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.

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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.

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 Wild One and Her Muse: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 4

I had a voracious appetite when I was in Colorado.  I ate a wide variety of foods set before me at the buffet style meals in the lodge.  Bison lasagna?  Put it on my plate.  Stewed lamb with tsatsiki sauce?  Put it on my plate.  Roasted garlic chicken, acorn squash soup, quinoa and oatmeal with stewed fruit, pastrami sandwich with hummus, lettuce, and tomato, root vegetables in tomato sauce with basmati rice?  Put it all on my plate and give me seconds when possible.

True, I spent the majority of my days hiking in the forest, but there was more to my appetite and the fact that I needed calories and protein to sustain the strenuous daily activities.  I came to realize how much I have denied my connection to the earth, to my body, to my sensuality and pleasure of life in general.  I felt a need to prove to myself and others that I was maintaining a strict diet that helped cure my Crohn’s dis-ease, keeping up a strict exercise routine (complete with fancy yoga poses) to aid my lumbar spine, SI joint, and sciatica issues, and always saying “Yes,” when asked to help take care of others’ needs, even if it meant pushing aside my wants and desires.  If I did all of these things, then I would finally prove that I am “good-enough,” “worthy-enough,” and “lovable-enough” to be accepted and loved.  By doing all these things and so much more I could justify all the good things and events that happen to occasionally show up in my life.  The worst thing about this self-imposed mental prison of conformity?  I was the one that had locked myself inside and hid away the key somewhere in my psyche.  The youth-oriented, material-driven, pleasure-denying and rewarding, guilt-ridden, ego-inflating and shaming immature aspects of our Western society don’t help matters much either.

Turns out, I’m a very sensual, emotional, loving, tender-hearted woman.  Yet, I’ve devised techniques over the years to hide as much of that side of myself as possible due to so much heart-break, shameful experiences, and confusion about what it means to be a woman.  I’ve always thought I had to be emotionally strong, independent, opinionated, forceful, and in control at all times.  My heart, my imagination, and my body were not places to inhabit full time.  My linear, logical mind was what got things done, got me a good job, (and also gave me a lot of grief and anxiety).  It was the comfort zone-safe space for the majority of my 20s & 30s.

For so many reasons (too many to list here), I pushed away and/or safe-guarded my sensuality, my creativity, my tenderness and intuition.  I was an artist, a dancer, and a writer from a very early age.  I could move my hips and shoulders in rhythm with any beat.  I could paint and draw and express my raw and unbridled emotions in a variety of ways and with a plethora of unique words, phrases, body movements, shapes and colors.

One thing I loved to paint, draw, write about, and imagine I was when I went out into nature, was deer, the doe in particular.  Recently, I cleaned out my closets and came across three drawings of a doe, a stag, and a fawn that I did when I was in the 5th-7th grades.  These paintings made me smile and I have them displayed in my house along with other porcelain figures of deer that I have collected over the decades.  I have been drawn to deer for as long as I can remember.  They’re so graceful, gentle, intuitive, brave, perceptive creatures.  They can adapt to almost any situation and living condition.  although many of my Midwestern friends and family would say they’re a nuisance, for me they inspire a sense of tenderness and divine feminine quality inside of me.

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In Colorado, I finally returned fully to my body and fed it with earthy, delicious, sensual, tasty food.  I moved my hips and shoulders to the rhythm of drum beats in our group activities.  I peeled away layers of clothing under the dappled, sunlit aspens, and revealed the flesh of my arms, wiping sweat away from my brow as I continued my hike.  I pressed hot sunbaked stones to my cheek and smelled the dusty earth that covered them.  I dipped my polished toenails in the creek bed and slid my feet into the cool waters of the gently flowing stream as the smooth river rocks massaged my achy feet.  I laid down in tall grasses and stared up at the sky and listened to the wind moving through each blade,  crickets playing bass, and birds chirping a melody.

And I cried tears of joy.  Of sadness.  Of longing for what was lost to my regimented mind and old ways.  Of a longing to rekindle whatever wasn’t dried up from years of neglect, shame, and self-doubt.

What I didn’t realize is that nothing was lost or dried up.  And my tears were a gift.  A way to signify that I was present with and able to express all of my emotions.  That I had all the tools to unlock myself from my self-imposed prison.  My heart was cracking open and the tears were breaking through the floodgate.  What would follow?  Well, that was (and sometimes still is) a mystery.

One day, we were divided into two small groups for the afternoon’s activity.  I was with 4 other people and one of our guides, Gene.  I remember Gene telling us a personal story of how he finally owned up to his sensual, passionate side of himself and told us, “I may be small in stature, but I’m big in heart. . .I realized then that I love who I love, and I want what I want.”  His story of reclaiming his wild, passionate, sensual side inspired me.  If this strong, earthy, passionate, kind, tenderhearted man could own his wild, beautiful self, then why couldn’t I?  I realized on this trip that I was not a “freak,” and “artsy-fartsy hippy,” or a “wimpy” person who was overly sensitive and emotional.  That it was just those passionate, tender, artistic, creative, sensual aspects of myself that I and others need to see and know and learn about in order to grow and feel more connected to the world and each other.  Staying small and safe is more destructive than being vulnerable, open, and true to one’s nature and gifts/talents.

After one of our many large group discussions, I set off on a solo creek and headed for the creek and meadow that called to me earlier on that day’s first hike.  I turned the bend, and in the clearing I saw the gentle slopes and sinewy curves of a doe foraging in the field.  My breath caught and she looked up.  I stopped walking.  We locked eyes.  I smiled and waved to her. She did not move or look away and we continued to hold each other’s gaze.  I took off my sunglasses and hat and lowered my pack by sliding it down my arm and leg until it settled to the ground.  I blew her kisses and laughed.  Still she did not move.  Her eyes pierced me and a sudden urge to go deep inside of my heart and soul came over me.  So, without fear or embarrassment of other hikers who may walk by me, I opened up my arms wide and offered her my heart – fully & completely.  At that moment I felt so very vulnerable, but I knew that was what she was asking of me.  As if on cue, she stood straight up, elongated her neck, spread her ears wide, and broadened her chest.  Gazing into each others’ eyes, we stood – Heart to Heart.  The Wild One and Her Muse.photo