life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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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!

Dells sky


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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.

Empty Bathtub


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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.

m yoga beach


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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.

Photo on 5-6-13 at 5.17 PM


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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.

baby m


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It wasn’t love at first sight

I am no Narcissus: far from it. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like to take a vacation from myself. A sabbatical from my hazel eyes that never seem to become blue, my short legs that never seem to grow any taller, my oily chin, frizzy hair, and tummy that will not be flat. An all-expenses paid break from my mind and inner critic would be perfect, but I would go regardless of whether or not I was getting vacation pay.

I have been looking at my reflection for 33 years; more often than not, I have seen imperfection.

I wish I could remember the first time I looked in a mirror and saw myself looking back.

I wonder what thoughts were swirling through my little head about the person in the reflection. Did I like her? Did I find her beautiful? Or was I critical, already seeing a flaw in every detail and wondering how I might fix it?

When I was in elementary school, my closest friend told me that I had fat thighs and my half side ponytail didn’t look as good as hers. I am not sure if it was that moment that I began to see myself as chubby, but the commentary certainly didn’t help.

I fell in love with a pair of my mom’s old Levi’s when I was twelve and vowed to never try to dress like all of the other preppy girls I knew. I was tired of trying to fit in and be like everyone else.

I stayed true to my word and wore those jeans until they literally disintegrated off of my body. But realizing I was not and did not want to be like everyone else did not mean that I instantly became accepting of who I was.

Every now and then, something happens that tells me the person I see in the mirror is very different from the person the rest of the world sees.

This happened recently, when I was asked two questions:

What does grace mean to you?

And

Why do we have a need or desire to connect with grace?

I wrote the questions down on a blank piece of paper and looked down at them, frozen. I realized that I was filled with enmity. In my mind, I imagined a church full of people and a lithe ballet dancer moving slowly on empty stage. I saw tall, willowy women and trees with long, slender branches.

I did not see myself.

So I wrote down two responses to the first question: what grace has meant to me, and what grace could mean to me.

Grace has meant: something I always thought I could never be because I was clumsy, unfeminine, frumpy, short, thick.

Grace could mean: acceptance of who I am and how I am.

In response to the second question, I wrote the following:

Because I will never be free until I accept my self wholly without judgment or trying to change my self to be something I am not. It causes discomfort and stress in my body when I try to be and feel something counter to my values and sense of self.

Even though I was worried that my responses were wrong, I read them out loud to a group of women, who each read their own responses in turn.

As I was putting on my shoes and getting ready to leave, one woman turned to me and told me, we sure see ourselves differently than the rest of the world sees us.

We do, don’t we? I responded and smiled.

In my memory, it hasn’t been love at first sight.

With time and practice, however, I am learning to open my mind and my heart, to think of imperfection as perfection, and to see grace in my reflection.

Arizona sunset


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What I see in you

“I am thinking about applying for a yoga teacher training,” I told my partner a little over a month ago. “I am not sure I can afford it, but I still want to try.”

“Why don’t you try to taking a class at the studio to see if you like yoga and like their teaching style?” came the grounded, rational response.

But I was not to be deterred. I wanted to go deeper, to understand the history of yoga and how the practice might help me find balance and grounding in the many moments of the day when I felt anxiety-riddled, desirous to return negative or fiery energy, and generally overwhelmed by how little control I really had over the surprises the universe sent my way.

“You really don’t do things in halves, do you?” my partner mentioned when I told him that I had been accepted and wanted to give the training a go. I believe my response may have been something akin to the sound “hmmmph” and the word “ha!”

Of course, he was completely correct. I am an extreme kind of person. If I have an idea, I can become obsessed by it. When I am excited and passionate about a pursuit, I dive in fully, regardless of the temperature of the water.

And so for this training, I jumped in cannonball style.

I arrived Friday late afternoon, yoga mat, bags of stuff, and vulnerable heart in tow.

I sat in a circle of women, feeling unsure my counterparts and myself.

Would they love me? Would they judge me?

We shared vulnerabilities, intentions, and hopes for our selves and our practice. we spent 20 hours together over the course of three days, moving and stretching our minds, bodies, and hearts.

At the end of the final day, we sat in a circle with knees touching. One by one, we turned to the woman beside us and said the words, “What I see in you is…”

Tears rolled down cheeks and a box of tissues was passed around. I felt the transient beauty in the moment and was so filled with joy that my hear was full and no tears would fall.

My inner critic informed that my teacher was sure to think I was unfeeling and unworthy of this practice, and I could feel the shame rising to a boil inside of me.

And then a pair of warm, loving eyes looked into mine, and I heard the words, “What I see in you is grace.”

My heart and my eyes filled. Something I could never believe in my self was being reflected back to me with honesty and sincerity. I wanted to believe it, and in that moment I did.

I was grace.

And now I share what I see in you, for it is what I see in.

What I see in you is joy and sadness; strength and vulnerability; patience and desire; hope and possibility.

What I see in you is a person deserving of all the love you can handle and then a little bit more.

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