life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Mercury and me

I have been experiencing a range of emotions these past few days.

I am unsettled. I feel restless.

This emotional and now bodily response began when my music partner and I parted ways late morning this past Thursday. We had begun to unveil the discovery that our individual souls’ needs for work and artistic creation were vastly different than either of us had fully realized or appreciated prior to moving into a time of working together.

I am not a person who enjoys limbo.

To work together in proximity required intention, along with great transition and physical and emotional upheaval.

I left my job at a local bookstore. My partner left his entire life on the east coast to drive to Arizona.

And suddenly, we were saying goodbye.

Were we breaking up? It kind of felt like it, but I was not certain. All that I knew was that each of our souls deserved to be honored.

In my life, I have learned to acquiesce to the needs of others. I have had difficulty saying no to any request that I know will make another person happy or will potentially encourage a person to “like me.” In attempting to bring joy to another person, I have learned to ignore my own requirements for a balanced existence. Over time, this propensity became so engrained that I literally had no idea what it was that I even needed to experience balance and happiness.

I spent a dark winter in Alaska beginning to peel back the layers of cultural expectations and fear of external judgment to find an inner voice that was in desperate need of rekindling. I cannot say that I have any desire to repeat that winter, but I came through the storm to a place of greater clarity. With that clarity came the realization that it takes regular intention to maintain healthy boundaries to live in a way that is sustainable for me. It is very easy for me to fall back into established patterns of enabling and self-sacrifice.

So when my partner and I began to discover that our individual needs were quite different, I was felt myself at a loss for how to proceed in a way that allowed me to honor his needs without losing my own self.

Hours passed, and I still had no idea what path I was meant to take.

This morning, I dawdled through my morning routine in preparation for the continuation of a seventh month journey through yoga intensive studies. I always feel like I have so much time before I need to leave, when suddenly departure time has come and gone and I find myself trying frantically to gather my belongings, coffee, and partially eaten breakfast and get into my car to leave.

Open the car door, put my plate on top of the car, jostle my coffee mug and spill coffee down my front. Run back to the house, clean coffee off of the outside of my mug and the front of my shirt and pants by splashing water onto the damp spots.

Back to the car. Place travel mug safely into the drink space in the console. Is there still coffee on the bottom? Should I try to clean it? No time. Back out of the driveway. Wave to my partner. Drive to training.

I arrived only a few minutes late and struggled to join my nine yogi companions in a manner devoid of anything remotely resembling grace. Together, we traveled on a road that led out of town and toward rolling hills and rocking outcroppings, where ravens floated above us.

Arriving at now familiar environs, we walked into a room dimly lit by candles and sunlight filtering in through several windows. I sat on a foam roller to try to avoid sending my back into recurrent muscle spasm.

Our teacher welcomed us and followed with the words, “Mercury is in retrograde. Do any of you know what this means?”

“Mercury is moving backwards?” one person ventured.

“Mercury appears to be moving backwards,” was the answer.

When Mercury is in retrograde, the universe is in flux. We are scattered and accident prone, restless and uncomfortable. We may find ourselves beating our heads against the wall trying to accomplish something that just is not working.

When Mercury is in retrograde is not a good time to begin new projects.

Huh, I mused out loud.

From across the room, I was met with knowing smiles. Pieces were falling into place. I began to understand that there was nothing I needed to force in this moment. I had only to be patient and let the mercurial winds pass.

All will be revealed.

Patience.

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I am not a victim; I will not be a victim

I know the universe is mysterious and may possess the traits of trickster raven while also embodying the softness of freshly fallen snow. I know there is much that is beyond my control in this life.

I have learned that wondering why people do what they do and how they justify hurtful, malicious behavior does not lead me to happiness. Nor do I ever seem to find answers.

The only real answer I seem to find is that it is far easier to play a victim than to take on the role of empathy for oneself and for others.

If one is a victim, there is responsibility required. How could there be? One is the innocent player in a deviant scheme devised by other—the universe, God, and who knows what other mysterious forces—destined to live a life of injustice.

What I have learned from experiencing both sides—victim and empowered—is that playing the victim does not bring me happiness.

For the past several years, I have come up against one victim after another. I have tried to reason with them, to explain my side, but to no avail. When one person is a victim, the other automatically becomes the antagonist.

The most recent situation that has provided much practice for my soul and many reminders of the kind of life I do not with to lead. I have been a landlord from a great distance to a woman who uprooted herself from urban Colorado to my home in bush Alaska. It was not a smooth transition, and it seems to have been one rife with idealistic, romantic visions that were perhaps more pleasant than the unanticipated reality of this life shift.

I spent hours on the telephone with this person before she moved. I listened to her talk about the challenges of selling her home in Colorado, of packing up her life, and of traveling with her cat across the many miles from a familiar home to a foreign land where she would have the opportunity to begin her life anew.

Was she escaping a place of pain? I cannot say. I do not know this woman. I know only what she has confided in me and only what I can conjure from her increasingly aggressive behavior toward me, her name without a face landlord.

From the moment my renter moved in, maybe even before, there was tumult. I turned the water off to save her moving in to a house with potentially frozen pipes or water pump. I had been given the go ahead that we would split the cost. Without warning, she changed her mind and refused to abide her promise.

Was there a miscommunication? Perhaps. I let it go.

Then came the tumult of emails and photographs. Is the toilet water meant to be this color? Is the water safe to drink? I am afraid to take a shower because my porous, blonde hair may turn orange.

Reading these emails, I took many deep breaths. I composed responses and wallowed for a while before sending them. I have learned from experience never to send the first email you compose because it likely will only serve to stir the cauldron of negativity and aggression.

I bought a new filtration system and new filters.

I bought a new microwave.

I read letters and emails rife with accusation and slander, most of which did not seem to come from any kind of place of accurate foundation. My home had not been built on a Laundromat. I did not rent my home and intentionally withhold information from my renter.

Time and again, this would happen.

I recoiled and felt my entire body tighten when I would see her name in appear in bold in my email inbox.

I began to response with only kindness. What else could I do? Responding with truth, advocating for myself and what I thought were the best of intentions for renting a home that I thought was in good condition, seemed to have little effect on easing her ire.

I spoke with my partner about it.

“I don’t understand it,” I would say. “Why is she doing this?”

His response, as usual, was clear and in its clarity nothing short of brilliant.

“You are not a real person to her,” he told me. “It is far easier to make a person into a monster when you have never met them before.”

She was operating from a place of fear and also from the place of being a victim.

And I was the enemy, the ruthless, uncaring, faceless landlord. It was all beginning to make sense.

Explaining to her that living in bush Alaska was not the same as urban Colorado would only serve to kindle rather than cool the flames of her frustration. She was not hearing the information I was providing. She was only hearing them through a filter.

So when I would explain that one could not expect the systems in a home in bush Alaska to function on the same level as an urban, developed area she was perhaps hearing the words:

“I do not take your concerns seriously. Your pain is not important to me. I am an unfeeling, unyielding person without morals or ethics.”

Who wouldn’t be upset by this? I know I would.

One of the saddest repercussions for me from all of this soul practice is that my love affair with Gustavus has come to a complete end. I know that my renter has talked about my character from her perspective of being a victim to people all over town. There are individuals who have unfriended me on facebook and explained that they simply do not see the world the way I do.

This response is also a choice, the choice to see me through another person’s eyes rather than trying to see me through their own.

What can I do? I choose not to fight this element of the universe. I know I will not win. I am not sure winning is even part of the grand plan for a happy existence.

What I can do is recognize what may be causing my renter to behave this way. I can practice seeing her a person in pain and try to empathize. I can practice energy tai chi and not allow her projection of pain to infiltrate my own sensitive being. I can choose to respond only with kindness. Most importantly, I can be reminded of how thankful I am that I have chosen not to play a victim in this life.

I want to be happy. I want to be empowered. I want to empathize with those who feel victimized without being drawn in and overwhelmed by their energy.

I would love to not have to pay to fill my propane tank, but that may be the price I pay to keep a safe distance from the self-diagnosed victims of that cross my path in this life.

And to you, dear renter. I hope someday you can find happiness without projecting such aggression onto others.

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It’s not going to happen without me

I have made many an unconventional life choice in my life. I have followed my heart despite warnings and pleas from the people in my life.

In the past, I have stubbornly followed my innermost instincts when they told me to transfer to Brown University from Bates College and then back to Bates again. I listened to my heart as it led me from the continental 48 to West Africa. I kept following a small but feisty voice inside when I packed my car and drove across the country to the Cascade Mountains for a two-month internship. I did the same for the return trip and oceanic crossing to teach in Quimper, France.

The globe-hopping list goes on.

Yet somehow, in my most recent life shift, I have been slower than the usual to move forward. Reflecting on this odd lethargy, I experienced a revelation that I found ironic.

In the past, it has been other people encouraging me to be more traditional in my life choices. On this occasion, it is the opposite. I am feeling incredibly supported by most the people in my life, who have given me the gift of support and encouragement to leave any final thread of financial stability behind to pursue songwriting and musical performance full-time.

It seems that the stars are aligning to point me in the direction of focusing my energies on songwriting. Yet even with these gifts from the universe, I still feel reticent, almost afraid, to move forward.

On this occasion, I am the one holding me back. And my future as my soul desires it will not happen unless I make it happen through dedication, practice, and intention.

So what am I waiting for? I know that I cannot and will not make everyone happy with this choice, but I also know that I deserve to make myself happy. And I know that if I do not try, I will regret it.

So, bottom’s up. Here I go.

I hope there is a something soft for me to land on!

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Moksha requires letting go

When I open myself, I am vulnerable. I am open. I imagine that the idea of being open will lead me to a place of peace or of what yogis call moksha, liberation.

To be free, I must let go, but my body is at odds with my mind. It wants to hold on tight, to feel in control by maintaining a firm grasp on all that has happened in the past and all that may come to pass in the future.

Breathing in, I feel the push and pull rise up with sharp, deep, pain in my middle and lower back.

Breathing out, I tell my back and the rest of my body that it need not hold onso very tightly.

Breathing in, I remember lying on the floor of my beloved haven of a home in Alaska, unable to get up. It was a time of transition and stress, and my back was telling me to be still.

The pain of transition is felt in my body. The desire to continue my journey, free from the fetters of past hurt, comes from my heart.

Can I move through this pain to get to the other side?

Or will I be consumed on the path to freedom?

Can I find a way to breathe through it all, to find balance and equanimity between body, mind, and heart.

I am all three. All three are part of me.

I choose to move.

I choose to breathe.

I choose moksha.

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The Red Herring

The theme for this second weekend of yoga intensive studies was Letting Go. For four hours Friday night, I sat and thought about the elements of my life I wished to let go of. I was asked to think about my intentions for the weekend, and I remembered my intention for this year to find freedom in my life.

I came out to Arizona nearly six months ago with two intentions: to live in proximity to my partner and to focus all of my energy on songwriting.

While I came to the desert with the best of intentions, only one of my goals has been fulfilled. My heart is full of love for a dear man, but my soul and spirit are feeling neglected each day I do not bring music and song into the world.

I have been working on the business aspects of songwriting: what kind of songwriting products I might be able to bring to market, who might be interested in participating in a songwriting retreat, what kind of financial projections may be in store down the road. Sadly, in the present and recent past, there has been little actual writing of songs in my life.

Where has all of the time in each day gone if not to music?

It has gone to my own somewhat misguided efforts to create the allusion of control in my life.

It has gone to part-time work at a local bookstore, where I have found myself drawn in to the drama that began unfolding prior to my arrival and that will no doubt continue long after I am gone.

It has gone to errands and last-minute requests from the people I love.

It has gone to finding diversions and distractions that hold my attention.

It has gone to anything I can do to avoid the fear and risk involved in taking a complete plunge into the waters of being a full-time entrepreneur.

What if I cannonball and hit a rocky bottom?

What if I fail?

My partner revealed a plot twist that apparently happens in many mystery stories, that of the red herring.

What is the red herring?

The red herring, my partner told me, is the distraction from the truth. It is the person you think is the murderer in the story because it seems so obvious until the identity of the real assassin becomes clear.

“I get it,” I said.

These past several months, I had been wandering through a forest, moving beyond the light at the edge and ever deeper into the shadows until I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing in the forest to begin with.

My intentions had been so clear as I headed west, and somehow they had been muffled and muddied.

Sitting on my yoga mat, I did not feel free.

I wrote fears and burdens on a piece of paper. We took turns moving around the circle, each woman reading her fears out loud and burning the piece of paper. When it was my turn, I kept my eyes fixed on the paper and mumbled the words I had written in a quiet voice. I then lit the paper on fire and placed it in an old, white pot with the evidence of years of paper burning shown in the bubbling, grey coating that covered the interior. This pot had been the receptacle for many such ceremonies before my small piece of paper turned to ashes in its center.

I sat quietly and thought about what it meant to let go.

I have never been very good at letting go, even when I know it past time to do so. I grasp onto a person, place, or material possession for fear that if I let it go I might regret it at some unknown, distant future time.

Even in the safety of a community of beautiful, supportive women, I felt like I was on a precipice, looking out over the edge but bracing myself against the fall. I was on the verge of change but afraid to let go. I needed to grasp onto anything tangible, whether or not it no longer served and filled my spirit.

Unlike the women around me, I could not cry. My body was holding onto to something so tightly that it was all I could do to just to keep breathing in and out.

So I focused on my breath, for it was there that I could learn to let go. No matter how many deep inhalations I take, I will always need to exhale and breathe in once more.

No matter how tightly my body holds onto the illusion of control, my breath will set me free. And I must acquiesce, or I would not survive to see my intentions through.

And if my body can continue to breath in and out, I have hope that I can learn to let go.

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Everything is already alright; Everything is always alright

I am very good at putting up walls around my heart. As sensitive as I am to my own and the suffering I see in the world, it is a natural defense mechanism for my mind to tell me over and again that everything is alright; that I am alright; and in this way to keep a safe distance from the pain.

As adept as I have become at this practice, there are still moments when something or someone convinces me to let these walls come down, and to witness and feel the pain I have been ignoring as it is revealed in all of its beautiful rawness.

I seem to feel most open in practices that bring together my mind, heart, and body. When all three are connected and listening to one another, I am vulnerable and beautiful and can see and feel my own self with amazing clarity.

One such moment happened on a Saturday in the spring of 2012, when I attended a breath workshop that a friend in Gustavus, Alaska invited me to. I had no idea what a breath workshop was, but I was intrigued and greatly admired my friend. So I went.

We talked about the importance of our breath, connecting us to the rest of our bodies. We practiced breathing deeply, in and out. We worked in partners, each taking a turn to lie down and move through guided meditation deep into our breath, which led us deep into some of the darkest recesses of our memories. Our partner sat by us to lend support and a gentle hand on our shoulder.

A gentle hand was not enough to bring me out of the reverie I fell into. The profound inhalations had brought me to a dark place I did not realize I had been avoiding. It was a place of feelings of hurt and betrayal from a person who had promised their trust to me.

It took the work of our guide and several women supporting me to bring me back to the present moment.

I still recall the experience because it was a reminder of how easy it was for me to grow distance from my heart and my body. With my mind playing the role of puppeteer, I had convinced myself that I was doing alright in the wake of divorce, winter in Alaska, and abuse from my supervisor at work.

Moving into my breath and thus into my body told me otherwise.

Another moment of raw vulnerability happened yesterday, late afternoon.

I was attending a yoga workshop led by Andrew Rivin. He began the workshop by telling us a story about the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna is led by Krishna to the place where a great battle will be taking place. in this battle, Arjuna will be pitted against friend and family and will have to choose to live by killing the people he loves or be killed by them.

Andrew told us that Arjuna had a complete breakdown, which was to be expected, but Krishna told him not to worry. Everything was already alright. He had only to dive in and engage in the present moment and let go of control of what could happen.

I listened and took notes. Like Arjuna, I have a great distaste for conflict, and I like to imagine that I am in control of my destiny.

Of course, I am in control of my destiny, I am just not in control of how it turns out.

I choose how I will approach each day and how I will respond to the ripples of energy sent to me by the universe.

Over and over, Andrew told us that wholeness and spaciousness was our birthright and that everything was already alright, everything was always alright.

I listened to these words, and I let them pass through me.

I moved my body, opened my hips and heart in response to his guiding words.

I felt my hamstrings stretching and discomfort in my wrists when I pushed myself a little too hard.

And when I was thoroughly exhausted, I lay on a yoga mat in Shavasana, my eyes closed, hands folded over my heart.

Yoga opens my mind to my heart and body. All three are witnessing and honoring each other.

As I heard those words one last time, something opened inside of me to let them in. It was as though I was hearing them in a new way, hearing them as true, hearing a comforting voice telling me that it was ok to be present and whole and open.

In this moment of permission, a well of emotion opened, and I felt tears begin to fall down each cheek and onto the mat below.

Nothing was wrong, yet I felt a sadness that I could not explain.

I felt open and exposed, like I had been holding something very tightly and was slowly releasing my hold. And in that moment of release, everything began to pour out.

And as the tears rolled down, I heard my own inner voice whispering to me in a comforting tone, “everything is alright, marieke; everything is always alright.”

And in that moment, I knew with all of my heart that it really was.

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Am I a Jew?

Am I a Jew?

Despite my attempts to the contrary, I suppose that I am a Jew. I am one of a long line of Jewish individuals, many of whom suffered and/or were killed at the hands of non-Jews. I have been told that I look Jewish and that my name sounds Jewish. I have also been informed that even though I do not possess a Jewish-looking nose (could there be more stereotypes informing what it means to be a Jew?), I have a Jewish sense of humor and can mimick a Jewish accent along with the best of them. I have been known to make many Jewish jokes and to be unable to stop myself from telling me about the great bargains I find. I also have a particular affinity for music written in a minor key.

I can recall many childhood visits to my mom’s side of the family in Detroit, Michigan. When I was 14, I firmly believed that my boyfriend and I were destined to spend our lives together, so of course I told my relatives about him. The first response came from a cousin, who immediately asked me, Is he Jewish?

No, I said.

Well, that’s ok. It’s not like you are going to marry him or anything.

I’m not? I remember thinking.

I was defiant and wanted to shake my fist and demand to be taken seriously! How could my own family wave off my destiny so readily. I can admit today that he and I were not really a match made in heaven, should such a place exist, though it was not due to our deriving from different religious origins. Of course, it is my understanding that there is no heaven for Jews, so the appropriate verbage would be to say that we were not a match made in limbo.

Most of my life, I have felt a conflict between feeling a simultaneous deep connection and revulsion for my heritage. There was a time when a tempestuous teenage version of me screamed at my mother I do not have to be Jewish if I did not want to be, to which she responded, You are Jewish because I am Jewish. Etc. etc. My sibling has reminded me of my rebellious actions at Orthodox family weddings. The men and woman would be separated by a rope or curtain. Apparently, I found this rule as one of many to be broken, so I would stand directly over the rope with one foot on either side in protest. While my feelings about Judaism have softened somewhat over the years, I still feel deeply saddened at the way so many of my people are quick to spurn and dispel non-Jews from what they believe to be their promised land alone.

This post was inspired by a set of questions a coworker taking a Jewish Studies course recently asked if I would answer. I have shared both questions and my answers below.

Lichayem!

Am I a Jew?

By Marieke Slovin

On this, the day 10th day of April, 2015

  1. Do you consider yourself to be religious, secular, or both?  In what ways?

I tend to respond that I am more of the “ish” part of Jewish. I was raised in a Jewish family. It was very important to my mom and my grandfather that I went to temple. It was my own choice to attend Hebrew School because we had just moved to a new town and it was what all the kids were doing. At least, that is my memory. I was often bored in class, so I would tuck a book of my own choice that was non-Hebrew School related inside my textbook.

I cannot recall if I ever felt strongly about a God or questioned the existence of such a deity. What I do remember quite vividly was the moment I became disenchanted with the Jewish religion. I was attending a Passover Seder with my family at a friend’s home. Food was being passed around from person-to-person, and there was lively banter. A story came up about a boy who attended one of the temples in town. He had wanted to sign up for a trip with other kids but had been refused because he was not considered to be legitimately Jewish since his mother was not Jewish. I remember being horrified by this story and equally, if not more, disturbed by the fact that no one else seems to take offense at this ridiculous, hurtful action.

That was the beginning of the end for me. The more I have learned about Judaism, including the incredibly sexist traditions, women as property, and the orthodox propensity for homophobia and supporting attacks on Palestinians, the more I feel ashamed to be Jewish.

I find it disturbing that a people who have been unjustly treated since time immemorial would turn toward similar behavior to people who are different than they are.

I am thus a conflicted Jewish soul. I feel a strong sense of honor and gratitude for the people in my family who came before me, but I have no desire to spend time in a temple and even less desire to pledge myself to any kind of god.

  1. What holidays do you remember from childhood? What were they like?

My family celebrated the traditional Jewish holidays throughout the year. Our gatherings were more about community than adhering strictly to the religious texts for any given holiday. I remember food, laughter, sitting at the designated kids’ table, playing games, and singing songs. I did not like fasting on Yom Kippur, so I often refused.

  1. Was the Sabbath observed when you were a child? What does it mean to you today?

I think my family observed the Sabbath was when I was very little. I have a vague memory of my mom saying prayers over bread. But, this memory could also be from seeing family photos. My grandfather used to observe the Sabbath. I recall periodically going to temple on Saturday mornings, but that may have been a requirement for Hebrew School rather than a family tradition.

Today, the Sabbath holds no meaning for me.

  1. How is your Jewishness different from your parents?

My mother considers herself to me Jewish. My father is an atheist. I consider myself of Jewish descent.

  1. What would you like for me to know about being Jewish?

You can learn everything you need to know by watching Woody Allen films. We are all plagued by guilt and conflicted about what it means to be Jewish.

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