life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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Remember the sloth. Be the snail.

Whenever I see an image of a sloth, I am reminded of my first honeymoon in Costa Rica. My first husband and I climbed a rickety, old watch tower and were held more rapt by the scene unfolding right in front of us than the panoramic view of the landscape behind us.

 

A sloth hung from the branches of a tree. It seemed, in fact, to be part of the tree, in body and in the tones of its body. Its hair had shades of white, brown, and green. I remember wondering if the green was actually moss growing directly on it.

 

 

 

If you have been reading my writing for some time, you may know that I have a naturally restless disposition. Staying still is no easy feat for me. My second husband calls me a squirrel on a regular basis. So, it was not small thing for me to be held rooted in one spot for at least 30 minutes, watching this creature.

 

The sloth seemed ancient as the tree it held onto both firmly and tenuously. We must have caught it during the most active period of its otherwise sedentary 24-hour period. It did a kind of sloth yoga in the tree before us, reaching out with first one and then another limb.

 

For a half an hour, I was still and calm. After it disappeared into the trees without even a trace, I vowed to remember the sloth to help me be still and calm. At times in life when I felt anything but these emotions, I wanted to be able to draw strength and perspective from the memory of the sloth.

 

Like so many experiences in life, the power and urgency experienced in the immediacy of the moment tends to fade in its wake. The memory of the sloth has remained, but it has not been as easy to remember the feeling of calm and grounding I experienced while watching it.

 

Since moving to Brussels, I have been introduced to a creature that offers a much more proximate and regular reminder to slow down, be patient, and persist even when life crushes you.

 

The snail.

 

I have seen many snails in my time in Belgium. They cling to garden walls, inch (centimeter?) along sidewalks, and move through dirt, grass, and forest. I seem to see as many crushed snails as I do living, though I have not conduced a formal study on the actual ratio and rate of survival of snails in an urban setting with vast swaths of pavement between often-tiny island oases of soil and vegetation.

 

To be honest, I am not sure how any snail survives against such odds. Each time I see a crushed shell, I bow to it, apologize, and share my express desire that it is in peace, wherever its snail spirit may be.

 

Being a homo sapiens, my shell feels even more tenuous and breakable. I have but a thin sheath of epidermis between my very sensitive heart, organs, and interior realm and the outside world, which seems to be sending wave upon unrelenting wave of shell-shattering energy my way. Countless times this calendar year alone, I have felt pummeled by the other beings with which I share this world. I have started to wonder about the ways I might create a stronger sphere of protection, my own metaphorical shell. Even a fragile one might help me to bear the force of the waves, at least enough to get across the concrete to the safety of an island of forest.

 

I am that compared to the snail, I am lucky in many ways. Even with my fragile exterior and even more delicate interior, I have an ability that the snail may lack: the ability to rebound.

 

The refrain from a song that I do not feel any particular ?? but that seems a propos for this rambling metaphor comes to mind:

 

I get knocked down, but I get up again

You’re never gonna knock me down

 

Of course, I feel like I get knocked down quite frequently, particularly these days. So, it is really only the first line that speaks most directly to my situation. The second line is more of a hope than a reality.

 

After attending a yoga workshop with master teacher, Jaye Martin, I found the words of a Lucinda Williams song running through my mind:

 

I don’t want you anymore
Cause you took my joy
I don’t want you anymore
You took my joy

 

You took my joy

I want it back

You took my joy

I want it back

 

These lines held a different kind of energy and a kind of determination different from the getting knocked down song previously mentioned. A person might yell out the lines to the first song with determination, but the singer of the second song doesn’t sing at all, they demand. I imagine the singer clawing their way out of a dark hole, coming up to the edge, dirt-encrusted fingernails reaching over the side, one hand at a time, and slowly, but with increasing confidence and determination, pulling themselves up onto level ground.

 

I can relate to the dirt crawling, the sound of a voice that practically growls from within, Get up. You want to choose happy? Choose!

 

Then, once you have chosen, get up off your sorry ass, put as much space between you and the one sucking the light and life from your spirit, and reclaim your joy by whatever means it might take.

 

Since I seem to be on a roll with pop culture references, how about the line from the movie, Elizabethtown, where the bubbly flight attendant, Claire, encourages the protagonist, Drew, to get over himself when he was roiling in self-pity after a shoe design he created cost the company he worked for umpteen billions of dollars and he subsequently lost his job, identity, meaning in life, etc.

 

According to Claire, Sadness is easier because it’s giving up. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.

 

And one more for good measure:

 

You wanna me really great? Then have the courage to fall big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.

 

I feel like I haven’t fallen so much as been crushed like my snail friends, but I know I am strong enough (and equally stubborn) to get back up, shift my perspective, and choose happiness.

 

For a snail (at least, in as much as I can determine from my observations), once crushed there is no coming back. For a squirrely human, there is more choice and strength of will involved in the return.

 

This week while traveling in Darmstadt, Germany, a place whose name literally translates to the intestine city, I have been dealt yet another crushing blow. I have to say, despite my determination not to be crushed by it, I spent a couple days in a dark place, feeling completely smashed to bits.

 

Each morning, however, with the sun shining and the promise of a large cup of coffee and possibility, I gather my pieces together in a pile, then gently lift them up to cradle them in my arms. I may feel broken, but I have all of my pieces. I also have my heart, an inner joy that is mine alone, and the desire to put myself back together.

 

As I have walked around the city

As I have walked around the city, I have been sent reminders of the snail within in the form of a bright yellow print of a snail hanging in a shop window and a silver pendant, which is no longer hanging in another shop’s window because it clearly wanted to travel and become an even more proximate reminder that I while I may not be able to choose how other people behave and that there actions do affect me, I can choose how I respond to their sometimes crushing blows.

 

I am clearly not the Walrus, and while I like the idea of embodying the spirit of the sloth and I am inspired by it, I know that I am also not the sloth. I can remember the sloth to help me keep the energy and impact of life forces in perspective, but I just don’t see myself ever being content to hang from the tree branches, swaying gently and peacefully. It isn’t me.

 

I am more a snail 2.0. I am stalwart, and I move through my life with fortitude and character. I am determined to find balance amidst the chaos, and I will be happy, even if it means crawling on hands and knees across pavement and broken glass to get there.

 

In other words, be peaceful and/but persevere!

 

 

 


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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 and business 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 music 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 music partner and I began to discover that our individual needs were quite different, I 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 rocky 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.