Steady as She Goes

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To run: “to go without restraint move freely about at will.” —Merriam-Webster

Let me preface this by saying: I am by no means a runner. In my mind, runners are people who are clocking in hours, miles, perhaps training for marathons, people who get up early to run or traverse miles because it clears their heads. This is not me. Though the idea appeals to me, I am not a runner by these standards. Not by any standards, really. But that’s not going to keep me from running. Not anymore.

In elementary and middle school I was considered, however briefly, a runner. I was one of the fastest girls in my class and I felt sheer joy when I ran barefoot through the apple orchards next to my house. I loved to run, not for organized sports, but just because. And if someone wanted to race, I was game. Especially if it was one of the boys; victory seemed even sweeter when I bested a boy at a race. Nevertheless, I wasn’t on the track team. I played a year or two of basketball—I was not good—and went to the track tryouts my freshman year, but after the first day I didn’t go back. Why?

I think it’s because I connected running with sports. And as you go further in school, the more pressure is placed on sports. I thought that if someone was to run, it had to be for a purpose, to get from point A to point B, to beat your current time, to beat an opponent. And in my house growing up, competition and sports weren’t important. Going to the library and reading were important, watching classic black-and-white films was important, as was listening to music or going to a museum. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for this upbringing, for the love of art and culture that my mother instilled in my sister and I, but I felt like I missed a part of being young: being a part of a team, developing a love for healthy active hobbies, spending more time outdoors.

But being raised to appreciate books doesn’t mean that you can’t play sports, and my mom never said that. In fact, my sister joined the swim team in high school and was one of the best swimmers on the team, placing second in a big race. But for me, sports weren’t appealing. I didn’t want to compete, didn’t want to play by rules, have a set schedule with meets and games. I could’ve kept running on my own, without these tethers, but in my mind, there was no point in running unless it was in the effort to win a medal.

Winning a medal was appealing though, and had been appealing since I was in first grade and won my first medal for a short story I had written. It was appealing when I placed third in our middle school’s “Cave Day” race, where we all dressed up like cave(wo)men and did relay races (I know, seems odd). But the appeal of competing to win was tainted when I played basketball and found that I wasn’t very good at it. In hindsight, who cares? But in my young, perfectionistic mind, there was no point in playing after this realization. If you weren’t going to be good, why bother? Obviously now I know that trying and practicing, devoting oneself to practice, makes one better, good even. That’s how athletes and artists are made.

But once I was in high school, practicing wasn’t of concern to me. Even my practice of writing creatively, an activity that I had been doing since I was small just because I loved it, became less of a concern. Actually, it was a big concern, but because I felt I couldn’t do it well, because I put such immense pressure on myself, I gave it up. And sadly, for a long time. I played it off with the mentality that practicing, putting in effort, and trying (and perhaps failing) wasn’t very cool. Better to sit by the sidelines and critique than to get out on the field and perhaps fail.

Failure, or the fear of failure, kept me from doing many things that I wanted to do. The idea of making a fool of myself was too much to bear. So I sat things out. I didn’t practice. And I definitely didn’t run. Up until now.

My fear of failure dissipated immensely when I gave up drinking alcohol 2+ years ago, but change doesn’t happen overnight. At least, not with me. I’m more of a slow-and-steady kinda gal, though I wish I was more spontaneous, adventurous, quick to try anything; I’m getting there. For as soon as I gave up booze, I found that life opened up in a lot of ways. Failure didn’t seem so scary anymore. Trying seemed a lot more fun. And I found that I would rather try something and fail or hate it or be embarrassed or whatever than the alternative. I was done being a passenger in my own life.

Many things ensued after my decision; I tried surfing for the first time while I was in Costa Rica, I devoted myself to a deep and powerful love affair with yoga that is still a part of my daily life, I started cooking for myself more (seems small but, for me, that’s a biggie). Even with all of this steady change, I didn’t pick up running again. Why? I had all kinds of excuses. I told myself it was because I didn’t have the right kind of shoes. Yet when I bought a pair of supremely comfy running shoes, I still didn’t do it. I was still, though unconsciously, existing in my old mindset: if I wasn’t good at something or wasn’t clocking a 7-minute mile or running 5 miles a pop, there was no point in beginning. But we all have to begin somewhere. And beginning my new life without booze should have been proof enough that this is true.

It wasn’t until recently, when my health issues (which you can read more about here, if you’re so inclined) were flaring up, that I thought perhaps doing something active other than yoga would be beneficial. I felt like getting my heart beating faster and breaking a sweat could probably help my body flush the toxins it seems to be holding onto. So as soon as I got home from work one day, moving quickly before I could change my mind, I laced up my comfy running shoes, popped in my earphones, did a couple of stretches, and hit the road near my house.

I feel lucky every day that where I live is so beautiful. My new house is out on a country road with rolling hills in view and neighbors’ llamas, horses, mules, and goats crunching away on grass in the pastures nearby. Birds are everywhere, swooping overhead or hopping across the road, and there are blackberry bushes buzzing with bees as far as the eye can see. Running on this stretch of pavement is dreamy, with a breeze usually fluttering through low-hanging eucalyptus that is a cool balm on hot days. Dreamy enough that my fear over not being a “true runner” decided to run off on its own.

Let me be clear: I probably ran for a few minutes before I had to stop, before I had to walk and catch my breath. But that’s okay. I was rusty, and moving at all was better than nothing. So I walked until I caught my breath, listening to my music and reminding myself to let my eyes wander over the beautiful scenery. And once I had my breath, I started running again. I continued this way, running and slowing, all the way down to the stop sign where the country lane I live on connects to a busier road. I turned around and kept the same pace back home. I was probably gone for a half hour. I’m sure it’s less than a mile. And I don’t run everyday, not even every week (not yet). But who cares? I’m running again.

I wish you a wild, free life.

The Work

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“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” — Steven Pressfield

I’ve been traveling a lot lately for work, and though flying isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I have found that I now look forward to taking a flight. I look forward to settling into my seat and strapping in for what may or may not be a bumpy flight because, for those few hours, I am free. Yes, I am trapped on a plane, usually next to someone who hogs the armrest the whole time, but I am free nonetheless.

For those few hours my phone is either turned off or on airplane mode. For those few hours I have no email access, no social media. I could pay for wifi or plug into an on-air flight, or, I could read. So that’s what I do.

I am free to read, uninterrupted, no excuses. There’s nowhere to go, I’m already headed somewhere, there’s nothing to do except sit in a seat and decide how I want to spend the time. I can spend it watching TV, something I don’t have at home and am tempted to binge-watch, or I can read, which I am always saying I don’t have the time to do.

So this last trip, that’s what I did. It was a short flight, from Northern California to Las Vegas, Nevada, but I managed to finish two books, there and back. And though it can be fun to read something fluffy and mindless, I decided to take two books that would make me do a bit of work. Not work-work, but work. The kind of work that no one really wants to admit that they’re doing (and why is that?), but work that is also some of the most important we can do in our lives: work on ourselves. Whatever you want to call it: personal growth. Self help (admittedly not a very good term). Self improvement. Self motivation. Doesn’t really matter, as long as we continually work on becoming better. Both for ourselves and for others.

For the flights to and from Las Vegas I brought The War of Art, by writer Steven Pressfield, and No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Suffering, by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and their words were like an oasis in that crazy desert. Whether Vegas is your favorite city or your least favorite, I think we can all admit that it is a crazy place. Especially for a Northern California girl like me. It’s so crazy that it inspired me to write about my experience after going for the first time last year, which you can read here.

Amidst the flashing lights and overload of sounds and scents, I felt a reprieve when I thought about what I had read. Yes, I was sober in a city where most people were partying and gambling, but I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable. I could think about what I find important, which was bolstered by the words I had read on the plane. Words that had reenergized me in a moment when I needed it.

Both books were meaningful in different but interconnected ways, and I think both warrant their own examination, so I’ve decided to write a little bit about The War of Art today and save Hanh’s work for another post. Pressfield’s book encourages us to “break through the blocks and win [our] inner creative battles.” It’s inspiring for any creative person, which means all of us. All of us are creative in our own ways, and many of us can lose sight of our creativity, or it can take a back-burner when we’re working, parenting, living. But creativity is a part of living, an integral and necessary part, a part we shouldn’t be so quick to minimize or say we’ll get to later.

I know that I have been guilty of placing my creativity in the back of a drawer, saying I’ll get to it later, putting other things first. It can be hard to engage in our creative work, no matter what it may be, when we’re tired or stressed or even when we’re happy and living in the moment. There’s many excuses we can tell ourselves and countless activities we can prioritize over what, as Pressfield says, we were born to do. Our creativity isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

It can seem like a luxury when we’re trying to put food on the table or help others, it can seem like a selfish endeavor when there’s so many chores to do or errands to run, but Pressfield frames creative work in a different way. He deems it as “a gift to the world and every being in it.” To neglect it would be to “cheat us of your contribution.” Pressfield demands: “Give us what you got.” When framed this way, it’s selfish not to focus on what our creativity could build. If what we have inside of us is a gift to the world, it’s detrimental to ignore it.

Pressfield views our creative work as a gift to the world, and also a gift that we have been given by a power greater than ourselves. Though he calls this power God and sees the ever-elusive creative muse as angels, he also takes care to say that no matter who or what we believe in, we have been given this creativity for a reason: to interpret and improve the world around us. When we paint, when we write, when we sing, we articulate what cannot be articulated otherwise. When we create, we: galvanize, inspire, design, organize, revolutionize. We have power.

In these times of upheaval, of change and uncertainty, I don’t know what could be more important than pursuing that which gives us power to create or add to the kind of world we wish to see for ourselves and for others. As one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, says, “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.” This life and this world is indeed brimming with awe, with wonder, yet the only way we can see or experience it is if we engage with it. It’s what we were intended to do when we were born. Whatever calls us, whatever it is that makes us lose track of time and feel a true, deep sense of fulfillment and happiness; that’s what we’re here for:

“In the end, we arrive at a kind of model of the artist’s world, and that model is that there exist other, higher planes of reality, about which we can prove nothing, but from which arise our lives, our work, and our art” (Pressfield, 163).

Not all of Pressfield’s book captured me and spoke to me, but that’s not the point. We take what is useful to us, from any work, and we use it. Whether we believe in angels or energy, we are all creative beings, and it is not only our purpose, but our birthright, to bring forth what we have inside. All we have to do is make the commitment to ourselves to create. We have to make time for it, nurture it. And some of it, as Pressfield acknowledges, will be trash. There will be failures. There will be mistakes. But there will also be moments of genius. Glimmers of truth, of beauty, of hope. But we won’t know if we never pick up the paintbrush or the pen, if we never start that nonprofit or open our mouths to sing.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Worth

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I mean it.

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” — Toni Morrison

What’s your worth? How do you measure it? Do you quantify your value by how much money you make, how many friends you have, how many followers you have on social media? Do you measure your merit by how you treat others, by how you translate your passions into reality? Do you weigh your significance by how others treat you?

My last post I wrote about loving yourself so that you may love other people, about following your own path and seeking what makes you happy, regardless of where you think you’re supposed to be in life. What I didn’t write about was how others treat you. I didn’t write about what we think we deserve or how we measure up. “Deserve” is a tough concept for me. The idea that someone is deserving of something is tricky, for it can be misconstrued. But what cannot be misconstrued is this: we are all deserving of respect.

Our worth can be measured by so many different things, and it can mean different things to different people, but I believe that our true worth and our opinion of ourselves must grow from this root: we are deserving and worthy of respect. People can treat us in any way they want, we can’t control that, but what we can control is how we react to this treatment. If someone tells you, whether in words or actions, that you are not deserving of respect, it is up to you if you believe them or not. Seems simple, right? But if you’re a human being, you know it’s not that easy.

It’s not easy to be treated poorly and to shake it off, to keep it moving with our heads held high. It hurts when someone we love or respect doesn’t feel the same about us, or if they say they do but their actions say otherwise. But we are the deciders. We don’t have to pretend that we’re not hurt, but we must remember that which is self-evident: we deserve respect, love is our birthright, and we do not have to stay in a situation that tells us we are not deserving.

If we stay, if we accept these falsehoods as truth, we begin to change ourselves. Believing these lies, we begin to alter shape, to lose our forms. We begin to assume these roles that are handed to us: we are weak, we are gullible, we are fragile, we are crazy, whatever. Suddenly, we are victims. It seems that without warning, we are systematically disregarded. How many times have we or someone we known asked, Why does this always happen to me? Why do I always have the worst luck? To some degree, because we allow it.

I know this idea is controversial, but it is because this statement can be misinterpreted. No, I am not giving weight to the awful adage, You/she/he/they were asking for it. No. Rather, I am saying that when we accept mistreatment, when we assume these roles from people who don’t know us, who don’t see us, we lose sight of ourselves. And when we lose sight of ourselves, we allow outside or outmoded beliefs to dictate our lives.

What should dictate our lives, what should dignify our worth, is the idea that we are deserving of respect. We can take on someone else’s opinion of us, which is really a mirror of themselves, or we can say, nope. Nope, I’m not a loser. Nope, I’m not a fragile, gullible victim. I am a person who is worthy of respect. And if you don’t see that, that is not my problem. If you don’t see me, it is because you aren’t capable of seeing yourself. And for that, I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you are lost and hurting, so lost and so hurt that all you can do is try and derail or hurt me.

I say this because I have been on either side of the coin. I have been mistreated, I have believed falsehoods as truths, truths that eroded my self-esteem to the point of becoming a perpetrator myself. I became the person who mistreated others, who didn’t deem others as worthy of respect. It was their choice to believe me, just as it was my choice to believe those who disrespected me. You see, it’s a vicious cycle, this cycle of hurt. And it all occurs because we are all damaged. Everyone has been damaged, everyone has issues. So then what?

If we all have issues, if we’re all damaged, what do we do? We go back to the root, to the truth that is self-evident: we are deserving of respect. And if we are deserving of respect, is not each person we meet? Are we not all damaged people walking on this earth together, each shouldering a burden, all seeking love and happiness? If someone treats me without regard, I know that it is because they do not have regard for themselves.

I believe the road back to regard is one that we must mostly walk alone. To truly value what is within us is an inside job, not an outward one. So though it may be tempting to want to help the damaged guy who’s not respecting you, though it may be tempting to want to fix the girl with the issues who doesn’t see you for who you are, I ask you to refrain. You’ve got your own burdens to bear, your own work to do. Focus on fixing yourself, on repairing your own damage. Ask yourself why you permitted someone to hurt you when you are worthy of so much more. Then perhaps they can begin to ask themselves the same.

I wish you a wild, free life. You deserve it. We all do.

Myth

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Do you?

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what being satisfied means, thinking about the stories we tell ourselves and the paths that seem to unwind before us. Without judgement, I’ve been wondering if the people around me who are getting married and having babies are doing so because they want to, or if they feel like they should because it’s the “logical” next step. I wholeheartedly support the endeavor if it’s what someone wants to do, but I also question if a lot of people my age are following the paths that they think they have to follow. How do we know?

To simplify a complicated question, we know the path we are heading down is the one for us if we find that we are happy, that we are walking down a path because we are following our happiness. Our own happiness, not the happiness of whoever else we wish to please. Of course we wish to please the people whom are close to us, but the person who should be closest to us, the person we should most wish to please, is ourselves. At the end of the day, we are all we have.

This life is rich and beautiful because we have the opportunity to forget the aloneness of our existence. We are born alone, we die alone, but while we are here we get to love. This love is valuable, no question, but what enables us to forge these connections with others is when we realize that the love we have for ourselves is the most important relationship we can create. Beyond looking in the mirror and loving what you see, what do you see when you look within?

For a long time, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t like who I saw, let alone love the person who I’d become. I saw a person who didn’t know herself, a person who was afraid, a person who wanted to please others but always seemed to fail. I failed because I didn’t know who I was, let alone love who I was. And looking within? I saw nothing. My vision was clouded, my outline was hazy. I couldn’t figure out why this was. I couldn’t figure out why it was that I loved other people but always seemed to hurt them. The answer, which would seem obvious to someone looking from the outside, was too impossible to comprehend. But eventually, the answer became clear. I needed to get out of my own way to find out who I was, to begin to love what was there.

The only way for me, personally, to get out of my own way, was to stop drinking. I had considered it at different times in my life, times when I was hungover or listless, times when I felt anxious or out of control. But I always felt like this would make me stand out more than I already did, that I would be missing out on moments of fun, that it would make me strange. But as you get older, you (hopefully) get to the point where the idea of standing out, the desire to fit in, and the fear of missing out, become much less important than discovering who you are and what makes you happy. I knew it was time to stop drinking when I realized that drinking wasn’t making me happy, that I wasn’t happy. And that was enough for me.

This life is too short to not be happy. To not actively be cultivating as much joy and love as you possibly can. This life is too short to be afraid of standing out or missing out, to wishing and hoping that you’ll fit in, to actually be missing out on a relationship that could be the greatest of all. This is what’s really scary. Not the fear of being seen as a weirdo because you don’t drink, not the fear of what others will think if you don’t get married, if you don’t really want children, if you’re still a barista when your mom thinks you should be a doctor, whatever. Please, for the love of god, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, just do what makes the person within happy.

And when this person is happy, or you’re working on making this person happy, you will find that that’s when you get the opportunity to make other people happy as well. You’re not going to please everyone, but you’ll be coming from a place that enables you to do your best. And doing our best is all that we can do. As long as we are always aspiring to improve, to get better, be better, that’s when we can finally rest easy. Not resting like taking a nap, but resting like surfers do in between waves, when they’re looking to the horizon with excitement, in anticipation of what’s next. 

I wish you a wild, free life.

Two Years

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Two years!

Man, I really didn’t intend for this much time to elapse since my last post, but hey, life happens. I will admit that I’ve been beating myself up about it, that I haven’t written in so long. I’ve told myself and others that I just don’t have the time, which is mostly true, but I also know that I haven’t prioritized it as I should. I’ve been working a lot, that’s for sure, and I’ve also been spending a lot of time with friends and family, which is paramount, but A Wild, Free Life should be at the top of my list, too.

I’m trying to allow myself this little grace period that’s gone by because a) beating yourself up and feeling guilty gets you nowhere and b) February 20 marked two years since I quit drinking. So though I’ve been feeling guilty for not putting my blog first, I’m also pretty dang proud of myself right now. Two years! I never really thought I’d say that I’ve been without alcohol for that long. But I have, and it’s pretty exciting. I’ve come a long way.

With coming this far, I feel like it’s natural to take stock of the changes I’ve undergone over the past two years, to revisit the reasons I quit drinking, and, if I’m honest, to even ask myself a question everyone who’s ever quit drinking has asked themselves: could I drink again? I’ve asked myself this for the first time in a long time because a few people whom are close to me have asked me this question. Now that I’m in this better place, wouldn’t I be able to drink in a different way?

Well, this is something I’m not intending on finding out. Because although I’ve become much more conscious of my emotions and gained so much clarity on my life and how I behave, this change has only occurred because I quit drinking. Perhaps if I started drinking again I wouldn’t drink like I did in the past, when I used alcohol as an escape from my problems, but then again, maybe I would. Because I know from experience that it’s all too easy to check out. Because I remember how I was, when one drink was simply not enough. This remembrance, this knowing, is what is keeping me on the path that I began to pave for myself two years ago.

I just don’t see the point in giving up what I started, even if I were able to drink in a new way. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, though it can still be hard, I won’t lie. Not hard in the way that I want to pick up a bottle, but hard because so much of our human lives revolve around drinking. Celebrations, hangouts, holidays, bad days — whatever, really — is an excuse to drink. And it can feel weird to participate in a toast at a table full of people drinking wine when you’re the only one drinking water. But I know that I shouldn’t feel weird, that I don’t need to. Because though I might be the solo nondrinker in a room, that doesn’t mean that I’m solo in life. I have myself (not to mention my friends and family). And that’s what really matters to me.

I think perhaps I might be solo in life if I were to drink again, not in the way that people might shun me or I might go crazy and distance everyone from me with my behavior, but that I would lose a part of myself that I’ve worked so hard to gain. But who knows? It’s these questions, it’s the unknown, that makes me know my decision to continue not drinking is right for me. The uncertainty gives me pause, and the delicate balance I’ve created is too precious to me to upend, to test, to poke at. I’m better than I’ve been, maybe ever, and it’s not worth it to me to see what happens if I drink a glass of wine. It’s a glass of wine, not a trip to Fiji.

Two years is a long time to go without something, but it’s also just the blink of an eye. And two years is is nothing and everything when you realize that you haven’t gone without anything at all, that you’ve actually attained more than you could’ve ever imagined. That what has happened within is much more rich and beautiful than what you’ve gone without. So though I’m all about taking chances and taking risks, trying to drink again is simply one that I don’t want to take. And who knows if I’ll feel the same way next year, for none of us can predict the future, but this is how I feel right here, right now. And knowing this, being present in this moment, is the culmination of the past two years.

As I did when I hit the one-year mark, I want to thank my family and my friends for being so supportive and encouraging, for making it relatively easy to “go without” as I go within, for never doubting me even when I doubted myself. And, as I didn’t do at the one-year mark, I’m also going to thank myself. You did it. Keep doing it. It’s working.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Five Years

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The hazy past

I don’t know why, and I know I’m not alone, but sometimes it’s so difficult to focus on the positive, that it’s easier to get bogged down in the negative. Instead of appreciating the beauty, the growth, the fun, even the stillness, it’s much easier to highlight the ugliness, the stagnancy, the boredom, the silence. Why? I am actively trying to disengage from this kind of behavior, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen. And to remember what time, patience, and a little gratitude will grant you, I’ve decided to look back five years.

Ever wish you could go back in time and talk to yourself, to dissuade yourself from some of the decisions, mistakes, outfits? What if instead of trying to turn back time, we met ourselves where we are? What if we gave our past selves a hug and told them it was going to get better? Would our past selves even believe it?

 

Dear Me Five Years Ago,

You don’t know this, and it’s probably for the best, but in five years you’re going to feel so much better. You’re going to look back on this time and you won’t even recognize yourself. You’ll wonder how you could have been so lost, so out of touch with your own self. You’ll wonder how you got to that point. And you’ll actually know. You’ll know how and why. This will give you power.

In five years you’re going to not only know why you were the way you are right now, but you’ll have empathy for yourself. Whereas now, five years ago, you can barely look at yourself in the mirror. In five years you will be on your way to finally becoming the person who you’ve always been meant to be. In five years life will not magically be better or easier, but it kinda will, actually. Life will be the same but different. You will be different. And this will change everything.

You think you have it all figured out now, but you don’t. And in five years you’ll know that you never will, that no one ever does. The secret is to try, to be authentic, to explore, to stay grounded, to remain conscious even when it hurts. What you’re doing right now is the only way you know how to be in this world, but you know it’s not working. The good news is, you’ll find out what will work on your own. You’ll figure it out and you’ll do what you think you’ve always done:  work hard. You’ll just work differently, more efficiently, with purpose.

You don’t know this now, but you are going to be okay. Life will always have its ups and downs, but you will learn to deal with this. You will recognize that it’s not about what life throws at you, but how you decide to react to what has been thrown. You will see that you have options. You will see that you are not stuck, that you’ve never been stuck. You can evolve. You can grow.

Now, here in the future, things are very different, more different than you can imagine right now, there, five years in the past. Your whole world has recently been turned upside down, but you’re okay. You won’t believe this, but you don’t work at the restaurant anymore. You’ve finally graduated college, and with honors. You’ve gotten a 9-5 job in a field you are passionate about. You and your boyfriend aren’t together anymore, you live somewhere new, but you’re okay. You’ve gone on your first business trip, and alone. You’ve met new people, you’ve become addicted to yoga. You’ve quit sugar and gluten (for the most part anyway, you’re still only human) and lost 30 pounds. You’re you but not.

What you really won’t believe, my friend from five years ago, is that it will be two years in February since you gave up booze. Right now you’re in your first semester of college, you’re just trying to keep your head above water. You’re doing it but you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re going to miss some classes because you’re hungover. You’re going to half-ass your way through some stuff just to get by. You’re going to make some epic mistakes in the next few years.  But it’s all going to lead you to here. It’s going to be worth it.

At first I wished that I could tell you to get your shit together right now, right then and there, five years ago. I wished that you, that I, hadn’t waited for so long. That you would see the error of your ways and avoid a lot of the heartache. But it doesn’t work that way. If you weren’t going through what you’re going through right now, I wouldn’t be where I am in this moment. You wouldn’t be starting a new life, you wouldn’t be tackling a new set of “problems” with a clear mind and less ego. You’re not perfect then, and you’re definitely not perfect now, but you’re better now than you are then.

What is so scary for you right now is going to dissipate. What is holding you back will pretty much disappear. You will continue to work on yourself, for it is necessary and it is the work we do all of our lives, but you will face the world with… you will face the world. What you can’t seem to do five years ago, you will be able to do now. Because you will realize that the world will mirror back what is inside of you. The world will mirror your hurt and your fear. It will hand you what you’re thinking of. You will realize that worry and anxiety will not fix what is wrong. You will realize that you worry too much.

Dear me five years ago:  I’m sorry you’re hurting. I wish I could take the pain away, but you’re going to figure it out. You’re going to be okay. You’re going to see that pain is a part of life, but also that a lot of your pain is self-inflicted, self-created. You’re going to see that there are other ways to live, that you can release what no longer serves a purpose. You’re going to see that all of it has served a purpose. You’re going to live. Wildly, freely. You’re going to live.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Stay Golden

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Hello, San Francisco. I missed you.

San Francisco. The city where I was born. Home to artists, lovers, dreamers… and tech. The city has changed so much since I was born there almost 30 years ago, especially in the past few years or so. Yes, it is wildly overpriced now. Yes, many people are moving to where I live because they can’t afford to live in the city. But. Though it has changed, though it is becoming more of a playground for the rich than a space for dreamers, it is still magical.

Yesterday my friend and I went to San Francisco for Hardly Strictly, a free (!) music festival in Golden Gate Park. Though I had heard of it countless times over the years, I had never been able to go in the past because I would always be working. Now that I have the weekends free, I feel like I get to be a part of so much more than I used to.

The park was teeming with people, six different stages with six different experiences all going at the same time, humans of all different walks of life coming together at once. The energy was palpable, almost overwhelming. There were those who were there just to get drunk and party, but there were also those who were there for a shared love of music. That’s music festivals for you. There’s a sense of humanity or depravity or both. It’s intense, wild, freeing, energizing. I felt like a component of something greater than me. And I like that.

As my friend and I settled onto a small patch of grass amidst the crowd, I took a moment to take it all in. The sun seemed to be perched in a tree, the weather was perfect, which is rare in San Francisco, and everyone seemed to be smiling. I felt the breeze kiss my skin, felt the dampness of the grass through our blanket, felt the energy of the masses. I was in San Francisco on a Saturday surrounded by people, listening to free, live music, the sun peeking through the trees, the air warm and inviting. It was magic.

I will admit that my friend and I had gone to the festival without even looking at the lineup. It was free and in Golden Gate Park; we had nothing to lose. We just wanted to get out-of-town, to experience what the city had to offer, to deviate from the norm. Because of our desire to break free, to explore and get out there, we were beyond pleasantly surprised to discover that Cyndi Lauper was playing right when we got to the park. We danced to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” swayed and sang along to “Time After Time.” I explained the meaning behind the lyrics to “She Bop.” And then Chris Isaak was onstage next!

Even if we hadn’t heard these artists, the experience alone was worth it. It might not seem like much to some, to go to a music festival on a Saturday, but it’s exciting for me. Exciting to be out in the world on the weekend instead of going into work. Exciting to go to the city on a whim, just because. My friend and I talked about how if we were still in our old relationships, we probably wouldn’t have gone to Hardly Strictly. We’d be doing something else with our ex-boyfriends, or if we had gone with them, it would’ve been a different experience altogether. We were free. In the moment, just the two of us, dancing and singing and laughing.

After the show we were swirled into the crowd of people leaving the park, swept up in the movement, wondering where the night would take us. Feeling like we were dying from thirst, we stopped at a cafe and sipped our drinks on a couch, watching as a man produced three white balls from his backpack and began to juggle.  A trio across from us discussed Burning Man and what it was like to live out of their van. Suddenly a woman who had quietly been reading the paper on the other couch leapt up and began screaming at everyone about conspiracy theories. Only in San Francisco.

After the cafe we walked back to where we had parked the car, in Sea Cliff, one of the ritziest neighborhoods in the city. It’s astonishing to see how the one percent lives, to peek into the lives of the extremely wealthy. The houses, or mansions, are beyond belief. Though feeling a little rueful, we were once again pleasantly surprised when we decided to go to the closest beach and found the secluded beauty of China Beach. Maybe during the day it’s crowded or not as eerily beautiful, but at that time of night it was epic.

We walked down a dark pathway to find a stretch of sand, the sound of the ocean crashing beside us, and right in front of us a sparkling view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The night air was unbelievably warm as we stood atop a lookout point, marveling at the beauty we had stumbled upon. We laughed at how romantic the setting was, but agreed that we had been awesome dates nonetheless.

Though we saw the disparity between the rich and the rest of us, we also saw so much more. We saw people of all creeds and classes coming together because of music. We saw the sun setting over the lights on the horizon as we walked up the notorious hills of San Francisco. We saw the raw beauty of the sea juxtaposed against the man-made beauty of sparkling cliff side mansions. We saw.

And that’s what I want to do. See. See and do and be. I want to feel the atmosphere that I am a part of, I want to appreciate the beauty amidst the filth, I want to dance and walk till I get blisters. I want to keep circling for a half hour and somehow end up in Sea Cliff when I can’t find a parking space, rather than bemoaning the parking situation in San Francisco and giving up. I want to eat festival food on the grass with the sun on my face and enjoy it, instead of complaining how much it costs or how crowded the park is. I want to do it all. And maybe these days San Francisco doesn’t always feel like a place where you can do it all, but it can. On a sunny Saturday in Golden Gate Park, it can. 

I wish you a wild, free life.

 

A Room of One’s Own

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A floating shelf in my new room

What a difference a few days make. I’m writing this today from my new room in my new home, back in the town that I grew up in. Yes, I walk familiar blocks to get coffee in the morning, streets so familiar that I could traverse them with my eyes closed, but I now also inhabit a brand-new space to call my own. A tiny space, but a space that is all mine. A space that is full of my things and mine alone, a space that is new but already feels like home.

I have been wary of placing too much significance in material things, in seeking joy from stuff, but this week I acquiesced to the desire to nest. After living in a kind of limbo for the past few weeks, grateful for a roof over my head but without a room of my own, I found that I needed to do more than just move my stuff into a room. I needed to settle into an environment that feels good, that looks how I want it to look, that reminds me of who I am via material things. And what’s wrong with that?

There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your space, in finding joy in duvet covers and floating shelves, soft sheets and mirrored jewelry boxes. It’s like the saying, “When you look good, you feel good.” When your room looks good, you feel better. I feel at peace in my new room because I am in an environment of my own making. Everything that surrounds me is mine, both new and old, items carefully selected because they make me smile. Not everything in my new room has a purpose, but everything I see makes me happy.

I’m happy when I look at my old dresser from a million years ago because it is now spruced up with new gold-and-glass knobs. I’m happy when I look at my bed because it is an inviting oasis of calm colors and soft sheets, graced with pillows that would have been deemed “unnecessary” in my previous life. There’s a gold elephant on the table for no other reason than that I like elephants and I love gold. I’m happy when I look around this new room of mine because I am no longer compromising my vision and my taste to suit that of another person. I’m free to be as “eccentric” or “bohemian” as I like. I’m free.

My new surroundings are a comfort to me because I now have a little sanctuary. With all of the curveballs life has been throwing my way, at least now I have a room of my own where everything will be just as I left it. I can find everything with ease and it all makes sense. The world may not make sense, but my little room does. The light streams in from the window just so, the bed is softer than any other mattress I’ve had before, the books are plentiful, and, for the first time, I feel like my room decor has a theme. My friend said it is very zen. I like that.

My room does not offer much space, but I don’t need more than what I have. I have space to lay my head down, to read, to write, to get ready for the day or to unwind. I have space for my books and my trinkets, for many items of meaningless beauty. Where before I tried to curb the so-called clutter, I am now free to adorn windowsills and shelves with articles that give me joy simply by being nice to look at, by being pretty. I’ve realized that I have really missed the freedom to ornament my space as I see fit.

As I have discovered the joy in augmenting my space to suit my personality, I see that our rooms, rooms of our own, spaces both physical and unseen, are opportunities to express ourselves. My room is a reflection of myself, and the joy I have found in designing my space is an extension of the joy I have discovered in expressing who I am. I now have the freedom to be me, all of me, both internally and externally. I can be myself, who I truly am. I can be who I was always meant to be. I’m ready.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Momentum

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Just keep on keepin’ on

Last week I was unable to bring myself to write. I couldn’t write because I felt overwhelmed by change. Changes beyond my control. You would think I would be used to change by now, used to the tides of transition, but I find that I am not. I am more fully able to lean into the discomfort, to feel the pain instead of shying away from it, to look my fear right in the eye rather than trying to escape, but I still do not find myself comfortable with change as a constant.

But I know that I have to keep the momentum of my journey moving forward, rather than becoming overwhelmed and losing my way. I have to keep maintaining the faith and commitment to see what I have worked so hard to accomplish through to the end. Maintaining the faith and commitment means not giving up or backing down, but it also means having the flexibility to release what doesn’t serve, even if I thought it did to begin with.

These tides of transition and change, though stressful and difficult at times, used to be tempered by the stability I had at home. Though the world often seemed a treacherous place, tricky to navigate and prone to throwing curveballs, I could rest relatively easy knowing that I had my home as a sanctuary, my dog as a loyal friend, and my boyfriend as a steady source of practicality, love, and unflappability. Due to occurrences that I never saw coming, I have lost all three of these things. I no longer have my cozy home, filled with books and blankets of my choosing. I no longer have my dog, my sidekick of the past ten years. And I no longer have my boyfriend, whom I have known for almost half of my life.

What happened? It is not my place to say. All I can say is that we are two different people heading in two different directions. Do I wish that we could merge paths? Of course I do. But I recently learned that this wish of mine is not possible. The growth that I have undergone, the changes I have made, have rendered me unrecognizable to the person who loved me most. The growth and changes I have made have also rendered the person I loved the most unrecognizable to me.

I thought that because I had made a conscious decision to improve my life and to endeavor to be a better person, everything else would fall into place. I thought that because my boyfriend and I had weathered so many storms together and come out the other side, we could handle anything. I thought that because I am no longer a person who seeks solace in the bottom of a bottle that my relationship would become the best it had ever been. And it was, for a while. What I never thought is that the positive changes I have made would end up being a factor in breaking us apart.

Though I am surprised and hurt, I know that I must continue to live in alignment with my core values and beliefs. I must remain unafraid to stand up for what I believe in, to hold fast and aim true. Though this unexpected, painful breakup has brought up feelings of self-doubt, the work I have done thus far has taught me that I must never lose sight of my true, shining self. The unblemished self that dwells within us all and operates from a place of love, not fear.

Though I am almost breathless by the swiftness of these sudden changes, keeping the momentum of my journey means remembering that change is constant. Change is revitalizing and an integral part of the human experience. Change is preferable to “safe” stagnation. The tides of change cause us to realign, reassess, to embrace the unknown by honoring ourselves, trusting ourselves, and believing in what we think, what we know, is right.

Though I have a kind of freedom now, I also can’t help but feel unmoored, unsettled. I no longer have the foundation that I had, the support. Yes, I have the support of my friends and family, but my home, my life as I knew it, is gone. So of course I want to smoke a cigarette. But I haven’t done it, and each time I come close I say to myself, “You’ve come too far. It’s not worth it.” So instead I turn to what I’ve learned serves me best:  yoga. Yoga and sunshine and friends to distract me. Playing with my niece and nephew. Going to San Francisco to the Museum of Modern Art, like I did yesterday. Listening to music. Anything that takes the sting out but keeps me aware and present.

And you know what is really gratifying? That I don’t want to drink my way out of this mess, like I would have in my past life. As much as I want to smoke, I don’t want to drink. The idea of it sickens me. To throw away all of the work that I’ve done for an instant of reprieve, of false reprieve, is so not worth it to me. Which is how I know that the steps I’ve taken to this point, to this moment of sadness and heartbreak, have been the right ones. The positive changes I have made, the ones that had a hand in the dissolution of my relationship, have been worth the growing pains I am feeling now.

I’ve come too far to turn back now. I have to keep the momentum going, to see things through. I don’t want to have hate or anger in my heart. I don’t want to feel betrayed or wronged. But I do. For the moment, I do. And that’s okay. I want to feel these things, fully and completely, so I can move forward, so I can let them go. Keeping the momentum reminds me that not everyone will be able/willing to join me on my journey. And though that sucks, it’s part of the growth. If I’m going to keep the momentum, that means making room for what’s yet to come.

I wish you a wild, free life.

The F Word

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“Who am I? But the dust of the Most High…”

— “Dust” by Trevor Hall

The F word. As in fear. As Marianne Williamson says in her book, A Return to Love:  “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” I have to admit, I have been asking myself these kinds of fear-based questions. Questions like, Who am I to wish this? Who am I to want more? And trust me, I don’t even go down the brilliant, gorgeous, etc. line of questioning, which proves Williamson’s entire point. I have been disregarding my light. I have been playing small. I have been playing it safe. Not in changing my life, but in my beliefs. Let me backtrack.

On Monday I had an interview at a wonderful organization, a place I could work at with pride, with belief in what they do for the community. So why did I leave the meeting feeling deflated (especially because the interview went so well)? Am I crazy? After mulling it over (and over, and over) this week, I realized that I felt deflated at the thought of sitting at a desk all day, answering the phone and entering data on the computer. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of work, except that I don’t want to do it. Here’s where the fear comes in. Who am I to wish for different work? Who do I think I am?

Well, I think that I am a person who has worked at a restaurant for 12 years, answering the phone and greeting patrons, hustling and bustling. The thought of sitting at a desk for more than a few hours is torturous (unless I’m writing creatively, of course). I think that I am a person who has always loved language, who believes in the power of it, both written and spoken, to cultivate change. I think that I am a person who has undergone a major life change and feels compelled to share what I have learned along the way. Who feels compelled to help other people find the miraculous kind of healing I have found by giving up what no longer served me.

Yes, I have experienced healing and have transformed myself and my life, but that doesn’t make me some kind of expert. But do I have to be an expert to share my voice, my passion? Should I be “realistic” and accept an office-type job until I can feasibly do what I want to do? Like write a book, become a yoga instructor, lead meditations? I know in my bones that when I quit drinking I sparked the beginning of my true life path. But I am scared of the unknown. I’m frightened of the practicalities and realities.

I’m also fearful that I am being delusional. Like, are the signs I’m seeing and the momentum I’ve been feeling just figments of my imagination? Am I jumping the gun and getting ahead of myself? Am I trying to rush the process? What is the process? Though I know that these doubts are my ego-voice talking, knowing doesn’t make them go away.

When frightened I ask myself the questions like the aforementioned, but then I try to follow them up with other questions. Questions I never thought to ask myself until I gave up alcohol and thankfully found yoga and meditation. Like, where is the fear coming from? Is it because I don’t know the outcome? Because I don’t have a lot of money? And yes, I am scared because I don’t have a lot of money to bring my dreams to fruition, but isn’t that what credit cards are for? Wink, wink. But that’s scary, too! Who wants debt?

But I am also scared because I can still swiftly fall prey to self-doubt and insecurity. Don’t get me wrong, I have more belief in myself than I have…  maybe ever. I am proud of myself and what I have accomplished in the past year. But. There’s always a but, isn’t there? But, it is still difficult to distance myself from the little, naggy, rather rude voice that resides in my head. Where the voice used to have prime real estate, taking up a whole lot of room, it now lives in a tiny closet in what I like to think of as the basement of my brain. The door of the closet locks, but the lock is faulty and sometimes springs open unexpectedly.

This little voice is the voice that asks, “Who do you think you are? Don’t you remember what you’ve done? Who you really are? Who are you to think you can do this? Do you think you’re better than this opportunity?” Rude, right? This voice is a voice that dwells in the past, that loves to bring up my past transgressions and my current faults. This voice is the voice that fueled my love affair with perfectionism, a love affair I thought I dismantled when I quit drinking. But perfectionism is a slippery, sneaky beast. Perfectionism manifests in many different forms.

This perfectionism is what causes me to compare myself to others, to end up with a hurt wrist or throbbing knee after what should be a restorative yoga class. This perfectionism is the reason why the voice tells me I’m not worthy. Or if I am worthy, then I’m still not ready. Ready to take the leap, ready to write the book, ready to start the training, to truly and freely create. Or if I am ready, then I need to think about how I’m going to support myself. That money doesn’t grow on trees. That a new car and stability is more important than pursuing what I view as my calling. See, I couldn’t even come out and just say it without being wishy-washy. Let me try it again: than pursuing my calling.

So what to do? I get back on my yoga mat, I meditate, I acknowledge the fear and forgive myself and keep moving forward. I tell myself, One step at a time. I remember the line from a song I happened to hear somewhere along the way that seems to always surface when I need it: “Who am I? But the dust of the most high…” You can listen to the song here if you like. Perhaps not everyone shares my view, but I do believe that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves, that we are particles of the “Most High.” So why not me, too?

Like Williamson says, Who are you not to be? Not to be gorgeous and talented, brave and vulnerable and kind? Who am I to look down on what I want in this life? Who am I to think that my plans and ideas and hopes and goals are foolish? Or to worry about what others will think? That’s what is also so scary to me. Why am I so concerned with what other people think? There goes that perfectionism again, rearing its ugly head. I thought my people-pleaser days were behind me, that the only opinions that mattered to me were those of myself, family, and close friends. But the fear makes me realize that I worry way too much about what others think. People I don’t even know, or even potential people. How silly is that?

What I come back to, always, is that I have to trust the process. I have to trust myself and trust that everything will happen as it should, when it should, how it should. I have to listen to myself and my intuition. And how do I do that? By either getting still, in mediation, or getting moving, on my yoga mat. Which are the reasons why I am so passionate about life and feel called to help others experience the healing I have found. I just have to get back in touch with and remember why I want to reach out into the void. Because I have seen and felt the difference that self-awareness can make it anyone’s life. That self-awareness is what diminishes the rude, fear-based voice and helps to shine the light that dwells within us all. Because awareness leads to forgiveness and, most of all, love. 

I wish you a wild, free life.