Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fragility and Vulnerability

This has been a week of slowly putting myself back together (feeling very humpty dumpty, yes I am).  A yin yoga class tonight asked me to enter a pose that that the instructor described as "a pose to experience fragility and vulnerability for a very short time."  I thought to myself, "if this is what fragility feels like, then what is the rest of my day?  life?  Hm."

I've been reading more Cheryl Strayed.  This time I've embarked on a journey with Dear Sugar.  In response to a reader's question of "What the Fuck?" as applied to daily life, she answered:  "Ask better questions.  The fuck is your life.  Answer it."  This answer, which in its entirety also articulated a cruelty she'd experienced in her own life, for which there could be no answer, made it infinitely clear to me that there are times when we ask this question in a light hearted way, and there are a few when we ask and the answer is a head shake, the knowledge that bad things happen, and there's no real answer beyond the acknowledgment and increased compassion.  The fuck just is.  Takes a long while to figure that out.  As the introduction to the book reads:  "Inexplicable sorrows await all of us.  That was her essential point." And I return to my belief that those "inexplicable sorrows" are what have the potential to create catalysts for our growth of humanity, if we don't shut ourselves down.

And, in the spirit of compassion and asking better questions, I don't truly wonder at the fragility and vulnerability in my own life any more.  I don't relish it, necessarily, but I don't have much choice for how I exist in the world at this point--you can't very well put blinders back on once they've been removed.

I read an article tonight in the East Bay Express about a man who has created a documentary of the lives of homeless recyclers in the bay area.  These hidden people are the ones who wake me before dawn on Tuesdays as they rummage through the recycling bins that line my street, and whose clinking shopping carts I can hear for what seems like miles in my pre-dawn-wish-I-was-still asleep haze as I toss and turn on my pottery-barn-down-comforter-high-thread-count-clad bed.  Fragility?  Vulnerability?  Sometimes I simply have to laugh at my self.

Monday, August 26, 2013


The past weeks have been filled with a series of destinations:  arrivals and departures, moving walkways nearing their end, and almost constant interaction with other humans.  I enjoy this immensely.  And it depletes me (introverts unite!).   On my flight home on Sunday,  I was no longer fit for conversation, and, frankly, smiling and making eye contact even became a stretch.   I had hit my own point of no return--I can sustain the social state (and love it) for as long as it takes to do good work, but when it's done? when I've pushed on just a little too far?  I'm hard-pressed to even carry on a casual conversation for a while.

In yoga this evening, as we were perched in half-moon pose, the instructor's words, "balance is not a destination" lifted me beyond some of my self-judgment about feeling so out of whack. Balance is not a fixed point we reach and then are able to sustain; it's a wavering wobbly state, with moments of perfect alignment.  And as I looked up, and felt my left leg shake and sway (and my arm follow suit), I was grateful for this perspective.  Off the mat, it makes even more sense to me, particularly when I'm feeling as off-balance as I am right now.  My skin is a bit tight, my nerve endings are closer to the surface than they usually are, and I can feel every bit of me retreating, needing to re-store, re-gain, and re-configure my self before I can enter back into the fray.

A colleague last week said to me, "I bet you're ready to be home."  And, caught off-guard, I thought, "I have no concept of what that might mean right now."  And then realized he meant Oakland, my apartment, etc.  This is home in the sense that my car is parked here, more of my stuff is here than anywhere else, and my mail arrives at an address in this city.  (And, when I woke up a couple of weeks ago from a rare night in my own bed, I thought, "wow, this hotel has much better bedding that the last place I stayed.")  But, the biggest gift I've been offered in the past year is being able to settle into the acknowledgement that the destination where I've arrived, wherever it may be, is home, for as long as it is.  And that it will shake and wobble at times, but there will be balance no matter where it is.  This understanding that I am home wherever I am?  To develop an interest in the destination?  To not cling so tightly to any one?  Priceless.

"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music--the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.  Forget yourself."
 --Henry Miller

And when it's time to retreat and provide some time for self-care and regrouping?  To acknowledge that I need some space to recover before I can once again take in all of the riches?  Priceless.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Gathered Up Inside": Wandering Forward

I was late to the read of Cheryl Strayed's Wild: a tale of love and loss and longing and hiking the Pacific Crest trail and returning to safety within (among other beautiful things).  I bought the book last summer in hardback, but gave it away when I realized I wasn't prepared for someone else's tale of mourning (regardless of catharsis);  I was still too much in the midst of my own.  However, yesterday, en route from Oakland, CA to Detroit, MI, I finally lost myself in the tale.  And, as happens in life, the experience came at just the right time.

"I didn't feel like a big fat idiot anymore... I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too"  (p. 234).

This quality of feeling "fierce and humble and gathered up inside" resonated so strongly that I had to set the book down for a moment, and simply think:  "Yes, you've named it, Cheryl Strayed, that's exactly what feeling safe is."  And in this ability to articulate the feeling, there is freedom.

I look back over the past year, and I see how much there was to mourn.  And I am grateful.  I am grateful that I took the time to wander forward, in sometimes meandering ways, because it allowed me to land, firmly, where I am.  And to know that all around me are people moving through, healing, and grieving--and finding places to land.  And we live, we grieve, we celebrate, and we try damn hard to be kind and graceful along the way.  Is it that simple?

"What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here?  What if I was never redeemed?  What if I already was?"  (p. 258).

I am ready to believe that being "unmoored by sorrow" may be the truest (and most amazing) life altering event.  One thing I know for certain?  There will be more moments of sorrow, but there will also be many more of celebration.   And "here" (metaphorically speaking) is a damn lovely place to be.

There are some fabulous quotes that Strayed chose for the openings of different sections of the book, one of which is:  "Will you take me as I am?  Will you?"  --from Joni Mitchell's "California"

Tomorrow I'll enter another year as me.  I am glad to know that I have so many people in my life who do, indeed, take me just as I am.  And I'm grateful to know that I am willing to take me just as I am too.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Growing Up (Still? Always.)

When I was in Winnipeg last December (a trip that should not be taken in winter, but will be again, by me, this winter), I bought a calendar for 2013 by a local artist, a "Happiness Calendar."  Each month there has been a new quote, and fabulous colorful artwork that accompanies it.  I've been able to gauge my receptivity to life by my reactions to these quotes more often than not.  I sit with each quote for the month, then attach them to my fridge in the hopes that these concrete reminders will stay with me.  The quote that has stood out for me most is:

"Happiness is a form of courage."  --George Holbrook Jackson

I've read this quote a hundred times over...some days believing it, and on others thinking that it was a ridiculously simplistic viewpoint.  I've spent the last couple of months teasing out how this is both a hugely complex concept, and a fabulously (not ridiculous at all) simple idea.  And, tonight, during a conversation after dinner, my lovely friend, as we were discussing our current feelings of satisfaction with our lives said it well:  "When you're happy, you're not always looking for the 'next best thing' and you can be present."** And the inverse is true:  when you're present, you're not always looking for the next best thing, and you can be happy.

I know I've tossed these ideas around for some time now, but there are moments when we think things through, and there are others when we feel them to our core.  I'm beginning to recognize that growing up is growing into these realizations:  not just parroting some teaching we've received, but actually living it.

This process requires a lot of wisdom (something that in itself is a fluid process) and lived experience.  Maybe there are some people who are just born into this perspective?  I'm not sure, but I do know I wasn't one of them.  I have been wise at different points throughout my life, but I've also been obtuse, immature, and reactionary.  I wish I could say there was some natural trajectory I've moved through, but I have to admit that these characteristics have been recurrent and have spiraled through me throughout my life.  I have been courageous, and I've backed down, away from my self.

Pema Chodron on Growing Up: "When we apply the instruction to be soft and nonjudgmental to whatever we see at this very moment, the very embarrassing reflection in the mirror becomes our friend.  We soften further and lighten up more, because we know it's the only way we can continue to work with others and be of any benefit in the world.  This is the beginning of growing up."  (From Comfortable with Uncertainty, pp. 125-126).

What I believe?  I believe that growing older, growing wiser, means:  we breathe before we react; we see what is instead of what could be; we love ourselves as we are; we find joy; we know that everything we believe about wisdom will probably continue to be revised and built on.  The difference is, when we're courageous, we're okay with this knowledge.

"Do not fear mistakes...There are none."  --Miles Davis  (A timely message sent from yet another beautiful friend.)**

**Surrounding yourself with wise and beautiful friends is also a sign of wisdom and courage.