Terror Attack or Shooting? – A Poem

Trigger Warning: Mass shootings, gun violence, graphic depictions of violence.
I wrote this poem in response to the talk about the Pulse Orlando shooting being a terror attack because it was perpetrated by “possibly a Muslim”. As a shooting survivor, I have a lot of feelings about that.

Do not tell me what is a terror attack or what isn’t.
You do not know the ice of hearing windows shatter
You do not know the terror of hearing sister is shot
You know nothing of what bullets sound like hitting human flesh
or the screaming of your sisters
or the desperation of being on a phone to a 911 operative
begging them to come because my sisters have been shot
because my twin is lying in front of me on the floor of a minivan
with blood streaming out her nose
and she looks like she’s asleep but she won’t wake up
Do not tell me it is not terror
to try to hide behind a leather seat
to see bullets hitting windshield
to not see where they are coming from
to watch father fall to ground from one piercing him
to want it all to stop, stop, stop
but the bullets are ringing over and over and over
there is so much noise
time is so slow but it keeps going
do not tell me it is not terror
to rip a scarf from your body to try to stop twin sister’s bleeding
to have to look your twin over for an exit wound
do not tell me it is not terror to not have her answer you
to hear your mother saying “I can’t find a bullet hole
I can’t find one, oh God I can’t find one”
do not tell me it is no terror to stumble out of the car
to see other sister on the ground
with face blue from lack of oxygen
to feel your heart fall apart into your stomach as you know she is dying
to have to run from her because the shooter could be returning
to feel your soul is being ripped from your body
because your sisters’ souls are leaving you
do not tell me it is not terror
to wait for news of which hospitals they went to
to know on the way there that twin sister is gone
because you don’t feel her soul next to yours anymore
to watch a policeman speak what you already know while he is trying not to cry
do not tell me it is not terror
when father comes out of surgery, silently looks at you all
looking for the people missing
looks at you and asks where your twin is
and mother is quiet and says nothing so your mouth has to open
you say the worst words you have ever said
“Dad, Stephanie is gone.”
Do not tell me it is not terror
to stand by other sister’s bedside begging for her to come back to you
to sing all of her favorite songs in a desperate attempt for the bullet not to win
to try to cry it out of her heart and take the bullet into your own heart instead
to ask her to please not leave you alone here
do not tell me it is not terror to have the doctors
come out to waiting room to tell you that other sister is gone
that she has left you here alone despite all your begging

you say that a mass shooting is not a terror attack
unless it happens to have a Muslim face behind it
I want to tell you to fuck yourself and wait until you live one.

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Doing Something With My Heartbreak

I’ve been away for awhile, but it’s not because I’m sittin’ around, feet up, with a nice cold one in my hand.

I have never been one to do nothing with my heartbreak.

I believe in doing something with what I say. The people closest to me will tell you that my biggest pet peeve is that when someone says something, and then doesn’t follow through on what they say. I refuse to be one of those people.

Remember how I wrote at the end of last year on how to support victims after a mass shooting? And how I also wrote at the end of last year about creating dialogue around gun violence?

Well, I’ve been working very, very hard on things to follow up on both of those. I’ve been a busy little bee, community organizing and meeting amazing people throughout the community.

One of the things that I am helping to head up around creating dialogue is happening this month. On April 17th at 2pm, in my neighborhood, we will be having a silent walk to commemorate victims of gun violence.

Why my neighborhood? Because I live in the Shooks Run Neighborhood, where on October 31, 2015, a man open carried an AR-15, opened fire, and killed 3 people before being killed by police.

It struck close to my heart, in some ways literally and in some ways figuratively. I had to take a month to feel it all.

Needless to say, it’s definitely a part of why I haven’t written. Heartbreak comes in waves. I had to wait out the tide. And the timing was really hard, too, because only weeks before, I’d written my letter to Congress.

Then 27 days later, impossibly, there was another shooting, this time at Planned Parenthood about 2 miles away from me. For the 2nd time in 27 days, my city was on national news. My heart broke.

But with my heartbreak, I did something. I started a GoFundMe and was amazed as the community stepped forward. We raised $1000 in 4 hours over social media to take catered Panera Bread to staff at both hospitals where victims were taken.

I needed my time to grieve… but I have never been one to do nothing with heart break.

Then an opportunity came in early December for me to join a group of artists and community organizers in Colorado Springs. They were all interested in reclaiming safe space, and I jumped at it. The overall heartfelt response from the group was an interest creating de-politicized, safe space around the common heartache that everyone shares around gun violence.

This, honestly, was the only reason I even joined the group. Since the Planned Parenthood shooting, I’ve been very careful not to have much of any political conversation around gun violence. There was so much infighting after that shooting. I wasn’t ready to speak until I had a safe place to speak in. I wanted to be part of a group that brought a safe place to explore the heartache beneath the positions.

The amazing organizers at Common Space Collective that I’m working with are creating that safe space.

And we want to reclaim our common space, so we’re going to have a silent walk.

April 17, 2pm. Corner of Kiowa and El Paso. Walking through the neighborhood taking the same route that the shooter took. Ending at First Congregational Church for a short workshop on how to listen.

This is my town. These are my people. My neighborhood. And I’m doing something like this because I believe in it. I have never been a person to just believe in something without putting action to my beliefs. This is my way to say, to myself and my community – “You are safe here. We’re here with you.”

Join me?


 

RSVP to the Facebook Event here: Silent Walk Honoring Victims of Gun Violence
For more information on Common Space Collective, go here: Common Space Collective

And stay tuned here at my site, more announcements to come!

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Supporting Victims in the Aftermath of COS Shootings

On Saturday, I was approached by a community leader wanting to know victim and community impact after a shooting. As a shooting survivor, I have an intimate view on victim support after a mass shooting. And in light of both of the recent shootings here in Colorado Springs, I wanted to let the community know how victims are impacted, and how to move forward.

This is a long post in Q&A format. I kept it long because I feel these ideas are important.

How do secondary victims get help despite being secondary?
First, let’s define what a so-called “secondary” victim is. Victims can often be people you aren’t even aware of. They’re of course the people we quickly think of – friends and family of those who were killed (primary). But there are many others – “secondary”.

For instance: there were people that watched either shooter kill his victims. There were people that heard the gunfire of either event. There were people that lived on the streets where the Halloween shooter began or enacted his rampage (I happen to live on that street myself). There were the hundreds of people who had to shelter in place in the Centennial shopping center on Friday afternoon for 5 hours. There were the hostages that were trapped inside Planned Parenthood until the police were able to extricate them.

In other words, there are a LOT of victims. And it’s easy for them to go under the radar, because unless the news media exploits their story (and I do mean exploit, I’ll explain later) they are unknown to the public.

If you are friends with either a primary or secondary victim, it’s important to know that the experience most likely changed their life forever in some way shape or form. Right now is a time for you to know some mental health first aid:

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If you don’t know what to say – don’t say anything. The BEST thing you can do is to be present, gentle and supportive. Cliched statements such as “well, everything happened for a reason” are much more harmful than helpful.

If you or someone you know was a victim and need more professional help, there is a Community Crisis Recovery Center set up right now to provide resources. If the victim is in the police report, they could be eligible to have mental health costs covered by the 4th Judicial District Victims Assistance Fund (also present at the Community Crisis Recovery Center).

If not covered, many therapists work on a sliding scale – I am putting together a list of COS Trauma Therapists here. AspenPointe also has a 24/7 Community Crisis unit. And if you are on the UCCS campus, utilize the Counseling Center. They have many quality LPCs and PhDs that can provide effective counseling or mental health services.

Also, of great service to me has been the Rebels Project online Facebook group. It is a group for victims of mass shootings and traumatic events to share their experiences with people who understand. This has given me personally a lot of support when I am triggered or processing something.

If you are a secondary victim, your experience is no less important or impactful than if you were a primary victim. If you are feeling fragile and jumpy, it’s okay to get help. If you are feeling frozen or numb, it’s okay to get help. Tell close family and friends what is going on. Ask for support. Find a good therapist. The better support you have, the more likely you will be to emotionally recover.

 

How can the community engage with this somewhat new reality?

It’s important to be aware of mental health first aid, especially knowing that there are many people impacted that you’re unaware of. Be aware that people will have a variety of triggers.

Mine, for instance, are screaming, loud bangs, and men who are behaving in a erratic way. I can also get triggered by news of new mass shootings, if I read the news too much. Sometimes I have to stay off social media after news of mass shootings. I used to also be triggered by sirens, emergency vehicles, and car accidents as well. Other people will have different triggers.

If you know a victim (primary or secondary) be very aware of this. Don’t shut them down for reacting in certain ways. If they literally run away from situations, if they hide from certain things, if they freak out for no reason, this is ALL normal. Those are ALL things that I have done.

Be very cognizant of what you say. For instance, there is a lot of talk right now about how college campuses utilize trigger warnings. It helped me immensely to have trigger warnings. I went to college after my sisters were murdered, and it was by far the place I felt most unsafe. I had a professor who warned the class about a video interview with a serial killer. I was extremely grateful because then I could choose to leave class before sitting there in shock.

I also experienced one of my worst triggers in a class in which a professor made an extremely inappropriate joke about the Aurora shootings. I was dissociated and couldn’t pay attention at all for about 20 minutes. So be sensitive to survivor experience.

Another huge thing is to realize that we will be dealing with this for years to come. It’s been 8 years and I still have triggers, albeit fewer than I did even 2 years ago. As a community, it’s important to ensure that supports remain in place on a continual basis.

We often forget the massive impact of traumatic events because of the media’s short cycle. Realize the victims are probably still processing in some way, shape, or form, even years later. Churches, community organizations, businesses, and schools should be especially aware of this as they endeavor to support their members.

And for the general population – if someone shares with you that they were affected by these events and are still processing, suspend judgment and just be present to their story. Listening and providing your emotional support (without having to say much beyond “I’m here”) is the best thing you can do. But, don’t be afraid to ask what happened! It helps after the media spotlight goes away to know people still care. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?

 

While many people have an experience of losing a loved one, how is this different when it is in the public eye?

This changes the experience drastically. There is a whole set of expectations that comes with your tragedy being seen by the whole world (or your whole town, state, etc). Here are some expectations I’ve had placed on me, and my responses.

People (especially the media) expecting victims to tell their storyNo one is constrained to tell their story publicly, even if the media covered the event. It’s up to the person involved. We as victims make the final call on whether we share or not. But, DO feel free to ask us as victims about what happened. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?” This leaves it open for us to say yes or no. Often the “yes” or “no” depends upon how safe we feel sharing with you.

People expecting victims to react a certain way emotionally when telling their story (crying, being very upset, etc). – Everyone deals with things differently, and trauma can further distort that. Just because I’m not crying doesn’t mean I’m not upset. But if I’m crying that doesn’t mean I’m falling apart, either. Maybe I’m just having a rough day. Suspend judgment about reactions and realize all of our stories are different.

People having certain ideas about what victims are going through, based on media reports.As victims, we may or may not be shattered by what happened. We may or may not be “over it and stronger as a result.” The media does not reflect our personal feelings most of the time.

People having assumptions about victims beliefs/politics based on media reports or where the event occurred.In my shooting, just because it was at a church doesn’t mean I’m still a Christian. Just because an armed guard took down the shooter doesn’t mean I’m pro/anti concealed carry. Victim beliefs and politics are not necessarily in line with public assumption. Just because a victim’s shooting happened at Planned Parenthood, or as a result of open carry, doesn’t mean their specific beliefs/politics align with the popular assumptions carried around those places or ideas. Be careful to not assume stories based on media representation or current political climate. Let victims tell the stories. Our beliefs are not a way to further a political platform, unless we choose to use them that way ourselves.

People seeing the fact that victims do sometimes choose to tell their story publicly, and telling them that “they’re so strong” for being able to do so.What you see in a victim may not be strength or peace. It may be shock. My repetition of the story immediately afterwards looked like strength, because I didn’t break down and cry. As a matter of fact, it was not strength or peace, it was shock.

Not being able to have your private grief, because the media is looking at you – but then when media moves away, feeling abandoned – When the media is around, the public is completely involved in victim’s private grief. But conversely, when the media turns away, it can feel like the whole world has forgotten about you. Both suck. When it’s public, I felt like I couldn’t grieve the way I wanted. When the media turned away, I felt like my grief didn’t matter. It’s a catch 22. In this situation as a community, we can make sure we continue to support all victims of these tragedies months and YEARS to come (recovery takes years, my friends).

 

 

With the sharing of information at our fingertips, entities are constantly trying to beat each other to this “social equity” , up to the point of obtaining it within minutes of an incident or positive ID.  Have you experienced the feeling of someone using your experience for their gain in social capital? 

Yes. The media especially is skilled with this. I’ve recently chosen to begun sharing my experiences more in the media, in the interest of shutting down the “sides” mentality we have around gun issues and encouraging more dialogue. (This is my position, not necessarily the position of other victims of shootings) When I share, I find my words get skewed. I am often made to sound more traumatized than I actually am. People love disaster stories; I call it disaster porn.

An example: I have widely shared the Gazette article I was recently in because it maintains my greater point, but some of the material was skewed. For instance, I did not hear sirens when I delivered food to the Penrose ER on Saturday morning. [Editthe Gazette has since edited the article]

People often use victim’s stories to further their own aims or viewership. I implore you, local media – please do not exploit victim’s stories to improve your ratings. Be compassionate and aware. And as a community, we all need to be careful that we don’t exploit victims for our own ideas or political platforms.

Are victims of gun violence also a victim of the current politics of gun violence?  Can it be a double whammy (victimized from all sides)? Is there additional impact when the violence speaks from other political arenas?

In a word, yes. This is a huge area where the media can take advantage of victims. Currently, the media tends to portray sides within the politics of gun violence – pro-gun or ban guns. I personally have expressed a middle view of dialogue first, action or possible reform second. I have to be extremely careful how I word this, because if I don’t word it correctly, the media will portray me as being on one side or the other.

After I wrote my letter to Congress, many responses were revictimizing. The worst were people asking me about the armed guard Jeanne Assam that took down Matthew Murray in my shooting. Several people asked me why she didn’t play into what I wrote.

Their questions were indicative of wanting to convert me for one side or the other in the debate (in this case, pro/anti concealed carry). Problem being, they were not at New Life Church that day, and I was. Their attempt to tell me what to believe/write about was revictimizing. It was an attempt to steal my voice as a victim and to use me to further their own politics.

I can’t speak for the victims in these past two shootings. However, my experience has been that victims have a variety of political views, just like the general public does. Therefore:

It is not up to the public to assume any victim’s stance by seeing their status (i.e. police officer), situation (i.e. shooter openly carrying rifle) or where they were on that day (i.e. Planned Parenthood clinic). None of these things give us any real insight on victims’ political views or beliefs, and to assume and place labels on them is to revictimize them.

It is up to the victims of these shootings to state their political beliefs if they so choose. Until then, no assumption should be made about where they stand on any issues. All assumptions made are an act of re-victimization and the public stealing the victim’s voices for their own aims.

 

I want to end with this: Most importantly, we are a community and we need to step forward and support our victims. We need to be sensitive to what they need right now, and careful to not re-traumatize or re-victimize. Between Halloween and the Planned Parenthood shooting, there are hundreds of victims who need us right now. These are just some simple ways that we as a community can support them for the months and years to come.


 

If there are any other questions that anyone is interested in, I am willing to write a follow up post. Please leave your questions in the comments. Commenters from Colorado Springs will have priority.

I’m also interested to hear any other thoughts or in put on this – please share!

 

 

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Tarot Tuesday

Welcome to the very first Tarot Tuesday on my blog! This is a new feature in which I’ll draw one card and then talk about how its major archetypes may be playing in your life right now.

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Major Arcana Ace – The Master

This is a major arcana card unique to this deck. And what a fitting card for this week! As you can see, there is a full moon pictured above the Master on the card. We have a full moon tomorrow in Gemini.

The card very much speaks to the archetype brought up by this moon. There is a lot of movement going on, especially of the mind. Gemini is a sign ruled by Mercury, and has the archetype of the Witness (source: Virgo Magic). Wowee! A full moon in Gemini, ruled by Mercury, on Wednesday, ALSO ruled by Mercury! That means big energetics, chickadees! Mental obsessiveness, anxiety, and rumination are stirred up a lot right now. You might find yourself pulled this way and that with all the thoughts fluttering through you.

How can you stay steady? Tap into the archetype of The Master. The Master is the Higher Self, the Witness consciousness, the mastery of self that happens when one pays attention and becomes mindful of what is happening within and without.

Remember: The Master is not something outside of you – it is the still point within yourself where you are steady and unshakeable. It is the open-hearted place where you can see with compassion all your own machinations, yet not get tricked into believing their stories. It’s that place in you that pats all those crazy thoughts on the head with laugh and a “there, there“, without getting on their rollercoaster ride.

This card called up in me as well a yoga sutra that was the theme of my teacher training: “Abhyasa, the practice, is the effort to remain firmly established in one’s own true Self; it is cultivated over a long time, through earnest and reverent energy, and with great love.” (PYS I.14)

The practice this week is: to remain firmly established in the true Self, to maintain the quiet center of equanimity at the heart of it all, and to listen to our own inner silence over the voices that want to invade.

Courage, dear hearts! With the help of the Master within, we will be able to ride the tides without being shaken.

With heart,

Laurie


Want more? I also do full tarot readings! I am running a special right now for Christmas. If you buy a tarot reading for a friend, you will receive a tarot reading of your own for 50% off! That is, buy one reading, and get another for 50% off. Input Christmas2015 in the form if you’d like to take advantage of this offer!

Tell me what you thought of this week’s reading in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and how you’ll be working with the energy this week.

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Love Casts Out Fear

Image by Surian Soosay

The Western world has been afraid of the Muslim world almost my entire life. Or considering I was born in 1989, maybe it HAS been my whole life.

I have not partaken in this stupid fad. Yeah. That’s what I’m calling it, a stupid fad.

Before you think I’m passing off a serious issue, I’m not. I am calling it out for being ridiculous.

When I was a teenager, I was enamored with Islamic culture. I read up on the Islamic faith. I loved how they prayed 5 times a day. I listened to recordings of imams shouting the morning call to prayer. I tried to learn a little Arabic – greetings, for example, I have down very well. I wanted to adopt a child from Turkey. I got travel books from the library about Middle Eastern countries, one of which was Syria.

The very first country I went to when I traveled overseas was a Muslim country – Azerbaijan. That was on purpose. It’s also the place I spent the longest amount of time overseas. I was there for 3 1/2 months teaching English. They were socially Muslim, much like we are socially Christian, so they didn’t all wear a hijab (head covering), or practice namaz (5x/day prayer). The ones who did these things were considered serious. And yet serious was still different from fundamental.

In my English class one day, one older Azeri woman expressed her disdain for “those fundamentalists.” It was a lower level English class, so her English wasn’t great, but her meaning was very clear. And the entire class agreed with her. They weren’t those people. Just like in the United States where most Christians would vehemently say, “I’m not a Westboro Baptist.”

Are people afraid of what they don’t understand? Maybe. When I told people I was going to Azerbaijan, I was always asked if it was safe, and I was always confused by this question.

Two years ago, for my undergraduate service learning class, I volunteered in refugee resettlement. I worked a lot with teaching job skills to new refugees. The majority of new refugees at that time were Iraqis. And I loved it.

One of my favorite things I got to do was home visits. Some of the Muslim families were very strict, and the wives didn’t often leave their apartments. But they needed to know food safety, and cleaning, and those kinds of things. So I went to do home visits. They often included tea and conversation. One woman in particular I remember. She always wanted me to sit and have tea. She would grab her Arabic to English dictionary and we would talk. She was thrilled that I knew a little bit of Arabic, and so hungry to communicate with someone, anyone.

This is the woman I think of when I think of refugees. And my heart hurts. I would never refuse her entry to our country.

People seem to get so distracted from well… other people… when they think their safety is threatened. As soon as there is some kind of danger, the response is volatile. There is so much exclusion. The last few days, I’ve heard vitriol beyond belief, from people wanting to bar Syrian refugees from entering the country. The talk seems to center around safety and elimination of threat.

As a mass shooting survivor, I’m all too familiar with having my safety threatened. And I probably have a somewhat different perspective on it that some people. The thought is this – I’m not safe anyway. Not only do we have people committing crimes like mass shootings, but I could die in a car accident. I could die in my sleep by some random fluke of nature. I never know when my time is.

So, though I am still concerned about my safety and it is most likely the underlying need of all my psychological work at this point, there is one thing that’s more important.

If I’m going to die any day, then does it matter how I go? Doesn’t it matter more how I live – with compassion, love, and grace? Wouldn’t I rather remember how kind I was to my Iraqi refugee friend, or my Azeri students, than remember shutting them out because I was too afraid they’d hurt me?

And doesn’t how I live and react to others show me something, too, about how I react to myself?

I can react in fear to the thought of my own death and choose to let that keep me from opening my heart to other people. I can defend myself with walls sky high to keep others from coming in. Most of all, I can refuse to notice my own fear as FEAR, and instead call it anger, or protection. I can try to escape my fear, I can try to denounce my fear, I can try to call it a terrorist and marauder. I can ignore it and try to bomb it out of existence.

But the truth is, when I fundamentally reject other… I am rejecting myself.

The Bible says that “Perfect love casts out fear.” I may not agree with all of the Bible anymore, but that sentence cuts to the heart of the issue.

When I face my own fear with compassionate love, it dissipates on its own. I can’t help but think, if we open these beautiful people, some of whom may be evil just like parts of us are… maybe just maybe, the love can start to melt hearts. Maybe when love faces fear, instead of a fear of our own darkness, it could change the world. Maybe, just maybe, it could change me.

And doesn’t change start with me, anyhow?


 

What do you think? How are you approaching the Syrian refugee question? Tell me about it in the comments.

 

 

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What I’m Into – October

For my own sake, I needed to write a fun post this week. It’s been a heavy month, and to have it culminate with a shooting on my street, involving people I dearly love (and which I’m still deeply processing on) was intense. I could write about those events, but I’m not ready. My heart needs a breather.

So! I present to you – What I’m Into for October. This is a linkup that Leigh Kramer does that I really enjoy. I always like reading what people are into, and I wanted to share some things that I love, too.

Music:

This song is so ethereal, yet simple. Perfect for fall.
Aquilo – You There

And Oh. My. God. This song has changed my life. Every time I listen to it I swear, I cry or feel full of life or smile hugely… it’s just so goddamn full. Have had it on repeat for the past 2-3 weeks constantly. Thank you to my friend Stephen for introducing me to it (and I am awaiting your fall playlist! Don’t forget!).
Novo Amor – Callow

Books:

Big Magic

I bought 2 books this month. Big Magic was one of them. I’m only 1 chapter in, because it’s so delicious I just want to nibble at it and enjoy. Big Magic is RIGHT… the book is full of luscious beauty.

The Wisdom Jesus

I have been reading through this for a class I’m co-teaching with my friend Roger. This has been a revolutionizing read for me. I’ve been at a place where I want to reintegrate Jesus into my life. By that, I don’t mean Christianity or being anywhere particularly close to Christian. Rather, I mean a way to reconcile the true, pure energy I did really feel in Christianity. This book has done that for me. The chapter on the Incarnation has been mindblowing. As a mystic I am intrigued by connection with the Divine, and how this book describes it very much resonates with me. The spirit of it reminds me of a Muslim mystic I read 2 years ago (The Fragrance of Faith).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This was my first Neil Gaiman book and gosh. What an initiation. I read it back in June, but it’s been resonating with me again this month, so much. I love the scene with the ocean in the bucket. So magical.

Things I Love:

RootEd Retreat! Beyond grateful at how I got to end my month with my beautiful satsang, in the mountains of Colorado. These faces are precious to me, and the support they gave me was priceless. Plus, I made some new and genuine friends! That’s always a beautiful thing, when you meet people with whom you instantly have that deeper connection, just by virtue of being part of a community that intends to go deep.

This coffee that smiled at me:

This colorful dead moth, and all that it signifies:

This New Trail up at Aiken Sanctuary:

This Quote:
I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be known, and so I created the worlds both visible and invisible.” – a saying from the Islamic tradition, about the Divine.


That’s all for October, friends!

What are YOU into this month? Do you have a song on repeat, a favorite picture, a treasured experience? Share in the comments!

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Let’s Talk… About Gun Control

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For the last couple of weeks since I wrote my letter to Congress, I’ve been trying to foster dialogue with the people of the Internet and the people of my city (hello, Colorado Springs!).

This has not been easy.

A lot of the replies that I’ve received via my blog or Twitter account have been painful. Painful is a strange word to use, but that is what comes up when I transcend the flash of anger that appears when I first hear certain things: pain.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the armed citizen that stopped the shooter in your shooting?” As if I didn’t realize she was a part of my story.
When people assert that people are the problems, not guns. As if it were not bullets that killed my sisters.
When people say that laws don’t dissuade criminals. As if they don’t set norms in society of what violence equates to, as if they didn’t set the norm that the shooter adhered to.

The list goes on. Each of these replies first pierces my heart and honestly? I want to lash out.

I want to be the same exact person I see all over Twitter. Insulting, and raging, and cursing at people I disagree with. Sometimes, I admit it, I degrade to being that exact person because it hurts so damn much.

But if I can take a step back and look at it for a second, if I get curious, something happens that changes everything.

I meet people.

I’ve heard so many stories in the past 2 weeks. Stories that I am honored to carry, and that you can go read in the comments of my blog. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I would have called “the enemy”, had I continued to react out of pain.

At this point, that means much more to me than being right. I don’t want to be on the “right” side of this discussion. I want to truly meet people and hear their heart.

So while I’m now going to tell you about some of my personal beliefs about gun violence, I want to ask that you do the same. Tell me your stories. And tell me WHY you have them. What beliefs are behind your stories? I’ll trade you, okay? But let’s be people first, and issues secondary to that. Meet me here – I promise to hold your story in a safe place in my heart.

1) What about the “armed citizen” who stopped your shooting?

Several people have asked why I didn’t mention her in my letter. Here’s the simple truth: she didn’t factor into my letter. My letter was about me, what I saw and experienced. I wasn’t her. I didn’t take the shooter down. Am I grateful to her?

Here’s my story. I remember clearly when someone came and told me that the shooter had been stopped. I instantly felt weak with relief. I never wanted him dead. I just wanted him stopped. So yes. I am grateful to her. I’m grateful she was trained enough to stop him.

The follow up question to that is, what DO I think about armed civilians?

This is tricky for me. And I think there is two parts to this, because I live in a state that allows open carry as well as concealed. So I’ll address both.

a) Are you against conceal carry?

My short answer: no. I think I speak to that in my letter. I asked people to think about their responsibility if they chose to carry, and here’s what I mean by that. Imagine your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend laying dead on the ground from a gunshot. Think about the horror and pain that would cause you. And then think about whether you could inflict that harm on someone else. If you can then I think you know the responsibility of carrying and should be allowed to do so. I know there are people who can do this, because I’ve talked to them in my blog comments.

Another thing I want people who conceal carry for protection to think about. Adrenaline. I promise you, you have no idea what adrenaline will add to the situation until you are actually smack dab in the middle of it. Adrenaline also does weird things to your body. When my sisters were killed, I thought I heard shots coming from one direction. It turns out that the shots were coming from the exact opposite direction as I had supposed. Don’t underestimate the role of adrenaline. If you want to carry and you want to carry for self-protection, train in situations where you are guaranteed to feel adrenaline.

b) Do you think open carry should be allowed?

No.

Why? Here’s one simple reason. As a gun violence survivor, it is extremely triggering for me to see someone carrying their gun in public. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a man open carrying at my laundromat. It was terrifying.

Honestly, I am wracking my brain to think of a reason to carry openly what you could easily conceal under your jacket or shirt. And seriously, if you think of one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll gladly consider a good argument.

2) Is it the person, or the gun?

I think it’s both. I wrote about what I think goes on behind violence here. So yes, I think violent people are violent. BUT, I also think it’s the gun, because a gun provides an ease in killing other that no other easily-owned weapon provides. (so, I’m not talking tanks, bombs, drones, etc) There is no other weapon that makes it just THAT easy to kill someone, and that is why I think it’s the gun, too.

3) What about regulation?

So, here’s where things get tricky and where I hear a LOT of contention. The very second I mention regulation, we all get angry (me included). I have lots of thoughts on regulation, and I’ll describe them in terms of my personal thoughts and feelings.

Here’s why I think universal background checks (UBCs) are a good idea: I feel safer knowing that we are aware of who is purchasing firearms and whether they are mentally or physically able. I can feel secure knowing that if someone owns a firearm, it’s for a good reason, and I will trust that person if they ever need to defend me.

[On this subject, can someone explain to me in the comments the issue that some of you have with form 4473 on the UBCs? Still trying to learn about this]

Here’s why I think and feel licensing firearms is a good idea: If firearms are licensed, I can safely know where the firearm has come from. I can know that the person legally acquired that firearm, and again, presumably is fit to use it. Therefore I feel safe around that person knowing that they have what it takes to own that firearm. THAT BEING SAID I also have some fear around it being used as surveillance, because things tend to get twisted like that in the US.

Here’s why I think and feel laws around gun use are a good idea: I don’t feel like laws are great at stopping criminals. But having a law about what gun use is legal makes me feel safe, because it establishes that certain kinds of violence are not okay in our society. If I know that the government thinks certain violence is not okay, I feel more secure because I feel the government takes that seriously, and will protect me and any citizen who is in a situation that goes against that law.

Here’s why I think Congress should get involved: From my understanding of things, through a variety of ways Congress is blocked from allowing research funding to go to the CDC for mass shootings. I want to know more about mass shootings so we can see predicates to them – what personality markers are indicators? What are common denominators? We know none of this, and it would make me feel much safer to base any legislation off of solid research.

And now, it’s your turn, because this is about dialogue.

I want to hear from you. But I want to hear from a different perspective. What I want to know is your WHY. Tell me about YOU – Why do you think and feel that background checks aren’t helpful? Why do you feel afraid, upset, angry about licensing firearms in general? What do you think the role of laws are in our society, and why do you feel strongly about not passing laws? YOU. Not just political ideologies here. Mainly – your stories and your heart.

I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

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The Courage to Listen

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I’d been practicing meditation for just over a year last June when I decided it was time for a meditation retreat. A Buddhist nun here in town was holding a daylong retreat. I vaguely recall the subject being something about maintaining presence with one’s experiences. I decided to go. As I drove there, I tried to prepare myself. I knew meditation retreats were supposed to be no walk in the park. I tried to get ready for a challenging day.

The challenge I prepared for, however, was not the one I received.

There were a few of us there, 10 or less. We gathered in her little meditation room – a small building essentially the size of a tiny house that had been turned into a meditation hut. It was spartan but efficient, with plenty of meditation pillows for all of us. But instead of beginning with sitting, she had us stand.

“Let’s start with a body scan meditation,” she said.

If I only knew what I was in for, I think I’d run right out of the room at that moment. We began, making our way from our feet up. When we got to the midsection, I was suddenly gripped with intense emotional pain, so deep I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. It took all I had to stay on my feet. I gritted my teeth and continued through the meditation.

But the pain stayed with me all day. Previous to beginning this meditation, I hadn’t felt the pain at all. Now it felt like an endless abyss of agony. I felt as if I’d fall into the pain and never stop falling.

At one point I asked what to do. It was overwhelming, and I asked how to stay with it, mentioning that I was having a hard time.

“Maybe you haven’t had the community support necessary to stay with it,” she remarked.

I wanted to throw something at her. “Thanks a lot,” I wanted to say. “Can you please give me some?” But I am a tad compliant (most of the time) so I kept my thoughts and the rest of my agony to myself.

By the end of the day I was so internally wrecked that I didn’t meditate again for 4 months, when I began my yoga teacher training. I, who had meditated almost every day for a year.

My yoga teacher training began, though, and so did the precise community support I needed to enter my body again and face the endless and myriad emotions that churned in the pit of my stomach.

My emotions scare me. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve managed them. Everyone says I am very self aware, they’ve said that since I was at least 16. It hasn’t been used for noble purposes, though. I learned to be self aware, so then I would know my emotions and I could fix them. I’ve been perfecting this habit of fixing for quite a long time now.

As I have slowly come back to my body and simply let the feelings shake their way through me (and often, it’s fear, so lots of shaking) I’ve learned something else. My feelings don’t want fixing.

They want me to listen.

And just like when people complain they don’t want to be fixed, they just want to be heard, my heart has complained the same. Just how when people are simply heard and that becomes the “fix” but even so much beyond it, so that is the “fix” for me. Not really the fix, even… but the healing.

I have been the marionette of my feelings. Allowing them to jerk me back and forth because I understood them as the strings. All the while, I was in actuality the puppeteer.

I stopped dancing about on the strings. I began simply listening. Slowly, I have started to detach my marionette strings. Slowly, like the Velveteen rabbit, I’m becoming real.

The saving grace for me, the way I’ve stopped being puppeted about by reactions to my world, is meditation. The very thing that led me into the fire has been my savior. By coming home to what my body was telling me, I’ve been able to sit and meditate again. And every morning now for quite awhile, I’ve sat down on my cushion and watched. When I’m tempted to get in the ring with my feelings and duke it out, I step back. I just watch.

The therapist I did EMDR with last year used to say, “Notice that.” Now that is something I tell myself on my cushion when a feeling pops up and threatens to overwhelm me. “Notice that.” And instead of getting swept up in the tsunami of the feeling, I watch it crash on the beach. “Hmm. That’s interesting,” I say quietly and gently to myself.

My meditation practice has proved to be invaluable for the dialogue I’ve encouraged on my blog in this past week. In becoming adept in showing up to my feelings, it’s made me available to show up for others, too. “Notice that,” I say to myself when someone responds heatedly to what I’ve written. Notice that.

The poem included in this post’s image is one by Rumi, who speaks of going beyond right and wrong. This is what I’ve attempted to do with my letter to Congress. To circumvent the polarity of “BAN GUNS” vs. “GUNS FOR ALL.” At its core, I think Rumi’s poem is talking about meeting people.

So instead of trying to FIX the problem, I’m trying to start with listening. Because that is where truly meeting with people begins.

Learning to listen started with myself. Learning to listen has been the way that I’ve gone beyond the ideas of “right” and “wrong” that I have within, to find the middle ground.

This is what has thus far carried me through listening to you. I received comments from some of you on my last post that were exceedingly hard to hear. The thing that has held me through dialoguing with those of you with whom I disagree is the steadiness of how I listen when I hold opposing views within myself.

Still, I was wiped out by last Friday, and last Friday, two more shootings occurred. It was a rough day, and the thing that held me through yet again was my meditation and inner listening. Strangely enough, the feelings that flooded me last Friday were strangely similar to the feelings of agony I had when I had that meditation day. But this time, I could sit with them.

This also is what is preparing me for my next post that will clarify my thoughts on gun violence and what needs to be done. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking through the various approaches to gun violence, the various arguments from all sides, and inquiring of my heart what I think will work. This takes a lot of listening. I’m curious to see what unfolds.


How do you deal with your emotions? Do you have a consistent spiritual practice that carries you? How does that work help you to work with large scale issues like gun violence? I welcome your heart and your thoughts in the comments.

thegirls

Dear Congress – Sincerely, A Mass Shooting Survivor

Dear Congress,

I write you today upon hearing the grave news that another heinous mass shooting has happened, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. We learned today that at least 10 people have lost their lives, and at least 7 have been injured.

I write you this letter so that you can see the face of a survivor.  I write you this letter as someone who saw with my own eyes the horror of a mass shooting, a shooting that took the lives of my twin and younger sister and injured my father at New Life Church in December 2007. And most importantly I write this letter to open a dialogue about the role that gun violence has played in our country.

I say specifically to open a dialogue, because I am not strictly anti-gun. I feel that I am in a unique place to address this issue. About 3 years ago, I took a class to obtain a conceal-carry permit. After having been a victim of gun violence once, I was terrified to face it again. I still have nightmares about shootings about once a month. The need to protect myself was strong. At the time I felt that a conceal carry permit was the only way to sufficiently do so.

However, once I finished the class, a thought began to pervade my mind. What if I had to actually do it, actually pull the trigger? What then? Could I? Should I?

I thought about seeing my twin Stephanie’s face just moments after she was shot. I thought about my sister Rachel who was gray when I passed her just outside our family car that day. And I knew in that moment I could never pull a trigger against another human. The human might be someone who did something horrific. Some think I might have been able to even stop the shooter who killed my sisters. But when it came down to it, I realized it didn’t matter how horrible the person was. They were human. They had a family – a brother or sister, parents, cousins. In retaliating with a gun, I would be inflicting the same violence on the shooter and his family, that the shooter inflicted on me the day he killed my sisters.

This changed my mind about getting a conceal carry permit. Since I could not personally take on the responsibility of another’s life, I chose not to carry at all. Many have argued that I don’t necessarily have to “kill” someone, or that I could use this permit while out on one of my many hikes to defend myself from animals. However to me, the potentiality is there for me to commit harm against a human, so I refuse to carry.

I do not share this story as a censure against conceal carry but rather to share my thought process. I am not against conceal carry as a whole. What I am against is the lack of foresight that goes into it, both from those who carry, and from our government. Our government in many instances does not background check either those who conceal carry or those who purchase guns.

Why? We know that these atrocities are committed on a regular basis. We know that guns especially can be used to commit violent and heinous crimes. And yet we have little system of checks and balances to prevent these crimes from occurring. Many who argue against gun control say that it is not the gun that is the problem, it is the person. But if we have no way of checking who the person is, the gun becomes the problem.

I must say again clearly, Congress, that too many people have not sufficiently thought through what gun ownership in this country entails. I address you as well as those people. You have not sufficiently thought about what the responsibility of owning a gun means. Therefore you do not regulate it sufficiently in our government system. Because you do not regulate it, others do not either. And we come to where we are today, where people have clearly said to me, “I conceal carry because I am afraid to be in a mass shooting and I need to protect myself.”

The role of a country is to protect its citizens. You have failed to do so and now citizens feel the need to protect themselves, not realizing that the cost of this may be in human lives.

I am appealing to you today not to repeal the 2nd amendment, not to take people’s guns, but to consider within yourselves your responsibility to your people. As I considered my own responsibility towards human dignity when I chose not to carry, I ask you now to consider your responsibility towards human dignity when it comes to guns in the United States. I ask you to bear the grave burden of human life on your shoulders and decide in yourselves what checks and balances can be made to sufficiently uphold its dignity.

I ask you to open a dialogue – to see the human faces of this issue. To see my face as a survivor. To see the faces of gun owners who feel the need to protect themselves. As the tradition of my childhood says in the Scriptures, “Come, let us reason together.” Let’s make this discussion human again.

Please, consider me, and all those who have survived. I ask you, please consider how to prevent these atrocities so that others will never have to say, “I survived seeing my friend, parent, sister, shot and killed.” Put yourself in my shoes, feel what it would be like to survive such terror. And ask yourselves what you can to do prevent this madness from continuing.

Sincerely,
A Mass Shooting Survivor


I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue in the comments. Let’s start a conversation about this. And if you agree and want to add your voice, please share this post via social media. 

EDIT: I’ve begun a dialogue post here, come join!

Take the Long Way Home

It’s not the context of the words but the words themselves that dig deep and gather some footing in my heart soil.

“Take the long way home…
take the long way home.”

The rest of the lyrics are a silly jumble, and have nothing to do (for me) with my current life. Or perhaps they do and I have yet to realize. Right now though, it’s this simple line that reels me in.

I grew up hearing it. My dad loved Supertramp. The harmonica lead-in is comforting and familiar and melancholy, all at once. I don’t remember the first time I heard it. I remember things like my dad singing it, with his wide-eyed emphasis on certain lyrics. When he said “home”, I’m sure he meant the place I was born – Whitefish, MT. Montana always equaled home, in his heart. And home was the place we were always trying to return.

I’m a careening sort of person. I was always the middle sister.

My twin, Stephanie, was the black and white one. I can still see her stubborn face pursed with lines, trying to make things fit into her little box of meaning. Logic was her language. Math was something she longed to understand, and she appreciated its certainty more than I did.

Rachel was the creative. My dad called her eclectic from the day when she was 3 or 4 and she came upstairs wearing one dress on top of another. We have a picture of her tilting her head charmingly towards her shoulder, clad in those two dresses. She never quite fit into the family the same way the rest of us did. She was always the two-dress girl. She wore the family dress and then promptly layered her own interpretation on top of it.

I was in the middle of them both. I held myself in between the lines with intense scrutiny, but another part of me escaped through color and creativity to a different world. I was legalist and escaping myself to find the sky.

I never understood how to match these two sides of myself together into something coherent. It was always a fight, has always been a fight.

Until lately.

I’ve been dropping the pieces. I’ve stopped trying to collect the evidence. I’ve stopped herding myself like a sheep and have decided that chips fall where they may. Perhaps now I will be still and let in the tide to wash on my shore, and see what comes up.

There’s something patient about this process. There’s something about not pushing things together trying to make sense of them, but letting their essence speak, instead. I’ve heard ever more loudly the clearly opposing sides of myself. The side that fearfully wants to ditch and find something more exciting, and the side that softly bears the ordinary and finds it sustaining.

They’re both present. If I try to make sense of it, I get confused.

This is taking the long way home.

This is living in the answers instead of making them up in my head. I allow the tide of feelings, thoughts, actions to flow in and out, gently, without trying to make sense. The ocean never made sense anyway, did it? It was just a thing of beauty. Maybe the beauty is truly in the in-between.

It may be the long way to home, but I’ve found that I’m arriving.

OZT99

Relating To My Tarot Deck – an archetype for all my relations

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This morning, I’ve taken some time to repair my relationship with my tarot deck.

This may sound weird to some of you. How do you have a relationship to an inanimate thing such as a deck? But as I have learned from my teacher Jessica Patterson, we have relationship to everything. To me, a relationship means that you have a way of relating to a subject or object, through emotion, thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Therefore, it’s not really hard to think of having a relationship to a tarot deck. What emotions do I experience when I pull cards from my deck? With what emotions do I approach my deck in general? What are my thoughts about my deck? Beliefs? The questions go on.

The point is, my relationship with my deck has been a volatile one, and since I feel a deep need to read for others, as a teacher I know it is up to me to change my relationship to my deck so I can be a more clear conduit. In order to empower others, I have to approach and understand my own reactions to my deck, otherwise when I read I’ll be aversive or more open to certain cards instead of approaching them with pure curiosity.

This is why I decided to change my approach, and this morning has been very enlightening. I happened upon the work of Mary K. Greer, who has some fantastic guides to the tarot. I love her approach, because it is diffusive of reactivity, and enforces the tarot as a guide to personal growth and transformation. Her approach aligns very deeply with my own. I look forward to purchasing some of her books when I get paid later on this week. I started with what I could find, though, and have been using it to more deeply relate to my deck.

I started simply. I shuffled my deck, holding it in my hands with deep love and reverence. Before, I’ve often shuffled my cards with apprehension and fear. This time I intentionally sent love and reverence into my cards. This is important to me, because one of my guiding sutras when it comes to Yoga is Patanjali’s sutra I.14: “Abhyasa, the practice, is the effort to remain firmly established in one’s own true Self; it is cultivated over a long time, through earnest and reverent energy, and with great love.

I changed two things. Instead of demanding from my cards a quick answer, I changed my focus to sticking in with my cards for the long hall – using them as part of my personal practice. Secondly, I poured reverence and deep love into them.

What I noticed was informative, beautiful, and astounding, with reverberating application to all my relationships.

When you approach something/someone as a tool to be used, when you refuse to actually deepen your relationship with that person or thing and get to know it more deeply, you become reactive to what it presents. For instance: When I have read for myself with my tarot deck, I have often come to it in desperation, looking for it to fill a hole I feel in my soul. As with any relationship, this promotes volatility. I’m not approaching it from a place of strength, I’m approaching it from a place of neediness. When I read like this, I will get a card such as 10 of Fire – Suppression, and I will react strongly to it.

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I will instantly go into anxiety about what it means, about how to stop suppressing, instead of taking the time to go more deeply into my reaction. Why am I reacting so strongly to that card? What am I believing that it is telling me about myself, and what about its message scares me?

However, taking responsibility for deepening a relationship, and choosing to approach it with love, changes the entire framework of things. Believe it or not, it creates a detachment. The structure of love creates a sweet space for things to arise and be observed. This will sound familiar to some of my Yoga-minded friends as the sutra “shtira sukham asanam.” For non-Yoga people, the interpretation being that relationship to the earth (and by earth I mean oneself, which then of course means everyone and everything) should be steady and sweet. Is it really a surprise that my teacher Jessica has been teaching on this sutra for the past week?🙂

In any case, this changed my entire approach to my deck. I followed some exercises suggested in an Amazon preview of Mary K. Greer’s book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. I shuffled my cards to ask it “What do I most need to look at in my life right now?” I often shuffle quickly. This time I wanted to spend time with the deck. I wanted to hold it in warmth, gently, reverently. Holding my cards with the same feeling I have towards my kitty when I pet her soft silky fur.

When I finally pulled the cards, the difference in energy was palpable. I’m not going to detail which cards appeared; I am holding that for myself right now. But suffice it to say, one of the cards was one I have been working with for about a month or two already. It was clearly obvious to me that this was the card I will continue working with. The entire spread felt more supportive than other spreads I have pulled in the past.

I then continued by stating the name of my chosen card aloud. Because I’m wanting to truly get to know and understand my deck more (instead of just dancing on the surface of it), I also proceeded to pull each card in my deck and say the name aloud, looking at each one and truly seeing it while I did so. This was really powerful for me. I believe that when you name something, you acknowledge its essence, and it takes you deeper into seeing it. It reminds me of when you choose to name something or someone as teacher. I was naming each card as my Guru, as something to take me deeper into the moment and show me more of myself.

It was a tender and beautiful time.

I’ve only just begun on this journey of deeper relationship to my cards, and I am feeling that there will be reverberating aspects into my entire life in general. Just from today it is teaching me to approach all my relationships in a different way – with reverence and love. It is teaching me to show up, see what is before me, and go into it lovingly. It is showing me that in this way, I create space for all reactions that arise, so I can observe them all and be with them mindfully.

And with all this, I am even more excited to read for others and give them this same gift. This has been such a beautiful reminder that all relationship really starts with my relationship to myself.

Deep bow to you, my dear Osho Zen tarot deck – I name you as teacher with great reverence and love.


I consider it a great gift to read for others. Interested in getting a tarot reading from me? Find out what I offer: Tarot Readings

What the Thin Girl Thinks

So, I wrote a post that went up on Sisterwives Speak yesterday. Why isn’t it on here, you say?

Well… let’s be real I dropped the ball. Because I’m epic and shit. #notreally

But the post is actually very, very important to me and has been stewing in me for a long while now. It would mean a whole lot to me if you went and read it, even though I was slow in posting it. It’s about what I think about body shame… as society’s perfect standard 5’3, 125 lbs, size 2 thin girl.

Intrigued? Here ya go: What the Thin Girl Thinks

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The thing about plants

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There are so many days that I look to my plants in my sun-room to prove that I am actually growing beautiful things.

Some days, I look at myself – my thought processes, emotional state, ease with which I can re-center myself – and feel like I’ve made zero progress. I still worry to the point of obsessiveness. I equate living with heart to living with loss, which spins me out into the stratosphere. Want to make me freak out and panic? Throw a little dash of “you’re going to lose this” or “you’re not doing the right thing” into my mental state and I’m there.

Hannah Brencher wrote a beautiful post recently about growing into “hell yes.” For me, I know that this applies to almost all areas of my life.

For a year now I’ve been craving a feeling of deep rooted-ness in my life. I was the wanderlust girl, the gypsy soul… but so much of it was just running away from myself, and I knew it. Last year I got hit with the worst depression I’ve ever experienced, and I didn’t even want to move off my couch. I stopped running and that was what barreled into me.

But along with that depression was a craving to feel the soil of my life, to really know my life by tending to it as I would a plant.

That was when the plants started showing up.

First, I bought an English ivy and a pretty little succulent. My kitten murdered the succulent right off after tasting the delicious leaves. But the ivy thrived. Then a friend gave me a creeping Charlie that I kept out on the porch all last summer until I realized it was dying out there. I brought it inside and put it on my altar and started watering it every day. I put my ivy next to it so it had a friend.

Somewhere in there I bought a basil plant so I could have my own basil. As a artisan chef of caprese salad (I could bathe in caprese, haha) I needed my own basil. So I got a basil plant, too.

Then I got a philodendron for my kitchen. I felt my little kitchen needed a spot of green, so I hung it from the roof there. But I kept forgetting to water it, so I finally transferred her to a spot in my sunroom, where she’s blissfully wrapped her vines around my reading chair.

My boyfriend gave me an orchid as one of his first gifts to me. It had a few beautiful blossoms, but part of the stem broke off because I was a little rough. I felt remorseful for my ways and so I patiently fed it water and watched in amazement as I saw it sprout a new leaf. I thought I’d killed it by breaking that part of the stem. Not so. Turns out it just needed some TLC.

Soon into my yoga teacher training (quite aptly named RootEd – obviously) I brought that same orchid to the communal altar. That weekend when I left, my teacher gifted me an amaryllis plant that she had that looked like it needed love.

I kept care of little Missy ‘Rillis and on the Spring Equinox, a green shoot popped up gloriously. I love synchronicity like that.

At this point I was catching the planting bug. I added in an African violet, a plant that I’ve had notorious issues with growing in the past. I almost killed her by putting her in direct sunlight. Now she’s slowly coming back from the grave after I set her a bit further away and stopped watering her so much. I’ll get her yet.

There’s a tender consistency that comes from growing things. You have to be patient. You’re training a new way of being, you’re coaxing a seed or a plant out of its shell. You need to give them just the right amount of water, just the right amount of sunlight. And when they burst up out of the ground, there’s a profound sense of satisfaction that you kept something alive.

Sometimes things die, too, but I’m mostly finding it’s for lack of care rather than from some mistake I made. I had a thyme plant that I killed 2 months ago because I didn’t water it enough. Poor baby. I just didn’t care enough to keep her watered.

My petunia right now is laying dormant after blooming all winter. She looks dead, but I know she just needs a rest. She had her growing season and now she’s a bit quiet. She’s an annual, so she’ll come back. I’m not worried.

I was sitting during my morning quiet a few weeks ago, asking myself what I really wanted (a question that haunts me, and that I’ve recently let go of to make more space). What came was that I wanted rootedness. And tomato plants on my balcony.

I am now the proud owner of 2 tomato plants that are lapping up sun on my porch. One has produced a few tomatoes already – it’s a yellow cherry tomato plant that’s more like a vine. Not surprising, I have an affinity for vines, there’s something about the way they twine around things like they just want to stay forever. The other plant I’m carefully tending to – water, fish fertilizer, sunshine – and hope-fully waiting for a harvest come August or September.

I’m learning a lot from my plants. About how to be consistent. To water gently every day, to pay attention to what they need, to care lovingly on a regular basis. It’s amazing how much grows in that environment.

It’s teaching me to be the same way to myself.

It’s Complicated

When I tell people about my relationship with my dad now, sometimes they’re surprised. For one, I still talk to him. A lot of people think this is weird. I think… yes… but he’s my dad.

I do, however, have certain boundaries for conversations with my dad. The number one boundary I hold is that we do not discuss the money. Ever. I have also made it his responsibility (for now) to maintain the relationship. But we talk. He asks me to coffee about once a month. I honestly think that in itself is a miracle.

Another miracle is that I’m honest. My dad got me a Chanel scarf for Christmas. It was used, but still to me, Chanel has certain connotations. It’s always been one of those things, a big lens through which my dad sees me. I was livid about it, not only because of the lens but because I felt like it was basically talking about the money without talking about it.

I stayed angry for about a month and then I told my dad about it. And I was completely honest. THAT is a miracle. I showed my anger. I told him I don’t like Chanel and I never have. That actually was a radical statement for me to make and I’m very proud of it. I needed to differentiate myself in that way.

He didn’t know what to give me, he said. “Get to know me and you’ll know what to give me,” I countered. I don’t think I’ve ever been that brave or authentic with my dad.

But he found out what I really wanted (speakers for my record player) and got me a set of speakers. And an entire sound system. He found an amazing, beautiful set that I have now proudly displayed in my apartment.

If we were a relationship status on Facebook, it would be “It’s Complicated.

Sometimes I hate him. And sometimes I’m deeply grateful to him. He was the one who taught me about social injustice in the first place. Growing up, he did a lot of race reconciliation work as a descendant of Thomas Jefferson. It was from him that I learned the egregiousness of racism.

So, I let him keep working on our relationship, and respond as he reaches out. And on days like today, with situations like Charleston, we text each other and talk a little more. I don’t know why I haven’t shut him out, really, other than knowing I still love him. Knowing that he’s my dad and I feel some responsibility. Knowing what it’s like to lose family members and not wanting to regret it someday. Maybe it’s those things. I don’t know. It’s all complicated.

I don’t blame my dad for who I am now. Things growing up were awful. I see all the threads leading up to how my dad acted, though, and I find some compassion.

And anyway, the idea that I can’t hold 2 feelings at once is bullshit. I can feel anger towards my dad while simultaneously feeling much compassion. I think it’s holding both of these that allows me to keep my relationship with him in the first place. I get angry with him, and I am slowly learning to be honest with him about that. I love him so we get coffee and try to make our relationship work somehow.

All I want now is to tell my story. I try my best to share without placing blame. I try to simply tell events as they happened and let other people make their judgments as they will. I’m not perfect, and I think my writing reflects that. Sometimes blame creeps in anyway, because I still get those moments where I blame. I am a work in progress and will be, continually.

So that’s how my dad and I interact and relate now. Like most relationships – it’s complicated.

Picture by https://www.flickr.com/photos/80497449@N04/

Violence Doesn’t Solve Fear

Today in the news we again have violence against black people, in McKinney TX at a teenage pool party, of all places. I have held my peace on my blog about this but today is the last straw for me. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m passionate about social justice, and in my offline life I’m a board member for the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. So honestly it’s really high time I use my blog as a platform for what I want to say about this.

First of all, I am a gun violence survivor. I watched my sisters get murdered in front of me. And because of that, I went through an entire personal evolution of how I approached gun safety in this country. At first I was fully supportive of the lack of regulation on the right to bear arms. I even went through the entire class to get a conceal carry permit. And then I thought about it.

I could not, EVER, inflict upon ANY person irregardless of how “evil” they were, the same thing that I saw kill my sisters. I couldn’t. It would break me. And I knew that if I conceal carried a weapon, that would be the responsibility on my shoulders.

So at that moment I decided that for myself, I would never conceal carry. Not ever.

Let me be clear. I am not anti conceal carry. I am not about taking away anyone’s 2nd amendment rights. But what I do think is that they should be regulated, and I have several reasons why. Today was one of them.

Why do I bring this up in conjunction with McKinney?

Because we have a country that promotes systemic violence across all platforms, to the war in Iraq to police brutality on the streets of our cities. If there is a problem, welp, we swagger on in and solve it. How? Stark Industries style: “I’ve got a bigger weapon than you.” Our entire mindset on how to feel in control (when we feel out of control) is to use violence.

And in McKinney, the police officer pulled a gun in a situation which did not warrant violence.

My dad taught me to NEVER EVER point a gun at someone I didn’t intend to shoot. My dad only ever used shotguns for pheasant hunting, but he had been given a thorough lesson in gun safety and passed that on to us. I can imagine the kind of training that officer was given, and I am 100% sure that officer was told the same thing.

Pulling a gun and pointing it at someone in a situation, because you are afraid, is never okay. Pulling a gun as a policeman, who is an officer meant to sustain peace, is even less okay.

I watched the video. I don’t normally watch these kinds of videos because they are highly triggering for me. But I watched this one. And what I saw was a man who was terrified and out of control. Cursing constantly, running back and forth, and pulling a gun on kids who had never even made out as if they were going to hurt him. The kids all just wanted answers. The cop was freaking out and trying to gain control.

I know this reaction intimately because this is exactly how my dad used to react when he was afraid. He would yell and scream and act erratic. It’s familiar to me. It’s also how I react when I’m afraid.

Furthermore, I know fear. Intimately. I would say that fear and anxiety is the number one thing I’ve been working with for the past year. And here are some things that I know. When I become aggressive, either against myself or other, this doesn’t solve my fear or make me feel more in control. It actually stirs it up further. The more I try to be “in control”, the less in control I am. I am reacting to the feeling of fear within me by trying to gain control.

On the basic, most simple level, when I am reacting to fear within myself by trying to regulate, self-police, and control myself, I am acting with aggression towards myself, and my body responds accordingly. It tenses up, becomes rigid, and my mind runs around trying frantically to generate solutions to stave off what it is I fear.

On a macro level, I see it in the United States. What we do in this country is react. Fear comes up, and we strike out. It may not even be clear what we are afraid of, but perhaps it’s the simplest and most common thing – death. We don’t want to die, so we react by trying to be in control. And in the United States (as in myself), it seems that control equals aggression.

Today in McKinney, a man meant to bring peace instead lost control and became an instigator of aggression. He wrestled a 14 year old teenage girl to the ground, then pulled a gun on teenagers who were just trying to figure out what was going on. In my mind, pulling a gun marks his intention, which sickens me. And as a gun violence survivor I need to tell you. This has got to stop.

The ways in which we approach our fear has got to change.

It is so very very easy to approach fear with the mindset of wiping it off the face of the map, whether it be with drone strikes or with pointing a gun at innocent teenagers. It’s so very very easy for me to approach fear with self-policing, obsessive thinking, and trying to eradicate it from my mind. Do they seem disconnected to you? They are very related. Outer change never comes without inner change, first.

We react to fear as a country with aggression, because we react to our own inner fear with aggression, either against ourselves or by lashing out at those closest to us. Until we begin to learn on a personal level how to respond to fear instead of react, the problem will never be solved. The problem of violence. The problem of systemic injustice – whether that be race, gender, class, or anything else.

Why? Because fear is blinding. You and I both have had the experience of fear blinding us to what the reality is. And until we can learn to respond, we will never see the truth: Black lives matter. What is more, we will never see an even deeper, more profound truth:

I matter.

So I will not self aggress, nor will I aggress against those I love or anyone else. I will not treat my shadow as though it is the enemy.

Until we can stop reacting to our shadows instead of responding in love, this issue will never be solved. So this is what I am challenging you. Are you wondering what you can do as a white person to change the systemic violence in the United States? Are you wondering how to show the public at large that black lives indeed DO matter?

Start with yourself.

Address the shadow within yourself. Stop running from it. Stop trying to fight, fade, or fix it – which are all acts of self aggression. Listen deeply to yourself. Stop reacting to your shadow by yelling at or otherwise hurting the person who triggered it. As you stop inflicting violence on yourself, you’ll naturally stop inflicting violence on others. As you start listening deeply to yourself, you’ll naturally start listening to others. You’ll naturally be moved to get involved with movements for peace and justice.

The buck starts with you. It starts with me. No one said this is easy work. But are you willing to pay the cost for change?

If so – join me.

Footnote:
First, I address this solution to white people as I am a white person and can’t pretend to know how black people need to work to solve this systemic violence. I will not speak on their behalf. But I will give other white people like myself a mode of true, heart led action.
Second, I point out black lives because of the systemic violence so obviously inflicted against them. Life in general matters, certainly, but the egregious violence against black people in our country needs to be addressed head on.

Picture by FrankieLeon: https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/

Story of a Homeschooler

I grew up a homeschooler.

The news this week has made it more salient than ever, even though it’s something I’ve been slowly processing the past couple of months. I’ve been reading a ton of posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous, as well as chatting with a blogger and real life friend who was homeschooled. The resources I’ve found have resonated so deeply with me. I’ve wanted to share now for awhile but writing out what it’s like to be a homeschooler is really not easy. Especially when you have 12 school years full of it.

That’s right. I wasn’t just -a- homeschooler. I was one of -those- homeschoolers. Schooled at home the whole way through.

People ask me all the time if I like it, and I’m close to honest. I say I liked it until high school, and then I was miserable.

But the truth is, I had moments of misery the whole time. Being homeschooled especially sucks when you hate being at home. There’s no way out.

I hated being in 2nd grade for 3 years after my youngest sister was born, because my mom was “too tired” to keep us going on our schoolwork. I hated how the neighborhood kids made fun of us for it.

I hated in high school how I had no friends but my sisters. See, along with being homeschooled, our home church was 2 hours away in the small mountain town of Granby, CO. So we really had little access to friends. And then when we did, the church kids thought we were weird and tended to avoid us. I tried my damndest to not be one of the socially awkward homeschool kids, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re restricted to an apartment all day long.

Oh yeah. We lived in a 900 sq ft apartment in Denver, CO. With a family of 6. 3 bedrooms. I shared a room until I was 19.

I got sick of my sisters. I got sick of us getting lumped into the same group all the time at church events. I didn’t hate them, but when you’re with someone so much, it’s hard to want to be with them more. That in itself was annoying, but I dealt. What really sucked about being at home was my dad.

What I saw growing up was not the even more extreme dysfunction I see now. I didn’t realize that his obsession with God giving us 1.7 billion dollars was actually a problem. Nope, what I was focused on in my teen years was his abuse.

My dad was verbally abusive to us from the time I was 5 years old. I remember little of when it started, but I know it was bad enough my mom wanted to take us to her mom’s house in Nebraska. I’m not sure why she decided to stay. The abuse continued, though, and some of it echoes in my ears. My dad threatening to leave. My dad screaming “I’M THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE!” My mom reading books on submission and slowly fading into silence.

Or the subtle abuse of his anger when we didn’t speak up during our nightly “discussions.” Though these are a typical facet of fundamentalist homeschooling (nightly “devotions”), ours were different. These discussions were reiterations of my dad’s belief that God would give us this astronomical amount of money. He would talk about the “coincidences” of the day and how they were signs pointing to God’s will for us. If we didn’t have any input or anything to share, my dad would get angry. However, if we tried to talk too much, my dad would get angry. And when I say angry, I mean yelling. Sharp remarks. Heavy sighs. Looks of annoyance. Sometimes stomping out of the room.

If we spoke, he was angry. If we were quiet, he was angry. We couldn’t win.

It was a radically strange combination of fundamentalist teachings such as submission (my dad LOVED John Bevere and his teachings on spiritual authority) and my dad’s delusional beliefs. I have friends who say that my dad created a cult with us, his family. We were forced to buy into his belief about this money: I clearly remember my dad working very hard to convince my twin sister to “just have faith” that this money would appear. He eventually cowed her into “believing” it. If we didn’t buy in, he pleaded with us in this fashion, or got extremely angry and verbally abusive, even threatening to leave us. On top of that, we were isolated from the outside world due to the fact that we were homeschooled with a church so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go out for sports as a teenager, or to get a job.

There was only 1 person that I know of outside the family that knew about this money business, and that was our trustee.

Yep, we had a trustee. And 4 empty trusts (one for each of us girls) connected to an umbrella company that my dad formed to be a funnel for “the money” when it came. You can still look it up as a Colorado business: Oversyte Investment Company, LLC. Because of the trusts, my dad found us a trustee. He was the only one that heard about my dad’s ideas. I have to wonder now what he thought of the whole thing. But the trustee was young at the time, only 22-23 years old. A kid. He was probably enamored of the whole thing. My dad was good at casting a spell (read: charismatic).

What was honestly weird though was that my dad spent more time asking our trustee about his life, than he ever spent asking us about ours.

My dad talked incessantly about “the family” and how important “the family” was. Yet he never really knew any of us. And “the family” really just meant that we fell into line behind him and became part of his missionary force to the rich people of the world.

I never told anyone the dollar amount of my dad’s delusions until I told my ex-husband. I was probably 19-20. After that I didn’t mention it to anyone else until I was 22 and I told my therapist. She was shocked. Her reaction woke me up. Maybe this whole thing really wasn’t normal.

The amount of secrecy I felt I had to hold really rings true to me with this crazy Josh Duggar situation. I understand family secrets, far far too well. I clearly remember my dad telling us, “Don’t tell anyone about this money stuff. They’ll think we are crazy.”

I kept that pact for somewhere around 10-12 years. A decade.

All this amounts to one thing. I grew up in a fishbowl. A small, small fishbowl nowhere close to the ocean. I was trapped in an environment where I was abused and ridiculed if I stepped out of line or had my own opinions. Or, I was ignored. Either/or. I was literally stuck in a small apartment from 1997-2007 – 900 square feet for 3 teenagers and a girl under 10 years old. Mentally and emotionally stuck in a dream world of my dad’s which included weekly trips to the corporate airport, trips so frequent I can still name off dozens of types of corporate jets.

Family secrets have an incredible hold. My dad’s own sister didn’t know any of this until last year (!!) when I finally broke the silence. I’d been terrified to disclose anything to his family before; I don’t know what I was afraid of, other than finally disclosing a “secret.” But when I told her she was remorseful and regretful, saying she would have done something if she’d only known.

I’m telling this story to add it to the other voices now speaking up about homeschooling. I’m telling this story because I think it’s important. I’m telling this story so maybe someday soon, the government or SOMEONE can hold homeschool parents accountable. Why? Because in a fishbowl, isolated from the ocean, it’s far too easy to keep things secret. Things like 1.7 billion dollar delusions. Or, in the Duggar family, molesting 5 young girls. Accountability is needed.

I’m telling this, too, because it’s time. Because holding this in for so long has hurt and I’m ready for all of you to know. And honestly, this is just the beginning.


For an update to this story, see It’s Complicated.

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zionfiction/

Just Keep Following (the heartlines on your hands)

Oh the river, oh the river, it’s running free.
And oh the joy, oh the joy it brings to me.
But I know it’ll have to drown me,
Before I can breathe easy.
And I’ve seen it in the flights of birds,
I’ve seen it in you.
The entrails of the animals,
The blood running through.
But in order to get to the heart,
I think sometimes you’ll have to cut through.
But you can’t…

We will carry…
We will carry you there…

Just keep following!
The heartlines on your hand!
-Florence and the Machine

I’m now down to the last couple of weeks of my yoga teacher training (say it isn’t so!). We’ve just moved into learning through the lens of the heart chakra. Each time we move to a new chakra, I’m surprised to learn the deep ways in which it is applying to me right now.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been seeking more silence to let my heart arise, as I spoke about in my last post. My mind has this little habit of getting in the way. A lot. It chatters all day long, just nonsense. Or whatever I happen to be worrying about at the time, it chews on over and over. It reminds me of how they talk about the locusts in the Little House series, the constant chewing that Laura heard all day every day, eating up all the plants. It gives me a crawly feeling.

There’s a sutra by Patanjali that is translated by Nischala Joy Devi to mean “Yoga is the uniting of consciousness at the heart.” It is elsewhere known as “Yoga is the state of cessation of the whirling of the mind.” I like Nischala Devi’s version. Instead of focusing on what Yoga ceases to do (what I need to cease doing), it focuses on the outcome – uniting of consciousness in the heart.

This focus is helpful for me, too. I can focus on ceasing the constant chewing fluctuations of my mind, OR, I can focus on uniting my consciousness at my heart.

To those not in the Yoga world, that language is high falutin and heavy. I’m not one to want to always use the language of the group I find myself in at the time; I think it’s limiting to other’s understanding. Instead, here’s what I’d like to tell you about uniting consciousness in the heart, based on my own experience.

I have struggled with anxiety for years. It came to the forefront when I stopped drinking, but it was there beforehand. I just had no awareness of it. When I stopped drinking, I got to see my anxiety front and center. I’ve had the chance to observe it the past almost 3 years. And as I do I realize it’s plagued me since I was a small child. I grew up in an atmosphere where I was only allowed to do things if they followed “the family rules” which were inconsistent and hard to determine. As a result I developed a ridiculously sensitive conscience and what I think is the origin of my anxiety.

Doing things in a self-empowered, heart-centered way is extremely foreign to me. Beginning last year in May/June, I started switching to this mode of life. It’s the reason I stopped going to 12 step recovery, stopped my love addiction recovery, started my yoga teacher training. I selected this teacher training mainly due to the empowerment aspect of it. I’m not seeking another person to tell me what to do. I’m seeking an empowered life.

It’s not easy. Because it requires finding the “still point in the turning world” (as e.e. cummings says) and rising out of the dark of that silence to quietly pursue what my heart prompts of me.

I have a different view of the heart, also. There’s millions of life coaches on the internet right now preaching following your desires, finding work you love, that kind of thing. While this has its merit, I think it can get a little skewed. Because in many ways I think you first have to reveal the heart. Which is another reason I took up Yoga. Yoga is all about learning to reveal the heart that lies beneath.

So yes, follow your bliss. But first – clear the mirror so you know what your bliss IS. That’s the message for me. Follow the bliss, from the True Self and the true heart center. Easy? Not necessarily

(maybe it is for you, each person is different in their journey). But worth it… most likely. I don’t know yet, honestly. I’m still learning. I just know that I’m really tired of living by the dictates of other people and I want to empower myself.

Maybe that means walking in the dark for awhile before I find myself, but maybe the unknown, silent, dark is where it’s at. As one of my favorite poems says,

 There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazzling darkness; As men here   50
Say it is late and dusky, because they
        See not all clear;
    O for that night! where I in him
    Might live invisible and dim.

– Henry Vaughan

Sometimes God/the Divine/my Higher Self is found in the dark. So I’ll just keep following these heartlines on my hands.

Silence

My mind is a clamoring crowd at a football game (either kind of football, take your pick)
screaming for the other side to win.
I am learning that silence
is when the real game begins.

This weekend overall and yesterday, in particular, was a gut-wrenching hole of anxiety. I was more in my Witness consciousness than ever… in other words, I stayed mindful. Let the anxiety run its course and just tried to breathe slowly. My body felt tired though at the end of the day yesterday. I took a Buspar and went to bed, hoping that that would solve the problem of my morning anxiety.

I woke up this morning with a much quieter mind. Just a placid stillness on the face of the deep. It started to ramp up again after about an hour, but I found another set of words that brought me peace. My therapist has given me several sets of words to do consistent EFT tapping with, so I’ve gotten into a sort of habit of doing this every so often when I remember (which means not often enough – ha). This morning though I pinpointed what I suspected was going on with this anxiety, due to when it flared last week.

“It is possible to rest and still be safe.”

My body does not rest well. It’s on constant alarm status. I took some time last week to shut off all my social media and just rest. I had been extremely irritated that day, and as I took time in the quiet, I explored my irritation. Sat with it and asked it questions and simply let it process in my body. After that, a great stillness and space unraveled in my soul. I was surprised with its depth. I was so at peace.

The next day, I was slammed with anxiety. Looking back I suppose this really isn’t a surprise.

I think my body and mind doesn’t believe it can rest. That Being Still can actually allow answers to arise (instead of pushing for them and trying to figure them out). Once Silence comes on the scene, alarm bells sound. GET READY FOR INCOMING ATTACK MUST PREPARE.

And yet at the same time, all I want is to come home. To find that sanctuary place in myself where all is quiet and all is well. Where my mind stops its chatter-y determination to know and settles down like a sleeping baby. It is all I want in life to finally rest like that.

This morning I allowed the space and silence. As I tapped and spoke those words, “It is possible to rest and still be safe,” my body relaxed down. I breathed deeper, slower.

Some things came up in the space left behind.

I got to work this morning and had a simple note from a coworker explaining something I needed to do this morning. Okay, cool. I was bored and I randomly flipped the paper over to see what she’d written it on.

Monday, January 26 stared up at me. Australia Day Observed. My sister Rachel’s birthday.

Of all things this is what my coworker had chosen to write her note on. A calendar page of my sister’s birthday. The sister that I had cried about yesterday, just letting her know I wanted her presence just for a minute.

I promptly pinned it to my cubicle wall.

About an hour later, someone on my team came by. He’s been on my team longer than anyone else at this point – the entire year I’ve been a supervisor. So we know each other fairly well, for work anyway. And we had a fascinating and surprising conversation. He shocked me by seeing straight down to my soul.

“You know how eyes are windows to the soul?” I nodded. “Girl you have a 360 degree view on your soul,” he said.

I asked what this meant and he proceeded to inform me that I was basically pretty transparent. I knew what he was getting at; I’m pretty intuitive about people myself, but it’s been ages since someone reciprocated this gift with me, especially in a way that I felt safe with. I asked him what he’d noticed, curious to hear from someone who shared this gift.

“I knew from the instant I met you that you’ve lived more in your time than I have in my 60 years. You had something happen to you that took away something, like, an innocence… a sense of safety and trust in the world.”

I stared.

“Do you have any idea what, what the story is?” I asked… mainly just wondering if he had Google’d me due to the accuracy of this description.

“No, no, my mind could probably figure it out if I wanted to but no. And you don’t have to tell me.”

“Well, you’re spot on, just FYI.”

He nodded and walked away soon after. I waited until he walked away to cry. I was only open enough to receive that because I was in a place of silence. In fact I honestly don’t think it would have happened unless I was in that place of silence.

They say that messages come in threes and number three arrived soon after in the form of a post by Glennon Melton. In which one of her main points is simply Be Still.

I’m whispering these words to myself over and over. I wrote the paragraph down on my bulletin board here at work so I can remind myself not try run my mind weary trying to figure it all out, but to simply rest. I’m tapping my upper lip and the underneath of my chin whispering,

“It is possible to rest and still be safe.”

How I Use Tarot In My Spiritual Practice

Since I’ve started offering tarot readings here on the blog, I thought I’d write about how I use tarot in my daily life.

For me, tarot is a way that I supplement my current spiritual practice. My current spiritual practice includes daily meditation and yoga asana. I use both of those as a way to remember my true Self. I am sure some of you will be confused by that terminology so let me explain how I see it.

There’s the ego self – the one that craves, desires, wants the wrong things for the wrong reasons, gets neurotic, gets grasping, or I suppose in Christian terminology you could say it is the “sinning” side of me. I’m okay with that definition, if we are defining sin as “something that separates us from the Divine.

I see the Divine as a couple of things. My perception of the Divine is that it is an entity – one that I cannot describe but I feel like it appears in many aspects. I have seen it portrayed as woman, man, wind, animal, energy. It’s mainly for that reason that I don’t ascribe to a religion. I also see the Divine as my higher Self. A way that I think of this is, it’s my future self, whether my older self in this life, or if reincarnation is a thing, my future self in many lives ahead of me. It’s a higher aspect of me that grants wisdom to this current iteration of who I am.

Now that that is explained… tarot does what for me, now?

Okay, if we are defining “sin” or “ego” or the “small self” as that which separates us from the Divine or from Oneness (which is also me), then I would say I use Yoga to reunite with the Divine/my higher Self. Yoga in itself means “union” or “to yoke”, so this makes sense. By the way, I mean Yoga in the grander sense – not just the physical form but the entire philosophy and way of life.

Tarot reading for me, is an extension of Yoga in the grander sense, a way that I remember and reunite with my Self and the Divine. It’s a reminder to me of which path will be the most nourishing and sustaining for me.

For instance.

This morning, I did a daily draw, partially for me and partially for my Instagram account (@bornsirius – follow me!). The draw turned out to be very significant:

tarotabundance

After I drew this, I knew instinctively that I have blocks to abundance in my life. Abundance? It is not showing up much for me at the present. I’ve got bills galore, for one thing. So I drew clarifying cards, asking, “how do I remove the blocks to my abundance?” The deck didn’t answer me straight. Instead it gave me Laziness, Conditioning, and Exhaustion.

I only knew this related because I’ve been noticing a tendency of mine. When I get overwhelmed, I shut down and I act like I’m tired. I’m really not tired; I’m really just avoiding something that’s hard for me. To me, the deck was saying that the way I’ve been doing things, the shutting down and pretending it away and working really hard until I collapse into the ground, was not working.

Well, what would work, then?

I knew I had to relax. To rest. I had just gotten a massage this morning. My muscles were so tightly wound that even I was surprised. I was a massive ball of knots, especially in my shoulders. Hilariously, also, my massage therapist (also a lovely friend – Hi, Beth!) kept telling me, “Stop helping me!” I kept tensing up; she was telling me to stop helping her and just relax.

All these things flashed through my mind as I looked at the card I’d pulled. Then something occurred to me. I had been thinking about even my massage in the light of “Oh my gosh. I’m so tight, my body has all these problems, I wonder what it means, blah blah blah.” In other words, I’d been seeing myself as broken. In an instant I understood what the Abundance card was asking of me – “Stop seeing yourself as broken and remember that you are whole, holy, divine, and ENOUGH right now in this moment. You don’t have to be fixed to be good enough.

This shifted my outlook for the rest of the day. It shifted my energy even. Previously, I’d been stuck in a dark hole of thinking that I’m not good enough, I’m unworthy, I should be better, etc etc. I’d been focusing on things that made me feel small, constricted, and dark. This reading shifted it to, “I am good enough, I have more than enough, and what if I were to live from that perspective?” My body instantly felt lighter, more expansive, more fertile, able to grow and take in beauty.

That’s what tarot does for me. I have experienced profound reminders of the truth from tarot, profound moments that bring me healing. It’s a way for me to extrovert what I am processing through my Yoga practice. Through the cards, I can tangibly see the things I’m emotionally processing.

Today, it just happened to bring a whole mental shift. And I’m left feeling lighter because of it.

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An Announcement!

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As you may have noticed, I’ve been using tarot cards in these posts for a few months now. My Osho Zen deck is something that is very inspiring to me, and has given me rich material for my personal spiritual path. But from the first moment I held that deck in my hands, I knew something so clearly. These cards were not just for me.

I was struck with an insatiable desire to read cards for others. And I knew immediately that I wanted to do so. It was as if the deck were speaking to me.

In the beginning, I did a few readings for friends and my boyfriend’s friends. But I’m ready to branch out now. A few weeks ago, I offered readings to my wider Facebook friend group, and was thrilled by the large response. The love of it did not go away despite the amount of readings that I did. The thrill of being a channel to help and encourage others was incredible, and I feel that part of my purpose is to be a channel to bring guidance and light to others in this way.

So now I’d like to offer my services to you. If you’d like to purchase a reading, head on over to my Tarot Readings page. I have a few formats I’m willing to do, so take a look through and see which you’d like.

I’m so looking forward to reading for you!

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Ripeness

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Tonight, my soul was a little tired. I’ve been wanting to do a reading to start off my next season here on this little online space of mine. To make it sacred, if you will. But in this reading I first intended to reach out for words to soothe my soul. With my candle lit I petitioned my Higher Self… “please, help.” Three times the cards passed through my hands and then this card danced out.

When a card falls out as you’re shuffling, it’s almost always important. This was no different.

And it was immediately obvious that this was a reading for me, and a reading for you… a reading for us.

Someone gave me a word almost 2 months ago. It was passed, tenderly, around a circle like a prayer on a mala. “Ripening,” she said.

“The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” – Mulan

This quote has stuck with me for years. It may be from a silly Disney children’s movie, but truly I think it has profound meaning. For the past year I’ve been slowly ripening to the place I am now. Dropping away the traditional structures that once held me and finding my own path.

I looked at this card and I was stunned with the realization it has the sliver of a moon on it. The sliver of a moon like the moon we have now, as we approach Friday’s new moon and vernal equinox. That was the moment I knew this card was for me and yet beyond me.

I’ve been growing things. Have you?

Through the winter, I’ve patiently nurtured the life of the plants in my sunroom, and the life of the Self within my self. And by that I mean… I’ve been slowly focusing on the Self that’s higher, the part of me that’s untouched, that lays within the seed layers of my ego self.

What Self have you been nurturing in your seed layers the past few months? What’s ripening in you? We’re approaching spring. And even if you think this tarot reading thing is nonsense, I encourage you to to quietly pose this question to your soul. What is it you’re nurturing right now? What new habits, what new thoughts, mindsets, behaviors, directions? What Self are you going to bring to the table?

About a week and a half ago now, I had teacher training immersion. During this immersion, something finally clicked. I am not the story.

See, I have lots of stories. My biggest one right now is that I’m shit at intimacy. Shit at it because I’m scared of it. But I have lots of other stories – daughter of a narcissist, former fundie, product of the patriarchy, trauma survivor, divorcee of a sex addict. The list is endless. I find new ones to identify with every day.

I can go on with my stories. I can go on thinking I’m shit at intimacy and sabotaging all my own attempts, allowing my fear to get the best of me. Living in and reinforcing the story.

OR.

I can step into the Self and see that I’m not the story.

I’ve had several chances to do that the last week and a half, and I’ve taken them at long last. I feel a fragile foothold beginning in the realm of my true Self.

It comes to perfect alignment with the fact that I met not one, but TWO internet-only friends this past week. This is in fact more significant than I realized until this very moment. The internet has always been my safety blanket. Since I was a teenager I have used this little tool to reinforce my story of distance. First I had that story because it was my only one, and then it was my story because it was familiar.

But I shattered the distance this past week.

Truly, I’d be lying if I said it was without inner turmoil. Inner turmoil that I have not disclosed much of until now. First there was the turmoil of living my truth. My former story was hiding my Self to fit in. No longer. I let myself curse in front of my Christian friend, not in the interest of insensitivity but in the interest of authenticity. I let myself mention my boyfriend spending the night. I let myself have the conversation of why I’m no longer a Christian.

It was as awkward as hell. And I did it anyway.

Over the weekend my boyfriend and I met and stayed with my dear friend Sarah and her boyfriend. We all hit it off immediately and shockingly better than I had even expected. You would think this would not trigger anything.

Except all my insecurity, of course. My desire to distance popped up in the morning upon awakening and intensified during our morning discussion. We’d been talking politics, particularly gun control. That particular topic is one that makes me both heated and sensitive due to my personal experience with gun violence. But at that moment I didn’t have the courage to speak up and say “That’s all I can take for now.” Instead I just got quiet, and I could feel myself getting further and further away.

But instead of reacting even more and running, I got radical. I put myself in the spiritual fire and I watched myself.

“Hmm. I want to distance right now. Interesting reaction, eh?”

I stopped trying to fix and just listened with compassion, realizing that we’d been talking about painful issues near and dear to my heart and of course I wanted distance.

We all went on a walk. The sunshine was a balm slowly melting through the crusty layers I’d hastily erected moments before. My friends were a balm melting through those layers too. It was on that walk Sarah handed me a white quartz crystal.

“You’re not alone” that little rock whispered to me. Tears pricked my eyes just now even thinking about this moment. The Universe is mysterious. Gramps used to collect those rocks for the memorial he built for his parents, and it was a project I delighted in helping him on. It was like my Gramps showed up right then to remind me that even in my pain, all is well.

Then Sarah told me she’d gotten me a mala. I’ve been wanting a mala for a couple of months now, have even looked at materials to buy one. Somewhere inside me though I wanted one as a gift; I’d read somewhere they’re more meaningful that way. So I was absolutely floored.

As if that weren’t enough, then we found sage growing wild, and I picked some to bring home and burn.

My feelings continued to spin. With this outpouring of light, from the day and from my friends’ love, my fears changed. Distance was no longer the issue; loss was. My fear of it, specifically. After these beautiful events and the outpouring of love, I watched it spike. “These friends truly care about me, and I truly care so much about them. What if I care so much about them, then lose them?” 

I see the cycle so clearly now for my sweet self. I distance to not feel the pain of loss. When I open, fear of loss rushes in with the opening.

But here in the middle of all these feelings of the past week, in the ups and downs, the erasure of distance and the learning of rhythms, I’m not drowning. Instead of reacting and having to fix it, I’ve just wrapped myself in love and compassion and have kept simply witnessing. Interestingly enough it’s been this past week that I’ve grown more and more committed to my daily practice.

So what is ripe now in me? My Self. The Higher One, the untouched one, the One that holds it all.

Now, what is ripe now in you? Who are you really, and what stories are you NOT? What things have you been growing through this winter? I would love to hear what you’re nurturing to fruition in this season.

Because I have a feeling, what you’ve grown through the cold and adversity will be the most beautiful of all.


 

Speaking of ripening… New things are coming! I have a big announcement I’ll be making here sometime next week, so stay tuned.

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Can Be Both, And

“You’re toeing a line
Something real or something divine
There’s no need to choose
Can be both and.”
-The Jezabels, Deep Wide Ocean

Real:
1:  of or relating to fixed, permanent, or immovable things (as lands or tenements)
a  :  not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory :  genuine;  also  :  being precisely what the name implies 
(1)  :  occurring or existing in actuality (2)  :  of or relating to practical or everyday concerns or activities (3)  :  existing as a physical entity and having properties that deviate from an ideal, law, or standard
c  :  having objective independent existence 

d  : fundamental, essential

To be real, to be solid, to have meaning, to matter.
When I was a little girl, I was taught many lessons, but one of the biggest was to give myself up. To matter meant to mold. It meant to stretch to fit the limits of someone else’s dream. It meant to dissolve myself. Or to reform myself. Who I was at the core was not acknowledged.
I didn’t even feel real. A core belief I have been dismantling is that one – I am not real. My existence felt so unacknowledged growing up that I didn’t feel as if I did truly exist. My soul was neglected for the sake of someone else.
Yesterday, I remembered myself at 4 years old. Though I can’t put a finger on what changed here, I know that it was at 4 years old that I began molding myself. I can feel it thrumming in my cells, when I think about my 4th year on earth. I have tattered memories of that time.
We had just moved from Colorado to Montana. We celebrated my 4th birthday in a house with a yard infested by ants. I remember running through that backyard screaming in fear at the ants dancing up my legs. There was a rottweiler who lived with the mechanic next door, and me and my sisters would bang on the fence because we were both fascinated and afraid of his ferocity. My dad yelled at me one day because my little sister Rachel hurt herself playing on the old metal jungle gym in the backyard, and it was my fault for letting her play on it. I sat in my living room while my dad played the guitar, and cried, reaching out my hand to touch God. Cried because the hole in my heart was so big and I needed touch. I hid behind the three big pine trees in the back yard that we called “the secret place”, because it felt safe. It felt warm. It felt home.
When I stopped reaching my hand out for God, my dad didn’t understand. He told me to keep doing it. Tried to force me to keep doing it. Asked me why I had ever stopped. I was both fascinated and afraid by his ferocity… I reached out my hand even though my heart was hollow. I became hollow. The ants chased me, chased me, chased me, dancing up my legs like they’d invade me. That was when I started being afraid of ants. I cowered with my dad yelling at me because my sister was so afraid on the old metal playground. That was when I started being afraid of my dad. I stretch my hand out to shape around his questions, his demands that I keep reaching for a God I couldn’t see. I kept trying to touch empty space. I stretched myself out to follow his directions. I became empty.

Divine:
a  :  of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god
or
:  to discover by intuition or insight :  infer
:  to discover or locate (as water or minerals underground) usually by means of a divining rod

The desire for divinity started around that age, started at 4 reaching out for something bigger. Maybe because I felt so small.
I got my first Bible that fall, fall 1993. I remember because I remember reading it. I was an early reader. I started reading the book of Esther. I read it over and over again. She was heroic, and strong, and saved her people from death. She stood up to the King. She was fascinating. Later I came know know that Esther meant “star.”
God sometimes felt like my dad. Elusive. But the God I knew was a lot nicer. I always felt like that God loved me. Like that God was the dad my dad could never be. I might have dropped my hand visibly. But my heart still reached. Thirsty. Wanting to connect with something.
But I always hated that God wasn’t “real”, in the sense that God was not actually able to be touched. I wanted real, wanted connection with the divine, but it was always beyond me. Just beyond my reach. My fingers had touched emptiness. Now my heart did. Once in awhile I’d catch the elusive wave of something transcendent, electric, magical. When I bent down to look at a flower. When I walked through the woods and looked up at aspen leaves. The day when I was 10 and picked a rose for the cousin I had a crush on.
I needed the divine, like water. I needed that heroism, that strength. I felt death staring at me, haunting me in the dark behind my dad’s angry eyes. I wanted the backbone to stand up in the face of it. I wanted the tenacity to shine in the dark space, to light up the emptiness faithfully. But it seemed like I’d grasp then lose it.

I want to be real. I want to be divine. Sometimes they seem antithetical. If I am real, if I embody myself, will I lose the transcendent? Will I reach out and come back empty? Before, I came back empty. I stopped reaching because I touched nothing. The divine flows like the tide, sometimes touching ground and sometimes moving back out towards the limitless.

I stand in the place between the sea and the sand. I long to matter, for my being to hold weight, for my soul to be birthed into reality. I long to flow, like the ocean’s great waves that can both laugh in glee and crash in terror. To hold both polarities, to have ground and also have sea, is terrifying.

There’s no need to choose. Can be both/and.

This is why I am learning to curve myself around the land as a shore, to hold the great weight of the sea as it pounds my solidity into sand, to flow back out with its tides into eternity. To be ground and yet transcend it, to divine, discover the holy by following intuition, to tap underground fountains by drilling through earth.

Maybe to be divine, I need to be real. Like a star shining in space. I cannot shine light in the emptiness unless I matter.  Then the emptiness becomes full of brilliance due to my existence.

Maybe the emptiness isn’t empty, after all… maybe it’s just space for my light. Maybe the shoreline is there to hold the weight of the sea.

Growing Pains

I don certain perspectives with ease. They’re like sunglasses in the sense that they block out certain spectrums of light. Like that one pair of sunglasses that you hate that makes everything look brown.

It’s easy to see life as shit-colored.

Sometimes I wear my sunglasses at night.

That makes it even more difficult.

I was driving home from work one day about 2 weeks ago. Frustrated with myself, upset for feeling so constantly negative. A song came on that reminds me of my sisters, from The Holiday’s movie soundtrack. With tears in my eyes I wished my sisters were here, that things weren’t so hard for me all the time. I was talking to Rachel in my head as I usually do; she was my confidante sister who heard my inner life.

And suddenly I had an image of her, smilingly showing me a picture of myself. I was freaking out, WITH MY OWN HAND OVER MY EYES.

I was covering the light myself.

And I felt like she gently said, “Happiness is not as far away as you think.”

I’m still absorbing that message. Because as Brene Brown talks about, I hustle for worthiness. I hustle for love. I hustle for happiness, and I think that doing things just perfectly will get me there. In fact, one of my favorite perspectives is that IF I JUST DO THINGS PERFECTLY I won’t lose.

I won’t lose the things I desire. I won’t lose happiness. I won’t lose someone I love.

I begged Rachel, in the Critical Care Unit at Penrose Hospital, to stay with me. To be here. I repeated almost word for word the scene from Sense and Sensibility where Elinor begs Marianne not to leave her here alone. I did everything that I could possibly think of. I quoted all her favorite movies, from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility. I sang to her. And in the end, she still left. I couldn’t make her stay for me even though I tried so hard. Even though she was the only person in my family who truly understood me, the only one in my family that I actually felt deeply connected to.

Before that, I begged my dad not to leave. I was 10 years old or so, my dad was very angry one night and threatened to go live on his own, without us. He had threatened this in the past while we had all silently frozen in the face of his rage. I changed my mind that night. I was tired of staying silent. Maybe my feelings would change something. So I hurled myself into his arms crying. “Don’t go Daddy. I love you.”

He put me away from him, moved me away… “Stop all that nonsense.”

I shrouded my heart to keep it safe. Maybe if I had held on tighter. Maybe if I had said the right words instead of “nonsense”.

I have tried ever since to hold on tighter and to do all the right things. I lost my grandpa when I was 15, and that shattered me. 6 months after that, I lost my first love, which I blamed my dad for. I lost my sisters. I got divorced. All these things, I tried so hard to hold them all together and they fell apart. About 6 months after I got divorced, I stopped drinking alcohol. A lot of my drinking had been to release myself from the vice of perfection I was holding myself in.

When I took away that crutch, my perfectionism transferred to school and to alcohol/love addiction recovery. I tried to be the perfect person in recovery. I tried to be perfect with my grades at school. This escalated and escalated until last May when I started to see what I was doing to myself. I stopped running. The instant I did, I was overcome by the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m still not clear on why… maybe because I finally stopped running from falling apart.

I’ve been unraveling it all ever since. I see it as a huge ball. I pull all sorts of strands in, but I have this huge overarching narrative that I like to believe about myself and my life.

“If I can just be perfect I will not lose.” But I can’t be perfect, so I will inevitably lose all I love.

I wish that just seeing that this is going on would eliminate it totally, but that’s not how it works. It’s helpful to be aware that this story is ruling my life, but, then I get to take action.

Which I have been, but change is slow. Especially when there are so many intertwining stories that are connected to this overarching one. And courage is hard to come by sometimes. When I don my usual perspectacles (as dear Glennon Melton calls them) and see only loss in my future, everything gets really black. I lose so much motivation to even go forward.

And so some days it takes all I have to just have the courage to believe what Source/the Universe/my Higher Power (you know, whatever I call that thing these days) seems to be telling me. To just let go and know that It has good things in store for me. Truly good things. And seriously that does take a lot of courage some days to believe. I fight myself, trying to be perfect, until I’m tuckered out and I finally give in. Then I have a cry about my losses because I need to purge the grief, and usually after that purging the world looks a little brighter again. I can see the light again just enough to find strength move forward.

I’m grateful right now for the support I have – a wonderful boyfriend who has persisted in staying by my side, my RootEd satsang who are more precious to me than I could ever put in words, and my new therapist who has valiantly gotten down in the muck with me.

After our immersion weekend for my teacher training last week, something really cool happened. I had brought a plant for the altar as an offering. As I was leaving on Sunday, my teacher asked, “Do you like plants?” and handed me an amaryllis flower, explaining that it needed some TLC. I was thrilled to take it home and put it in my sunroom/altar area. “I’m good at resurrecting things,” I said. Like I was reminding myself.

Then I walked out to my car. Tucked under my wiper blades was a bright, beautiful, colorful bouquet from my boyfriend. I offered a flower. I went home with 3.

These words sprang to mind:

“You are so full of rain,
there is so much that is growing,
hallelujah to your weathervanes,
hallelujah to the ache
hallelujah to your full, to the fall,
hallelujah to the grace,
and every body
and every cell
of us all.”
-Andrea Gibson, I Sing the Body Electric (Even When the Power’s Out)

 

Seeds grow in the dark. Even in the dark where it’s my own hand over my eyes, when it’s my own old stories that hold me back. But that also presumes they are dirt. Which presumes they provide what is needed for that seed to grow.

“You make beautiful things out of dust…” – Gungor, Beautiful Things.

There is so much that is growing. Hallelujah to the ache. To my own precious growing pains. To the sunglasses over my eyes that reveal my need to unveil myself to the world. Hallelujah to it all.

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Twilight

Knowing sacred places in the shadows, I come to a new understanding of them. When I approach them in the blue January twilight, instead of the blazing June sun, I see things a little bit differently.

I walked this trail in June, on June 29th to be exact. I have walked it since then. Once in fall. Now in winter. So far, 3 seasons I’ve marked on this trail. It’s a newer trail for me.

In summer I came with questions.

In winter, I came with the same questions, but I have changed.

I see the dark and light of me. The shades all in between. I have stumbled, I have lost my way, I have walked many twilights and dark nights in the past 6 months.

One time in late fall, I visited this trail in pitch dark. Without a flashlight. Momentarily, I used the light from my phone to find the path to the bridge. Then I stood on the bridge in the darkness. I couldn’t see the water around me. I could barely make out the outlines of the trees. Slowly, they came into focus. I felt so out of place. I had inner tremors of fear. I wished I could make out my surroundings. I pushed myself to walk a few steps beyond the bridge, just to know that I could. To know the dark was not going to overwhelm me. And slowly I found a strange comfort there, a twinge of wild-ness.

I returned tonight just before sunset, walked the trail with a bounce in my step. Questions still here, living in my body, but my expansive soul had stopped contracting around them. Instead of getting so small in attempts to find certainty, tonight, I was expanded with possibility. I was a beautiful mystery. The snow clung to branches like my soft skin clings to my skeleton; in other words, my body remembered itself.

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I found the glade I love, chanted to the wind, called the guru in me that I most dislike (scary!) but most need; the wild one. the untamed changeable one. the Black Panther of my soul. the Bluebeard man in my psyche who exposes the old stories in which I’ve systematically murdered my sweet Self. Guru. Devo. Maheshwara. The breeze danced down while I sang it, slowly… Guru devo maheshwara, guru sakshat, param brahma, tasmai shri guruvay namaha.

I began back down only to turn around and see fiery sunset clouds erupting over the glen where I’d just stood. I understood their brilliant symbolism, the fire I have died in, and rise from. I smiled, I was not afraid, I was cheered by this light show the earth acknowledged me in. A sign that I am grand and glorious still, perhaps more glorious because I am rising out of the deepest dark I’ve ever known.

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And I walked back down through the cool January woods, with the blue light of winter sculpting my path. It was not the harsh light of winter day, but the softness of twilight. I am not out of the darkness yet, only beginning to see and understand in a new way. There is a softness to this iteration of me that I have not seen before. But an uncanny wilderness, too. An awareness, a watchful grace. I move slowly, like the light does down the mountainside as the sun disappears behind it.

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In this moment, I am still afraid. But I am beginning to know my soul, and to know my strength. I embody twilight.

“I will never see the sky the same way
And I have learned to say goodbye to yesterday and I
Will never cease to fly if held down and
I will always reach too high, cuz I’ve seen
cuz I’ve seen
twilight.”
-Vanessa Carlton

In the darkest time of the year…

I’ve written a post over at Sisterwives today that I want to share with you. It’s about how I make it through the holidays. Well… how I make it through life, really. But especially the holidays, and especially this time of year when we are approaching the solstice and the darkest time.

This post is about finding your beacon. Please go read: http://wp.me/p4A35U-lR

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Finding Ground

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Back in February/March, I went to Sayulita, Mexico, and found myself as I have never done before. I went alone. As such, I was required to make my own self care an absolute priority, down to what I ate. While there, I encountered regular thoughts of self-hatred, regular condemnation for the lack of yoga I was doing (I’d planned on going daily while there), and general depressiveness. In spite of all this, I allowed and accepted these feelings with an equanimity that surprised even me. My big “S” Self stepped into the picture and held all the shifting in her great arms.

On the way home, I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t want to go to school for counseling, not now. This was groundbreaking, since I’d been wanting to go to school for counseling since I was 15 (so, for 10 years). What I did not realize is that this was the first of many shifts in my life this year.

I held onto my equanimity for about a month, and then my world began to tilt and I could feel my Self falling back under the influence of my scared ego. I became smaller again.

I started a supervisor position at work, which was much more difficult than I expected considering I have never been a supervisor. It was also difficult in the sense that I was officially dropping my dream of going to school.

I met a boy. We talked for a little while, then I shut him out, from fear. But this experience made me realize that I lacked spontaneity in my life generally, and that my program for love addiction was hindering me, rather than helping me. Instead of forming my own ideals about love and relationships, I was looking to others to do so for me. I decided to step away from my love addiction program, which I had participated in for almost 2 years, and in which I had completed all 12 steps required and a dating plan.

The same week I decided to do this, I moved to a new apartment. This was a mere 2 weeks after another incident at my old apartment, where someone broke into the basement below my apartment. This was the SECOND such incident I’d had in a year and a half of living there. I didn’t find out until last month (via my dad) that the 2nd guy also had a gun and fired at police. I had thankfully left the apartment by that time.

But it didn’t end there. In stepping away from my love addiction program, I also shifted my alcohol recovery. I’m not regularly attending 12 step recovery right now, though I continue to stay sober and in touch with my sponsor. I am choosing sobriety right now for this reason: I use alcohol to numb. In general in my life, what I am attempting to do is eliminate all things which I use to avoid the present and my true Self. As such I choose to continue to stay sober from alcohol at this time.

And then on June 29th, I started dating Kevin.

This completely ungrounded me. I had already had so much shifting happening in my life. From the very beginning of our relationship, I’ve struggled with massive fear. I’m not talking about the usual relationship worries and nervousness. I’m talking about flat out panic.

I am ashamed to say that it has taken me 5 months to regain myself. And there are prices to pay for not being yourself in a relationship. I am not at all proud of my behavior. I caused a lot of pain and have had to beg forgiveness. Yet on the other hand, I look at myself with compassion.

So much of this year has been about finding who I am, and not living others-defined. My entire life, I have lived defined by what others want of me. Growing up, if we didn’t fall in line with my dad’s dream of God giving us 1.7 billion dollars, we were verbally harangued. I went straight from that into a marriage that I felt like “GOD” was telling me to be in, with a dysfunctional man who was sadly a pornography addict. I finally stepped out of this, and straight into recovery programs that were very structured and I continued living by others’ ideas. I am not saying that my recovery programs were unhelpful. What I am saying is that my perception of how to “work” them caused me to again base my life on what others told me to do, when what I needed was empowerment. Truly, the biggest reason I have not returned to meetings is that I am still unable to change my perception on it, and know that I won’t until I have gained enough ground in myself.

Beginning with my decision to not go to school this year, it has been the year of unraveling living the life I was “supposed” to live, or told to live, or felt like I HAD to live… for the life that I want to live. Not in a selfish “I want to do this and fuck everyone else” sort of way, rather, in a healthy, skillful, heart-centered way. To do this I’ve had to find who it is that I am, without all the structures I’ve made myself up of.

So I suppose it was somewhat natural to go into a relationship and struggle with this very thing. Not allowing myself to feel whatever it was that I felt, out of fear that I would a) screw the whole thing up and be in another unhealthy relationship and b) cause great harm to someone else.

Ironically and very unfortunately, I caused great harm to my boyfriend, while trying to avoid it. Lesson learned. Do not abandon self, no matter what. No matter how much your feelings are scaring you, do not abandon self. Do not abandon feelings.

Thankfully, I found my yoga program just at the right time. The entire program is about becoming a teacher from the foundation of becoming your true Self. And the whole program EMPOWERS you to become your true Self instead of giving rules to follow. Through my yoga program, I’ve come back to myself.

I’ve written here about Patanjali’s sutra I.23 – Ishvara Pranidhana Dva. The sutra of surrender. The theme of the past 5 months has entirely been surrender, since the very start of my relationship. My relationship really began with the movie The Fountain, a story that I see as one of surrender, ultimately.

On Friday, I looked up at the sky and asked the Universe, please let me know I am on the right path. Make it clear, startlingly clear for me, what I need to do. Within fast succession, BOTH things occurred (I should not have been surprised). Later that day at work, I found a poem in an old notebook, one I wrote before my boyfriend and I really even started talking much, about the terror of living in an overwrought mind, and the way past it (death/surrender), that used symbolism of an exploding star (a theme in The Fountain). I took this instantly as knowing “I am in the right place.”

On Saturday, I was standing in my work breakroom and I read yet another graphic on Facebook about surrender and grace. With tears in my eyes I fell to my knees and said, “Okay. Fine. I hear you. I’m done. I will feel whatever I feel.” That night, I went to our local poetry open mic. I saw a woman walk in, and as soon as I saw her, I knew that whatever she spoke would be for me. Her poem? It was on surrender and releasing, healing wounds to heal karmic patterns. I was floored.

And Sunday, my yoga training met again. We have been doing root chakra work, lots of it, and yesterday learned a set of asana poses specifically targeted for the root chakra. We spent 2.5 hours on these poses, which was grueling and exhausting. I felt somewhat resentful that we spent so much time in them, that the teacher was pushing us so much and so quickly. But I had a series of questions that came to me as we worked together Sunday. As these questions came up, I started to feel a stronger sense of Self.

“What if I am desperately craving connection with myself?”
“How do I bring growth to that way of being?”
“In what ways can I support my heart opening?” – this, as I realized that I have to find security and strength in root chakra before I can open up through my heart.

After our asana practice (mostly thigh/leg work) and these musings, I went and hiked the Incline with my boyfriend. I was finally just there, breathing, feeling whatever I felt with him, surrendered to what is. It was a great hike, and despite all the leg work I’d already done, I had a huge endorphin high. We got to the top just as dusk fell, so we headed back down Barr Trail as it got dark. For about half the trail, I was behind him, and we alternated running and hiking steadily. And as we hiked, something hit me.

“No matter what happens with us, I will be okay.” And I knew it all the way through myself, to the very marrow of my bones. I felt like I was snapped back into my body and was instantly flooded with an intense joy, at the reunion with myself. Something about feeling the ground underneath my feet, and the burning in my thighs and legs from the hike and the root chakra asana practice (which I am convinced brought on a lot of this transformation), brought me back to myself.

I am supported. Not because someone else holds me up, but because I am enough and I hold myself. This is surrender, to myself, to the knowledge that I have what it takes to hold the world within me.

This return to myself feels like touching the solid ground after being at sea for months. There is a sense of great relief, and bliss at reunion with my true Self. I remember the woman I was from Sayulita, the one who I truly am. The one who allows and lets life unfold and is not afraid to feel it all, because I am expansive, strong, resilient.

I can’t stop the glimmer of fear that I will lose myself again. But, I will breathe, and allow the fear, and keep surrendering. I know this truth: as long as I continue to surrender, I will always find Her.

It’s been a long journey over the sea of my ego-driven self, but I am finding ground. I am finally home.

Final Note: I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am writing this on December 8th, and scheduling it to post on the 7th anniversary of the death of my sisters. This year has been one of transformation – and every 7 years, a person’s body sheds all their skin cells and gains a completely new set of them. I am in a new skin now, 7 years later, truly transformed on a physical and spiritual level. And I would not be who I am without my sisters. Deep bow to you, my dear hearts, and two of my greatest teachers.

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Practice

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It’s been awhile since I wrote. Some of this is due to the places my mind has wandered lately, down dark and lonely roads. But some of this is also due to being out of practice.

My honesty has felt terrifying even to me, so I stopped practicing writing it out publicly and went underground. Found other ways to let it out – primarily the aforementioned dark places that my mind has wandered. Anxiety creeps out of the cracks of the mind-box I’ve tried to shove it in, and since I won’t create, my body trembles with the force of holding it in.

Previously, I would have bled out on paper. But I haven’t been able to. And then I got too tired. Writing felt exhausting. I didn’t lift a pen for a couple weeks. Then I started thinking about the practice of writing.

Writing doesn’t just happen when inspiration strikes.

but, you see, this is when I have usually written. And when inspiration doesn’t strike, I don’t speak, so I let it lie. Leave the ground barren and fallow, and all my blog readers drift away, tiring of waiting for me.

These are not excuses. These are lessons learned. Writing is not magic. Writing can be born of tired, bored moments, too. Not just the electric ones I wait for. In fact, maybe better writing comes from the mundane. The tedious, tenacious task of doing the same thing every day, slowly growing your skill from persistent practice.

My yoga teacher training lately has been talking about this very subject. Devoted practice. I’m finding out that I’m… well, not bad at it per se, but very undisciplined. I like to follow the shine and glimmer of newness. In yoga teacher training, I’m finding that it’s wearing off. Now I get to dig in even deeper (and with great love) to do the work. To stay consistent, even and especially when, I do not want to.

I’m finding that a big key to all of this is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Abhyasa, the practice, is the effort to remain firmly established in one’s own true Self; it is cultivated over a long time, through earnest and reverent energy, and with great love.”

So inspiration is still slow to strike. and I must admit that is again why I am here tonight, although now it’s 10:13pm and the inspiration that made me a lightning rod earlier is now wearing off. It’s taking a bit more effort to hammer out these words.

But it was my sister’s practice that inspired me.

See, she’s been taking a drawing class this semester. From the beginning of the semester until now, she’s worked hard and stuck with it, and her improvement is marked. Today, I felt a huge rush of gratitude when she told me how she was now using her talent to also process some personal things.

Besides the gratitude though, it reminded me of my own work. My sister… my lovely sister Grace who turned 18 on the 30th (holy crap! I remember when she was born!) pointed me back to my own work. And she reminded me that I can use even my darkest, most painful, most shameful feelings in a brave act of creation.

I’ve been scared to be vulnerable because

GOD. DAMN.

I’ve got some ugly shit going on in there and I don’t even want to see it. Me. The one who holds it in me. Yikes. That crap is too scary. My teacher talks about how yoga opens up the door to the basement where we’ve been stuffing crap forever. Well, the basement door got opened up for me and, really I’d rather just keep slamming the door and pretending it doesn’t exist.

Oh. And the other thing is, all that stuff in the basement reminds me that I have choices. Lots of them. All of them in fact, and all mine. For the first time in my life that I can remember, I am basing my entire life off of my own choices.

That thought in itself makes me want to hide forever. As awesome as that sounds, choice is dizzying. Decisions can make or break my whole life (I overdramatize sometimes). I’ve never picked up the pen and become an autobiography, instead of just a simple biography. I’m unused to the feel of my own fingers penning words I choose to ink down. Something about this, something about the idea of authoring my own story, scares the shit out of me. Something about the idea of choice is terrifying.

(I’m trying to be gentle with myself right now, because… sweetheart, so much new. and it’s okay, and I know this is different and hard, and like you’ve lived underground and you’re seeing the light for the first time. It’s going to be okay, I promise)

So, you can see why I’d like to stop practicing, frankly. Yawn yawn, nothing shiny and fun here, nope, just a basement full of crap I’d rather not deal with. I’d rather stay in boredom and allow that to lead me to something shinier, more electrifying. I’d rather chase the high. (As my teacher would say – isn’t that interesting? When the practice is finding your true Self, you’re… bored?)  Fear is… chilling, ghastly, panic-inducing. Give me something fun so I can keep pretending it’s not there.

This is where the going gets tough. I was warned this would happen. I’ve never before noticed how this happens for me, though. It’s not by just running away… boredom is the name of the game. Procrastination is another name it goes by. So, it’s time to practice with it. Keep showing up even though I really don’t want to. Even though it doesn’t seem important (BO-RING). Even if it seems to be too much effort. It’s time for me to make my bones.

Patanjali’s first yoga sutra: “Now, this is yoga.

Yep, now, in the fear, in the boredom avoiding the fear, in all the things I feel that I am afraid to become… now. this. is. yoga.

The night I wrote this, I practiced by expressing some things I’ve been afraid to. In an effort to continue that practice, I’m sharing it with you:

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That great love part in Patanjali’s I.14 sutra is very central, for me. I can muster up plenty of earnest and reverent energy. But I have found in the past that this results in performance. It’s only when I’m approaching my practice out of great love for myself, and for those around me, that I am able to continually remain firmly established in my true Self. Without that love, I am much too apt to stop showing up, because fear takes over.

So here I am… committing again to practice. With earnest and reverent energy. And great, great love.

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Dust to Dust

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Last weekend, I started a yoga teacher training program.

A friend had told me about this program just about a month and a half ago. When she emailed me about it, I instantly KNEW. I needed to do this. I had no idea why. I had no idea where I’d get the money from. But, I needed to do this training.

It’s a unique training, to be sure. It’s not just about asana, or physical, practice. So we’re not getting together and just doing yoga all day. It’s holistic yoga – yoga in life, as a whole. Yoga as a spiritual practice. As my teacher says, capital “Y” Yoga.

Class format is 1 intensive weekend a month, and one Sunday. Last weekend was our first intensive weekend. When I saw an Andrea Gibson poem among the handouts for the class, I felt even more intensely that this was just where I was meant to be.

The weekend proved this out. My class quickly became a family. We did asana together once a day, and the rest of the time talked about life. About being your true Self. About SHOWING UP. How to show up. How Yoga helps you show up for your life. How spirituality is not about getting out of your life, but about showing up to it.

From Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.

I felt a sense of connection that I have deeply missed. I got my heart broken open in the best way. I deeply crave connection, and yet so often I feel like it’s out of my reach. I have a deep achey loneliness that lives in my center like an icy core. I get paralyzed by it. I get suffocated by it. If you’ve ever had the experience where you’ve contacted me, and I’ve not texted, emailed, or Facebooked you back, that’s what this is about. I crave your presence. But I feel overwhelmed when I think about letting it in. I literally get tired and it feels exhausting to return communication. (and you wonder why I haven’t been writing as much lately…)

For a moment last Sunday, I let tears wash my soul and clear out a space for people to come in. It felt like I could breathe again after being underwater for a long, long time.

I am realizing that my hardship in connecting with others is really my hardship in connecting with myself and with Life at large. I was asked to write about one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for class. Last night, one was almost hand-delivered to me; I stumbled on it through a blog post. Ishvara Pranidhana Dva – the surrender/offer of self to a higher Source as a path to samadhi, enlightenment. Or, basically, surrendering to the flow of life. Um. Yikes. That’s terrifying. What if life screws me over?

And this is where my history comes in.

Really, the more I walk this path, the more I feel I was meant to walk this path at this time, specifically. I read this sutra last night, which encourages offering yourself to Source. I went to bed shortly after. When I laid down to sleep, I laid on my stomach with my arms above my head, setting an intention to offer myself to Source.

I fell into the deepest sleep I’ve had in weeks and promptly had a nightmare about a shooting, perpetrated by someone who, in my dream, was in a close friend group (he was not someone I know or recognize from real life).

Funny enough I take it as a sign that it was exactly the Yoga sutra I needed to read and write about, because this is just where my Yoga lies right now. The lack of safety and trust I feel in Life, generally.

How strange then, that today I discover further information about trauma and yoga and the body. Krista Tippett’s latest podcast featured Bessel Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who is discovering how Yoga can heal trauma. The episode is here and I highly encourage that you listen.

During the program, Mr. Van der Kolk addressed how trauma victims disconnect themselves from their bodies. Trauma impairs the imagining of how your physical body feels, as well as impairing the self-observational parts of your brain that are aware of what is happening inside. Trauma activates the primitive brain (limbic system) and at times, so overactivates this system that the rational mind (prefrontal cortex) doesn’t kick in. In other words – full scale freakout, and rationality is nowhere to be found. Because of this, trauma victims can be “hijacked” by previous experiences at almost any time. When triggered, the limbic system is activated and then control is lost. Because of the constant state of “heartache and gutwrench” that trauma victims go through, they shut down their body so as not to feel it. At times this is through alcohol or drugs, at others it’s shutting down emotional awareness in the body.

*takes a deep breath* You got all that? I know it’s all science-y speak… but mostly it just says, trauma victims are disconnected from their bodies, or even try to disconnect from them because traumatic situations affect the physical body and cause pain.

From personal experience I can tell you that this is the truth. A few months ago, I wrote a spoken word piece about my sisters, in which I penned “my DNA still trembles from the paralyzing shock” and other similar phrases. Many times I do get the sense that I can literally feel it in my body.

And in yoga, sometimes it’s emotionally excruciating for me. Deeply cleansing, but wow. Coming back to your body is deeply painful after having disconnected from it. I think to begin with, I was using alcohol to disconnect from my body. After I stopped drinking, I shut off emotional awareness of my body. It’s funny, because I actually have quite high body awareness of what emotion is stored in what area. But I know it, so I can silence it. NOT so I can connect with it.

The connection actually feels so excruciating that I had a really rough meditation experience back in June, one that kept me from meditating for about 2 months. I was doing a meditation day, and we started with meditating through a full body scan. I thought to myself, “Oh, cool, this will be good.” Nope. It was at that point that I realized just HOW MUCH trauma was residing in my body. Wave upon wave of emotional pain washed over me. I had no resources with which to deal with it, and the situation it occurred in was very unsupportive for me. In many ways my body felt it had been re-traumatized.

Mr. Van der Kolk says that the feeling of being safe in the body is not there, for a trauma victim. He talks about how it is hard for a traumatized person to relax fully during savasana (corpse pose). When he spoke of this, tears jumped to my eyes. Savasana is hard for me. I cannot relax most of the time. When I do, it’s a beautiful, healing, cleansing experience and many times I cry. But it’s hard for me to fully wind down most of the time. There’s a sense of itchiness and discomfort, groundlessness, in the pit of my stomach.

Certain poses, too, trigger things in me. Twice last week, I did a pose (Supta Padangustasana, in case you were wondering) in which my outer hips were stretched. It’s probably the tightest part of my body, first off, and I can barely move into the stretch. Each time I do it, I have flashbacks that make me tear up. They’re not horrible flashbacks, but that stretch really touches into the lack of safety I feel in my body. (Yogi friends – root chakra, anyone?)

But… this is actually a good thing because I can feel like I’m in my body again. And another good thing about yoga is that it actually changes something called heart rate variability. This is where the heartbeat and the breath sync up and create a more mindful and calm experience. Yoga is a way to feel the life inside yourself, to connect again to the body. It’s not just effective on a verbal level, it deals with the whole body where things get stored physically.

Bessel Van der Kolk says at the end of his broadcast that the feeling of safety and at the same time interconnectivity to others and life is really the essence of trauma healing.

It seems that I have landed in a program that will promote both. My Yoga training is my satsang – spiritual community. And it’s through the practice of Yoga as a whole that I am reconnecting with my body. It follows then that I’ll be able to reconnect with others.

I feel it’s summed up in a beautiful song that brought tears streaming down my cheeks on Monday. It’s called Dust to Dust, which I have to say I find really profound; in the creation myth in Genesis, our bodies are made of dust and to dust we return. Again, the return to the body and the return to connection.

Just Dance: A Poem

I’m posting over at The Sisterwives today, with a new spoken word piece. It’s all about dancing to the rhythm of your own truth. Read here!

Just Dance

I’m Still Here

Source: Bibliofiend.com

It’s been awhile since I’ve written.

Most of what I’ve written lately has been sporadic pennings on a journal page, or in my poetry notebook. I’ve zipped myself shut for the silliest of reasons, but one I could not avoid. A monster in my closet with a double-fisted threat that steals all my breath and energy.

Fear. And its twin Shame.

I read Divergent this weekend. It’s odd how fiction can echo things you see in life. Stories are important, I’ve decided.

The past while I’ve spent drowning in fear. It treads my every footstep, a constant shadow, and its twin Shame covers the places Fear has missed. The both of them work together, laughing and taunting as they tie the ropes that keep me solidly inside of myself. Old, old patterns churn around and around and I stare at them, shaking.

I am crazy. I am acting crazy. No one would act as crazy as me, so I should keep it to myself. Shame sticks to me like a cold, icy blanket.

Furthermore, wanting and needing things will only get me in trouble. Conform. Stick to what I know. Get comfortable fitting in the shape of someone else’s skin. I blink wide chameleon eyes in a quest for acceptance. To deviate means destruction.

“What if I’ve always been, good enough in my skin, good enough in my skin?”

Maria Mena’s voice creaks under the record needle of the slim strand of truth still accessible to my mind.

They all want me to stay quiet. I am Beatrice in Abnegation. Always helpful, subservient, looking for approval. Giving away myself to someone else, not because they want it… because I am afraid. Being myself means losing the other person. This is my pattern, in the kaleidoscope of relationships in my life. I twist myself to conform to what they want.

My fears shake me and I react. Pounding heart, sweaty palms, I dissociate so far away from myself that I become unrecognizable, a tiny point of my former self. “Stay quiet, no one wants you to speak up, when you speak up, you lose. They will hate you for what you want. You will be alone.”

The crows come. I can’t lose control.

But recently I’m learning a different way. I read a simple quote last week. “Creative action, rather than destructive reaction.” This is my mantra. Creative Action. Do. Not. React.

I am Tris, Dauntless, in a simulation with all my fears hurtling themselves toward me. My pulse is pounding. But if you’ve read Divergent, you know how to transform simulations.

You don’t react. Not to the fear. You create something different, a new pathway. Strength. You shake in your boots, and then you change the picture. Or you calm down. Receptive to fear. Either way, you don’t react.

I’m learning. Feel fear. And do. not. react. Get creative. Change the picture. Transform fear.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. To feel fear playing my heartstrings, clouding my mind with trembling terror, tricking me into believing the Universe does not care. That I will always be alone and it is useless to ask for what I want because even if I do get it, it will be taken away. “Just stay quiet,” the fear says. “If you smother yourself, maybe you won’t want something that will hurt everyone else.”

But I want to breathe. I want to live. And the only way through fear is the very thing that is the most scary. It’s something I wrote in a transformative poem that spoke through me after a meditation 2 years ago.

“You are not incarcerated by fear.
The key is in the space
between you
and the door.
Breathe.
Open.
There is no distance between you and freedom.”

Breathe. Do not react. Open. Feel the space. Breathe. Feel the fear, feel the vast, immense space, and breathe open. Create – strength. Tremble with the fear – receive and stay open to it.

I am not just strength. I am not just receptivity. I am Tris, Dauntless. And I am Tris, Abnegation. Brave. AND selfless. Strength AND receptive. I have a voice. And I can use it with skill.

And in the space, the space between fear and reaction – is freedom.

“What if I’ve always been, good enough in my skin, good enough in my skin…”

I am still here.

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Breakthrough

Last night I decided to give my new tarot deck one more round of “let’s see what it comes up with” before bed. For those of you who don’t follow my Twitter, I’ve been obsessed with tarot card reading lately. And by lately I mostly mean the last 3 days since I bought this deck of cards.


(Can be purchased at Osho.com)

A friend of mine had used these cards before, so I was familiar with them. This particular tarot is very heavily Zen Buddhist based, one reason I like it. I also love tarot because I’ve always been a highly intuitional person, and it really resonates with that part of me. Hence, the obsession I’ve had with them the past few days…but really maybe always without knowing it. When I had the cards in my hands, I truly felt as if they’d been waiting for me.

So, back to last night. I poured my energy into the cards, shuffling away one last time before bed. I decided to use a paradox setup – 3 cards, one representing past, one representing present, one representing the insight into the paradox. As I shuffled, a card danced its way right out of my hands and fell upright on the floor.

I stared.

I had read earlier yesterday that when a card falls out of the deck like that when shuffling, it’s probably significant. Well, no doubt. Even the picture on the front screamed its obvious significance.

I also knew right away that this was the “present” card of the set of 3. I laid it down, still staring. I continued to shuffle then drew the other 2 cards.

Past:

Insight:

The present card was obviously the highlight of this reading. But the other 2 cards were also loaded. I’ve been flowering – obviously. That’s the past image. True of the past long while, especially of the last 2 years. Insight – I’ve still felt like an outsider. On the edges of life. Unable to fully connect with people. You can’t tell in this picture, but the lock on that gate is ACTUALLY unlocked, the child (inner child?) just doesn’t realize it.

And present is breakthrough.

Today, I got it.

I woke up this morning and immediately felt cautious. My first thought on waking was wondering, “Will today be as good as yesterday? What if it’s not?” Fear came on me instantly. I’ve been struggling hard with fear for the last few months in general, and this one in particular struck right at my fear of loss. What if I lose what good I have?

All morning I tried to combat this feeling. I tried to make the fear go away. My mind whirred and turned over itself trying to analyze it away, to stave it off. Really, I was obsessing. Trying to create a barrier between the fear and myself. Trying to analyze its roots, trying to MAKE IT GO AWAY.

(This is how I always treat uncomfortable feelings. Analyze obsessively to find the root so I can MAKE IT GO AWAY. I can remember starting this as a teenager and I haven’t stopped since. Find the root to make it disappear. Self-awareness is a curse sometimes when your perfectionist nature uses it in such a cruel way. In making pain disappear, I’ve had to make myself disappear too.)

I was a mental wreck and I hated my poor overwraught mind as I watched it torture itself. I tried to have compassion, but I was really frankly rather disgusted. Thankfully, I had grabbed The Untethered Soul and left it in my car so I could read it on break. I’ve been reading this book for the past month or so (because of Sarah Somewhere – thank you beyond words!) and it has been immensely comforting.

I read voraciously on break, trying to find some way out of this awful fear prison I was tangled up in… terrified that the fear was real and I’d lose everything. That the Universe doesn’t give a crap about me and nothing good is headed my way.

But while I was reading, something finally clicked.

I was afraid because I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to lose because that would hurt. BAD. And I know how bad, oh, I know. I’ve experienced quite enough to know. To keep myself away from that pain, my brain could whir on and on forever, creating layers of self-protection.

This morning, I read through a chapter in this book and some words at the end rocked me, and I got it:

You must be willing to accept pain in order to pass through to the other side. Just accept that it is there and that you are going to feel it. Accept that if you relax, it will have its moments before your awareness, then it will pass. It always does.”

My entire perspective changed in that moment and I relaxed. I let the pain in. Instead of contracting around it like usual, I relaxed. Expanded. For a few moments, I shook and tears came to my eyes. Then it settled down to a soft burn, and it’s been there burning all day. Slowly burning all that I’ve been so afraid of.

I feel different. Like anything could happen and I would be okay because… it’s just pain. I can handle the pain. I will feel it, and it will pass, like it always does.

It felt exactly like the picture on that card.

The Best Steak I Ever Had

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It was Vail, Colorado, somewhere around 1999-2001. The setting: a Swiss themed hotel with all German/Swiss/Austrian staff. 5 Star Restaurant.

I was 10, 11, 12 years old. The years blended together along with the stories my dad told. Fantastic tales of money (1.7 Billion Dollars to be exact) that God would bestow upon my family someday, if we only believed. Maybe it was an effort to drag this money towards us, I don’t know. But I know that one fall, we spent a weekend in Vail at a fancy hotel. My dad loved flashing his American Express gold card.

I remember my parents’ suite had an upstairs loft bedroom and I fantasized that one day, I’d go there for my honeymoon and have sex in a bedroom like that.

The swimming pool downstairs was a combined indoor/outdoor pool and it was magical to me to duck under the opening and find myself outside.

We played chess and checkers in the little library just off the lobby. We wandered down the streets of Vail, eating lunch at Pepe’s and afterwards, browsing the outrageously expensive Gorsuch store. I was desperate to have the lovely alpine themed clothing they offered. I loved the jackets, especially.

Erika Kneecoat, $1998.00 – Gorsuch LTD.

It was in that hotel, in their 5 star restaurant, that I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

We had dinner there one night. I still remember precisely what I ordered: surf and turf. The red lobster shell gleamed temptingly in the candlelight. My knife flashed through my tender filet mignon. I raised my fork to my mouth and suddenly I never wanted to eat anything else for my entire life.

I can still taste the succulent, juicy texture of that steak. It was so soft you could cut it with a butter knife. I’ve eaten steak hundreds of times since and it has never compared.

I ate slowly to make it last. I never wanted that moment to end. I thought about it longingly the next morning as we circled the breakfast buffet. It was the morning after walk of shame, wishing the night had never ended.

Over a steak.

My dad spent $600 on that meal for my family of 6, my youngest sister barely old enough to count. All of that was on a credit card.

1.7 billion dollars has still not arrived. It’s 2014.

It was a lovely fantasy, after all… because of that fantasy, I:
-spent enough time on corporate jets that if I sat in one now blindfolded, I could tell you exactly where I was.
-walked through $6 million dollar homes for sale, feigning interest in buying one.
-still remember my regular order at the restaurant at Denver’s corporate airport.
-can tell you about finishing schools in Switzerland, Prince William’s 3 middle names, the royalty in Monaco, corporate jets that can cross the ocean without stopping, how money can cross illegal borders (i.e. Iran to the US) and a thousand other things I’m forgetting now because there’s too many to count.
-know how to feign an air of the elegantly wealthy and hold up impeccable pretense.

It was unrealistic, ridiculous, totally delusional. I hate even the thought of wealth now and shy away from any mention of even winning the lottery.

But sometimes, I still think longingly about that steak.


 

An update on how I’m working things out with my family now – It’s Complicated

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Writing My Own Rules

I’ve spent a lifetime living by other people’s rules. I still have to detach them from my own mind and decide which ones I want to follow, and which ones I need to leave behind.

When the lovely Sandy (who I am an unabashed admirer of) asked me to write a guest post, I knew what it was that I needed to say. It’s time to write my own rules.

You can read the rest of what I wrote here: Writing My Own Rules

I'm frozen in fear of even the beauty of

Legacy

We’re not up for that.

The countless times I heard that phrase as a child. It started with disinterest. It became a lack of time. It became a lack of motivation. It became a lack of energy.

It was too hard to interact with the world, to interact with life, to interact with others. So much easier to shut it all out. I think my dad was really, really afraid.

I see his legacies still hanging as paintings in corners of my mind.

BIG

 

They’re lovely dreams, really. My dad just thought that because something was painted in technicolor, it was real. Or perhaps it’s just that he wanted them to be and was afraid of what real truly was.

Some days I don’t blame him, either. Living in a low-income apartment complex carries a certain amount of stress with it. Children throw rocks in the street for entertainment. Heroin needles are littered by the trash can. We were awakened in the middle of the night to drug busts, hysterical drunk women calling for taxis, and overdramatic boyfriends driving pickup trucks across the lawn. Murders happened first down the street in shocking drive-by fashion. Then one day an apartment is boarded up and you’re told it’s because someone murdered his wife/girlfriend. Posters for sexual predators are hung on light poles, and your sisters are followed home by strange men.

I can’t understand why we stayed so long. 10 years in the same apartment. 1997 – 2007. In the beginning, we were on food stamps. At the end, my dad made almost 100K a year. And yet he felt somehow trapped. Perhaps those paintings had become reality.

Or maybe it’s just that when you shut yourself away from life, from reality, the light can never reach you enough for you to grow. Energy disappears because you have nothing to innervate you.

I’ve gone through periods of anger at my dad for his fantasies of riches.

1.7 billion dollars, Dad? Really? And did you really have to maniacally twist my life around the stunted tree you were growing from the seeds of your delusion? Did you have to ruin my life for your dream? I had to listen to you every damn night for 10-15 years, talking about what coincidence that day “PROVED” that God was going to give us this money.

So many words became loaded with the bullets of your desperation. Persia. Imminent. 1.7. Montana. Any time Iran was in the news, I knew about it. Every Montana license plate or moving truck that drove past our car, becoming an endless blur of reasons. Riddling me with holes.

We were

We were all shot through with the emptiness by the times my sisters were shot in reality.

Maybe that’s gratuitous of me to say, but we were all slowly dying anyway. When your 16 year old sister is desperate to move to Virginia to live with her best friend, there’s a problem. When you’re slowly suffocating inside your life, there’s a problem. I lived in a glass box.

I heard “no” so often. No, it was a family day so I couldn’t go to a concert with my then-boyfriend. No, our family was busy so I couldn’t go hang out with this or that friend.

Louder were the silent “noes” inflicted. No friends nearby because church was 2 hours away and we were homeschooled. No boys because courtship was the name of the game. No speaking up because Dad was head of the house – ok… that wasn’t a silent no, it just became one after we spoke out one too many times and had to face wrath.

My parents slammed the door in the face of Life, a wragged wraith disguising the sorceress beneath. They became the beast, but I was the one locked in the castle for years while the rose dropped petals and I waited for love to find me.

It’s legacy.

I still struggle to open the door.

I have flashes of insane rage at my dad for doing this to me. But somewhere down the line I calm down because I realize I’m still doing it. I am my father’s child, just as he was his father’s child.

My dad used to come home in the 1960’s, and no one was there to greet him. My grandma says he used to ride the streets on his bike trying to stay away from my grandpa. My aunt says the atmosphere at home was abusive. I don’t know what the truth is, but I know that my uncle is a sociopath and my dad has very obvious delusions.

So it’s no wonder that my dad carried this legacy on. The anger that he unleashed on us if we “crossed him” although it almost always was never our fault. The way he pushed away life as if he couldn’t bear it. He had never been able to. He had never been taught to. And reality gets very heavy sometimes. Especially when your dreams fail, and you have to eke out a living on food stamps for awhile after making 20K a month, as he had in his younger years.

He just closed his eyes and shut it all away. And in fear, he shut all of us away, too, lest we threaten his world with our unique version of earthquake. With our uniqueness in general. He disguised our prison with beautiful visions of future wealth, and they became our virtual reality.

I have learned well to shut out the light. I still do it. I was taught all the right phrases. “It’s too much for me right now.” Maybe though I’m just really, really afraid. Because I have learned how the pain of loss aches through your bones long after the loss has passed. To let light in means I might lose it soon.

Why do I feel such exhaustion? Maybe it’s not because I’m too tired to open the door. Maybe it’s precisely because the door is closed. Growing things can’t create food without the sun.

It’s been so long, though, and I was taught the ways of caged life so well that I struggle to learn what it means to live free. Liberated. I still stand behind the door feeling too tired to pull it open. Or that’s what I tell myself because that’s what I’ve learned to label it as. That’s the story I’ve learned about this dogged weariness.

I'm frozen in fear of even the beauty of

I’m not in constant anger at my dad anymore. Compassion is more often the norm. I have no desire for anything more than a shallow conversation with him, and I will never ask his advice. But I understand it now, the way that reality can feel like a stalker haunting your steps. I understand because I run away from it, too. Reality can equal hollow, endless loss.

I shut out good too, though. Just as the Universe extends its warm loving arms. I don’t know how to accept it because I’m always waiting for the backstab.

It’s legacy.

And I know it’s time I start a new one, for the sake of my future children. It’s what I continue to strive for. Backstab is no legacy to pass on.

But please hold me in the light, because some days it feels like too much for me to find on my own. Just know that I am trying.


 

An update to how I’m working through things with my dad now – It’s Complicated

Wolves

I’ve been absolutely outraged by Ferguson and the events there, and this is what came out tonight. I felt compelled to share it with you. Excuse my stumbling words; please know that I don’t know how to write about this. But I’m trying. I recognize my own privilege and the role that it plays in this situation and it breaks my heart. I want to be part of a change.

When Anders Breivik
dressed up as a policeman
on July 22, 2012
and took the lives of 77 people
we were horrified
that someone could be such a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Could not believe that someone
took on the clothing
symbolizing safety
and used it to disguise
attack.
Yet when officers who
every day wear the uniform
“accidentally” take a
minority’s life
the news doesn’t talk about it.
everyone goes about their day like
sheep aren’t sometimes
wolves
and sometimes it’s hard
to tell the difference between the 2.
This is a poem
I’m not even supposed to write
because my skin has spoken enough
I have a wolf
hiding under lily white
there are no words
that I can say that
do less damage
because I come from a long line of people
who appear safe in society
until they show their teeth.

But for what it’s worth
(and it may not be much)
my two sisters were gunned down
in a church parking lot
a paragon of what is perceived by
society as safe
(nevermind what they say about
gays and gun rights and women)
and ABC, CBS, NBC begged me
to put myself on display
it was a “tragic loss of innocence
in a place you’d least expect.”
Every day
there are people just as young
as my sisters were
terrified to walk down the sidewalk
or through the grocery store
or anywhere really
and honestly I’m just sorry
that this society deems my story
as more “worthwhile”
more “horrifying”
because of the color of my skin
when the very ones who swore
to protect and defend
instead, take innocence
steal it in the places you’d least expect
so please
from me
keep telling your stories
and I will sit down
I’ve had more than enough airplay
I’m just sorry, and broken
that instead of a one-time occurrence
you face this every day
hundreds of Anders Breiviks
hunting you down and they don’t stop coming
and honestly…
I could be one of them.

%22...pero vendras conmigo...%22-2

Return

%22...pero vendras conmigo...%22-2

I have another post coming soon, and this post will likely be a bit raw. But I felt the need to share it tonight.

This evening, I’ve been thinking about the words “come with me” and “return.” I hear them not only in English but in Spanish… “Conmigo. Volvere.” These words have been bouncing around in my heart since last night. I have had a rough couple of weeks with long hours at work, family reunions, and an emergency trip to see my best friend. All things I wouldn’t trade for the world, but I’m tired.

I’ve been thrown off, away from myself. Fear has rocked me like a ship on the ocean. I’ve lost myself in the maelstrom. Anxiety has been a path I’ve worn well. So last night I went for a hike in the woods to one of my favorite spots. It was time to re-center or drown.

I heard that whisper. “Come with me. Conmigo.”

It brought me to tears. I am hearing it everywhere right now. There’s a line from Lord of the Rings:

Lasto beth nin, tola dan nan galad” – Listen to my voice, come back to the light.

Come back to the light.

Return.

It just now struck me that I call my writing page “Resilient Audacity.” Resilience is bouncing back…

To me, resilience is RETURN.

To return to the core, the essence of myself that has always been there. The light that shines at the center of myself.

“Conmigo” is from a Neruda poem –

“Oh tú, la que yo amo,
pequeña, grano rojo
de trigo,
será dura la lucha,
la vida será dura,
pero vendrás conmigo.”

“Oh you, the one I love
little one, red grain
of wheat
the struggle will be hard
life will be hard
but you will come with me.”

This hearkens back as well to my favorite spoken word of all time that I posted about here a couple months ago: Andrea Gibson’s The Nutrionist.

I heard another poem by her recently and it said,

“You don’t have to leave to arrive.”

The Universe so softly, lovingly, wonderfully whispers to me: to come with, to return to the light. The one that’s been there waiting for me all along.

Life-Hacking Skills

It is widely known among my friends that I do not, in fact, own a smartphone.

Yes, I know, it’s quite the tragedy. As they have assured me many times. How do I get along without it? How do I live without a portable camera and Instagram filters? How do I know where anything is?

To which I say – just fine thank you, cameras have always been portable, photo-editing can be done on my computer, and MAPS, thankyouverymuch.

But as a result of this caveman philosophy, I constantly surprise myself with how much I can actually make life work for me with simple stonelike tools such as a LAPTOP and THE SHITTY INTERNET ON MY PHONE (5 year old platform) and GOOGLE MAPS – BEFORE I go somewhere.

First of all, I have the insanely weird talent of being able to look at a map 1 time and know exactly where I am going, and it’s a pretty sure thing that I’ll always remember how to get there after that, too. I look at it once, and my brain holds it forever.

Pretty nifty tool. Who needs a fucking GPS? I’ve got MY MIND (it’s better than yours).

So normally, if I need to get somewhere, I simply look up directions beforehand and handily take myself in that direction. I first learned I had this skill when I lived overseas for 3 months and successfully navigated myself on the Metro, the bus system, and to church. Alone. At 17 years old.

LIFE. HACKER.

Except, this morning, all went awry. I am in Kansas City for the weekend for my grandma’s 90th birthday. It’s an epic family reunion and includes people I haven’t seen for 6 years. Some of them for longer. And with some of them (mostly IMMEDIATE family ones aka Father) it has the potential for extreme awkwardness.

So, I decided in order to cope with sharing hotel rooms and cars for the weekend, I was going to rent my OWN car for 5 hours and 5 hours only, so I could have a zen-like afternoon before everyone else showed up.

I planned out where I was going to go. Good coffee had to be a part of this, obviously. I literally cannot go to a city without having their best coffee. When I was in London 2 years ago with my best friend, we had not a drop of tea in the 2 days we were there. BUT I HAD 3 CUPS OF COFFEE. At least.

Enter problem 1. I get off the plane, get my bags, and get on the rental car bus. WITHOUT turning on my trusty laptop to look at Google Maps. I had no fucking clue where I was going.

The lady at the rental car place asked if I needed directions, so I asked her how to get downtown. Inside, I secretly sparked with the adventure of having absolutely NO idea where I was going, other than two directional cues (LEFT, then RIGHT).

I’m a badass, so of course off of these 2 directions, I got myself downtown. Within 2 minutes of arriving in the downtown area, I inadvertently turned onto a street I had planned on going to, anyway – the Kansas City Library and its supercool parking garage.

WINNING. I then proceeded to meander around downtown and then landed myself in the ARTS DISTRICT.

WINNING x2.

It was at this point that my skills almost evaded me. Though I drove around for an hour, I could not track down a coffee shop. I just KNEW they were right out of my reach (spoiler: I was correct).

But just in time, my life hacking skills saved me as I spotted a Panera Bread. As anyone with life hacking skills knows, Panera Bread has the most accessible free wifi ANYWHERE.

MWAHAHAH. I promptly parked in the nearby mall parking structure (FREE), walked over to Panera, and SAT OUTSIDE (FREE) at the outdoor tables while I mooched their FREE internet to find out where I was and where I needed to go. Turned out that earlier, I had literally come within 7 blocks of a coffee shop I’d been looking for. (See, told you they were just out of my reach)

So with my trusty Panera wifi as my guide, I headed back out and within 10 minutes had parked and ended up in Oddly Correct, a lovely little hipster coffee shop (The Costa Rica they have on their brew bar right now is epically delicious, FYI).

So the next time any of y’all say “OMG YOU DON’T HAVE A SMARTPHONE?” here’s what I’ll say:

OMG YOU DON’T HAVE LIFEHACKING SKILLS?

Suck it, bitches.

Do you have any lifehacking skills? What street smarts do you have that you’re most proud of? Do you have a weird brain likemine that retains directional information? Holla at yo booiiii!! I mean… girrrlll…

“It seems we struggle for a lifetime to-3

Constellations

“It seems we struggle for a lifetime to become whole. Few of us ever do … Most of us end up going out the same way we came in — kicking and screaming. Most of us don’t have the strength — or the conviction. Most of us don’t want to face our fears.”
― Darren Aronofsky; Kent WilliamsThe Fountain

Sometimes, something shows up in your life with the force of divinity behind it. It’s as if the very cosmos aligned with your gravity to pull something to your life. It’s a huge dot to dot and constellations are connected and created by the lines.

The picture becomes clearer and clearer and as it does, it’s like looking at the night sky.

It’s so much bigger than you and the immensity of it matches the immensity of your soul. And of theirs, too.

Yes, theirs.

Because sometimes a constellation is drawn between two people. Two lone dots are interlaced and connected to other dots sprinkled between them, and suddenly, it becomes clear. A nebula explodes and a constellation is born.

“The design in the stars is the design in our hearts.” – Derrick Brown

This is not necessarily what I was expecting to happen after I wrote my last post. The one about loving without fear. I’ve been petitioning the universe for awhile for a chance at that, at dating, at relationships, but I don’t think I expected such an instantaneous response to that post.

And yet, it was just after that when I started finally waking up and noticing something. Lines were being drawn between my soul and someone else’s. It had been coming for awhile, but my fear had run away from it. In fact, what strikes me is that this person had actually started the process for me. It was interacting with him that had changed the way I approached relationships in general, because I saw how I was limiting myself when with him. I was not being my true soul.

Kevin and I met in March. First really spoke in April. At the end of April I ran, because I was terrified. I was still too afraid to let someone that close. But that experience launched me into a new phase of self discovery. Why was I terrified to let someone that close? Why was I so afraid, in general? Those interactions with him sparked in me an upheaval in how I lived my life, an entire change of perspective.

When we started talking again in mid-June, I was different. I was not building walls out of fear. I was open.

And then Tuesday, June 24 happened. My sister’s best friend was in a horrible car accident. I went to the hospital to be with my sister – it was the very same hospital my sister Rachel died in. My sister’s friend was in the same ICU. It was hard. Seeing my little sister cry was gut-wrenching to me; seeing that in the same place my sister Rachel had died was torturous. I knew that after I left I needed support. And I knew that when I texted Kevin, he would drop everything and be there.

There was no doubt in my mind.

I deliberated. I knew what I was doing by asking for his company. I knew that it would bring us closer. I mustered up my courage and asked anyway. We went to get tea (my favorite calming beverage) while I tried to quiet myself from the difficult evening. We didn’t even talk much about it. And one question he asked stopped me in my tracks.

“What’s the best thing that happened to you today?”

My mind was full of negativity and that was what I needed to redirect. I needed to remember the gorgeous run I’d taken with a friend, just that morning, in Garden of the Gods. I needed to remember that good things existed.

The next day, I got to return the favor. A difficult situation came up for Kevin, and I was able to be there in return. As a result, conversations arose – about life and death and cycles. Both of us had experienced the death of loved ones and understood the strangeness that life somehow continues in the wake of their passing. That energy is not destroyed, but changed. He sent me a spoken word poem about it. Life after death. Their death, giving back life. Over, and over, and over. It was the theme of our week and a conversation we returned to.

On Saturday, June 28th, we watched The Fountain.

We hadn’t planned it at all, but it quickly became obvious: The theme of this movie is what we had talked about all week. Life, death. Cycles. Over and over. Stars explode, create life. Drinking from the Tree of Life creates death, creates life grown from the body of man.

“It seems we struggle for a lifetime to-3

She said it, a second time, and it resounded and echoed through the space-caverns of my heart. Because that phrase, used in more than just one movie, had been echoing in my head already since at least my last post. Trinity, in the Matrix, had been the one I was thinking of. But then Izzi said it in this movie – The Fountain – that tied together life and death and cycles and stars – all metaphors that I have carried inside me throughout my life. And I knew.

This wasn’t an accident. This wasn’t random. This was a constellation being born through an exploding nebula. This was life come from death come from life. The funny thing was, we both knew. We both experienced that strange shared moment of realization that the Universe/A Higher Power/Something Greater was definitely arranging this.

As I have walked this path the past 2 weeks, I have realized constantly the reason that something Bigger moved it all forward with this particular movie. Why, too, I had written that Love Without Fear post just before the beginning of this journey. Staying openhearted, for me who has oft been so closed, is a daunting task. But there is one spark of knowledge that reminds me of how to stay, not run. How to face my fears:

I am held by something larger than myself.

If I can remember this, living and loving without fear ceases to occupy my mind so much. Overanalyzing is laid down. Anxiety dissipates. Scrutinizing for problems in order to protect myself is no longer necessary. Self-preservation ceases to be an issue. Because death or life, it’s still part of the same cycle. Death happens so that life can be reborn again. It’s not an ending – it’s a changing of energy. I don’t have to protect myself – I’m already held by something much more vast than just little ol’ me. So when fear rears its ugly head (and believe me, it HAS), I return to this truth every time.

The last 2 weeks have changed my life. This journey has just been so obviously put together by something much bigger than myself. And that’s something that Kevin and I, both, fully recognize. It’s immense. It’s infinite. It’s a constellation of stars with the same design as the constellations of atoms in our hearts, a design so much bigger than us, but one that chose to draw us together. To connect us with constellation lines and draw us, together. And it continues to grow larger as we continue to walk this path. So we move forward, openheartedly.

“I’m not afraid anymore. When I fell, I was held.” – Izzi, The Fountain

Embodying-4

On Embodying Resilience

Sometimes I feel like my body is distilled to a point in the center of me that is atom bomb explosive. It’s a point in the middle of my solar plexus that I curve around as it pulls me into its contraction. It tightens and I can’t feel my extremities.

My fingers seem alien. My face in the mirror looks like a stranger. I look down at my feet and wonder how I can’t feel the floor underneath them. My whole body shakes with earthquake anxiety and fear, and I’m trapped in a brutal prison with many layers. Like Inception, it’s like a dream within a dream – my own mind keeps me here.

But then, ever so slowly, I started to uncurl. My hands flexed and like petals, I could feel my phalanges moving from the inside.

My yoga teacher, Jessica Patterson, has said a handful of times to feel into sensation rather than the story of what is happening. And, in moments where you are distilled into feeling one thing, find something slightly different on the spectrum to feel. I was exploring this and slowly began to understand.

When I say slowly, I mean it like the process of a bulb that was planted in winter and will come up in early spring. What’s it doing all winter? Are the leaves inside of the bulb loosening, starting to feel the cover of soil around them, starting to feel the veins that will grace their leaves? Was I starting to feel the blood in my veins, letting it coax me out of my shell into black soil above me?

I took her advice literally. The next time I started having a panic attack, instead of feeling the ice core in the center of my stomach, I felt my arms. The hair dancing down the length of them, and the air that ever-so-slightly danced across their surface.

Something at my core melted. Baby leaves started to uncurl a wee bit, searching for the sun.

As I did this more and more often, I started taking this habit into my yoga practice. Anxious, mind-racing morning? Well, what else did I feel? How do my feet feel on my mat? How do my thighs feel in high crescent lunge? If that’s too intense, can I focus on the feeling in my shoulders, instead?

While I was starting on this process, I happened upon another hugely influential teacher. At a friend’s book swap (yes, that’s a thing, and it’s quite delightful) I came across the book Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. I picked it up at the swap and couldn’t put it down, so I brought it home.

I haven’t even read the whole book, to be honest. I just pick it up and read little chapters as I need them. I’ve re-read the chapter on fear several times, as well as the one about coming home to your body. If I were to read the whole book, I’d think I’d “learned it” and I don’t know if I’d ever pick it up again. So I cherry pick… I’d rather learn slowly than blaze through and not digest.

Interestingly enough, she was talking about the process I’d started in myself. Feeling slowly into sensation, rather than the story behind the feeling I was having. How did fear feel in my body? What about anger? And when I am feeling this way, what does the rest of my body feel like?

With these practices, I’ve been coming back into a body filled with creaks, and shakes, and sudden startles. As my body rushes with feeling, I am slowly learning to let go of the story. If my legs get jumpy, I simply notice rather than deciding it means some certain thing about me. If my abdomen tightens, I surround it with compassion, and breathe into it. And if that gets too strong, I notice – what do my fingers feel right now? My toes? Are they cold or hot? Achy? Strong? Quiet?

When I stop practicing this, I can tell. Recently, I’ve been ridiculously busy trying to start a new nonprofit, the Colorado Springs Resilience Center. Even though I’m keenly aware I have to upkeep my own resilience while starting this, I have lost my practice from time to time.

I can tell this because I stop feeling so close to people. I feel a little disconnected, kind of floaty. I feel disconnected, too, from my own words. And then I start to feel the panicky kick of anxiety, like a little ice-baby, in my stomach.

Last week, I surrendered back to my practice. And I noticed how much I wanted to run from it. I’ve made this sound so far like, “Oh, I just do this, no big.” But when I dip my toes into it, my mind wants to pull back. “Just go drink your coffee. Go eat your breakfast. This morning practice isn’t going to do much for you. You don’t want to feel all this shit anyway. Don’t do it.

I very gently just watched all these thoughts, and my inner resistance to coming back to my body, and at the core of that, my fear at what I was feeling. The fear wouldn’t let up during my practice… and that indeed was not the point. I knew that I was just going to need to really SEE myself, and that was the point.

When I’m doing this observation work, having an anchor has helped. I keep a candle on my table surrounded by plants. The candle is one of those memorial candles – The Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I don’t call myself a Christian… and I believe a LOT of things. I believe in a Power without gender. To some extent I believe in a goddess energy… I feel it and see it around me in the earth. I am a mystic and lover of all mysticism from Islamic, to Buddhist, to Hindu. I adore devotion. There is something about the Muslim doing namaz five times a day that inspires me, for instance. That devotion is something I want to curate in my own heart.

And yet in the middle of all my strange views about spirituality, I still grew up with the sacred heart of Jesus carrying me through everything. The true heart of Jesus was the first place I found that mystic energy. I hear it in Gregorian chants, especially Kyrie Eleison (which can bring me to tears). Lord, have mercy. There’s a tenderness to that, and a strength. Masculine and feminine united.

I have felt the same energy throughout other religions (this is WHY I am not a Christian, I find it everywhere). I feel it, to the horror of many Americans, upon hearing the Muslim call to prayer. I feel it in my yoga studio. I have felt it in the heart of a friend’s friend who was Wiccan. I have felt it in the heart of another friend who believes in the Goddess. I feel it in the heart of a Vine star who offers their words of authenticity and their eyes are so genuine that it is obvious they practice Zen meditation. I feel it in churches, meditation rooms, yoga studios, sacred rituals, in the banjo music of my friend’s bluegrass band.

It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus… and it is everything else.

That energy is what I put my faith in when I come to the mat. When I feel my feet on the mat, whether in Mountain form, or in a crescent lunge, I rest in that inherent loving energy that holds up all things. I offer my devotion to that energy.

That strong resting place gives me the courage to listen to the terrifying feelings I find in my body. It is the soil that coaxes my leaves to unfurl and slowly, slowly extend towards the life-giving sun.

And as I feel the warmth on my skin, I notice.

In the noticing the resilience slowly blooms forth.

 

WhyIDumpedtheDetox

Why I Dumped the Detox

Detox. Cleanse. Let Go of What Serves You.

Type any one of these into Google, and you’ll get thousands of articles. Hundreds of people telling you “5 Ways to Cleanse Your Liver” or “Detox to Lose Weight” or “Let Go of What Serves You and Do What You Really Love!

It’s insidiously addicting to read these articles. Why? As the movie How Do You Know says, “We’re all just one small adjustment away from making our lives work.

Maybe one more cleanse will do it. Maybe if I leave that boring job and take off across the world (or even the country). Maybe if I just lose that nagging 10lbs, I’ll feel better about myself. Maybe my life will finally, finally work.

This past month, I did a Yoga of Nutrition intensive at my yoga studio. The focus, overall, was to learn how to truly nourish one’s self, and that doesn’t just include food.

For me, I don’t have issues with eating too much or too little. I’ve always had a ravenous appetite. I love cooking food. Making myself dinner is like therapy for me. But in my life overall, I feel undernourished.

See, even though I haven’t had many issues with my body shape or weight, I have been trying to detox for years. My detox just hasn’t been food.

I got a divorce in 2011. Up until that point I was deeply involved in my church community. I would have called myself a Christian. When I got divorced, I detox-ed my life of that entire community. People that I loved and knew for years, I suddenly stopped talking to. I had no idea how to disagree and still be friends.

After that, I was in alcohol and love recovery for 2 years. All in. I made tons of friends, friends that I still dearly love and adore. But last year, I stepped away from that community, and subsequently detoxed myself of almost every person I knew there.

From 2007 all the way up until last year, I lived for the trips I took. I saved all my spare pennies, or raised extra money, so I could go overseas. In my Christian world, it was a GOOD thing to be “ruined for the ordinary.” I detoxed my ordinary life by cutting strings and heading halfway across the world.

Last year, I decided to not go forward with a Masters in Counseling. Something in me knew I wasn’t ready yet. Maybe wouldn’t be, ever. I intended to detox that out of my life. I intended to take off across the world, or maybe move to Mexico, or do something equally crazy.

My body knew better, then. It was tired of me shedding. Last summer I got hit with the deepest depression I’ve ever had. I lost 15 pounds because I didn’t even have the energy to cook. I am forever grateful to some friends of mine who left me a bunch of readymade food during that time, that was probably the only thing that gave me nourishment.

I finally came to terms with my lack of roots. And my constant effort to detox myself of even having roots at all. Roots? What were those?

I came up against this feeling of wanting to burrow into the earth. I literally wanted to go out hiking, find some place where I could dig a deep hole, and then just hibernate like a bear.

For the first time in my life, I actually wanted roots.

But then again, I didn’t.

I started my yoga teacher training at exactly the right time last fall. The name of it? RootEd. Ha. Roots, again.

What I didn’t expect to find were all the justifications I had for NOT having roots. I’ve come up against all my thoughts and patterns that insist I shouldn’t have them. I’ve come up against every way I desperately want to detox.

The thing is, our culture completely encourages this. I first started noticing it a couple of months ago. I was at a forum on Capital Punishment. A history professor from an Ivy League institution gave a full overview of the history of capital punishment, then gave a stunning declaration about how that has led up to our current ideas about prisoners. We ship them off to an enclosed institution. We separate them from society and forget they exist. In other words, we get rid of them.

After that presentation, I started noticing other things we get rid of. That’s why I spoke up a bit to friends and over Twitter about eliminating shooter’s names from news reports. By getting rid of the name completely, we deny their existence. (Although by glorifying it excessively, we exalt their existence… not good either) We cut them off. We detox ourselves and rid ourselves of them.

I noticed for myself that when I detox, disengage, and deny, no matter whether it’s from a friendship, or relationship, or my body… I’m detoxing, disengaging, and denying myself.

So what is it that I don’t want to face, when I detach? Sometimes it’s my own darkness. Sometimes it’s the absolute discomfort of asking for what I need. Sometimes? It’s honestly because I just feel… bored.

Maybe if I just eliminate that friendship, that part of my body, that house that I’m bored of… I’ll FINALLY feel at home in my life.

But when I detox, something else happens. As I eliminate, I create conditions for an atmosphere of deprivation. I constantly feel deprived. That’s the opposite of actually feeling at home and safe in my life. Instead I constantly feel on edge, looking for what I need to get rid of next.

Through my yoga of nutrition class though, I learned about purifying as an act of addition. That sometimes purifying is not about eliminating, it’s about learning to use what I have in a more useful way. It’s about rerouting learned thought and behavior patterns to better serve me.

It’s not necessarily letting go of what doesn’t serve me. It’s learning to shift it so that it will serve me. It’s much harder work than getting rid of something. I am learning to create new conditions for myself.

This looks like watering a plant. It’s routine. It’s getting up and having a gentle, loving morning practice, whether that is meditation or asana. It’s making myself spiced milk at night when I come home from work. It’s keeping myself literally warm during the week – wearing scarves to work, making sure I have enough layers. It’s giving myself an oil massage (abhyanga) at least once a week as an act of self love.

This is fucking hard. I hate routine. It’s much easier to just live roots up, like I always have. But one thing keeps me coming back to these rituals.

I’m starting to feel like I’m coming home.


 

What do you think? How do you react to the word “detox”? Do you think detox is helpful, harmful, or both? Let’s connect in the comments!