The Cracked-Open Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!)

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.

 

 

 

A Permission Slip

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Where Do They Go?

A colleague and I talked this afternoon at lunch about recycling, composting, gardening, walking barefoot at work on our breaks, and our love for avocados and that sweet, short time they are ripe enough to eat.  As she was deliberating what in our office could get recycled, she shared with me the fact that maybe 30% of plastics get recycled, although we who recycle believe it all goes to the magical recycling factory nearby and gets put to good use as someone’s new water bottle, birdhouse, or even fancy, light-weight tennis shoes.  That bummed me out, but she said there’s hope.  There are scientists and inventors out there thinking outside of the box trying to figure out our waste and consumption problem and what to create out of recycled materials such as hard plastics.

After seeing the documentary, Dirt, about our use and abuse of this green earth, I have been trying hard to become a little more conscientious of my daily treatment of mother Gaia.  I started a compost pile (that is now too hard for me to turn and I better invest in a pitchfork or a fancy rolling bin), kept up my recycling, and started picking up trash in my neighborhood as I walk my dog.  And there’s always stuff to pick up and recycle, throw away, or compost:  milk jugs, McDonald’s containers, rubber bands, soda cans, cereal boxes, cardboard egg cartons, rotting apples, peach pits, plastic bags, and tampons with dispensers (I admit, I left that one in the street for about 3 days before I finally got brave and picked it up with paper towels and a leftover sandwich bag I found on the ground).

It’s very easy, and quite understandable, to ignore the little things we see around us because we’re so focused on running here and there and doing this and that.  And I put myself in the category of doing the ecologically sound thing out of convenience and cost for me.  We say to ourselves:  My life seems fairly clean and orderly enough.  How can the world be in such a mess and in pain when my home, my car, my job, my neighborhood are functioning fairly decently, minus a few bits of trash, bills, annoyances and mini-dramas along the way?  The problems are out there in other parts of the world.  Nothing has changed too much here, and though that either comforts me, frustrates me, or confuses me, at least my life has some consistency and order.  But, I can no longer fully go back into that hazy state of thinking.  And here’s why:  I have been feeling disconnected to others and my surroundings lately.  That worries me because there’s nothing more that I long for than a sense of feeling connected, grounded, and a part of this world.

I walk my dog in the evening and I try to listen to the breeze blowing through the whispering pines and instead I hear the sirens of police cars, fire trucks or ambulances.  I look up into the sky to admire the moon and stars and get fixated on the numerous planes that fly over my neighborhood to and from the airport or the Air Force base nearby.  I try to look at the wild geese that have gathered on the frozen lake and my view is blocked by 2 story houses with three car garages that have wooden fences surrounding them.  I tear up when I see the carcasses of raccoons, squirrels, and the occasional deer scattered and smashed on the busy streets as we drive over or around them.  My heart gets heavy when I see deer foraging in the muddied farmer’s field that is soon to be stripped away by yet another QuikTrip or Circle K gas station to compete with the BP or MotoMart gas station across the street.  Where do all the wild things go as we quickly and aggressively encroach on their land to build more Walgreens, Targets, Ikeas, bike shops, hiking shops, restaurants, bars and wine stores and more new stuff to divert us from simply being?

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Where do the birds go when the oaks, the maples, the pines, the hickories, the sycamores, the walnuts, and all the brushes and vines are torn down to make way for the new chiropractic office, the Center for Fecal Incontinence or the Kidney Dialysis of Southern Illinois take their place?  We think we are ill because there’s more stress in this world, but we are stressing ourselves out because there is less of the natural world out there to help us connect to the natural world inside ourselves.

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Where do the worms, the daddy-long legs, the garden spiders, the fish, the frogs, the butterflies, and the bees go when we rip up the ground and dig up native grasses and plants to put in field upon field of annual wheats and corns that strip the land of nutrients, are sprayed with chemicals that get into our water system, and lead to soil erosion?  We eat our processed food from a package and forget that food actually comes from the land.  We stop tasting and keep consuming in hopes that we will one day be full enough and happy enough and unstressed enough to enjoy a moment of sunshine on our faces or a bite of a juicy peach.

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In the meantime, our very guides and teachers of the natural world who can lead us to that mysterious and elusive point of soul within us are leaving us as quickly as we are leaving them.

What, then, can we do to help ourselves reconnect to our very essence that is natural and soulful?  I think the answer lies in going outside to get inside ourselves.  Be in nature and really start listening, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching all that is around us.  Go past the strip malls and search for a beautiful clearing of the meadow and woodlands that are still there and are lit up by the setting sun.  Listen deeper to the whispering pine and the playful breeze as they have a conversation above the competing sirens and mufflers.  Buy a piece of fruit or vegetable from the farmer’s stand or grocery store and eat it with great attention and reverence.  While you’re at the stoplight, watch as a hawk swiftly and gracefully dives from a telephone pole and circles the nearby field in search of prey.

And if we’re really bold and brave, we will wake up from our dream (or is it a nightmare?) and stay awake long enough to do the small things that can help the world.  Build the community garden you’ve been talking about.  Enroll in a local gardening club or nature course.  Save your money and buy that big churning compost bin off of Amazon.  Continue to pick up trash around your neighborhood.  Feed the birds in your backyard and keep the native trees and shrubs and perennials around your perimeter instead of opting for a fancy fence.  Buy more food that is locally sourced.  Contact your local government and find out information on city ordinances on using prairie grass in your yard’s landscape.  For if we all do small things to take care of our wild nature (both within and without ourselves), we will start building up enough consciousness, mindfulness, self-healing and love to build a less disconnected community of bored and emotionally unfulfilled people to a more heart-centered, unique and creative collective of individuals who feel more like a family that is willing to take care of our ailing Mother Earth.

 

The Resolution that is Not a Resolution

images-1Sometimes, I am way too driven for my own good.  I bet that’s a case for a lot of people as well.  We’re all trying to plan, save, arrange, control, and set expectations for a safe and comfortable future.  And, here it is, December 31st, and many of us are thinking of how we can change ourselves and our lives in order to have the best new year possible.  Many of us make resolutions and say that this year we will stick to them.  Some of us achieve everything on that list, and others of us don’t, but we all find that somehow we are back on the hamster wheel of planning, saving, arranging, and controlling another future that will look and feel better than the one that has already passed (and didn’t look exactly like the one we had hoped for anyway).

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I have never made New Year’s resolutions.  And besides, every aspect of my days usually seem to be based around how productive I possibly can be and how I can achieve my goals and dreams.  When I turned 40 a few months ago, something inside of me clicked and told me that I should start shedding a skin of societal expectations I and others have set and start getting real with myself.  Still, this morning my mind started spinning and I became frustrated that I am not where I thought I would be at 40.  I found myself asking once again the same questions many of us ask:  “What do I want to be and do when I grow up?”  “What can I do to make my life more meaningful?”  “What is my purpose on this God-forsaken and God-damned earth?”  “Why are my dreams not coming true already?”

As my frustration, anxiety, fear, and anger started to build, so did my sense of play and sense of humor.  I heard another wiser, kinder, sillier part of myself just laugh and say, “Really?  You want to go for a spin on the crazy hamster wheel again?  Haven’t you gotten dizzy and sick from that damn thing by now?  Let’s play.  Let’s dance.  Let’s get dressed and fix your hair, brush your teeth, put on some perfume and turn on some music and dance and move.  Afterwards, if you still feel like reliving your past woes and spinning your wheels in the muddy tracks, then you can by all means waller in self-pity.  Let’s just give my solution a try.”

I wisely listened to that part of me and shook my money maker to the tunes of an African drum instrumental I found on YouTube.  Feeling more alive and joyful after 10 minutes of butt-wiggling (tribal and belly-dancing moves included), I sat down and began a quiet meditation with my journal by my side.  This is what flowed out of me:

The Resolution that is not a real Resolution (more as a way of being in this world):

I resolve to savor my morning cup of coffee and feel the warmth and enjoy the flavor of the full-bodied roasted goodness.

To snuggle up with my pets and feel their warm bodies, heavy on my lap, as I scratch their ears and tummies and feel their soft fur between my fingers.

To relish my nephew’s laugh and small voice that is filled with big dreams, ideas, and pure imagination.  Allowing that voice of his to strike a chord deep inside of me, awakening the inner child who is yearning to be seen and recognized once again.

To embrace my moments of anger that well up from my depths whenever I witness an injustice or experience a cruel word.  And to follow that thread of anger as it rises up to my solar plexus and gets mixed in to my open and beautiful heart that ignites tears and words of passion.  And to not stop those tears from flowing or those words from materializing when I have recognized their truth and validity, despite the fact they may make others feel uncomfortable or strike a chord within them that has been trapped or brewing inside for awhile.  I’m wise enough to know my own power now and how not to abuse it.  And if I do by chance abuse it, may I feel the sting and the pain of the bruise from any and all repercussions and consequences and learn and grow stronger from those experiences as well.

To look others in the eye and recognize them behind the masks:  the old man who is still a child at heart; the aging woman who is still radiant and sensual behind a few wrinkles and gray hairs; the insolent teenager who tries my patience and tests my boundaries simply to ensure he is safe and loved; the tired, angry, and bewildered parent who feels it is her duty to control and tame her child’s beautiful wildness and curiosity while at the same time she is longing to release her own beautiful wildness and curiosity as well.  To love and protect myself in their midst and remind myself that their emotions and issues are not mine to carry around, but to also stand next to them, open my heart, take off my mask, and give and receive love that is around and within us all.

To touch the earth.  To feel the soil slip between my fingers as I press them into the ground, securing my plants for a long winter, spring, or summer ahead.  To place my hands on the trunk of a tree and feel its healing powers fill up the aching spaces within my body.  To breathe in the fresh air and exhale it out.  To let the fresh air breathe my body as we dance in the flow together.  To allow my breath to be given away to a glorious sunset and my hips to sway and my shoulders and arms to lift with a passing breeze and fast rolling clouds.

To dance.  Anywhere.  Anytime.  Especially in the middle of my living room as the magical connection between my wi-fi and cellphone turn out beats of drums and percussive instruments while my body recognizes the ancient rhythms of ancestors long since gone but somehow mysteriously not forgotten.

These things and more I resolve to do in my  daily life.  As many times as I can remember to do them every day and every moment that I draw a breath on this God-given, God-blessed earth.

 

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.

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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.

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