Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Putting on Some Floaties

I never wore them when learning to swim (I don't think), floaties, that is.  My memory of learning to swim is that of sinking to the bottom of a very deep pool, then returning to the surface.  Apparently this was a long and trusted method of teaching children to swim in my family's past (I note, however, that this tradition ended with me--I don't believe my younger brother was subjected to this, hmm...).  However, I grew up to be a water lover, and someone, who as a small person liked to jump off of tall things into water.  One summer, while staying with my grandparents and my cousins at a lake house, I decided I would walk up to the top of the cliff where the older kids were jumping into the water, "just to see" I promised my grandparents.  At some point I made the decision that it didn't look like something I couldn't do too, so went ahead and jumped.  My grandfather (who was waiting in a boat below), although he lived many many years beyond that day, was convinced of two things:  1) I almost killed him, and 2) I would probably go ahead and do whatever I wanted and be fine for the rest of my life.  I wish he was here to remind me of that now.

All of this to say, that "floaties" are simply the words and actions of the people around you that keep you from sinking.  We all need them sometimes.  At others, we will jump from cliffs and laugh and scream.  I do think, now that I'm a semi-grown up, that it's not as embarrassing as I thought to let people know that you need a little boost to return to the surface.  We are all so intent on letting people see what we want them too, and quickly plucking out the pieces of ourselves we don't want them to see.

Tonight at yoga, the word was "cultivation"--I was in no mood to consider what exactly I'm cultivating right now, but was intrigued by this idea that we are very conscious of our distinctions between "good" and "bad" parts of ourselves that we cultivate, and those that we choose to show the world.   We all might have a bit more compassion for one another and bit less neurosis if we were able to say, "You know what?  I have crazy bed head in the morning too."  OR "Sometimes I'm not so sure I'm going in the right direction.  I might look like I have it all together as I stubbornly persist, but I'm asking a lot of questions..."  I know I'd feel better.  My hair would still look like it had been out all night wrestling with jungle animals when I woke up, but...I'd feel better.

I am reminded of a morning I spent in yoga class when an absolutely stunning (and very flexible) woman I had secretly envied for some time, cried as she shared her reason for loving yoga so much-- that it was the first time she had actually been allowed to enjoy moving and being in her own body--years as a professional dancer had pretty much beaten that joy out of her.   This simple honesty reminded me, and it's so ridiculous to admit that I forget this, that we all have our "shit" we're working through.  And my inability to do full wheel?  Well, that's pretty small potatoes in the big scheme of things.

Pema Chodron asks, "Right now, can you make an unconditional relationship with yourself?  Just at the height you are, the weight you are, with the intelligence that you have, and your current burden of pain? Can you enter into an unconditional relationship with that?" 

I always thought I had a pretty darn good relationship with myself, but I'm not sure it's ever been unconditional.  And it's certainly not unconditional when I feel like I need something beyond myself to buoy me up.  How ridiculous is that?  All sorts of judgment leaps to mind when I don't think I've got my game on, or I'm not 100%.  There's the work, I'm thinking.  Feeling pretty damn good about it all whether you have the hubris and confidence to defy all odds, and when deep down you would rather curl up in a small ball and leave the world for a bit.

Even now, as I write these thoughts, I think, wow, I'm tired, here's a disclaimer for why this isn't as eloquent as I wish.  And I realize that sometimes that's just how it goes. I consider plucking the words from the page and scrapping these thoughts for tonight. However, I'll share it, some of it may make sense as I want it to.  Some may not.  I'll continue to try and develop my unconditional relationship with myself, and what I share with the people in my world.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Emerging...over and over

Grief is an interesting process, and, as I've noted, I quite like being in control of my feelings, my life, well, I like being in control.  So, this has been one more beautiful learning experience (and I'm not even being sarcastic).

It is interesting to watch what surfaces, to sit with it for a while, and to realize that sometimes all there is to do is cry it out.  I've quit judging myself quite so harshly for the times when, really, the healthiest option is not to hop on my bike, run to yoga class or...sometimes it really is my bravest moment when I sit with sadness.  Who knew?

Tonight I took Lyle for a hike and we stood above the city, watched the sun go down, and smiled.  Those moments when the saguaro are the only audience, crows' wing-wisps are the only sound...things feel very very real and true.  And that is more than enough.  And my heart feels like it has only broken open wider so I can take all of this in.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Uncertainty as an Ally

This evening's yoga theme carried forward the thoughts I've been wrestling with this week (hell, that I've been wrestling with for a while now).  The word of the evening was "uncertainty"--and the instructor shared a quote from Douglas Brooks that referenced the necessity of making uncertainty your ally...then acknowledged that he was still working on the "how" of this.  I was thankful for that side bar.  The how is the tricky part.

Tonight uncertainty is keeping me good company, and I see that we're working together for something pretty cool.  Tomorrow, however, it may trip me up, make me lose my focus and fall on my face.  These things seem to work themselves out, yes?  Amazing how much support you find around you at any given moment.  And, on occasion, it's good for me to simply lay it all down for a bit.  Maybe we all should?  Just for a moment here and there, before picking ourselves back up and soldiering on?

I think uncertainty and I are going to get some really cute matching uniforms.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recovering Over-Planner

I've always been a planner.  I wouldn't say that each of my planned moves has been fully understood by outside observers at every moment, but I have spent my life with a pretty clear "point A to point B" vision--repeated ad nauseum.

I was never a fan of the "all life is suffering" viewpoint, nor could I even stomach the Stones' mantra of "You can't always get what you want..."  These both seemed a bit silly to me.  Of course you can get what you want, I naively thought.  You just try until you do (or you change your mind and decide you didn't really want it anyway, right?)

My husband decided this past year (no discussion necessary) that he was "done" and he wanted a divorce.  This was difficult for me to compute. This did not fit my narrative of how people operate when considering dissolving a relationship, let alone a marriage...and the moment I realized that my narrative didn't matter, that there were all sorts of possible narratives out there, then it dawned on me:  "if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need."  I got unobscured vision of who I was actually married to.  And technicolor vision that allowed me to see beyond the "Point B" I had chosen a decade earlier.

SO, what does one do in this situation?  If you're me:  You get really really quiet and centered.  You ride your bike miles and miles up mountains.  You do yoga every day.  You remove all foods and liquids that are not essential for survival (who knew I didn't need coffee and wine?).  You throw away everything in your house that is not essential.  You clean.  You re-grout.  You figure out what grout is.  You become very good friends with the nice men (and a couple of women) at Ace Hardware. You paint murals (I have to cut down on the number of hearts and flowers I paint on surfaces around my house).  I became accustomed to crying in public and noticed that not many people seem too phased by it.  I was hugged by a lot more strangers than I would normally be comfortable with (including the guy who works at the post office I frequent), but...I also got to see some shared humanity.  Not a bad thing.

I had the honor of realizing that being vulnerable, and not having a clear plan for every aspect of my life made me more alive, not less.  I would not trade being able to live "wholeheartedly" (to borrow Brene Brown's label) for any preconceived, carefully constructed plan for my future.  And I realized that in order to be really, truly alive, I was going to have to allow myself to be vulnerable and accept that I don't control all aspects of my life.  Hmmm...one would think that a relatively smart, and slightly over-educated person would have already been able to grasp this simple precept.  I smile.  I shake my head.  And I remain grateful that I've learned it now.

I was talking to a couple of students about how people think life is supposed to get better and better as we go, and that they don't understand that good and bad things will happen all along the way.  I realized what a fully western concept my life and world view were when I told my students that I had just recently learned that life was, indeed, challenging all along--and, without saying it, these two young men from Nepal looked at me like "Whoa, we thought she was pretty smart, but this lady might be retarded"--And I loved them for what they didn't say out loud, and the fact that they still think I have something to offer them.  We simply nodded at our shared understandings.

And more little lessons make themselves known as I go.  A couple of weeks ago my trusty Subaru was hit (by an unknown driver who neglected to leave me a note) while parked outside of yoga class.  I had gotten lazy.  I was driving the four miles to the studio instead of riding my bike, hell, I was driving the half mile to the school where I work--after years of being a committed bike commuter, this was a strange habit to have developed.  A friend of mine laughed when I told her the car was in the shop:  "You weren't listening to the universe so it had to send you a stronger message..."  I had to agree.  I'm working on listening more carefully to subtlety, and noting that I am more and more attuned to subtleties as I let go of my desire to always be moving "forward."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


When I was 21 years old, and I must say, this was not one of my shining years, I adopted a 6 week old puppy.  I deliberately chose a male from the litter, as I decided there would be at least one male in my life who I would love without hesitation and with no question.  Jack suffered with me through many an adventure, he also blissfully trekked across most of the mountain west, frolicked on the coast, covered miles and miles of trails, and, well, was my constant companion for 15 years.  He was not well-trained, but he had human qualities (that are often a result of being a very spoiled dog) that made him quite equipped for most social situations.  He went to bars, to parties, weddings (though, more often than not, the bow-tie I painstakingly chose for him for each event ended up floating down a creek before the ceremony had begun).  He survived my driving.  He sang along to Lyle Lovett with me...or Jane's Addiction, depending on the mood. He graciously took in a younger brother (Lyle, who remains with me).  He tolerated a series of boyfriends and lovers who stayed in his life for varying lengths of time.  He was my ambassador at various campgrounds, and, when people asked me if I was camping alone, it always confused me, as, couldn't they see that Jack was right there with me?  He read Edward Abbey next to campfires with me.

Jack passed away on the back porch four years ago today.  I have a cigar box full of pictures.  I smile.  I don't need the cigar box, but I am grateful for tangible reminders.

And, in the past two days, I have spoken with the other two men in my life who "I love without hesitation and no question" and who love me in the same way.  My brother has been a rock in my life for as long as I can remember-- My best friend growing up, my confidante as an adult.  And, although we see each other much too infrequently, his voice calms me.  Tonight I called home for a parental pep talk (something I eschewed for way too many years), and when I asked only that my dad tell me that I would be fine, he was gracious and patient enough to reiterate the same sentiment he's been called on to provide for me many times before.

And I'm reminded of the fact that I may be one of the luckiest women I know.  I was raised to believe that "The quality of mercy is not strain'd" and that truth and justice may not always prevail, but there is no other way to live.  And honesty is in my blood--life would be easier if it was not.  I'd love to have a better poker face, or "more skin" as my therapist calls it.  I won't trade though.

I like growing up.  I like being 40 years old and knowing that I'll be growing up until I'm gone.  I wish someone had told me that that was how it worked...for some reason I always thought there was this magic end point where you became a grown up, and from that point on, everything was just leading to greater and greater happiness...or at least security.  And I cannot equate the two any longer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Straight Lines not Circles

As a young person I loved the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.  I was convinced that I could make any decision, see if I liked the outcome, and then flip to a different page if I didn't (often this resulted in death by careening off of a cliff, but that seemed to be fine as well).  Repercussions from actions seem to get a bit heavier as I get older, but I'm also realizing that they probably deserve only to be given the same weight I gave them when I was younger--I don't recall spending a great deal of time agonizing over whether I should take the trek to the Amazon or fly to Rio.  At some point in the last decade I lost the spring to my coil, and my levels of resilience seem a bit low.  (This could be because as an adult, I'd like to change the page, but I can't simply flip at whim--now there are other factors beyond my control teaching me patience before allowing me to flip to my next adventure).

I was particularly struck by a line from Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun last week.  Asagai tells Beneatha that where she has gone wrong is seeing life as a circle on which we are trapped...and instead should be viewing this as a straight line moving beyond sight...and beyond the scope of our current understandings of what our lives can be:

       "What you just said about the circle.  It isn't a circle--it is simply a long line--as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity.  And because we cannot see the end--we also cannot see how it changes.  And it is very odd but those who see the changes--who dream, who will not give up--are called idealists...and those who see only the circle, we call them the 'realists'!"  (p. 162).

And I've been wondering about this.  I trapped myself for a time in a narrative that didn't fit, but one that I couldn't see my way out of.  And now that I can, the line looms long in front of me--alternately full of huge possibility and alternately scary as shit.  I dwell in the possibility more often than the fear, thankfully.  And, for the first time in a long time, realize that I will continually be revising my path--that the circle I was in, despite being prescribed and condoned by society, wasn't really a good fit.  And it took a woman writer from the 1950s to give me a frame for even beginning to visualize this.