I Am Here.

My friend Kirsten took me to my first yoga class, a by-donation community class in Manhattan. I’d never done yoga and am not particularly flexible, so it took some convincing. “Yoga is magic,” she said, as though she were in on a secret.

We joined a crowd of others with mats slung confidently over their shoulders as we walked into the building and up a flight of stairs to the studio. The teacher kept calling out for us to scoot our mats closer to make more room, until we were an inch apart from each neighbor. “Anything cheap in New York,” I muttered to myself, trying to preserve my personal space.

I followed along with the poses; I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t terrible, and it was interesting. “Now we’ll continue our flow into Half-Pigeon Pose,” the teacher said. We gently dropped down onto our mats, keeping one leg out straight behind us and tucking the other underneath ourselves. She told us to gently fold forward towards the mat. There was a sharp, almost unbearable pain in my hip. My instinct was to run – to sit up straight and get out of this crazy position. Instead, I remembered Kirsten’s words: sometimes your body gets scared, so it hurts, but it’s just muscles – you’re ok.

I’m not harming myself, I thought. It’s just something new. I’ll be ok. I took a deep breath and relaxed into the pain, and whatever had clenched inside my hip, sharp and white-hot, released. Without warning, I let out a sob, raw and instinctual.

As we gathered our mats and shoes, my friend repeated her mantra: yoga is magic.

Since that day, she’s been proven right many times. I spend a lot of time in my thoughts, and yoga helps me drop into my body. It reminds me of the shape of my heart.

Last week I attended a restorative yoga class with another friend, who is also a believer in magic. It had been a long day, filled with bright spots and disappointments (like most days), and on the drive to class I prayed that we would each get what we needed out of class.

This class was all about support: we were physically supported by bolsters and blocks, and we were guided to imagine all the ways we’re supported in life. I had thought of my family and friends, my house, and my sweet dog, and my gratitude was marbled with fear. What if I lose them?

During the next pose, the teacher had us lay on the mat, one leg twisted over our bodies, shoulders flat to the floor. “Imagine the right side of your body expanding like a balloon,” she told us. With each breath in, there’s a light that glows brighter, and it dims just a bit when you exhale. Repeat ‘I am,’ which is complete, or find a third word that feels right to you. I am strong. I am loving.”

I imagined my ribs opening like gills, translucent and glowing, exposed and vulnerable. The light expanded from within me out into the room, and I found my own mantra: I Am Here.

My mantra was born of a gentle realization: no amount of protecting myself can save me from loss and pain. If I’m already living this life, I may as well really be, really here. So as tears fell, creating cool, damp patches in my hair, my heart called out to the universe: I AM HERE.

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Turning Towards the Light.

Gratitude doesn’t always come easy for me. I appreciate things: the kindness of friends, help from my family. But pausing to feel grateful, deep in my bones, that is trickier.

Some of my anxiety has chosen to nest in gratitude’s rightful home in my heart. I resist feeling happy because I’m afraid of being stuck where I am. Somehow, I came to believe that misery is my only motivator towards growth. When I think of the people who are precious to me, a dark and clutching voice whispers: “Don’t get too comfortable, honey – I can take it all away whenever I choose.”

At times, this has felt insurmountable to me: how can I allow myself to truly feel joy and humbling gratitude when, at any time, the universe could choose to mock my naïveté?

I am seeking to change my experience of all this – my experience of God. I recently participated in a community where love was the driving force. It didn’t matter where we had come from or what we struggled with, we were all greeted with the same love, acceptance, and support. To me, this feels closer to the truth.

This morning, I prayed to be brave enough to trust that there are lessons in joy as well as in struggle. To trust that I will be supported through the hard times, so that I can live boldly, with a life shaped by love and gratitude for what I have in this moment without worrying about the moments to come.

With this shift in perspective, I felt the tears come. Owning this home has been a humbling experience, but it gave me the opportunity to learn to receive. Yes, it was difficult to look around me and realize I could not handle everything alone, but that only loomed so large for me because I felt ashamed about the brown grass in my front yard and what it said about my value.

When I first bought my house, I prayed that it would be a haven for me and anyone else who needed it; I prayed it would foster connection. I had spent so much time focused on my disappointment about my inability to water the grass that I wasn’t able to see a bigger truth: this house has been exactly what I requested. It has shown me that I have family and friends who will help me tear down some questionable fake brick or plant daffodil bulbs and butterfly bushes. It provided a home base for friends moving to Colorado. It has been witness to brave, honest, vulnerable conversations that were the start of incredible changes in me.

When I realized, a few months into home ownership, that I was too afraid to sleep here alone, my dog Bella came into my life. It is expensive and a decent amount of work to care for her, but she supports me. She gets me outside walking every day. She has inspired countless moments of laughter and silliness. She gave me the ability to stay in my home. When I desperately needed help, she appeared.

I am learning that life isn’t as linear and organized as I thought. Maybe you don’t wander through a barren desert until you reach the promised land. Perhaps love and abundance can grow alongside pain and loneliness, and I can choose which ones to water. I suspect I will have to learn this lesson a few times, and I am practicing being gentle with myself about this. For now, I am truly grateful for this insight, born of a desire to turn my face towards the light.

I am grateful for the light.

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Trust the Process.

Last month, I had a special experience. I haven’t shared it here yet because it feels both precious and fragile. I feel a bit like how I imagine a new mother would feel. I want to tell everyone about this amazing thing that happened, and I also want to keep it nestled safely close to me until I’m sure it’s real. I’m so proud of these changes in me, the idea of offering them to someone else to hold, even for a moment, seems frightening. What if I share my newborn joy and hope, only to have it misunderstood or rejected?

Then I gently remind myself that it is real, and real doesn’t mean perfect – in fact, it’s raw and shining, unfinished and yet completely whole. I am starting to know the truth of me, and that is all I have to worry about.

So, in the spirit of real, here goes.

In early December, I traveled to Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee for a workshop at Onsite. I attended the Living Centered program, a week-long experiential therapy retreat. My step-dad, a psychologist, has been going to Onsite for years, and each time I sank into another round of depression, he would share stories of his experience and suggest I might look into it.

These moments of depression began in elementary school. Going to church, school, and even birthday parties awakened my anxiety, which I couldn’t name as such, and I didn’t understand why these things seemed difficult for me and easy for most others. I was smart, and my family and teachers expected things from me, so I buckled down and did what needed to be done.

I figured that I needed to push through and get over it – get over myself. As years passed, I did big things in spite of my fear; I worked to make my outer self a more genuine reflection of my true personality. I taught myself that others had just somehow gotten hold of the playbook, and I would be fine once I learned the game. Once I learned the rules, then I could really start living.

The harder I worked at trying to crack this nonexistent code, the more I began to see everything around me as a reaction to me. Social interactions or dating relationships gone awry, or a toxic work environment – everything negative in my life must have happened because I couldn’t play life perfectly. Even with friends I loved, who really knew me, I nearly always panicked over a misstep. I became exhausted; at times I grew resentful or felt like a failure; I lost sight of my own value.

Was I broken? Was I weak? How could I have so much potential but still feel a lap behind?

Though I had grown braver and more determined, my two-headed dragon of anxiety and perfectionism continued to pace at the mouth of his cave, standing between me and the treasure that lay out of reach behind him.

When my step-dad first told me about Onsite, it felt foreign – something I didn’t need, or maybe deserve. During the darkest times, it felt like a life preserver just out of reach. Finally, this past year, I got my head above water long enough to realize I wasn’t earning any prizes for struggling. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew there was a place to go to learn, and there were people there who might be able to help me get off the bench and really start to play.

I arrived in Nashville and boarded the shuttle bus with a few other folks, and we rode into the country, tense and silent. I sent a final few text messages to friends and family, and then we arrived. They gave us a tour and pointed out our cabins, where I stopped before dinner. One roommate was already there, and her warm, genuine welcome calmed my growing nerves.

After an awkward first dinner with 40 other participants, we handed in our phones for the week, renouncing contact with the outside world to begin our journeys into those caves guarded by our dragons.

The details of what happened that week I leave in Cumberland Furnace, but what I found there changed me. I learned what it feels like to be real – to set aside the funny faces and self-deprecation and smart comments and say only, and simply, what needs to be said. I was humbled by the kindness, love, and grace that was given so freely to me. I was amazed to realize I could give all that in return, and not by achieving the right to this exchange, but by trusting that the core of me is enough.

I learned that the core of me is not comprised of my particular struggles. Those struggles are real, and I have work to do, but I am not doomed. For the first time, I began to understand myself – a deeper wisdom than the track that used to play on loop in my mind. That understanding led to compassion, which led to hope. Not a frenzied grasp at change, but real, sweet hope.

I received the gift of understanding that I am a good and worthy soul, and I can take responsibility for my life without sinking under the weight of everyone else’s. I enjoyed my first glimpse at escaping the strangle-hold of perfectionism, and how good it feels to give myself permission to do things clumsily.

The final evening of our program ended with a dance party – a room full of people living out our joy to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas. On the shuttle back to the airport, we laughed at how different this ride was at the end of our week together. One man and I realized we had sat by each other on the shuttle in. We had started this process as frightened strangers, and in just a few days, we shared conversations about God and love and the nature of humanity. We had held each other’s hearts gently and with gratitude. We had become friends.

Each day that passes, Onsite feels farther away, but it continues to show up in my life. Sometimes I feel an actual shiver of gratitude that I got to have this experience, I get to be a part of this community. Sometimes I feel so settled in this new understanding that I almost can’t remember how I felt before. Sometimes the old stuff pops back up, but then I gently remind myself: real doesn’t mean perfect. In fact, I’m raw and shining, unfinished and yet completely whole.

Sunrise

It’s a new dawn; it’s a new day.