Day of Rest

I woke up tired this morning. I’ve had a lot going on lately, had really weird dreams last night. Some pretty big stuff has happened and needs to be processed. Once again, I’d planned to write a post about meeting Cheryl Strayed, even wrote the first part while I worked on my morning pages, but it’s just not going to happen today.

I noticed this sign on our walk with the dogs this morning, next to a small grove of trees just starting to turn gold, in the same spot we’d seen two mama deer and their babies a few minutes before — a reminder to slow down.

Take it Easy

ericaspens

image by Eric

I’d planned to write a post today about meeting Cheryl Strayed. I got up early, did my morning pages, took a long walk with Eric and the dogs, and then spent the rest of the morning doing laundry, going through my email inbox, sweeping, putting clean sheets on the bed, and straightening up the house. I am teaching a yoga class this evening, so I also need to prepare just a few quick things for it, then teach it of course. I realized somewhere around lunch time that I only had enough energy to either write a blog post or teach my yoga class.

In the not so recent past, I would have pushed myself to do both. I wouldn’t have listened when my body whispered, “it was a long week, and I sure am tired.” I would have listened instead to the pushy voice that insisted I plan out a whole new class for this evening because a few people coming may have already been there when I practice taught the same series, that I should write a blog post too, go on the afternoon walk with the dogs, do a little bit of CSU work that had come up late in the day Friday instead of waiting until Monday, start tomorrow’s blog post and even Monday’s if I had time — to do all the things.

Instead, I’m doing what is best for me. I’m going to rest this afternoon instead of putting a bunch of energy into writing about Cheryl Strayed, even though it’s something I want to do. I’m going to teach the class I’ve learned and am comfortable with so I can teach this first time with greater ease. I’m going to let Eric walk the dogs in the afternoon heat while I take a nap. It might seem like a small shift, but for me it’s revolutionary.

Gratitude Friday

coloradofall141. Fall in Colorado. So pretty, cool and sunny, quiet and calm.

2. New slippers. I waited two years to get new ones, and now I understand why — they are perfect.

foxslippers3. Really good friends. Seriously, I was just as happy to see them last night as I was to see Cheryl Strayed. These women are smart and interesting and funny. They make me feel safe, make me laugh, encourage and inspire me.

4. Cheryl Strayed! I met her last night, and she’s every bit as genuine and funny in person.

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5.  Ringo Blue is ten months old today. I am way stupid in love with this dog.

10monthsoldBonus joy: my tender little heart, laughing, opportunities to teach more yoga, a soft place to land, apple season, heart shaped rocks from heart shaped friends, the most beautiful and delicate silver necklace that reminds me of my path, books and writers and readers, the way sweet Sam licks my face when he finds me crying, breakfast burritos from La Luz, the last of the watermelon, the good kind of chocolate, new music, how quiet my new office is, new sheets that are the same as the ones on the house at the beach, the weekend.

It’s My 3rd Blogiversary!

Way back in the beginning

Way back in the beginning

Three years ago today, I wrote my first blog post. I titled it “Beginning,” and talked about a fortune from a cookie that is still, three years later, taped to my computer monitor: “Begin…the rest is easy.” In that first post, I talked about the difficulty of starting, the sadness I felt about how long I’d been stuck, and how it was that I finally woke up — stopped waiting for something to happen and happened.

So much has changed in three years. Dexter got cancer and died, some really painful and pretty awful family stuff happened (things I haven’t shared here because they aren’t my stories to tell), we got Sam and then we got Ringo (my echo dogs), my job at CSU continued to change shape, I went into therapy for my disordered eating, I traveled, I essentially did a second Master’s degree with a curriculum of my own making (ecourses, videos, lectures, books, workshops, and retreats), I found my voice, I found my tribe, I shared my writing in other spaces as well as here, I became a certified yoga teacher, and I got really clear about what I want, what I have to offer.

Just yesterday was a really good example of how different my life is now, three years later. I spent the morning meditating and writing, an interview I did with Andrea Scher for her Morning Mantras class went live (we talked about “No mud, no lotus”), I finished a project at CSU that my department chair said was “one of the most stunning things I have seen,” telling me “I think you’re a genius,” and an open love letter I wrote to Cheryl Strayed that I’d posted…well, she read it and tweeted me about it.

cherylstrayedtweet

Blogging has given me so much. As I’ve put in the effort, focus, and time, it has returned to me:

  • A tribe of like-minded people making similar efforts and supporting mine, connection and community
  • Kind and gentle readers
  • My own voice — clarity about my truth, a direct relationship with my experience, a way to work with my story
  • Confidence, as Susan Piver describes it, “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment”
  • The opportunity to share my work in other spaces
  • A public place to practice, which provides accountability and acceptance

Three years has always been a magic number for me. Any time I make a shift, a transition, a move, a change, I know that it will take me three years to get comfortable with it, to settle in. This has always been true for me. The same is so with blogging. I’m comfortable and confident now. I feel like I know what I’m doing, and I can do it with relative ease — I’ve got this.

When I think a little bit ahead, I see a clear path. I don’t mean there are no obstacles, but rather I know where I’m going, feel like I can find where I am on the map, have the right equipment and supplies and support necessary to reach my goal. My most immediate intentions are to finish my Self-Compassion Saturday ebook, begin the real work of putting together the other book I’ve been carrying around, make other offerings, (such as ecourses, in person workshops, classes, and retreats), settling even deeper into my practices, taking the first steps towards becoming a meditation instructor and possibly a coach, and continuing to heal in the places where I’m suffering or stuck. And always, always continuing to blog about my efforts to transform, to rehab my life, to ease suffering in myself and the world.

I’m so grateful to you, kind and gentle reader. Whether you are new here or have been with me the whole three years, your loving witness to my story means so much to me. I adore you.

Something Good

Horsetooth Reservoir, image by Eric

Horsetooth Reservoir, image by Eric

1. Wisdom from Saint Thomas, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” (Thanks to Gemma Stone for sharing).

2. Good stuff on Upworthy: A Baby Survives A Situation That Could Have Killed Any Of Us. Now They Call Him ‘Miracle Baby.’ and This Kid’s Scary Personification Of Depression Gives Me Chills.

3. Good stuff from Buzzfeed: This Artist Turns Her 2-Year-Old’s Doodles Into Gorgeous Paintings, and 21 Women Remember Their First Periods…For Better Or For Worse, and If Andy Dwyer Quotes Were Motivational Posters, and If Nick Miller Quotes Were Motivational Posters.

4. Wisdom from Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook: Love your neighbor and How not to be overwhelmed.

5. 24 Signs That Life is Amazingly Awesome (Even When It Doesn’t Feel That Way). (Thanks for sharing, Sandi).

6. Anne Lamott on Facebook, “Life or life: This strange situation we find ourselves in, with no clear answers or meaning — well, you know, I mean besides love, or Love; taking care of the poor; and being amazed by beauty.”

7. The 7 Lies That Keep Us From Success from Jonathan Fields.

8. One of my favorite quotes, from Thich Nhat Hanh: “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

9. 23 ways to relax when you’re stressed from Positively Present.

10. Wisdom from Hafiz:

Ever since happiness heard your name,
it has been running through the streets
trying to find you.

11. More wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Our practice is to find our true home. When we breathe, we breathe in such a way that we can find our true home. When we make a step, we make a step in such a way that we touch our true home with our feet.

12. Good stuff on Bored Panda: 17 Of The Most Unusual Beaches Around The World, and Mesmerizing Paper Art Made From Strips Of Colored Paper by Yulia Brodskaya, and These People Turned Log Piling Into An Art Form.

13. Vegetarian Sweet Potato Chili recipe.

14. Anahata Katkin’s Flickr Photostream.

15. The Creamy Kung Foo of Writing True Stories from Laurie Wagner.

16. Why I Think This World Should End from Prince Ea.

16. New Backlit Paper Sculptures by Hari & Deepti on Colossal.

17. Then and now photos: Colorado flood recovery one year later from Colorado Public Radio.

18. You Cannot Hate Yourself Into Change from Jo Anna Rothman.

19. Wisdom from the poet Stonehouse:

I meditate alone in the quiet and dark
where nothing comes to mind
I sweep the steps when the west wind is done
I make a path for the moonlight

20. 5 Questions to Instantly Transform Your Family Relationships from MindValley Academy.

21. Accepting Ourselves…and our true delights from Julia Cameron.

22. 7 Steps to Living a Bill Murray Life, by Bill Murray.

23. The Horrible Awkwardness and Angst of Being a Beginner: In Aikido or at Anything on Huffington Post.

24. Learning How to Draw a Mandala from Jamie Ridler.

25. Good stuff from Be More with Less: 10 Strategies for Absolute Clarity and Identify Your Real Treasures and Finally Let Go.

26. Navigate Your Life: Justine Musk from Jennifer Louden.

27. Wisdom from Pema Chödrön,

In the morning when you wake up, reflect on the day ahead and aspire to use it to keep a wide-open heart and mind. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, think over what you’ve done. If you fulfilled your aspiration, even once, rejoice in that. If you went against your aspiration, rejoice that you are able to see what you did and are no longer living in ignorance. This way you will be inspired to go forward with increasing clarity, confidence, and compassion.

28. Wisdom from Natalie Goldberg:

[A practice] is something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere. You do it because you do it…you have an opportunity to meet your own mind, to examine what it does, its plays and shenanigans.

29. Wisdom from Isabel Foxen Duke:

…binge-eating is ALWAYS the result of restriction, and/or judgement of our food choices, and is there anything that triggers you into these feelings and behaviors more than wishing your body was different than it is?

30. Words for the Day :: No. 40 from Lisa Congdon.

31. Mortality as Muse.

32. If I Knew The Way, I Would Take You Home from Rebelle Society.

33. Louis C.K. Exposes My Stupid Brain on McSweeney’s.

34. Shake it off, the song that won’t get out of my head, has inspired some pretty cute tributes.

35. Elizabeth Gilbert Shares Her “Really Weird” Advice About Following Your Passion on Huffington Post.

36. Hey White People: A Kinda Awkward Note to America by #Ferguson Kids.

36. The #1 Secret on How To Engage With a Narcissist on Huffington Post.

37. From Brave Girls Club:

Dear Insightful Girl,

You already know the answers to the questions that are eating away at you. You just have to trust yourself enough to really listen and be brave with your decisions.

You know oh-so-much-more than you give yourself credit for. You have a good heart and powerful intuition and you really do know the right way to go, that doesn’t mean it’s always the easiest way to go…but the easiest path never was the most fruitful path, and you are one of the courageous souls who seeks the best fruit.

Trust your gut. It has never led you astray. You can do it — you are a Brave Girl. And you are so loved.

38. Women’s greatest threat isn’t misogyny, it’s counting calories on the Washington Post.

39. A Photographer’s Moving Tribute to the Pine Ridge Reservation on Slate.

An Open Love Letter to Cheryl Strayed

wildcovertammy

image by Tammy Strobel

Cheryl Strayed is a master of the opening line. She doesn’t hesitate, but rather drops you directly into the dead center of the story. In her essay “The Love of My Life,” she starts with “The first time I cheated on my husband, my mother had been dead for exactly one week.” In her piece “Heroin/e” she begins with “When my mother died, I stripped her naked.” Her novel Torch begins simply “She ached.”

Eric first brought home a hardback copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild from the “Here & Now” collection at the library a few months after it was released. He loves stories of climbing Mount Everest or sailing around the world alone, so a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail seemed like something he’d want to read. But it’s not really a book so much about hiking as it is a story about, as Cheryl says, “learning how to bear the unbearable,” a story about acceptance, her journey from lost to found. Eric really wanted to read about hiking the PCT so lost interest, didn’t finish the book, handing it to me one day saying, “It seems like the kind of book you’d like.”

You see, kind and gentle reader, I love memoir – coming of age stories, stories about finding oneself, narratives about becoming, about coming undone, about catalyst and transformation and salvation, about what it means to be human. These are my favorite kinds of books, the journey from lost to found. And my favorite ones are written by women who aren’t afraid to tell the truth, even when it doesn’t make them look good, who talk candidly and elegantly about the brilliance and the mess. Writers like Anne Lamott, Dani Shapiro, Caroline Knapp, Mary Karr, Laurie Wagner, Christina Rosalie, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

So Wild is exactly the kind of book I’d read, but I hadn’t read it yet. It was too popular. When that happens with a book, I find myself avoiding it. It’s something about being an introvert. When everyone is reading and talking about it, it feels too crowded somehow. I want my experience of it to be private. I want to be alone with it. It’s why it took me years to finally read Eat, Pray, Love. I had to wait until things got quiet.

But Eric had already checked out the book, and the “Here & Now” collection is limited to seven days so I started to read. Once I did, I could barely stand to put it down.

I confess, at first I was irritated by Cheryl’s story. The deeper she dug herself into the hole she was in, the more my discomfort grew. By the time her story got to her decision to have an abortion, I wanted to stop reading. I couldn’t stand to witness it, the self-destruction, the suffering she was generating on top of what she’d already been given. And yet, this was a book that I just couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t help myself. I had to stay with it, had to “keep walking” right along with her until the end, no matter how painful.

Having lost so much to cancer myself made some parts of this book especially difficult to read. Many times I had to pause because I could no longer make out the words through my tears. This is the impact much of her written work has on me. I’ve given away 20+ copies of her book Tiny Beautiful Things in the past few years, always with the warning “don’t read this in public if you are uncomfortable letting people see you cry.”

One night when I was getting toward the end of Wild, I was reading in bed and Eric, who sometimes can’t sleep with the light from my book lamp, asked “can you be almost done?” I did something I never do: I got up and went out into the living room so I could keep reading. I had to finish. The memory is still fresh of being alone in the living room, sitting in the gold chair in the corner wrapped in a blanket, finishing the story, closing the book, and sobbing. That weird and wonderful mix of wishing so hard that none of those awful things ever had to happen to her, to any of us, but also wishing they’d happened to me so I’d have that story to tell.

Cheryl Strayed does not shy away from the truth. She tells the whole story, even the parts that might make her look bad. And yet, she doesn’t add things for the sake of drama. Telling readers about her heroin use isn’t done to shock, or to make the story more exciting, it’s there because it’s essential to the narrative — tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal. And when she’s telling the truth, she does it with an elegance that presents the truth in its full measure, all its brilliance and all its mess. She says things like “Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do,” (in her essay “Heroin/e”). I confess that the library copy of Wild I read was returned with corners of pages bent down, a sign of my need to mark the shiny places.

In the introduction to Tiny Beautiful Things, Steve Almond says, “With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.” He’s talking specifically about what Cheryl did in that particular book, but I’d argue that’s what she does in everything she writes.

Cheryl Strayed is coming to Fort Collins on Thursday, and I’m going to see her. In preparation, I’ve been on a Cheryl Strayed bender these past few days — rereading her essays, watching videos, surfing her website, finally reading her novel, and considering what I might say to her if I get to speak to her directly that won’t make me sound like either a total idiot or a creepy stalker. If we were sitting down over a cup of coffee, it would be so much easier. I’d ask if she was an introvert or an extrovert, how she’s been coping with being away from her family and traveling so much, what was it like to meet Oprah, if she goes to the beach often and if so where exactly does she go, does she know where Waldport is, has she ever heard of Sublimity, why did she move to Oregon, how does she like it, does her family still own the 40 acres of land she grew up on, does she have pets, what are some of her favorite books or authors, what’s she working on next, and after telling this particular story in so many different forms does she feel like she’s fully processed it, is she done with it, what is her writing practice, her process like, aren’t marionberries wonderful, what do you love, what’s hardest for you, where does your struggle live now…all things that would make so much more sense in the context of a longer, more relaxed conversation.

So instead, I write her this open love letter. I’ll email her the link, but have no expectation that she’ll see it, come read it. And that’s totally okay. In the end, I suppose all I need to say to her if I ever get the chance, in order to tell her everything, is simply: Thank you for telling the truth, for making a map, shining a light where it’s dark. It helps me cultivate the courage to tell my truth, my story. I adore you.

Gratitude Friday

dudesatlory1. Colorado Fall, my favorite season, time for all the hiking — although I could live without all the rain we’ve been having.

fallground2. Practice — mediation, yoga, writing, and dog. Specifically this morning I was thinking of Susan Piver and her Open Heart Project. I can’t wait to see her again in December, in person not just on the screen of my phone.

3. New thyroid medication, which seems to finally be lifting the horrible fatigue, brain fog I’ve been living with for almost three years now.

4. Down blankets. It’s been cold and they are so cozy.

5. Pop music, specifically Taylor Swift’s new song, my new anthem, “Shake It Off,” which I can’t stop listening to.

Bonus Joy: Laughing with Eric, the last peaches and watermelons of the season, quiet, how much Sam and Ringo like each other.
playingwithsofttoys