life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Tell your truth

“The most loving thing you can do is to tell your truth.”

I have been trying for several weeks to incorporate far too much into each day in order to meet my own needs and those required of me by others. What I find is that I can barely breath by the end of the day and the pastimes that once brought me joy now have become an activity to get through in order to get on to the next one.

I barely made it to the beginning of this weekend of yoga intensive studies. I barreled my way through the day, working in the morning, swimming, rushing to yoga class. I was looking forward to another Yin yoga class and taken by complete surprise by the most athletic form of Ashtanga I have ever experienced.

The teacher asked us to set our intention for the class. My inner voice requested that I “slow down.” But there was no time to slow down in this class. The barreling continued through each pose, which we seemed to hold for barely a few seconds before moving on to the next. I had no time to even check my alignment and we were off to the next pose. I could feel the heat and fire rising in my body.

My inner voice responded.

You can still slow down. Your expectation of slow may need to shift, but don’t worry. Everything is fine.

I could feel my body relax. It was ok for me to express myself in each pose in a way that was healthy. Savasana was far too short.

Class over, I carried on with my day.

Drive drive drive home.

When I drove up to the driveway, I saw him looking out at me through the window. He whined as I walked up the porch steps and headed to the door.

I walked in to find the house in disarray. Our dog, stricken with panic each time we leave the house, had dragged a large piece of furniture down. I was relieved that he had not been pinned beneath it, or any other of our fur babies for that matter.

He followed me around the house. I gave him a treat, which he ate only when I was close to him.

Poor soul. I think he senses my own anxiety. I imagine that when I leave, he tries to follow me in order to protect me. He panics when he cannot find a way out to reach me.

I barely made it to class tonight, but I made it.

“You are here for you,” our teacher told us.

I sighed. As we chanted Om and Om Namah Shivaya, tears streamed down my face. And it felt good. To let it all go. The release. I have been holding on to everything so tightly: expectation, responsibility, obligation.

I just sat and let it go.

We carried on. Our teacher spoke of the theme for the weekend.

Satya: truth; stepping more into your true self.

I sat with my eyes closed and thought about my truth. And I felt it. I knew my truth. Earlier, I had hoped for the weekend practice to bring clarity, and clarity had arrived far more quickly than I anticipated.


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Not just another white girl

Of late, my writing has been focused on Buddhism and the tenets of Yoga.

I can imagine what might be going on in your head.

Where is the storyteller? Where have they gone, the stories of wildness of Alaska, the factories of Lowell, and the desert of Arizona.

Perhaps, these very words have run through your mind: “Oh no, not another white girl in her thirties who has discovered Eastern philosophy. She hasn’t even traveled to East Asia.”

I wouldn’t blame you if this were true, for there is truth to this response.

I am female, and I identify as such.

I may be white. I have seen Judaism described as a race. Does that make me a Jew above all else, primarily due to my genetic heritage? It reminds me of the episode in Northern Exposure where Joel Fleischman, single, Jewish doctor, took offense to having tomatoes hurled at him for being a white person. I’m not white, he claimed, and he put up such a stink that he was permitted to walk in the Thanksgiving Day parade with the Native American community.

I wonder if my Jewish ancestors would consider themselves white, Jewish, or some combination of the two?

The closest I have been to the Asian continent was on a voyage to the city of Ekaterinburg on the east side of the Ural Mountains in Russia. I am not sure if this counts.

What I am is a person in search of a sustainable life and as much awareness of self as is humanly possible. What interests me most as I move through my life is how to more deeply understand my own Self and to be present, available, and open to the world around me. I want to sit with what brings me joy and every other emotion along the spectrum in each stage of self-discovery I have the courage to venture.

Today, I write in body from brisk, sunny central Arizona. My mind has already spanned several continents and tasted the wisdom of writers and thinkers from many times and places. I cannot yet say what tomorrow will bring.

I may not be able to promise that I am not just another “white” girl smitten with Buddhism. If I am, does it really matter? From what I have learned about Buddhism and Yoga, the world could benefit from more people studying these practices and incorporating them into their worldview.

What I do know is that I am marieke, the only version of my self I know to exist. Were I to meet another, I am not sure how I would react, but I suppose I can cross that bridge if and when I get to it. I am not sure the world needs another me. Could be scary!

I am a seeker: of stories, songs, and the magic that can be found in opening oneself up to the possibilities the universe provides. I am a musician and a writer. I love to travel in mind, body, and spirit. My practice is to help create awareness, beauty, and empathy through art.

I can also assure you that I know who I am, though who that is seems to change with time and experience.

I promise that as it unfolds, I will write and share my journey with you.

I hope you will share your own journey with me.

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Rejoice! You are already perfect just as you are

Yesterday, I wrote about a fellow who recently spoke at Prescott College. His name is Will Duncan, and his wisdom and words came at a pivotal moment for me in my writing and self-study. Do you ever feel like you become aware of something and suddenly notice it everywhere? Sometimes, pieces fall into place in this synchronous way, as if the universe is responding to your call for guidance. Who knows where and how our energy travels. Perhaps, the universe was responding.

I spent much time admonishing myself through the written word for passing judgment on others. Then, I listened to Will tell me that I was not alone in this learned behavior.

“In this culture, we are masters of beating ourselves up, of not accepting ourselves as we are,” he told us. His next words offered the insight I had yet realized.

“Our judgment of other people is just coming out of our judgment of ourselves.”

Brilliantly simple, yet it seemed so very clear to me. There is always something going on behind the scenes, whether or not we are aware of it.

If I think someone does not like me when I first meet them because they seem cold or aloof, there is likely something they are struggling with that has very little, if anything to do with me. They might be having a bad time or not be feeling well. I have learned to try not to take their response personally and even to ask. One student in my cohort when I was studying in Africa was very distant when we were introduced. We became very close friends in the months that followed, and I later asked her if she had not liked me when we first met. She told me that she had just started her period and was experiencing really intense cramps. Who wouldn’t be unfriendly in that situation?

I have since realized that I am no exception to the first impression rule. I went through college thinking a woman in my circle of friends did not like me. After we graduated, it somehow came out that she had not I didn’t like her. So, all this time, we could have been developing a friendship but let our own illusions dictate our realities.

In the end, we are all just human. After all.

Will suggested that we be kinder to ourselves, which will allow us to be kinder to others.

I discovered this to be true in my own path to a more sustainable existence. The more time I spent wallowing in questions of the self, the more answers I was able to find. I went through a stormy period where I was in such extreme survival mode that I was not able to take care of my own self very well, forget about other people who might have needed me. What I found in the wake of this storm was that my heart seemed to have expanded. I was able to take people into my home and be a place of support and love for others on the brink of moving through their own storm.

Of course, here I sit with a doctorate in Sustainability Education and a focus on the concept of self-sustainability, and I still struggle against my own inner critic every day. I am a work in progress.

So, how to overcome the critic? Will had a few suggestions.

1. Learn to appreciate yourself. How? Small, regular, spiritual practice.

2. What he referred to as a daily “Rejoicing Meditation.”

Here is how he described it:

Lay down in bed (this is a fun one, he said, because you can lie down!)

Rejoice in all the cool things you and other people did that day, but especially you

Simple enough, and I think the more you practice the easier it becomes to find the positive rather than focus on the negative.

In my own writing and research on self-sustainability, I have come to realize that the notion of being perfect is really to accept being imperfect. We are each perfect with our idiosyncracies and graceful in our clumsiness and stumbling. I am not sure I would really want for life to be any other way.

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Reconditioning is a bitch

I am constantly looking for the meaning behind the meaning for everything that happens in my life—every action, non-action, interaction, and interchange with someone or something in the universe.

This is the way my mind works. It is how it was trained. And reconditioning is a bitch.

Over the years, I have crossed paths with myriad people and places. I have learned to feel at home in many of these places and felt like a permanent stranger in others.

For much of my life, I have been a stranger to myself as well.

At the time, if you had asked me if I was self-aware, I would have likely responded in the affirmative. It was not until I had the benefit of hindsight to realize just how far from myself I had strayed.

A friend told me this morning, ““As Americans, we get on our deathbed and realize all of these trivial things we worried about and seemed so important during our lives really didn’t matter. Oh well, time to die.”

This was not a new concept. I am fully aware that the many mundane things I worry about in a day far outnumber the moments I spend appreciating all that I have to be thankful for. I am also aware that life is not a competition. In the end, I have only my own soul with which to contend; and love can take on many forms and does not depend on proximity.

One small nudge from the universe can send me spiraling into deep questions of self-worth, whether I am living up to my full potential, whether people who are far away still love me, and if those whose paths I crossed in times of difficulty will ever think of me as any less than a demon?

Last night, I felt sad and lonely, and this morning I felt much the same. I started thinking about the people in my life who were once as close to me as family but who followed paths that led them far away from me.

There disappearance from my everyday existence was something that took years for me to accept, and at times I still feel the pang of remorse and wonder what I did to cause them to abandon me in the wake of their new realities.

Of course, experience tells me that I likely had little to do with this perceived abandonment. People come in and out of my life just as the wind. I feel them strongly, and we dance, and then we continue on our separate ways.

I told my friend about these feelings of abandonment and wondering what I was doing with my life. He told me, “I feel angry and I feel ignored, and I am going to use those feelings to drive myself forward on my own path. ​I have this path I am on, and I need to be diligent about the things I want to accomplish.​ Maybe, I Anything that gets work out of me is good, though.”

​We are talked about the difference between friends and friends in times of need.

​He told me that sometimes people forget that you mean something to them and then they remember and come back to you.

In general, I try to hold onto those individuals who have given me permission to be myself, in good times and bad.

Perhaps, there is no such thing as real friends. We are all just people doing our own, individual dance with the universe. It is tricky enough trying to figure out my own dance without looking completely ridiculous and clumsy and bumping into things. Being in relationship, any kind of relationship, with other beings takes some work.

All I can do is feel what I feel and continue trying to send blessings to those who are far away in spirit or in body.

Maybe none of this means anything; maybe, it means everything. Or perhaps, it just is. I don’t have to do anything about this particular pain. I just have to be aware of it and notice it and carry on.


You look white; are you feeling alright?

It was the final evening of 2014. A Wednesday. I used to find it very important that I stay up until midnight to be witness to the arrival of the new year. These past few years, I have begun thinking more about the fatigue I will surely experience the day after should I stay up to bang pots and pans.

This year, I was brushing my teeth well before 11pm when my partner walked into the bathroom. He was smiling at my in the mirror when a look of concern swept over his face.

“You look white,” he told me. “Are you feeling alright?”

I finished brushing, rinsed my mouth, and stared at him blankly. Something was trying to register in my brain in response to his words.

Of course, I knew what he meant. I was looking pale, even for me.

I was still processing his question when I found myself walking out into the living room and shouting to his teenage daughter.

“Guess what your dad just said to me?”

Thus began an interchange in hilarity of many possible retorts.

“Wait, what? I’m white? Well, this just throws my entire identity into question.”

“What are you telling me? After all these years…..”

And so on, and so forth. We shrieked with laughter as we hollered back and forth across the house.

It was one of the more hilarious phrases that have been directed at me in my life, but it was also humbling in some way. There is a kind of sickness that has spread across the world with regard to race, culture, religion, etc. And a person’s appearance seems to continue to be the greatest claim for first impressions.

In the past few years, I have wondered if I am really white. My ancestors and Joel from Northern Exposure would claim otherwise; that I am a Jew. I always hesitate on forms that request me to reduce my racial identity to something that seems far too limiting to describe my whole self.

I might claim that I a woman.

I might claim that I am of ethnic origin.

What does it even mean to be reduced to a color on a page?

What are the people on the other end hoping to learn?

The older I get, the more concerned I become with the narrow scope within which we attempt to define and determine the world.

My music partner told me recently that he hesitates to introduce himself as a musician.

“If I define myself as one thing, I limit my potential to be other things as well,” he told me.

In this new year, I am less concerned with creating a definition of who I am that will please others and help them to feel comfortable by perpetuating an unfortunate cultural norm.

Rather, I will continue my own inner search to cultivate the kind of me that nourishes my spirit and soul and helps to lift the spirits of those around me.

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You gave up Alaska for this?

from the airplaneWhen I headed north for Alaska, I was searching for something. I left with anti-depressants and panic pills in my pocket, certain that I would continue to experience difficulty filling my air with lungs and breathing normally. I was afraid of leaving my life in Washington behind. I had not set off on my own for many years.

By the end of my first summer in Alaska, something inside of me had changed.

“You are different,” an friend told me. “More confident and grounded in yourself.”

There was truth in her words. I had survived the summer. More than that, I had thrived. I had begun to envision a new identity as a musician and started playing music again. I felt the thrill of life in a new place in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness.

This confidence was newly rooted and still shaky.

I spent a painful two months in Washington.

During that time, a friend wrote to me in an email, “it will be darker when you get back.”

It was.

Alaska sun

I headed north once more at the end of a cold November, thankful to have my sister with me on the journey through the Inside Passage.

I left her at the Juneau airport a few days later and continued the remainder of the journey to Gustavus alone.

On the ferry were familiar faces, young and old. I was thankful for the company. The community of Gustavus is remarkable and unlike any other I have experienced. It was a gift to be a part of it for a time.

The winter was a dark and difficult time.

Another friend had told me that when she first got word of a job in Alaska, her coworker had chided, “Alaska? Be careful. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I experienced this first hand. Of course, I am odd myself, and for a time I did not question the odd treatment.

Oddness is one thing. We are each odd in our own ways. Abuse is quite another. And after some of the worst abuse from a once friend and supervisor, I decided that my shaky confidence would not survive if I stayed for much longer.

Alaska sunsetBack to the lower 48 to take refuge in Arizona and then to a new life in Massachusetts.

It is from Massachusetts that I write on this overcast morning. It may be cloudy, but the sun is working its way into view.

This past weekend, during a busy Lowell Folk Festival, I walked across town with two visitors. When I told them I had moved here from Alaska, one of them chastised, “You gave up Alaska for this?”

I did. There are moments when I miss the wilderness and the sense of community. There has not been one moment when I have missed the abuse I received for being odd in a way that some individuals found threatening.

I am in Massachusetts. I am who I am. And I am my own blessing.

footprint in Alaska sand