To Live in this World.

(This is inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner. )

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To live in this world you must let go of it.

Let go of the memories of what was.

Gathering in public spaces.

Gathering in homes with friends.

Shopping for food without fear.

Sleeping without the anxiety of the world rippling through your drams.

Let go of plans, of what we think or hope normal will look like.

Shaking hands.

Summer concerts.

Art fairs.

Packed movie theaters.

Feeling secure in our jobs whatever they may be.

To live in this world you must be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Comfortable with uncertainty.

Conformable knowing that anything and everything can change in an instant.

Comfortable learning to be alone.

Comfortable learning to be together.

Comfortable with the tenuous quality of life itself.

To live in this world, the one have now, not the one we had or the one we dream of, we must be present.

Present to who we are in this crisis. To who we want be.

Present to fears about money, the anxiety about security, the anger at the lack of leadership.

And also be present to the moments of joy, of gratitude, of grace that slip in through the cracks of all we see as broken. Because perhaps it’s been broken for a reason. Perhaps it’s been broken to let the light in.

To let the light shine on all that wasn’t working in our little lives and in the greater world.

To let the light guide us toward our better angels, calling us into our best selves.

Maybe the brokenness happened so we could all begin to claim our own light, shine our light, share our light, be the light.

To live in this world it is necessary to carry yourself lightly. Carrying only what is necessary.

Step with care.

Soften your impact.

Lighten up the shame. The greed. The fear.

Step into the truth. The truth of who you are.

Drop the masks.

Let yourself be seen.

To live in this world is a gift. Even in this world as it is now. It’s a gift to have this body of flesh and bones and cells made of stardust that allows you to smell the heady scent of lilacs, to see the beauty of a sunset or sunrise, to hear the winds shaking the windows, to taste the exquisite sweetness of a chocolate cake made with your daughter.

It’s a gift to wake up.

It’s a gift to sleep.

It’s all a gift.

Even now.

Especially now.

A Fable of Fear + Trust.

(Inspired from prompt by Amber Rae.)

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Image found via Pinterest.

She was suddenly thrust into the Territory of the Unknown + Uncertain. It felt both strange and oddly familiar. Had she been here before?

Yes. Yes, she had. Long ago. Before she was She. Before she arrived in this Life, she had inhabited the Unknown. What she found there, what guided her into this Life was Trust.

Trust the Unknown.

Trust in the larger plan.

Trust in the Universe.

Trust in herself.

Now that she finds herself here again, she struggles to see and claim that trust. A dragon must be acknowledged first: Fear. Not slayed. She knows that if she tries to slay Fear or ignore it, it will only take up more space. Fear just needs to be seen. To be felt.

Fear keeps her from seeing anything else. It keeps her from remembering that there is so much more beyond Fear because it is so close, it takes up all the space around and within her.

She wanders in restless circles, searching, seeking, desperate to feel stable, secure and safe. The Fear follows her, leaving no space to rest. No space to breathe.

Breathe.

Breath.

Then she remembers.

Fear dissipates with breath. Breath is the one thing Fear can not stand up to.

So, she stops her pacing, stops looking for all the tunnels and holes to escape into. She pauses, stands still and breathes deep.

Immediately, there is a shift deep inside. A settling. A softening.

She breathes again.

And again.

When she opens her eyes, Fear is still there but so much smaller. Tamed for now, it sits crouched next to her like a beloved pet. She can see all around her again. The world is so much bigger and smaller than she remembers. She sees the horizon line.

She sees a light on that horizon.

Ah, there it is.

Trust.

She reaches down and pats Fear.

Let’s go, she says.

And they set out together, side by side, through the Unknown and Uncertain, toward the light of Trust, a beacon calling them home.

What this Poem Can Be.

(This is inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner.)

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Image found via Pinterest.

This poem can not take us back to normal.

As if normal ever truly existed.

As if normal was a better place .

As if normal was a destination.

Instead, this poem lands us smack in the middle of a new normal. Of standing on x’s of tape in line at the grocery store.

Of wearing masks out in public as if everyday was now Halloween.

Halloween has always been my least favorite holiday. I wish I enjoyed it more. It seems like the cool kids and people really know how to celebrate it. I always played it safe, as a kid and an adult in my choice of costumes. Never gruesome or ugly and definitely not foolish: Queen of Hearts, a cat, The Flying Nun, an angel, a doll, an old lady.

Now, we venture out, half our face covered. It’s an odd sensation as if we are all hiding some essential piece of ourselves as we navigate this new world.

This poem can not determine an end date. As if there is an end date already out there, waiting for us to reach it, like a lighthouse. As if everything and everyone hasn’t already been changed in private yet crucial ways.

This poem can not ease the constant fear that ripples just beneath the surface of skin. Fears of sickness and death, of other smaller losses: jobs, community, routines, celebrations.

This poem is instead taking aim directly into the new normal, into the fear, into this new space of more being and much less doing.

This poem can not even really be considered a poem. It is a connecting with what is. With this moment: the fine line of sweat at the hairline, the slight throbbing in the thighs, the calming of my heartbeat. All this after a late-afternoon bike ride with my husband. The joy of feeling like I am flying. The joy of being a kid again. No worries. No cares. Definitely not concerned with a global pandemic and a global economic  meltdown.

And for a moment I am care free. Free of cares.

And that moment was everything.

And it was nothing.

And everything in between.

So, maybe these words are a poem. And this particular poem is just a journey, swirling from the past into the future, finally landing me here.

In the moment.

And that’s what all writing is: poem, stories, essays, songs. Moments just passing through us as we try to catch them on the page.

This poem can be that for me. It can be a way of just being in this moment, Capturing the thoughts, fears, hopes, sensations in my body. Then letting them go.

This poem can be a reminder to breathe. To feel the gentle rise and fall of my chest and belly. A reminder to soften my jaw. To create some space between my teeth.

It is a reminder of restless dreams populated with kidnapping and house fires and planes falling from the sky.

This poem can be exactly what I need it to be.

It can be exactly what it is.

It can be what is.

It can be.

 

Not Drinking in the Time of Coronavirus.

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I read that alcohol sales in the United States increased 55% in one week during the coronavirus pandemic. That doesn’t surprise me at all. On my walk today I came across more than a dozen empty bottles of booze over a 3-mile span.

If I wasn’t drinking, I’d be drinking.

If I hadn’t stopped drinking already, I sure wouldn’t stop now. During a freakin’ pandemic? Yeah, hard pass. Pass the wine.

But I did stop almost 300 days ago.

Oh, believe me, in the last few weeks I have definitely considered pouring myself a glass of wine. I mean, what a great excuse. It’s pandemic, right? Nobody would care. Nobody would judge me for it.

But I didn’t do this for other people. I did it for me. Because I didn’t like how it made me feel. Or how it allowed me to not feel things the I needed to. How it took up way to space in my brain of deciding what to drink, how much, when, when to stop and on and on and on.

So, now I am sheltering in place with my family. I am not currently teaching because the studio where I teach is closed. My husband is temporarily furloughed. Our finances are taking a hit, for sure. And I would love a drink to soften the edges of that anxiety.

I’d love to soften the edges of the daily nightmare of news.

I’d love to soften the edges of my anger at how ineptly this has been handled.

I’d love to soften the edges my fear and uncertainty.

But, there is no softening. There is only leaning into it all. Sitting with it. Feeling what I am feeling.

I came across this on Instagram today: (If you don’t follow her, you need to. She is one of the wise voices getting me through this.)

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I felt those words deeply. They explained precisely why I chose to stop drinking. Why I continue to choose not to drink before, during and after this pandemic.

Walking back home today I looked up at the clear sky, a vibrant blue canopy sheltering me and I thought this is how I want to feel. Not that empty vodka bottle in the dirt and grass. But this. This open space of being. Of beauty. Of potential. No matter what it holds for me.

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The Practice of Curiosity.

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I wonder…

Those two small yet powerful words help me to break through creative blocks, fear and stagnation.

I often forget them when I am in the midst any of those those three things or some combination of them.

But when I remember, they are the key that sets me free.

When faced with an impending empty nest I found myself thinking, ” I wonder if I should take Yoga Teacher Training.”

My class, “Poses, Pens + Inner Peace” came into being when I wondered how writing and yoga intersected and wondered how they could nourish each other.

When I hit a block in my work-in-progress, any “I wonder’ will get the pen moving. What is written may not stay in but that is not the point of curiosity. The point is to generate some movement.

Fear equals stagnation.

Stagnation begets stagnation.

Curiosity is light. It doesn’t come in hot demanding that I change and DO something, fix it, fix everything now.

No, curiosity invites me to sit down and play.

No pressure to fix something.

No pressure to fix everything with my next action.

It just asks me to wonder.

To ask what if.

And that gentle invitation is all I need to step out of fear, out of stagnation and back into the cycle of creative energy.

Curiosity only does one thing

Image found via Pinterest.

Tracking Fear.

Be Brave

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When I was little, my fears were tangible things: tornados, house fire, being kidnapped, snakes. These things never happened but I was aware of them and knew that they frightened me.

As an adult, fear is a much more nebulous thing. Sure, I still have concrete fears but it’s the subconscious fears that trip me up. If you’ve ever taken any kind of therapy, read any self-help or spiritual book, you’ve probably heard that most of our challenges come from fear. Most negative emotions can be traced back to fear. Angry? Dig deeper to find what you’re afraid of and using anger to mask. Procrastinating? Pause and try to unearth what fear lies beneath the procrastination.

Our human brains are wired for fear. Our survival depends on it. Fear alerts us to the danger around us, triggering our fight or flight response. These days our fight or flight can be triggered due to the content state of stress we are under.

This is where yoga and writing come in for me. They allow me to track fear. They keep me grounded in the present where everything is okay. Yoga allows me to stay present to exactly what is happening in my body and in my mind. Writing allows me to stay present to what I’m really thinking and feeling beneath the surface.

Both yoga and writing do not permit me to hide. They require me to dive deep and that is where I discover the fear that is holding me back. Once I am aware of it, I can release it.

Once that happens my life expands. And I expand to fill it.

Fear Compass.

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“Fear compass.” I heard this term on NPR this morning and it reverberated through my whole being like a tuning fork.

It got me thinking not only about fear as a compass, but any strong emotion. They all reveal something.

Envy reveals what I desire for myself.

Anger reveals where a boundary has been breached.

Fear reveals what is important to me.

Liz Gilbert’s suggestion to live life with curiosity rather than fear also resonates with me. Wonder becomes a door into and through fear.

I wonder if this agent is a good fit for my novel, instead of only focusing on if they will like it.

I wonder what happens in this next scene, instead of being paralyzed into writing nothing because I have no idea.

I wonder if I could be a yoga teacher, instead of letting anxiety about my looming empty nest crush me.

Wondering if I could combine writing with yoga led me to find my authentic voice and create a sacred space for students to find theirs.

So, it seems that fear points me in the direction of curiosity, leading me to live a creative life in awe of the wonder around and within me.

Where does fear point you?

 

Saying Yes = Taking Up Space.

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An aunt once said to my mom that I shouldn’t be going to the movies alone in the middle of the day. That there was always housework to do. My mom totally defended me, saying that I worked hard and deserved to take time for myself.

I felt judged and shamed. This came to me because of the struggle to say yes I wrote about recently. Sure, it’s hard to say yes usually because of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of (fill in the blank yourself).

But there’s this other, insidious reason I struggle to say yes.

Saying yes means taking up space in the world.

Saying yes means claiming my space in the world.

Saying yes means I think I deserve something that I desire, for myself.

It’s okay if we say yes to others. We aren’t questioned or judged if we say yes to being PTA president or making brownies for the bake sale or watching a friend’s baby. When we say yes to helping others we are a good person. When we say yes to ourselves, well…that’s selfish, right?

Women are taught to be nice which usually means saying yes even if we want to say no. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We are taught to stay small literally (hello diet industry) and figuratively.

Hillary Clinton was extremely popular in polls as First Lady, Secretary of State and Senator. But only after she had achieved those positions. When she declared that she wanted those positions, her popularity plunged. How dare a woman want something for herself? How dare she want power? How dare she take up more space than we are comfortable with?

I am 53 years old and still struggling with this. It’s getting (a little) easier. Just being aware of this tendency opens my world up a little more

I’m learning to say yes more more often, not out of obligation but because it is what I want, whether it’s a new adventure or a movie in the middle of the day.

I’m finally beginning to believe that the world is big enough to hold all of me.

 

Books Read in May.

May 2017 Books

“Marlena” a novel by Julie Buntin

Tell me what you can’t forget and I’ll tell you who you are.

Some say that we never forget our first great love. I believe we never forget our first great friendship. That friend that shines a light into our darkness and casts a shadow on our light. The friendship is deep, quick, complicated. That’s how it is between fifteen-year-old Cat and seventeen-year-old, pill-popping, seen-too-much-life-already Marlena. Cat moves with her mother and older brother to a rural town in northern Michigan. The setting itself is exquisitely wrought, becoming an accomplice to the friendship. Cat’s mother is newly divorced, her father unavailable, her brother postponing college to help out financially and emotionally. Marlena is a perfect distraction. Cat is drawn into her life, her secrets, her pain as Marlena initiates her into her first everything: kiss, drink, pill. Within a year, Marlena is found dead in the woods nearby, drowned in a mere six inches of icy water. The story weaves the past and the present, moving back and forth between Michigan and New York as adult Cat receives a call from the past, whisking her back into the summer that changed everything. This is a gorgeous story of the complications of teenage female friendship, addiction, lust, boredom and searching for something to hold onto in the midst of things falling apart.

A sentence I love:

She’s leaning into my face, her cheeks iridescent as if recently wiped clean of tears, her mouth against my chin, finding my lips, and the her tongue, something un-cooked and too wet about it, something silly, and just as I begin to formulate a word for what is happening, kissing, she disintegrates into laughter, breathing it into me until it bubbles from her throat and overflows. like her laugh is my creation. And a smell, like scratching a branch with your nail until its green flesh shows, the residue left behind on your fingers.

“American War” a novel by Omar El Akkad

When I was young, I collected postcards. 

A second American Civil War breaks out in 2076. In our current incredibly polarized country, this isn’t hard to imagine. Reading this rich, complex novel we don’t need to imagine it, we only need to drop into the near distant future he has painted for us. In this world, war is not some abstract entity but a specific atrocity that impacts the daily life of Sarat Chestnut and her family. Woven with historical documents, letters and oral history to give a full picture of how we got to civil war again and what was happening behind the scenes, “American War” often read less like a novel and more like an inevitable reality. Stunning.

As an added incentive to check this novel out, my husband rarely reads fiction. Well, he picked this up on our vacation and finished it in in less than 72 hours.

A sentence I love: 

Why was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?

She’d learned recently that solid land was not the natural skin of the world, only a kind of parasitic condition that surfaced and receded in million-year cycles. the natural skin of the world was water, and all water on earth was connected.

“The Universe Has Your Back- Transform Fear to Faith” by Gabrielle Bernstein

In the spring of 2015, I had a meltdown in a yoga class.

I chose this book for the book club I lead at our yoga studio. I had one week to read it when I finally picked it up. It turns out it was perfect (divine) timing. My low back started given me problems last Sunday. Seemingly out of the blue. I had no choice but to slow down. Way, way down. In doing so, I gave this book much more attention than I normally would have. I was able to really absorb what she was saying as well as write out the prompts and even do many of the meditations. So, because my back went out-ish, I was able to dive deep into her words. And they have had a profound effect on me. The main gift I took away was how prayer and co-creating with the Universe is a dance that can happen all day long, in any situation. I guess I usually think of prayer as a bookend to my days, not something to call on throughout the day as needed.

Even the title spoke to me. The Universe has my BACK. It’s not just all on me to figure out what is happening, to fix it, to heal it. My back has become this metaphor for fear and how I become so tentative in my life for fear of hurting it. And then, just when I was finally feeling free of that fear, it went out for no discernible reason. Transforming fear into faith was exactly what I needed to explore.

I underlined, starred and wrote in the margins of almost every single page. So much to take in, so much to explore. Seriously life-changing for me.

A sentence I love: 

As a spiritual activist, I believe that the greatest power we have to combat the terror of these times is our power to live in love. Love casts out all fear.

Moving Through Fear on my Mat.

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I’ve decided to stop being afraid of hurting my back.

See, I hurt it almost two years ago. Two. Years.

I hurt it so bad that I ended up on my bedroom floor in child’s pose, unable to move and my daughters had to call an ambulance.

It was humiliating.

It was frightening.

I lost faith in my body.

Ever since then, I have been afraid of hurting my back again. I’ve babied it. I’ve taken it easy, doing gentle yoga, and soft, somatic stretches.

But I haven’t really pushed myself.

Once in a while I do, but the moment I feel the least little twinge I back off again.

I haven’t hurt it that bad since then, but I have “tweaked” it and the fear of hurting it like I did the first time lingers.

Then I read an essay by Elizabeth Gilbert in the February issue of “O” magazine where she reflects on a knee injury. How it plagued her for over 13 years ever since her marriage had ended. When she finally got tired of being held back by that pain she asked what it needed She really wanted know. She heard it say it wants to run fast. To move. For her to stop using it as an excuse to hold herself back.

Oh.

Wow.

That’s exactly what I do.

I hold myself back for fear of hurting my back again.

I don’t take  challenging yoga classes.

I’m afraid of saying yes to fun excursions for fear that walking too much or moving in an unexpected way will tweak my back.

But then I realized that the more I baby my back, the weaker it is getting.

The weaker it is getting, the more chance I have of hurting it again.

So, I’ve decided to stop being afraid of hurting it.

I’ve decided to move it. Use it. Strengthen it.

I’ve started taking yoga classes again. Ones that challenge me. That force me to use muscles I’ve ignored for two years.

I’ve decided to say yes to things instead of no for fear it might be uncomfortable.  I ‘m 51, not 91. And even at 91 I want to be saying yes more than no. I want to be like Tao Porchon-Lynch when I’m in my nineties. Hell, I want to have her sprit and vitality now!

Each vinyasa, each lunge, each time I step my foot through between my hands I am moving through that fear. With each breath I am releasing it, making room room for trust, making room for what is happening in my body in this moment not some imaginary moment in my head.

Fear is just a thought.

Fear comes from not being present to this moment where I am fine, where my back is fine.

So, I’m saying yes again to each moment. I’m meditating daily. (104 days in a row so far.) I’m moving, playing, bending, stretching, strengthening and learning to trust my body again.

I’m learning to go toward my fear, befriending it, embracing it.

I’m literally moving through it.

And I’m finding tremendous strength and freedom on the other side.

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