This Time of My Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps lately.  After undergrad, I spent a year in volunteer service.  Seven of us from all over the country lived in a house in Aberdeen, WA and worked full time volunteer positions in social services.  We received two checks each month – one for the community to pay rent, utilities, food, etc.. And a personal stipend of $85 a month.  That number makes me laugh now.  I easily spend $85 a month on entertainment alone now.  

Yes, this is me at 22 in Birks WITH Socks.

Just to give you a little picture of Aberdeen in 1997 – it was severely economically depressed with a high rate of mental illness and poverty. It is grey and rainy 80% of the year. It’s where Kurt Cobain is from.  We lived up the hill from his alma mater.  

I was a case aid for severely and chronically mentally ill adults.  Fresh out of college, I thought this was the type of work I wanted to do.  The human mind always fascinated me.  I was the sort of teenage weirdo that read books about multiple personality disorders or the psychology of the Germans during the Nazi era.  

It was one of the most informative, enlightening, challenging, heartbreaking, loving, spiritual and intentional years of my life.  JVC said after this year, you will be ruined for life.  Truer words were never spoken.  

I was not ruined in a bruised and battered way.  I was broken open.  

At just 22, I had to dig deep to find empathy, compassion, understanding and resilience I never knew I had.  

I learned to live with people in intentional community.  We fought.  We loved.  We stretched and challenged one another.  We laughed and talked late into the night.  We danced.  We played.  We found new ways to entertain ourselves in a small town pre-internet with no money.  

It was the first time I had lived so far from home and I missed my closest friends and family.  Sometimes, I could taste my loneliness, bitter on my tongue.

The work was incredibly challenging.  My clients were chronically depressed, schizophrenia and bi-polar, often delusional or having hallucinations.  I prevented suicides.  I checked clients into the crisis clinic.  Sometimes they had to go to the state mental hospital for their own safety or the safety of others.  I cleaned apartments plastered with porn to keep a client from being evicted.  

My fascination for the human mind was no match for the suffering in front of me of a client who had tactile hallucinations.  He always felt like people were touching him – and not in a loving and comforting way.  He spent most of his time in his room wielding knives to keep the touch away.  Other clients called him the Highlander.  

Yes, this year broke me open and ruined me for life.  And as JVC was also fond of saying: This is a year in your life, not a year out of your life.  This isn’t your life on pause.  

This time right now in Covid Quarantine feels much the same way.  This time sheltering in place is a time in my life – not out of it.  This is not a pause. I am not in a coma.  I wake up and breathe every day.  

In these last couple of months, I’ve experienced despair, loss, grief, loneliness, love, joy, exuberance, peace, hope and hopelessness.  Empathy.  Compassion.  

The other day I was simply bursting with joy and put on my most fun music and danced in the kitchen while making dinner.  My family was out playing in the pool and their sounds of joy and laughter lifted my heart like a balloon.  

Just a couple hours later, I realized I’d forgotten a zoom birthday party for my 7 year old and he cried.  And then I made my 10 year old cry when he overheard me asking my husband to snuggle with him so I could have a break.  

I felt like a terrible mother and all my bad mom gremlins were screaming at me.  I wanted to get out of those icky feelings.  Just like I’ve wanted to get out of the ickiest feelings during quarantine.  Maybe with a sugary treat, or a drink or a few minutes of Facebook. Ok, fine- hours.  

But when I numb, I numb it all.  I I numb the joy, the love, the pain and the sorrow.  If I want the soaring joy of dancing in the kitchen with Lizzo, I have to be open to the feeling the mom guilt.  

This time in quarantine is a time IN MY LIFE.  And much like my year of JVC, it’s going to ruin me for life.  I will be forever changed by this. 

We all will be.  Like it or not, this time will change us, just as all major life events change us.  We will remember events as before and after the pandemic.  Just like we remember things before or after someone’s death or a graduation.  It is a mark in our history.  It’s unavoidable.  

How will this mark me?  Sometimes it’s hard to know.  JVC was over 20 years ago and I’m still learning from the ways that experience molded me.  

My sincerest hope for me – for all of us – is that this experience teaches me to access tools and skills I didn’t know I had.  What am I learning?  To give and receive grace from myself and others.  To offer more empathy than I knew I was capable of.  How to ask for help and support when and where I need it.  To be vulnerable and open to the uncertainty – the only certain thing in this time.  I will be more resilient and resourceful than ever.  

However we are coping during this time is the way we are getting through.  It is serving us.  It is neither good nor bad.  It simply is.  If you’ve made it another day, you’ve found a way to cope.  

This time will mark you and me.  This time will mark our entire planet.  

And – this is a time IN our lives.  Not out of our lives.  If you woke up this morning – you are living.  If you’re reading this at 3:00 am after a month of insomnia – you have a pulse.  

“Life grabs you by the neck directs you where to go…” sang Greenday the year I did JVC.  “I hope you had the time of your life.”  

What if the time of your life is not just about fun?  What if it’s simply being here?  The gift and curse of uncertainty is it’s nearly impossible to make plans because it feels so useless.  So, I am here now.  I’m more present to this time in my life more than ever.  

I am living this time of my life. 

inner peace

Please let me feel inner peace
From my center, from the center of me

My heart is open,
I am aware,
In me is a knowing
Of love, love, love…

-Inner Peace by Beautiful Chorus

This was my prayer a few days back. I wanted to move my body – to make it sweat like I’m used to doing in the gym. I’d been staring out the window at my neighbor’s garage gym with longing and wondering if I could use my kids for deadlifts. I found an old dusty Turbo Kick video in the back of the cabinet and put it on. I kicked and punched until my back screamed at me to stop. So, I stopped. And the kids scattered to their rooms and youtube channels while my husband was in a virtual meeting for work.

With the couch still pushed out of the way, I rolled out my mat with the intention to do yoga. I started in child’s pose and began to move through a vinyasa, hoping the familiarity of the movement would bring me peace and comfort. I played with a funky Warrior II turning my head and arms the opposite way of the traditional legs. And it was in trying to be a Warrior that my body took me down. Hard.

So, I laid down. I rolled around on the floor. I cried. I made myself feel. I had a conversation with myself.

What do you feel?

“I feel like I need to…” And I began to spin into a narrative of what needs to happen next or I need to do next or how to take better care of my clients or yoga students who miss me and the practice.

NO – what do you FEEL?

Lather, rinse, repeat this conversation. And every time, my left brain goes into narrative. Finally…

What do you feel NOW?

“My back hurts.”

When did that start?

“When I was teaching a kids yoga class via zoom. It didn’t work well. The audio was terrible. I felt like I was failing. I heard and felt my sacrum crack out of place during triangle.”

What did you feel when that happened?

“Pain and stupidity. I felt stupid. I know better. I know how to do that pose safely for my body to keep my sacrum in place.”

When the class was over – what did you do?

“I continued with my agenda. I did kickboxing. My back was screaming at me. Then other things started to hurt. So I rolled out my mat and eventually let my body take me down. I cried. I rolled around and cried. I let myself be sad and scared. I let myself feel. I listened to Inner Peace by Beautiful Chorus on repeat. I sang with tears in my eyes. I choked on my tears while I sang. I grieved the loss of my normal life, of our normal life. I let myself be sad. So, so sad.”

When you got up again, what did you do?

A long hot bath. I needed real relief. Rest. I gave myself that gift.

I surrendered.

I don’t have to hold it all together. In fact, trying to hold it all together like I did while kickboxing is exactly what is going to hurt me. I can fall apart. It’s okay to fall apart. This is the time to let yourself fall. Cry. Scream. And allow your family and your kids to do the same.

And here’s the while truth I keep coming across in my own family and everyone I’m in contact with: if you don’t honor what you are genuinely feeling, your body will take you down to make you.

Your body will win.

It will throw mysterious pain at you. For one of my kids, he’s having sudden back pain. Another has a returned ear infection that cleared up 10 days ago. And another banged his knee into the wall which took him out for a day. I’m hearing all sorts of reports from friends and family of phantom pain and sky high anxiety.

When we don’t feel what what is happening, we stick the feeling on a shelf of our bodies.

I drew this picture just three weeks back. I had this image of the body like a bookshelf with every inch packed with books. Have you ever tried to squeeze one more book on a packed shelf? No matter how hard you try, it just doesn’t fit. You have to take something off the shelf.

Our bodies take on our feelings in much the same way. Our bodies are brilliant and only want to protect us. As the founder of The Reembody Method, Kevin Moore often says,

“Our bodies and brains will do anything at its disposal to protect us. Including hurt us.”

It’s not my job to tell you how to feel during this pandemic. It is my job to teach and encourage you to feel whatever you are feeling. Know that you have the RIGHT to every feeling under the sun. Anger. Peace. Pain. Love. Gratitude. Sadness. Fear. Grief. Hope. Anxiety. Optimistic. Hopeless. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. Joy. Wounded. Heavy. Motivated.

You don’t have to make sense of it if it doesn’t make sense yet. You actually don’t have to DO anything. Can you just allow yourself to feel? And if you want to take it a step beyond, state that feeling outloud – to yourself or another person. Have a conversation with yourself just like I did while laying on the mat.

What are you feeling right now? Not thinking. Not planning. Not feeling like you need to… What are you feeling right now? In one, two or three words.

What are you feeling?

Maybe, if you honor what you are feeling when you are feeling it, you can reach inner peace. Isn’t that what we are all seeking when we get on the mat or sit on the meditation cushion? Inner Peace.

What are you feeling?

Every Body Is Worthy

In one of my online groups, a woman told a story about working on the leg press at her gym and caught some teens filming her and laughing.  She felt such shame, she wasn’t able to confront them nor report them to management.  

A couple years ago, a playboy model took a snickering selfie in the locker room of her gym with a larger older body in the background and the caption, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.” 

A few years ago, a  woman who had been coming to my fitness (not yoga) classes for years was talking about a family member who was large and seemed to have a difficult time moving.  She then said to me, “At least you’re not so big that you can’t move.” 

A trans friend was told they were not welcome in a gym – that their body in transition made others uncomfortable. 

Although I rarely talk about it, it’s not a secret that I live in a large body.  I have always lived in a large body. I will likely always live in a large body.

Let me tell you, it has not always been easy to live in a large body.  But, I don’t want to make this about me and my experiences. I want this to be about the right for every BODY to simply exist in public spaces without being harrassed, shamed or unwelcomed.  

Large

Short

Disabled

Trans

Male

Female

Bodies of Color

I could go on.  I am sure that there are more types of bodies that have been shamed I could add to the list.  If you live in a body that differs from our current cultural expectations, then you have likely experienced body shaming of one kind or another.  

I am thankful that I have not experienced a deeply shameful event like I hear about from so many other larger bodied people.  But saying I’m thankful I have not been deeply shamed in public for my body is like saying I’m thankful I haven’t been sexually assaulted.  NOT being harmed in the way so many people are is not something to be grateful for. It’s something that should be the norm.  

Here’s the thing that we all need to understand, without any qualification:

ALL BODIES ARE WORTHY.  

A smaller body is no more worthy than a larger body.  A blond body is no more worthy than a redhead. A male body is no more worthy than a female body.  A muscular body is no more worthy than a fat body. And vice versa. I know plenty of people who have been shamed for being too thin, with similar comments.  

Every BODY is worthy 

Of respect

Love

Pleasure  

Medical Care  

Rest  

Movement  

Nourishment  

Food  

Yoga  

Exercise  

Care  

Joy  

Dignity  

Every Body  

As it is now.  At this moment.  At every and any moment.  

And if every body is worthy, that means YOUR body is worthy.  Now. Without inches lost. Without being taller or blonder. Without going on keto or intermittent fasting or any other bullshit and dangerous diet.  Your body is worthy with or without exercise. Your body is worthy. Period. No qualifications necessary.  

Unfortunately, much of our culture seems to take issue with the idea of body positivity, which means that some people have designated themselves the body police and use whatever platform available to publicly shame strangers and celebrities alike.  

The body positivity movement simply says every body has the right to live without shame, harassment and hate.  Every body has the right to love themselves as they are.  

I know I cannot control other people, only myself.  I have made a commitment to not comment on other people’s bodies.  That doesn’t mean I’ll never tell people they look nice or let my friend know she’s rocking her new dress.  I mean, I will not comment on people’s weight, shape or size.  

I beg of you – when you see a different body, refrain from commenting on that body.  Thoughts or opinions about that body may bubble up – examine them. Where did those thoughts come from?  Are they based in fact? Do they contain any cultural bias? Our job is to examine our own biases of people and not put the burden of our issues on them.  It’s my thought that’s bothering me. Why do I need to make it someone else’s problem?    

Despite our social media obsession, not every thought needs to be shared.  

When negative thoughts arise about a body, either your own or another’s- remember this one thing: 

ALL BODIES ARE WORTHY.

Even mine.  Even yours. His.  Hers. Theirs.  

EVERY *BODY* IS WORTHY.

Making Space

It’s December 30.  My house is a disaster.  I have three baskets of laundry waiting to be folded.  It’s 11 am. I’m in my jammies and I just ate a cookie for my morning snack.  I’m in the time warp of Winter Holidays. You know the one. It doesn’t matter what you celebrate because as I talk with friends Jewish, Muslim and Christian, it’s all the same from roughly December 23-January 1.  

One of my piles. There are several around the house.

There is a hint of “shoulds” as you look at your kitchen sink, but you know somehow the dishes will take care of themselves and children will get fed.  There are intentions of organizing, cleaning, baking or just simply showering and getting dressed before noon. Instead, you’ve spent the morning scrolling Facebook and playing a game with your kids or finishing up a wonderful book as you pour your second cup of coffee.  Expectations are wonderfully low. Kids don’t really have to bathe or get up in the morning for school. Someone in the house may need to work, but you’re not quite sure what time and trust that they’ll figure it out on their own.  

Gifts are randomly piled in corners waiting to be put away.  But I haven’t gotten around to it because I haven’t cleared out the old stuff to make room for the new.  

As I linger in my comfy bear jammies, I see I’m no different than my overstuffed closet.  I need to make room for the new. As we say farewell to 2019, take a few moments in your jammies and your chaotic house to clear some space.  Look back on what this last year brought you and write down these 4 questions.  

What are you most grateful for in 2019?  

What has been dragging you down?

What is no longer serving you?

How will you gently let it go?  

As you ask yourself these questions, notice the way your body responds to each one.  Our bodies know before our brains. What sensations come up? Heat? Cold? Rapid heart?  Quicker breath? Tingling or itching somewhere? What is your body asking you to release and surrender to the past?  

Know that you don’t need to have the most eloquent or meaningful answer to the question.  Maybe you just want to let go of hitting the snooze button every morning. Maybe you want to let go of anger you’ve been holding on to for way too long.  There are no wrong answers.  

Ritualize it.  A small slip of paper with a few words and a match will do.  Or, write it with chalk on a rock and throw it into the nearest body of water you can find: a creek, a pond or a bucket.  If you live near a river, lake or ocean, go for it. But there is no need to make this complicated or you simply won’t do it.  Heck, a scrap of paper and a trash can work just fine.  

I know my house will eventually get cleaned up.  Laundry will be folded. Gifts will be put away. Dishes will make their way to the dishwasher.  I will shower before noon again soon enough. And as I linger in my comfy jammies, I take a few moments to reflect on the last year and clear out the cobwebs to welcome the new.  

In what ways will you make space for the new?  

You Can

I signed up for an online writing course in February. It was fun and challenging and it awakened lost possibilities. As part of the course, it was recommended I pick up The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

This book is changing my life in ways I never expected.

The book is a 12 week class with exercises and practices to tap into your creativity. Part of the practice is what she calls Morning Pages. Every morning, write three pages of stream of consciousness writing. Every morning. She advises not reading these pages. Simply write them. Even if all you are writing is “I don’t know what to write” for three pages.

When I read this, I thought – yeah, that’s not gonna happen – I have three kids to get fed and dressed and out the door. I’m not giving up sleep. But, I’ll give it my best go.

Before I knew it, I had filled up a notebook. When I went to buy a new one, this jumped out at me from the shelf at the 99cent store.

Stickers added by my kids.

When I read it, I just thought: no I can’t. I have three kids and a mortgage. I cannot simply do whatever I want. It’s a lovely thought and a good sturdy notebook, but no, I can’t do whatever I want.

I’ve filled more pages every day. I’ve filled it with the mundane thoughts of my daily life. I’ve filled it with my dreams.

I have faithfully written three pages every day for 6 weeks now. Most days it happens first thing in the morning, whether I wake before the kids or not. I pour my first cup and coffee and get to writing at the kitchen table if my kids are still in bed. I go to another room if they are awake.

A couple weeks ago, I went to meet with a new studio owner nearby. She loved what I had to offer and hired me on the spot. I’m planning my first workshop there for June. She asked me what else I envisioned for my work. I told her about my vision for a retreat in the Dominican Republic.

“What’s holding you back?” she asked.

“Fear.” What if no one wants to sign up or invest that kind of money to spend a week with me on retreat? What if I’m not good enough? What if I lose money? What if I spend all this time and energy planning it and it’s a total failure? The what if gremlins were so loud, I couldn’t hear anything else.

“But, what is stopping you?” she asked again.

“Me.”

I really can do whatever I want.

I decided I’m doing it. I’m so thrilled and excited to be offering this retreat. I was in the Dominican Republic this last January and fell in love with the people and place. Sometimes I go on vacation and think, well that was lovely. Other times, I go to a new place and all I can think of is how to get back and bring people I care about. Dominican Republic quickly became that place.

Here’s the thing: this is not just true for me. It is true for you too.

You really can do whatever you want.

Maybe you want to come on retreat with me to the Dominican Republic? (Yes, that is a shameless pitch.) Maybe you want to travel through Europe, Iceland or Asia. Maybe travel is not on your agenda but your lifelong dream has been to be a dancer, a singer, a circus acrobat.

What dreams and ideas come to mind that you immediately poo-poo. Before the thought can even make it to your pen or your lips, you are already dismissing it.

You know the one. It’s dangerous. It’s a little scary.

Write it down. Say it outloud. Whisper it at first if you need to like it’s a big secret. Then, let it get louder. And louder. Shout that dream when you are home alone. Then maybe when your partner or kids are home. Build up. Dream it. There’s no harm in dreaming. Let yourself indulge in the dream.

Then, ask yourself – what’s keeping you from it? What is holding you back?

I suspect it will be fear, yourself and the what if gremlins.

Talk to the gremlins and ask them…

What if I pursued my biggest, craziest dream? What if I took a middle aged ballet class? I picked up the ukulele? What if I traveled the world for fun?

What if I simply wrote my own permission slip?

Who else is going to give you permission to live your life other than you?