Monday, December 28, 2015

Reflections on 2015 and the Power of Magic

"Magic in this case is power. Not power over others, but power 
beyond 'over others.' It is the power within oneself."
 - Chogyam Trungpa
Fairy wings and wands with the friends
who taught me to be proud of who you are.

A year ago I set two basic intentions. I wanted to write and I wanted to learn from the word that kept coming to me: "magic." 365 days later I am looking back at the multitude of adventures I could not have controlled or predicted. I feel thanks for the sense of inner strength that comes with age and practice. I feel more curious than afraid about what I don't yet know. I have deep appreciation for the pervading sense of ease I feel in how I move, commit, eat, speak, and behave. Truly, there is a richness to my life that I previously could only imagine.

When the word magic choose me, I didn't know what to do with it.  It turns out, magic isn't something you do. It is part of who we are. It is our ability to create beauty in even the difficult or mundane. It is the power to give unconditional love. It is needing less and having more. It is the awe that comes from seeing our intentions become our reality. It is the alchemy of bowing our hearts and heads to what is. It is play. It is joy. It is creativity and spontaneity and saying yes to life. It is the power to make someone's day. It is the power to love the life that is uniquely yours. It is nonaggression. It is grace.
Being brave while getting the word
"grace" tattooed on my foot somewhere in Brooklyn

Some highlights of 2015:
At Nan Seymour's writing studio
  • My resolution for the year was to write. I had no idea at the time, but writing is a way of making me get really, really honest. I left my teaching job which was making me miserable. I learned to use the phrase "what I really want to say" on a regular basis. I learned how to follow the outer expression of my inner life towards a more authentic reality. I learned that when we share who we are, we connect more deeply with others. I took 3 six-week River Writing classes and listened to other writers tell their stories. I have a renewed commitment to living a creative life and following the threads of truth, regardless of where they lead or how crazy they seem.
  • In June I had the honor of going on a remarkable 9 day trip to West Virginia and Virginia. I swam in the Atlantic Ocean. I made new friends. I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I explored old coal mining towns that were nearly abandoned. I learned about the three remarkable men who were my companions. I laughed until my stomach muscles ached.
Inside an abandoned school in Welch, West Virginia

  • I traveled to New York in August and I met a woman in Central Park who read my palm and told me, "whatever they put on your plate, Mami, you can always turn it around. Befriend your shadow. If you don't have a relationship with your own soul, you'll be fucked." I spent time with friends and family each navigating that relationship with their own souls. We encouraged each other towards authenticity.
  • In late September I received a letter from my friend Swan inviting me to meditate together for 100 days. Nothing has changed my life more. Through meditation I am learning to let things wash off instead of carrying them around. I feel a deep sense of stability being cultivated within. I am growing my capacity for presence, for freedom, for peace and equanimity. The less I hold onto, the more my heart expands.

  • At a point in my life where I felt my most autonomous, I reconnected with an flame. Our relationship has been entirely unexpected and deeply fulfilling. We have a deep respect for one another as organic beings. There is a felt sense of support in our interactions. There is honesty and kindness and trust. We are relating beyond imposed expectations with a real reverence and esteem for what is alive in each other in the moment. I call him my magical fava bean rose which is to say, "you are a precious and entirely unique individual. I love you with all my heart and as such, I won't try to mold you or force you or use shame or punishment. Absolutely all of your experience is welcome. You deserve to be adored exactly as you are." The abundant laughter and kindness and kisses and even the tears are food for my soul. Often I will be cracking up and will say,  "But, Pat! I hate to laugh!" to which my lover responds with, "but you're so good at it!" Surely this business of love is way too important to take seriously.

  • And now I am closing the year in sunny, peaceful Palm Springs with my aunt Martha and uncle Andy. I am rested and cared for and encouraged. If taking in this view doesn't give a sense of possibility, I'm not sure what will.

The more I pay attention, the more value I find in each moment. Surely, there are too many to capture and the best response seems to be gratitude.

There is a power within each of us. It is limitless and is always available. We just have to be open. It is clear to me that this life is a privilege. That it is an honor to be part of something bigger than myself.  I am reminded of this quote from the poet Atticus, " 'Put your hand on your heart.' the old man said, 'Inside you there is a power. there are ideas and thoughts that no one has ever thought of, there is the strength to love, purely and intensely, and to have someone love you back, there is the power to make people happy, and to make people laugh, and to fall in love- to change lives and futures- don't forget that power, and don't ever give up on it.'"

May we move forward into 2016 with optimism and the courage to head in the direction of our dreams. May we trust what unfolds for us. May we stay connected to our power to create the conditions for love, to create the conditions for laughter, to make manifest the beautiful lives we can imagine. Sending blessings and good will for your hopes and deep appreciation for our connection to each other.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Life As It Is, or 'What the Hell Am I Doing Here'?

My friends and I at the San Francisco Airport

Sunday night I got home from an Embodied Life retreat where we practiced embodied meditation (similar to Zen), deep inner listening, and awareness through movement lessons (based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais). The Embodied Life work is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It is extremely countercultural. Everything is done very slowly with an emphasis on our bodily experience and acceptance of each moment. I deeply love it.

However, lest you think I spent the weekend blissed out, soaking in gratitude and rose water, I thought it might be helpful to share my honest experience with you. I also want to say that I am deeply thankful to my friends MaryBeth and Luann, without whom I would not have attended retreat. Our connection as embodied women is a gift which I cherish.

  • I arrive at Santa Sabina. It quickly becomes apparent that I am the youngest person in the room by 20 years. There is another group sharing the retreat center with us. The median age must be 70. I think they’re Christian, but I don’t know because they are silent. One woman has a tracheotomy, one woman is recovering from a stroke. I eat my oatmeal in silence and watch old people eat. One day I’ll be old.

  • We sit in silent meditation in the dark. After 30 minutes or so, we move into walking meditation. It’s also silent. And extremely slow. It takes us 30 minutes to move 20 feet. I can’t shake the thought, “what the fuck am I doing?” After walking, we sit again, this time facing the wall. Then we bow to the ground three times.

  • I get chastised by an expired hippie named Blue for talking outside on my cell phone. Apparently I should have walked all the way to the parking lot. “They’ll tell on you, it’s against the rules,” she says, as if I am 10 years old.

  • We listen to our teacher tell us about his recent trip to Auschwitz. He talks about the pile of hair and gold teeth, about the survivors and how they made meaning and forgave and thrived. There are chills throughout the room.

  • My lover calls to tell me about a party he went to the night before. “There were so many beautiful people, and good whiskey, and dancing,” he tells me. “Cool. I’m happy for you,” I say. Silently I think, “I’d better get back so I can sit in the dark with a bunch of old people I don’t know. What the hell?”

  • I notice a woman named Barbara across the circle. She has the sort of poise and presence I am after. I whisper to her, “Barbara, you are stunning.” She replies, “and you.” On the last day I tell her, “this Feldenkrais is so not sexy.” To which Barbara replies in her gorgeous, British accent, “the word that comes to mind is potent. This work has potency, and potency is sexy.” I smile and take note.

  • I go for a long walk each day. I meet a man named Tom who was born without an arm. He’s proud of his paddle boarding business. I visit him the next two days. On the last day I tell him that I hope he’s very successful with his business venture. It feels good to talk to a real, live person who is my same age. It feels good to move.

  • My lover calls me and I share the things I am learning about. We get really excited about our shared discoveries. “Come home soon so you can teach me,” he says. “Learn all you can.”

  • One night we do our sitting meditation in groups of three. I find huge support from a stranger named Gary. I look at his still, solid belly and I know I, too, can sit.

  • On my way out the door, I slip a $2 trinket in my pocket from the gift shop. I have no idea why I’m stealing something I don’t really want. Later I realize it is an act of rebellion after spending the weekend being told what to do. I have issues with being told what to do. I have issues with being part of a group.

  • I call my mom and say, “I’m having a really hard time being part of the group.” She laughs out loud and wonders how this is surprising news.

  • My generous friend Luann brings MaryBeth and I into the airport Crown Room. We drink wine and I confess all the judgmental thoughts I’ve been keeping to myself. Like good friends, they listen, laugh, and share. I feel saved by their presence.

  • The truth is that the work of sitting and bowing and laughing and listening is really, really important. I want to dedicate my life to it. And it is not easy. Despite our best efforts, part of life is suffering. It is inescapable. I constantly find myself needing to forgive when I want to resent, needing more courage than I currently have, needing help from people who annoy me, needing to reconsider my fixed views, needing to be a little more vast, a little more loving, a little more brave, needing to try again. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice, regardless of how that opportunity shows up. Learning to embrace Life as it is, this, too, is our practice. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Intentionality, Unconditionality, and Letting Go

I only know that my need to listen more deeply has been answered with an undoing that has made me listen with my eyes, my heart, my skin. Now I wonder softly: Does a plant listen by breaking ground? Does sand listen by accepting the waves it can never escape? And how do stubborn souls like us listen? 

I feel like a painter who, after mastering certain brushes over the years, has come to the end of brushes; who in an effort to get closer to the light has thrown his brushes into the fire, to ignite more light. I am left finally to paint with my hands. I hope there is something helpful here. –Mark Nepo.

Roses sent to me by my friend Swan

I am sharing my experience because I believe the ways in which our lives unfold hold treasures for ourselves and others. For me, writing is a process of discovery and reflection and a way to continually come back to what feels truest and deepest. Writing and living in this way is the well from which I drink.

Six years ago my dearly beloved brother was killed in a car accident at this time of year. A couple of years later, the anniversary was marked by the mutual decision of my then-husband and I to divorce. Since then I have experienced two significant break ups, all occurring during the same transitional week from September to October. According to traditional Chinese medicine, autumn is the season associated with grief. For me, this is a truth that is repeatedly confirmed. As I sit to write this morning I watch the golden leaves of my neighbor’s maple prepare to make their descent to the earth below.

I share this history not to paint myself as a victim in anyway, but as a reminder that love and life are precious because they are impermanent. Everything shifts and moves and we are required to let go of both harmful and beautiful things. For me living creatively means that the process is far more important than achieving any particular outcome. In the end, life is the unfolding. I bow to that unfolding everyday and it cleanses me and teaches me to be present and patient and kind.

As I reflect on my most recent breakup, I feel sadness, but it is unadulterated. It is the pure emotion of grief and it is made sweet by the mutual respect, honesty, courage, warmth, and the ground of safety that was established in the interactions he and I had. Those things remain. There is a mutual understanding that has come from communication. From the very beginning of our interactions, I did not feel possessive of him. I was not in the relationship for my own gain. I felt warm and curious and supportive of his process and mine. In the last few years I have been living out a deep inquiry into nonviolence. Nonviolence to me means not forcing things. It means sitting very still and listening and making space for unconscious longings to emerge. This has helped me cultivate an attitude of neutrality and unconditional warmth towards what is. I feel deeply grateful to have been able to be a participant in this relationship where both beautiful and difficult things could show themselves and be received with equal warmth.

I am also grateful for the ways in which choosing to be nonviolent has made my intentions sharply clear. I am not interested in engaging with life at the surface levels of blame, drama, and protection. I am interested in kindness. I am interested in presence. I am interested in paying gentle attention. Perhaps I have become wise enough to know that what really needs to happen and what I think needs to happen are rarely the same thing. We are participants in a brilliant tale. This insight has resulted in a much greater capacity for allowing things to take their course. I am developing the patient abiding that creates space for things to soften, unwind, and dissolve. Part of presence is letting go of the need to change or fix or solve anything. This requires incredible trust and courage. It is also the best learning I have ever done.

I also want to say that life moves in a mysterious way. The most painful moments of my life are also the ones where I have been the recipient of real kindness and grace. As I look back over the last few years, I am brought to my knees by the people who have shown up for me in ways large and small to support me and feed me and give the necessary encouragement to take the next step in the most life-giving direction. The genuine goodness within the human heart is the sustenance on which our lives are built.

I want more than anything to live a truly creative life, to be a writer, to let go of all unnecessary things and throw “my brushes into the fire, to ignite more light.” I hope that my words can point people towards the rich depth of life which is also the depth within them. It is a true privilege to love deeply and let go. May the beauty of autumn remind us this is so.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beating Writers Block or Don't Trade Your Passion For Glory

He asked, "What makes a man a writer?" "Well," I said, "it's simple.  
You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge."
-Charles Bukowski
The New River Gorge Bride
in case you were looking for one to jump off

I have taken a break from this space for long enough.  It's not that I haven't thought of writing (and written!) in the last six weeks.  In fact, writing is the main tenant occupying my mind these days.  I just haven't mustered up the will to sit down and post something.  Instead I took a six week River Writing course from Nan Seymour (highly recommend), read some wondrously satisfying books (Blue Jelly, Wild Mind, Ruby to name a few), discovered the creative genius of Sy Safransky through his magazine The Sun, adventured through West Virginia, Virginia, and Utah, and had many soul stimulating conversations about writing and the creative life.  But sitting down and writing something that feels post-worthy, well, let's just say it's been a struggle.  I have essays, short stories, and perhaps a worthwhile novel in my head, but as long as I avoid sitting down and putting pen to paper, that's where they'll stay. 

I loved this post from Molly Wizenberg about procrastination.  Apparently it happens to the best of us. Yesterday my cousin Tom was in town from New York City.  He studied writing in college and is currently working on a screenplay.  As we hiked the trails in Millcreek Canyon, I told him how fired up I am about writing and then mentioned that I am not actually writing. He said simply, "well, it's work.  You have to show up.  You have to put in the time."  I could hear Nan's voice in my head inviting us to sit down and write really poorly, to be the most ordinary writer in the room.  

For the first time it dawned on me that the practice of writing is exactly like my other deeply held passion-cycling.  If you pick up cycling expecting greatness, there is no doubt you will be disappointed.  There is nothing noble about riding a bike.  It’s a lot of hard work.  It takes thousands of miles of effort to reach the effortless moments where you feel like you’re flying.  In other words, don’t trade your passion for glory.  You won’t get much.  Jock Boyer, the first American to ride in the Tour de France has often said that to ride a bike is to suffer.  Writing is the same.  It takes thousands of pages of shitty writing to distill a single nugget of wisdom.  It takes a commitment to experience every facet of your life from the mundane to the beautiful to the heart-wrenchingly painful.  Write anyway.

We write to discover what we didn’t know we knew.  We ride to discover frontiers beyond our everyday.  The acts themselves are a demonstration of faith in what we don’t know.  In the words of Slug, having to look for the path is a good problem to have.  Keep riding.

Writing well and riding well are both acts of grace.  Glory comes and goes.  Triumph is just a reminder that we were gifted momentary possession of a genius that never belonged to us in the first place.

The majority of training in both writing and riding is done alone.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  No one can do your work for you.  At the same time, community becomes necessary if you want to make real progress.  Riding with other people makes you faster.  Reading, writing, and listening with other thinkers adds richness to your words.  That is why so many great writers quote other people.

I could go on.  I could tell you how cycling and writing are pathways to paying attention to and connecting with a reality deeper and broader than the narrow, egoic ones we so often inhabit.  I could explain how sports and creative pursuits are both physical expressions of the human spirit.  I could tell you that commitment pays off, especially when you think it never will.  I can tell you this because despite there being an infinite number passions to choose from, Passion is always the same.  It is a driving commitment to a practice for the sake of practicing.  And it is worth it, always.  It’s good to be back.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Magic of 70 Percent Effort

All the images in this post were taken from this article
which I highly recommend.

Year ago I would work out with a personal trainer.  I admired her because she had attained a level of fitness I hadn't seen before.  She was a dedicated trainer and our sessions were intense- hours upon hours of plyometrics, heavy lifting, sled pulls, and sprints.  The group who trained with her would put in insane amounts of exercise.  They would arrive at the gym 30 minutes before our session to warm-up, put in a 90 minute training session, and then head off to ski or bike or run for the rest of the day.  It didn't take long for my body to become completely wrecked.  I would go in for the 90 minute training session and then go home to sit on the couch for the rest of the night.  My immune system was shot and every muscle in my body felt contracted and sore.  Eventually I quit training altogether.

In an effort to heal from chronic illness, I dialed back my fitness to the point of just walking and doing yoga.  That's when the healing began.  When I quit pushing my body, it did what bodies do- found the balance point of health and harmony.  I couldn't believe it.  I began to feel so good that I started working out again, but I kept my training in the 70 percent zone, or the zone of maximum growth. As Tai Chi master, Bruce Frantzis, explains, "striving for 100 percent inherently produces tension and stress because as soon as you strain or go beyond your capacity, your body has a natural tendency to experience fear and to begin, even without your being aware of it, to tense or shut down in response."  I discovered that by only giving 70 percent of my effort to my workouts, I could really get strong.  I would still use effort and break a sweat, but I would have something left in the tank at the end.  Working out became enjoyable again.  Had I continued putting in the 100% effort workouts, I never would have attained the level of fitness I have now.  I was only able to run a full marathon after I switched to training in the 70 percent zone.  (More on that later.)

What surprises me is that even with my discovery about moderate workouts, I am still struggling to find a moderate, sustainable lifestyle.  This modern world feels so fast paced and I feel an almost constant pressure to produce, perform, and achieve.  Balance and moderation are not highly prized in our world.  How often have you heard someone say, "look at what moderate hours he keeps at work!" or "she sure has a reasonable body!"  No one says those things.  This is why when I feel my life move towards balance, I start to wonder if there is something wrong with me.  Does balance mean letting go of all the goals that society praises you for attaining?

I have noticed that even when it comes to relaxation our approach is extreme.  Interested in meditation?  Why not give it 30 minutes twice a day!  Like yoga?  Why not do 30 classes in 30 days! There was the local yoga salesgirl who tried for years to get me to sign up for a 1,000 hour $4,000 teacher training program.  Is it not enough that I carve out time to attend a class a couple of times per week?  What is our obsession with taking things to an extreme?  I wonder if we are afraid of the middle path.

I have even noticed in the "enlightened" self-help community this "go big or go home" mentality.  After consuming too many messages of "if you can dream it, you can do it" and "I am unstoppable," I begin to feel discontent with my very ordinary, and yet miraculous life.  Its as if all the abundance around me is not enough.  I don't want to feel that way anymore.

This made me laugh.  It is so true! (Especially the part in black)

I want a life that is sustainable. I need a life that is sustainable.  As the school year comes to a close I feel like a marathoner at mile 24.  I need to conserve enough energy to make it to the finish line without collapsing.  I wish for myself the courage to be more content with moderation,  I hope I can cultivate greater appreciation for a life of balance.  I know what the opposite of balance can lead to- illness, injury, depression, or worse.  Walking the middle path does not mean living an average life because the average person lives a stressful life that fluctuates chaotically between different extremes.  Walking the middle path means giving 70 percent effort in a world demanding 110.  It means listening to what each moment is asking for.  It means rest and play and effort and confidence in one's own well-being.  I hope you will join me in this revolutionary practice of moderation.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Faith in Loving Fiercely the One Who is Rightfully Yours

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness 
and what we feel we are 
worthy of in this world. 
-David Whyte

There is something that I don't want to admit- not because I am ashamed of it, but because I wish it were not true.  That something is the amount of admiration and respect that I receive for being a moderately attractive, younger than 40, physically fit woman.  I know that I get attention and respect from certain people who would not give me that same attention if I were less fit, less attractive, or heavier.  It gives my words more weight. It also makes me sad to live in a world where many people making extremely respectable contributions to the world receive very little actual respect.  Other people who are arguably making the world a worse place to live receive wealth, fame, and admiration.

I have found that being perceived by others as "fit" holds a lot of currency in our society.  I'm not totally sure why this is.  I think it has a lot to do with insecurities.  We see someone who appears toned and fit and we assume that they have exceptional will-power, are living a healthier lifestyle than we are, or are perhaps morally superior.  I have experienced this on both sides.  People say things to me all the time like, "you eat healthy" or "I wish I were skinny like you" or "I'm sure you don't eat sugar" or "you probably don't get sick." It makes me so mad because the people making the comments have just projected an entire lifestyle onto me that is not true.  They've given me that untouched, "other" quality that we give to people we see as different from ourselves.  I've struggled with my health for my entire life.  I eat sweet things daily basis.  I have body image issues just like literally every other person I have ever met.  I am a human being.  I am a human being having a human experience.

I believe that all people deserve respect.  Our ideas deserve to be heard, our feelings deserve validation, our hard work deserves praise, our struggles deserve empathy.  In a society that respects extremes of youth and wealth and beauty while simultaneously condemning old age, under-funding and under-valuing public schools, shaming fat, and serving up a steady stream of media designed to make us feel inadequate, it is no wonder that we begin to question our worth.

I am not writing because I know what to do about this.  I am writing because it troubles me.  I think I'll start by doing the only thing I can think of to do which is show more respect to a wider variety of people.  I can keep the intention to see, honor, and remind those with whom I interact of their inherent value. I can continue to speak up from my own place of worth which is strengthened by the simple act of believing it is there.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Aging Well

This post is inspired by my first yoga teacher, D'ana Baptiste, who also owns Centered City Yoga.  She is powerful and graceful and has worked tirelessly to bring yoga to people who need it including public school teachers.  She is also a single mother of three boys.  In the last year or so I've noticed her being incredibly honest about what it means to be a woman aging or perhaps gaining weight in the public eye.  And then this photo showed up in my Facebook feed.

Beautiful, ageless Dana wearing scroungy clothes, sunglasses, and a hospital mask on her head, trying to cheer up her ex-girlfriend who was in a Mexican hospital recovering from pneumonia and knee surgery.  When I saw that photo I felt something shift inside of me.  There I was at work where I had already consumed an entire bag of chocolate at 9 am because being in a room full of needy kids everyday is jarring on the nerves,  And on top of the chocolate were the thoughts of guilt about my diet.  And how I am too tired to work out as much as I want to.  And wondering when will I lose the five pounds I've gained this year.  And while I'm thinking, I can feel my forehead furrowing and the wrinkles forming.  And all of that gets interrupted by this picture of someone showing up in the world in the best way they can, trying to do a little good and not let their ego get in the way of that.

It made me think of that beautiful Mary Oliver quote (which I first heard from D'ana) "you do not need to be good" (you could also insert skinny / ageless / perfect).  You do not need to be good, but whatever you do, do not stop showing up as yourself.  The world needs the gifts that only you can offer and those gifts have nothing to do with the size of your thighs or the smoothness of your face.
If you look at my forehead you will see the beginnings of my wrinkles.
Sometimes they show up more than others.
Please don't start telling me how to get rid of my them.
That will be a never-ending battle I'm not up for fighting.
I'd rather spend my life energy in other ways.

I am so grateful for those women who were born before me who continually redirect me to what matters.  It is easy to get confused.  It is easy to start believing the lies that we are not worthy of love and belonging because we are not perfect in some way.  It is tempting to start pouring our life energy into juice fasts or plastic surgery or hiding ourselves because we are embarrassed about how we look.  But the trouble with that is it becomes a struggle for belonging based entirely on control.  And what happens on the day that you can't keep up the diet or your stress gets the better of you?  You start to feel like you are less worthy of love and happiness.  You start to lose your confidence which is directly related to your empowerment.  True confidence comes from within and can go with us wherever we go.  It is our birthright as human beings.  And when we are truly confident we can begin the light we were born to share shine into this world.

Today is my mom's 64th birthday.  She is a woman who has truly spent every second of her life trying to make the world a better place and help as many people as she can.  (Those of you who know her can attest to this.)  When I was younger I used to wonder why my mom didn't get facials or have her nails done.  And I think the answer is this: life is short.  We have a limited amount of time and energy and every day we get to decide how we use it.  My mom decides to use her time building people up, empowering her fourth graders, helping give welfare to people in her church, creating happy memories for her grandchildren, planting flowers, making my father laugh.

Before my mom and I had lunch today, she said a quick word of grace.  "Thank you that Celeste came to visit me.  Thank you that I got to live 64 years.  I am so lucky."  Then her students came in and she played the Beatles' song "When I'm 64" while I had the kids make cards for her.  Their cards said it all.  "Thank you for teaching me."  "Your smile makes me want to learn and work hard."  "I love you because you are so fun and you are nice when I miss a problem on my homework."  Here is a glimpse of what really matters and what we leave behind when our time runs out.

Happy birthday, Mom!  Here's to growing older and bringing our whole selves- wrinkles, courage, cellulite, smiles, tears, kindness, acne, truth and authenticity to the party!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

What's Wrong With The Whole 30 or How Do We Love What We Love

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
-Mary Oliver

Here is a random smoothie I made to use up some fruit before it went bad.
Then I ate an entire 3 serving bar of chocolate which was delicious.

I want to start off by saying that if you have completed the Whole 30 and had a good experience, good for you!  I in no way want to take away your experience.  That said, I think that the Whole 30 and programs like it are damaging and hurtful.

If you've never heard of the Whole 30, it is a wildly popular diet with two best selling books.  I had a good friend jump on board with it so I decided to check it out.  Here are excerpts taken directly from the Whole 30 website:

"For 30 days eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients... More importantly, do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial, do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking, do not eat grains, do not eat legumes, do not eat dairy, do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites, do not try to re-create baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients."

It goes on to say:

"You are not allowed to step on the scale or take any body measurements for the duration of the program.  The only way this will work is if you give it the full thirty days: no cheats, slips, or “special occasions.” You must commit to the full program, exactly as written. Anything less and we make no claims as to your results, or the chances of your success. Anything less and you are selling yourself—and your potential results—short."

As I read through the website I could not believe the way in which readers were encouraged to treat themselves.  The tone I heard was condescending and controlling with no room for kindness or oatmeal.  Participants are supposed to feel like failures or "cheats" for eating a doughnut or some black beans?  Anything short of perfection is to be met with shame and guilt.

 The Whole 30 claims that it will reset your relationship with food.  First of all, food is one of the few things that everyone interacts with on a daily basis for their entire life.  It would be impossible to reset our relationship with it in one month of strict dieting.  Secondly, dividing up foods into categories of "good" and "evil" will not help us make healthy choices as we navigate our modern world.

What the Whole 30 is lacking (in addition to kindness and self-respect) is moderation.  I am not sure what our society's obsession with extremes is all about.  I know that it had been a challenge for me to prioritize balance in my own life.  Accolades are not given for living simply.  I think we all feel enormous pressure to give 110 percent of ourselves when we should perhaps be giving 70 percent and saving a little energy or a little money for a rainy day. The truth is that health doesn't come in a 30 day fix.  Eating a balanced diet is a process, not a destination that can be arrived at in a linear fashion.

So, where does true health and well-being come from?  I truly believe that it begins in relationship- our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with the larger world of which we are a part.  If you do not love yourself, no diet will compensate.  If you set up impossible standards for yourself, become extremely critical when you fall short, and are constantly trying to regain control then self-love will be a very hard road.  Trust me.

When I read material (such as Whole 30) that is written to inform grown-ups, I like to ask myself if I would apply the same techniques in my second grade classroom.  The answer is usually no.  Children are just smaller sized grown-ups.  They are learning and growing so quickly and in the process they make roughly 10,000 mistakes a day.  But you know what every kid I've ever met wants to know?  They want to know that it's going to be okay, that they are lovable, that their best is good enough.  I don't think that changes with age.

Here is what my hair looks like when I brush it out.
I have struggled to embrace it my whole life.
If I could find a tasteful way to photograph my cellulite, I would post that, too.
I am a human being worthy of love and belonging and you are, too.

When I started writing this blog, I had no idea that I would end up so publicly sharing my own clumsy journey towards being a more compassionate, more relate-able, more human- being. I am learning that there is a place for me with all of my imperfections if I am brave enough to step forward and claim it.  There is room for the soft animal that is me to love what it loves (including food of all kinds) and still have health, happiness, and belonging.  The quote I shared above is taken from a Mary Oliver poem.  I love how beautifully Mary reminds us, "whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Zest of A Radish (or, the story of my divorce)

I was a radish tossed into a sack of potatoes, trying hard to imitate a potato. "Why do these potatoes act like my sharpness, my bitterness, my incomparable zing are a pain in the ass?" I'd wonder. … 

Well, its time to raise your standards and honor that zing. Honor it in your friendships, in your work, in your recreational time, in your love life. Honor it and pay attention to those who honor it.
-Heather Havrilesky
Radishes are my favorite vegetable.  One year I ate over 1,000 of them.
This is a painting done by Lucille Conklin which hangs in my house.
When I recently came upon the above quote in
article, my
appreciation of radishes deepened.

This is the story of how I came to be divorced, but in order to tell it I need to go back in time, to before I was ever married.

My mother tells me that I was born strong-willed and rebellious. In her words, “Celeste, you have been feisty since you had breath to be feisty with.” Though it may have been difficult for my parents, I feel that my temperament was a necessary ingredient in cultivating the courage to pursue life on my terms. You see, I crave freedom the way other people crave convention- freedom of expression and exploration, freedom to feel exactly what I feel and speak without censorship. I live for the freedom to make the unknown known. This is the kind of freedom that terrifies most people, but for me it is life-giving. You can only imagine the blocks a personality such as mine might bump up against growing up in Mormon suburbia. As my friend Don says, “it must be funny for the people who know you day-to-day… thinking you’re this sweet and generous person they hang out with and not necessarily knowing this depth and burning urge for freedom.” Don gets it.

Fast forward to 2007. I had just started teaching school and was working long hours. One weekend, I decided I wanted to go out dancing. I mentioned this to my brother Joe, specifically stating that I just wanted to get out and have fun. I was not looking for a relationship. I ended up going dancing with one of Joe’s friends. He was smart and confident and we had some chemistry. By that first date, he knew he was in love and told me that he planned to marry me. I loved him, too, but deep down I knew that he had no idea who I really was. When I tried to tell him, he didn’t listen. He was looking at diamonds and planning our life complete with kids and a house in the suburbs. On the day he proposed I asked him what he wanted in a wife. His immediate reply was “a girl with a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” I told him in no uncertain terms, “I am not that girl.” He claimed he didn’t care.

The following two months were tumultuous. I felt pressured into making one of two choices: break up or get married. I wasn’t ready to break up and so, in early December we eloped. I have never regretted the decision to get married. I learned a lot about myself and I was forced to out grow some old insecurities. My husband and I had a lot in common. We both cared about each other, we were smart and talented. We wanted a lot out of life. But, where I had been born fighting convention, he was the exact opposite. He had spent his life striving for normalcy. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college. He had dreams of church leadership and fatherhood. I had dreams of travel and of connecting with fellow free-thinkers. For four years we made it work.

We didn’t fight much, but we didn’t connect much either. We knew what topics would spur an argument and, for the most part we avoided them. Slowly, we began to live separate lives. One day, in 2011, I rolled over in bed and said, “I think we need a divorce.” He calmly replied, “I agree.” Our whole divorce process went quite smoothly and quickly. Neither of us wanted anything but a chance at happiness. I didn’t ask him for a penny. My freedom was reward enough. He went on to meet a truly lovely Mormon girl whom he married in the temple. Their son is turning one this month.

I went on (after a couple of rebound relationships) to settle into, and thrive in, life as a single person. In the months where I was trying to decide whether or not to divorce, I had many family and friends encourage me to stick it out, to endure the censorship of my soul. They would say things like, “you don’t want the stigma of divorce,” or “when you find a good man, you keep him,” or (and this one is the one I LOVE to hate) “you don’t want to get old alone.” The truth is, I never worry about getting old alone. I really like my own company. I sincerely believe that the only thing worse than death is not really being able to live one’s true life in the first place. I’ll risk solitude for the privilege of a lifetime: the chance to be myself.

I will say that our society has no idea what to do with a woman who is single and childless by choice. I know that there are several well-meaning friends out there praying that I’ll find a man or religion or both. While I appreciate their good intentions, this kind of pity does not endear me. Instead, it fuels my fire. I do not get my worth from my marital status. My place of belonging in this world is certain. I am worthy because I say I am. I am worthy because I am here.

I think a lot about my brother Charlie who passed away in 2009. In a lot of ways his death was the beginning of the end of my marriage. Charlie was the first person in my life who loved me unconditionally. He had the sort of energy and fearlessness that most people only read about in books. He was brilliant and bold and loved without expectation. Even during my marriage, he was the person I would talk to and confide in the most. He explained the world in a really wise and wonderful way and tried to give me pointers for winning at the game of life. He wanted my freedom even more than I did. He encouraged me to listen to myself and honor what I heard. When he passed away I lost my mentor, brother, confidant, and best friend. I also slowly realized how much my marriage was lacking.

It is not always easy to step into the unknown, but it is worth it. Since getting divorced, I have never once wished I were married. There have been hard times, yes. There are still moments when I feel alone- especially since my only other non-Mormon family member is gone. But even in those painful times there is the peace that freedom brings. There is the satisfaction that can only come from living life on one’s own terms. Whenever I start to compromise and allow my fears to run the show, I feel Charlie’s presence. It tells me, “Celeste, you love yourself too much to live a life this small.”

The day after we received the devastating news of Charlie’s passing, his law partner sent this quote. It was so fitting that we had it printed in my brother's funeral program. It is not always easy being a bright, spicy radish in a world of potatoes, but it is far better than being stifled.

“I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark

Should burn out in a brilliant blaze

Than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor,

Every atom of me in magnificent glow,

Than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.”

-Jack London

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Work (or, the courage to follow what matters)

Yes, leave it to me to create hope where there was none
The human being shall cast shadows on the sun
Leave it to me to create hope where there was none
My inner soul shall cast shadows on the sun
-Brother Ali
Me and my brother Charlie before his death in 2009

“The mundane details of our life eat us up. 
Therefore it is important to keep asking ourselves again and again:
what is the most important thing?”
– Pema Chodron

I have been going through some serious angst related to my job.  The truth is that it is much harder than what I could accurately describe to you.  It isn't just dealing with kids (and raising normal, healthy kids is very hard work), it is the dysfunctional kids, it is those parents who are worse than neglectful, it is a system that does not honor teachers but instead blames them for everything that is wrong with our society when they are the ones who are doing something to fix it.  It is watching good, brilliant, hard-working women be beat down under a structure that is designed to create failure.  After eight years I have reached a breaking point.

This has led me to seek other options.  This week alone I've contacted several friends working in the corporate world as well as every graduate program the University of Utah has to offer.  I want to show the universe that I am willing to do whatever it takes.  This morning I took the initial steps of applying to an MBA program.

Except, the thing is I don't really want an MBA.  Like, not at all.  Not even a little.  And I am really, really bad at faking things.  Fortunately for me, this afternoon I found myself in the writing office of my friend and exemplar, Nan.  I have been trying to clean out my house and my life of any unnecessary clutter so I can prioritize those things that matter most.  In the midst of dropping off random paper, I asked Nan for her opinion.  Can one really follow their bliss?  What do I do with the nagging tugs on my heart and soul to make more meaning of my life?  How do I reconcile my need to work with my need to contribute my soul's gifts while I am here?  Can I find a life where I am giving service and feel good at the same time?  In a world that will neatly knock the dream out of you, how do I know it is still okay to dream?

These are not selfish questions.  They are essential.  This is not about laziness or a desire to not work.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  It is about the desire to make our lives matter, to make our work matter, to give our unique set of talents and gifts to the world in the way that only we can do.  It is about finding the courage to show up and work with integrity in a world that is trying everyday to stop you from doing exactly that.

Nan's words spoke straight to the heart of the matter.  "Celeste, you are the most vibrant of people.  Of course you deserve to dream.  All the dreams in the world belong to you."  And she meant it.  She went on to mention that I wouldn't be very happy in the corporate world.  As soon as she she said it, I realized that I already know it to be true.  I think there's where the angst comes in.  There is a tremendous amount of pressure in this world to conform.  But the human soul yearns for freedom.  And at times the road less traveled is lacking in signage.

I recently read this article by Paul Kalanithi who passed away earlier this year at the tender age of 37 from cancer.  In it he describes how it feels to want to know a definite timeline for his life.  His oncologist ends up telling him, "I can't tell you a time..  You've got to find what matters most to you."  Those words, while particularly poignant for Mr. Kalanithi, are true for all of us.  I am currently 32, the same age as my beloved brother when he was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to work.

None of us knows how long we've got, and (while abundantly clear in the face of death) in the mundane heaviness of day to day life what matters most is not always obvious.  A myriad of external things are vying for our attention, our time, worries, and effort.  In fact, that is where my main frustration with teaching public school has come from- the prioritization of trivial things.  So, while my career path remains unclear, I feel a renewed courage to speak my truth.  I know exactly how it feels to be free and how it feels to have compromised myself.

My commitment to that internal compass remains.  I will continue to show up authentically and to look for ways I can give my gifts to the world.  I believe this quote from Deepak Chopra to be true with all my heart.  May we have the courage to honor the alignment our souls are seeking.

"When you’re living your true purpose in life, your dharma, abundance flows to you easily and effortlessly. As the popular saying goes, 'Do what you love and the money will follow.'  It is not only material wealth, but also satisfaction, confidence, optimism, joy, and abundance in all its forms that will follow you when you are living [a life with integrity.]"

Sunday, April 19, 2015


"Ruby had felt it then. The audacious hope of rooted things. 
The innocent anticipation of the shooting stalks,
the quivering stillness of the watching trees.
” - Cynthia Bond
Tulips from my friend Tim's garden

I wanted to post an update today because I am feeling much more hopeful.  This morning I went for a run and the thought finally clicked "I am going to leave teaching."  I think that up until that point it was something I wanted to do, but really didn't know if it was possible.  It didn't help that all of my coworkers are in my same boat,  Teachers talk to each other a lot and I never hear anyone say, "I love this job.  It is so amazing.  I feel fulfilled.  I feel appreciated."  Instead we say things to each other like, "I am breaking down.  I don't know how much longer I can do this.  Can you believe [insert unbelievable event] happened?!  My family is concerned for me."  And yet we each convince ourselves to show up each day. 

The arguments for staying put are clear and I have repeated them every single day for the last 8 years.  The arguments in favor of doing something new (and, as of now, unknown) are not so clear.  But moving into uncharted territory is something I have done before.  I remember having a similar feeling when I left the LDS church and also when I got divorced.  Those were scary things to do, but I was so much happier after I did them.  When I think about doing something new, I feel lighter, happier, and more hopeful.

I also know that looking for a job will go much better if I am in a place of peace and positivity.  I plan to leverage the power of the universe (I know that is a bold statement) to move in the direction of the life I want to be living.  I don't know how long it will take, but it feels possible.

I feel happy to even have a glimmer of hope and to start moving in a new direction.  I plan to write more often and really move towards the things that bring me to life.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


There is a truth I need to acknowledge.  It isn't something I want to focus on, but rather something I know I need to admit.  Here it is:  life is hard.

I titled my blog glowing and grateful because gratitude is something that comes easy to me.  I feel grateful often and I express it.  Positivity is one of my strengths.  But for the last few months I have felt a struggle that I can't gloss over by counting my blessings or thinking on the bright side.  I don't even have the exact words for it.  There is some anxiety, defeat, exhaustion, and depression that I feel during part of every day.

I think that part of it is related to my job.  I wrote a post about a month ago where I described what my job is like.  But I wrote that post knowing it would be read by many people.  It did not tell the whole truth.  The whole truth is that most days my job feels impossible.  It feels thankless.  It sucks the soul out of me.  There are core parts of myself that are silenced the second I walk into the school doors.  This year they gave us 4 days for spring break when we needed a full week.  I am tired.  Yes, I am good at what I do.  Yes, I know my work is important and that I owe it to the kids to take good care of them.  But at the end of the day I give much more than I receive from work.  And the scary part is, I transferred schools and my job is better than it has ever been.  I am surprised that I survived my first years of teaching.  I think I still have post-traumatic stress from those experiences.

Because work is so challenging, I spend every moment outside of work trying to practice self-care.  I go to bed early and unwind with chamomile tea.  I wake up and prepare healthy foods and meditate.  I blow off steam at the gym or on my bike.  I pet my dog as often as I can.  I visit friends who uplift me.  I read and listen to inspirational thinkers.  And it still doesn't feel like enough.  The other thing that doesn't help is the phrase "other people have it so much worse."  I know how lucky I am and that there are people praying for things I take for granted.

This winter and spring I've had issues with my heater.  I know that sounds like such a trivial thing.  But its not.  I've had repair men come out to my house a total of 10 different times so far.  I've spent over $1,000 on repairs.  My parents have helped me with the cost, but the experience has compounded my stress.  In addition to the time, money, and cold house it has brought up so much fear for me.  I have fears about not having enough money and my biggest fear in the world is that I will lose Boo.  I love him more than I've ever loved anyone.  So I worry that some electrical issue or heating issue will cause me to lose my home or my dog which are the two things that keep me sane.

I have been looking for another job since December, but finding the right one is not so easy.  Teaching does have some awesome perks.  I have a lot of time off, job security, and decent pay.  I also have some level of autonomy.  I want to appreciate these things and I want to find the right fit for my talents.  The other truth I've realized is that many of my talents don't pay much.  I'm good at fitness, cooking, mindfulness practices, writing, and creative pursuits.  So I'm looking and praying and hoping that I can find a job that supports my life.  I am willing to work hard.

I don't know exactly where this sense of struggle is coming from.  It is probably one of those life experiences that I will just need to ride out.  It could be seasonal or hormonal or job-related.  It could last the rest of my adult life or it could go away tomorrow.  But I feel like it is important to honor my struggle and be honest about how I really feel.  I have deactivated my Facebook account to silence some of that noise and let my heart tell me exactly what it wants to.  It might be ugly, it might be hard.  But life is sometimes hard.  If I can honor that for myself then I can honor that for the people in my life who might also be going through a struggle.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Anne Lamott on Writing

"Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart--your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it's why you were born

Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. ... Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won't, it can't. But writing can. So can singing."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


I had the opportunity to visit a good friend today.  I say good friend not because we've known each other long or been through a lot, but because she modeled and provided the things a good friend does- acceptance, wisdom, respect, curiosity, permission to be oneself.

As we chatted over our coffee and cake I was reminded of my intentions for starting this blog in the first place.  I wanted to have a place where I could freely express all the richness under the surface that I wasn't able to give voice to in my daily life.  I want this space to be as unedited as possible.  I realized that I might write more often if I dropped the obligation to find an inspiring quote or photo or come up with just the right words.  I still love photography and quotes, but I don't want them to get in the way of my spirit freely expressing itself.

Another thing that was illuminated during our visit was how I base the worth of a piece on what other people might say or think about it.  At one point I was envious of Internet personalities (Deepak Chopra, Brene Brown, Kelly Rae Roberts to name a few) who make a living writing, photographing, teaching, and selling their own take on life.  And today it hit me, "thank God I don't have a following.  What a relief!  I don't have to cultivate a following."  I already have a full-time job.  This space is not for making money or accumulating "likes."  It is so that my ideas, opinions, and desires can be heard.  If they resonate with you, that's awesome.  And if they don't, equally awesome.  Because we all need the freedom to feel what we feel.

*As a side note, I have noticed that whenever I post something related to teaching, it gets a huge positive response.  However, teaching is not the nearest or dearest thing to my heart.  In fact, sometimes I feel like it is slowly suffocating my soul.  Some of the posts that mean the most to me get very little attention from readers or friends.  But they still matter to the one writing them.*

I am going to give a little more authority to what I've learned about myself.  I'm not a big reader of books or watcher of movies.  I am tired of the whole "go big or go home," "anything is possible" mentality.  Having an organized living space is more important to me than making big, creative messes.  It helps me think more clearly.  I value alone time as much friend time.  I have to force myself to go to yoga even though I know I'll feel better after.  I never force myself to go running or walking or cook a yummy meal.  I don't want kids and at this point I don't want a romantic partner.  All of these things may change, but I want to honor what is true for me for now.  Emphasis on for me, for now.  I wish you the guilt-free permission to honor the same stirrings for what is true for you in your current life situation.

Why I Don't Want Kids

"People who want children are all alike.  
People who don't want children don't want them in their own ways."
-Leo Tolstoy

This book arrived today.  "Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed, Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids."  Not wanting to have kids is something I have been wanting to write about for awhile and I'm hoping that some of the essays in this book will speak to my own heart and some of its deeper desires.

In my entire adult life (I am 32 now) I cannot remember ever having the desire or yearning to have a child.  I think the reasons for this are as much about what I don't want (sleepless nights, daycare bills, germs, mess) as they are about what I do want (freedom, quiet, simplicity, health, space to hear myself think).

This is one of those decisions which is near to my heart, but has taken some time to express vocally.  In much of my life it has felt taboo to say out loud "I don't want kids."  But I don't.  Not any part of me.  I'm not a baby person.  I'm not really a kid person either.  While I teach elementary school (and do a great job at it) I spend most days encouraging, sometimes even begging, my students to grow up.  My favorite part of the year is the end of the year when they have matured somewhat.  I don't have the patience or tolerance to go through the process with another person.

The sacrifice of having a child and raising it well is a demanding one.  It's okay to not want to make it.  I also think it is misleading to think that you can raise a child AND still do all of the other things you did before or that you might want to do.  Hell, I find it hard to do the things I want to do without having children or a significant other.  As one of the writers in the book says, "having it all is a slogan for ad execs and life coaches. I'll settle for having freedom of choice."

I'm not sure how much more I'll explore this topic.  I no longer feel a strong need to justify my life decisions. I guess that's the power of growing older.  Our life speaks for itself.  I'm happy with the freedom to make choices that feel right to me and I absolutely want to extend that freedom to others (including those who feel passionately about having a family). 

Having answered the question of whether or not to have kids, and being comfortable enough to not defend my position, I can now focus more on what I do want to have.  Some qualities coming up for me are a simple life, a sense of wholeness, time and space to unwind in, connection to a supportive network of enlightened beings, and clarity.  Moving forward, I hope to explore more of these core desired states.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

An Ode to Exercise

“Our goal is that more people begin to follow their inner guidance, in diet [and exercise]
 as well as all areas of their lives. We offer encouragement for [you] to make the changes
 that ultimately support a life of kindness and compassion.”
 –Paul Pitchford, author of Healing With Whole Foods

At the top of a hike with my good friend (and hero) Tim.
If it weren't for the gym, I wouldn't even know him.

I have been wanting to write this post for awhile now. I did a first draft, but it didn't convey the fullness of the message I wanted to share. So here’s my second attempt.

What I really want to say is that this body, this life I’ve been given is an enormous gift. Gene Gendlin says, “your physically felt body is, in fact, part of a gigantic system of here and other places, of now and other times, you and other people, in fact the whole universe.” Rumi also tells us, “do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.” If this is true, if our physical presence is the most valuable thing we own (at least as valuable as the whole universe), then wouldn't it make sense that we would try our best to take very good care of it?

But when I look around, I don’t see a society of people who are nurturing and tending to this precious gift. I see a society deeply disconnected from itself. For a society obsessed with health, we are awfully unhealthy. We have reduced our diets to calories and isolated nutrients and have vilified one of only three macronutrients available to us (carbohydrates, which we’ve turned into a four letter word “carb”).

As far as fitness, we have turned it into a strange pursuit wherein we objectify the body, prioritize achieving trivial goals, and ultimately push, prod, and punish ourselves and wear the result as some sort of badge of honor. While I love exercise, there are many reasons why I don’t want to associate myself with the term “fitness."  As Edward Yu says, “I’m unsettled about associating the human body with the word, fitness, because of its link to the term, survival of the fittest. Nature kills off those who are “unfit” and in doing so, separates the chaff from the wheat, so to speak… A question that we have forgotten to ask is: “Fit for what?” If I am deemed fit to be on a magazine cover, does that also make me fit for the rest of life, which occurs outside of the confines of a photography studio? Should Albert Einstein, who probably never performed a single push-up, be deemed “unfit”?"

And yet, I deeply love exercise.  In many ways it has saved my life and is a priority to me.  I have given it some thought and come up with this clarification on what exercise IS and IS NOT (at least in my opinion).

At the finish line with my parents after their first half-marathon ever at age 62.

Exercise IS:
  • A chance to socialize. 
  • A chance to be alone, hear my own voice, and deepen my connection to myself.
  • A time for fun and play. 
  • An immediate connection with nature. When I am walking or running or biking through the outdoors, I get the sense that the life force I see in a rushing river or hear in a bird’s song, or feel in a gust of wind is the exact same life force pulsing through my veins. The more I workout, the more I prefer the church of the great outdoors to the confines of a gym. 
  • The chance to clear my mind and blow off all the stress of the day. It is a practice guaranteed to clear and energize my body so that my spirit can thrive. It cleans away the sticky “gunk” of everyday living.
  • A reminder of how strong we are. Life is a great and challenging adventure, but I believe with the right care, we are up for the task.  Workouts (especially ones that push our boundaries) are reminders of how much is possible.  We are capable of so much more than we realize. 
  • Exercise is a chance to practice self-care by honoring myself and moving in a way that embodies wholeness, grace, strength, and ease. (Yes, I believe ease and exercise belong in the same sentence.) 
  • Exercise is an easy way for me to step out of the stream of my own thinking and actually embody my body. 
  • Finally, exercise builds my strength, confidence, flexibility, endurance, power, and grace which (if you think about it) have more to do with the natural qualities of the human spirit than with the attainment of a temporary fitness goal. 
Spinning out some major watts with friends at Plan 7 Endurance Training.

Exercise ISN'T:
  • Exercise is not a punishment. It is not a whip with which to beat yourself when you eat a doughnut or have gotten out of shape (probably because of life circumstances that took over).
  • Exercise is also not a measure of your worth as a human being. Some of the greatest people I’ve ever known have not been in the greatest shape. I am slowly learning that a fit version of me is every bit as worthwhile as an unfit version.
  • Exercise is not about pleasing anyone other than yourself. I have a hard time when exercise instructors use the phrase “I want” as in “I want to see your legs up high” or “I want to see that core pulled in.” Excuse me. My workout has nothing to do with what you want. It is a time to listen to my body. 
  • Exercise is not a form of brutality. I began noticing that there were few workout classes where the participants were actually smiling. Furthermore, I noticed many instructors who spent more energy pushing their students rather than encouraging their students. Exercise is seen as some sort of horrible chore which we must force ourselves to get through. 
  • Finally, exercise, for me, is NOT another way to objectify our bodies. When we turn ourselves into objects, we become separated from the whole structure of living things of which we are a part. Once we have created that division (our body vs. the rest of our lives) it is so much easier to treat the divided entity with violence (because it’s not part of ourselves, obviously). I feel like in many ways we can’t see the forest for the trees. We overemphasize being fit and working out, but have completely lost touch with the essence within.

Playing around with an assisted handstand

When exercise and other practices of well-being (such as a positive attitude and balanced diet) are practiced, there is no limit to the vitality and joy we can experience. Ultimately our bodies are the physical foundation for growing our awareness (and the qualities of awareness- gratitude, vitality, joy, kindness). I hope with all my heart that you will join me in allowing ourselves to spend more time feeling good. Our bodies are a gift, a miracle in motion.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The good, the bad, and the ugly (or freedom to stop pretending)

All in all is all we are.
-Kurt Cobain

Sometimes I forget that I have a darker side, that I am a lover of the night.  The sight of graffiti makes me happy.  I light up when I hear Rage Against the Machine or gangsta rap with explicit lyrics. I have one tattoo and plan on getting another.  I feel most alive when I am taking risks.  I start my day with strong coffee.  Suburbia bores me completely.  My favorite people are people with an edge, usually several.

But I am also a lover of the morning, of puppies, roses, and the color pink.  My heart swells when I am preparing vegetarian meals in my sunny kitchen.  I believe that kindness is more important than strength and I try to grow it within myself.  I am in love with sunshine and yoga.  I am a second grade teacher.  The photo above was taken at 2 a.m. in the Salt Lake cemetery by my dear friend and phenomenal photographer, Zoe Rodriguez.  It was incredibly daring, fun, and freezing cold.  Four hours later I got up, showered, and went to work.  For me, these are all integrated aspects of the multi-dimensional life I am lucky enough to live.

Beyond ideas of darkness or light, good or bad, I am a hopelessly flawed human being. Sometimes I yell at my students, loudly. I often am often wired or anxious. When I buy organic almonds in bulk, I write the non-organic PLU on the tag because they cost less. I am incredibly vain and do not appreciate the wrinkles taking up residency on my face or the five pound weight gain that won't go away. I worry on a daily basis that something will happen to make my life harder. I worry that I won't make it through. I still get trapped in comparison and greed and artificial identities I construct for myself.

There is a lot of Internet talk about "embracing imperfection" and while I understand the intention, I disagree with the language. Our lives are perfect exactly the way they are. I have a great love for this perfectly imperfect human experience. It isn't perfection I want to shine a light on, it is pretense.  Pretending is the sweeping-under-the-rug of anything that might be considered ugly, dark, or undesirable. It is taking the airbrush to our lives until they are soul-numbingly boring. Pretension is the act of erecting walls between us and other people, or between us and the experience of being alive. It is completely rooted in fear.  It blocks the natural flow of our impulses and the generous support we can receive by being permeable.  Pretension is isolating.

There is a real sense of life that comes from tearing down those walls. There is a freshness that comes from the ability to relate to people on an even playing field. There is a lightness that comes from not needing to be the good guy or bad girl (or vice versa) but in just being who we are- flaws and all.

In the words of Rumi, "out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense."  Here's to meeting one another in a fuller world.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What It Means To Be A Teacher

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, 
whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. 
As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks-
-we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” 
-Parker Palmer

During my senior year of college I worked part-time at the Boys and Girls Club in Rose Park. I remember being amazed by the children who went there. I could see a light in each and every face and I wanted with all my heart to always be able to see that.

I graduated with a double major in political science and economics and moved to Massachusetts to start working on my Ph.D. in economics. I was fascinated by the causes of poverty and I wanted to make a difference in the economic inequality of our world. Massachusetts was cold and isolating. While I made many good friends there, I felt like I was suddenly disconnected from the people I wanted to help. I felt trapped in an ivory tower.  I missed the faces of the little people in Rose Park.

In June 2007 I graduated with my master’s degree and moved back to Salt Lake. In July 2007 I started teaching second grade at a high-need Title One school. It was trial by fire. I worked 60 hours a week to teach and prepare. I took classes after work to get my teaching certificate. I was sick much more than I was healthy. I had many toxic coworkers who made my daily life harder instead of helping to ease the burden. I saw firsthand countless dysfunctional situations and people. It was much, much harder than I had bargained for.

This year I have changed schools and that has made a big difference.  I have also learned over the last few years to take excellent care of myself, to set boundaries, and to have relaxation at the forefront of everything I do. I still question my sanity on a daily basis (and the sanity of those I interact with). The following is a snapshot of what it is to teach elementary school in Utah.

  • We have a spontaneous vote on our favorite Ninja Turtle. When I forget Raphael’s weapon, one boy becomes adorably animated, jumps out of his chair and acts it out. I laugh out loud. (It is a sai in case you also forgot).
  • The kid with strep throat (who came to school anyway) won’t stop sucking on his fingers and touching things.
  • “What great things will you do with your life” is a daily topic of conversation. We delight in discovering our talents and cultivating big dreams for ourselves. We are already thinking about what we will be when we grow up.
  •  I ring a bell to get the children’s attention. Then I say “raise your hand if you can hear me.” No one raises their hand. One kid is crawling on the floor, another is barking like a dog. 
  • I enjoy the friendships of many children and their parents. One brings me a latte on a hard day. I witness the great love with which these parents raise their kids.
  • I am exhausted taking care of a generation of kids being raise by television and Nintendo. If one more person has a child they won’t take care of, I might scream.
  •  I draw strength and inspiration from my colleagues. They listen when I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They bring chocolate and flowers. They become part of my inner circle as our friendship extends beyond the bounds of our job.
  • I literally cannot get through three words without being interrupted. I begin to look forward to death.
  • Children live in a world of possibility and imagination. Every day at 11:11 we make a wish. I buy a bottle of glitter in December. I tell them it is fairy dust from the North Pole. They believe me.
  • After buying every child a folder for homework, copying homework, passing it out, explaining it in detail, and modeling how to pack it in my backpack, I see three folders left on the hallway floor after school.
  •  I thrive in a classroom where positivity is the norm. Everyday kids congratulate each other. We say things like “awesome job!” and “today is a great day!” Even little things like rain or a good book are causes for celebration and awe.
  • I feel invisible except for when I need the children to work. Then they come to me to blow their nose, tie their shoes, listen to their stories, look at their paper cuts, and hug them. This happens no less than thirty times a day.
  •  I see and facilitate amazing learning with reading, writing, and math. I am amazed by the problem solving and creative thinking abilities of my students. They grow and progress so much in such a short amount of time.
  • I attend mind-numbing, soul-crushing meetings before or after a busy workday. These are often put on by people who don’t actually teach kids. They try to dissect the process of teaching and learning into as many pieces as possible. They make the little things a priority and throw out the important things. I always leave the meetings feeling devalued and overwhelmed
  • We have a practice in my classroom of seeing each other with silent respect. I look every child in the eyes every day, often multiple times. Sometimes I have my students sit silently with a partner, just looking at each other for thirty seconds. We love being seen. We love having spotlights and really getting to know each other. We become a tight knit community by the end of the year.
  • My schedule, my pay, and my requirements are outside of my control. Five years into teaching they did away with the year-round schedule (which I loved). School started an hour earlier than it used to. One year they cut 5 days from my contract (and the pay that went with it). Another year they added 8 days (and took away a week of summer vacation). Sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of a chaotic society that values having children but does not value raising them once they are here. I feel invisible as a person.
  • And, just today, two little girls came in from lunch with blossoms in their hands. “Here, Teacher. We picked these for you. We love you. Thank you for teaching us.” And, as simple as that, I can keep going.