Friday, November 16, 2018

Gossiping and oversharing as means of coping

Recently, I've been watching my tendencies to gossip or share information that serves no constructive purpose. I get that impulse to text a third party something along the lines of, "can you believe what she just did?!"

And I'm pausing.

If I'm sending that text to really understand why someone acted as they did in order to better align my own responses, I send the text. That's constructive. It's useful. I'm trying to understand a dynamic between me and another person with help. I'm trying to make sure how I engage with the dynamic serves me and aligns with my integrity.

But sometimes, that's not the reason.

I'm sending the text because I want a witness.

I asked myself why? What purpose does it serve? Generally, folks don't even believe something they didn't see in the flesh, so it's not even like I'm gathering so many allies. I'm really just gossiping.

But I realized it makes me feel safer. I want more people watching. I want more people protecting me.

But they can't really. They don't really know what behavior I deem threatening. We all have our own gauges for what we find acceptable or not.

And honestly, most of us aren't really paying all that close attention.

I'm responsible for what behavior I find safe and appropriate and what lies outside those boundaries.

As I'm writing, I'm realizing there are two issues. This first one, laid out above, is externalizing safety. I think other people are responsible for me feeling safe and seen. So I'll gossip to try to assure my own safety-- though it's a truly flawed method! So flawed that I'm finally walking myself out of that pattern.

The second is a byproduct of gaslighting. Oversharing. I sat this morning thinking about when I've divulged on social media or this blog something deeply personal. I do that less these days. It's not that I'm so highly evolved or mature. Not a bit! It's that I'm working with the material of my own life differently.

For me, oversharing, or working out unresolved personal issues publicly was related to learning to trust myself. Like so many people, I've dealt with decades of gaslighting in really pivotal relationships. Being gaslit completely undermines a person's ability to trust their own perceptions. It was utterly destabilizing and lead me into bouts of depression. A big way that I've learned to stabilize myself is by recognizing my own internal cues about what I think is appropriate, what's comfortable for me, what behavior and energy I'm aligned with, and what I'm not. Not questioning myself or trying to talk myself into another way. Just recognizing and honoring what's true for me.

When I couldn't do that, didn't yet have the skill set, I overshared. I wanted the material to be public so I could get other opinions on what it all meant. I brought other people into my interior to try to make sense of it because I was used to my interior being pillaged for other purposes. I overshared because I didn't know what I thought of my own experience. I sorted it out on spaces like this.

I have a journal now.

I'm laughing as I write this because sometimes it feels less satisfactory than the dopamine hit of getting an affirmation from a reader. And I do think it's important that we tell our stories publicly. I still wholeheartedly believe in that. It's how we make our lives into art and take away the charges others have placed on certain events.

It's a matter of discernment.

I sort it out in my journal. Once sorted, I figure out if I'm ready to make it into art.

It's a quieter and more solitary practice, but then again, that's sort of my life these days. Simpler. Quieter. Much more room. I did it intentionally.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Lyme: An Epilogue

I shared on this blog that earlier this summer I had Lyme disease. I'm good now.

Thank you so much for checking in on me and asking and caring!

I actually was good pretty early on. About 2 days into antibiotics (in mid-June) the fevers cleared and with them the brain fog lifted. I was tired for a bit as my body had been through a lot, but that lifted within days as well. Since late June, I've been living my normal life. Doing the yoga. Spinning on the bikes. Running in the streets. Hiking in the woods.

I finished the 3-week course of amoxicillin in early July. During the course of antibiotics, I was diligent about probiotics and a diet that would hopefully support my gut health. Off the antibiotics, I switched into high gear to restore my gut. Like, kombucha and bone broth daily kind of high gear.

I felt good but wanted to make sure I was doing everything that I could to support my interior.

Two weeks after the antibiotics concluded I was tested again for Lyme disease. The results were somewhat muddy-- Lyme is a weird disease. I was referred to an infectious disease specialist.

The infectious disease specialist at Cooper, Dr. Pedroza, was wonderful. She took a lot of time examining my blood work and explaining bizarro Lyme disease and how this applied to me. Dr. Pedroza was careful to say that I received "adequate care." She was pleased that I was tested and treated so quickly, but wished I had been treated with doxycycline as opposed to amoxicillin. I don't know why I was given the antibiotic that I was, but I can only guess that Lyme literacy is new to many. It was a good thing that I was tested so quickly. Perhaps, physicians are still learning the best defense to mount against this disease. Dr. Pedroza said I had a "very clean case" of Lyme, meaning it's very obvious that I had it, it seems that it was caught quickly (at my estimated timeline of treatment beginning 12 days after infection), and my body mounted a strong defense. At my request, she took more blood to test for coinfections.

Everyone at Cooper was really wonderful. Like, a strikingly good experience.

Afterward, I received a call with my results. I tested negative for all coinfections. It's very clear that I had Lyme disease, however, my body mounted a really strong defense. I now have a lot of antibodies against the Lyme. In other words, I'm good now.

I could still be reinfected as could anyone. I still need to watch out for ticks and for the tell-tale disease symptoms: a ring, rashes, fevers.

But I'm recovered.

I learned a lot in this episode. When a parasite got me, I became very clear about how much of my own energy that I leaked out. I saw where I prioritized obligations I made to other people over my own needs, where I took requests people made of me as my priority, and at my own expense. I saw how even my diet was more concerned with factors other than my own health. I started shifting all of that.

In every instance, when a request is made of me, when I have a choice, I'm learning to feel into my body. Generally, I feel somewhere a response. Either a softening of "yes, this is good," or a tightening of "the answer is no." I often don't even know why, but the more that I'm acting on the information of my body, the more I feel healthy, and often, down the line, I get confirmation of my original gut reflex.

In other words, I'm finally factoring myself in. When I released too much of myself to others it created this pendulum extreme where I would then also find myself taking what wasn't mine-- attitudes, expectations, resources, and more. The more I'm getting clear on my own needs, the more I'm learning to meet them.

I finally feel like my own advocate. At 37 years old. Jesus. As I act on the reflexive information of my body, my body is quicker to provide me with insight and direction. I know my own inner compass. It's the only place I can act from. It's the only place that I should act from. (And, thankfully, I have really good accountability partners in my life so if I ever get really off-the-mark they're there to help me reflect. So far, my body is very honest.)

This summer, I made it my business to learn how to take care of myself. I get enough sleep, I'm eating in a way that works for me currently, I'm moving, I'm staying inspired. When stressors come up that throw me off balance, I treat myself like I would my best friend on a bad day. I get still and ask, "what makes me feel good? what helps?" And instead of my past patterns of questioning that, considering it an indulgence, doubting that I had the right to simply take a day to care for myself, I go in. And I go in hard. I don't just do the one thing I think might feel help, I do EVERYTHING I can think of. I throw every idea I have at repairing myself, even when my mood has lifted hours earlier. I treat myself like my best friend, who is doing OK, but could still be cared for thoroughly and joyfully.

Weird side note: now that I am a priority to myself, depression is not the issue it once was. To me, depression felt like a sinking into a void. I couldn't get an anchor, I couldn't get my feet under me. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know my worth.

I know depression functions in a multitude of ways, but I'm discovering that for me, when I keep myself prioritized and clear, I know where I am. I know how I am. I know what I need. I know what's right for me. I know what isn't. I can advocate on my own behalf. I can soothe myself when I encounter something destabilizing.

That means that every other relationship that I have is out of choice. It's not out of resolving a past issue or out of a need for someone else to pick me up. I can pick myself up. Those in my inner circle are there simply because I love them. I enjoy them. If I need care from them, I can ask for it, but I also know that I can ask myself.

Lyme sucked. Twelve days of high fevers, the craziest body aches that I ever experienced, and the fear I felt around not being able to regain my energy (until I was in treatment) totally blew. And, the experience taught me so much.

I'm really trying to learn at less of a cost. I think I'm getting there. But, anyway, thank you Lyme. Thanks to my time with you, I'm factoring myself in. The relationship that I've developed with myself is beautiful and such a solid way to move through the world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Patreon Post: Ethical Consumption, doing it wrong, enjoying it all

I am really enjoying the collaborations I'm finding with Patreon donors! A sweet friend just became a patron at the dollar amount that gives her the chance to direct my blogging. She had a great suggestion. Here's what she wrote:

We've talked about this a little here and there before but I'd love to hear more about your opinions on this, especially given your permaculture/yogi background :) How do you manage to make ethical decisions while being a "normal" (that's a separate blog post, ha!) person in the world? How do you manage being a busy person and a creature of first world comforts while still treating the earth and people and animals kindly, without driving yourself crazy? I'll give an example of my thought process. I try to avoid plastic usage as much as possible -- we all know that's nearly impossible to do 100% of the time, but I feel good about my efforts. But sometimes I'm busy, and I buy something on Amazon instead of going to the store. Ok, so now I'm using fossil fuels to get me my stuff, more than driving to the store, and it comes with extra cardboard and plastic bubbles. BUT... but... in doing so, postal workers have jobs, Amazon people have jobs, BUTTTTTT I'm also helping fuel a major corporation instead of a local business, and it goes down and around the rabbit hole. So obviously all of this stuff is personal, right? I mean, everyone has their own line they will or won't cross. But maybe you could put out some of your musings about how you make (or suggest others come to) a decision about that line or maybe you know of some non-negotiables that are so significant, I shouldn't (or should) be worrying about my Amazon purchases. 

I love this and have so many thoughts on it. And I appreciate the clarity on "normal." I'm by no stretch "normal," don't know what that is, and also don't aspire to it. I am working towards integrated.

Wanting to feel integrated with my surroundings first prompted me to try to be better informed about how we coexist with our planet, animals, and one another. Those findings propelled me into activism. I was so incredulous about the realities of First World consumption, irate at human right's abuses, and terrified by my perception of the apathy or lack of information around me. I think those feelings are good and important. Anger is related to passion and we need that force to create change. The current organization of things is obviously not working and unsustainable. I don't know if many people are simply uninformed (that's feeling less and less likely) or apathetic. I don't actually think it's either. I think apathy is connected to feeling helpless. A lot of people feel like there's nothing they can do so they don't look at something upsetting over which they feel powerless. And I think many of us distract ourselves. Continuously. Because it feels taxing and demanding to take a sober look at ourselves and participation in our environment.

I am so impressed by each of us who have taken the powerful step towards being self-aware about our participation in our environment. It's brave and big. And will be accompanied by a host of emotions that can drive intimacy with the planet and productive fuel towards righting wrongs.

I think this is first and this is already intrinsic in my friend's invitation to this post. Caring is huge. Caring is everything.

And now we get into where caring can go awry.

I've totally done the thing where I tried to think about the impact of every little thing that I did. I was a bike commuter. I grew a lot of my own food and bought the rest at farmer's markets. I tried to only buy thrift shop clothes. I used that terrible grey hippie laundry detergent purchased from some co-op. I tried to deny myself items with a bigger travel range, like coffee, bananas, sugar, and avocados. I had to be vegan. I lived in a cooperative house. I went to lots of demonstrations.

I was constantly vigilant for my own lack and given my attention, always finding it. My actions to minimize harm around me were emotionally linked to my own unresolved feelings around how I had been harmed. If I stepped on an insect, even accidentally, it felt a lot like the times I had been in environments that weren't safe for me. I felt like I was the abuser, the perpetrator.

My own past codependent-trauma-survivor patterns morphed into the field of being "good" and "right." 

Now, I'm not saying this is the case with most people and certainly not behind the prompt of this post. But, the context informs where I live today in relationship to harm reduction.

I was pretty convinced I would crack the code and be "right." I would start growing my own cotton and making my own clothes. No one would be harmed by my existence. I would be pure and a shining example of why everyone else is wrong.

A few years ago, Kevin and I were wandering through Manayunk and we found a Tibetan shop. We went in to look at the books and prayer flags. We got into a pretty extensive conversation with the Tibetan proprietor. His responses continually surprised me. I thought he would say we were right for being vegan at the time. Instead, when Kevin said he was a landscaper, the man shared a prayer for the insects who would inevitably be caught up in his actions. He said he ate meat. He killed bugs (I got the sense it was usually inadvertently). He thanked everyone he affected.

This idea planted a seed for me that I've explored since. This man seemed very connected to the world he inhabits and as though he was not trying to minimize his impact. He acknowledged and thanked those who make sacrifices for him.

I explored this idea a bit more fully when it came up for me healing from Lyme disease. An infection linked to a parasite felt powerfully intertwined with so much of the untangling work I've done over the years to make sure I'm not participating in codependent dynamics, to get clear on my own desires and needs, and be a joyful advocate for myself. I saw how much I tried to minimize what I wanted because I didn't think I deserved it. If others are suffering, shouldn't I as well? 

The thing is, I have suffered. And I probably will again. And I'm not trying to compare my suffering to anyone else's. There's no need and that's a dark rabbit hole. 

And, I don't think I need to suffer to be entitled to joy. I think joy is our birthright. 

I've come to shift my perspective on how to "do all the things." I still think being a bike commuter is fantastic. What I loved most about it is that I felt free. I felt the air, I saw animals, I felt my body. It was truly a joy. It's fantastic that bike commuting has all these environmental benefits. I think most things that put us in greatest contact with our inner world and the environment surrounding us have the same effect. And I think we should reach for joy.

Kevin and I have lost some steam with growing our own food, but a lot of the trees, vines, and bushes we planted are establishing, maturing, and bearing fruit whether we neglect them or not. They're luring us back to get ourselves in order and grow more food. We'll get there. In the meantime, I do buy a lot of my seasonal food at farmer's markets. Because it tastes better and feels better in my body.

I 100% drink coffee, with sugar, and eat bananas, avocados, and other foods that are shipped from far off distances. And I think it's well within reason that within my lifetime I will no longer have access to those foods. I am really grateful for them now. 

I am no longer interested in minimizing my presence in the world. This does not mean that I'm in the market for a hummer. I think it's incredibly important to stay aware of our impact in the world. And I absolutely make choices to try to support the good. Our house has a composting toilet for chrissakes. And honestly, part of that is because we live in a part of Pennsauken with crap plumbing. We've saved a ton of money by not having to do a major pipe repair and instead having a composting toilet. Opportunism! Fringe environmental benefits!

We don't use a dryer. We line dry our clothing. I'm sure there's an environmental bonus there but at this point, I've come to enjoy the ritual of going outside to hang my clothes. My cats figure-eight around my ankles. I get outside when I might have been otherwise slumping in front of the laptop.

We hand wash our dishes. I think we're actually in the wrong here, in terms of water consumption. I hear different things but I'm pretty sure I've heard that many say a dishwasher uses less water than hand washing. Very well could be true. In our case, there's a wide window over the sink. On the ledge, I have small statues of Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Hanuman, along with some stones and palo santo. While I'm washing dishes, I look at the deities, the stones, the tiles on the backsplash, and the trees outside. I like it. It's calming. I feel water and suds. I get my plates and dishes clean(ish). It's a quieting meditation.

So I might be wrong there. But my life has a little more softening in it due to the dirty dishes.

The part I feel the most legit guilt around is my iPhone. Smartphones are 1,000% devils. I know there's slave labor involved in making it. I know that mining the materials is brutal to the environment. I know there's no good way to recycle them back once we made them a phone. I have a tendency towards being addicted to all the functions of my phone. I do work on managing that because, in all truth, I also love that I can go on a road trip and GPS the whole time. I love that I can find a coffee shop in some booney town in the mountains of Appalachia. I love that I can order things and read things and talk to my friends, no matter where I am. So, in truth, I also appreciate the technology. And I think it's largely unsustainable and it seems highly likely that in my lifetime it will no longer be available. At which time, I will remember it fondly, read more books, and use maps. If I have access to vehicles that can move me that far.

What informs my decision making is that I am an intrinsic part of the world. I will affect it. I will at times cause harm. I have been harmed. I am in an ecosystem of joy and trouble. I'm interested in being a very full participant. When I have the choice, I try to opt ethically. If I can get a book from a big box distributor or a small purveyor, I go small. And there's joy in that. I've encountered so many great conversations from the guy who has spent decades in the dusty bookshop amassing stories. The ethical choice often involves greater presence and experience in the world. I want to be guided by that-- how I can take up space, with as much mutual benefit as possible. I want to be here fully. Which means I leave a trail of destruction in my wake. I also have been in the wake of other's destruction. It's both.

There is no way to get it right. What we're left with instead is an invitation to experience.

Monday, August 6, 2018

It will not work out

As he does, Kevin told me about a podcast he recently heard. This was an interview with a truck driver who wouldn't listen to the radio or allow himself any distractions while he crisscrossed the country. He wanted to befriend his own mind. Thoughts and identifications flitted through his mind, as they do all of us, and he let it play out to see if he could ever move beyond.

One day, he thought, "It will never work out."

As soon as he had the thought, he became enlightened. His idea of enlightenment is that he no longer saw himself as a fixed person; i.e. my name is so-and-so, I am this person's son, and this person's neighbor, and this is what I do, this is how I am, and this is what I like and dislike. Instead, he became a being. A becoming.

There's nothing to resolve. He realized there's no way to better himself through a move, job, or relationship. There's nothing to better.

He realized he'll never reach the apex where the past traumas resolve, mutual understanding abounds, and we all look back with satisfaction.

Or, to the degree that happens, it's as others grieve us.

Resolution is death.

As long as we're living, we're in the creative phase. Creation doesn't end. Creation creates.

It will never work out freed him from striving.

These are hard concepts to write and communicate about because most of us apply the ideas to our own circumstances. We think about that one kid who has no ambition and sleeps on his Mom's couch. I'm not trying to say that kid is enlightened. I don't even know if Kevin's podcast subject is. No striving is not equivalent to not acting. Not acting, copping out, sleeping away your life on other people's energy, are actions. Absolving ourselves of responsibility is an action. I don't understand this message to advise dropping out.

We can act. And know we're acting to act. To be in the thing. To do it. To have the experience.

But don't expect much.

We could act out the greatest level of ambition imaginable, play the biggest concerts, go for the highest promotion, and do it for the joy of the experience. Why else? The accolades are fleeting. Identifying with those acts only leads to heartbreak when they inevitably shift and change form. But the experience is the thing.

It's the only thing.

Right now feels incredibly unpredictable and unclear. Just about everyone I know is putting one foot in front of the other despite heartbreak and fear. I wonder if we can relieve ourselves of the pressure of thinking that we're going anywhere. We're here. And right now it feels dense and weird. And at other points, we have other experiences. Nothing is wrong and it's also not right. It just is.

A friend of mine is grieving on instagram by sharing heartbreaking modern art pieces. It's heart-wrenching and beautiful in exactly the same moment. I'm overwhelmed by her ability to tap into what she needs to allow grief to move through her. I'm looking at these paintings and understanding them more fully. One next to the other paint a journey of centuries and places where humans suffered. Put one foot in front of the other. Didn't fix it. Didn't make it right. But lived it out.

This will not work out. And this is everything.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Boredom Medicine

Tonight, I'm allowing something that too often I avoid: being bored. I thought about a movie. I scrolled on Facebook. I started glancing at my bookshelf for titles I hadn't yet read. Then it hit me: I'm bored.

And I smiled.

This doesn't generally happen.

I don't generally allow this to happen.

I'm as adept as anyone at packing my minutes with tasks. My attention is consistently spoken for. When I remember boredom, remember it's space and promise, everything changes. When I allow my eyes to dart, looking for their next point of focus, my mind to soften, my fingers to drum... I remember. I remember aimless nights as a teenager when I discovered the pack of JD Salinger novels. Or the Rolling Stones catalog. Or made endless mix tapes. And then wrote some stories. I remember zines. I remember the trouble I get into when I don't schedule what I'm going to get into.

Tonight, I got into my bookshelf.

Next week, Kevin and I are hitting the road. To me, this feels like a big trip. It's domestic, to places new-to-me, and significant to my lineage. More on that later.

A trip means books. Kevin and I travel well together because we know one of the greatest treats of a vacation is ample reading. A week generally means at least 4 books each. I prefer books set in our destination, or somewhat related. It keeps with the mood, sometimes inspires a side trip, or at least an otherwise unlikely plant identification or meal choice.

We're headed south, deep south, which means great literature. Somehow, my shelves aren't teeming with the southern classics at the moment but there's enough. I have a Ron Rash novel I've been meaning to get to. This should be good timing. I haven't picked up Flannery O'Connor since I was a teenager, and she meant a great deal to me. She's in the stack.

And then there's the medicine book. I don't know how else to describe it but it's the book I take that I know won't be the page-turner, it won't be my first pick, and if anything, I may only glance at it. It's the medicine. If I find myself with a new perspective I'm struggling to integrate or I feel I'm finally in a place to hear the message, I pick it up. In Crestone, Colorado, it was Women Who Run With Wolves. In the Catskills, it was Yoko Ono's Grapefruit. In Portugal, Leonard Cohen's poetry. Sometimes it's a mystic or a poet. I take a voice who I often long to hear. In reality, it usually feels like a voice whispers to me from the shelf, and says you'll be able to hear. You will be ready.

I'll be in some cabins. I'll have some time. Nights accompanied by crickets stretch the longest. I tend to pass them wandering in and out of books. Bored. Waiting. Magic.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Between river wandering in Vermont and New Hampshire

Last Monday, I taught yoga, did some laundry, and came home to Kevin's mountain climbing gear strewn throughout our living room. Kevin was returning from a weekend of mountain climbing with three of his friends in New Hampshire. I was just back from scouting yoga retreats with Christie in Maine. Kevin did a full day of landscaping and taught a yoga class. Somewhere in the night, he woke up stupidly early and repacked. Well, Kevin repacked. Plenty of loose books and clothes wound up throughout the car without the home of a bag.

Early Tuesday we began our return to the northlands. A more westerly route than my trip to coastal Maine, we drove through western Massachusetts before finding ourselves in the greenest Vermont mountains completely out of cell or wifi range.

We compared notes. Kevin told me stories of grown men climbing in mountains and how quickly that descends into bathroom humor. I shared my collection of adventures with Christie in Maine. 

When I contracted Lyme disease, Kevin became my advocate. Twelve days of fever felt like they burned out my decision-making capacity. I was just tired and overwhelmed. In our 16 years together, we've cared for one another when sick. This was different. We changed patterns. We started to figure out some lines about when we seek care-- when we wait it out. We're learning what feels like care to one another and adjusting our behaviors to meet those needs.

It made us feel close. A new level of intimacy. Which, long-term relationships afford. 

It felt strange to set off on separate adventures. Additionally, because radical shifts were occurring in the lives of people really close to us. Some, dealing with their own health crises. Others, unexpectedly finding relief and reunion. Kevin and I had kept close tabs on one another, calling as much as signals permitted, but we still had the details to supply as we drove into Vermont.

We pulled off in Sharon, Vermont, a small town of maybe two country stores and a handful of other shops by the New Hampshire border. Snaking along the White River, we pulled up the mountain to a dirt road that took us to an off-the-grid cabin. The planks smelled of cedar. We put a block of ice in the tray of the cooler to keep our food and climbed the ladder to the little sleeping loft with a big open window to the trees beyond. The outhouse was a little ways along the path and the camp shower fed by cisterns of water stored by the door. At night, we lit candles and put flashlights on our chests to illuminate our novels. Quiet. Green. 

Kevin realized we were near South Royalton, a town he visited years ago during a speaking engagement at Vermont Law School. Best part is that this town is the aerial shot in the opening credits of the Gilmore Girls! It's the model for Stars Hollow!

We passed two evenings in South Royalton, listening to bands in the bandstand and eating in the local restaurants. We could get a signal here to check back in on our loved ones at home as they navigated these life-changing events. 

Our cabin in Sharon was near trails that wound up the mountain to scenic views or down to the big flat boulders shaping the river. Nearby, a brook formed several pools good for dipping. The forest floor was coated in ferns. The light was dappled as the thick forest trees interrupted the hot sun.

We were also near Joseph Smith's birthplace. Given that Kevin loves anyone zealous enough to form a religion and also gets excited about history, which Mormonism has certainly shaped, we had to go. The birthplace and the commemoration were beautiful and peaceful. A bus had unloaded its fill of white, largely blonde, college-aged Mormons. They each found their own spot along the hill or tucked away on benches to read the Bible, Book of Mormon, and fill out worksheets. We wandered through the friendly white kids to the Mormon markers. 

Hanover, New Hampshire was only 20 minutes down the road so we headed their twice. My brother graduated from Dartmouth and Kevin's grandfather did his MBA there in one of the country's first low-residency programs. We sat by the beautiful campus and ate at some of the restaurants in town. Signals remained erratic so some friendly wait staff gave us a tip on a nearby swimming hole.

Down the road, Mink Brook, quiet and tree-lined. An afternoon of novels, yoga, dipping in the cool water, and some Wim Hof breathing.

I kept looking up and feeling the peace of no signal, my rhythm tuned to daylight, and that growing inner quiet. My grandmother grew up in a world that was closer to my few days in an off-the-grid cabin. The world is smaller. Less access. More attention to what's in front of you. It's a two-generation experiment to live the way I'm accustomed. 

I found myself navigating some of the pressures of my life better than I often do. I tried to assess what changed, what was I doing that worked? I realized that in the fits and spurts of cell and wifi access the attention I gave the challenges was circumscribed. I paid attention, offered what I could, and then moved on. The rest of the world-- its ferns and rivers-- took up more room. As we made our way home, I weighed that balance. I'm trying to stay with it. Be with what matters. Stay in the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Coastal Maine

Some parts of a bout with Lyme disease have been obviously not fun. I had to miss a Restorative Yoga training and eat the cost. I had to withdraw from Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training.

Other parts worked out miraculously well. I had been invited to visit a retreat center in coastal Southern Maine a few weeks ago. I accepted the invitation and asked Christie to join me. When the date rolled around I had a week of antibiotics in me and started to feel like fresh Maine air would actually be perfect.

On her birthday, Christie and I drove up to New Haven, Connecticut. I had charted a restaurant midway up where we could get a nice birthday lunch and I could give her a present. Christie was hilarious and as she saw that we were on Yale's campus, she needed to run across the street and purchase a sweatshirt. As one does.

We continued north and hit tons of weekend traffic but also caught up in basically all the details of each other's lives. As we arrived in the small town of Saco, I parked on the side street as instructed. An older man on a porch watched us steadily. I felt like he was either going to strip our car or help us out. I tried to steer towards friendliness by greeting him. Three times, he mumbled back, "All that glitters is not gold." A 12-year-old smoking a cigarette laughed.


We walked over to the retreat center and found yoga teachers from throughout New England enjoying dinner on the porch. Gerry, the retreat owner, laid out an ambitious plan to show us what the area had to offer. I had already explained that I wanted to see the center to add to my database, but that I was going to have to take a slower pace than the group. (I was tuned into the weekend as I had visited Gerry's center in Stowe, VT a few years back.) We elected to join that evening's visit to some nearby beaches. Two teachers from Worcester, MA invited us to ride with them and a power yoga teacher from Gloucester, MA jumped in as well.

We got the car on the side street and came back to the retreat center to find everyone gone! We drove around and did find some of the lovely Ferry beaches. Texting and calling were getting us nowhere and it was getting dark so we found our way back to the retreat center. I called it a night and Christie shared wine with our new friends by the pool.

The following morning the group did yoga on the beach in Kennebunkport (of Bush fame) as Christie and I got to know the weekend's chef and enjoy breakfast. We went back to Ferry beach and set up a blanket. The beaches are far less crowded and the water frigid. Our neighbors read Stephen King novels and ate lobster rolls. Perfect.

We drove further down to the town of Old Orchard, much more populated with an amusement park and lots of clam shacks. It was biker weekend so hordes of motorcycles roared through the narrow streets between families and sunbathers. We popped in a little diner for lunch and headed back towards Saco.

We picked up Alya, our friend from Gloucester, and went north to Kennebunkport. This area is truly beautiful and not terribly accessible. It wasn't clear, but we somehow stumbled on the daytripper protocol of purchasing a car pass and then parking on the road. Apparently, if we hadn't, it would have been bad. The beach was even less crowded as most were staying in the few mansions along the dunes. Looking out to the horizon, waves were broken by pine-covered islands.

Based on Alya's wonderful recommendations, on Sunday morning Christie and I drove south to the little town of York. We had a fantastic fresh breakfast at a diner counter before winding our way along the lupine covered cliffs along the coast. York is home to several coves and the nubble lighthouse up on a cliff. We found that we were near Shilo Farm, another retreat center that had come highly recommended. 

We pulled into the parking lot under the tall pines. A huge sheep-looking dog named Shasta almost scared off Christie. Shasta alerted the owner, Jonas, who invited us in for a quick tour. The farm and yoga barn sparkled under the dappled light. There's a tiny house in the trees. There are several areas for gathering and bonfires, some by the elderberry groves. Apparently, Ani DiFranco was resting in one of the buildings as we wandered through.

It was utter magic and we were so grateful to have found it. We hit the road, heading south, back to husbands, animals, and the thick New Jersey heat.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

I affect the world. It affects me back.

Here’s what went down.

Around May 22, I developed a small skin infection identical to one that I’d had over a decade ago. I originally treated it successfully with herbs from a Chinese herbalist, so when I saw the issue recur I went back to Dr. Lu at Shen Nong and was prescribed a 7-day course of herbs to drink. 

The first day I reacted normally. The second day, I spiked a fever, had severe body pain, and began to develop rashes. There was a ring on my right shoulder. I thought of all of this was either an allergic reaction to the herbs, the herbs flushing out a stronger infection than I’d expected, or maybe just a different reaction between my body and the herbs. My fever kept rising and I kept taking the herbs. The original skin infection was responding positively despite the other symptoms.

About 3-4 days in my fevers got high, like 103 at times. They would ebb and flow so Kevin and I would think I was improving. Then they would jump back to 101 or 102. It was confusing. I stayed hydrated and rested as much as possible.

We returned to Dr. Lu. He said the infection was flushing through my lymph system, hence the rash, and prescribed more herbs— these specific to not spike high fevers. On Tuesday June 5 I wasn’t showing much improvement. Kevin and I figured I needed antibiotics so we went to Urgent Care. They took a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia and took blood. My white blood cells were high and I was anemic but there was no clear cause of the infection. I was told I needed tests that were beyond their capacity and to go to the ER.

Maybe 15 years ago I went to the ER for an ankle x-ray but that’s about the extent of it. It’s always scary and I’m someone who leans towards alternative medicine. We’d heard good things about Virtua Marlton so we headed up. 

A woman in the waiting room was detoxing off heroin while a family slowly amassed to be there to welcome their mother, who had just received a lung cancer diagnosis. We waited and bought water and peanuts from the vending machine. I was brought in for a urine test and given high praise for the light color of my urine. I felt proud! I’d been running fevers for 12 days and really worked to not allow myself to get dehydrated. That was something!

They didn’t have a bed for me so back to the waiting room for several more hours. Maybe around midnight or 1 am we were brought back. I was given an IV— two punctures in one night for someone who is deathly afraid of needles. They took lots of blood and started me on antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics. Dr. Lee was familiar with herbal treatments. His parents are Korean and big proponents. He understood. Kevin was more coherent than I was and laid out his thoughts and what he’d like to see tested. Dr. Lee was with him— test for Lyme disease. 

We were heard and well cared for. Around 2 am we were discharged. They told us they would call us with the Lyme results. For now, we knew that my liver and kidneys were very healthy and yes, I’m anemic. Everything else tested healthy and normal. I was given prescriptions to continue with antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics as though I had Lyme disease until we got confirmation.

We were home by 2:30 am. I laid down, deeply exhausted, and at 3 am the phone rang. Dr. Lee had been looking for my test results and saw that I had tested positive for Lyme. I already had an appointment scheduled with my primary physician for the following Tuesday so he told me to continue with the medication and chart a course with my doctor.

Given that my organs are healthy, that my symptoms coincided with a ring 12 days ago, it looks like I was likely infected 12 days ago. I never saw a tick but Dr. Lee tells me I could have been bitten without the tick attaching. Seems like a freak thing. 

Initially, the timing with the herbs felt somewhat confusing but in retrospect, I’m grateful everything unfolded as it did. The herbs may have helped push everything to the surface. They did effectively treat the original condition. Kevin and I second-guessed ourselves about whether or not we should have gone to the ER when my fevers were highest at 2-3 days in, but we learned that at that time I may not have tested positive. Following the timeline that we did let us get really good, clear care. Given that I was diagnosed so early there’s a strong likelihood that I can treat this and move forward without complication.

Here’s what I want those who care about me to know:

I appreciate how much you care about me! Thank you. Please know that I’m building my immune system back up and part of that is really managing my stress. Scary stories about Lyme disease stress me out. I’m a little too close right now. I’m so sorry for those of you who went undiagnosed and suffered unnecessarily. I’m sorry for those you love who endured that. I know those stories are scary and they circulate. I’m hearing some of them right now. Please don’t tell me. It’s really important that I keep my mind hopeful so I can take best next steps with a clear head. I get scared and stressed when I hear about these nightmare scenarios.

Right now, I don't need advice on Lyme, nutrition, or... anything else really. If you have resources and want to let me know so I can reach out if needed, that's great! Otherwise, it's a bit overwhelming to sift through, especially because there are more context and information than I'm providing here. I appreciate the care and am grateful that you trust me to assemble the care that serves me best!

Know that I’m slow right now. I may be slow to respond when you check on me. I appreciate your kindness and I would be so grateful if you don’t take it personally if I’m not able to be very responsive right now.

Encouragement is great. It’s always helpful to me to hear about hopeful stories like people who were diagnosed early and responded quickly to treatment. Also, things you witness in me! Anything you see in me that suggests health and resiliency make me feel empowered and capable of moving through this. That inspires and calms me. That helps.

Here’s what I think about a lot of this:

Twenty years ago, I contracted malaria while visiting my sister in Zambia. My sister had a bout of malaria years earlier that she contracted in Nigeria, but was treated for in the US. Both of us took antimalarials and we both still got it. My sister was treated with quinine in the US and it was a really slow and grueling recovery. I was treated in Zambia, where malaria is incredibly common. I was given Halfan, which broke the fever quickly and it took about two weeks for me to fully regain my strength.

Now Lyme, which honestly feels kind of similar.

I know it’s popular to hate mosquitoes and ticks. Also, popular to question why they exist or what purpose they serve.

Obviously, I don’t know but I suspect that a large part of their purpose is curbing human behavior. And I’m grateful for that. When human expansion gets out of control, when we eliminate predators that could limit our ability to expand, these tiny insects tend to surge up and hold us at bay. In the northeast of US, the tick explosion is directly related to human manipulation of the environment and animal population.

It doesn’t make me scared of the world.

I affect the world. I eat food. I drive a car. I do so many things that affect bugs and animals and the environment, not to mention other humans. And I am affected. I got caught up. Some little bugger got me. But I also had so many factors that assisted me. I was able to catch this quickly and get treatment. 

And I’m sitting outside. I’m walking barefoot. I want to be in the world. The world is not my enemy. Ticks are not my enemy. I’m a part of an ecosystem. It will affect me. I will affect it. That’s the price of living. I want to live. I want to live fully.

I probably did a whole lot wrong. I don’t use chemicals and DEET. I don’t cover myself head to toe when I go outside. My cats are indoor/outdoor. I failed in so many ways. And I’ll continue to do so. I can’t protect myself against everything and I don’t think I’m supposed to. 

What I am doing and will continue to do is take my time. I’m letting healing unfold. I’m patient with it. I plan to adjust my diet to make it even more anti-inflammatory and richer in iron and protein to stave off the anemia. I do think my immune system has suffered due to stress I’ve endured in the last few years. My circulation has always been a weak spot and I’ve dealt with depression since I was a teenager (I suspect the two may be related but I’m not sure how exactly), both of which compromise the immune system. I’ve developed ways to manage depression and actually made great strides over the years and recently I’ve been more attentive to supporting my circulatory system with lots of garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cod liver oil. After 22 years as a vegetarian (who sought to get tons of protein and iron through eggs, beans, seeds, nuts, all the veggies, and loads of dark, leafy greens), I’m probably going to introduce some animal protein into my diet to boost my immune system and combat anemia. 

I’m affecting the world. It’s affecting me back. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I am a person not an opinion

It's Sunday morning and I'm in love with the soft, green, humid air. I love this sky and this light! The clouds are thick, opaque grey and the sun is slowly spreading light over the green leaves. I'm watching it and thinking about being with. All of us. In the last few years, I feel like one of the measurable outcomes of social media is exposure. Of all of us. We know who is calling the cops on Black folks. We know who is rigging the nomination. A lot of previously disputed theories are proven. We can't deny as much. There's something good there-- when we can't deny our own bad behavior or at least where behavior strays from our spoken agreements we can be honest. And it's hard for many of us. In addition to public figures and offices getting exposed, individually, we're getting exposed. Privacy is different. Keeping our lives entirely offline sometimes means we feel disconnected. Offering our lives online means we lose control over who is receiving the sacred information of our days. We're all exposed.

I think this is one of the reasons this time feels so tight and intense to many of us. We can't deny ourselves to ourselves. We can tell ourselves we're one thing or way or quality, and yet here we have all this evidence that we're actually really complicated beings. Each of us acts on our own barometer and it's usually not so logical. We all stray from our own codes. It can be challenging to gain the full self-awareness to truly know what is guiding our actions, thoughts, and beliefs.

When we see ourselves and one another, then what?

I'm finding for myself that honesty feels really, really important. My own honesty. Honesty from those I engage with. I don't like being honest about myself. Kevin often calls me on my inconsistencies or when my reactions are harmful. I don't like it. I don't want to admit these things about myself. And yet. I am relentless in asking Kevin to be accountable for himself. And I believe in fairness. So I must have the same relentlessness with myself.

I'm finding that with honesty, I want the ability to disagree. And that feels hard. Agreeing to disagree, while a simple statement, seems really hard to actually act out. Where are the lines? What issues are too important to disagree over? Where do we need agreement? And why? What are the stakes?

I want to be able to disagree. Because in truth, I disagree with a lot of commonly held beliefs and ideals. And if I deny my disagreement, I'm dishonest. I'm denying a part of myself. And I can't do that anymore. It stymies too big a part of who I am. It also denies me the ability to grow my thinking with others.

I'm finding there are more and more conversations that feel somewhat out-of-bounds. The ideas and conversations, while many of us privately mull them over, are considered too controversial. While so much is exposed, there's also this quietly agreed upon mutual repression about some issues. I appreciate that we don't want to be insensitive and hurt one another but I also think we have to do a bit better. How do we talk? How can we be honest? How can we disagree? And still be respectful of one another?

I like this age of transparency and exposure. I think it has potential. One of the possibilities is that we all reconnect with our own truths and we allow the space for others to do the same. There's a strong potential that we no longer fall across simple party lines. There's a big chance that our own experiences and thinking will make our worldview bigger and bolder than pat ideologies. I want that. I want to be a person, not an opinion.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Yoga at the workplace

I have a weekly yoga class at a work place that’s a ton of fun. Their HR department contacted me to offer a few classes during a wellness day. Today, I lead two chair yoga sessions, one meditation session, and a yoga class. I created a reminder sheet that I’m sharing with you in case it’s helpful!

Tips for feeling great throughout your day:

Set a timer for every half hour or so. Each time you are alerted take a big, slow, mindful breath. (There are reminder apps too!)
Move! However you want to! With frequency!
Low back pain? Squat whenever possible. If that’s a challenge, work towards it. Do wall sits when you can. Build strength. The strength will create safe mobility over time.
As much as possible, open the front of the throat and chest. Neck rolls as well as the subtle drags on the collarbone can help keep this often tight area open. 
Open the often tight pecs with the stretches at the wall or in door frames.
Try to keep your feet as active as possible. When appropriate, roll your feet with yoga tune up balls or tennis balls.
Meditation doesn’t have to be silence in a cave. Try a simple walking meditation of mindfully and silently repeating to yourself “I am breathing in, I am breathing out” with each step.

Do you have other tips that help you feel embodied and present even while seated in front of a screen? Share ‘em!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Having Faith in Our Own Creations

I'm doing a thing.

I've done a soft launch on Patreon.

If you're asking, "what the what?!" I know. Patreon is a network of creators. The idea is that in this new day of cutting out the middle man in all forms, Patreon is attempting to let those who benefit from art and creation directly support those who create it.

If you hunt around on Patreon you'll find amazing podcasters, musicians, graphic artists, writers, and more. So far, I have not seen yoga teachers.

I'm on there as a writer and as a developer of professional content for yoga teachers. It's a bit of an intimidating gulp to declare myself a writer and to commit to projects that I've quietly undertaken. It's also asking me to take ownership for the value of what I do meaning, I have to believe in my work if I ask you to support it.

My work revolves around voice. I've spent my adult life clarifying my own voice in the spoken word, as a teacher, and as a writer. It's my creation and contribution. As someone who does professional development with other teachers, I work to mirror others voice back to them, so they can hear their own, and teach authentically.

Yesterday, I saw a student's review of my yoga class. She wrote, "A lovely balance of anatomy and philosophy all tied together with a clear and concise voice."

It's beautiful when someone mirrors to you that you've actualized your intention.

If my work is valuable to you, please place value on it. Please support me on Patreon. $1/month is amazing and super helpful. If you know of others who would value this work, please share it with them. I'm looking to grow this network and reach.

I think living creatively is the only way to live. I'm going to keep creating. With your support, we create together. I love you. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Make sacred

This past weekend in Yogawood's teacher training, we created ceremony.

Every year as part of training, we investigate Bhakti, or the yoga of love. Usually, this day involves story telling about gods and goddesses and yogic mythology. My co-facilitator, Christie and I inherited a wonderful program to facilitate. We're also making sure that we feel clear on every element so the program gets to grow like all living, breathing entities. We thought through the part of the program on Bhakti and looked to make it more experiential. We created an altar, telling trainees to arrive later so we would have time to really consecrate the space. We instructed trainees to wear all white, so we would all be a bit more aware. We invited trainees to bring a sacred object that they could place on the altar, as they arrived silently and reverently. Lastly, we invited them to share stories and chants about their isvara.

For those of you not immersed in all things yogic, isvara is the aspect of God that you most relate to. For a Christian, it might be Jesus. For a Catholic, it could be Mary. For a Muslim, perhaps Muhammed. Many of various Hindu faiths relate to Krishna or Shiva. Some Buddhists relate to Buddha. Those in certain Caribbean or African faiths might relate to Yemaya or Oshun.

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, one of our first and most seminal yogic texts, we're told that the most direct path to the state of yoga, or integration and wholeness, is isvara-pranidhanadva, or surrendering to the Divine as you understand it.

Therefore, noticing the isvara you gravitate to and developing a clear relationship with that isvara is a powerful yogic practice.

Earlier in our teacher training we invite trainees to think through an aspect of the Divine that they relate to. As we'd never dictate another's beliefs, we leave this somewhat broad and for the purposes of familiarizing with the concept open up the possibility of identifying with a force like nature or love.

At this point in training, we asked trainees to circle back, and tell us more about their isvara.

We went around the circle chanting, telling stories, and explaining where we connected. As I listened to these beautiful people talking about what moves them, what connects to their inner life, I witnessed teachers. Yoga teachers know how to make big, amorphous, esoteric ideas connected and alive. They know that the universe lives in the details and let the specificity of their lives wisely be part of illuminating the all. It was beautiful and affecting for all involved. It was vulnerable and tender and fun.

I'm reading a beautiful book called Belonging by Toko-pa. She writes about dream work and how the subconscious can illuminate where we feel like we belong and are connected and where that disconnect shows itself. Yoga!

In one passage she writes that the etymology of the word "sacrifice" comes from the Latin word for "holy." In her understanding, sacrifice is giving something up to make it holy again. Giving our labor to a garden to appreciate the food. Giving our patience to a relationship to make it matter.

I thought about this understanding of sacrifice as related to the practice of isvara-pranidhanadva. We give some part of our trust, vulnerability, and inner life to make it sacred again. We create a mindful, meaningful relationship with something bigger than ourselves to make relationships sacred again. To make ourselves sacred again. When we perceive ourselves to be sacred, of course we feel connected to the all.

All photos in this post credited to the beautiful eye of Krista Sassani

Friday, March 16, 2018

I'll be your mirror

I co-facilitate a 200 hour hour yoga teacher training at Yogawood. We're at the point in the course where trainees are teaching segments of group classes. After the class, we sit down and dissect what worked really well, what can be improved, and how to implement growth. It is a beautiful practice, one where we see one another, honor the strength and courage it takes to put yourself out there, and celebrate the practice.

I love it.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I realized how to implement a mentorship that had been hovering around in my imagination. I realized it's a Mirrorship.

“We can’t find the truth only listening to our own voice’s echo. We can find ourselves only in someone’s mirror.” —Shams Tabrizi

You are your own best mentor. Let me be a mirror.

If you’re a 200 hour Yoga Alliance certified teacher, teaching public classes, let’s work together. We’ll establish a 3-month window in which we’ll complete our work. During that time, I’ll review* 5 of your public classes and give you specific feedback on what worked as well as what can be improved upon. We’ll get clear on your goals as a yoga teacher and how to reach them. We’ll circle in on your strengths and how they help you effectively share this ancient and wise practice. Your voice will get stronger and more clear. Your ability to communicate about what you do (also known as advertising) will become conscious and more authentic to who you are and how you operate. You’ll conclude the program with a greater awareness of yogic ethics as well as 15+ hours of on-going education to meet annual Yoga Alliance requirements.

We’ll work one-on-one to bring great awareness, care, and precision to your practice of teaching.

You can begin this program at any time. We’ll agree on a mutually convenient schedule.

To begin the program, complete this application. Purchase here

Within an agreed-upon 3 month period, the mentorship includes:

  • Review of 5 open classes (recorded and discussed over GoogleChat or possibly in person if in the Philadelphia-area and able to schedule)
  • Working together to goal set around teaching development
  • Creating a solid plan to meet goals, which may include reading, journaling, or other concrete ways to grow teaching skills
  • Strengthening teaching voice through specific feedback on word choice, effective direction, volume, and cadence to wisely guide students
  • Assessing your strengths as a teacher and amplifying them
  • Gaining clarity on how we communicate about teaching; including reviewing bio, social media outreach, website, and/or email lists
  • Think through teaching ethics such as how and when to adjust and assist, boundaries, authentic marketing, and more
  • Creating on-going experiences to learn
  • Aligning with the work that inspires
  • Gain 15+ hours of Yoga Alliance Continuing Education credits with a YACEP E-RYT Continuing Education provider

If you’re in the Philadelphia-area and we can smoothly coordinate schedules, we’ll meet primarily in person! If you’re outside of this area we’ll coordinate GoogleChat sessions to work together.

*If you live outside of the Philadelphia-area you’ll record your classes and email me audio or video files to review. Our meetings will occur over GoogleChat.

A little postscript! When this program came to me in a flash I also saw that the image was a tarot card with a mirror-- an ancient way of finding our own reflection and in it, clarity. It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Maggie Martin for the design! I commissioned the work, she gave me clear timelines, options, and edits to bring this idea into reality. I love giving the work visual clarity and am so grateful to work with artists towards those ends!