so quickly and ramped over boulders and folded over itself.  The sound was amplified by chittering birds, chirping insects, rushing cars on the highway right above me.  The overgrowth in some areas was as tall as me and it seemed like only a machete could clear it.  And even though I could see my car through the weeds, they seemed to crowd in on me and cut short my breath.

FullSizeRender

Fear became replaced with anger as I walked towards the car.  Beer cans, trash bags, and other random junk were scattered around.  I watched Lucy try and negotiate through the jungle of weeds and my anger became directed at myself:  “What if she gets ticks all over her and dies of Lyme disease?”  “What if that small growth on her shoulder that I didn’t get checked out before we left is cancer and she dies before my time here is over?”  Tears pooled up at the edges of my eyes.  I stepped to a clearing and tried to breathe slow, deep, calming breaths and watch the current float by me.  The current was faster than my breath and I tried to force the beautiful but fierce scene into a serene and healing one.  It wasn’t working.  Obviously.

So I cried instead.  Too bad I didn’t take the opportunity to scream like a banshee or wail like a lost soul, but I was still holding on to my fears and feeling self-conscious that I would be discovered by locals who thought I was a crazy woman.  Instead, I just let the tears stream down my face.  I crossed my arms over my chest and said quietly and repeatedly, “I’m so scared.  I’m so scared.  I just want to go home, but I don’t even have a real home to go to.”  As I cried more, Lucy sat there and looked up at me.  I collected myself before I “lost it” (although, I think I would have felt better had I unleashed my fear and anger).  We walked back to the car and I felt relief.  A little lighter.  A little more rational and sane.  I texted my sister again and told her briefly of my “crappy” experience and then just sat for a moment.

FullSizeRender

The drive back to the cottage was uneventful.  The twisty curves were more manageable and smoother.  I was headed back to the cottage.  My “home base” so to speak.  I started thinking how people keep telling me I’m so brave for having set out on this adventure.  If they could see me now they may question their statements.  This rawness and vulnerability are strange and scary and to be truthful, I don’t really like this feeling or this experience all that much today.

Maybe being brave is about the recognition of fear within us as it’s happening?  Maybe being brave is about letting fear live alongside us but not allowing it to rule us?  Maybe being brave is about using fear as a tool to highlight the fragmented, shadow pieces of ourselves, giving us an opportunity to find that gap where the jagged piece goes in to the ever enlarging puzzle of ourselves?  As I type this, I can honestly tell you I don’t know.  I haven’t fully ridden out the wave of that fear that seized me this morning.  It keeps morphing from fear, to anger, to sadness, to loneliness, to confusion, to whatever else is lying awake inside of me, ready to strike.

All I know is that I am here and I will keep following the trails inside and outside of me until the path clears again.

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.

Cardboard Boxes

Today, it’s raining.  I’m sitting out in my garage for the second day of what was a prosperous garage sale.  Today, the only thing I have to account for my time is the cool breeze that is blowing and the overcast sky that intermittently drops rain from passing clouds.  The little rabbit in my neighbor’s yard across the street bounds over little clumps of grass and burrows its nose in her flowers.  The breeze rustles the leaves in my maple tree, shaking loose droplets of rainwater.  The mosquito bites on my legs and arms irritate me to the point that I am compelled to scratch them in futile attempts to momentarily alleviate my suffering.  Birds call out to one another in shrills and twills.  What is it they’re saying to one another?  I want to know.  I want to be intimately acquainted with their conversations and lives, but since I don’t speak bird I’ll have to settle for their syncopated melodies.

IMG_1276

I wait for people to show up at my garage sale and buy my goods.  Yesterday I didn’t have a moment’s rest and happily sold off wares for $5, $1, and 50 cents.  Yesterday I didn’t think.  I smiled.  I visited.  I made change.  I gave discounts.  I made a profit and felt good that I could use that money towards my upcoming Asheville adventure. Today, I’ve made under $5 and I am forced to confront theses symbolic bits and pieces of my life.

The mismatched antique glasses of orange and turquoise half filled with water that sit on my bedside table and coffee tables.  The worn peach colored antique Fire King mixing bowl that held my first successful attempt at fancy mashed purple potatoes.  The neatly folded shirts, sweaters, and pants that I wore as a teacher now show small clumps of dog and cat hair that I have desperately been trying to brush off with the lint roller.  Tiny knick-knacks that decorated my buffet table and gave my house a homey look.  Salt and pepper shakers, Christmas ornaments, lightbulbs even – all these things that at one point meant so much to me or were a small necessity to my daily comfort – have a price on them.  Meaning, to some degree, my life has a monetary value, and a cheap one at that.

IMG_1278

I walk over to the book section and look at the dejected and rejected books that I once enjoyed.  Books that once captured my attention and took me away from my lonely space in my big living room and sent me around the world and to different eras:  the Vietnam War, Spain in the 1800s, or magical lands hidden in the Amazon forest.  Now, they are worth 50 cents and will transport others to the same places but allow different interpretations on how things look, feel, taste, sound, and smell.

Halloween and Christmas decorations that resided in various places around my house are now piled on top of one another in a box or are draped over a folding table in the center of my garage.  They await a new place that can return them to their former glory.  Desktop items that lauded their superiority as official property of an English teacher are now crammed together on a table and propped up against my garage wall.  They too are marked 50 cents and sit next to the costume jewelry I used to wear in my former, more glamorous and intimidating days as a demanding, yet beloved English teacher.  (And to think my students would grab that hole punch off my desk when I wasn’t looking so as to punch holes in their IDs and slip in their equally cheap lanyards so as to avoid the pricey cost of a $5 ID replacement.  Or they would use the pencils in that quirky pencil holder to draw penises on the computer paper in my printer.)

IMG_1277My friend texted me the other day and asked me how packing was going.  At that point, it was a bit overwhelming and frustrating (when is it ever really easy, though?) and I was feeling stressed, tired, and achy.  She wrote:  “We forget how much the physical is related to the emotional until we try to shove it all in a cardboard box. . .”  How right she is.  In front of me is 16 years of stuff piled up and on display for others to see some aspect of my life.  How strange that seems when put in this perspective.  Even the items I’ve labeled as “Free” have some history or emotion attached to them.  The tiny mason jar Christmas tree snow globe my former friend, an artist, made for me reminds me of all the good memories and friendship ending fight we had.  It shows me that at one time in our lives together we really liked each other, laughed with each other, shared our thoughts, ideas, and dreams with each other.  And now, she is out of my life:  this very important, complicated, creative person who encouraged me to write and start a blog, and the very same person who became angered and poisonous and disdainful at my personal growth and daringness to confront her vicious words aimed at me but truly stemming from her own anger and personal growth and discovery.  That snow globe is proof that she existed in my life and is gone from my life as well.

The blocks of material I once cut and attempted to sew into a “yo-yo” quilt like my creative, generative, nurturing, and fierce Grandma Loy once made are tucked in the corner of the “Free” section, too.  The project was a quarter of the way finished but is now lost to time and my deadened desire to channel my creativity in an honorary manner – a slight hope to revive my grandma’s memory and a large frustration and need to let the project die and create something that is uniquely my own.  “Free” of a price tag, these things are also “free” of old attachments that serve me no longer.  Besides, my memories course through my lymphatic system and don’t always need items to prove or provoke that these people, these moments, these hopes, dreams, and these fears and frustrations, and these beautiful expressions of a life fully lived still exist and will travel with me even when they get put back into cardboard boxes and carted off to a thrift store while I move on and collect new things and new memories.

Beyond the Edge of Reason

My house sold yesterday.  It had been on the market for 5 days.

I had a blog post started before this one.  It was a long spiel justifying why I decided to quit my teaching job of 16 years and sell my house after living in it for only 3 years.  But, I deleted it.  It was a big long list of reasons why I’m fed up with the public education system and why I no longer like living alone in a really large house in a nice neighborhood.  I deleted it because while those reasons are valid and have merit, they don’t really get down to the truth of it all:  my heart is calling me to live larger and love harder than I have ever lived or loved before.

What all of that looks like is uncertain to me.  Where I go from here is really uncertain as well.  When I think too hard, fear shows up.  I try to welcome its warning signs that I’m on the edge of something really great.  Something steeped in mystery and rich with possibilities.  But, I struggle with the things I can’t see or pretend to control.

This weekend, my friend Valerie and I rented a small cabin in Southern Illinois as a way to take a break from fast and furious changes happening in our lives.  Time slowed down and we both had a chance to unplug and unwind.

Late on Saturday morning, while we sat at a greasy spoon eating an amazing breakfast, I got a phone call from my realtor.  She told me the young couple who viewed my house the night before fell in love with it and made an offer.  I walked outside to talk more in detail with her.  I took her advice and went with a high counter-offer to see how serious they were.  They took the bait and offered a counter that was reasonable for them, but not beneficial to me.  I asked for a few hours to breathe (my house had only been on the market since Tuesday, had 5 viewings in that short amount of time, and here it was Saturday morning with another viewing for later that day).  My realtor was supportive and told me to call her when I was ready.

13043740_10208396384859264_7803905505226254346_nVal and I drove 40 mins south to Fern Clyffe State Park to see the luscious and unique ferns and small flowers that are in bloom this time of year.  Once we were at the trail head, all of my anxieties and nerves over the impending real estate situation dropped away.  We started in on the north side of the loop and immediately were greeted by lacy ferns, spiral and spiky plants, tiny flowers peaking out from underbrush, sunlit leaves, mossy stones, and warm sunshine on our faces and arms.  I silently said a prayer to be guided to an answer by the time the hike was done.

13043348_10208396395419528_6683458090150522021_nWe came around the western side and noticed the changed ecology.  Here were dry evergreens, splotches of sand, prairie cacti, little geckos running underfoot, and a passable incline to sit on the cliff and look out across the park and towards the lake.  The sun was hot and we didn’t have much shade.  We made our way up the trail to sit on the bluffs and write in our journals.  Valerie was gracious enough to help me with a writing exercise.  She asked me a series of questions regarding my feelings and ideas to selling my house and all I had to do was write my honest responses.  It helped but I didn’t have a specific answer to my question:  how much should I accept and how quickly should I sell my house?  I had emotions around all of this, but mostly I was numb to it all.

I have been in a “get shit done” mode since I crossed the threshold into this new phase and journey in my life.  Time and events seem to be swirling around me that it’s all I can do to stay calm and centered.  I had been doing well and felt grounded most days, but I could feel myself beginning to run on fumes.  Sitting in the hot sun on top of that cliff really brought me to the edge of a breaking point or a break through.  I wasn’t sure which one was coming.  I walked deeper into the brush and wound up seeing a higher part of the cliff about 10 feet away.  Valerie heard me yell “Oh wow!” and came to my side.  She was in awe of the beauty as well.

I was ready to walk away and continue the hike, when Valerie suggested we do some yoga poses near the cliff and take pictures of each other.  I wanted to do my classic wheel pose (a deep back bend) and Valerie advised I do a few strengthening and back-bending poses before I went into something that deep and physically engaging.  So, I wound up doing Warrior II and Reverse Warrior a few times.  And something inside of me called me to assume a focused Warrior stance, like I was ready to release my bow and arrow and hit my mark.  I stood a few feet from the edge of the cliff, grounded my feet, got strong in my legs, stood tall in my spine, and pulled back my imaginary bow and arrow and said a prayer to be guided so my aim could be one-pointed, fierce, and full of love.  That’s when Valerie snapped this photo:

12985578_10208396397659584_5246577756320875572_n

Afterwards, we climbed down the trail and headed south.  The ecology changed again and the scenery became more lush and dense.  A coolness settled onto our skin as we were shaded by denser trees, ferns, moss, and a damp earth that smelled of sweet and decaying leaves mixed with mud.  We rounded the corner of the cliff and tucked back off the trail was what looked like a grotto.

We gravitated towards it and could sense the temperature change immediately.  A feeling of profound love and gratitude came over me.  It almost felt like some earth goddess was calling to me, to climb up the sides of the slippery wet stones and stay with her.  I tried to climb the stones using two pieces of wood that others had placed there to do the same thing, but it was just too slippery and I was too much of a chicken.  Valerie gave me some space and walked back to the trail.  I stayed there and silently prayed.  I asked the stone goddess, the Divine Feminine, what I should do about this difficult decision of selling my house.  I honestly wasn’t expecting that I could let go of it in under a week.  I thought I had at least a month or so before this transition got under way and that I could have a little time to plot out a more detailed version of my new life.  Yet, I knew that this was my moment:  that I had to take some action and make some really tough decisions and place all of my faith (what little of it I feel I have) and all of my courage (more than the bravada I sometimes tend to show) into this one moment that must happen today.  And that’s when I felt a voice somewhere in my heart whisper “Know your worth.”

13007268_10208396400219648_4132966237532921437_n

I took a deep breath as tears streamed down my face.  I listened internally again and heard the same loving voice say, “Know what you’re worth.  Value yourself.  Say it out loud.  You deserve everything and you will not settle for less.”  And I stood there and cried.  I looked up and searched the dark cave-like structure that was above me.  I knew there wasn’t going to be anyone or anything that walked out of there, but it felt right to just look up and know that Mother Earth was with me, was inside of me, was a part of me.  I placed my hands on the cool, wet stone cliff that was even with my heart center and I repeatedly said, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  I had my answer.  I knew what I was going to say to my realtor.  I knew that my decision was final and that it was a decision that would protect me and give me everything I wanted either today with these potential buyers or with another one that would show up at another time.

I got back on the trail and Valerie was waiting for me.  She saw my tears and my relief and just hugged me and smiled.

We finished the loop of the trail by coming out on the east side to circle back to the car park.   We had to climb up three sets of wooden stairs that took us up and towards the sunny day again. The end of the trail was light and airy and a trickling stream was barely meandering next to the trail and underneath the outcrop of the cliff.  A family of Amish people were coming towards us and they stepped to the side of the trail to let us pass.  They were all smiles and we greeted one another and it was obvious the children were excited to be out in such a beautiful park like Fern Clyffe.  There was an innocence and simplicity to our interactions with one another.  Val and I walked out to the car lot smiling and said hello to an old man who who was dressed in overalls, a light blue tshirt, and was using a walking stick.  He sat down at the picnic area to enjoy his afternoon.13007152_10208396400099645_3720152102370147528_n

I threw my pack into the car and told Val I was going to go back to the picnic area to call my realtor.  I encountered the old man again and asked if he minded that I make an important phone call.  I’m a sucker for a charming old man that has the energy and humor of an ornery and adorable teenage boy, so I wound up telling him a little bit of my life story.  When he asked where I would be living or what I would be doing next, I didn’t have a really good answer for him.  He laughed and said, “Oh well.  They still homestead in Alaska.  All you need is a chainsaw and a shotgun and you’ll be fine.”  I needed that laugh.

He then told me that I reminded him of his daughter and that she didn’t settle for anything but the best for herself and now has the life she’s been wanting for a long time.  I told him, “Thank you.  I needed to hear that.”  He replied with his southern Illinois country twang, “Oh sure.  Now, go make that phone call.  Just be honest and say what you want.  Everything will be fine and you’ll get what you want when you’re honest and it’ll be good for everyone else too.”

I took his advice.  I called my realtor and told her my honest answer and what I would be willing to accept for the deal.  It was fair.  It was exactly what the house was worth to me and what I deserved in order to be free and to move on without any financial or stressful emotional burdens.

I thanked my wise old, funny man and in return I did a favor for him.  He asked to use my phone to call his wife because he realized he had left his phone at home on the charger.  I dialed and he talked to her and told her that he and the Amish people from their town would be back before night time.  “Do you need anything before I come home, babe?” he asked.  And then he listened and asked her about her day.  They laughed and then he nonchalantly asked, “How’s my chickens?”  The conversation went on another 30 seconds or so and then he lovingly said goodbye to her.  I smiled and knew that I was a lucky girl.  My wise old man gave me back my phone and thanked me.  I patted his back and thanked him.  He told me he was always there for advice.  I turned around to wave goodbye and he said, “Don’t forget your chainsaw and your shotgun!”  And like any good trickster or sage, he laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

 

 

A Permission Slip

permission-slip

I’ve been institutionalized now for 35 years.

It all started when I was sent to kindergarten at the sweet age of 4 1/2 (before the cutoff dates started).  And it has lasted up to this point as a 40 year old adult teaching English at a public high school.  Throughout these 35 years, I have felt at times like I was in a straight jacket – mostly because I chose to be the straight-laced kid who followed the rules, got good grades, did as my teachers and parents asked, and strived to be the best student in the whole entire school, or the state, the country, the world, nay, the universe.  And I put that burden on myself as a teacher, too.

Stirring inside of me, however, was (and still is) a rebellious, free-spirited, creative soul longing for self-expression and connection.  A longing to live sensually.  To touch, taste, smell, see, hear the bounties of the earth and then artistically share the experience with others.  To tap into emotions and open the heart and feel everything as deeply and fully and passionately as possibly and then release it to the universe with gratitude so as to keep experiencing the richness of the inner and outer world.  To tread lightly (and preferably barefoot) on moss covered earth.  To sink into the muddy earth on a hot summer day and let the mud squish and smear all over me.  Then to dip into a cool stream after the sun has baked me and feel the weight of the mud (the weight of the world) slip off of my skin as the water cleanses my body.  To dance like a wild gypsy.  To sing and play like a child.  To laugh like a cackling old crone who then tosses off her cloak to reveal a goddess.  To draw.  To write.  To create.  And to steal from my hero Henry David Thoreau: “. . . to live deep and suck out all the marrow in life.”

Yet, I chose to play it safe.  Forces within me and forces outside of me kept telling me “Not yet” or “You’re creativity and ideas are too much for others to handle.” “You’ll be laughed at.”  “You’ll be taken advantage of.”  “People in our part of the world don’t act or think or talk or dress or express themselves like that.  Hold it in and one day you can release it.”

These safety measures are no longer working for me.

I’m re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  The woman doesn’t mince words, and I’m grateful for that.  One of the chapters is titled “Permission” and she mentions how it is our God-given write as human beings to be creative and live in a way that best supports that creativity.  That is our permission slip.  No need for validation.  (By the way, creative living doesn’t only apply to self-proclaimed artists, writers, musicians.  It’s for anyone who wants to march to the beat of their own drum and do what lights them up and follow the threads of their own curiosity.)  She writes about creative entitlement in a positive light:  “Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess, or acting like the world owes you anything whatsoever.  No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that -merely by being here- you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”  Now that’s some powerful stuff.  I want in on that.  I’m taking the sentiment of her words as my metaphorical permission slip from the universe to get busy living a life I’ve always imagined.

A good friend told me once that when you free yourself, you free others.  That may be true, but I honestly believe that when you free yourself, when you give yourself permission to be a creative force in the universe and to unearth hidden jewels buried deep inside of you, then your life becomes a playground, a treasure hunt, an epic quest filled with adventure, a life worth living.  If it inspires others, so be it.  But, I’m starting to learn you don’t have to live for other people’s sake.  You don’t truly need permission to tap into who you are at your very core.  You’ve been meant to discover that all along.  This post isn’t about asking for permission from others.  It isn’t even a way to reassure myself (or convince myself) that I am allowed to listen to my inner voice of strength, of intuition, of love. (Ok, maybe it is just a little bit.)  If this post inspires others to begin unlocking hidden doors within themselves and following their path of creative living, then I’m really lucky to have been a part of that.  And finally, this post isn’t about showing how I’m no more or less worthy than any other person.  It’s just my time that’s all.

It’s my time to breathe fully and release what is no longer serving the person I’ve transformed into.  My time to take off the tightly woven, itchy sweater of my life that is constraining and blocking my creative, sensual, earthy, talent-filled flow.  And that’s scary because what I’m saying to the universe is:  “Destroy so I can rebuild.”  The earth is already quaking under my feet and all those inner and outer doubting voices are getting louder in my mind and in my daily encounters.  But, so is the urge to destroy so I can rebuild.

I’ve decided to give myself permission to let it all crumble down, burn up, shape-shift, wash away, dissolve.  For, there really is nothing to be scared of.  (In theory.  In practice I’m still a scaredy-cat some of the time.  But that’s Ok.)  When we pull weeds or cut back old growth in our garden, new and glorious living things arise and flourish.  When we clean out our closets we open more space for new things to come in. When we toss things on the compost pile, organic material later nourishes our flower and vegetable beds.  When blossoms scatter to the winds, fruit ripens and glistens in the sun.

I want to glisten in the sun.

FullSizeRender

Let It Burn

A few weeks ago during my break, I took a walk in the woods behind the school I teach at.  I was feeling a bit disconnected and despondent.  Questions filled my heart and mind:  What is my purpose?  What are my real hopes and dreams?  Will I ever receive my heart’s desire?  What really is my heart’s desire?  Heavy stuff to contemplate on a cold, dreary Thursday afternoon.

I bent down near the stream to listen to the trickling water.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  Out of nowhere, I heard what sounded like thunder and rain moving my way.  I looked up to the sky and above I saw a gaggle of geese flying low.  It was their wings and the wind making that noise.  As they flew towards and over me, I could hear the wind shift and their wings adjust.  The geese were silent, but the rushing air and the flapping wings filled up the sky and jarred me out of self-pity.  My heart swelled and wildness rushed through me and took my breath away.  Before I could name what happened to me, a passing cloud, in the shape of a heart rolled over my head.

A few days later, as I sat in meditation in the early morning before the sun was awake, I heard a voice deep inside of me echo:  “Let your dreams die.”  My hips and low back had been aching for about a week and I was suppressing all those questions that had been gnawing at me that day in the woods.  I told the voice to get silent so I could meditate and find peace and comfort.  But still I kept hearing it tell me to “Let your dreams die.”

I then visualized my vision board that I kept in my closet.  Written in precise words and on small, colorful notecards were all the things I have been wanting to manifest in my life such as career and writing options and nice things for my house.  I had even gone so far with my vision board to write down, in detail, the type of man I wanted for my romantic partner.  To add to this dream of the “perfect mate,” I had taken friends’ advice and cleaned out my closet and arranged my house and garage so he could one day “move in” because I had prepared room for him.  As I have spent the past few years watching friends either date, get married, and have children, I kept telling myself that one day, if I worked hard enough at manifesting and creating specific ideals on my vision board, this all too would happen for me.  True Love would come to me if I just paved the way for it.

Returning back to my meditation, my hips ached more and my jaw clenched as I kept hearing the phrase “Let your dreams die.”  Finally, I got brave and asked my body, “What is it you are trying to tell me?  I will listen.  I am tired of this sadness, grief, and pain.  What do you really want me to do?”  Again, the voice repeated, “Let your dreams die.”  I opened up to the words and felt a melting in my hips and a release in my back.  I knew that was the truth.  I peeked into the cave of my heart and saw that these dreams were constricting me.  I may never have a life that looks like what my friends and family and other women around me have.  I may never fit in and conform to what I think is a woman’s role:  to get married and be a mother.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  There’s not.  It’s a very beautiful way to live.  I totally admire it so much to the point that I long for it.  But, it hasn’t happened for me, and in that moment of my meditation I realized that it may never happen for me.  I had to let my dreams die to find out what else is inside of me and being attracted to me.  Grief poured over me.  Some way, some how, I would have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I will never have the love and support of a strong man or the tenderness and beauty of a small child to hold in my arms.

I folded over in supplication.  I begged God to help me understand this grief.  I also felt a sense of relief wash over me.  A sense of wildness and freedom burst through my heart similar to that moment the geese flew over me a few days before.  Love welled up inside of me and then it passed.  I came out of meditation bewildered and in awe.

Later that afternoon, I met a good friend, Robyn, for coffee.  I shared with her my story and she smiled.  She has been telling me for awhile now how creative, romantic, and spiritual I really am and she said that she senses I’ve only shown about 20% of that to others.  I agreed whole-heartedly with her on that.  I’ve been holding a lot of what is inside of me back in fear that I would look like a hippie, fruitcake to others and be rejected.  Going against the grain is something I have always been called towards, but for whatever reasons (too many to list here), I alone have held myself back.  I’ve made society’s dreams for me my dreams and have had comparative financial and social success in my life because of that.  I think part of my grief is that I’m realizing the life I’ve built is beautiful and comfortable, but it’s not enough.  It’s containing and restraining me.

Robyn put a different spin on my “Let your dreams die” experience.  She told me to release my beautiful weirdness into the world.  To turn on the light in my heart bright enough for everyone to see.  She said, “Burn that damn list.  Burn it.  Take back your closet.  Your garage.  Your house.  Fill up your life with you.  You’re enough.”  She suggested that maybe the dreams I’ve written for myself are too small as well.  She counseled that once I let my “freak flag fly” and become vulnerable, love, in all its many forms, will find me.  Not the other way around.

The next morning, after meditation, my intuition told me to “Let it burn.”  Without questioning my actions, I built a fire in my fireplace, and placed a few leaves of sage in there as well.  I placed my vision board in front of the fire screen.  I played Dave Stringer’s kirtan song of “Shiva Namah Om.”  As the rhythmic, tribal chant began, I started to dance like lord Shiva (the destroyer) himself.  I moved sensually, rhythmically, and twirled and shook.  I let out my grief, anger, and confusion and transformed into a Gypsy woman filled with sensuality and passion.  I danced to the fire’s embers.  My hips undulated with the drums.  My arms snaked with the percussive shakers and flutes.  My feet began to stamp out all of the things in my life that weren’t serving me.  Without thinking I got down to my knees and began to metaphorically pull on the fire’s power of destruction and purification.  My body told the fire:  Burn me like the phoenix.  Burn my dreams and take my pain away.  Burn everything that is not serving me.  Let it all burn.

IMG_0397

As the song faded away, I began to weep.  Calm and exhausted, I felt a great sense of openness in my heart and release in my body.  I moved the fire screen away, and slowly began to take off each notecard on the vision board and toss it into the fire, watching my dreams burn.  When I got to my detailed list of my true love, I cried.   This was the moment.  The crossing of the threshold.  Once I let it burn, I would be admitting to the Universe that I realized no longer did I have imaginary control over who or what is to come my way.

IMG_0398

The paper curled and changed to an ash gray in the fire.  It was over.  I was free.

IMG_0399

The rest of the day I cleaned out my closet, took up my space, took back my house.  I found a treasure I had bought a long time ago when I lived in Mexico for a summer.  It is a hand-crafted terra cotta clay sun painted with bright colors.  At the top of the sun’s forehead, is the sun and moon in an embrace.  I smiled, knowing that my sun, my radiant heart, my desires, and my emotions all were in balance.

IMG_0402

This story is my beautiful weirdness.  My heart light is on.  I am open.  I am shining as brightly as I know how.  I am enough.

FullSizeRender

A High School English Teacher’s Dilemma

Today is the beginning of semester exams.  Today is also the ending of rational thought and behavior.

Forget everything that teachers have taught their students.  Forget the appreciation of literature, the analysis of symbolism, the construction of a well-written essay.  All of that has been tossed out the window in a panic to make room for the perfect grade – a meager percentage which will keep a student at her perfect “A” or keep another from failing the class.

Students wander, push, shove, fall, slink, and slam into the classroom.  They yell obscenities at one another in the hallway and get tangled up in each other’s earbuds while trying to kiss, hug, and say goodbye to the love of their young life.  Ninety minutes of isolation from one another seem unbearable and cruel, although each one promises to text the other to ensure the relationship is still going strong.

2bornot2bThe bell rings.  The teacher steps up to the front of the classroom, wondering if it is truly nobler to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and to endure a series of irrelevant, off-topic, base questions; or if it is easier to just tell them to all be quiet and then handout a trivial exam that will only adjust their overall grade by a small percentage.  A “Hail, Mary” pass for only a small few who are on the brink of going up or down a letter grade.

After the exam has started, one student opens up a bag of chips and starts crunching and munching.  The teacher gives him the stank eye.  Another girl shakes a bag of hot flame Cheetohs in her mouth and then smears the orange flakes of dust across the exam.  The teacher gives her the stank eye and then casually walks over and takes the Cheetohs and bag of chips from these students and throws them in the trash all while giving them the stank eye.  One young girl doesn’t understand why it’s not Ok to make a tuna fish sandwich in class during the exam, while another boy has just gotten kicked out of class for bringing in White Castle in which the grease that has leaked out of the bag is now smeared on a desk.

In the middle of the exam, another student from another class walks in and asks if the teacher will edit his final essay.  She gives him the stank eye but sits him down and marks up his paper for revision so he’ll get a passing grade.  And after the final bell rings,  all the students leave class pushing, shoving, falling, slinking, and slamming into one another in the hallways and getting their earbuds interlaced with the arms of their long lost boyfriends and girlfriends.  Just when the teacher thinks it is safe, another student walks in and demands she grade his late work so he doesn’t fail her class.  The late work is from late September and early November.  Today is December 17th.  The teacher gives him the stank eye and tells him to leave her class and go see his counselor.  He will need to give up one of his “easy” classes next semester so as to retake the English class.  One he could have passed had he turned in his work the day it was due.7019ff94ebe1a7d22703d1e3008140e9

As the teacher stands in the middle of this  hurricane of hairy, hormonally-challenged humans, she mutters a mantra that she has been reciting since the beginning of the week:  “Please don’t let me murder my students.  Please don’t let me murder my students.  Please don’t let me murder my students.  And if I do, please spare the one who just left a box of milk chocolate truffles on my desk.  Unless it is a bribe to get me to change his grade.  Then, may the blow of my red ink pen be swift and fierce.”

i_m_fluent_in_all_4_english_540

 

 

The Heart of the Matter: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 5

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on to fruit.
-Dawna Markova

Last month, I went to a yoga workshop taught by a renowned yoga teacher, Saul David Raye.  He practices and teaches a style of yoga called “Bahkti” – the yoga of love and devotion.  I’ve had the good fortune of taking his workshops a few other times over the years in St. Louis.  Sometimes, he moved me to tears, other times, he frustrated and confused me with his message of “Love is all you need.”  Looking back, I see that was only because I was stuck in a rut of seeing myself as a victim of love and heartache.  His message wasn’t the issue, my mind was.

This time around, I felt a strong connection to him as a person.  He spoke of the beauty of nature, of love of another person, of the connection of heart and mind as a way to feel fulfilled and wonderful about life’s mysteries.  I understood that the mind is a wild and beautiful thing of its own, but it can spin out of control if not synched up with a loving, open heart to balance and nurture it.  Under his guidance that day, I allowed my mind to follow my feeling heart and express my love through the live music and the yoga poses.  More importantly, I realized that my inner light burns the brightest when I am feeling fully present in my body, in my observing, wonder-filled mind, and loving heart center as opposed to allowing the wild, chattering side of my mind to wander off into the future to create untold disasters and hopeless scenarios in my tiny spot on Earth.

Fears, real and imagined (mostly imagined), have ruled my life for decades.  Monsters in my dreams. Sounds that go bump in the night.  Harsh, critical words and actions of ex-boyfriends.  The memory of my bipolar, schizophrenic aunt standing in our kitchen in full camo-gear complete with machete in hand.  Images of my grandmother’s scratchy hand-written letter to me in college describing her observations and sadness of her fast-growing, tumor that eventually split her brain in half.

As I came into my late thirties, I began to experience my daily life from a place of fear. I could feel every muscle twitch in my body and imagined I was beginning the sufferings of Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.  I would sit in my recliner, alone at home, having a series of panic attacks because my shoulder was so tight that I could feel muscles twitching.  I could not breathe and choked on my food once and coughed so hard that spit rolled out of my mouth.  I thought then and there it was a sign that something neurological was going on, so I got on the internet and researched everything I thought could possibly be wrong with me. Every symptom was vague enough and so close to one another that I was sure I had that particular disorder.  This belief would send blood rushing to my head, sweat to my armpits.  My hands would become clammy and I paced around my house, crying and panicking while my dog circled around me, confused.

 I worried that my Wi-Fi and cellphone were causing a horrible brain tumor like my grandmother’s, and I began overanalyzing my food choices and focused so much on what I put into my body so as to heal myself or protect myself from any type of disease, that I didn’t realize I was already suffering the painful, slow, suffering death I so feared by not living a life where I felt part of the world and part of nature.  Love was not in my vocabulary.  I could have love and give love as soon as I fixed all of these terrible, horrible, no good things that were going on in my body and mind.  On the outside, I could laugh with my friends, practice yoga moves in classes or in my home, walk my dog, pay my bills, teach my students, drive my car, live a seemingly normal life, while on the inside I was fanning the flames of Hell.

I realized that I am a functioning neurotic.

What is different now, is that I can admit to that fact.  I now see the neuroses for what they are:  techniques I have developed over the years to keep me “safe” and “small” instead of risking my significance to bring out my talents and gifts of creativity, writing, and teaching.  When I am brave, I become vulnerable and open to love.  I can match my heart force to my soul force and share that with others so they can do the same.

The bravery comes from not turning away from my fears, but walking directly towards them, facing them head on.  Regardless of the outcome.

In my time out in Colorado, I learned this about myself.  A particular solo hike focused on finding a place and sitting with some part of ourselves that act as an Escapist from reality.  Before we all went our separate ways, I had joked with another group member about searching for a place off trail where I could pee freely like a deer.  (I had gulped a lot of water during our circle time.)  We both laughed and I walked away with the mantra “Pee like a deer,” in my mind.  I was all smiles and didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t found a spot nearby to go and meditate.  Fifteen minutes, a far way up the trail, and a good pee later, I saw an overhanging of rocks that sloped down into an area riddled with fallen timbers and dead or dying pine trees.  In a small clearing, rested a boulder.  I shuddered because I knew I had to go and sit on that boulder.  Alone.

11903982_10206779612640969_5567964020907306967_n

11259094_10206779612400963_5884284465797951420_n

I marked my spot, took a picture of the overhang so I knew what to look for when I came back, and I slowly climbed down the rocks.  The sky became overcast the closer I got to the boulder.  I climbed over fallen trees, untangled my pants and backpack from dry grass, thorns, and small, dry sticks.  I scrambled on top of the boulder and sat there thinking, “Now what?”

My mind was full of chatter and was working hard to take me out of this situation I had just put myself in.  I was nervous and kept waiting for some “A-ha” moment so I could grab my pack and leave.  But, I just sat there, feeling the coolness of the boulder seep through my pants to my legs.  It was soothing to be on top of something so solid.  I started breathing and thinking, “This is where my sweet deer live,” and I hoped that I might see one like I did the day before in the meadow.  I started to deepen my breath and relax into my surroundings.  Just then, I heard creaking and cracking noises.  At first I thought it was some animal, but a breeze blew through the trees and I realized it was the sound of the dying trees around me being moved by the wind.

Part of me wanted to flee, the other part of me wanted to see what would happen next.  As if on cue, the sky became gray and a stronger wind picked up.  The trees began to make a low whistling sound almost like a far off freight train.  I looked around and realized there were very few living trees in this area I was sitting.  In fact, I remembered a part of the trail I had traveled the day before was clear and today I had to climb over two fallen trees to get to where I was.  My breath became shorter.  I began seeing which tree would fall on me first, and what direction I could move to get out of the way.  Luckily I had put my whistle around my neck and my hand instinctively went to it.  Immediately my sacrum became electric and my hamstrings tensed up, which caused my back, shoulder, neck and jaw to tighten as well.  My muscles began to twitch.  I wanted to bolt, but some wise voice inside of me said, “Breathe.  Stay with the fear and just breathe.”

11914005_10206779612200958_9091906973701362821_n I took a few more breaths and started thinking about my imaginary deer I had hoped to see.  What would she do right now if she was foraging for food?  She would become alert, look around, evaluate her surroundings, and probably go back to eating.  She lives with the possibility of death and destruction every day.  I could die here as well.  A tree could fall on me and kill me instantly, or I could be knocked unconscious and die a slower death.  Why didn’t I make a run for it then?   I wanted to leave, but something anchored me there.  And without warning, a wave of grief rushed over me and I began to cry so hard that I was shaking.  I wanted my mother.  I wanted peace of mind.  I wanted to be able to live a full life and not become so trapped by my fears and illusions of fear.

The tears began to wash away my fears and in my mind’s eye I saw my doe in the meadow looking at me.  A warmth spread from my heart and went to every part of my body.  I breathed fully, deeply, richly, and safely.  True, I could die right here, right now.  But, I could also die from any number of things at any time.  And the fact of the matter was:  wasn’t I dying every day that I fed my neurotic fears so much that I allowed them to hijack my mind and body and paralyze me, causing me to suffer, and die a painful, agonizing death of spirit?  At least here, if I truly died on this boulder, I would have been alive to my emotions, my body, and have witnessed with all of my senses the beauty and power of nature.  And another thought came to me:  my one physical death would simply be a fade into more beauty and mystery.  Spiritual death, on the other hand, brings rot, disease, control issues, neuroses, pain and suffering among other things.

Once I had this breakthrough, another wind blew through the area, and I realized now was the time to leave.  I didn’t need to be so brave that I became stupid.  I picked up my pack and walked quickly to the overhang and back onto the trail.  I looked out at the boulder, brought my hands to prayer and bowed my head in gratitude and reminded myself that love got me through a dark moment and love will do that for me time and time again.

And so I have been working with this lesson for a few months now.  After the workshop, I went up to Saul and re-introduced myself and asked him if I could use his name and picture in a possible blog post about love and fear.  He smiled with such warmth and told me that not only did he want to contribute to that post in some small way, but that it was important to share this type of writing with others.  “There are two paths that intertwine: one of Wisdom and one of Love,” he had said during practice.  “The path of Love leads to Wisdom.  And the path to Wisdom leads to Love.  Feel with your heart.  Love is all you need.”  He then asked me if I would be in the picture with him.  He gave my camera to someone nearby and he held up his hand in the gesture of fearlessness.  Uncertain at first but in a moment of bravery, I put up my hand as well.

 FullSizeRender

My Underwear and the Path to Enlightenment

I am convinced my underwear are holding me back from developing a higher level of consciousness.  I recently bought several pairs of the jersey knit and spandex combo panties with no tags thinking they’d be a sure form of comfort.  Turns out, they’re hip-hugging, gut-pinching, inner thigh-squeezing mother f**kers.

I put on a pair of these name brand form-fitting undergarments and felt comfortable in them for about a half an hour.  They were just a twinge annoying when I made my fried egg for breakfast this morning.  They became an issue when I sat down to eat my egg and drink my coffee.  They kept riding up in places they were supposed to cover.  I got so distracted by them that after breakfast I went to my room and traded them in for another pair.  I paced around the house testing out the gray and blue-polka dotted skivvies I pulled from the drawer to make sure they wouldn’t ride up on me before I got dressed.  That’s when I noticed a burnt smell pervading my living room.  I walked in the kitchen to find my skillet was burned and the stove was still on.  I cursed and turned off the stove and mourned the loss of my $30 Organic Green Fry Pan I bought a few months ago at Target.

I tried to get all Zen by rolling out my yoga mat, but by my second down-dog my underwear were jamming into my inner-groin/thigh area.  My puppy thought it was play time and began licking my face and biting my hair as I wiggled and squirmed in the pose and balanced on one hand while I tried to pull out the underwear from my creases with the other.  She also sat in my lap and licked my face while I tried to meditate.  Om. . .lick, lick.  Om. . .lick, lick.  Om. . .and I cut the meditation short because the waist band was cutting into my flanks.

I would have changed into another pair of underwear, but at that moment, my friend texted me and told me she was on her way to meet me.  We had plans to meet at the mall so she could drive me to see her new house she and her husband just purchased.  I texted her a quick, “See you soon!” and went into my room, threw on a pair of khaki shorts and a t-shirt and tennis shoes.  I forgot to brush my teeth.  I threw my hair into a ponytail, and I saw the zit on my chin and mourned the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to do a cleansing scrub before leaving the house.

Before I got into her car, I adjusted my underwear that were now sitting high on my pelvic bones.  She gave me a strange look and I smiled and merely said, “Underwear.”  She laughed and told me I looked cute.  I glanced at her sideways (afraid to turn my dragon breath in her direction) and said, “Thanks.”  It was then that I felt the seam of my underwear pressing into my ass.  The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur and I did my best to focus my attention on my friend and visit with her and her two little boys instead of worrying about the lack of circulation around my middle.

After our lunch, we said our goodbyes.  I went to the department store nearby to exchange a few items and on my way to Customer Service, I saw the underwear section.  I debated on purchasing a few new pair, but decided against it as this was the place of origin for my 5 other pairs of “seamless panties”.  Plus, I had to pee and I didn’t want to use the public restroom.  It notoriously has dribbles of pee and wet toilet paper on the seats, but also I didn’t want to peel off my underwear and massage the indentions they left on my flesh.  That type of deep tissue massage is best done in the privacy of your own home where you can moan and groan to your heart’s content.

I returned home, used the restroom, massaged my thighs and undercheeks and then traded out that pair for another pair or revolutionary underwear technology.  These felt a little better, but I think it was the same mental trick you play on yourself when you kick off a pair of flats that you’ve had your feet crammed into all day only to put on tennis shoes and double knot tie them and hit the ground running for another few hours.

I met another friend in St. Louis for coffee and our weekly writing/critiquing session.  I was more at ease in these panties because I was drinking a chai latte and was in an urban coffee shop where I could be distracted by the crazy guy outside who was listening to music and doing a knee-jerk dance on the side of the street.  I was suffering a little from writer’s block and thought maybe I should’ve worn a thong.  At least that way the wedgie is self-inflicted and therefore an acceptable form of self-flagellation.

Two hours in to our discussion of our writing and the meaning of life in general, I realized I needed to go.  I told my friend it was because I had to go and walk my dog, but it was also because I had to pee again and I felt that I had to do another round of deep tissue massage.  The panty dilemma was creeping up on me again.  Before I got into my car, I casually looked around to make sure I was in the clear before pulling the wedgie out my butt.  That’s when I saw the yellow paper stuck to my windshield.  I had a $15 ticket for an expired parking meter.  I sighed and said, “F**k it,” and pulled the underwear out of my ass before putting the ticket into my purse.

Once home, I patted my dog on the head and raced to my bathroom where I peeled off the butt-numbing, wedgie-wielding, soul-sucking material and massaged my butt and hips.  I let out a whimper as I saw the red indentations.  I vowed that all underwear should be burned like the women who burned bras in the 60s.  I put on my loungewear, sans bra and underwear, heated up a frozen pizza and sighed, “Ohhhhh God. . .”  I sat down on my couch, similar to the Buddha who sat under the bodhi tree of wisdom, and surrendered to the naked truth:  painful panties are the root of all suffering.

images