life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Creating community in foreign lands

I officially began a new chapter of my life in Brussels, Belgium on December 2, 2016, and it has been a bit of a bumpy introduction thus far. Since I graduated high school, I have moved as often as every few months to one to two years. In this transient life, I often experience a kind of push and pull for change. While I may feel the draw to spread my wings and fly, I feel an equal desire to put down roots and be a part of a place.

 

Each time I move, I experience waves of repercussions in mind, body, and soul. There is grief, curiosity, joy, pain, and a haunting feeling. It is like I have left behind a ghost of my Self in each place I have left, and this ghost version of me checks in periodically to let me know how things are going in the communities I once called home. It’s not always a pretty report, and these ghosts seem to multiply with each uprooting.

 

A friend confided in me recently, I completely resonate with BOTH your missing the Arizona sunshine, and your feelings about uprooting and moving to a new place again…Isn’t it funny the nomad in us that desires this experience, and at the same time we can recognize the challenges that come in the change and solitude. And it takes a lot of intention to build and develop a new community in each and every place we call home.

 

In my years of wandering, I have learned a great deal about my Self and how I create community. As a homebody and introvert, creating community can present a bit of a challenge. I am a musician, so I look for places that host open mics. I have met remarkable and encouraging artists and friends at open mics in Gustavus, Alaska and Lowell, Massachusetts. In these sacred spaces, I have watched little ones take their first steps, found my inner voice and courage to get up on stage, and developed an identity as a performer and member of a musical community.

 

The challenge for me in being a musician is that I like to be in my pjs and cozy on the couch with my sweetie in the evenings. It can take a lot of effort for me to motivate and go out on the town at night. Since arriving in Brussels, I have struggled with Bronchitis and a pretty nasty allergy to mold, so my lung capacity and ability to sing without coughing has been pretty negligible.

 

Another place I have found sanctuary and community has been in a yoga studio. In Lowell, I literally lived across the street from a yoga studio, but I never quite made it to a class. I was working full-time and developing a persona and business as a songwriter and musician. When I moved to Arizona, I felt my Self a drift. I had left my permanent job and identity as a park ranger. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life and I was equally less certain of how to take the first steps on thi path.

 

I went to a talk by a Prescott College alumnus, who had recently returned from three years, three months, and three days of silent retreat in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona. He was inspiring and hilarious. His partner, too, had been on retreat and stayed in a neighboring cabin. Since it was a silent retreat, they didn’t speak to each other.

 

I turned to my partner, who had been my reason for uprooting my Self from my life, job, and community in Massachusetts, and said,

 

I am definitely not ready to be on silent retreat with you.

 

I may not have been ready for a three-year retreat, but I was seeking to do some serious self-work and find direction. I felt a longing for the kind of revelations and grounding that often arise from following this kind of spiritual path, but I had no idea where to begin.

 

After the talk, I looked up the speaker’s website and found that he had a background in yoga and teaching yoga. I also had a friend who had just completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in India, who told me that it was so much more than learning asana (poses). Perhaps, I thought, this might be a good place to start.

 

I found a studio that was offering a 200-hour YTT. Even though I hadn’t practiced yoga for years, I decided to dive in. I joined nine other women and several teachers. It is a unique experience to step into a space with other people and to feel completed accepted and embraced for who I am. From the beginning, I felt a complete and all-encompassing feeling of invitation and love from my yoga community. I also felt encouraged and supported in taking steps toward finding clarity in my own path.

 

Being relatively new to yoga, I could have just taken a class to begin meeting people. However, I have found that I stretch my Self more when I dive very deeply into certain realms of life that seem to warrant extra attention. It was the reason I went through a PhD program in sustainability education and also the reason I left my job to move to Arizona for love.

 

I was lucky in that I found a yoga studio created by a remarkable individual. My teacher offered incredibly depth of knowledge and wisdom and also created a safe space where we could be vulnerable and open ourselves completely to transformation in whatever forms it took. I finished the training and felt at once full, sad, and uncertain of my next steps. I knew that I wanted the feeling of deep self-exploration to continue, but I found my life in limbo once again as my husband began to pursue changes in his own life and career. I wanted to move on to a 300-hour YTT. I also wanted to pursue the school of yoga my main teacher had been most influenced by in her career: Anusara. My husband suggested that I wait and be patient before diving in to another training, especially since we might move at any time. Patience is not my virtue, but I waited.

 

Synchronicity often appears at the most unexpected and most needed of times. I spent a lot of time researching Anusara trainings around the world. When we finally decided we would be moving to Brussels, I did not anticipate that I would find a 200-hour Anusara training taking place at the exact right time within public transit distance from our home.

 

After a month of being sick and relegated to my bed or the couch in our apartment, I nervously stepped onto a tram in the darkness of a January morning and followed my GPS to the Tree of Life Yoga Studio in Tervuren, Belgium. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to feel that magical sense of belonging I had felt when I stepped into the Lotus Bloom Yoga Studio in Prescott, Arizona.

 

I turned left and entered a side street alley and tentatively began walking in the direction suggested by my GPS. I stopped in front of a small brick building with a green sign with a white tree painted on it. I opened the door, and I was instantly welcomed by the warm, smiling face of the studio owner.

 

Relief cascaded over me as I closed the door behind me.

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Making peace with limbo

The past four months have been some of the more difficult ones of my life. I am no stranger to limbo, and my life path has certainly been uncertain since leaving my full-time job in Massachusetts and moving to Arizona. However, the combination of two months in one temporary location, a brief reunion with my husband in Brussels, followed almost immediately by a return to the U.S. to get my long stay visa, then back to Brussels, has pretty much thrown my system and spirit completely out of whack.

This is an incredible time for a wandering spirit such as myself. I know that had I been born in another time, I would have left home in search of foreign lands and likely only kept in touch with friends and family via letters. Even then, the number of people with whom I might have maintained contact would likely have been quite small.

With a shrinking globe and strides in technology, I can wake up in one place in the morning and find my Self on an entirely different continent in a matter of hours. However, just because my body has physically arrived at a new location doesn’t mean that my spirit and soul have caught up. With all of this back and forth, I am not entirely sure where the rest of me might be, perhaps hovering somewhere in the ethos above the Atlantic?

It is a mixed blessing to live in such a mobile moment in human history. I have the opportunity to meet beautiful souls every time I uproot myself from one place and move to another. On the other hand, I am also constantly leaving places and people behind. While there are promises exchanged for keeping in touch, I know that in truth I begin to fade from view for most people, a kind of phantom memory.

Through social media, I am able to bear witness to people’s continuing lives. I see their photos and learn news of their life, but I am on the outside looking in. Friends who have been dear and once kept me in the loop of life events simply fade away. I might get a quick message here and there, but even those seem to grow fewer and far between with the passage of time. I watch friends have babies and know that I will not be there to watch them grow up. I see friends travel, get married, and settle down. Their lives go on without me, and their communications are taken up with new friends. I am not their person any more, and my attempts to reach out in my own times of need are often unrequited.

This is by the far the most difficult part of being a wandering soul in a modern age. If it were an earlier time, I may be better able to practice acceptance and let go, though this has never been my strong suit. I recognize that I have made the choice to wander, and this comes with a price. I have not as yet been able to make peace with the real consequences of this choice. I still want my close women friends (the very few I have bonded with over the years) to reach out and bear their souls to me. Instead, they carry on with their lives when we are no longer in proximity and I rarely hear from them.

My husband tells me that I should be happy for them that they have found happiness, which we all deserve. I recognize the wisdom in this advice, and I know that I would likely be happier if I could simply practice acceptance and joy for my friends who have been through storms and come into more peaceful times. However, I cannot help but feel a certain amount of heartbreak that I have been left behind. I want to be a part of their happiness, to share in their joy. I want to be a person they still think to reach out to in times of both joy and sadness. I have lost people who were my touchstones, and I feel lonely. I am no longer a part of their daily life. I am somewhere out in the ethos.

The solstice has arrived, and another year has nearly come to pass. I find myself reflective and melancholy. The days will lengthen; the air will warm; life will continue as it always does. I carry a deep sadness within. I worry that I might not be able to replace it with an equally deep joy. I feel an existential wavering over my life path. I see other people’s lives and wonder how they can be so full while I feel so empty? What am I missing? Perhaps, I could reach out to ask their secret. Perhaps, I already know the secret and am stubbornly holding onto realities that no longer exist.

I know that to find peace requires that I let all of this go. All things inevitably change. People change. I change. I also know that I am very loved. Perhaps this year, I will find a way to make peace with limbo.

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The morning after

The morning after the election, I posted these words on my Facebook page:

Our nation has finally shown its true colors as completely racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist, and inhuman. Unreal.

About 24 hours later, I deleted the post because it was written in a moment of anger, and I worried that it was not entirely accurate.

Revisiting those words several days after the election, after much reading on election statistics and exit polls, I realize sadly that there was quite a bit of truth to the message. The more I have read, the more clear it has become that while Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote in the United States, there was a vast majority of White voters who supported Trump.

Is the nation “completely” anything? Perhaps not; rarely is something so concretely one thing or the other. However, the nation as a whole made a profound statement to its own citizens and the world this past week in support of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and beyond. The phrase Make America Great Again, which actually should support diversity, has been coined as a slogan for White supremacy.

I am not a political analyst, but I have been shocked and horrified by the exit poll numbers:

The message to the country: Racism wins

As this election fades into the distance, explanations for the outcome will become gentler and more opaque. In a reflexive effort to find ways to be hopeful, we’ll spin a collective fairy tale about how a neglected group of white Americans who themselves were victims simply wanted change and used their votes to demand it, opening our eyes to their perspectives.

There will be a push to “understand” them, and this will be presented as the mature and moral thing to do. In the name of coming together, and in an attempt to avoid finger-pointing that many will warn could further divide the nation, we’ll normalize the way they see the world. We’ll twist history and tweak data and adjust our values to frame their outlook as reasonable.

And when that happens — when the deep bigotry that fueled the result is forgotten or explained away — racism will win yet again.

Many people seem to think that Trump cannot really be as bad as his campaign platforms would suggest. While I hope this is true, I am not under any illusion and my denial has long since passed.

Many people have called for unity and support of the president elect as we move forward. I do not agree. I recognize that it is quite possible that apathy may return to the American people, but I am hoping that the next four years will see an increase in activism.

I hope people are as alarmed and horrified as I am that racism is as rampant and strong in this country as the election results purport. I think it people need to feel angry and need to take action. While I do not support perpetuating the kind of intolerance and violence promoted by Trump and his supporters, I think it is time for people to take an active stance against White supremacy. The people who support diversity, empathy, and true freedom need to step up and speak out against the alternative because the alternative is fascism.

I encourage you to reflect on the kind of America you would like to see and dialogue with other people on the steps that can be taken to make this idea a reality. I would love to hear your thoughts, so long as they are respectful.

References

Trump’s win is a reminder of the incredible, unbeatable power of racism

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Words when there are no words

In my last post, I wrote that I was moving quickly through the five stages of grief. Since then, I have noticed my mood swinging on such an unpredictable pendulum that I think I may need to retract my statement.

I am fairly certain that I spent most of the day yesterday in a kind of strange, disbelieving haze, somewhere between shock and denial. I awoke to the news of the new president elect and broke my own rule—never send the first message you write—and posted an angry note on Facebook about the nation showing its true colors with regard to racism, homophobia, and beyond.

This morning, I woke up with such a deep sadness that I could hardly bring myself to get out of bed and start the day. What was the point? My country elected a monster for president.

I wound up revising and then deleting the message on Facebook because it occurred to me that I did not wish to be one of the many people from my country who have chosen the path of perpetuating negative energy. I also recognize that many people voted for a candidate who would enforce laws and act on behalf of the many rather than the few.

Am I still upset?

You better believe I am, and my upset continues because I cannot settle the storm that is brewing with over the news that so many of my fellow Americans voted for a leader whose platform supports and perpetuates issues of race, gender, sexism, and beyond. I feel completely betrayed. I am ashamed that I know people who voted for Trump. I cannot believe that more than half of the country can vote for one candidate while the Electoral College can make an alternate decision.

Throughout the day today, I have moved between a dark melancholia and a fiery rage. What to do with all of this energy?

There is no way to make it better. The country that has been my home has grown ever foreign to me. I am not saying it has ever been a picture of perfection with regard to ethics and morality. Clearly, a nation that nearly destroyed the Native American people, enslaved thousands of Africans, forced Japanese Americans into internment camps, and cannot seem to keep guns out of the hands of those who would harm others is a place with severe issues.

Despite its patchwork history of brilliant successes for human rights coupled with inhumane acts of cruelty, I have considered America to be my home, a place to return to. Even with its problems, I thought of the United States as a place that was more conscious and free than most. As a child, I could refuse to stand and take the pledge of allegiance and receive only detention as punishment. As an adult with the president elect looming on the horizon, I wonder how many freedoms will be taken away?

What will become of this place I have called home? Already, swastikas have been painted on storefront windows in Philadelphia; students of color at Clinton’s alma mater have been harassed and spit by men shouting Make America Great Again.

These are dark times, indeed, and my heart is heavy.

So here I sit, horrified beyond belief that any person could actually vote for someone who would build a fence to keep people out; who would label people as monsters out of fear; who would speak of women in such a disgusting, derogatory manner.

I do not believe in apathy or in uniting to support a new president who acts from a place of fear and ignorance and who gives permission for fear, hatred, and ignorance to prevail. I have been the victim of bullying, in my childhood by other children and by people in positions of power at my workplace.

I don’t believe in name calling, but I do believe in holding people responsible for their actions. The actions taken by thousands to bring a person like Trump into the White House are beyond despicable. I literally have no words to express just how afraid I am for the future of the earth, for queer friends and family, for myself as a woman of Jewish descent, for the women in my life, for the people of color in my life, for the children being born into this world.

With regard to the five stages of grief, I can say this much. I have experienced denial. I have experienced depression and anger. I cannot see where bargaining will be helpful, and I certainly have no intention of practicing acceptance.

In the words of Terry Tempest Williams, I am a writer without words who is struggling to find them, yet I will continue to write. What else can I do? To stop writing, to stop speaking, to stop shouting is to give in and to give up.

 

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It is morning. I am mourning.
And the river is before me.

I am a writer without words who is struggling to find them.

I am holding the balm of beauty, this river, this desert, so vulnerable, all of us.

I am trying to shape my despair into some form of action, but for now, I am standing on the cold edge of grief.

We are staring at a belligerent rejection of change by our fellow Americans who believe they have voted for change.

The seismic shock of a new political landscape is settling.

For now, I do not feel like unity is what is called for.

Resistance is our courage.

Love will become us.

The land holds us still.

Let us pause and listen and gather our strength with grace and move forward like water in all its manifestation: flat water, white water, rapids and eddies, and flood this country with an integrity of purpose and patience and persistence capable of cracking stone.

I am a writer without words who continues to believe in the vitality of the struggle.

Let us hold each other close
and be kind.

Let us gather together and break bread.

Let us trust that what is required of us next will become clear in time.

What has been hidden is now exposed.

This river, this mourning, this moment — May we be brave enough to feel it deeply.

 

~ Terry Tempest Williams

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References

A rash of racist attacks have broken out in the US after Donald Trump’s victory

‘Sieg Heil,’ swastikas, racist Trump graffiti appear in South Philly

What does it mean to be Jewish in Donald Trump’s America?

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Conceiving the inconceivable

I woke several times yesterday morning before the sun had come up. I was afraid to check my phone for election results. The night before, my husband and I had taken a quiet moment to place our intention for the election, and I was reasonably sure how things would go. Still, I was afraid.

 

I lay quiet, waiting for my husband to wake up. When he rolled toward me and opened his eyes, I asked him how he had slept.

 

I made the mistake of checking the election results at 4am. Trump won.

 

What?

 

I cannot describe what I felt, but it was somewhere on the spectrum of disbelief, shock, horror, terror. Even as I write 24 hours later, I still cannot quite bring myself to believe that the inconceivable has been conceived.

 

For most of the day yesterday, I felt a mix of rage and shock and horror. I could not bring myself to sit down and write. What would I say? How I could begin to express my grief in words?

 

This morning, I awoke to a feeling of deep melancholia and disappointment but also a desire to communicate with you. Considering all that is at stake for people in the United States and around the world, I think I have moved rather quickly through the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think I skipped right over bargaining. I know from experience that there is no bargaining or dialogue to be had with extremists. In my book, a vote for Trump is just that.

 

While I understand that many people who voted for him were concerned with job security, I cannot condone a vote for a person who embodies bigotry, hatred, misogyny, the list goes on. I cannot understand how any woman could vote for Trump, yet the statistics show that many did. I totally understand not wanting to support a Clinton. I get it, but vote for a third party. There is no reason to give in to fear and hatred.

 

There are many people who have been living in fear, many of whom seem to believe that Trump’s agenda was what a higher power had in mind. I believe that fear stems from a lack of understanding or empathy. For many, fear is a choice.

 

Fear is not a choice for those who have been and may be harmed by this alarming trend in our country. Fear is why I am alive today. My own ancestors were able to flee from countries whose leaders and people supported rhetoric that was alarmingly similar to those put forth by our president elect. They came to the United States for safe haven.

 

I am heartbroken that the United States can no longer claim to be a haven for those in need. Though I despair and feel deep disappointment in my country’s choice for a leader, I know that I am one of many who support diversity and freedom for all people. I know that this is yet another dark period of my nation’s history—and there have been many. It is my fervent hope that we will rise above the propensity for fear that has been Trump’s platform from the start.

 

I hope we can find a way to continue to honor and embody the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty:

 

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

~ Emma Lazarus

What do you feel about this new wave of identity the United States is showing the world? I invite you to share. My only request is that you be kind.

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Perspective and the stories we tell

While I wait to fly to Brussels, I have been living in Edmonds these past several weeks. My mother-in-law has graciously provided me with shelter, food, and lots of love. In a new place, I have created a new rhythm to my days. This rhythm involves a daily constitutional of at least an hour, often more.

 

I love the long walks and have enjoyed finding secret places. Each day, I pass by sights that have become familiar. When I enter the quiet cool of the forest at a local park, I say hello and ask after its welfare.

 

Weeks ago, I happened upon a pair of broken glasses on the sidewalk. I took a photo of the frames. Every so often, I catch sight of them again, each time in a different place.

 

I wonder about the sights these glasses have seen,and  the stories they might tell. I have to realize that so much of life is a story I create—stories of joy, suffering, and everything in between—and I wonder how much truth there is in most of those stories.

 

There is a saying, if these walls could talk.

 

I wonder what these frames might say as well.

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I’ll take the high road, and you take the low road

So often, I am inspired to sit down and write when something is bugging me. I think the yucky feeling tends to linger longer than those of joy, though I am working diligently to learn to let go of this propensity because it can be all-consuming, and it is not worth agonizing over the nasty stuff in life.

In this moment, I am feeling vexed by a particularly nasty message sent to me by a once very good friend. The note itself was troublesome but not earth shattering. To be honest, I was not entirely surprised by my friend’s response. Disappointed, but not surprised.

The email is simply the final straw in a series of events in a time of transition in my own life, as well as for my country and the rest of the world. The email is a reminder of just how difficult it is to achieve peace and empathy among people.

To some extent, we (and by we I mean people) are fundamentally quite similar. I say this not by way of promoting homogeneity. Rather, I mean that we all have basic needs that should be met. We all must breathe air; we all are deserving of equitable access to the resources that provide a high quality of life (healthy food, clean water, healthcare, etc.). You get the idea.

I believe in a sustainable world where people are seen as people first, rather than monsters. Very few of us are actual monsters. Alien, perhaps, but not monsters.

It is far easier to vilify than to empathize with another human being, particularly where fear or a feeling of being threatened is involved. Too often, I have witnessed and personally experienced the nastiness that comes when the latter path is taken.

I also know from experience that we are not all actually the same at all. We are born into distinct families and communities, the dynamics of which shape our perspective on the world and how we approach difficult situations. We walk our own unique path, and who and what we meet along the way serves to further shape our human mold. We also remember events differently than even the people who were there, standing right next to us.

While I do witness some beautiful empathy and understanding, and I try to follow this path myself, I also see the ease with which people succumb to the less heroic path. The presidential campaign and recent debates have been an interesting study in how difficult it is to shift from verbally committing to taking the high road to actually following that road.

In my own recent experience with a friend, I sent a message communicating about a pact made many years ago over material things and money. From the response that came several days later, which was pretty nasty and terse, it became clear that we each had very different memories of what had been decided. Even with the different memories, the tone of the response I received was not one I would expect from a friend, and I must admit a bit of shock at the intensity and extremity of it.

At first, I was really aggravated. My husband implored me to wait a while before responding. I know all too well how easy it would be to write back in kind, but I would feel awful about it. I wrote back one kind message and then another, apologizing for the miscommunication and suggesting we just forget it.

In reviewing emails exchanged from years earlier, it became clear how very grey those pacts were. I, for one, have always had a hard time creating healthy boundaries so I do not feel that I am being taken advantage of where money is concerned. When it comes to money and friends, I have had difficulty accepting money as payment for services rendered but later feel badly about working as a volunteer all of the time. I have gotten better and learned a lot from previous mistakes, but I am still a work in progress.

I can’t say that the nasty response endears me to this person, but I know that the response was likely inspired by any number of layers that make up a person. I also know that in the end, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how I respond. I can take the high road or the low road. The high road helps me sleep at now. The high road offers perspective.

People walk in and out of my life every day. I have lived in many places and in my travels have come to decipher my true friends. These are the people who engage in the dialogue, who see me fully, in all my rawness and vulnerability, and who accept and love me for the kind person I try to be and love me when I have moments where I struggle to be kind.

To you who have loved me in all kinds of weather, I am so grateful to you. To those who are not able to see me, I wish you clarity, love, and people in your own life who see you.

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