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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Now What?

The wide river stretched over the rich green valley and dark green and gray mountains loomed in the distance.  I drove over the bridge and an electrical impulse ran through my solar plexus and I caught my breath.  “Wow!” I exhaled.  My cat, caged in the carrier next to me, meowed, and I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my dog’s black head pop up.  She had been asleep in her crate too, and she released anxious whimpers as we came around one bend and began to curve around another.  We were here in the Appalachian mountains and the longest part of our journey was about to become breathtaking.

Two days prior to that, I loaded up my pets and luggage in my gray SUV and headed south on highway 45.  I had spent a week with my parents and prior to that a week with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.  In their homes and with them, I had comfort and security.  My mind didn’t wander to “what ifs” or any daydream of what was to come the day I set out for the Asheville, North Carolina, area.  When I reached Paducah on Saturday, my friend’s hospitality took over and I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to board my dog or cat or sleep for the night.  He didn’t even let me consider the possibility of a hotel room, and so I had another full day of comfort and security.  As we walked the historic downtown waiting for the restaurant to open for dinner, I began to share with him a little of my worries and concerns about the path I had chosen and how lost I was starting to feel.  He didn’t even give me a chance to second guess myself.  Instead, he bought a handcrafted copper compass keychain from a street artist whose wares we had been admiring.  After the artist soldered the O-ring in place, my friend handed the gift to me, smiled, and said, “This is so you’ll be able to always find your way back home and find your place in this world, no matter where you are.”FullSizeRender

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InFullSizeRender Nashville on Sunday, I stayed at a pet-friendly hotel and another friend picked me up for dinner.  We ate at Chauhan Ale & Masala restaurant where the chefs blended art and traditional style Indian food.  It was super delicious and had a great atmosphere.  We ate Gol Guppa Shots for an appetizer – puffs of semolina with garbanzo beans and potatoes inside that you fill with mint water and shove in your mouth for an explosion of flavor.  For our main course, we chose traditional Indian dishes that were equally amazing.  As we talked, I realized that I would soon have the opportunity to explore deliciously prepared food where I was headed.  I could also take my time to shop the farmer’s markets and really tune into enjoying my food instead of shoving something down my gullet (like my oh so reliable peanut butter and jelly sandwich) so I could get back to teaching, grading, or working on my lesson plans.  We toured downtown Nashville (which has such a super-chill vibe despite the fact that it’s 600,000 people in the city alone) and wound up having dessert at Five Sisters Bakery in the swanky 12 South neighborhood.  For once, I was excited to indulge on so much food, and even took the last of my peach-glazed donut to go so I could enjoy it early the next morning before I left.

The next day, I began the drive to Asheville.  I crested a big hill in Cherokee National Forest and curved around a bend and saw a fathomless sea of tree tops.  I dipped down into a low valley and the trees towered above me.  I passed through two tunnels inside the very same mountain chain I had been admiring a few minutes before.  Up I climbed again and at the top of the hill I saw more mountains in the distance and a wide open blue sky.  I felt a shudder in my heart as if my body knew before my mind that my new life was upon me.  I took in the view as much as I could at the scenic overlook and rest area outside of the park.  I arrived later at my cottage and hurriedly brought my luggage and pets inside as thunder rolled in the distance.  I explored my new cottage home and stopped at a cafe to eat then grocery shopped while an evening rainstorm passed through.  I tirelessly unpacked until late in the night as a storm rolled in. FullSizeRender

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This morning I tried to set up some type of routine for myself so I wouldn’t feel as if I was pissing my time away.  I awoke at 6:30 a.m., made coffee, and walked Lucy down the lane as the mist rolled off the hill across the street and some unseen roosters crowed.  I ate a simple breakfast, read my book, and wrote for a half an hour.  A decent yoga practice came next followed by meeting the woman from whom I’m renting the cottage.  I went to the post office and got my P.O. Box set up and then walked Lucy in the Nature Park right off of Main Street.  I returned home to eat lunch and visit with my neighbor, and have been writing ever since.

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For an unknown reason, a bit of melancholy has come over me now that the thrill of yesterday’s drive has gone.  I keep wondering “Now what?” as I go through my new normal and try to strategize my next move once the middle of September has come and gone.  What am I doing here and why have I come on this journey?  Then, I think back to what both my friends in Paducah and Nashville reminded me of:  that this is a time to enjoy my life.  To soak in the pleasures of all the simple things this world has to offer.  That there is no need to justify wanting to eat delicious food, walk in beautiful scenery, live in a quaint cottage, and just be creative for the sake of being creative.   These mountains, these lush trees, the sounds of the chirping birds, and the breezes of the wind, the thunder and lightning, the screen of misting rain in front of the backdrop of sunshine, the local and friendly waiter, cashier, dog owner, restaurant customer, all are seeping into my veins and soaking into my bones and shaping my destiny.  All I have to do is let it happen.

 

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.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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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.