In the midst of overhauling the studio, a whole bunch of my favorite things have gathered in one corner of the room. These things seem to tell a story about who I have been, and I find myself wondering, which ones will continue on to tell the story of who I’m yet to be?
This has been a challenging autumn (or year, or life…in fact; I don’t know if there’s a life that exists without a whole lotta challenge, now that I think of it) and I’ve been doing a bunch of healing and growing and wondering what is coming around the bend. Every day is a new adventure, though I am often convinced that it’s definitely going to be the same as yesterday, or last week. As if it could ever be. This has been a time of shedding skins and trying on new clothes.
Today I got the message from my essential, inner dancing girl self that she needed a play day. No fighting inner demons today…just a day to play. So I danced around the studio; I smashed some stuff in my yard with a sledgehammer (that was on my bucket list; totally awesome), and I am now playing with rubber stamps. Not sure what’s next.
I’ve been playing around with the idea that, for me, a treat can often just be the next best-feeling thing. And sometimes the treat is in the looking forward to and the doing (as with watching a favorite show, eating a divine cookie, watching the sunset, or having tea with a friend) and sometimes the treat is maybe in the doing and mostly in the result (cleaning the bathroom, doing my bookkeeping, washing the dishes for what feels like the gazillionth time in a day, or taking out the trash).
Today a treat for me is looking forward to and getting to take photos of a beautiful, dear friend. Another treat is looking forward to watching a new silly TV show I like called “No Tomorrow”. Another treat is making a card for a friend and popping it in the mailbox. And another treat might be getting out on my bicycle…if it feels good.
I like the idea that anything can be a treat on one day, and that it may not feel so treat-like on the next. I do my best work and have my best feeling life when I trust the treats of today and move towards whichever one tastes the sweetest in this moment. And in the moments when the world seems devoid of treats, when everything seems like a chore or drudge work, then it’s probably time for me to pause and reconnect with my essential self.
I have a few tricks I use to link back up with my inner dancing girl. It might be time to ask myself, “what would feel downright naughty right now?” or maybe,”what is the thing that has been on my to-do list the longest that would make the most difference to complete or let go?” Or it might be time to take a look and see: “is there anything in my schedule coming up, today or any day in the future, that I really and truly do not want to do even though I said I would, or thought I could, or think I should?”
Sometimes when there is stuck energy about something in my life, even the treaty-est sweet treats don’t hold the juice and the joy that I am looking for, and ordinary non-treaty things just seem like the absolute pits. In those times, we can check out and eat or drink or smoke or shop or whatever we do to keep our tough feelings away for awhile, or we can extend the utmost kindness to our wretched-feeling selves and get curious (and honestly, I usually end up doing a bit of both).
“What’s up, honey?”, we can ask ourselves, “I hear you that it seems like nothing would feel good and there’s no way to make it better. Can you say anything else about what you’re feeling right now?”. And often this is the perfect time to call a friend, real (or imaginary if that’s what you’ve got), and find someone to hold our hand, to ask us loving questions and to listen while we unfurl whatever tornado is twisting up our insides. And then go find ourselves a dang good treat.
For my birthday at least 10 years ago, my parents gave me a book for my birthday called “Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World”, written by Rita Golden Gelman. I had already done quite a bit of traveling on my own, and I was inspired by Rita’s stories of her adventures in other lands, connecting with people around the world. A few years later she put together a book called “Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World” and I was honored to have a story of mine with an accompanying recipe included in the book. Just a few days ago, I received an email from a woman who had read my story was reaching out to see if I had any advice to give on traveling alone, and life and love in general. When I sat down to write, the following is what came out:
Learn how to trust your instincts. Notice what you’re drawn to, moved to do, interested in. Give up the notion that there’s anything you “should” see or do, and notice what feels good to your body, your heart, and spirit. The universe will always be able to create an adventure or experience for you that will be more fabulous and perfectly designed for you—one that is even better that anything you can dream up yourself. The way to get on the “train” bound towards this delicious, satisfying experience of life is by listening for and noticing what you feel excited about, drawn to, moved to do, see, explore…and also what you aren’t. If you hear yourself using the word, “should” about any of your plans, it might be a good idea to check in with your body and your heart and see whether you’re pushing towards something that just isn’t right for you.
“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell
Do your best to give up all expectation of what your adventure should look like. Spend a little time each morning connecting with your inner wisdom, your sacred heart, and then imagine the kind of day you’d like to have. Imagine how you’d like to feel, what kind of interactions you’d like to have, and then give thanks for the day, this life, and anything else that you are grateful for. This will help your energy to start flowing in a positive way, and get you on a good-feeling high vibration where you will be able to receive more of what you are asking for.
If at any point in your day you find yourself feeling unhappy or frustrated, or you find that you are drawing unwanted experiences to you, take a moment to pause and become still–you can do this in your mind if you aren’t able to stop moving your body (for instance if you’re on a bicycle tour, or swimming the English Channel). Begin to listen to your thoughts and see what their “flavor” is. Are they coming from a place of fear? (what if I miss my train? What if my stuff gets stolen? What if I run out of money or I can’t find a place to stay?) And also check in with your body. Are you tired? Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you feeling alone or lonely? Is there some other need you have been ignoring because there is so much to see and do?
Acknowledge that things aren’t alway going to to look the way you think they should, remember back to the way you imagined feeling for the day, and ask the universe for another way to see or look at whatever situation you are in. For example, if you don’t know where you are and you’re feeling upset about being lost, could this be an opportunity to ask for help, and get to speak or connect with a local? If the museum the you had hoped to visit is already closed, maybe there’s a different adventure nearby that is waiting for you that afternoon.
Be open to surprises! Take off your blinders and let your sight and awareness expand and notice what catches your attention. Slow down. If you ever find yourself feeling scared or unsure, and you aren’t in immediate danger from which you need to remove yourself, bring your attention to the present moment. Notice what sensations you are feeling in your body. Notice what is in your surroundings that you can be grateful for. Ask for support and guidance from the universe and then take a little time, and make a little space for an answer to come. Feel the sun or the wind (or the rain) on your face, wiggle your toes, and notice that in this moment, “I am ok”. If you are in a physically uncomfortable situation (as opposed to just having fearful or uncomfortable thoughts), then of course take whatever action is available to change that. Keep asking for support and trusting that you will get it.
We are part of a benevolent universe and I believe that everything that happens in our lives is happening FOR us; we are not victims of our circumstances, we are co-creators with the universe. Whatever we are thinking about and putting our attention on, whether consciously or unconsciously, is affecting our vibration and therefor contributing to the creation of our experience.
If you ever have trouble releasing fear thoughts or other painful patterns or experiences, here are some of my favorite tools that I use to find freedom from fear or other kinds of pain. These are techniques that I use for myself and with clients in my health and life coaching practice. They are simple and straightforward, yet extremely effective and versatile. I find them to be invaluable. I would recommend having at least one of these practices in your traveler’s “toolbox” to use to help with any negative feelings, fears or pain that might come up while traveling alone. [Note: if you have experienced or are experiencing trauma or anxiety, please consider finding a practitioner to support you in doing this work especially in the beginning as it can bring up intense emotions]:
- The Work of Byron Katie
- “Tapping” or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- R.A.I.N. and mindfulness meditation and practices with Tara Brach
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.’s mother, from his book, “P.S. I Love You”
(this quote has also been attributed to Mark Twain but it doesn’t appear anywhere in his writings, or anywhere else before 1990)
I just realized, for the millionth time, that I have been waiting until I feel like I have it all together, like I really get “what’s going on”, like I have a solid, poured-concrete foundation, before I will feel like it’s time to share my story.
My ego really does not like the idea that I might share something that feels true now, only to find out later that something different is “true”. I see, though, that I will be waiting for the rest of my life if surety is a pre-requisite for feeling comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas about life. I am constantly changing, as I guess all human beings are, and it is not something to feel ashamed of. To the contrary–it seems instead something that I could celebrate wildly. The opposite–no change at all–would make life very, very boring.
I have been waiting to share my ideas because I am scared of being judged when you or I find out, down the road, that the things I thought were true or valuable are no longer relevant. This is sort of hilarious because both of those things are almost certain to occur.
I am scared of finding out a year from now that I was wrong about myself or the world…which is also pretty frickin’ likely.
I am scared of realizing a month from now that my old perspective was narrow(er) than my current one, and then “Oh God”, what will people think of me? What if they judge me based on who I have been?
What if people think, “oh, wow, she still has a lot to learn”, when they read what I wrote. What if they notice that I used the wrong word or incorrectly stated a fact.
What if I only proof-read my piece ninety-nine times instead of one hundred, and I dont notice that I forgot an apostrophe, or added an extra, comma?
What if they think that I think I am presenting a work of perfection…and then it turns out that it isn’t perfect after all? And then, what if I make that mean that I am not perfect either…all the while still believing that I am supposed to be.
Or what if, to the contrary, I share something that I know isn’t perfect, and people judge me. What if they think I am stupid. “Oh wow, if she thinks this is presentable, she must really be blind.” It’s like I need to clarify either that I am a work in progress, or that it’s a work in progress. Is it a given that my focus is on getting my words out into the world where they might make a difference, expressing myself as opposed to focusing on my editorial skills? Do I need to wait to share until I am sure that it is perfect, therefor avoiding the possibility of attack?
It seems I have been waiting to share my words until I can be sure to avoid criticism or judgement. I have been waiting to share myself until I can be sure that I will not experience pain. I have been waiting until my fortress of perfection is unshakable, and therefore I will be safe. The only problem with this plan is that the kind of perfection I am attempting doesn’t actually exist, neither is it the vaccination against criticism, judgement or pain.
In the past, the plan has gone like this: If I share something that is impeccable, then I will be untouchable. And I will finally have proved that I am worthy, that I am good enough, that I deserve to exist. And I will not be vulnerable to criticism or judgement. No one will be able to harm me or hurt me. No one will be able to tell me that I am not good enough, that I am a failure or that I don’t have what it takes, because I know that I am perfect. That is where this endless search for material perfection as access to safety, security and success trips and falls flat on its face.
There is something that I mistakenly adopted as the truth at some point in my life. I collapsed my own innate divine (im)perfection with the quality of the things that I produce in the world. Somehow I learned, incorrectly, that my success as a human would be judged on the level of perfection I achieved in my “production”. I decided that if I created perfect products, it would prove that I was good enough. That I was worthy of love and attention. If I wrote the perfect paper, or played the sonata perfectly on the piano, or did the math sheet with no errors, then I would finally be able to relax, and rest assured that I would be kept around, at least for now. That my place in the tribe was secure for the moment. That I would be loved and respected.
There are a few major issues with this strategy as a way of life. The first is that perfection doesn’t exist. At least not the kind that I was striving for. Now, I don’t actually have proof that this is true, and a month from now, I may have found out that I was mistaken. It may be the breaking story on the daily news: “Hundred year-old author writes the perfect blog post; achieves perfection; is assured life-long love, acceptance and respect.” (what she’s got left of it) But as of this moment, in my reality, perfection is unattainable as an end goal.
The other issue with putting my eye on the golden key of perfection is that it means I miss out on the glorious mess called process. And process is where the good stuff lives. I also miss out on sharing myself with the world, and making connections. I miss out on the opportunity to be of service, to add value to the world and to my communities. When I put the goal back into the realm of love, removing it from the fear-based kingdom of perfection, not only do I give myself a gift, I also am able to contribute to the lives of others.
I’ve noticed I do a thing when I’m scared. If I’m not sure I can go the distance or if my reserves appear to be low, I get smaller and hold on tight. I hold my breath. I put blinders on and I try not to move very much.
I think, “it’s almost gone, the money, food, love, energy (or whatever it is), and I better ration what I have.”
One major problem with this tactic is that what I am then putting out to the universe is this: I don’t trust that everything will turn out ok.
I’m basically saying I believe in scarcity; I don’t believe in an abundant universe. And then this is the vibration I am putting out, and then this is what I get back.
And then I find evidence everywhere that it’s a finite reality we live in. “See, I’m overdrawn”, I say. “It’s true I don’t have enough money.”
“See”, I sigh, “my friend canceled our date to go to the movies. Nobody loves me.”
And, did I mention? I also stop breathing.
Today I have a little more energy than I have been having in the morning, so I decide to go for a run. In the rain.
Once on the clear road, I set off at a trot, listening to my new go-to running soundtrack, music from the movie, Pitch Perfect.
My feet are cold, and my legs too. Silly me, I have cotton leggings on. After making it about five minutes down the road, I stop to take a picture of this telephone pole and then I turn around.
The wind is in my face now. Since I have decided not to “go the distance” today, I choose to make up for it in speed.
I set off at a sprint. Usually I last about 26 seconds on my first sprint. Today, I pass one telephone pole and as I reach for the second, I feel my body start to contract. My brain says, “this might be a stretch”, and my habitual reaction to this thought is to hunker down, make myself smaller, “conserve energy”, and basically stop breathing.
Whoa, I think. This is exactly what I was talking about with a friend last night. I was sharing with her about how I am taking a sabbatical, and as the money runs out, I notice myself start to hunker down and stop moving. She mentioned a neighbor of hers who lives in a house basically for free, just paying the taxes, and otherwise he doesn’t work much. She joked about how he mostly does nothing (or so it appears). “If I just stay very still, I won’t use much energy, and then I won’t have to buy much food to eat”, and so on.
I laughed at the truth in her playful banter. I laughed because I could see that in myself. I could see that there is a part of me that thinks the way to survive a “drought” in my life is to stop moving so I won’t get thirsty and then I won’t need to drink water.
I walk for a couple of minutes, letting my heart rate return to normal. “Don’t care about the money, money, money”, I sing along with the Barden Bellas.
I check in with my body about another sprint, and the energy seems available, so I set off. This time, as I get going, my mom’s voice pops into my head. “You don’t need to work harder to run faster, you just need to let go faster”, she says.
I’m momentarily transported to Steps beach on Nantucket when we were there for an overnight last August. I asked her for some feedback about my running. She is an Alexander Technique (AT) teacher, and I find her observations about movement so useful. She explained that in the model of moving with ease that the AT is based on, running faster isn’t about working harder, it is actually about releasing more, and more quickly.
As I pass the first telephone pole of my second sprint, I do my best to release more instead of working harder. I have some success, and feel a bit lighter. Still, I can tell that I am not using my breath fully, and there is a part of me that is scared to go for it, to really let go.
What if it doesn’t work? What if I don’t make it?
The thing is that this “letting go” business doesn’t really work when done half-assedly. I can’t let go part way and expect to feel the effects. Hanging on with one hand is SO MUCH MORE WORK!
Now I’m almost home and I feel like I’ve got one more sprint in me. This time, I really go for it. I release into the movement. I let my chest expand with great, full breaths. As I run, I can feel muscles working in my legs that I don’t usually notice, and probably don’t often engage either. It is as if I fully inhabit my body…all-wheel drive, in fifth gear–what power!
“The only way…to live peacefully and abundantly in our wild new world is to let go of old models of thinking, working, decision making, and relating to others. If that doesn’t work, the only option is to let go even more. Surrender to the way things want to happen next, even though this often involves a vast and terrifying loss of control. Trust the magic that was born into your soul…so that the nature of your true self can emerge.”
The difference is incredible. I want more of this in my life–this power, this freedom. I want to let go…and expand into abundance.
I’ve been struggling with how to experience spice and excitement and a feeling of satisfaction in my dreary-feeling life. I used to rely heavily on food for this; the tastes and colors of food have been one of the most consistent forms of stimulation throughout my life.
I began to explore the culinary arts as a teenager and I have spent countless hours in the kitchen, scheming & creating, chopping & cooking…and joyfully eating and sharing food. Food has been a companion, a reliable source of both inspiration and comfort.
Food has also been a consistent source of frustration. My relationship with food is colored by the way in which I learned to use food for things other than what I believe its primary purpose is: nourishment and occasional pleasure.
Merriam-Webster defines food in these ways:
1. a : material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.
2: nutriment in solid form
3: something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies <food for thought>
As a child, I came to rely on food as a source of comfort, an escape. I used it as a way to attempt to fill a deep emptiness that I think was actually caused by a fear of intensity, a fear which may have led to an inability to identify and feel my feelings.
It seems that maybe some addictions start when a person turns to a substance to dull pain, to distract from or push down a feeling that they don’t want or know how to handle. What’s different about (my) food addiction is that instead of wanting to numb a pain or avoid a feeling (which, it seems, I had already learned how to do), I wanted to fill an emptiness that was actually caused by an absence of the feeling. Is there a difference? Is emptiness a pain in itself? I’m not sure.
For years I have thought that I was using food as a means to escape feeling my feelings. What I saw recently is that I was actually trying to fill a hole, a lack or an inability to even access my true emotions. This was a revelation. To realize that I actually love to feel emotion move through me. I almost look forward to it. I realized that I have been unknowingly robbing myself of a source of vitality, sometimes sorrow, sometimes joy, but always aliveness.
At the times when I feel empty or disconnected and turn to food out of habit, I am now often able to pause and do my best to give myself a little more time to see if there is a hidden, held-back emotion that wants to emerge. Sometimes I even play around with it, simulating anger or sadness to see if something opens up. Sort of strange, I guess, to try on so-called negative emotions, but after so many years of doing my best to avoid emotions completely, my pump often needs a bit of priming. I have been scared of these shadow emotions for so long; it is a relief to discover that they can be just as satisfying as so-called positive emotions. It is the experience of letting them move through me, and knowing I am alive that seems to count most.
My whole adult life I have experimented with food. I was raised in a household where we didn’t use much traditional medicine, so I came to believe that the “right” food was the key to my health. If ONLY I could figure out what the right food was! Throughout my life, I tried many different ways of eating. I read and experimented and read some more. I talked about food with anyone who was interested. And I read and experimented (ate) some more.
In 2012 I found the blog, Mark’s Daily Apple, written by Mark Sisson, founder of the Primal Blueprint. His ideas about food and eating all resonated with what I had learned and discovered about myself and what felt best for me. I felt relieved to find someone who was writing and teaching about a diet and lifestyle that actually resonated for me. One that was very different from the way of eating that conventional health care recommends. The Primal Blueprint plan is based on how our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and dined. It is not simply a diet, it is a way of life, with a focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, play, rest, nature, movement, and connection.
A year later, I was introduced to the Human Design System and after getting a reading of my chart, I learned that my body is indeed designed to eat a “cave man” diet. Very simple. Not a lot of added spice. My body digests best, I discovered, when each of my meals consist of a few simply prepared, mild-temperature, “primal” foods. And even more specifically, it actually makes a huge difference for my digestion if each bite I take consists only of one food, and if I alternate between them. My body can absorb and assimilate the food best if I eat in a calm, quite atmosphere, and keep my eyes closed while I chew.
When I first received this information, it seemed a little extreme, too restrictive. How was I going to enjoy food in the same way I had in the past? My friend, the Human Design consultant said I would begin to enjoy the subtle tastes of the food more. I would begin to appreciate the salt and sweet tastes in the food itself. He was right–I have. I do.
At the same time, I have not found a replacement for the experience of adventure, spice and stimulation–emotional, mental and physical–that food used to provide for me.
I love the way I feel when I eat in this manner suggested by Human Design. In fact I love it so much that I feel pretty committed to it. I see how everything begins to degenerate when I don’t make this way of eating a priority. Knowing that, I would love to find a new way of creating excitement and spice in my life.
It’s the middle of an especially snowy winter in New England and I live alone in a small house on an island off an island. Outside my windows are trees–woods. Ground. Sky. A road with the occasional car. Through the woods not too far away are a few friends and family. All with lives of their own. I feel isolated. A lot of the time I love that; Human Design tells me I am a hermit and this rings true. I love tucking into my house, stoking the wood stove, cuddling in with a book, or getting lost in a writing or art project. Feeding myself simple meals, prepared with love.
I am also here to be of service. I am here to be called out of my isolation and to make a difference in the world. It feels challenging to wait for this call; on some days I feel like I want so much more than my hermitage provides. I want stimulation, growth, adventure, excitement, passion, spice. I want to be meeting new people, exploring new places, discovering new passions. I have been finding these experiences where I know how, and I am still not feeling satisfied. It seems maybe it would make a difference for me to be in a place where this is more action. More external stimulation. What would it be like to spend some time in a place where I can retreat and feel safe, and where I am also surrounded by activity?
So here are the questions I ask myself: do I want to leave my home? For a day? For a week? For a month? For longer? Do I want to go somewhere warm? Do I want to go somewhere new? Do I want to land somewhere, or do I want to travel? Wander or nest? Would I like to live somewhere else? Would I like to visit a city? Would I like to travel to a different coast? A different island? A different country? Speak a different language? Do I want to visit friends? Or go somewhere no one knows my name? Do I want to travel by airplane? by foot? by train? by bicycle? by car? by boat? Do I need to have a plan? Or can I just set out?
Where is my next adventure? Who will call me out of my little, isolated, hermitage home? Do I need to wait to be called out? Is there something else to respond to?
I began my resting practice while I was recovering from pneumonia a few years ago. I had very little energy stored up and I found that I couldn’t push myself at all without taking steps backward on my road to health. So I began to pay attention to the signs that my body gave me to let me know I needed to rest.
I noticed that my mood was an amazingly accurate indicator of my energy level. As my need for rest increased, my mood dropped sharply. I was surprised to find that my feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness were brought on almost exclusibely by exhaustion, and that all I needed to do to relieve them was to rest. I also discovered that there wasn’t anything else that worked nearly as well as resting to give me relief from feeling overwhelmed. Resting, turning on my body’s relaxation response and switching off the stress response, also gave me a sense of groundedness and well-being.
At other periods in my life I had tried taking action (ie: doing as much as I could as fast as I could for as long as I could) as a strategy for dealing with feelings of overwhelm. I thought if I could just get everything on my list taken care of, then I would find peace. Then I would be able to relax.
I remember vividly standing in the middle of the dreary yet spacious kitchen in my third floor apartment in Portland, Maine when I truly understood that there was no way I would ever get it all done. I realized that if I thought I needed to cross out everything on my (never-ending) “to-do” list in order to be able to stop and relax, to rest and take a break, and to feel satisfied and happy, then I was screwed. I felt this reality deep in my dog-tired bones.
It was with that awareness that I began the search for a different motivation for my life. I was 26 at the time, and after living for that long in a culture that operated around the belief that the keys to the kingdom were hard work and productivity, it took a while for me to truly let go of the idea that “getting it all done” was my key to happiness and satisfaction.
One milestone on this journey occurred the day I realized that in any typical 24-hour period, I was only ever truly “on-task”, checking off things on my list, for about three hours. Usually more like two, and occasionally as many as four or five. The rest of my waking hours were typically spent taking care of my basic needs and possibly attempting to motivate myself to “get some work done!”, or alternately, distracting myself from what I thought I should be doing with what is sometimes called, “procrastination” (I now call this, “it’s not time yet”, and it causes me much less stress as I sort out why I am not doing the things on my to-do list. Sometimes it’s because fear. And sometimes it just “ain’t time yet”). This discovery, my relative lack of productivity, was a huge eye-opener for me, and at first it was a bit of a let-down. I thought, how will I ever get anywhere in my life if I’m only productive for 2-4 hours a day?
And then I realized that the only thing inherently wrong with the situation was that my expectations did not match my reality.
For years and years I had been putting enough things on my daily to-do list to occupy me for every single waking hour of every day, if not triple that amount of time. And for many years, with high hopes for success (read: productivity and accomplishment), I would jump out of bed most days and “get to work” on my lists. Or, on the other days, I would stay in bed in a fetal position and try to ignore the voices in my head that were screaming at me about how much there was to do, and how lazy I was, and how I would never get it all done if I didn’t get up right now, and I was already so behind and I was just “making it worse by staying in bed”. Those “fetal position” days would go one of a few ways: Sometimes I would get out of bed with a sinking feeling of dread in my stomach, and haltingly force myself to start taking action. Though what action to take was always another huge issue for me, as every item on the to-do list called out to me; I often couldn’t decide whether it was more important to cut my toenails, or to do my homework. I wondered, was I supposed to sit down and pay the bills, or clean my room? Was it more important to write a thank you note to my aunt for my birthday present, or to go outside and water the garden? This deliberation was often paralyzing; “what is most important?”, I would shout internally. Finally I would find myself just doing something, anything, and often it was something not even on the list, but it got me in motion, and then I would continue on into my day.
Or, I would stay in bed and feel numb and try to ignore the voices and the sick feeling in my belly until I finally had to pee, or I got so hungry that I would pop out of bed and roll on into the kitchen where food would take my mind off my hopeless situation. Or my alarm would go off for the third time and I would concede that if I didn’t get out of bed “right now!”, I would not make it to work on time and I might lose my job. I would drag myself out of bed, and feeling slightly ill and ungrounded I would dress and feed myself, and head out the door. On the walk to work I would often find my center, my groundedness. I would re-inhabit my body, and I would get out of my head where all the to-do lists lived, along with the beliefs that I will never be enough, I will never succeed, I am worthless and a failure unless I prove myself in my life by being perfect and productive. Ouch. My mind was not very kind, and I found that it was not a safe place to spend time alone.
When I began to understand that no matter what good intentions I had for being productive, in my life as a self-employed business woman I was truly only ever “on-task”, working away at my lists, for a few hours a day, I began to get a clue. Somehow I went from incessantly smacking the whip on myself to looking at what was actually happening, and I realized that it was insane to argue with reality any longer. Slowly I reigned in my expectations, at least on the days I was home or doing errands with unstructured time. I still scheduled myself up to five massages a day on some days and then I would find myself exhausted by the end of the day. If only my revelation at that time had been this: “Holy Shit! If I only ever spend 2-4 hours of my day being productive, whether I like it or not, that means I have a helluva lot more time available for playing and resting than I thought!” I took me a couple more years before I made this leap. I was no longer beating myself up so much, but I didn’t yet comprehend the joy and freedom that was actually available to me.
In the spring of 2011, at least four years after the kitchen, never-gonna-get-it-all-done revelation, I was healing from a case of pneumonia I’d had in the winter; I was following a strict diet to control the levels of yeast in my body, and I gave up all stimulants in an attempt to help my body to heal on a deeper level. I hadn’t ever been a big coffee drinker, or stimulant user, or so I thought…until I gave up caffeine and sugar completely and I got to accurately feel my body’s energy levels. I was shocked to find that I needed so much more rest than I thought a normal person should need. I felt like a baby. I needed to nap every afternoon and most mornings as well or else I would find myself falling down the slippery slope of overwhelm, hopelessness, and self-flagellation.
I was flabbergasted at how little energy I had. I had used up all of my energy reserves living life in the my version of the fast lane, playing the productivity game, and my adrenal glands were shot.
Then summer came and I was beginning to feel better. As I had for the last few years, I booked myself a full schedule of massages. Then I had a reality check. I couldn’t actually do four or five massages in a day without feeling completely wasted; I literally felt like I wanted to die. I would say that to myself and I had never remembered hearing that kind of self-talk from me before. And yet, I continued to book my schedule full because that is what I thought I needed to do to be successful and ultimately to survive.
I found that I couldn’t stick to my healing diet while I was working that much. I had gone back to eating sugar and chocolate because I couldn’t figure out how to make my life work any other way. I would get so sleepy in the afternoons, and would take a nap in my car between massages, but I literally felt I would not be able to move, much less give a massage, with out the help of some chocolate or sugar to get me going. I don’t remember if it even occurred to me to work less. At the end of that summer I realized I had made an admirable attempt to move my life in the direction I knew it needed to go, but I was still “far from home”.
The following summer I felt committed to taking it easier. I stopped doing as many house calls; I lived near my office so I could walk home for lunch and take a nap between sessions, and I continued to heal my body. Along with healing my body, I realized that I needed to heal my mind.
I had recently graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a certified holistic health coach, and as I began to work with clients I was able to see how strict I was with myself. I saw the high ideals that I held myself to, and found there was not much room for self-love. I remembered a conversation I’d had with a friend the year before. She told me that she was feeling really judged by me; she felt like I judged everything she did and it was making her uncomfortable. That helped me begin to see that not only was I judging her, I was judging myself…all the time.
I began to pay attention to the way I treated myself.
After watching an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup, a hero of mine, in which she said that the most important thing anyone can do for their health is to truly love themselves, I posted a reminder on my bathroom mirror and ever day I would tell myself, “I love you and I accept you”. This practice began to shift my relationship with myself.
I continue to listen and feel for what my body is asking for, and I make choices in my life by noticing what feels good, what makes my body happy. I have slowed my drive for productivity and loosened my attachment to achievement. As I learn to love and accept myself, I am able to commit to taking care of myself. I am learning how to rest.
I like to let
the fabric of my being
hang a little loose.
To let it float around
aired out by the autumn breeze.
Puffed and fluffed
along with the milk weed
and skipping dry brown oak leaves.
I like to let
the silence fill me up with its emptiness.
Leaving me almost transparent,
so the bird and bug sounds pass right through me,
along with the wind.
It is as though
the stuff of me wants to match with the outdoors so that I am woven
into the landscape.
My faun colored
silk scarf drapes
and folds itself into the dried milkweed
and grasses by the road side.
The dusty rouge
of my hat meanders
its way through the crimson high bush blueberry leaves
and perches on the smooth, winding branches.
The moss green
of my sweater lays out along the path,
the short pile matching almost exactly the texture
of that cushiony plant.
And my azure
jeans float into a pool,
joining with the deep blue of the sky
and at the same time the mysterious dark of the ponds.
It is almost as though I could disappear.
People might say, I wonder
what has happened to Lily…
They wouldn’t know
they were walking by me,
and around me.
Little would they know that I had become
a part of the day.
That I had joined my voice
with the song of the sea breeze
and I was working on a lullaby for the crows.
In August, everyone seems to lose their minds. The vacationers leave their minds on the ferry, on the deck in between the uncomfortable aluminum seats or in the crack between the wall and the polyester covered cushions in the snack bar. The summer folk leave their minds in their mainland homes. And the islanders, they let their minds out for a refreshing bath in the ocean, where they are promptly swept away, tumbled into a heap with the eel grass that washes up on the sandy shore.
I held onto my mind this August, maybe a little too tightly. I think I squeezed it a little too hard, inspected it a little more closely than was comfortable. I didn’t lose it the way I usually do the in the summertime, with exhausted dreams of a wintertime of rest and quiet hibernation. Nope, this year I lost my mind the way that I used to lose my sunglasses on the top of my head…too close for me to see.
This spring I set off on an exploration and experiment to see what it would feel like if I slowed down and let the world come to me. With this new way of doing things, my life seems to have gotten very, very small. I feel as though I have been living inside a pressure cooker. Just my mind and me, crammed into a little island cottage. I haven’t had much else to look at, and I like looking at things closely, so my mind has been under 24-hour surveillance, and it’s starting to act the way any living thing might after such close observation…like a crazed monkey who wants to get out of her cage!
I am really good at talking myself into or out of anything. I can almost always see both sides to any story. In the Enneagram, a personality typing system with roots in a few different ancient traditions, I am a type nine, also known as the mediator or the peacemaker. Sometimes I take my peacemaking and powers of mediation a little too far, especially when it comes to conflict between my heart and my mind. And the rational human that I am, living in a time when rationality is celebrated, I often let my heart get talked over by my mind.
I live on a small island off an island, a forty-five minute ferry ride from the southern coast of Massachusetts. This is the place I grew up. I know its roads and woods and beaches by heart. I can walk them with my eyes closed. This can be extremely comforting. It can also feel too small. Too close. Too comforting. A couple of weeks ago, all of a sudden I heard what my heart had been telling me, without my mind having time to talk her out of it. I heard, “I NEED TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”. And I felt it resonate through my being.
No, I didn’t need to MOVE, I just needed to MOVE! To go, to feel the wind in my hair, the road beneath my tires, unfamiliar sights before my eyes and new hearts for mine to connect with. I needed to go, without a plan, wherever my car took me. I threw a bunch of stuff I might need in the car, realizing as I did so with only a plan to head “up island” for the day (not off-island) that I was probably practicing for a bigger trip.
I spent that day following my heart. I heard that she wanted to see this friend who I hadn’t visited all summer, and bike on this beautiful road, and go out and treat herself to dinner in celebration of a successful event I had co-catered a few weeks before. I finally heard my heart telling me that she needed to GO AWAY. To get out of the pressure cooker and find a little freedom.
It took me at least a week to get all my ducks in a row, to clean the house, to make apple sauce and apple pie, to make sure there was someone to feed my goat, and make sure the garden would take care of itself. One of the ducks that I hadn’t even considered was this idea of MY HOME. Who was going to take care of my home while I was away? I realized that for me, my house is like a partner or a best friend. It’s where I spend a good portion of my time, and we have a relationship. Last winter, the last time I left the island for more than a day, a blizzard had come, and the door to the house where I was living had blown open. It had taken me until now to see that part of my hesitancy to leave the island, to get away, was a fear of leaving my home un-protected. It felt good to notice this, to see that I feel protective of my home. And then it felt good to let that fear go, to double-check that all the doors were shut tightly and wouldn’t blow open, and to finally, finally, finally, pull my subaru into the stand-by line for the big ferry to Woods Hole. It was 6PM. I didn’t know if I would get off the island before the last boat at 9:30, and I had no plan for what I would do once I got to the other side.
There is an amazing freedom in trusting the universe with my life. One that I think cannot be found in any other way than surrendering to the flow of what wants to happen. And sometimes in order to be able to hear that call, and get in that flow, it is necessary to do what feels naughty, irresponsible, and completely senselessly irrational to our minds.
There is a list on my fridge that I wrote this winter. It is a list I made to keep me on track towards my right life. Near the end of the list is this: “Naughty leads to play, play leads to love.” Sometimes when I feel like I have lost the path of love in my life, my first step is to figure out, and DO, what feels downright naughty.