Practical Magic.

Hi, friends! Happy Thursday. I’ve written a lot on here about my own personal journey to be gentle, to love myself, and to find my path. Today, I wanted to share some of the tools that I’ve learned to lean on along the way.

Now, I’ve read those same articles you have:

“Don’t hit the snooze button!”
“Exercise 30 minutes a day!”
“Vitamins that boost your mood!”
“5 New Ways to Enjoy Kale!”

It’s easy to read this (admittedly accurate) advice from sleep scientists or vitamin scientists or whoever these experts might be. It’s another thing entirely to avoid hitting snooze when it’s dark on winter mornings and I’m groggy from stress-induced nightmares and my ear hurts and do I have tinnitus? I’d better Google tinnitus. Then, because of the nightmares and the snooze button, I forget to take my mood-boosting vitamins, and even LOOKING at the raw kale in the crisper drawer fills my soul with dread. I’ll have to chop things! And wash multiple dishes!

The truth is, it took thousands of dollars of therapy and lots of help from a loving, supportive family and great friends to get to a place where I actually enjoy taking care of myself. If you can afford it and it resonates with you, therapy is great. Onsite Workshops was a real game-changer for me. But there were many little things I read, ate, or did along the way that helped. Here are some of those things.

Reading Material:
* I start each morning with a passage from The Language of Letting Go. Codependency is a scary word, but it really just means you’ve decided your happiness is tied up with others’ happiness, or their reaction to you. This book helps. (It’s also on sale for less than $12! They probably have it at your local library!)
* Anything by Anne Lamott – her beautiful words remind me you can be sharp and witty and own your flaws while also embracing grace and mercy.
* Anything by David Sedaris, because he’s dark and weird and smart and hilarious, and though we are different, I feel a sense of connection when I read his non-fiction. And that, friends, is what it’s all about.

Listening Material:
* Oprah is an angel who has come to Earth to share the good news. Her Super Soul podcast is the perfect companion to washing all those dishes from the kale dinner I’ve bribed myself to make. (Seriously, bribing myself is a very effective tactic and one I would recommend.)
* Armchair Expert by Dax Shepard lets me listen in to famous people who are generous enough to share their mistakes, empathy, and humanity. We’re all in this together.
* The Moth podcast is an enjoyable workout for your empathy muscle.

Home Stuff:
* I’m a borderline hoarder of things I have endowed with sentimental value. But you know what feels great? Giving that dinosaur lunchbox (which, yes, I bought as an adult) to my friend’s kid, who treasures it. Or cleaning out a bunch of clothes and imagining them having a whole new life at someone else’s house, where they might give that person a sense of pride and style. Or at least serve as part of a Halloween costume. Buying new stuff feels great at the time, but it feels way better (in my experience) to release, reduce, reuse, and recycle.
* Frequently, I get overwhelmed by the little bits of responsibility I have. It seems like it should be easier to keep myself, my dog, and my house in order, but it just isn’t. “Should” is such a dangerous word. When I look around me and feel I might sink under the weight of what I haven’t done, I pick one tiny task. Maybe today isn’t the day I scrub all the grout, but it can be the day I sleep on crisp, clean sheets; I can wash all the dishes before bed. Then I send out some empathy/sympathy for parents of young children and feel grateful for my life.
* I put up some bird feeders a few years ago, and they provide the best free entertainment, with their little squabbles over sunflower seeds. I love getting to know their personalities, watching black-capped chickadees steal away with their food to the security of a big old spruce, and seeing the one fat house finch scare the other ladies away.

Health Stuff:
* Meditation is one of those things that, YES, I GET IT, we should all do every day, and there’s that should again. Podcasts have once again come to my rescue, here, because there are oodles of them with meditations under 20 minutes. Mindful Pause by Jeena Cho has some good ones.
* Yoga is magic, as my friend Kirsten says. Don’t go to an exercise class pretending to be yoga (unless that is your thing, in which case, do your thing!), find a studio filled with houseplants and statues of Hindu gods and goddesses and crunchy people who talk about honoring the light inside you. I love restorative yoga and Yoga Nidra, which are like paying for a guided meditation/nap with some gentle stretching. I don’t like going to yoga and then being tricked into doing crunches, but that’s just me.
* Having a high-energy dog has helped me in many ways. She forces me to go for daily walks, because if I don’t, there will be hell to pay. She also reminds me of simple pleasures in life – just the act of going outside is the best part of her day! Every single time she gets to go outside, even just into the yard, it is like she has won some kind of award! Frozen peas are a delicacy! She can be a real pain, but on balance, I’ll keep her.

Adventure Stuff:
* I moved to New York because I wanted some adventures, and even when I was miserable and depressed and homesick, there were so many adventures. I moved to Colorado to be closer to nature, and in 30 minutes, I can be driving through the Rocky Mountains. But regardless of where I live or happen to be, I try to find little adventures. Wherever you live, there are probably free days at your local museums, cool antique stores, or restaurants you haven’t tried. Even a little adventure goes a long way.
* Watching a lovely sunset can feel like a discovery. When I find myself in a Netflix rabbit hole, cranky about the dishes I need to wash, nothing pulls me out of a funk as quickly as watching clouds turn rose gold or purple.
* Talking to people on airplanes always gives me a thrill – I’ve met people who kept me calm during turbulence, and people who defied my initial judgements (a tattoo-covered man who turned out to be an incredibly sweet formerly Mormon veteran comes to mind). I’ve had people give me their business cards and offer to help me if I ever find myself in Tennessee and in need of anything. I know from friends that this isn’t a popular hobby, but it has given me many gifts.

The common thread here is, of course, connection. Nature, good books, yoga, and sunsets all help me hook into a sense of awe about our shared experience here. They help me feel less small, powerless, and alone. There are infinite ways to find this magic – what resonates with you?

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Could you open that door, pretty please?

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The Wisdom of Weeds.

My front yard is mostly green, mostly tidy, and mostly grass. The few areas of weeds are unobtrusive – I’ve always liked clover and am happy to host the bees. The back yard, with no sprinkler system to keep the grass alive, has become a thicket of dandelions and shame.

Over the winter, the back yard was bare. When I threw a ball for my dog, Bella, clouds of dirt rose each time she launched her lithe body at a sprinter’s pace across the yard. Aside from the ever-present need to dust, I didn’t mind the dirt. It felt nice on bare feet on warmer winter days.

As weather grew warmer in spring, the first green shoots arose – each like miniature trees with purple or spiked trunks, pushing wide leaves and flowering crowns. They started small, and they kept the dust down. How do you weed a whole yard, I wondered? I didn’t want to spray chemicals where Bella lays and pants and licks herself (and eats what little grass remains), so uncertainty kept me frozen.

I left for a trip, and when I returned, the weeds had, well, grown like weeds. Periodically, I tried to pull a few of the worst offenders, but 30 minutes engrossed in the task cleared a couple square feet – it didn’t seem worth the time or the lower back pain. Each day, I tried to ignore what was rapidly getting out of control.

Surprisingly, this tactic didn’t work (it never does). Each time I said it wasn’t worth it, I was really saying I wasn’t worth it. I deserved to live in these tangled vines. So I didn’t invite friends over, stopped drinking my tea outside in the morning, and those invasive plants grew taller.

Then my mom scheduled a trip to visit me later this month. I looked outside and was struck, once again, by how bad I’d let things get. The nice thing about deadlines is they help you get out of your own head. With her visit in mind, I had to face the forest.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I feared (it never is). I remembered I have all kinds of tools to help me – gloves to guard from thistles and prickles, trowels to dig out roots, and podcasts to keep me entertained. It didn’t have to be perfect, I reminded myself – I just had to do what I could.

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Sadly, not my yard.

I wish I could better remember the relief that accompanies facing a challenge you’ve been avoiding. I can tell you for sure it wasn’t worth all the fretting over these last months. It felt so satisfying to pull roots from the ground, to throw another leafy invader onto the pile. Next year, I get another chance – to get sprinklers, to put down seed – but for now, I’m doing okay.

My breath came easier, knowing the problem wasn’t as big as I’d thought, realizing I was up to the task.

I Am Rich.

Today is my birthday – I am now 34 years old, which is strange to say. I haven’t yet gotten used to the feel of the number. Friends and family wished me Happy Birthday, and some of those messages came from the UK, Spain, India, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Each message reminded me how fortunate I am. I grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis, yet I have been to both Zambia and Zimbabwe; I have circled Victoria Falls in a 6-seater plane (and as the only passenger, got to ride in the co-pilot seat). A friend invited me to his wedding in India, and his family welcomed me with graciousness and hot tea. I have sat on a rooftop, surrounded by green parrots, talking to a Maharaja who had wrapped himself in a blanket against the chill.

I lived in Scotland for half a year and New York for over six, forging fierce friendships that shaped me, with people so cool and brave and bold I scarcely could have imagined them. I watched my family fall apart, saw my own father be closed up in a box and watched it descend into the dirt, and I was lucky enough to witness my family bloom and grow again.

Tonight I stood barefoot in the yard, feet grounded in the soft, powdery dirt, and spoke to the new moon, wherever it might be behind the clouds. I prayed I could release the things that no longer serve me, so that I might be filled up again. I prayed to welcome love, kindness, empathy, bravery, faith, and whatever else I might need for the next phase of my journey.

Bats flew overhead in the twilight, searching for dinner. I watched them and thought: they have everything they need.

I am wealthy beyond measure, and I wish you that same abundance of spirit.

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Showing Up.

Each day, I read a passage from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. This morning’s meditation was entitled “Panic.”

“Don’t panic!” it begins. “If a swimmer was crossing a great lake, then suddenly focused too heavily on the distance remaining, he might start to flounder and go under – not because he couldn’t swim, but because he became overwhelmed by panic.”

Lately, I have been starting my days with news articles and a Twitter feed filled with information that creates feelings of panic. I see men and women saying vile things to one another from behind a phone screen, seemingly devoid of empathy, spurred on by a desire to triumph. To make others feel small.

Fear is causing us to blame “the other.” We are being sapped of our empathy and warped into believing that others deserve their fate. We are privileged because we deserve to be. They are not, because they don’t. “They should come here legally,” we say to absolve ourselves, with little understanding of what that means, or why many people leave their homelands in the first place.

And who are we to lay claim to this land while keeping others out? We have an ugly history we try to ignore while it leaks out between our fingers, soiling everything we touch.

When I think about how far we have to swim, I start to panic. But then I remember I am not alone in the water. I’ve been encouraged by people sharing all the ways to donate to RAICES and Together Rising, and how citizens who have conservative and liberal ideologies have used their voices to protest the atrocity of separating children from their families, perhaps forever.

We are far from shore, but I do not need to panic. I must keep moving forward, because I cannot bear the guilt of sitting silent in my privilege. I don’t know what the miles ahead may bring, but I know I will continue to learn, grow, pay attention, and show up where my voice can help.

We are, still, stronger together.

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Making Peace.

This past weekend, I traveled to Indiana – my home state – for a visit with friends. We solidified these friendships while living in New York City, and most of us have since moved. Several moved to places closer to family, where they’ve built incredible careers, bought houses, raised puppies – now, some are raising children.

I moved to Colorado on somewhat of a whim. I made a list of characteristics I’d want in a new city and narrowed it down to Denver, which is the closest I get to a whim. There’s natural beauty and plenty of hiking trails, young people, and culture. The weather is incredible. It was and continues to be a good choice.

I can’t remember exactly when, but before I left my hometown, I had already begun to form my identity as “other.” (Discovering that I’m a 4 on the Enneagram could have been helpful back then.) While I treasured visits back home, my identity hung on the fact that I’d “made it out.” This has caused a few conflicting feelings: I feel guilty for belittling where I come from, which isn’t just a place – it’s a collection of people, some of whom love me, and all of whom shaped me. This belief has also kept me feeling isolated. My family is there, and they hold my heart.

I have used this stubborn belief that Indiana holds nothing for me to keep myself moving, exploring, seeking adventures. The truth of it is: I was afraid that going back home would mean I had stopped growing. That where I am now professionally, as a person – that would be all I’d ever achieve.

Walking alongside my friends, the same women who used to picnic in Prospect Park in Brooklyn and joke about Williamsburg hipsters, I realized we had all continued to grow – thank God! How miserable it would be to believe everything I thought was gospel at 22. It didn’t matter who had moved back home, stayed in New York, or ventured to a new city – we all still loved each other, and we were all still growing, striving, seeking adventures.

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And you know what? Indianapolis has grown and changed, too. My friends there live in beautiful homes, and there are cute restaurants with delicious food, and strolling the botanic gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art was the most fun I’ve had in a while.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but for now, I still love Colorado, and I am grateful to realize that my value doesn’t come from my zip code. It travels with me wherever I go.

Learning to be Gentle.

Do you notice your thoughts while you’re dropping something? A physical object, I mean – a plate of food, a wine glass, a crooked stack of books. There’s a moment when I think I can still recover. I don’t have to drop this.

Often, a louder, uglier thought follows right behind: you deserve to lose what you’re holding.

A few months ago, I watched my freshly prepared dinner, filled with healthy vegetables I spent time chopping and cleaning, splash across the kitchen counter, down the cabinets, and onto the floor, delighting my dog and sending me digging through the freezer for a burrito.

Fitting, I thought. Can’t even take care of myself. Wasted all that time and food – why do I even try?

Each time this happened, it was a small but real opportunity to demonstrate what I thought of myself. What bubbled up was cruelty, when I needed compassion.

My mom came for a visit earlier this month, and we had a lovely time together. We took three loads of old clothes and shoes and dishes to the Goodwill – things that no longer resonated with who I am becoming. We found a set of beautiful, delicate dishes at Williams-Sonoma, eggshell white with a sculpted wave pattern around the edge, and back at my house, we scraped the stickers off each dish, dreaming of dinner party décor.

Each time I rinse one of these new plates, I hear that familiar voice say I’ll probably end up dropping it, but now, a warmer, louder voice speaks second. I love these dishes, and I deserve to feel worthy of them. And though they are precious to me, they are simply ceramic molded into a pretty shape. If I do drop one, it will be an accident, not because I have decided to shame myself with the shards.

I wish I could get rid of all my self-doubt and perfectionism alongside my scuffed-up shoes, but for now I will rest easy in the knowledge that I am learning to love myself. I am learning to be gentle. And my heart, it turns out, is much less brittle than I feared.

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Small Victories.

Recently, I read Anne Lamott’s book Small Victories. I’ve loved her books since reading Bird by Bird in college. Bird by Bird gave me the first, tiniest breath of hope that I could allow myself to enjoy writing despite debilitating perfectionist tendencies.

In the book, she talks about “shitty first drafts” and how you have to allow yourself to write a first draft so bad you’re afraid you’ll die in the night and someone will discover it. She describes her own neurotic process and how she learned to give herself permission to begin. For someone who believed my first draft should be my final draft, reading her words was the first crack in my wounded worldview – it allowed the first beams of light to filter in.

I have had to learn this lesson many times since, which is a painful irony for someone who tries to be perfect at beating perfectionism. Each time I learn, I think, “I’ve got it, now. I’ll never make a mistake again.” Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, that’s not how it works: there are always more mistakes and more lessons.

Small Victories arrived on my book pile just when I needed it. I stopped by the library without a plan, and I walked where I felt led. I turned a corner, looked down, and there was a cheery blue cover, printed with a name that, to me, symbolizes hope and humor.

This little collection of essays was filled with stories of this vibrant and talented woman slipping into fear and doubt and blame, only to be redeemed by grace. She dips into fearful, wounded ways of thinking, but she always finds her way back to love and connection. And not by following a booming voice from the heavens, but by noticing small moments of kindness, resilience, or beauty.

It’s hard for me to rest in a sense of faith – moments of joy often trigger fear. I’m learning to breathe through this, but it’s a struggle. I’m learning that’s ok, too.

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