life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Sit. Stop. Start Again. Repeat

THEY say that there is a first step for every journey, but I cannot say that seems to fit for all of the journeys I have taken over the years. Particularly, when it comes to meditation, I feel like I have taken dozens of first steps over the years.

 

My first foray into the realm of meditation was in my last semester in undergraduate school. I took a course with a greatly admired professor who was recommended to me by several peers. He was a German studies professor, who introduced the works of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Kafka through the lens of the individual versus the state. He encouraged his students to identify as individuals, to pay for things in cash instead of credit card, to refrain from eating unrefined sugar, and to meditate.

 

I can vividly recall reading a story he had shared with us from a woman who had felt so overwhelmed in her life that one afternoon she had just sat down under a tree and refused to get up. As an undergraduate student with dozens of assignments on an unending syllabi horizon, I could relate to her story.

 

Even today, as a self-employed graduate of a doctoral program, I still can feel the wave of anxiety that flows over me when I set up too much to do with too little time to do it.

 

My foray into meditation this first time around was more a flirtation. I tried again several years later while taking an independent study course in a doctoral program for Sustainability Education, which I had designed in concert with this same German Studies professor. I would sit on my kitchen table in Alaska and close my eyes for fifteen minutes each morning, trying to focus on the air moving in and out of my nostrils. But after a short period, I found that I could not (or would not) maintain the pattern. I was going through a painful separation from my husband in a community on the edge of the earth at the onset of winter. My heart was not in it, and I quickly gave up the practice.

 

This past year has seen me once again take a few more steps toward developing a meditation routine. Each Sunday morning of the once a month weekend for my 200hour yoga teacher training, I would sit quietly for a half an hour in the company of fellow yogis. I welcomed these moments and felt calm and grounded when they were over.

 

I briefly attempted the meditation practice shared with me by a friend from my PhD cohort at Prescott College, but after a couple of weeks I abandoned the practice because it just did not feel like my own. I felt like I was practicing something that was a good fit for someone else. I still needed to find my own meditation path.

 

I took a 10-week Ayurveda and began meditating for two minutes each night before bed. My teacher had told us that we could certainly spare at least two minutes a day for meditation, and I knew she was right. Two minutes did not seem scary or too terribly daunting as a way to ease in to the practice.

 

I sat for two minutes every sat for several months. Then one day, I realized I could not remember the last time I had sat before bed. I had simply forgotten. I was the only one to remind myself, and I had forgotten to do so.

 

This past month, I have once again embarked on a continuation of my meditation journey through an ongoing class with Will Duncan (I wrote several posts inspired by a talk Will gave at Prescott College just over a year ago about his three years, three months, and three days of silent retreat in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona). At Will’s request to the class, I have been sitting for up to six minutes every morning. Sometimes, I am able to stay focused on the sensation of the air moving in and out of nostrils, but mostly my mind wanders, and I attempt to bring it back to focusing on the breath.

 

This weekend, I expand upon my month of meditation to travel up to Boulder, Colorado for a mantra-based meditation retreat with Paul Muller-Ortega. One of my yoga teachers has sung his praises and spoken consistently about the incredibly shift she experienced in her own life in beginning to study with Paul. So, while I am finding that the path to enlightenment (yoga study, meditation, Ayurveda, and beyond) is not an inexpensive endeavor, it does seem to be one that is worthwhile. And in the end, it’s only money, right?

 

How much would you pay for directions to the path to Enlightenment?

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What is real?

Let me begin by saying that I think therapy should be a regular part of healthcare for all beings and not just a luxury for those who can afford it. I can’t really afford it, but I have had help along the way, making it possible for me to receive the incredible gift of learning about my demons, where they have come from, and how to send them on their way.

I think the world could experience a great deal of healing and compassion if people were encouraged to cultivate love and compassion for the self. When my own basic emotional needs are met, I can feel my heart expanding to share love and compassion for others.

Seeking out therapy does not mean I am crazy. It does not mean I am selfish and wish only to talk about myself. It does not mean I am looking for a person who will tell me only what I wish to hear about the choices I have made in my life and how I have been affected by the choices of others.

I began therapy in earnest in 2008 or 2009. Ironically, it was not long before I began a doctoral program studying the concept of sustainability. At the time, I could not seem to get through the day without weeping. I had difficulty breathing. I felt myself gagging when I would brush my teeth and the tooth brush made its way a little too far toward the back of my tongue while reaching for the farthest molars.

I did not know what was wrong with, and I confided in a friend, who recommended the person who would become my intellectual and emotional guide for several years to come.

I reached out recently to this therapist. While I have done a lot of self work since our time together began and in the times between our sessions (sometimes years have gone by), I am still haunted by people and places and experiences.

I have learned from therapy, yoga, meditation, and wise people in my life, along with my own common sense, that much of what I tell myself to be true is an allusion. Cognitively, I know this all too well. However, my heart and my mind are often at odds, and it has been attempting to convince my heart that I need to revise my narrative that has proven to be my greatest.

So I called upon my therapist for guidance.

Because I have a social research background, and I like to be organized, I made a list for our session. I wanted to make the most of our hour together.

Here was my list:

Prep:

Severing ties

Letting go of control over what people choose to think about me

Not taking the blame for relationships/endeavors that don’t work

Healthy boundaries

Feeling like I was somehow deserving of being treated so poorly

Thinking I have done something wrong with supervisors

I put the names of individuals in parentheses after each line, but for the purposes of anonymity for some, I have removed them for this post.

We began the session with my list and my description of the elements from my life that continue to haunt me. It boiled down to these:

Trauma from my job in Alaska (which has affected my working life ever after)

Relationships with renters and friends in Alaska

My recent and brief business venture

An ongoing fear that those in authority and leadership roles in my life will eventually turn against me and be disappointed in me

Of Supervisors and Demons

I shared an overview of the experience I had with my supervisor and management in the Interpretation/Education Division of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska (GLBA). I prefaced the story with the knowledge I had gleaned from staff at other parks, who roll their eyes at GLBA for their inflated sense of importance.

I told my therapist that at GLBA that my superiors had seemed to believe I could do no wrong until suddenly they determined that I could do no right. I had been celebrated during my first year at the job. Then, I had gone through a painful separation with my now ex-husband over my first winter in the tiny community of Gustavus, which borders the national park. I had wept for many hours of each day.

My supervisor had assured me time and again not to worry, that I was doing ok.

Are you sure? I would ask.

Yes, he would say. And I believed him. I trusted him. He was not just my supervisor. He was also my friend.

I had done my best to work on projects and get things done in between these bouts of grief and all-consuming pain, but I had neglected to go through the education backpacks we would send to the education centers on board cruise ships for the summer season.

I believe it was this discrepancy, along with my desire to rescue and revive a tiny voice inside of me that had begun to tell me I did no deserve to suffer and that I could be happy and whole. I had also gone to a National Park Service training at the Grand Canyon that provided a discontinuity, which was not appreciated at GLBA. At the training, the staff told us that we should advocate for ourselves and for change at our parks. They had us devise projects we would suggest to our superiors. Of course, what most of us did not realize was that managers are our parks were not likely to be as enthusiastic as we naively imagined they would over independent-minded staff and changes coming from the bottom-up. They had worked hard to get where they were in the chain of command, and at least at GLBA, they were not appreciate of my idealist, whippersnapper ideas.

They also didn’t like that I started asking for the components of the job that had been promised during my initial interviews, such as creating new programs and going to trainings. I was quickly losing favor with my whippersnapper requests.

The tension built over the course of the spring until I was called in for a meeting with my supervisor. We sat in a different office (HR rules for when you are trying to maintain neutral ground), and he laid down a stack of papers in front of me. Atop each page ran the heading in bold and capital letters:

MOVING MARIEKE FORWARD

What proceeded was likely the most demoralizing interaction I had experienced with an authority figure in my entire life.

It began with my supervisor pointing directly in my face (he liked to point his finger at people when he spoke) and saying in a strained, loud tone,

YOU have lost your way, and we need to get you back in line.

It was clear to me from previous supervisory trainings that they were trying to move through the beginning steps of getting my fired, which was difficult to do in the government. There were lists of the ways I was not performing to the level outlined in my performance appraisal.

For example, I was told that I did not offer a very good Junior Ranger Pledge for the children I was swearing to Junior Ranger status to repeat. I was also informed that I was a poor public speaker and monopolized training sessions with my questions and comments. Apparently, I had not realized the training was not entirely about me, and I had been wasting the trainer’s time (even after they had thanked me for my insights).

Toward the end of the meeting, I was informed that in order to be re-assimilated into the GLBA borg, I would be meeting with my supervisor every morning to outline my responsibilities for the day. At the end of each day, I would send him a write-up of everything I had worked on that day. (As I worked on these write-ups, I contemplated including the amount of time I spent writing what I was working on, but I did not go that far. I needed to convince them that I had seen the errors of my ways and was necessarily remorseful.

I was able to work my way toward an acceptable performance appraisal by the middle of the season. By the time the fall rolled around, I asked for my full four-month furlough to give me the most time possible to work on my dissertation. I spent the four months working on my dissertation and applying to as many jobs as possible to complete my escape for Alaska plan. I finally found a position in Massachusetts and was hired. I flew up to Alaska, gave my notice, moved out of my office and my home, and spent the next several years working in the most unexpected and wonderful of places—Lowell, Massachusetts. However, the trauma from my time in Alaska ran deep. It got to the point where my new supervisor who call me into her office and tell me at the outset, Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. She knew what I had been through and that being called into the supervisor’s office sent tremors of anxiety through my body.

At a training in D.C., I ran into a colleague from another division at GLBA. Seeing him, I froze with fear. I knew I could not avoid him for the entire two-week training, but I also did not want to be seen by him after my shaming at GLBA. I had been completely demoralized and humiliated, something that all of the seasonal staff had confided they had been noticing from the outset of my time at the job.

My former coworker came up to me, hugged me fiercely, and said he wanted to tell me something.

O-k, I responded tenuously.

He proceeded to explain that they (staff from other divisions) all knew what they (management) had done to me. I was one of a long line of people the Chief of the Division had essentially driven out, and that I was loved and missed.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I hugged him and thanked him. I had long since felt that I had been shamed in the eyes of all of my coworkers, especially since I had memories of the awful things my supervisor had said about our staff when they were not around. I could only imagine the things he had said about me in the wake of my own departure from the park. His fellow supervisors, who had been my friends and who I had reached out to before leaving had not responded to my desire to connect. Hearing my former coworker’s words of love and support sent a spotlight down into the corner of my heart where I held all of my dark Alaska memories. Not everyone thought the worst of me.

Had this been the sole darkness from what my therapist described as a bad fairy tale from Alaska, perhaps I could have set it all to rest.

But I had other skeletons in my Southeast Alaska closet.

Of Renters and Demons

I have learned the hard way the importance of keeping money and friendship separate. When I was leaving my job Alaska, I was also trying to find a renter to help offset the cost of my mortgage. I had reached out to a couple of friends, who had hemmed and hawed for several months over whether or not to rent from me. When we spoke in person while I was packing up my house, they changed their start date to at least a month, maybe two after they had originally said they could begin renting. Another friend mentioned that she and her partner could start renting right away.

While we had agreed to think of the renting dialogue as a business interchange, when I decided to rent to the people who could start right away, the niceties quickly dissipated. Friendships were ended, and my name was slandered to people around the town. I reached out several times in the following year, only to receive nasty responses. Eventually, I gave up.

My renters were great but eventually decided to build a small cabin on a piece of land. I was sad to see them go, even more so as I began dealing with the volatility of my new renter, a woman who was moving from the lower 48. The transition from the “civilized” world where you can flush the toilet while doing dishes, laundry, and running the shower full blast to the land of sensitive septic can be difficult for some.

This renter fell under the category of some. She also fell under the category of manipulative and abusive. I would receive emails from her that spoke of the spiritual beauty of my home, followed by missives about how she could not take a shower without a water softener because the water was sure to would turn her porous blonde hair orange.

She told me that I was malicious and had intentionally rented a home with a broken water softener because I wanted her to suffer. The list of my cruel intentions went on and on. Finally, she broke her lease and left the next pair of renters without any propane.

I was thankful to see her go, but I knew from the few people left who still thought of me as a person with a kind heart and soul that she had been slandering me around the town. A woman who had been my closest friend when I lived in Gustavus had unfriended me on facebook after befriending my renter. When I contacted her to find out what had happened, she simply told me that I was not worth keeping in touch with because our values were so different.

For a long time, it has felt like an entire community turned against me, but I realize that this is only part of my allusion. And even if they have, is it worth trying to hold onto people who can only see your darkness?

Of Abusive Men

I told my therapist that I seemed to have developed a behavior pattern of severing ties with people with whom I experienced conflict. Years ago, I had told her the story of fellow in Gustavus I had become friends with and ever so briefly something more than a friend. He was a person I never in my right, self-loving mind would have gone beyond acquaintance with. But in the wake of leaving my husband, I had moved into a dark and dismal emotional state where I believed that I was not worthy of love. I had picked the perfect poison: emotional abuse.

This relationship nearly destroyed me. But somehow, the tiny voice I wrote of earlier, the one telling me that I did not deserve to suffer, came through before I had completely fallen off the deep end. I eventually crawled back into the light, but it took a great deal of crawling, groveling, and apologizing for my temporary lapse in judgment to friends who had warned me. Even after, the demons from this time in my life have continued to haunt my heart and mind.

I reminded my therapist of my interactions with this person, who had told me that I was the devil and like a dog with a bent tail. No matter how much you try to straighten, it will always bend back.

In response to my concern that I simply cut and run when conflict arose with another person, she responded, There are people with whom that’s the only way we can manage [sever ties]. With people who are out of bounds, it needs to be harsh vs. people who are more fluid.

This made sense to me. It’s not that I simply run away from conflict or sever ties with all people I have a negative experience with. It is the people who live in a black and white world with whom I wind up severing ties. Those who see the world with more fluidity, encourage conversation, and offer compassion and understanding are the people who have remained in my life through dark and difficult times.

She went on to tell me that I had done an incredible amount of work these past several years, and that I had the cognitive piece down.

She told me that I needed to cleanse myself of the inner narrative I had been telling myself regarding the way other people felt about me because it was an allusion. I needed to rewrite that narrative.

If you were to write down the things you think people believe about you and read them out loud, you would see how crazy it sounds.

It’s true, I ssaid. I think I spend far more energy and time thinking about these people from my past than they do thinking about me. But how can I find closure and move on? I know that I am not going to get an apology from any of them.

When we carry things in our heart, if it is still burning, there is something that we have not fully processed. Recognizing the pattern is the first step. Bringing it to the light is the next step.

For each person I had unresolved feelings toward, she recommended that I answer the following question, What do I think this person thinks about me?

Finally, she shared the changes she has witnessed in our time together. When you first began therapy, she told me, you felt extreme guilt over holding boundaries and asking for what you need. She told me that I had been getting involved in relationships that were a mismatch for a long time, but that I was beginning to realize the pattern and create a change. Her description of a mismatch was essentially what I have come to call healthy boundaries. My yoga teacher calls it, the way we constrict ourselves.

The National Park Service, my ex-husband, abusive man, renters, the Gustavus community, my recent business venture, etc. were relationships that were unhealthy. They were a mismatch.

It’s ok to recognize a mismatch, she told me. Likely, your former friends in Alaska realized your relationship had been a mismatch. It happens. We all move along different paths.

She was right. And what’s more, it took me ten years to fully realize the extent of my mismatch with the NPS. With all of the self-work I have done, I have come to realize far more quickly now when a new relationship is a mismatch. I can feel is in my body first, my mind and heart following suit. It is still difficult to sever ties or create a healthy boundary. I often do this through the medium of writing because I do not think I will be able to stand my ground if I communicate in person.

My time in Alaska was like a bad fairy tale, a dream come true that turned into a nightmare. It was what my therapist referred to as my work of individuation and autonomy.

And it is time to let it go.

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Why can’t we be friends?

At least once a week, something happens at the dog park that makes me swear I am never going to go back there again.

 

Turns out, today was the day for this week.

 

I met a friend there this morning, and we were chatting away while her sweet shepherd mix snuggled into my armpit. She is new to Prescott, and I was telling her about my love/less than relationship with the dog park.

 

I haven’t had a bad experience here, she told me.

 

Not two minutes later, an aussie with an attitude began attacking her dog. She ran up and gave it a little kick.

 

The aussie’s owner, a verbally aggressive (to put it mildly) older man in a tye-dye t-shirt came quickly swaggering over, voice raised, calling out, Don’t you dare kick my dog. He walked right up to her until he was nearly touching his chest to her and repeated his threat.

 

She pushed him away from her. He forcefully pushed her back.

 

At this point, I think my eyes may have bugged out of my face while a heated altercation ensued between the two.

 

They were well matched, heightwise, and certainly my friend was not someone to roll over in the face of abuse.

 

What was so interesting was how other people involved themselves. A tall, stout man in a hat with a veterans patch on it and a red polo shirt stretched taut over a protruding belly stood behind my friend, a kind of protective barrier.

 

Another older man in a grey t-shirt (so many old, cranky men at this place) came up to keep other people from getting involved. A young man had started walking up to help protect my friend, and the older grey t-shirted man yelled at him to stay out of it and Let them work it out.

 

The young man returned to his seat on a table in the shade. He turned to me and said something about not being able to stand by and watch someone Hit a woman. Despite my own feminist tendencies, I had to admit that I agreed. There was something stomach lurching watching Tye-Dye shirt man push my friend.

 

I had been sitting watching the scene, uncertain as to whether to involve myself, but I felt that I should be supporting my new friend. So, I stood up and walked over. At this point, tye-dye t-shirt man had begun to apologize. I heard the words Vietnam Vet and PTSD and decided to stay out of immediate involvement and just be nearby.

 

Red t-shirt man told me he was there for protection. I explained that I should have warned my friend about the group that tye-dye shirt belonged to. They are a group of older folks who visit the park at the same time each day. They sit on the plastic chairs (you know, the ones dogs pee on regularly) and form a kind of bulwark of presence. I have witnessed the grey t-shirt man regularly bully people who come into the park.

 

Up until today, I have been in grey t-shirt man’s good graces because I have a husky, and he and his wife bring their three huskies every day. But after word spread about my comments of their bullying (I might have said something about intense crazy republicans as well), he proceeded to give me a death stare from his seat for the remainder of my time at the park.

 

As I sensed the immediate urgency begin to dwindle, I returned to my seat in the shade. Red t-shirt man walked over and began to talk with me, possibly about his valiant protection efforts, but I can’t say that I recall with any real detail how the conservation got started.

 

I said jokingly that perhaps I should just bring a bunch of non-violent communication books and spread them around the park for visitors to read.

 

What are you, one of them Prescott College students? Red t-shirt man asked me accusingly.

 

I’m an alum, I responded, wondering why it was that only someone affiliated with the small liberal arts college should be interested in getting along with other human beings in a peaceful way? I also could not figure out why it would be negative to be interested in peaceful communication.

 

I mentioned that I thought it was neat that the dog park in Sedona had a box of books for people to read.

 

Is that some kind of white privilege? he responded.

 

I figuratively scratched my head and looked at him with a puzzled expression.

 

You know, in Australia there are 24 million people, he continued.

 

Eh? A voice in my mind responded. I couldn’t figure out why the conversation had shifted to Australia.

 

Do they not have white privilege in Australia, I asked sardonically. He did not seem to get the joke and responded quite seriously,

 

No. They don’t.

 

In Australia, there are 24 million people, and only 11 million people work. I instantly wondered where he had retrieved his statistics, but he did not offer a citation.

 

If an immigrant lands there from a boat and stays six months, they get free health insurance for themselves and their children.

 

That’s great, I responded. I really had no idea where this thought had come from and where it was headed.

 

I never found out (not too much disappointment there) because my friend had wandered back and I turned to her for the debrief.

 

She described their conversation and that she had offered to perform Reiki on tye-dye t-shirt man’s dog, who she described as having some serious issues, likely brought on from the man’s own energy. No surprise there. I had heard him cuss out another woman who sat with their group every day for claiming to know everything because she was an f’ing songwriter.

 

Tye-dye t-shirt man eventually walked over to apologize to her once again, while keeping blinders on to myself and the young fellow who had so nobly wished to defend a woman in distress.

 

I looked over periodically to the plastic chair group, and noticed grey t-shirt man glaring at me and others talking and pointing our way. I had flashbacks to moments in middle and high school. Be they in my own life or in movies, there was something disturbingly similar to events that take place during adolescence. Yet, the members of the plastic chair group were all quite far removed from adolescence.

 

I have known for a long time that age does not always come with wisdom and maturity, but I find this kind of behavior both alarming and incredibly disturbing. It makes me want to avoid this place and never return, but I may simply avoid the negative energy that clouds this group of bullies by staying away from the dog park between 9-11am each morning.

 

While these kinds of episodes provide fabulous fodder for writing, I would prefer that people recall the lessons they learn from kindergarten about respect and kindness. There is far too much suffering in the world for this kind of bullshit.

 

I did leave feeling disappointed that I had stooped to their level by making a few comments about their caliber. They were not without truth, but I wished I had refrained from saying anything just the same.

 

The moment I arrived home, I threw my clothing in the washing machine and took a shower before sitting down to write. It can be difficult to cleanse this kind of negative, icky energy.

 

How I wish people could be kinder to one another. My friend told me that at least tye-dye man had learned about Reiki, which he had never heard of before. Perhaps, there is hope after all.

 

I am not going to hold my breath, but I am going to continue to my efforts to be kind and to avoid bullies as often as possible.

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Getting loopy

Have you ever experienced synchronicity with multiple dimensions in your life? What I mean is that when you notice one element, you start to see it in more than one place?

 

Perhaps, I can better explain with a metaphor from my own life.

 

I acquired a Boss RC-3 Looper Pedal last week as a ridiculously super early birthday present (thank you, mom and dad!), and I have been recording with it almost nonstop since it arrived on my doorstep. What I have found is that I have all of these musical, melodic voices inside of me that I had not really sensed before. Suddenly, I am inspired to clap and slap out rhythmic melodic lines, hum, and create harmonic riffs on my ukulele and with my voice.

 

Where did these voices come from? I suspect they have been waiting for me to discover them for some time now.

 

Just as my looper pedal came into my life, so too have the yogic seven energetic loops made themselves known in the Anusara training I have been taking for the past several weeks. These energetic loops are ways of moving the prana (life force) through my body in order to achieve maximum alignment in each asana and thus receive the greatest possible benefit from my on-the-mat yoga practice.

 

Of course, like all things yoga that have come into my life, I find the lessons I learn equally practical in my off-the-mat life as well. As I sit and type, I am thinking about my sternum and my upper back, my torso and upper thighs, my upper palate and the way I can tilt back my skull in order to lengthen my spine (aka, I am actively thinking about my posture and the way my yoga can improve upon the less healthy habits I have developed).

 

In addition to the musical and energetic loops I have been communing with, I am beginning to engage with my five maya kosha loops. Koshas are bodies that form tree ring like layers of circles inside of me. These bodies each have their own voice, some of which are louder and more insistent than others and thus receive more of my attention than those who may be more quiet and subtle.

 

These are my koshas (they are yours, too):

 

  1. Anamaya kosha, my physical body voice
  2. Pranamaya kosha, my energetic body voice
  3. Manomaya kosha, my mental body voice, my mind, my intellect
  4. Vijnana maya kosha, my intuitive, discerning body voice
  5. Ananda maya kosha, my bliss body voice, my true self, my identity

 

We spent time during the Sunday afternoon portion of yoga teacher training engaging in a meditative dialogue with these five voices. It reminded me of the exercises and dialogues I moved through while writing my dissertation. I spoke with my inner critic, my true inner self, and beyond. It took a lot of work to move beyond the incessant chatter of my inner critic to be able to hear the voice of my true inner self. I became so enmeshed in my research that I began talking with these voices on a regular basis, which could be construed as somewhat worrisome when one lives alone with one’s cats.

 

In the yogic context, my koshas seem like yet another way to practice self-care and self-reflection in the practice of cultivating a life of mindfulness, awareness, and intention. It is simply and complexly an added layer of paint on my canvas, layers of harmonies and rhythmic loops in the symphony of me.

 

And it is invigorating to continue peeling back the layers on this path of discovery I call life.

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Life is an art form

There is a question I have often heard: Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?

 

This morning, while walking with my husky in the desert, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the two are one and the same. Life itself is an art form, and art can be a way of life.

 

It can be a Rothko, dark and brooding; a Schoenberg, brilliant but offensive to many ears; a Stravinsky, powerfully groundbreaking and shocking; a Monet, light and pleasing to the eye; a Pachelbel, harmonious and easy on the ear.

 

There are so many ways to move through a life.

 

At first glance, it may seem easier to live in a way that is outwardly pleasing and does not cause discomfort to anyone else. It can feel really good to receive external validation, a kind of judgmental pat on the back for not creating a stir in the world.

 

I have found that this way of cultivating my life tends to cause inward discomfort and dissonance, which often manifests in behaviors that then project that dissonance onto the external world in a rippling effect of resentment.

 

I think I may fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but I have not always lived there.

 

Since I was a child, I have worried about judgment from others. What do they think of the radical choices I have made? How is my behavior being interpreted? Why do some people see infinite joy and love and light in me while others see me as intentionally odious and hurtful?

 

How can one person be seen through such extreme and opposite lenses?

 

What I think may be going on is that those who see darkness feel most threatened by my pursuit. They go on the defensive by vilifying me because it is easier than recognizing and taking responsibility for their own deep sadness and discontent with their own state of existence.

 

My wish is to not simply live my life but to cultivate it with intention. Thus far, this kind of cultivation has been realized through a great deal of practice. A starting of a project, casting it aside, starting a new one, making a recording, overwriting that recording, and so on and so forth.

 

It has been both edifying and experiential.

 

And it has been anything but comfortable.

 

It is easier to vilify than to empathize. It is easier to play a victim and place blame than to take responsibility for one’s own existence.

 

I came to a point in my life where I realized that I did not wish to be a victim and that happiness was a choice. I could remain in a place of low-level contentedness that flirted with unhappiness, but I would be doing so with the knowledge that I had chosen this path. My life was all right, but I could feel that there was much missing for me to be truly living in a way that filled my soul.

 

To get to a place where I was cultivating a masterful work of art would rattle the bars on a lot of cages. It would require letting go of my fear of judgment from others.

 

I say this because I have found that the practice of discovering my own inner truth and self is not only challenging for me; it often creates unease and discomfort for others. Many people in my life have responded to this practice with threats and the kind of behavior that seems like a projection of a deep unhappiness with their own life.

 

There are many people who do not enjoy having the bars of their own life cages rattled because it forces them to look in the mirror and see the bars they have created for themselves.

 

In the present, it is easier to accept the cage to the point where you do not see it as a cage, if you see it at all.

 

I sensed deep down that one day I would live to regret the decades I had spent in a cage. I am a spirit that is not meant to be caged. I do not think any spirit should suffer such a fate, but it takes courage and determination to break free, especially when it is a cage one has voluntarily built and taken temporary refuge within.

 

It is amazing how easy it is to shed one cage and exchange it for another, and it can be an insidious and subtle process. If I do not pay attention, I can be lulled into believing that the cage is necessary. I can be drawn into another person’s cave by my desire to please and avoid painful judgment.

 

All of my practice in cultivating my life with mindfulness and intention is helping me to recognize the bars coming down around me more quickly and to break free before too much permanent damage has been done (i.e., before it becomes too difficult to get out), but my freedom seems to come at a cost each time.

 

Perhaps, this is simply my path in this life.

 

My life is art; it is a form of art I am developing. And to cultivate this method takes time, dedication, and a willingness to fail and try again.

 

So, I will keep practicing.

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What happens next?

A month has nearly passed me by without so much as a peep from me on my blog. I have not missed a month since I started this blog in the summer 2010 as a journal of sorts for reflecting on my life during a PhD program in Sustainability Education.

 

Here it is now six years later, and I continue to write.

 

Why?

 

I write because I have to write. I am a writer. If I don’t write, I feel unsettled, like something is missing.

 

I write because it helps me to make sense of my world, finding understanding in the seemingly simple act of putting words to a once blank page.

 

I write because I have the sense that I a not alone with those things I struggle with most in life.

 

I write to become a better writer, but mostly, I write to write.

 

Lately, limbo seems to have become an ever-present echo. I think it is less that limbo is there and more than I am beginning to appreciate and attempt to embrace the fact that life is unpredictable.

 

A being I love, be it canine, cottonwood, or other, may be here one day and gone the next.

 

Any day, my husband and I could get the word that we are bound for France…or otherwise.

 

How do I deal with limbo?

 

I write.

 

I play music.

 

I continue a six-year stint of “spring cleaning” that has become never-ending.

 

I vacuum, mostly because it gives me a sense of renewal, like starting over. It is an effort that reaps tangible results, which gives me a sense of accomplishment. Also, I hate the way cat litter has an insidious way of spreading itself through the far reaches of my Arizona home.

 

As I write, my husband is outside with a chainsaw, clearing away dead tree limbs.

 

The chainsaw is my vacuum, he told me earlier today, and I totally get it. When you feel like you are at a loss for control in your life, why not do something where you have some element of control?

 

What do you do when you are not sure what happens next?

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Who are you, who who who who?

Yesterday, I felt more joyful after a day of studying Anusara yoga than I have in a long time. It has been a difficult year—January 2015 to now—and I have been carrying so much grief in my heart that it has grown the heaviest it has been since I went through a divorce and left my job in Alaska.

 

In the process of earning my PhD in Sustainability, I went through what felt like one storm after another as I began peeling back the layers that had been built up around my inner voice and true self. Several layers belonged to external expectations from family, friends, bosses, coworkers, and society. These layers felt at times like tentacles that refused to loosen their grasp on me.

 

Once fired up, I found that I was not willing to play the layers game. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to lead a sustainable life. And I made many sacrifices and fought several battles while leaving others behind that did not seem worth my effort. Some metaphorical battles, even when won, do not make us happy. This was the case with my job in Alaska and the false perceptions about people my superiors had made. I could do no wrong until they decided I could do no right. Sound familiar?

 

I left many jobs, I moved a lot, and I spend hours upon hours writing and reflecting. After earning my PhD, I felt a breath of fresh air, like I was finally on the path.

 

I think that somewhere through all of this self-work, my ego snuck in and started patting me on the back because I started feeling like I pretty much had figured myself out. My ego told me that I had done enough self-work that I should just be happy, but the universe let me know in no uncertain terms that this path I had entered upon did not have a specific beginning and ending point. It was continuous. My self-work was not complete. I moved in with my beloved, and I was not perfect and content.

 

What I did not realize—at least, what my ego did not realize—was that being on the path is not always, if ever, a smooth ride. I could, and likely did, choose to step off the path any time. But I would most certainly experience the repercussions of disappointment in my self and lack of purpose, which would likely lead to frustration and sadness.

 

In diving in to study yoga full tilt, I have regained a sense of purpose and found my self once again on the path, whatever that path may be. What I seem to keep learning about my self is that I need to be on a path where I feel I am behaving with intention and purpose to make my own life more sustainable. In so doing, I truly believe that I can be a vessel for creating a more sustainable world.

 

During my class yesterday, my Anusara yoga teacher told us for the second time that the more she learns about yoga, the more she realizes she does not know. This is a humbling phenomenon I have experienced in the birding and natural world time and again. All of my years of study as a park ranger and my continued observations of the world of birds tell me that I have only just brushed the surface, if that.

 

It took a lot of work to get to the center of my being and to find the tenuous self inside. It felt all but extinguished, and it took some convincing and stoking of the fire to get things fired up.

 

It was such an intense storm, one that I did not believe would end. When I finally felt the dust settling, it was like I was a different person: the same, but different. I guess I just imaged that was the worst of it and the most intense self-work I would do.

 

The voice I found was just one piece to my self puzzle, however.

 

This morning, I awoke thinking about the words my teacher had shared the night before, and it occurred to me that the more I learn about my self, the more I have to learn. The path of yoga is to help us return to our true self, beneath all of those layers.

 

And so I continue this journey of self-discovery, wherever it may lead me, with yoga as my guide.

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