Trust the Timing

I have not taken this long of a hiatus since this past November. It’s almost funny to me that, all through yoga teacher training and nutrition school (if my memory serves me, and perhaps I’m remembering myself as a more forthcoming Body Karma essay producer), I wrote weekly. Now I’ve graduated, am working full-time (7 days a week for the past few weeks, actually), I share something bi-monthly at most, it seems.

That might seem to make sense, being with the whole adulting, full-time career business, but to me, it’s surprising. I am not buried in textbooks and exams, why wouldn’t I be sitting down at least one evening a week to write?

I’ve discussed in recent posts how much more conservative I am with the direction my essays now go, and maybe that has something to do with the decline in publication frequency. I’m still completely and utterly willing to peel away the layers to reveal that uncomfortable, cringe-worthy “real life” stuff; because I believe it is the marrow of our existence, and the divine thread that connects us to one another. The threads of I am not alone, other people know what it’s like to grope helplessly through the shroud of darkness, and the ribbons of wow, I’m not the only one on this earth who doesn’t have my shit together, and even the moments of sweet, a reminder that it’s OKAY TO CHANGE MY MIND.

I’m still totally willing (and eager) to go there, because it’s the material that matters, that shifts and shapes our experiences, that has the potential to save us – even if it’s just me from myself.

But I no longer use this platform as a place to vent, like I once did. Not that anyone’s venting blog is wrong. It’s awesome. You do you. I just realized, I have always had a fierce need to cleanse my guilty conscience, since I was a very little girl (must be the Irish in me). As a child, I had to “get things off my chest” on an obsessively frequent basis (sorry Mom and Dad…seriously). If I didn’t, these thoughts would haunt and eat away at me. This morphed into an anxious and mildly OCD adult brain, one of which yoga has been the saving grace (because yoga is, ultimately, “the science of the mind” and the practice of regulating our thoughts).

It took a few years, but as I grew and evolved, I realized that laying out every detail of my self-discovery, self-reflection, and even self-doubt – from the ethics behind my diet, to my anxiety around shifting said diet, to my insecurities around living differently than others, to defending myself against negative experiences with unhappy people, to unraveling the reasons behind processes I’d never understood, to mending a broken heart with the written word – was becoming less cathartic and more uncomfortably vulnerable over time. Not uncomfortable in the “push yourself outside your comfort zone to really soar” sense. Uncomfortable in the “why did I just word vomit a journal entry to the entire inter webs?” sense.

Balance. Subtlety. Intuition.

These three basic concepts have shifted the way I write and, more importantly, the reason behind my writing. The driving force. I have messages to share, yes. We all do. I have survived, over the span of my 27 incredibly blessed years, some intensely shitty life experiences. We all have. I believe in sharing our trials and tribulations because it’s therapeutic for us, and also because it can help (SO much sometimes) others along the way (I have clung like a drowning monkey to other people’s blogs before because OMG THEY GET ME).

Not a one of us is “doing life” any better than the next. I am not failing by not pumping out a blog essay per week as I’d expected, in this year post-grad. I am not failing even if I never wrote again (…but in the words of Cher Horowitz, “AS IF!”). I’m okay with the fact that I’ve hibernated, linguistically, for the past few months. I’ve been navigating a lot of shit. Some of it intense and difficult, some of it absolutely amazing and all-consuming. So much has changed. There were many hard – albeit natural – changes last year, followed by an organic period of grief. Then came (and are still coming) the epic, “prayers answered and dreams-come-true” types of changes. I’ve been bobbing in the fluid waters of this growth, soaking it all in, experiencing it fully. I’ve even been journaling less than I was. Just really sitting with it all, wholly present.

I want to write about so much of it, too. I’ve just been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of LIFE and its incredible, unpredictable, tangibly and intangibly exquisite nature. Its essence. I am floored by it on a regular basis. Amazed.

And I do have heaps I intend to write about, post-its filled with ideas, scribblings of essays waiting to be. A book in the wings. Blogs brimming with vulnerable material, the mundane, and everything in between. I have so much work to do in the realm of the body positive movement, writing about my experiences as a teenager; I have so much interest in sharing how very real and, oftentimes, ungraceful it is to be human, and connecting with others over the sheer beauty and absurdity of it all. I have so much interest in writing about my processes, whether people care about them or not, because it’s therapy for me, it’s art, it’s passion. Words placed on the page function in my spirit are like paint on the canvas, or musical notes in the air, or a waltz across a stage. For me, it doesn’t matter where it goes, how often it’s put out into the cosmos, or even how it’s received (well, that part’s not true, but the disregard for others’ opinions is always a work in progress, no?). For me, it’s about the art. The transformation. The bits that transcend time, space, even human opinion and experience. Because everything is in flux. Always changing. Ever fluid. May we always have the dignity and courage to flex with it, to ride the tides, and to trust the timing.

 

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Unrestrained by Demons

It’s been quite a year. Can you relate? I’m not speaking of 2016 (although…my heavens, 2016 has been filled with revelations and reckoning), but rather the last 12, 13, 14 months themselves. The last…long while. So much self-reflection and quite painful investigation into the what’s and why’s of this life.

It can get heavy. Being an emotional being can at times be draining, can leave us feeling depleted and weepy. The lows can get as low as they get high. It can become incredibly daunting to process the ups and downs of life, to navigate one’s own emotional liberation, while still going out everyday and operating as a functioning member of society. That sounds dramatic, but do you ever feel as though the sheer weight of processing your own grievances feels like a full-time endeavor? One you want to just commit yourself to for a week (or five), in solitude, surrounded by healing, supportive space and silence? It’s so challenging to sort through our thoughts when we’re burdened by the need to simultaneously work, maintain relationships, construct the outward appearance of having it all together (not that we’re meant to pretend that our suffering doesn’t exist, but most days no matter how lost in our heads we want to get, we still have to be adults and live our lives). This is reality, despite the suffocating moments of fear and anxiety that visit us all, from time to time.

It can be really tempting to live a life shut off from that emotional processing. Because it’s just hard. The idea of avoiding all that mess can seem easier. Sometimes denial can look, from afar, like such a cozy alternative; not having to feel our feelings, not being blindsided and ambushed by the underbelly of what it means to be an emotional creature in this huge, undulating universe.

But I would never again choose that alternative. I’ve lived in it before; the stuffy, damp, darkly shrouded realm of denial. It’s isolated. It’s claustrophobic. It actually doesn’t feel safe at all. If you’ve ever been there, you probably know that it feels like laying in a dark room with a heavy box on your chest. Even though the box may be like Pandora’s, filled with a whole mess of stuff, it can be far more productive, albeit terrifying, to throw open the windows and start sorting through the aching feelings and thoughts that lay locked up and waiting for our attention.

This stuff – the wading through the suffering, I mean – is, as I view it, the price we pay for being alive.

I’m currently reading (slowly, savoring) my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, newest book Big Magic. Liz’s prose slay me. She is, as I say, one of those authors that “makes you feel so much more comfortable with being alive.” Because, let’s be honest, the human condition can feel really intense, lonely, daunting, and uncomfortable at times. Liz reminds us that fear (insert: trepidation, personal demons, struggles – all manifestations of fear) is always with us. She suggests that we be inclined to accept and embrace our fear. Invite it along on the journey we are taking with creativity (insert: love, joy, adventure, abundance – all manifestations of creative living). Her brilliant concept is that, on this road trip of life, we are driving, creativity gets the front seat, and fear gets the backseat. Fear is welcome to come along (because we don’t actually have any choice in the matter, do we?), and it is allowed to speak up, but it does not get to decide where we’re going. It does not get to lay its hands on the map, or even fiddle with the radio station (Liz, seriously, is my greatest inspiration as a writer – this stuff comes from the creative depths of her imagination – what a vision! – get thee to a bookstore and buy yourself Big Magic).

What a notion, right? I feel, and I’m speaking for myself here, that the overwhelming urge is to banish fear, and all its expressions, from my life. I have been standing outside the car, arms crossed, brow furrowed, tapping my toe impatiently waiting for fear to unbuckle, get out of my backseat, and let me get on with my journey.

I might as well turn my distressed gaze upward and start looking for pigs flying.

I’m not proposing, nor is my great hero Elizabeth Gilbert, that we should be super comfortable with the idea of carrying fear around in our back pockets. It’s uncomfortable; it’s supposed to be. But this is the non-negotioable byproduct of having been gifted the most exquisite opportunity of creative living (which we all have been gifted, by being born as human beings with opposable thumbs and incredible cognitive function and hearts so gloriously capable of being wrecked by love that they could just swallow up the whole world with their power for adoration).

We all have our “things” that hold us back. We all have our demons. But we are worthy of living lives unrestrained by demons. If we can, collectively, stop waiting for the demons to release us, for fear to get out of the car, and just realize this uncooperative passenger is going to endlessly serve as a beacon of where we don’t wish to go (because, at its root, fear is a mechanism of self-preservation, sounding off when danger might be present), we can see its purpose. We are high-functioning human beings with the discerning power to notice when we are being chased by a lion and fear should get to use its lung power with all its might, for good rather than evil…and when faith, love, intuition, and creativity are being drowned by the drunken, garbled hollering of our backseat fear (who somehow seems to have climbed onto the dashboard and got its sticky hands on a microphone).

We have the capacity to take a step back, look at our lives, and see where we’re being pinned (or, sometimes, glued) to a spot we no longer wish to be. We have the power to investigate why we’re immobilized. We have the capability to change that.

I have a tendency of getting stuck in a rut. I am fearful of change, and the unknown brings me great anxiety. A life of ritual and routine has brought me great comfort. My chest grows a bit tight at the image of jet-setting wanderlusts, living out of suitcases and going where the wind blows. No, no, I’ll wait patiently for my niiiiiiice, detailed itinerary please.  But that’s just me. And a huge part of this presses is in getting to know ourselves, and embracing our quirks and tendencies. Learning, through trial and error, where to push our boundaries and where to respect our needs. I went heaving and hyperventilating into a 3-month study abroad venture overseas back in 2009. I literally fought for breath and sucked on tears as I wrestled with the militant French operator and a dinky little calling card in a Parisian phone booth, begging my mom to come and visit because WHO DECIDED IT WAS OKAY TO PUT AN OCEAN BETWEEN US FOR A QUARTER OF A YEAR and I hadn’t slept in 36 hours and HOW DID I GET TO FRANCE?

By the end of my trip I was seriously devoted to finding a way (ANY way) to stay in Italy, cash in my plane ticket, and preserve the little world I had created with my friends in this foreign land where everything exotic had become familiar and reality was suspended in favor of 20 year old, wide-eyed, first-time independence.

…didn’t see that coming.

What made it so wonderful and tolerable was that, after the initial shock and severe discomfort of having no familiarity, no routine, and no way of predicting what was ahead…I reestablished all of those things that kept my needs met. I made routines. I settled into my Florentine flat, put my belongings in their new places, found a local market, carved new neural pathways in my brain, got to know my surroundings, created nourishing relationships, and set up a daily routine. All while testing my boundaries.

I did return home as planned, fortunately, but I do think back regularly and fondly on my time living Europe as an experience I’m so deeply grateful I had. It showed me I am capable of wrestling fear to the ground and making a run for it.

Letting go of control and powering through the impending horror such an act produces makes for a sweet, intoxicating exhale; like a flood of dopamine, or (on some much smaller level) the ecstatic amnesia a new mother experiences, forgetting the pain and agony of birth upon beholding their precious infant.

It is so tempting to stay on the shore where everything is safe and protected. But, the reality is that we only perceive this space to be safe and protected. It’s a deeply seductive act, for many of us, to try and preserve a sense of stability and safety by putting on our control freak panties and hyper-managing every aspect of our lives. This doesn’t make us safe. This sacrifices sanity for perceived safety. Not even real safety. Just our carefully constructed belief patter of “if I do this, and this, and this, everything will stay okay. I will be safe.” That is a very sad and disappointing way to live each day, I think.

I’m not saying we all need to turn our lives upside down, or go jump on a plane and live in Europe for 3 months in order to experience life from a place of love and creativity rather than fear (though maybe the thought makes your heart skip a beat and, actually, is just the type of experience you do need). For many of us, though, the healing medicine can be found on a much smaller scale. It can be accessed in our day-to-day lives. It might just mean doing things differently today than you did yesterday (that is often a big enough shake up for me, honestly, as a diligent creature of habit). It also doesn’t mean things have to be different every single day, because ritual and routine are beautiful and holy, just so long as they don’t come from a place of fear and seal every crack in the structure where love and creativity might try to seep in and stir things up.

Maybe it means starting a creative project or finishing a degree. Maybe it’s finding the courage to use some of that built up PTO and taking a trip. Maybe it’s climbing out of the unemployment shame and getting excited about a new career. Maybe it means going to a yoga class for the first time or revisiting a forgotten passion for hiking. Maybe it means going out to eat, or maybe it means staying in and preparing a favorite recipe. It could mean asking for help. It could be breaking a pattern of isolation and going out with friends, for an introvert. It could be a day or night of self-care and indulgent alone time at home, for an extrovert. Perhaps it’s looking at your body in the mirror and not breaking your gaze until you are able to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you unconditionally. Maybe it’s a commitment to a new routine, or maybe it’s the courage to break out of a rut. Maybe it’s the act of daring greatly enough to build an avenue between the two.

Whatever it is, whatever your sweet, pulsing heart knows in its very depths is an act of great courage…that is the first step in your journey. We all have demons (not a one of us is immune, no matter how “perfect” someone else’s existence and “put together” life may seem…they too struggle, I promise).

We all experience loss, fatigue, sadness, anxiety, depression, negative self-talk, FEAR. We are all united in this human condition, no matter what ways our fear and creativity display themselves. We may look different, but we are not. We are all the same. We are all paddling our little boats furiously towards freedom and love. But perhaps, in a joint effort of all the eyes reading this, we together can start to see our fear as something new. Rather than a block of darkness, threatening to sink our boat, we can view our fear as something useful. As a necessary component on our journey, an irreplaceable cog in our wheel of healing. A threatening shadow of heaviness to keep the brilliant light from blinding our eyes; a little hunk of pressure providing just enough weight to slow our speed, so that we don’t race feverishly past all the opportunities to pause, and be shattered by the staggering beauty of how very far we’ve already come.

 

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A Taste of the Light

This morning as I sat in prayer after my yoga practice ended, I was overcome with the presence of God. I could feel the light pouring into the moment. My breath just a whisper, that sacred, quiet calm…almost shallow sensation it takes on after savasana. Eyes softly closed and palms hovering together at my heart. Everything felt still. Everything felt illuminated. Like God was standing before me, His hands on my cheeks, Her face bowed towards me.

As though the top of my head, my crown chakra, were opened and Divinity were trickling in with some much needed medicine, some soulful poetry. I sat there frozen, but soft, mesmerized by the blinding light of my own inner eyelids.

What did God have to say to me this morning, you ask?

It was a message of self-love. Gratitude. Higher thinking. Isn’t it always? It was delivered sweetly, like a kiss on the cheek, and I felt an invitation to let it linger, or let it pass. I clung to the former like a child to a rope swing; soft, supple thigh skin wound tightly around thick, bristly cord. As if catching a thread about to unravel, I held firm to the words materializing as if written by invisible hand.

Choosing to allow self-criticism and perceived scarcity to permeate our thoughts every day, is quite literally poisoning our own well. Indulging in petty comparison, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy – in other words living caged by fear – is a DISGRACE to the beautiful life we have been given. To think harmful thoughts towards our bodies is to shame the incredible blessing of a strong, able, functioning physical vessel. To compare our lives to others’ is to dishonor the exquisite existence we ourselves have built. To engage in habitual behaviors and thoughts of inadequacy is to discredit the many years of SURVIVAL we have under our belts. 
We have been SO blessed. Lungs that can breathe, legs that can walk, eyes that can see, ears that can hear (and perhaps not even that much, for many of us). May we ALL choose a story of gratitude and abundance. May we decide, intentionally, to shift the internal conversation when the voices of our demons begin to murmur. May we instead drench that darkness with our light, the light of God, the sheer illuminating capacity in the act of giving thanks. May we realize how ungrateful an act it is to engage in these thoughts, and kindly forgive ourselves for the transgression.

It sounds so easy, but it’s not. It feels as if you could just flip a switch and live in abundant gratitude from here forward, when you have a taste of the light, but nothing is ever so simple. Night will come, and darkness will creep back upon us. We’re human, and our minds are powerful tools. But practice makes “more practiced.” Too often we live unconsciously, slaves to our own habits and vices. Chained to our stories of inadequacy.

I can feel God cringing each time I frown at my reflection or fail to see how much I have. I can imagine how regretful I would be, later in life, if I did not commit NOW to the practice of carefully directing my attention and energy towards things that actually MATTER. We don’t even know how long we have here. My prayer for us all is that we learn to master our own thoughts, or at least to work more cooperatively with them, opening up space for joy and love and GRATITUDE like we’ve never known before. That is my prayer for each one of us, this day and every day. Let the light in.

Amen. Namaste.

Conditions of The Healing Process

“The only unique contribution that we will make in this world will be born of creativity.”
-Brené Brown.

I don’t know about you, but I love me a good podcast. Two of my favorites, Magic Lessons by Liz Gilbert and Dear Sugar Radio by Cheryl Strayed, have both, coincidentally (or not so?) featured the great Brené Brown. Yes, the author of Daring Greatly and, more recently, Rising Strong. That Brené Brown.

Apart from the epic quote that floats above, another incredible notion that Miss Brown has plummeted out into the ethers – and, subsequently, into the brain of yours truly – is that no creative work, no piece of writing in particular, on which our own personal healing is requisite should be shared. So, she’s saying if we’ve written something – or created something, period – on which our own heart’s wellbeing and mending and healing and transformation is hinged…it is not ready to be shared with the world.

This was a touch cringe-worthy for me to hear. Though it rang true, like, cathedral bells true. I, for one, have been seriously guilty of sharing material on which my deep and personal healing process rested, with its full weight. A fragile and, when you think about it, flimsy support system on which to place such a profound experience, no?

The opinion (read: APPROVAL) of others. Of strangers! The horror. It makes me think of Jenga…that game with the wooden blocks where you build and stack and carefully place, and the higher the tower gets, the more wobbly it becomes. Until it all comes crashing down.

That’s the mental image conjured up when I think of sending a raw, fresh, vulnerable piece of my own heart (which is, ultimately, what our art really is) into the cruel world to be either devoured lovingly or torn to shreds. Noooooooooo, thank you. That’s one I’ve learned through the School of Hard Knocks, if you will. I’ve done that, from the very get go, and I’ve been showered with the ego-stroking praise, and I thought wow, neat, I’m going to keep wearing my heart on my sleeve and using my writing as a place to work out the kinks of my own inner psyche and come to blows with my inner demons! 

That was so early-twenties of me.

It worked, it did, for a minute. But when the internet trolls and the blessed hearts who just see the world a different way caught wind of my bloody raw creations, that’s when I buckled. Now, let me elaborate on Brené’s brilliant concept; it’s not to say one should never share this raw, vulnerable, just-born work. No, not at all. Quite the contrary. What she stipulated was that we, as artists and creators, are advised to be thoroughly “worked through” of whatever story we are sharing. To be selective with the stories we tell is an art form in and of itself.

Working through the mess, down in the trenches, through therapy, conversation, soul-searching, and good ‘ol time passed, is the only way we can really heal our wounds and learn from them. Then, and only then, can we share the vulnerability, that is our own process of transmutation on this earth, from a place of neutrality.

Neutrality. What a concept! “Nothing to defend,” as Liz Gilbert, the podcast host, pointed out as Brené painted the finishing touches on her idea. When are healed of a particular ache, when we have come to a place where we can stand outside of it rather than sinking into its depths, we are in a place of power to remain [more] neutral to its reception. 

Because, if we’ve worked through our shit, if we’ve taken it to God, the yoga mat, our therapist, our friends over bottomless mugs of coffee, the pavement, our journals, what-have you…we move through our vulnerability into a place of reserved awareness. There is a roundness to that particular story, a softness, buffed smooth by time and, more often than not, obsession. We are no longer in the jagged, sharp-edged, uneven space of pain or suffering. That ship has sailed, and safely docked at port. We have already been our own greatest critic…and we came through to the other side. So what could anyone else’s rejection possibly do but slide indifferently off the glossy surface?

Now, I must add, I am a real believer in our own fragile humanity. I don’t think stories are ever, for the most part, “over.” I think what we struggle with will come up again and again in our lives, even disgusted as different experiences altogether, but for having learned how to dance with our demons, we are able to cope and persevere and emerge from the dark tunnel relatively unscathed. More and more so with each journey underground. It is more and more brilliantly sunny with each emergence.

That said, I don’t believe our healing has to be “stick a fork in me done” for us to be able to share it creatively. We know, intuitively, in our own hearts and bodies when we have reached a place of strength within a certain vein of our lives. When the blood flow is smooth and unblocked, when the air is circulating freely; when we are no longer suffocated and pummeled by the sheer freshness of it all. As I said before, sometimes time is the greatest healer for our stories. Sometimes much more work is required. Sometimes creating around that struggle is the only therapy that works. And it’s therapy that should always be practiced. It’s so incredibly healing. It’s just that it doesn’t necessarily need to be shared…right that moment.

What a positively fascinating notion. The idea of creating just for the sake of creating. The idea of pouring blood, sweat, and tears into the creation of something so beautiful, that you keep it just for yourself. That it is not something for public domain. I know I am a breed of creator who is hungry to share with the world. Yes, I keep a personal journal, and those entries are sacred. I would never dream of scanning them onto this blog, or any other public forum, in a million years. But do I often end up writing about the same stories that have graced their confidential pages? YES, of course. I just am learning, as I grow more familiar with this earthside existence, that timing is everything.

There is a time, and a place, to share our boldest creations. There is a very specific time in which to share the stories that have tugged at our hearts and minds. When we are ready to invite the unsolicited approval and rejection of outsiders, able to remain rooted in the truth and sacred origin of our expression, we are ready to share our most vulnerable stories.

But what does this mean for the eager creator? The innocent, and perhaps naive, invincible artist? Share. Create. Keep to yourself. Listen to your own heart. But know, as someone who was once naive and overeager to work out my own healing in public print, there is a potent and almost Holy nature to withholding. Because, in doing so, we are forcing our own hands. The stories we want so desperately to share, because it serves our work and our readers and our own integrity, must be shared only when we have done the harder work…journeying through the healing process. When we make that a stipulation to our sharing, to our expression, the resentment and fear that coexist with noble creativity melt away. Or are at the very least muted. And when we emerge from the tunnel, when we rise back up above ground, we can share our creations proudly. Confidently. And in the glimmering light of day.

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The Thief of Joy

If you didn’t already know the great Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote (and, perhaps you don’t), how would you begin this sentence?

“_________ : The Thief of Joy.”

If you could pop any word in there, which would you choose?

I personally quite like Comparison: The Thief of Joy. It just…is. Am I right? It just holds, with all its weight, the perfect place in that sentence. The perfectly villainous role of that which steals, siphons, and thieves one’s joy.

Truly, though, I find myself repeating this quote in mantra-like form to myself on a regular basis. As of late, it’s been not only a daily occurrence, but more likely a thrice-daily occurrence. Why, you ask? I can’t really answer that. But I suppose it’s because I’m feeling very #thisis27 (yes, I just used a hashtag in an informal essay); I’m finding myself observing my life, surroundings, thoughts, decisions, career, even my physical form in a different light than ever before. In a mid-to-late-twenties light. It’s glaringly bright…

I’m Queen of comparison. Myself to others, this Thursday to last Thursday, today to yesterday, right now to 45 minutes ago…and I’ll tell you what: it’s EXHAUSTING. Not only that, it’s absolutely WASTEFUL.

I mean, really. How much more wasteful could one be with one’s thoughts? Well, actually, I suppose I would place regret and jealousy slightly higher on the scale of wasteful thinking…but comparison comes in a close third. Seriously, what are we trying to accomplish when we compare? We may be comparing ourselves to who we once were, 10 years ago, even earlier in the week, who we are to who we thought we’d be (by now). Sometimes we’re comparing ourselves to others – renowned masters of our art, airbrushed figures on glossy magazine covers, people whose lives and stories we could never possibly know, careers and salaries and structures of perceived success so completely inanimate and irrelevant to us that it’s shatteringly sad how potent an effect it can have on our (very real, very independently our own) world…

Whether we’re comparing our current selves to our old selves, our(anytime)sevles to others, or our lives and the sacred snippets held within them to anything else out in the world: is no more realistic, no more justified, and no less harmful.

If you want to talk about a thief in the night…talk about comparison. And yes, there are countless other bands of thieves stalking our psyche, pilfering the essence of our joy from right under our noses…but comparison is a particularly foul, repugnant criminal. Mostly because we are fooled into letting this offender into our lives. It wouldn’t even be in our thoughts, meddling with our worlds, if we didn’t allow it in. Comparison has gained access to our precious existence one way: through us.

I’m reminded now of another famous quote, by the great Mahatma Gandhi,

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

Wise words. But, in reality, it’s our own dirty feet doing the walking. Others cannot gain entry to our internal monologue. We let them in.

We cannot have control over anything but our own thoughts, our own reaction to the world around us. Even our most subtle, subconscious thinking can be edited, revised, trained into submission. Gentle, loving submission, that is. The kind of submission that trains the mind to say, yes I may have these harmful thoughts from time to time, thoughts in which I compare myself or my life to something or someone else, knowing full well it does me no good – that it only brings about misery and frustration – and I will vow to notice these moments and silence them with kindness. They may sneak up on me, but I will commit to redirecting them towards a more profoundly beneficial space. Instead of falling, I will rise.

And we will repeat that, or whatever our own unique soliloquy sounds like, to ourselves again, and again, and again, (and then some more), until it because so natural we could do it in our sleep. Then, perhaps, the harshness of comparison will not even poison the still, and sometimes thrashing, waters of our dreams.

As with most anything, comparison has two sides. The light and the dark. And they are all one. Part of one big animal. One beautiful and fierce and loving and vicious animal. Comparison can make us feel good, feel better, more accomplished, grown. But it is a double-edged sword, and when we become familiar and comfortable letting in the golden-lit practice of comparison (the one that sheds warm light on our current state and leaves us coming out on top), we also allow its shadow to come with it. Inevitably. They are attached. Sewn together at the seams. They are one. And, before we know it, we fall screamingly and silently victim to the dark side of comparison, too.

There is no separation.

So the only way to proceed, with as little pain as possible, is to come up with a mantra, a soliloquy, a sweet story of reality that can help ease the burden that can be this human mentality. To wipe our shoes clean before entering our own thoughts. To sweep up, dutifully, after the sacred ground has been soiled. Because it will be. We make mistakes. We act (and think) impulsively. We make messes. We get ambushed by foul thoughts and dirty comparison and fall down rabbit holes of despair and destruction and self-loathing. But our grace is in our rising. In our ability to climb back out. To mop away the footprints. To polish the floors. To recognize that the clean wouldn’t be clean without the dirty, and “now” wouldn’t be “now” without “then.”

I think the true beauty is in accepting that we cannot compare our “now” to our “then” because they are all part of one path. One trail. One story. “Now” simply wouldn’t be without “then.” They are not disjointed, they are not separate entities, and one cannot be without the other. To criticize one aspect is to condemn the whole journey.

As for comparison to others, well my friends, we are all in this boat together. Although sometimes it seems more like an arc, wedged between the elephant and the lion. Towering size and intimidating, perceived savagery on either side. There is no room to breathe.

We may be on this arc, but it’s our choice to jump off and swim. There may be sharks in that water, naturally, and who knows what else. But at least we’ll have removed the option to engage in such demeaning behavior. At least we’ll have made the decision to jump. To swim. We’ll have decided to not be wasteful with our precious thoughts, our precious energy.

Because, surely, to spend our energy swimming – for dear life – with intention and purpose, is a much better use of this great blessing we have been given. Surely it is much greater a task to care for this gift of intellect, keeping it groomed and well-maintained, than it is to be ruled and trampled by it. Using the very ability that allows us to so deeply compare and analyze, with discernment, choosing instead to see this potential avenue and kindly refuse to take it.

Surely, the holy hand that dealt us this intellectual and spiritual capacity would not want it squandered or stolen. So may we handle our fragile humanity with grace; may we remain aware and present, in thought, word, and deed; may we never mistake our train of thought for one on which we are a passenger, rather than the engineer.

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The Jackass Whisperer

Well, hello you! I’ve missed you (yes, YOU).

It’s been such a winter. A beautiful, rainy, cold, wintry winter (that seems an odd, redundant description, but in Northern California we are actually having a true winter for the first time in years). I’ve been writing heaps, but instead of tapping out essays on Body Karma, I’ve been helplessly following suit as my ravenous pen devours endless pages of my personal journal (and, actually, journals themselves – yes, plural).

Sometimes it’s in the quiet (in this case, a spell of silence upon this platform) that we hear ourselves most clearly.

For me, life has been brimming with love and abundance. It always is, though, isn’t it? The difference lies only in whether we choose to see it…or not.

The holidays were simply lovely. It was the first holiday season in 5 years that I’ve lived back in my home county, close to and surrounded by family, and it was nothing short of magical. Even having 90 minutes between us felt like an eternity when life was busy with school and work, often only coming home every other month at the most. While I adored my time living away, studying, building an independence I hadn’t yet known…I honestly don’t miss those days! I cherish them, but I’m so grateful to be here, where I am now. There’s so much truth to the saying that we don’t know what we have until we leave it. My small town, easy access to the human beings who make my world go ’round, the sweet comfort that is the familiar rim of mountains standing guard around my valley…six months after moving back I still get butterflies being here. In the same place I used to run around, taking complete and utter granted for the beautiful place I call home. Well, perhaps not taking for granted, but certainly not realizing its power.

I was 21 when I moved out of the North Bay, and 26 when I moved back, and it’s always so interesting to note what has changed – about ourselves – and what has stayed the same. I think the most noteworthy shift has been in my own awareness. In my own endeavor to offer steady support to my own self, unconditional acceptance. Now, full disclosure, this is a daily chore, maintaining this perspective; it waxes and wanes like Lady Luna, and burrows so deep into the earth some days that I have to puzzle over whether I ever really held it at all. But, then it reappears. Through dedicated searching, quiet sitting, vigorous practice; through blood, and tears, and sweat. It returns to me. Or I to it, I’m not sure which.

I used to judge myself so harshly. Can you relate? I used to be my own biggest, if not loudest critic. In the last 5 years, I now see that I have come to a different place in relationship to this painful waltz we all know so well as that of self-esteem and self-judgement. I came to learn that we will always encounter external criticism. The world is not running low on that, I’ll tell you! We can’t rely on the support of others. It’s brilliant and intoxicating and just plain amazing to have it, yes, but the level of unconditional support that we positively need as creators, caretakers, doers, shakers, makers, and human beings out in this every-changing world, is one that cannot be sought after outwardly. It is very much an inside job.

It is, in fact, a full-time job remaining in support of ourselves. This is a job that falls by the wayside for many of us, time and time again throughout our lives. When we are challenged, disliked, torn down; when we are feeling weak or drained, depleted or as if no one is in our corner. The moments when we most need to stay at our post, as the sole supporter of our own grand adventure, are when we most often crumble. Why is it that this super potent and essential role is one we so easily step out of? Or, more truthfully, fall ass-over-teakettle out of.

We like to get all tangled up in what others think of us. We get snarled up in the slimy seaweed that is the judgements others place upon us. But, the truth of the matter is, we all just project onto each other what we fear and judge about ourselves and our own lives. So how could it possibly have anything to do with the other person? We are merely projecting our own values, thoughts, opinions, and insecurities onto separate entities. Entities that, frankly, do not even “play by the same rules” as we do. How could they? The don’t live in our brains. They haven’t had the same 25, 40, 75 years of experience that we, ourselves, have endured. They don’t have the same context in which to view this world, society, relationships. They don’t have the same emotional DNA or physiological blueprint. So how, in God’s sacred name, could we ever compare ourselves to each other or, much less, judge one another as if any of us knows better than the next?

I was listening to this great podcast today on judgement, and one of the guests shared a quote that resonated so powerfully with me, after this past year. It was, “Don’t try to win over the haters, you’re not the jackass whisperer.”

HA!

I mean…right?

We are all human beings here to love, serve, uplift, and unite. We are all beautiful and perfect and utterly wrecked. Looking at someone else as a jackass is, in itself, a sweeping judgment. But then, in this crazy ragamuffin world we live in, sometimes there just needs to be laughter. Sometimes the chaos of thoughts and words and feelings swirling around us, as if shaken up like a snow globe, gets to be too much. Sometimes those biting comments directed at you, from people so drowning in their own self-loathing and pain, just get old. Sometimes compassion climbs into the back seat and the snippy, boundary-setting slice of your psyche takes the wheel. Sometimes you find yourself smiling in the face of the haters and chuckling, passing on the invitation to care. I am not the jackass whisperer. I think that’d make a mighty fine bumper sticker.

We’re all just doing the best we can, really. There are three kinds of business. Mine, yours, and God’s. End of story. Thinking someone should or shouldn’t look a certain way, think a certain way, speak a certain way…is pointless. It’s a waste of life force. That doesn’t mean we won’t have stances, opinions, values, and beliefs. We must, naturally. But we eliminate the overwhelming majority of times that we fall victim to the pain and angst that are byproducts of judgement and caring about being judged. We open up so much space to focus on brighter, more positive things…like firming up our own self-support system. Like creating more beauty in our lives. Like getting clearer about what matters to us, and how we can better serve ourselves so as to better serve this world.

It’s actually way harder to disconnect from judgement and tap into this limitless, more loving consciousness. Judging others is second nature, to many of us. Getting riled up over being judged is an urge so strong it’s almost unnatural to refuse it. But, as with anything, practice makes…well, practice makes better. 

So let’s not fancy ourselves Jackass Whisperers, in 2016. Whether the jackass is our neighbor, someone across the world, a job we didn’t get, or a car that cut us off in traffic…it is up to us, and us alone, to crack a smile and step out of the ring. It’s a losing battle. One that drains and depletes us of our precious energy. Let us, instead, choose to laugh. Let us shimmy back into our own corner. Let our freak flags fly. Let us own our mistakes, our triumphs, our half-assed attempts, and our blood, sweat, and tears passion. Let us stop expecting perfect, and start celebrating good enough. Let us stop living in the past, or the future, and start living right here, right NOW. Let us refuse to put on our Jackass Whisperer hats, and instead let our hair ripple in the wind, celebrating our own existence, and our shared humanity.

Happy New Year, beautiful souls!

 

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Pain and Poetry

There must be a word for the sensation of being oneself. An appropriate word must exist for the ever-present, but sometimes violently acute, grasp on what it feels like to be alive, inside this one mind, this one body. “Self-awareness” does not seem to verbally do this heightened consciousness justice. It’s just too common a phrase. No, this feeling calls for a much more technical, even elegant, term. This intense cognizance that sometimes overtakes us, grappling with us, ungracefully pulling us to our knees – occasionally beckoning our gaze skyward, in awe, but almost never passing through without causing an utter ruckus between our ribs – must be captured by a word of great potency.

Sentience.

Mmm. Sentience. That may just have to do. Perhaps we can allow that to be the soldiering word that carries this burdensome and fascinating notion, for now.

Being cognizant of our own sentience, and our own ever-changing nature, is a dangerous art. It’s a state we are always in, whether we choose to see it or not. Isn’t that funny? Not “ha ha” funny, but ironic. Just as I learned the other day that the eyes see everything upside down and the brain has to flip the image right-side up, that the eyes see the nose in their line of vision but that the brain steps in and blocks out that needless obstruction, that the cerebral cortex’s entire occipital lobe is devoted to vision and how we take in the world…that we can see so much, and yet not even be aware of it…reminds me of this. That, in our purest essence, we are living, feeling, breathing organisms, always connected to the sensation of what it feels like to be just that – and yet we can block out that capacity for great introspection so much of the time. So much so, in fact, that we find ourselves utterly bulldozed by the self-analysis and soul-searching that periodically drapes itself over us like a thick, dark cape, blocking out the light of the rest of the world and closing us in on the sensation of feeling, knowing, and existing.

That we can ever feel as if we’re not powerfully rooted in our own sentience, every moment our heart is beating, makes me think of all the rigorous work the brain is doing up there in our skulls. It is always there, and yet it takes us by such surprise when we choose to look it straight in the face.

The way this alert sense of profound presence takes over can ease into our thoughts gracefully, or can arrive in the most alarming fashion – the reflection in the mirror catching us off guard, the date scrawled in the upper corner of an old letter leaving us palpably shaken, the memory of how things once were and simply no longer are gripping us with unparalleled intensity – it’s almost like a drug. Like someone slipped something into my tea and I’m on a trip; one that I’m powerless to, one that heightens every sense. Distinctly contrasting what was with what is, with artful and almost painful clarity. And such comparison never comes without criticism. It is an inherent flaw in the human psyche. I have yet to encounter an earthly being who can entirely detach from self-criticism. Although, I am hopeful that such celestially-blessed spirits exist upon this battlefield utopia we call “our world.” But, for most of us, the mental journeying back is peppered with comparison, and criticism. Hence the throb that accompanies such fleeting lucidity, a deep ache that seems quite the unnecessary accomplice to what could otherwise be, plainly and simply, a sober observation. Of one’s life. Of one’s memories. Of one’s existence.

I sometimes feel like I have been very different people, all in this one life. In this one body. Using this one brain. I feel like I have changed, drastically, again and again. Whether I meant to or not, I have changed, radically. I sometimes feel as if I don’t recognize myself, and sometimes I feel as if I can’t recognize the person I once called myself.

I understand that we are meant to change. It is not just in our nature, it is our nature. I understand that, in youth, we often try on different guises, attempt different scopes of existence. I understand that sometimes we come back home to ourselves, our core Selves, and sometimes we do not. No two stories are the same and neither are they intended to be. I think that’s what I’ve been experiencing, of late. A coming home to myself. Literally and figuratively. I’ve moved back to the area where I’m from. But it’s more than that, although related, I suspect. I’ve been tussling with a deep sense of familiarity, an ahh, there she is, inside the fibers of my own being. I see photos from my past and feel as if I’ve come round a circle, or through a labyrinth, back to that girl I once was. Even though so much has, and still is, changed. How could I feel the same as I once was, when so many years have passed, and I have done nothing to intentionally return to her? Nothing but release, I suppose. Release emotionally and spiritually, release the baggage that was burdening my forward motion. I suppose I didn’t expect the energetic homecoming to feel so sweet.

Bittersweet, really. Because I’m home, but I’m changed. It’s as if I’ve stepped into my warm, childhood home from the cold, but everything’s changed. The same house, but all the furniture in a different arrangement. Different food on the stove, different music on the stereo, a different feeling in the air. Same, and yet not the same at all. That’s how I feel. I am the same, and yet not the same at all. It’s quite unnerving. It begs me to question and inspect nearly everything I’ve ever experienced.

I find myself looking at old photos, scrutinizing, what was different then? What was better? What have I gained since then? How have I come to be better off? In what ways could I revert back or imitate this past version of this person I know as Sara, in order to suffer less now, today, in this current translation of me?

It makes me laugh. How I can look at a photo of myself, at 19, with a completely different set of rules, daily routines, and objectives. It puzzles and amuses me that I could look at her, this earlier edition of me – who is both inherently me and yet a me I no longer know, intimately – and think I could press a button and become her again, leaving behind today’s worries and fears, as if taking off one hat and donning another. As if she was free of worry and fear, as if she had less suffering, less struggle. As if it would be an escape into unfamiliar territory, rather than a return to terrain I’ve (both she and I, together) already traversed, successfully traveled through, come out the other side of…alive and stronger, wiser even.

It’s easy to both look back and think things were simpler, and yet to also look back and think man, I’m glad I don’t have to be there again. The mind is such a funny, fickle instrument. Casting shadows and light as it will, dressing up memories and editing their reality liberally.

The truth of the matter is we can never know if it would be easier to go back to an earlier time in our lives. Not as if to have a chance at a “do-over”, but rather to just escape the sometimes sharp and scalding experience of living, the accumulating nature that comes with the territory of being here for increasing turns ’round the sun. We can’t know if it would be, and even if we could know, it still wouldn’t be possible.

It is just not always easy to be human.

We grow wiser, yes. But we also grow wearier. We pine after times when things were (if only in our slippery mind’s eye) simpler, gentler, laced more amply with ease. And perhaps they were. But only because we had less of the perspective we have now. We had less of the preferences – agonizing preferences, truly one of the most basic causes of our suffering, and yet are lives are positively cluttered with them, are they not? – that we have now. We had less of the life experience. Less expectation. We carried less of the knowledge, were marked with less heartbreak and loss, knew less of the fear that comes with seeing firsthand. We’d had less of the sorrowful experiences that now weigh upon the seams of our soul.

But we also had countless fewer chapters, fewer messily filled in pages of our very own, personalized, little leather-bound survival handbook. We had fewer first kisses in our romantic registry that’d left us with unforgettably tingling legs. We had wished on fewer shooting stars. We’d wet our lips with fewer cups of bottomless tea and left marks on fewer rims of fragile glasses of sultry, aged wine. We’d locked eyes with fewer strangers. We’d taken less trains, read less books, been less acquainted with how actually wonderful disappointment can turn out to be. We’d not been as many times mystified by the cracks of lightning, the pounding thunder, the lightness of nourishing rain. We’d shattered the silence of a cold night with howling laughter fewer times, filled pages of journals with fewer tales of romance and anguish, seen less ravishing sights, had less “firsts”, been held in the warm cocoon of lovemaking fewer times.

We’d danced far less with the impossibly fleeting, but exquisitely breathtaking, nature of what it feels like to be alive, right now, in this moment. This moment that will pass and never come again. We’d not yet become so familiar with the breath-catching-in-our-chest feeling of anticipation for what will come next. The next moment, the next day, the next glance.

So perhaps being human, while inexplicably difficult and painful, isn’t so bad after all. Perhaps it’s the only reason we’re here. To learn how to do it, how to come home to ourselves. To become adept at befriending the many volumes of our own lives. To pull up a chair to our own stories, stand on two firmly planted feet at the helm of our own existence, use our every filament to see our purpose for what it is – to live. Without any expectation for life to be anything but what it is. Painful, but poetic, the latter of which matters more. Yes, life, in all its mystery and wonder. It is painful, but poetic, and it is unceasingly marvelous.