life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Karma Sutra

For much of February, I have been experiencing a deep and aching longing. Some mornings, I wake up feeling such intense heartache and homesickness that only the prospect of a hot cup of coffee can get me out of bed.

 

Brussels is much like western Washington and southeast Alaska in winter: grey, overcast skies mixed with intermittent, driving wind and rain. So great! That hail and horizontal rain sure helps you feel more alive as you running from the metro to the front door. What’s not to love, right?

 

A dear ranger friend from the North Cascades used to say: There’s no such thing as bad weather. While I am not sure I agree with this statement as I am not a husky or bear, I do make sure to venture outside every day, regardless of the temperature. I listen to books while I walk through civilized woods near our apartment in the commune of Watermael-Boitsfort (boitsfort translates quite literally from French to English as strong [fort] woods [boits]), and I take photographs of faces and hearts I find in the rocks, stones, and leaves and in the patterns of bark on smooth, tall trunks of trees.

The woods are lovely, albeit not so dark and deep as those from Frost. Even still, I long for large cottonwood trees and the tiny birds who live among them. I miss giant rocky outcroppings that I used to climb with my dog. I miss the descending faery call of the canyon wren, echoing through the granite dells I once called home.

 

I live an urban existence in Europe. In hindsight, I don’t think I appreciated how difficult it would be to leave a land of wide, open spaces and endless vistas, despite the lure of fresh baked baguettes and patisserie. A sip from the cactus lemon drink my husband recently discovered, however, transports me instantly to the porch of our Arizona home, where we would sit in the twilight, watching the sun go down while sipping cocktails made with prickly pear and grapefruit vodka.

 

One cannot have it all, and I know that even with my heartache I have so much more than many. I have begun volunteering every Monday afternoon at a refugee asylum center in Brussels. There I have met mostly men, some of whom have been living at the center for over a year, and all of whom have traveled alone and survived harrowing trauma. Some whisper pieces of their story to me, and I try not to stand slack jawed while their words penetrate instantly to my own heart. They smile and laugh and even sing the words and phrases we write on long pieces of paper taped to one of the many brick walls of the center.

Their insistence on holding on to hope reminds me of all I have to be grateful for in my own life. Even if it’s covered in mold that makes me endlessly phlegmy, I have a roof over my head. I have love in my life from two- and four-legged beings.

 

The Sanskrit word sutra means string or thread. In Sanskrit literature, a sutra can be a law or philosophy. I wonder about the sutras or philosophies and laws that comprise my life. What are my vows for the way I will walk through this world each moment of every day? I continue to reflect on my ever shifting perspective, the idea of karma, and my small role in a great universe. I don’t quite understand how karma works or what the universe has been trying to tell me these past several years or especially in the past couple of months.

 

Does the universe wish for me to continue practicing non-attachment by the theft of my precious collection of photos from my childhood and the violation and destruction of off-limit space by our now former tenant?

 

It seems clear that the universe wishes to add some levity and humor into the mix. You might recall a post I wrote some time ago about our neighbors in the Dells dramatically auditory and regular sex life? It appears that my karma sutra has returned once more with yet more scintillating sounds echoing between the walls of my old house and those around us. Should this episode prove similar to the previous one in Arizona, nine months to a year from now these will be replaced with sounds akin to the biological repercussions of the former audio track. All I can say right now is thank goodness for the invention of earplugs!

 

Perhaps, the universe is teaching me, through one ridiculous and often difficult lesson at a time, to weave together the energies and meanings I receive from each moment into a life sutra that mirrors my path through this life.

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Ready. Set. Zen.

Every night, my husband and I sit down for a 20-minute sit before bed. I use an app to keep track of the timing. As we prepare to sit, I unlock my phone, open the app, and turn off the light.

 

Before I tap the start button to begin our sit, I say the words, Ready. Set. Zen.

 

The ritual began after I attended an initiation for Neelakantha, mantra-based meditation. We had driven up to Colorado for the event and spent the weekend at the Naropa Institute. I learned about meditation in the Tantric tradition, while my husband sat in the lobby, working on applications for doctoral programs in Europe.

 

I had been attempting meditation on and off for a year with minimal success. After our return from Colorado, I began sitting for 20 minutes every night and every morning. Eventually, I asked my husband if he wanted to sit with me.

 

I learned from a meditation teacher that it can take anywhere from 30 to 40 days of regular practice to create a new habit. While I can’t say that I ever feel like sitting for 20 minutes, I do it anyway. I don’t know that I am any more enlightened that I was a year ago, but I don’t think it can hurt me, either.

 

I know from experience that even after taking the time to create a habit, it only takes one day of not doing it to lose the practice altogether. Even if I know I will feel better, more balanced, and joyful if I commit to even five minutes of creative practice every day—be it music, yoga, or writing—I still find it incredibly difficult to actually do it. I might get seven days into creating a regular practice and then a visitor, illness, or excuse weasels its way in, and that is that for a while. I stopped sitting every morning when my dad came to visit us last summer, and I have only been able to intermittently work it back into my daily rhythm.

 

The idea of practice, particularly yoga and meditation, is to honor ourselves where we are and celebrate (rather than negate) our progress; however small it may seem, it is a step toward balance.

 

I wrote an entire dissertation on the subject of self-sustainability. I spent months immersed in my own story of four years in a doctoral program, reviewing every moment in excruciating detail, in order to gain insight into the steps I took to create a more balanced, healthy existence. I know firsthand what I need to create joy in my life, but I still struggle to engage in those practices on any kind of regular basis.

 

I find it much easier to fixate on things that I know will not bring me joy but that offer distraction. One week it might be trying to find the exact right jacket that will keep me warm and dry and also not make me feel like a frumpy hobbit while among around fashionable Europeans (seriously, were they born to look graceful and stylish, no matter what they do? I have tried tossing a scarf around my neck in a haphazard fashion, and I still feel American and unattractive).

 

But I digress.

My husband reminds me, time and again, that there is no way to find the exact perfect anything because once we get it, we will realize that there is something else even better. It’s never ending.

 

Even my big camera lens didn’t come anywhere near the expectations I had for it, he told me.

 

I hear what he is saying, and I clearly understand, but it is still difficult to curb my propensity for fixation.

 

 

I finally gave up on the jacket, practicing acceptance of the perfectly adequate jackets I already own and repeating my husband’s mantra: It’s good enough. It’s good enough.

 

I spent an entire day without obsessively looking for the perfect jacket. I knew it didn’t exist and that buying another jacket wouldn’t bring me happiness. I would just wind up with the karmic weight of another material possession and feel guilty for spending money needlessly.

 

Even knowing all of this, I didn’t like what happened as a result of ceasing my search. Without something to fixate on, I was left with the emptiness I had so desperately been grasping to fill.

 

A day later, I am back to feeling an aching emptiness in my heart, the loss of my beloved soul mate wolf dog still so close to surface that tears well in my eyes at the slightest thought of those amber gold eyes and the memory of his head snuggled into my lap, paws wrapped securely around my legs.

 

I have fixated plenty on all of the choices I could have made differently that might have kept him in my life. What if I had taken him to the vet the moment I noticed something was wrong? What if I had taken him to a different vet for a second opinion when I first sensed that the vet we had taken him to might not have a firm grasp on medical practice? What ifs and questions take me round and round in infinite circles. When I finally stop fixating, I don’t feel any better. He is still gone, and the darkness is ever present.

 

I’m not a super fan of the void, I have to say, and I have no idea how to fill it. I have friends that appear to live a life full of gratitude and joy. When I ask them how they did it, they tell me, I just decided to be happy.

 

Huh, I think to my self. Maybe I am too just jaded for this to work, figuratively scratching my head.

 

I know that my own suffering is quite minimal when compared with all the levels of suffering in the world, but I feel it acutely nonetheless. A meditation teacher once told my class, suffering is suffering. I think he was onto something.

 

I move through phases where I work hard to lift my spirits and practice my it’s good enough intention, and then something beyond my control will happen that throws my system so far out of whack I lose my tenuous hold.

 

This past weekend, I attended the second of a series of all weekend trainings for learning to teach Anusara yoga. I was relatively relaxed as I walked to the tram on my way home when I received a text from my husband.

 

I had sent him a message asking how he was doing.

 

Hanging in there. E just told me that our rugs and the trunks are gone from the loft area of the house.

 

I texted an expletive in response and then followed with, Those are all of my original childhood photos. They are irreplaceable.

 

I really don’t understand why someone would take photo albums…it doesn’t add up…they are so heavy and worthless…to whoever took them. Any yes, priceless to us.

 

I stepped onto the tram in a trance and stared through the window into the reflection of receding light.

 

I have experienced theft several times in the past few years, and each time it is like a punch in the gut. I feel the wind knocked out of me, disbelief that someone could violate sacred space and take things so precious to me—my grandmother’s jewelry, family photos.

 

I sat on the tram until it stopped, walked down the steps and through the darkness toward the next tram stop. Halfway through the second portion of the trip, the tram came to a halt. Everything was still for a long time before I realized we had sat through several light changes and still had not moved forward. I stood up and leaned into the windows on the right side of the car, straining to try to see what was going on outside. Blue and red lights shifted back and forth in blur. An accident. I guess it can always be worse.

 

We finally started moving and crawled between parked police cars and toward home.

 

Standing in the kitchen later that evening, a glass of whisky in my hand, I tried to make sense of what had happened.

 

It’s like the universe is slowly taking away everything that is important to me, I said to my husband. First Okami. Then, my grandmother’s ring. Now, my photos. My meditation teacher says there is a Buddhist who believes that everything bad that happens to us happens because of a seed we planted long ago. What kind of heinous act could I have done in this life to be experiencing such horrible karma?

 

Well, when you start going into this kind of stuff, you may be looking at regressive lives. It could have been from many lives ago, and you chose this life to process it all.

 

But I don’t want to process it in this life, I protested. I want it to stop. I want my photos and my Okami back!

 

I know, love.

 

As we sat down to sit before bed, I watched one of my cats saunter over to the scratching pad we had gotten for them. He lay down on the pad and started to dig into it with both feet. It looked pretty good to me.

 

Maybe, I don’t need meditation, I just need my own scratching post, I suggested to my husband.

 

Maybe.

 

I picked up my phone, opened the meditation app, and turned off the light.

 

Ready. Set. Zen.

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In the shadow of Shiva

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I spent this past weekend in a teacher training for Anusara yoga. The training was held in English, which was the common language for everyone in the studio. Before moving to Brussels, my husband told me that when he had gone on a PhD reconnaissance mission the city had felt very international. He had that right.

My first weekend of teacher training was kind of like studying yoga at the United Nations. There were people from countries around the world in the room and only two who were actually born and raised in Belgium. We had yoga representatives from Holland, Mexico, the United States, Finland, Italy, and Austria. If you add the people they were married to, we also had Estonia and Germany spoken for. Additionally, everyone spoke two or more languages fluently, and their English was far superior to my French. It was really quite incredible.

Fear ruled a great deal of my first weekend of Anusara training. It is ironic, since Anusara means opening to the flow. I am not a particularly roll with the punches kind of being, so there are many opportunities in each day and in each new venture for me to practice my yoga off the mat.

Was there anything really worthwhile to worry about? Not really, but my mind worked hard to find what little there was to fear. It began with my commute back and forth from home to the studio.

First, I was afraid that tram 44 did not exist. Then, I was afraid that if it did exist, I would miss the connection between the time that tram 94 arrived at the Musée du Tram stop and the 44 was slated to leave, since there were mere seconds to maybe a minute before arrival and departure times. Once I had made the connection from 94 to 44, I was then worried that I might not get off at the right stop. In fact, I did nearly miss the stop for Tervuren, but I figured it out at the last moment.

Successfully arrived in Tervuren, I then worried that I might not find the studio (I have searched for places that exist on Google Maps but are not actually present in real-time, at least not in this version of reality).

Fear does not serve much positive purpose, though I do recall my AP Psychology teacher in high school telling us that a healthy dose of fear or apprehension about a test can help you perform better. At this point in my life, fear only seems to make me a bit crazy; well, crazier than usual and not really the good kind of crazy (I had a friend tell me one time that I was fun wacky, so I guess that most of the time I am an acceptable kind of nuts). This was not one of those times, and I knew it. I was texting my husband every few seconds about every possible line item that might go wrong.

You are going to be fine…keep breathing…do some yoga!

When I still clearly was not taking this advice and then texted to ask if was annoyed with me, he wrote,

No…RELAX! That’s an order.

I then sent profuse apologies by text (seriously, I really need to stop apologizing all of the time).

My husband wrote back, it is fine. Now, just breathe and stop worrying.

If only! At least I was headed to a yoga studio, so the chances of my breathing and practicing surrender were increased several fold.

After a bit of wandering back and forth around the spot that Google Maps told me the studio was located but which seemed to be a street lined with shops across from a construction site, I figured out that I needed to walk down a little neighboring side street. There it was! A little brick building with a forest green square sign with a white tree painted on it. It would do Gandalf and Tolkien proud to see such a tree.

The sight of that tree did wonders for my spirit. I cautiously opened the door and was greeted by love and acceptance in the form of the studio owner, followed by the smiling faces of the other students in the class.

What if they don’t like me? I had asked my husband before the training. They all know each other and have been studying together for months. I am the new kid.

Don’t worry. They will like you, he assured me.

I was early to the training, benefits of not yet trusting the timing for getting places via public transit. I introduced myself to the teacher and made myself relatively scarce to allow him to prepare for the day. I chatted with the studio owner and learned that she was also American and had married a Dutch man and eventually moved to Belgium.

Much of the day was a blur, but I do recall being warmly welcomed by every woman in the training. One student offered to walk with me to help me find a local sandwich shop, even though she had brought her own lunch. We laughed and talked as we walked through the little town. The sandwich shop was a hilarious experience. There was a patisserie on one side and a place to order sandwiches on the other side. I had a time of it trying to order a sandwich and buy bread and a chocolate croissant for my sweetie. Finally, I brought everything to the register, but they would not accept my credit card. I didn’t have quite enough cash, but my new yogi friend was kind enough to lend me a euro.

Over lunch, three of us chatted away like little birds. During the training, I was met with smiles and kind words. By the end of the day, I felt relaxed and also exhausted.

Did you have fun? My husband texted me on the tram ride back. 

Yes!

 Yay! The other yoginis accepted you?

Yes!

Later in the evening, I confessed concern over whether I was good enough to be in the training.

What if I’m not good enough to be in the class? I have only been practicing yoga for a couple of years, and I have only been through the first immersion.

After dislocating my shoulder in college and experiencing recurring sublex in the years following the accident, getting up into a handstand is a bit of a frightening thought.

The next morning commute, I was a barrel of nerves again. I had gotten up early to add more rides onto my metro card, but the machine kept asking me for a pin that did not exist for my credit card. I looked up at the near full moon and wondered if the universe was having a little laugh at my expense.

My husband texted me, Practice tramming meditation…just try and “be”…it sounds like your mind keeps trying to find something to “do” and since you are stuck in a tram, it decides to “do” worrying. Instead, try meditating.

Ok, I wrote back. I love you. Please don’t leave me!

In addition to fear, low self-esteem, fueled by the voice of my inner critic, is my other constant demon. My husband offers grounding to my propensity to live in fight or flight mode for much of the day.

I won’t. Sit. Breathe.

I sat quietly on the tram, looking out the window at the blanket of snow on the ground and frost-covered trees.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

I wrote previously that I have been sick for most of my brief tenure in Brussels. Having spent weeks on the couch and in bed, I was nervous about being able to make it through two one hour and a half morning yoga classes. While I was exhausted afterward, I found the movement grounding. It even seemed to help reduce the chronic cough I have been experiencing for over a month.

For each class, my inner critic was right there with me on the mat, however. Every time the instructor adjusted my asana, I could hear the voice of my critic.

He thinks you are not advanced enough to be in this class! Came the voice. Even with my little cough drops with little phrases meant to encourage, I felt discouraged.

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Despite the arguments from my rational mind, I listened to my critic. It is often easier to give in and to accept that people see the qualities in me that I fear the most worst in me than to believe otherwise. Over lunch, my new yogi comrades assured me that I had nothing to worry about, and I found my Self breathing a little easier.

By the end of the day, I was completely worn out and overwhelmed but also inspired.

It’s all practice, I thought to my Self as I hustled to catch the tram, walking carefully so as not to slip on the icy sidewalk. Practicing yoga in the Shiva room, I was reminded that Shiva is one who destroys and also creates. In my own life, I seem to move in the shadow of Shiva, uprooting my Self and leaving all that is familiar in order to create a new existence in another place.

Inhale. Exhale. Destroy. Create.

Yoga is a push and pull, and this is my mantra. My practice now is to accept and surrender to Shiva. Everything else will be revealed in its own time.

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Creating community in foreign lands

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Making peace with limbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The morning after

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

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

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

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

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

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

The message to the country: Racism wins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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Words when there are no words

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

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

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

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

Am I still upset?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The seismic shock of a new political landscape is settling.

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

Resistance is our courage.

Love will become us.

The land holds us still.

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

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

Let us hold each other close
and be kind.

Let us gather together and break bread.

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

What has been hidden is now exposed.

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

 

~ Terry Tempest Williams

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References

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

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

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