Piano keys clang, riding in and out of melody like rebel cowboys. The vacuum has been on for what feels like four hours. Every 30 seconds my step son discovers that the hose makes a peculiar screeching when he puts it near plastic, like how a thousand tiny mice would sound if they were dying inside your ear drum. The dishwasher is running and the dryer is tumbling. My husband, who has a calm demeanor and an absurdly high tolerance for noise, resembles a deaf monk, doing dishes serenely as if our home were some meditation shala. It makes me angry (like irrationally furious) to watch him grin (peacefully) with two large crescent dimples, looking stupid hot while he remains unperturbed by his wildly loud children.
Incessant, high volumed sound unravels me and that’s to put it mildly. I often feel shame about this. A critical voice in my mind chastises my auditory struggle as something ridiculous and embarrassing.
“Pull it together,” the voice scolds, “there are much harder things in life. You can’t handle a little noise!?!”
My younger step son hums constantly. My older step son only ever talks in the volume you use when projecting your voice for an audience at the theater. Sometimes they scream like crazed demons when they get hurt or pissed off at each other.
Children are loud. That’s the reality.
They also cultivate magic, generate joy and offer pure, uncensored insight.
The trade off is undoubtedly worth it.
Since we moved in together, I thought the solution for cohabitation was to wrestle my sensitivity into nonexistence. For a writer who writes frequently about shameless self love and acceptance, my blind spots are...well...blind.
As a million mice died inside my head and piano key cowboys declared war on resonance and my sexy buddha husband cleaned sweetly, I felt an uprising of tenderness.
I sensed a still truth and the truth said:
I am a creature of quiet. I like to be approached softly. I live in a dream space. My wisdom is wide.
My husband ushers the boys toward bedtime and their soundtrack levels down. I nestle into the couch and edge closer toward that still truth. My fluffy marshmallow of a cat strides over in the growing hush - just breath and the drip of rain outside. He melts into my ribcage and I place my palm upon his belly. His quiet is so deep. He wears it like a cape or a crown.
Beside the patient presence of my heart and the regal wisdom of my cat, I decide to trust the integrity of my wiring.
Come echo this trust prayer with me now.
If you crave silence, lean in.
If you thrive amidst auditory cacophony, lean in.
The message you seek is in the code of your making, so approach yourself as you are. There is a worthy instinct summoning your attention again and again with tremendous patience. Let all the gripping and the wrestling, all the chastising and the shaming - let it go where water goes.
Feed it back to source.
In the rushing whale song that follows, dive in deep and celebrate the architecture of your foundation.
Return yourself to yourself and remember:
You must listen to your needs and nurture your essence. Your essence is where your genius waits.
Your essence is where your tools are stored.
Your design is necessary and intentional.
Begin with this knowing.
Resilience isn't far behind.
In an airport recently I got tea at a cafe called the Wonder Tree cause I’m a sucker for names that combine fairytale like adjectives with natural features.
“Enjoy,” the thick lashed barista said, as he handed me a cup of steaming earl gray.
Then he smacked his gaze into mine, the way you do when you want to efficiently convey something sexy. We gave each other an electric look before I returned to my gate. I thought about how my husband, Alec, would grin when I mentioned this hot, wordless exchange with the stranger who made me tea during my long flight delay.
My husband and I like to share these things. To belong to each other and ourselves and the world all at once, it’s complicated and delicious and vulnerable. Talking openly about the flirtatious nature of humans is how we navigate the complexity of dedicated partnership. It’s a flashlight through the wilderness of love and sexuality.
You see, for a long time I believed dedicated partnership required an arsenal of refusal.
I refuse attraction towards anyone other than my partner.
I refuse boundary pushing conversation regarding my sexual needs as they evolve.
If it feels sensual, I refuse the vibration of energy coursing between myself and other beings.
Armed with this refusal, I became divided. Shame feeds on division and so shame arrived and set up camp.
Whenever I felt anything I believed I should refuse, shame was quick to accompany my experience.
After shame feeds on division, shame short circuits the feeling process. Shame shuts us down. Shut down, we are unable to let feelings move. When feelings don’t move, they fester. When they fester they become toxic in some way and that toxicity impacts our well being and the well being of our relationships.
My husband seeks my wholeness and transparency and this seeking is mutual. We want to have each other and also hold space for each other. It’s a complex fusion of animal instincts and spiritual companionship. We want to acknowledge and share the evolving process of being human around other humans, including the array of feelings and desires that texture connection. We want to do this respectfully, openly and with a healthy dose of playfulness, because loving is soft willingness in action and it reveals our sweetest underbelly.
This is a work in progress. I’m not advocating that if you just tell your partner you had a flirty encounter at an airport your intimacy will deepen. Conversations about attraction and desire necessitate a strong foundation of trust and a mutual interest in sharing. The sharing must be allied with connection and learning. If the sharing is used to trigger jealousy, self-doubt or other shadowy interpersonal experiences, it becomes damaging.
Alec and I have created a space for dialogue about other people’s beauty and the intricate nature of our own desire because it helps us know each other more deeply and see each other more fully. When we are honest with each other, it doesn’t negate our vulnerability. In fact, sometimes the vulnerability we feel amidst our honesty is the most crucial part of our growing intimacy.
I am wildly attracted to my husband. I’m attracted to his expansive mind and his tender heart and his wise spirit and his gorgeous gorgeousness. He gets me and he’s got me. At this point in time, monogamy is what we want, met by an acceptance and celebration of our own sensual nature.
I am attracted to other humans all the time and so is he.
Here are the beautiful things that happen when shame doesn’t short circuit our feeling process and we can talk openly with each other:
Our appreciation for the unique beauty and sexiness of other beings grows.
Our appreciation for the unique beauty and sexiness of each other grows.
We learn that attraction is like an electrical flare sent off by the charge of connection and connection can be many things besides sexual or romantic.
We are able to deepen and discover our truest bond with people because we’re not terrified or guilt ridden by the experience of attraction.
We are able to be clearer and cleaner with our own boundaries because we are not trying to divide ourself or hide something from each other, nor do we view attraction to others as a forbidden fruit.
I repeat - this is a work in progress.
Relationships reveal the sweetest underbelly and offer us opportunities to shatter paradigms of secrecy so we may better tend the tender.
In the wild territory of loving partnership, we are remembering how to be whole, sovereign, united and free.
We are learning the undulating language of belonging.
We are gazing with reverent adoration at all the sexy-sexiness.
Photo / Nick Stephenson
There’s this 34-year-old woman I know. She will be 35 very soon. She recently got married and became Step Mama to her husband’s 10 and 8-year-old sons. This woman has discovered that living with and caring for two children is a wild exercise in heart expansion, so she has been working on the art of surrender and the art of trust.
She has discovered that kids are amazing button pushers and that she sports a bunch of invisible buttons she never knew she had. All the buttons and the pushing, it’s part of the expansion, so she’s taking long breaths and looking for the medicine.
This woman is an only child who rarely fought and grew into adulthood convinced that conflict equals apocalypse. Witnessing sibling rivalry a hundred different times a day - as well as the infinite forgiveness that accompanies it - is what she’d call good medicine.
This woman is also an introvert. She thinks silence is delicious in the same way people think chocolate truffles or thick slices of cake are delicious. Although, to be clear, she thinks those things are delicious too and regularly eats the shit out of them.
When all hell breaks loose at the dinner table, because one of her stepchildren has to finish his broccoli, but he chooses to weep loudly instead and also kick his brother’s knee discreetly, she’d call this more good medicine. It invites her to loosen her grip and widen her comfort zone. It challenges her to be active versus reactive in moments of intensity.
Medicine, she is discovering, sometimes feels like pain. It sometimes feels like discomfort. Personal growth can be gritty. Discomfort wakes us up to ourselves. It shows us where we need to release control.
Yet regardless of her (obvious) wisdom and humility, this woman, who will turn 35 on the same day that her oldest stepson turns 11, would like to admit something to you now:
She LOVES her birthday with high expectations and giddy abandon and despite doing all this gritty personal growth work and claiming she’s down for sharing in a big way, that’s not so much true on her birthday. On her birthday she secretly wishes to be solely in charge of everything and showered with single focused attention. To share her birthday with her bright and beautiful stepson, who happens to be quite particular about his needs and likes, who is not innately a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, who is prone to melting down on special occasions when he feels overwhelmed by emotion or transition - it’s totally button pushing for this woman, (who is also prone to melting down on special occasions when she feels overwhelmed by emotion or transition, but has become good at stuffing meltdowns deep inside so they boil as resentment and despair, where as her stepson prefers a no-holds-barred-wail-at-the-top-of-his-lungs experience).
This woman is aware that it’s not appropriate to feel like you don’t want to share when you’re an adult, especially when said sharing is with a child. She realizes how extremely un-adult this is of her, but she’s trying to be vulnerable and honest and find the truer story of her discomfort.
I know your head’s going to explode when I tell you this, but I’m talking about myself.
The 34-year-old woman...is me.
If you’re still reading then I assume you don’t think I’m the worst person on the planet (or you’re just fascinated by my self-proclaimed birthday greed).
Either way, I’ll continue.
I’ve been digging for a new perspective that will infuse me with a pervasive generosity of spirit, so I never have to reveal to the world (because you guys can keep a secret, right?) my embarrassing birthday-sharing issues.
Don’t worry, I’ll get there. I’m good at finding the gem inside my own bullshit. There’s more to this story than a birthday.
My stepson, Ukiah, and I, we carry a similar wound. I call it the wound of hyper-vigilance. We notice everything people say and do and feel. This gets overstimulating fast and we easily short circuit. It is both a hidden super power and a heavy burden. When our vigilance is bigger than our trust, we see the world as unstoppably terrifying. We think that anything could go wrong at any moment and then we worry about the worst case scenario and over magnify our power to protect the world from it.
If you haven’t thought of it, we have.
We don’t stop at the common-fear stuff. We’ve got all the random stuff covered too, like some micro anxiety task force.
We’re sitting there, panicking about the potentiality of sinkholes and assuming more responsibility than necessary for everyone who may or may not be impacted by a hypothetical sinkhole crisis.
When we moved into our new house, Ukiah fervently told my husband and I that he was worried there was a hole in one of the walls and that my cat would get inside it and we’d lose him. Alec suppressed his laughter while he spoke reassuring words, then brought it up with me later, giggling hysterically.
I wasn’t giggling. Not even a little.
“Alec,” I said, trying to remove the tremble from my voice, “I’m worried about that too.”
Yes - I worried when we moved into our house that a covert hole in a random wall would mysteriously eat my cat.
Shit happens. You gotta be alert. Walls are no joke.
I get it Ukiah.
I don’t just worry about sinkholes and cat-eating walls. I worry about Ukiah too. I worry about his vulnerability and his resilience. I worry that he will suffer if he doesn’t know how to anchor some of his emotional fine wiring. I worry about his ability to see the whole picture and remember he’s not the center of it, (rest assured, my inner birthday monster sees the irony in that last statement).
I worry about my stepson because I recognize so much of his intense sensitivity. I know it well. I’ve walked with it my entire life.
Ukiah externalizes his emotionality in bigger ways than I did when I was his age, but the root issue is the same.
I didn’t know how to express my panic and my pain fluidly, so I learned the taste of resentment. He doesn’t know how to express his panic and his pain fluidly, so he’s learned the pattern of meltdowns.
We are both trying to discover how to alchemize our feelings effectively.
In the last two years, I’ve begun to understand the path of ease. It’s something I desperately want to teach my stepson.
I want to teach him how to trust.
I want to teach him that there is a wordless love beyond reason and it hunts us ceaselessly.
I want him to know the joy of surrender. I want him to know the benefit of choosing love amidst all the crazy-making of uncertainty and heartache.
I want him to feel his tension dissolve, his shoulders relax and his breath land.
I’ve heard other parents say that your kids hold up a mirror to all of your issues. I believe this is true in many close relationships and that’s why intimacy is so transformative. These reflections can be wildly triggering, yet in the triggering moments, a beautiful power is unleashed. The trigger point means the energy is charged. The charged energy means your being is primed for alchemy. The alchemy happens when you rewire your brain and your body through the repeated effort of new habits combined with the electricity of attention.
My birthday buddy and I, we are working on rewiring our tendency toward panic, guilt and blame. We are learning to use our hyper-drive mind to generate an upward spiral of creativity and action versus a downward spiral of fear and victimization. We are learning to relax our grip so we have open hands to share with others.
As we realize that we are only responsible for our own hearts and minds, we discover a new kind of freedom.
Even as I fret about the perfect way to teach him - I already know the answer.
By showing him.
By being this.
By doing the work in myself to create a transparent display of practical examples and a sacred well of energetic information for him to draw upon.
So when that fateful birthday comes - when candles are lit and experience is shared - I’m going to loosen my grip and widen my heart.
You see, my sweet friend, my cherished stepson, he has big work to do in the world and so do I. We are sensitive creatures and sensitivity is an asset.
Hear me now - all you finely wired souls - you are not broken.
You possess the capacity to tune into ancient stories below the noise of the world and channel these stories into the consciousness of humanity.
Do not disappear. We NEED you.
Harmony seeks us amidst the chaos and the clamor, while life offers us the gift of discord to activate our memory.
We know how to generate the elixir of resonance.
Breathe long and slow. Appreciate all the buttons and your ally’s keen ability to push them.
Trust me, there's good medicine here.
Photo / Zara Walker
On a sticky evening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I sit behind a tripod, peering at the screen of a small HD camcorder as my friend and his mom let me interview them about life, dance and surviving in Brazil on a very limited income.
My friend, who I’ve known since he was a skinny 18-year-old boy wearing oversized newsy caps, has transformed into a muscled 25-year-old-man with short dreads and silver spectacles. He’s always had a way of bridging the space between high concept and simple truth, with a heart-centered perspective.
While speaking about the importance of unity, he pauses mid-sentence to seek out a more tactile representation for his thoughts. He glances at his mom and asks her to give him her hand. Lacing his fingers in hers he says,
“When a circle is formed it’s the symbol of union. This union allows us to circulate energy. This energy is what we call love.”
Expanding and shrinking the circle within their interlocked fingers, he demonstrates how to stay linked while responding to movement with pliable ease.
“When there’s flexibility in love, there is more power,” he smiles.
In essence, the circle has more strength if it can bend and undulate with the velocity of movement or change.
This isn’t just high concept - this is proven in physics and executed in architecture. It’s a truth that scientists use as well as dancers. It’s somewhere in our human psyche – the knowledge that the circle has to form and then the circle has to flex.
For a time, when I wasn't working on my documentary in Rio de Janeiro, I was an elementary school dance teacher in Portland, Oregon. In both of those seemingly discordant worlds, I yearned to discover an equally discordant piece of information.
I yearned to discover what aspects of our humanity we most need to survive a rapidly warming world.
I wondered, with shallow breath during sleepless dawns, how we will collectively handle the global climate crisis as it worsens. Beyond the tangible, necessary, overdue measures we must all be willing to take, what deep human well we will draw upon to get us the rest of the way there?
How will we stand as a united front, so we can move the planet and ourselves from one side of this crisis to the other?
In the gym, on an unusually sunny January afternoon in Portland, twenty-eight first graders look at me wide eyed as I hold a stuffed frog in my arms. I tell them the story of how this small frog traveled through the Land Of Froo Froo, across the snowy mountains and over the lava bridge, until she reached the castle of a very grumpy king.
They lean forward in their cross-legged position and practically tip onto their tummies, as I explain how the frog gathered all of her courage to perform a dance for the king, hoping that in a fit of inspiration, he'd overturn the unjust law that prohibited Froo Froo-ians the right to dance. (If you didn't know this part of make-believe history, there was a terrible decree in 17fluffywiggle20 that no one in the land of Froo Froo could move in any way that resembled dancing and Froo Froo-ians have been living stiffly under the law ever since).
After my story about the brave little frog and her journey to dance for the king (including her subsequent success overturning the anti-dance law - i.e. Frog V. King) the kids line up against the side wall and prepare to work on their core strength, their spatial acuity and their buoyancy. Or put more simply, they prepare to jump like small frogs along a green painted line that takes them from one side of the gym to the other.
I instruct them to move one at a time, to keep one frog paw on each side of the line as they jump and to wait on the other side until every frog makes it across. I know they're excited about jumping. I know they are ready to impersonate the brave little frog from the tale I spun and I know they'll giggle and squeal as they revel in the satisfaction of pushing against gravity. But I don't anticipate what they'll do when they reach the other side. I don't imagine suddenly bearing witness to a profound display of teamwork, as twenty-eight six-year-olds show me the counterpart to courage.
The first child to froggy jump across the green line, (which is clearly imagined to be the lava bridge our protagonist traveled on her way to see the king), is Jack. When Jack gets to the other side, he immediately begins calling out the name of the next little girl who’s waiting to jump.
"Annie!" he cries, "Annie, keep going, I'm here! Annie! You can do it!"
He yells out to her like this, the entire time she jumps the line, until she makes it to the other side. When Annie gets to Jack, she begins screaming the name of their next classmate alongside him, clapping her hands wildly.
And so on and so forth - every child that makes it across joins the group and begins to call the next brave jumper to the other side of the gym.
The expression on each child's face when they begin the journey looks like courage infused with ecstatic relief.
The relief of being seen and valued. The relief of being driven by en-courage-ment from their community. And so the courage builds. The consuming cacophony that accompanies the final member of the class is outright jubilant. It is dramatically heightened because at this point the stakes are clear.
NO ONE will be left behind.
And finding themselves so close to getting the whole group across the divide, this class of twenty-eight first graders, will not settle for twenty-seven.
I find myself asking why, as adults, do we so often lose our deep inner knowing for how communities function
successfully and for what individuals need to thrive? Why do we lose our basic ability to
encourage each other with wild, sincere abandon, in the simplest and greatest of tasks?
Those 6-year-olds on that January day, they tapped right into a universal code.
We feel braver when our community bears wide-eyed-witness to our challenges, loving us amidst our fear and our confidence.
We feel braver when someone waits on the other side, reminding us over and over, “I’m here!”
We feel braver when someone promises to call out our name until we make it all the way across.
As the crisis of climate change makes a tangible and disturbing impact, we need to rapidly join forces. We need to figure out what we can save and how to survive in the face of what we can't save.
Blame and villainization have no place. Rigidity, isolation and withholding will be our undoing.
We need to form a circle. We need to bend and undulate with the forces of change without breaking the circle we’ve formed. We need to call each other’s names over and over and over.
In Brazil, on that warm, sticky night, my camera battery blinks an alarming five minutes left of charge, but I know not to rush my friend and his mom. I know not to break the flow of the interview.
Hands still intertwined, my friend looks at his mother and searches for words to wrap up his metaphor.
“If we leave the circle, if we abandon each other, we…”
She cuts in without hesitation, looking directly at my camera and finishes his sentence,
“We lose everything.”
I spend a lot of time working on owning my emotions and declining invitations from my small self to her pity party, which is tough because my small self is a great party host. Her parties go on forever and she buys really good chips.
I spend a lot of time doing the messy work of digging into how I feel to find the root and then creating space for that root and then finding ways to acknowledge that root verbally without a bunch of passive aggressive side stepping, blaming or shaming.
To excavate what's below the surface of my reactions - it's fruitful labor. I emerge with the same understanding again and again.
All my reactions come from my own pain and the story I create about my pain.
The small things that perturb me are wildly relative in the scheme of what is happening on this planet.
Being human is a tender, vulnerable feat.
Growing love is the real work, the freeing work, the holy work.
I believe this in my core.
Sometimes I just really want to project all my bullshit onto someone or something else.
Sometimes I just really want to sidestep emotional responsibility and abandon clear communication.
I've discovered a great way to do this and I'd like to share it with you now.
For those moments when you need to be unaccountable - project your feelings onto your cat.
My cat's name is Dublin. He's intensely handsome. He's equal parts frisky and elegant, sassy and sophisticated. He gets pissed off when we remove him from the counter top or kick him out of our room if he bites our feet in the middle of the night. But none of this matters. Because when you're projecting your feelings onto your cat, his feelings are unimportant.
It goes like this:
You say to your husband,
"Darling, Dublin is super agitated this morning."
"Oh really?" your husband asks, concerned. "What happened?"
"When the child came into our bedroom four times last night to ask for a foot rub, it woke Dublin up and you know how he gets about sleep."
"That's too bad," your husband says and then he walks over to Dublin, who is napping deeply on top of his kitty palace.
"Also," you add, "When your ex-wife texted you that really rude text yesterday - Dublin got extremely worked up. Because you know how much your ex-wife and her rude texts infuriate Dublin."
"I do," your husband nods, while the cat rolls over to let his belly show.
"Lastly," you continue, "Dublin was bitching to me this morning about the dining room table and how you always leave your mail spread out across the entire surface. When it's time for breakfast, Dublin looks at the surface of the table and then he looks at the surface of your desk and he wonders why you don't just put your fucking mail on your fucking desk. His words. Not mine."
Your husband lifts Dublin up from his resting perch and they both fix you with a piercing gaze.
"I'm sorry, Dubs," you say under your breath when your husband has left the room. Your cat blinks. You take this as a sign that it is okay to do this occasionally.
Then you return to the brave work of mining your complicated, beautiful, emotional underworld.
Photo / photostock editor
Tea steeped. Cat body curled. Music tuned to Trevor Hall. He's singing, "I'm still learning how to walk in my fire."
Brain bouncing. Eyes tired. Heart contracting.
A book is open on my lap. Naomi Shihab Nye says:
a calm musical note arrives.
You balance it on your tongue,
a single ripe grape,
till your whole body glistens.
In the space between breaths
you apply it to any wound
and the wound heals.
I step outside to put my bare feet on the earth.
Back inside I sit down and stare at my computer.
A great panic climbs my lungs.
I am afraid of humanity. I am afraid of our tremendous destructive capacity.
How do we find the next true thing, every day?
What are all the one-steps that lead to the many-steps that lead to liberation?
On facebook, Samyak Yamauchi posts her painting - a long haired woman walking through pathways of stars wearing felines for feet.
She writes, "Falling vibes is part of the game, so here is my move - a painting to raise the vibes."
Trevor Hall sings, "The fruitful darkness is all around us."
Naomi Shihab Nye's poem continues,
Soon nights will lengthen,
you will lean into the year
humming like a saw.
You will fill the lamps with kerosene,
knowing somewhere a line breaks,
a city goes black,
people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.
You will be ready. You wil use the song like a match.
It will fill your rooms
opening rooms of its own
so you sing, I did not know
my house was this large.
It is like all three of them are working together to reach me.
I am unceasingly grateful for the artists and their breadcrumb trail.
It is so easy to lose our way.
I return to my keyboard and the tapping out of words. The only answer I ever have is delivered again and again through the prophecy of artists who tend the garden of truth using many coded languages.
A luminous map is woven together from the threads of creative expression.
We begin each day here.
We make space in the heart so the heart can sing our whole self into action.
We raise the vibes.
Bless all the brave and tender artists who help me rise and light my fear on fire.
We will generate countless ashes, because we must.
The phoenix is returning.
*Trevor Hall quotes taken from the songs, Sagittarius and The Fruitful Darkness.
*Naomi Shihab Nye words taken from the poem, The Song, from Words Under Words.
Photo / Guillaume Lorain
Babies cry. Flowers stretch. Kettles sing.
The shadows on the wall at sunset grow.
Guns fire. Breath runs out. Grief rises. Fear grips.
I whisper three words as my body vibrates panic:
Love lives here.
The earth shakes, she crumbles, she steadies.
We wake up and the news flashes.
Light and darkness - they trade places.
The clock ticks fake time and I whisper again:
Love lives here.
I follow these syllables one by one. They are my japa mala and I’m searching for the center of my heart in times of instability and crisis.
I touch my lips to each word and listen for the secret of impermanence.
In the hungry hush of groundless being, we have one anchor and it is the practice of loving. This practice involves a seemingly simple core truth, yet it has proven to be humanity’s greatest stumbling block.
Everyone deserves to be loved.
Light melts. Animals sound. Bodies rest.
Alarms wail. Trees bow. Tides rush in.
How do we find love when there is anger, terror, devastation or grief between us and the love that weaves us?
We hold a council in our heart for the meeting of everything. We sit tenderly beside the judgement and the pain. We call out to love when we can’t feel her presence. We name what we seek to remember.
This human thing we are doing - it is a mysterious skydive. To love in the face of impermanence is astoundingly courageous and it contains the code of eternity.
So beautiful songbirds, be patient. We are recalling something as we fall.
We are the gasp between two places and love is a tunnel.
We are time travelers, but time is false, connections are real and they are leading us beyond death and life, into a brave beginning.
Doors open. Knowledge dissolves. Memories surface.
The spacious moment curves its finger.
We are dreaming a deep dream.
We are the circle circling.
We are home and I promise, we are ready.
Love lives here.
Photo / Tom Holmes
There are days when I wake up and think,
"I don't want to write. I have nothing valuable to say. Everything I produce is shit. What am I doing to make things better in the world? What am I doing?"
The air gets sucked out of my lungs and I can't find a spacious channel between truth and action. Even as I write these very words, I'm sitting beside my noisy critic, trying to breathe through her banter.
A moment ago, a fat, gray bird smacked into the window with a dramatic thwap and scared the crap out of me. It swerved and then flew steadfastly in the opposite direction. Like that bird, (bless its startled, feathered body), when I hit a wall, I often fly in the opposite direction while I wait out my fear.
But the wall doesn't want me to back up.
It doesn't want me to wait out my fear. It wants me to get closer, (at a slow speed so as not to fall unconscious), and befriend my fear like a lonely neighbor.
Fear is so lonely. Nobody likes it. Everyone avoids it. Fear just wants to be included. The wall and the critic - they want me to lean in and say,
"Good morning fear. I see you. I won't ignore you and I won't stop moving forward. Let's go."
When I write, I carve a trail through the world. The trail leads me from truth to truth. The critic and the wall, they are steep parts of the trail - places where I can deepen my relationship to perseverance - areas where I can remove debris and widen the path.
They are wonderful messengers.
When I run from them, when I take their appearance as a sign that I'm fucking up, I miss out on an opportunity for expansion.
Do the work you are doing. Know it is not about good or bad. It is about deepening.
When a wall smacks you in the face, melt and listen. Inhale, exhale and stay with it.
As we build new paradigms of peace on the planet, we must persistently tend to our trail.
All these paths are leading to a great meeting point. Move one foot in front of the other. Welcome your resistance with a curious, patient, persistent willingness.
Don't turn back.
We can do this.
Swimming in cerulean crystal waves, I was recently reminded of my freedom. The saltwater quieted my mind and shifted the rigid metronome of my sometimes shallow breath.
I’ve been getting calmer and clearer.
I’ve been getting more spacious.
For the past two years, I have been consciously working with my fear patterns. I relate to them like muscles I’ve become accustomed to contracting. It takes the attention of both my body and my mind to loosen instead of seize up. It takes the subtle mediation of my heart, who must stand guard as a loving witness while I stumble through the tedious construction of a new internal architecture.
I am building a home inside where I can rest, all the time, no matter what.
In this process, I am learning to be more honest with myself about the expectations I have for others and the countless micro-judgments I pass daily. If I follow them like breadcrumbs, I believe they’ll lead me to my deepest wound — to the place where I am still unforgiving towards my most tender human tendencies. To the place where I expect myself to be perfect.
This is where I want to unleash love like a hungry wolf. This is the place I want love to devour.
As I circled round the ocean’s patient rhythm, I prayed to her sacred example — to the rise and fall of everything, to the leaving and returning, to the pearl crest of promise and the empty radiance of surrender.
I felt my body unravel in her current.
I rose up for air and waved gleefully to the shiny, golden figure of my dark-haired husband, grinning on the sand.
I recently got married, and the illumined waters I’m communing with make up Kauai’s wild coastline. I’m on my honeymoon with my husband, for whom bouts of anxiety are not commonplace. This isn’t to say he doesn’t struggle with the vulnerability of being human, just that struggle looks different on him. It certainly looks less anxious.
It’s one of the great teachings he’s been offering me by example — his genuine ability to let things go, in both his body and his heart.
In the ocean I feel the deep hush-hum of a liquid universe — a world based on letting go. The principle of water says, what is soft is also strong.
At our wedding ceremony, I vowed to learn to land in my heart, even when all my tiny selves are crying and stomping and pouting. I vowed to break through again and again — through the stuck places and the limiting beliefs, into the magic and infinitude of the ultimate reality.
I vowed to seek mystic mischief by my husband’s side, the kind that liberates love and bathes all beings in deep peace, because I believe we need this type of mayhem. I believe it will take a rowdy courage and an inexhaustible playfulness to reacquaint the heart of humanity with the tides of surrender.
I believe it is through our relationships that we learn to love the world. I believe that all the cliches are true, that the Beatles really got it — that All You Need Is Love.
Love is the most potent medicine, the simplest mystery, the most awe-inspiring acceptance, the endless path. Love cannot be argued with divisive thought patterns. Love doesn’t work in limitations. Love isn’t all or nothing.
Love is all. Always. All ways.
The human mind shudders at the vastness of this. It gasps, terrified.
Then what am I working so hard at? It cries. What am I trying to be good for?
If love is unconditional, if it is a cosmic intelligence that runs through the universe and does not take sides, if it wants everyone’s ultimate well-being and chooses no enemy, then what is our identity? If there are no bad guys, then how can we be the good guys? If we are not the good guys, then who are we? If being good isn’t even the point, if the point is so much deeper than that, if the only way out is in, if our identity is not based upon division, if it is not bolstered by competition, if it is not fortified by comparison, then what is it?
I emerge from the waves and join my husband on our blanket. He vowed to love my body, mind and heart as he loves his own.
I breathe long and slow and deep.
I rest my head on his chest.
The water makes the music of hushes and purrs. I bring my attention to my heart and ask love to braid my wholeness into being. I ask love to be my name, my sound, my vow. I ask love to teach me until there are no more words.
Until there is only fullness and emptiness — the same secret. Until there is only water, retreating and returning.
Photo / Cristian Newman
I once lived in a small apartment cradled between a bay and some tall, green trees. Taped to one of its walls was a poem by Mary Oliver. I caught sight of it each time I walked from my bedroom to the kitchen.
One line of the poem took residence in my body and refused to leave me alone. I turned it within me for years, like a key.
Life moved onward past that small apartment, but every time I went on an adventure, in moments of sadness or in moments of insight, I recalled the line from that poem on the wall and marveled:
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
The concept rocked me.
To just let the true, soft, intuitive, vulnerable nature of my being love what it loved.
Through many rounds of trial and error, I have learned that a human and the world are like two magnets.
The more I trust what softens me toward joy, the more I become attuned to the interplay between my magnet and the magnet of the world. I find that what I am seeking, as the great Rumi says, is also seeking me.
Conversely, the more I resist what softens me toward joy and ignore the pull, the more often the magnets - out of sync with each other - alter and trip up the frequency of my life.
Following the call of what we love can be challenging. Joy-judgment runs rampant, as well as the perception that ease and fluidity equals laziness.
We are told, in subtle and non-subtle ways, that if we're not stressing out about shit all the time, then we are not working hard enough.
Life can indeed be stressful. For so many people living in poverty and various other kinds of hostile circumstances - it is a constant fight to survive.
When those of us who are not battling daily to simply stay alive, become less attached to the perceived clout of struggle, and more attuned with our magnet, we begin moving with the force of heart aligned power. To have heart aligned power behind our actions - that is what the world is crying for. The world is crying for both the softening and the rising. The collective consciousness needs creatures who are activated by joy and by love.
For the rest of the week, for today, for the moment, this is what I recommend:
Notice the small things that you are drawn to.
Close your eyes and ask yourself what you would do with an entire day assigned to simply following your magnet.
Notice what pulls you. What are you lit on fire about, and how can you create a life that revolves around the fire instead of a life that keeps the fire at your periphery?
I am discovering how to live, day by day, in a way that works with the magnet instead of against it. I have to constantly remind myself to take off my armor so the pull can be felt. I have to break the barriers I have forged to protect myself. I have to dissolve the pretense of self-sacrifice I’ve used to fit into a society that finds God in martyrdom.
I have to melt it all into breath.
I have to remember that the frequency of joy feeds a collective sound and that sound is space.
The world needs this kind of noise. The world needs this kind of space.
It's one turn of the key away. Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
“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.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
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.”
I am a Portland, Oregon based writer, filmmaker and choreographer. I believe stories dissolve the grip of isolation and return us to each other.