life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Change has its own timeline

I studied yoga in a 200-hour teacher train from March through September 2015. Along with the nine other women in my kula (community), I was asked to come up with my goals and intentions for the course. My main desire was to stop taking medication for my anxiety. When I started taking them, I had always thought that it would be a temporary solution. Medication would help create enough of a grounding to give me a nudge to find more natural methods to replace a temporary chemical solution.

 

However, the couple of times I attempted to go off the chemicals cold turkey had not gone particularly well. Each time, I had difficulty breathing, pain in my chest, and panic that came rushing in like a full force flood.

 

I knew from experience that breath work, meditation, and yoga could help me to feel more calm and grounded, so it seemed reasonable to set my aforementioned goal at the start of my teacher training. However, September arrived and I still had not weaned myself from my chemical balancing act. I felt like a failure, and I was frustrated.

 

I don’t like being dependent on medication, I told my husband. What if there is a nuclear holocaust and I can’t get my prescription filled? What then?

 

Of course, I imagine that if a nuclear holocaust were to occur, I would be so focused on survival that I might not have time to be anxiety-riddled, but still. I hated having to see a doctor to get my prescription filled every year. I had even had one doctor refuse to take me as a new patient because of my medication. I felt like there was something wrong with me that I could not find a way to create balance on my own.

 

What if you try going off of your medication gradually? my husband suggested.

 

I decided to follow his suggestion and began cutting my pills in half. I tried the each reduction for a few weeks to a month before cutting the half of a pill in half once more.

 

This gradual process met with far more approval from my body’s internal compass, and I realized a couple of weeks ago that the tiny morsels of pills had grown too small to cut in half without turning into powder.

 

And so here I sit, western medicine no longer courses through my veins. I am able to breath, I feel grounded and calm (except while driving…Prescott drivers make me crazy, but one step at a time, right?). I still feel some panic arise, mainly as I am getting under the covers for sleep, but this may be residual familiarity from a lifetime of worrying about having trouble falling asleep. It takes practice to create new behavior patterns around the ones that have become engrained over time.

 

I hadn’t really thought too much about this new place of spaciousness until I mentioned it to a few of my yogi friends while we were out practicing in a local downtown park.

 

They reflected back to me love, amazement, and support, and I realized that it really was a big deal. Sometimes, I find, it is easy to focus on the things that are not happening for me rather than to recognize the remarkable feats I accomplish each day, however small. It can take having a behavior reflected back to me from a friend or loved one. It can also take my own intention of sifting through memories to see where I was at this time in my life a year ago, two years ago, and beyond.

 

As they like to say, You have come a long way, baby!

 

And I have!

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Congratulations! You are further along the path than you thought

A few weeks ago, my husband was driving home from work when he was hit from behind, totaling his Honda Fit. The woman driving the car had been smoking a cigarette, dropped it in her lap, and bent over to pick it up instead of watching the world of cars around her. The impact caused my husband to drive right into the car in front of him.

 

As a result of one person’s lack of awareness, my husband and I now share one car between the two of us. In many countries around the world, this would be considered a luxury, but it does present some logistical challenges. I also find myself paying even closer attention to the many cars with which I share the road at any given moment I leave the house in our compact Toyota.

 

It can take an event such as the one mentioned above to lurch one into a state of heightened awareness. It can also take practice and intention. For the past several years, I have been working in the latter realm of awareness, that of determined and dedicated practice.

 

I have spent hours upon hours studying my own behavioral responses to events beyond my control—events of the past and imaginations of those that may come to pass.

 

How do I respond when a person sends aggressive, verbally abusive energy my way?

 

What do I do when I find my car beaten and battered where I left it parked and not so much as a note of apology?

 

Do I say anything?

 

What does it mean if I am silent? How does it feel?

 

How does it feel if I give in to my desire to retaliate and retort with equally aggressive, mean-spirited words?

 

I know that I walk around with a great deal of built up tension that has little to do with the people around me. If I am living and breathing in such a heightened state of stress, I imagine that the people I meet on the road, on the sidewalk, etc. are equally struggling to get through their day with some sense of grace and poise.

 

Despite what some people may claim, I do have a choice, and I can pause prior to any action and be aware, cognizant, and intentional in my response.

 

I can choose to allow my own personal stress to determine my reactions to the world, or I can simply notice that there is nastiness happening without engaging in it or interpreting it as a personal attack.

 

Yesterday, for example, I purchased a pool pass, which meant that my name would not yet be in the computer when I would go to swim a few minutes later. I left the receipt in my locker because I know all of the lifeguards, and they never require me to prove myself as honorable and ethical by offering proof that I am not sneaking into the pool without paying.

 

So, I walked into the pool and greeted the lifeguard, a fellow I did not recognize.

 

I won’t be in the computer yet because I just bought a pass, I told him.

 

I need to see your receipt, he responded gruffly, not making eye contact and instead flitting his hand at me and toward the locker room door.

 

It wasn’t exactly friendly, let’s say that much, and I found that I had two choices.

 

I could simply go and get my receipt and give it to him and then swim OR I could demonstrate that I was not happy with his flippant, gruff behavior and speak my mind.

 

My meditation and yogic study of the Yamas and Nyamas told me not to engage. Here was a person whose attitude was clearly not going to improve with confrontation.

 

I stomped back into the locker room, rifled through my bag for the receipt, and brought it back out to him.

 

He studied it, responding that sometimes they didn’t have a name on them.

 

Was he now accusing me of somehow pilfering another person’s pool pass receipt?

 

Do you want my id? I said in a tone that read, You have GOT to be kidding me.

 

I could have left it there and been done with it, moved as far as possible away from Mr. Cranky pants who was clearly unhappy and perhaps always had been. Some people choose the path of the cranky wardrobe, and there really is nothing you can do if/when you engage with them on any front.

 

But I engaged anyway. I mean, seriously, who was this guy to be such a jerk? Why couldn’t he just be friendly and say, I’m sorry, but there are lots of people trying to sneak into the pool without paying, so we need to see proof. I would have bent over backwards to please him. Ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I would have totally understood and been happy to bounce back and grab my receipt.

 

You must be new, I snapped at him. I could have said, I haven’t seen you before. Are you new? A question that would have had a very different tone and meaning behind it.

 

You must be new had tones of disapproval and judgment written all over it. And let’s face it, I was totally judging him for having such a bad attitude, and I was calling him on it by responding in kind, which really only served to make me appear as having an equally bad attitude by lowering myself to his level.

 

I’m not new, he snapped back in an equally haughty tone.

 

He handed me my receipt, and I went off fuming toward the farthest lane of the pool.

 

As I swam, I reflected on the path I had chosen in this most recent interaction with another human being. Why had I let him get to me? Why was I so nasty? It certainly didn’t make me feel good phsyicaly or psychologically. I paid attention to this feeling, and I mused over possible courses of action I might follow to help me feel better. I certainly did not want to apologize, but I knew that I could redeem my character somewhat if I did.

 

When I finally lifted myself one step at a time up the ladder and out of the pool, I walked by, smiled, and said I was sorry to thinking he was new.

 

I have been here six months, he spat back in a nasty tone.

 

Ohhhhh, six whole months, I thought. Do you want a cookie?

 

Instead, I tried to be nice.

 

Well, I laughed, six months isn’t very long geologically. Have a nice day! And I pushed the door of the locker room open and separated myself from him altogether.

 

What a dick! I couldn’t believe I had bothered to apologize. He hadn’t smiled or laughed or apologized for being such an ass. But then, what was I really expecting? There was a chip on this guy’s shoulder that had been building for who knows how long. It was his choice how to wanted to present himself and said chip to the world. I did not need to engage with him in any way. I could be kind when I saw him or simply ignore his presence altogether. Either way, it likely wouldn’t alter his behavioral pattern, which seemed very well set after potentially years of practice. And who knew what kind of events took place to cause him to choose to live such a rigid, unfriendly existence? Maybe being friendly was dangerous where he came from? There was no way for me to really know without asking, and I just don’t think I am going to cross that boundary any time soon. I just want to swim and feel good about my body. No more, no less.

 

Later that day, I picked my husband up from work. As we drove home, I said to him, Everything and everyone is driving me crazy! Maybe, I am just destined to be annoyed my whole life.

 

You are on the meditation path, and meditating will teach you to move beyond feeling annoyed.

 

Well, I don’t think it’s working, I responded.

 

He laughed. The path of meditating is one of awareness. The irony is that the more aware you become, the more you realize what jerks most people are.

 

Great! I said, as I slumped back in the passenger seat.

 

According to the Buddhists, life is suffering, he continued. The further along the path and deeper into understanding you travel, the more you will become aware of the actions of others but without feeling personally attacked. You will simply notice.

So, I will learn not to take it so personally? I asked.

 

Exactly.

 

I have a long way to go, I sighed.

 

Well, one can expect meditating to make life a bit more difficult before it actually gets better.

 

Double sigh, but I know from experience that it is well worth going through the storm to get to the lighter life on the other side!

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The Big ‘E’

I have been meditating every morning and evening for 20 minutes for nearly two weeks, studying yoga for a year, and attempting to be a generally kind individual with intention for most of my life. Yet, I find myself feeling as far from Enlightenment (and all of the empathy and compassion that comes with it) as ever.

 

I feel genuinely affected by every little seemingly intentional unfriendly act—a car cutting me off and nearly sending me off the road, people whose paths I cross who are irritable and unkind, and so on and so forth. I recognize that at least half of the instances that vex me are ones that could be avoided if I simply stepped out of the consumer trajectory of my current culture. These occurrences are most certainly first world problems—my new boots falling apart because they were not made well (is anything made well anymore?); the seam in my sweater ripping the first time I wear it; I have to pay $25 to shorten the dress my mom just gave me (yes, there are added expenses to being a short person); my husband and I share one car between the two of us since a woman driving behind him dropped the cigarette she was smoking in her lap and bent down to pick it up instead of braking as she approached the stoplight, and the logistics of being a one-car family can be irritating; etc. etc.

 

I stopped going to the dog park in my neighborhood after several large male retired veterans surrounded a woman friend to “protect” her, instead imprisoning her in a circle of aggressive men while another inside the circle shouted expletives at her. Their energy so upset me that I haven’t gone back since.

 

And this energy seems to be everywhere. I sense it in the über conservative, if not misinformed bumper stickers I see on the cars that drive around the somewhat less conservative than other parts of Arizona town.

 

Keep honking, I’m reloading

Guns save lives

Somewhere in Africa a village is missing an idiot

My dog is smarter than the president

 

I used to laugh and roll my eyes when I would see these kinds of paraphernalia, but it seems that the tension has been building until it takes very little for me to feel downright angry and irritated.

 

The other day, I was driving behind an enormous jeep (not an unusual occurrence for Prescott or Arizona) when I saw two Hello Kitty stickers. They were outlines of the cat in a bright pink hue. I was thrilled!

 

Finally, some normalcy, I thought.

 

Sadly, as I approached the jeep at a red light, I saw each little Kitty armed with AK-47s.

 

Sigh.

 

Each day, I vow that tomorrow I will not let things get to me so readily.

 

Each tomorrow arrives, and I am bombarded and give up.

 

Am I really bombarded, though? Is life that different here with regard to human behavior than anywhere else? Is that I am paying closer attention? Or is it that I am choosing to be affected?

 

I am not sure. I do know that there are several times each day that I want to run screaming from this state.

 

I also know there are underlying issues that I have not yet dealt with that may cause my stress level to constantly be so near the surface: struggles at a former job with an abusive boss; a sense that people who tell me I can trust them will at some point turn against me; close friends who fall out of touch and are somewhere out in the ethos when I most wish I could find them.

 

The gift of life is that there are so many opportunities to practice patience and compassion. I feel like I have failed the last thousand (at least), but I know there will be several thousand more before the year is out to continue trying.

 

Frustration and irritability is the easy path. I know this, yet each of these “opportunities” feels like a personal attack.

 

Doesn’t that person know they won’t save any time by cutting me off and that they are driving like a crazy person?

 

I recognize that a person’s driving patterns likely have little to do with how they feel about the person in the next car. This isn’t Massachusetts, after all, where people seem to speed up in order to keep you from changing lanes to get off at the next exit when there are high levels of traffic.

 

And yet, I still find myself angry and shaking my fist at them (I also realize that this probably looks more funny than threatening). I am reminded of the Prairie Home Companion episode poking fun at people in their tiny Prius waving their fists up at the person driving the enormous SUV, who can barely see them they are so low to the ground.

 

I guess I just have more work to do until I can find beauty in all beings and joy from each moment of a day that should be thought of as a gift but at times feels like a pain in the butt.

 

Your yogi in training,

Marieke:)

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I hear that train a comin’

Sometimes life is so full, it is difficult to know where to begin. How to blend meditation in Colorado in the driving rain and snow with the richness of a Boston accent that fills my heart?

 

I think it can be easier to love a place from a distance. Massachusetts may just be a place I love in this way. Time in one place tends to wear me down. Perhaps, this is why I move so often. I crave variety. I want to experience new places. At the same time, I feel the tug for home and to stay put. Certainly, my digestive tract would prefer it I ate the same bland foods every day. Its just easier that way, though it takes a toll on my soul.

 

There is just no way to have it all, unless I redefine the all.

 

In the last year and a half since leaving Massachusetts, I have spent many hours reflecting on the ideas of success and happiness. Having it all may simply entail rethinking how much needs to fit in the all. I can admire much without needing to possess it, and in fact I feel lighter without the burden of it all weighing me down, physically and psychologically.

 

As one of my yoga teachers told my class recently, I don’t want too much stuff because I don’t want to have to dust it all.

 

Agreed. Anything (im)material requires some responsibility on my part. I have to care for all of those skeletons in my closet, lest they slip out if I shirk my watch responsibilities. More and more, I am beginning to wonder if maybe I should just let them out altogether. So, letting go is becoming my practice.

 

Beside me sits my third bag to replace the two before it that have been stolen in house and car break-ins on this continent and in France I have slowly replaced all the little odds and ends I like to keep inside a bag I carry around with me when I travel. I am hoping this one will stick around, but I am also preparing myself to not feel too terribly despondent should it grow little legs and carry on its way with someone else.

 

Some beings simply long to see the world. I know. I am one of them.

 

May has been a full month. As a friend told me, What’s for you won’t go by you, and I seem to be catching hold of many of the opportunities as they pass me by. As I sit on a train bound for Lowell, I realize that I have always wanted to be a part of the passing rather than being left behind.

 

It comes with a price. I have been reflecting on the idea that the path to enlightenment is expensive—literally and figuratively. A recent meditation retreat in Boulder, Colorado became a reality for me only with financial aid, for which I am forever grateful. It is ironic to have created the spaciousness in my life to be open to opportunity but not have the economic ability to take hold of many that pass by me with all of their glittering possibility.

 

I know that I can follow the yogic path without selling the farm. I also know that some things are worth pinching pennies for. A friend recently told me, People can always find the money to pay for something they really want.

 

Working now as a self-employed artist and editor, I realize that the services I offer fall under the category of luxury for many, so I can relate to the predicament of those who offer trainings in yoga, meditation, and beyond. We all need to eat, and it would be nice to eat well, which is more expensive in this country than makes sense. I think we all deserve peace and the alternative kind of prosperity that comes with it.

 

And so, I chant my mantra every morning and night for 20 minutes at a time, following the fluidity of my mind’s digressions, always returning to the breath and the mantra. This, I know, is where the true prosperity lies, and I don’t want to miss it when it comes hurtling along the tracks toward me as I stand on the platform, waiting and ready.

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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 once more.

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, 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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