On Diving into Life

Tuesday, August 2, 2016 • 5:41 a.m. EST

Sometimes getting older helps us see our most vulnerable truths.

I awoke to a dream of trying on clothes in an almost-abandoned mall. The store sold clothes specifically made for people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. I couldn’t really figure out why, as the condition doesn’t lend itself to needing specific clothes; quite the opposite. Most people would never be able to tell from the outside, the exterior, that I struggle with an autoimmune condition.

Regardless, I was trying on beautiful blue and gray dresses with long knit sweaters over them. They were perfect, my size, and on sale. I was walking back into the cavernous dressing rooms that felt like a behind-the-scenes place when I woke up, 5:07 a.m., ready for the day.

Like the good ole’, prednisone-fueled times, I thought to myself.

Earlier this week I started my annual birthday review, a walk down my brief history of celebrations and memories, from the pool party birthday days of my toe-headed youth to the first kegger my friends threw me for my 18th (sorry Dad).

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But mostly the photos from my early 20s kept resurfacing. The summer at the end of college, in my first apartment, when Lark and I spent nearly every afternoon at her pool, and the season felt as if it culminated with my 21st birthday kegger—an inebriated, music- and volleyball-filled party. I think the cops came, a few times, which felt like an accomplishment.

That moment stands out less then the moments of blissful freedom that defined those years. One song defined it best—Built to Spill’s “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” one of their 2006 releases from when I worked my afternoon radio DJ shift at WUTK, the college station.

At more than 7-minutes long, the drum- and guitar-filled jam was a rare treat to play on air. At the station, I shut the door and cranked it up in the booth as loud as it would go, thrashing around and singing to myself.

I still do that when I hear it. There’s something beautiful in not just remembering those totally bliss-filled moments, during a time of life when things were absolutely carefree. I’m so glad I experienced that. I’m so glad I can reminisce. I’m so glad I can still live so freely and with such courage.

But mostly I’m glad it’s in the past. Where I am now, whatever you want to call it, living with dreams of fun work-like clothes, waking up at 5 a.m. to listen to Otis Redding and write, and relishing in the “children” Charles and I adopted for my birthday this year—seven new cacti…those are the things I am excited about this year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to bop around, and I already have this week, to Goin’ Against Your Mind, as loudly and brashly as I did at age 20. A girlfriend recently indulged me in a multiple-cocktail daytime adventure, much like I would have in my mid-20s though with less of a hangover, and this weekend we’re going to float the Hiwassee, hopefully without the blistering burns I acquired in past years.

Nostalgia is sweet. Growing older is sweeter. Recognizing your place, on your karmic path, and finding the wisdom, and the emotional breakthroughs…and realizing, maybe for the first time, that you get to keep them all to yourself? That is the sweetest.

Visiting my Mom over the weekend, we flipped through family photos that had been my grandmothers. In one that was likely my first Christmas, Andy and Wendy, 2 and 4, were sitting beside me, looking cute with trim haircuts. I was a baby, looking drooly and somewhat satisfied in a bouncer seat. The three of us were all looking off, probably at Mom while Dad took the photo. I joked to Mom as we flipped through the photo, “Jeepers Mom, I look like I’m about to take a shit or I need to eat!” We laughed at the indistinguishable look of a baby.

Every birthday, every little shift and big experience, every breakthrough, every diagnosis is part of our path whether we like it or not. Sometimes we fly, something we can relish those sweet memories and moments. Sometimes we feel like we fail, thinking back on a year marked by disease, doctors, diagnosis and daily problems. But maybe being vulnerable and really diving into life isn’t defined by the birthday parties and memories or experiences we want to plan, but instead by the oh-shit moments that catch us off guard. Diving into life, without being able to control everything, somewhat unexpectedly, is what it’s all about.

Looking back, and looking forward
I’m receptive to the wild winds of the universe.
I’m receptive to all the shit that life throws me.
to autoimmune diseases, colds, cruddy eyes, biologics.
to mistakes and errors…
…that lead to some of life’s most beautiful discoveries.

I’m receptive to failing
I’m receptive to FLYING
to soaring
to embracing all of life’s gifts
all of the seeming failures, unmade beds, missed opportunities
that lead to breakthroughs. Gifts. Smiles. Sunshine.

I’m receptive to this karmic path.
I embrace my 30th year with a different, hopefully emotionally mature mindset.

And in so many ways, when I looked at that picture of myself, sitting among my siblings at age <1, either about to shit or needing to eat, I laugh now that not a lot has changed.

Not a lot has changed.

On Always Remembering

How different would our world be—how different would our day-to-day interactions be—if instead of seeing and remembering things in the negative, we viewed things through a positive light?

What if instead of “never forgetting,” we “always remembered.”

What if instead of never forgetting terrible losses, we always remembered the greatness of those whose lives were lost. And we celebrated progress.

What if instead of never forgetting tragedy, we always remembered to meet people wherever they are. And we celebrated our differences.

What if instead of never forgetting senseless acts of violence, we always remembered to wish every being—even ones who hurt us—freedom from suffering.

What if instead of never forgetting fear, we always remembered to act with courageousness. Compassion. Consideration.

What if instead of never forgetting hurt, we always remembered loving kindness.

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May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering, May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

I tried to apply this to my own life, in a very tiny way, this week. While driving down MLK Boulevard, which is once again turning into a true boulevard, someone parked on the side of the road opened his car door and knocked off my side mirror. The driver claimed I was in the wrong. While I doubt this to be the case, I’m not sure. But I was furious. I wanted to run him over in my little safe box of steel. I was happy I hadn’t been cycling in that very spot ,as I likely would have been “doored,” which would have certainly resulted in two broken elbows and a world of pain.

What if instead of being angry at this person for acting without intention—and never forgetting the wrong I felt he caused—I always remembered that he has his own world of pain and suffering. That maybe he suffers from senseless acts of violence or pain, and that opening his car door into someone driving by was the last thing he wanted to happen on a Thursday afternoon.

I was furious that he didn’t offer to make good. He said that he was going to just drive off—and that I was in the wrong. “I have a witness!” he said, arms spread wide, pointing to his passenger. “So do I!” I said, pointing to Charles, in the passenger seat. I didn’t call the cops or file a police report. I drove off, as I wanted to enjoy dinner with my family. I was mostly hurt that someone might act that way—senselessly, without any consideration for a fellow human being.

Why is it that we must alienate the other? Why is that the hardest thing to do? How many lifetimes will it take for me to be able to not react, to not judge, to not want to curse and run someone over, or get even against someone who took advantage of me? How long will it take me to not spew hate, but instead to always remember to wish for that man to find happiness and freedom from suffering?

Today, on the memorial of one of the great American tragedies of my life so far, I hope that message rings more clearly.

How long will it take until we can treat each other with loving kindness and compassion, even when others hurt us or go against our beliefs?

How long will it take until we can treat each other with the dignity and respect that we’re all worthy of?

How long will it take for us to not just never forget, but ALWAYS REMEMBER that we’re dealing with humans? Even if their actions go against every fiber of our being.

Remember, we’re dealing with humans.

I’ve thought a lot about this, especially in light of this summer’s events that sparked the “Nooga Strong” sentiments. My small example of finding forgiveness and compassion for someone who hit my car by no means compares to the greatness of the lives lost in acts of violence.

Not everyone shares in my sense of optimism, I know, and some may find it disrespectful. But my hope is that yes, we can honor the lives of those we lost. We can also have conversations that lead to meaningful progress. In my heart of hearts, I hope we can learn to love and grow and change to reduce the impact we have on one another. To stop judging. To start conversations. To see that our enemies have their very own struggles, their very own pain and suffering.

I hope we always remember to act in ways that liberate every human being, every living thing from suffering. To allow them to find happiness, no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what their intentions may be.

“Compassion and love are not mere luxuries.
As a source both of inner and external peace,
they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.”
—His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

On Teachers and Loving Kindness

A teacher is not forever, but their teachings can last forever. The individuals or lessons come and go in your life. Some of them have a greater impact than others and impart infinite wisdom and kindness onto you, while others may never even directly communicate with you. Teachers are everywhere, and I’m grateful for each and every one.

This past Sunday I took an Anusara-inspired yoga class at the Landing, my home base studio, from Joe Taft, an Asheville instructor. He infused his class with allegory, exciting and loving energy, expert physical cues and pacing. It made me feel so vibrant and alive, and it reminded me of my dear teachers in Miami, Carol Garabedian and Peter Barber. I left glowing, excitedly telling my manfriend Charles that it was so similar to my Miami teachings!

The week earlier I felt a calling to more meditation and learning about Buddhist practices, also inspired by Peter. I connected with that urge in Yong’s meditation class. The insights Peter brought to each of his classes—that all beings may be happy, and free from suffering and to move and act with loving kindness—paired with heart-centered asana echoed through me last Wednesday.

During meditation, it occurred to me to send Peter a note—email or written? I thought—but I didn’t do it yet. I wanted to tell him about my Joe Taft experience, and how I’ve been working to incorporate the loving kindness that he sought into my own practice, asana, pranayama and meditation. I wanted to tell him the guidance he gave me through the immersion with Carol still rings true and resonates in my own heart and through my movements on and off the mat. I wanted to tell him that Anusara, his classes and in particular that immersion was a turning point in my life when I realized I could embrace loving practices and a gracious heart as the connection between yoga in practice and life in practice.

Peter was 68. He was a tall, thin-framed man. A former attorney with a lingering New York accent who drove his black BMW like a bat outta hell. He focused on therapeutics and his physical abilities amazed me. He said until recently he did his age in sun salutes for his birthday every year.

Among other things, his humor and intelligent instruction delivered a safe and beautiful practice to those around him. He loved jazz, and he gave an amazing amount of love to his students and peers. He sometimes snored in savasana, farted on occasion when he was teaching, and his OM-ing pitch was often hard for me to match. He was the first teacher I knew who would guide us through a vigorous asana practice—unheated and perfect—with a cup of coffee in hand. He was the FIRST teacher I encountered in Miami, though I only met him before I went into a different class. Little did I know then what a wonderful experience I would end up having with the Anusara community.

Peter died over the past weekend, likely hours before I practiced with Joe and joyfully moved through that Anusara-inspired class. I mentioned him to Joe that morning, who said he’d practiced with Peter before.

I didn’t know Peter extremely well outside of practice, but in the interaction I did have with him, he reassured me that I was moving on my own path, in my own way. He encouraged me to push my physical asana practice forward when I joined his advanced class on Saturday mornings. He told me I would be no doubt an excellent teacher.

What is most significant about Peter and Carol, my other Miami teacher who can’t be overlooked, is that even though I looked up to them so much, and I loved them so much, they are real. Authentic. They have their quirks and oddities, but their hearts and their experience shines so brightly to me. That made the lessons I received from them all the more impactful.

While my heart is heavy for the loss of a wonderful teacher in my life and the lives of so many others, I can’t help but honor his memory with a shiny heart and bright smile today. I can’t help but move with lightness and loving kindness, because that’s what I would imagine Peter would do. That…being able to move forward with dedication and loving kindness no matter the circumstances or suffering in your midst… is what I learned from him.

Peter, you are dearly missed, but your heart still shines.

It’s OK to Just Be Real

“You’re a healthy reminder that it is okay to just be real. Thank you.”

This sweet, sweet compliment came across my inbox on a day when my spirit didn’t feel fully bright. I woke up at 3 a.m. to take a dear friend to the airport shuttle, and while I got a few more hours of hard sleep before my alarm finally woke me again, I’ve been a bit in the clouds.

What does it mean to be real? For me, it means to not beat myself up. I talk, write and think about fully letting go all the time. But truthfully, it’s one of my biggest challenges and struggles. I’m really hard on myself and set sometimes ridiculous expectations to succeed at work, in relationships, in my neighborhood and the various communities I’m part of, and I don’t easily let go. I’m learning to stop saying “I’m sorry” or make apologies for who I am, whether it pertains to the way I love, mistakes I’ve made, or even the way I get irritated.

(You’re not sorry, you’re radiant!)

And sometimes, it takes unforeseen, uncontrollable circumstances—like weather, that white stuff—that FORCE me to let go.

Part of what unfolded for me this weekend wouldn’t have been an opportunity if I hadn’t been able to let go, though, or realize I couldn’t fulfill all of my obligations. In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to spend time with a dear friend who helped transform my freshman (and only) year at Rhodes College. We laughed for at least three minutes upon seeing each other. I wouldn’t have been open to the last-minute gift of two tickets to see Jeff Mangum at the Bijou on Friday and spend time with the Knoxville family of friends I haven’t seen in months. I wouldn’t have been able to visit my mom and Grandmother yesterday afternoon, and celebrate Grandmom’s 90th lap around the sun..

I didn’t arrive at this place—or any of those places this weekend or in general—without some frustration, bickering and almost tears. But with all of those emotions came breath and support from loved ones that took the form of a car share, a friend, a phone call, a meal, a bed and warm place to stay.

All that to say, I’m happy I arrived at this place, I’m happy for the journey, and all of its highs and lows, I took this weekend that threw me off from my plan, and I’m happy to say… it was a blast.

I think I’m getting better at being real. Cause it’s not just OK to be real, it’s freeing, it’s luxurious and it’s everything. Thanks, Kevin, for helping me keep it real.

On Finding and Meeting My LBP

The early afternoon lighting was perfect, the sky bright after a day of rain and threatening weather. The Hair Lounge was quiet; apparently it was lunch hour. Angie squeezed my appointment in after my Tuesday appointment was rescheduled. While not the Friday night, shampooing-and-relaxation experience I’ve recounted here before, this hair appointment was still therapeutic, and less dramatic. 
 
Our conversation hovered around my trip to Argentina, the experience, how I was incorporating what I learned there and from that trip. We decided to keep growing my hair out on the side and keep one side short, shaved. 
 
We laughed together about the Instagram photo I posted just a week earlier for #throwbackThursday of me with a shaved head. She admitted to at first being frustrated, thinking it was a recent photo, when in fact it was from years ago in Knoxville.
 
She put the finishing touches on my hair.
 

“How long has this been here, or do you know about it?”

 
Sitting in the ever-so-comfortable salon chair, half smiling, I didn’t know what Angie was talking about. 
“You have a bald spot,” she said. 
 
“Wait… does it look like from being pulled?” I said, smiling sheepishly. 
 
“No, though I’m sure that’s a good story,” she replied. 
 
She asked if I’d experienced any dietary changes or shifts, or if my cycle was off. No, I hadn’t, beyond whatever shock my system felt when coming back to the U.S. after Argentina. Our conversation moved, gently, slowly, to alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss on the head and body. 
 
The beaming smile I had from my new haircut—which wasn’t much, as I think we’re ironically growing it out a bit—began to fade. She encouraged me to talk to a local acupuncturist who works around the corner and sees other clients with similar conditions or issues. Apparently, though, if this is alopecia, it can be unpredictable, and change. 
 
I scheduled my next appointment and rode back to work. Hair loss? Whoa.
 
But among this momentary sense of panic at losing my big head of thick hair—an aspect of myself that I allow to feed my identity, my ego and my image, for whatever it’s worth—I found a sense of peace and calm. Maybe it’s a freak reaction to an intense medication. Maybe it’s alopecia, or maybe it’s something greater that will require major dietary and lifestyle changes. Maybe it’s stress.
 
Regardless of the cause, it’s nothing I can change right now. I can accept that I might have moments of panic at not knowing what’s wrong, or going through trials of trying this or that, or just practicing patience—like right now. But I DO know that I’m OK with being bald, if it should ever come to that, and I happen to really like my head without a lot of hair. And I know I can make major lifestyle changes if I need to. 
 
I’m OK as I am, with or without a “cute little bald spot” or a full head of hair, as a friend put it. A missing patch of hair is the last thing I should worry about…even if one day it means going to the salon to just get an updated buzz cut. 
 
Till then, I will watch my LBP—now nicknamed Lil Bald Patch—and keep calm, being grateful for the abundant, other precious hairs on my head.

To My Yogis: It’s Weekend 2!

It hit me last night that I AM IN THIS, engaged and fully turned on to the schools of thought, this learning process with 29 other souls and our sherpa..for the long haul. These aren’t just changes in my day to day…these people are becoming one of my families.

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Sunrise from the BikeHaus

The changes they feel and experience in a sense mirror my own awakening. Even when the ground is all we have to cling to in the face of scary feelings, challenges and what can seem like impossible feats…

We have our familiy. Our community. We have our yoga. We ARE our yoga.

Now I’m curled up on top of my comforter in numerous cozy layers, my fire blazing. It’s truly a blessing to wake up every day in this space, especially knowing the love and attention and care put into creating and maintaining it, from Quint, Cortney and countless others.

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The support from my housemate goes above and beyond!

I have to take this goodness, this light, and let it keep shining, like a lamp. I have to be conscious of tending my flame. Letting it grow too much will burn, but keeping it inside without air, without love and exposure, will certainly extinguish it.

Good morning, and happy Saturday.

 

From the Salon Chair: On Inner and Outer Beauty and Routine

I was called back to the shampoo room by Kelly, who asked if I was ready for my wax. “Sure!” I said, almost too excitedly. The sting associated with a wax has always satisfied me in some way—like ripping off a Band-aid, in a good way, and removing all the hair and dead stuff to reveal the smoothness of my skin.

“That was a good one,” I said, as she finished the second strip and my eyes barely watered.

(I know, I know. Bear with me.)

It had been five or six weeks since I’d last been to the salon. In fact, I KNOW it was the Friday a week before Brittany’s wedding—the weekend of Wine Over Water, 3 Sisters, and I believe the day after I had an in-person interview with who would become my employers. I like being able gauge the passing of time. Salon appointments, like other cycles and routines, keep me on track and allow me to reflect.

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I was FaceTiming with a friend last night as I walked downtown (talk about getting odd looks…) and he expressed surprise at how high maintenance my short hair seemed. Upkeep of short haircuts tends to be somewhat high maintenance, yes, but I enjoy going to have my hair done. It makes me feel GOOD, like I’m taking care of myself and put time and attention into the outside of my body, like going to the gym or something. In that sense, I place value in a sense of this traditional luxury of self care and “pamerping” at a salon.

But since my last visit to the salon, the inside is what shifted dramatically.

After my wax, Angie wasn’t quite ready for me, so Kelly shampooed me. Really THAT is the salon luxury—human touch and interaction. A head massage, warm water and amazing smelling shampoo, all while you’re tipped back in a chair, feet kicked up with your eyes closed? …yeah. That experience is yet another reason I visit the salon on a regular basis.

She moved me to Angie’s station. It was just after 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, and the sinking sun lit up the sky above Main Street. The double doors were open on the parking lot side of the building, and the sound of cars blended with the low chatter of women and hum of hairdryers. I blinked my eyes a few times sitting in the chair.

Ahhhhh….

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I’ve trusted my hairstyle to Angie for the past three years now. The level of trust I put in her skills and ability is really outshined by the way she can read, interpret and inspire great style. She’s transformed my Mohawk from its earliest stages into an asymmetrical funky ‘do, and years before that she helped create the bird’s nest of glory on my head. As I sat at her station and the buzz of the clippers vibrated against the right side of my head, I started telling her about my yogic experience and journey. Only then did the rest of my changes bubble up in conversation, and it was a good conversation.

What’s most inspiring, and where I feel like Angie and I (and likely other clients) have connected, is her ability and PASSION—her life’s work—to help other people relax, look good and feel good about themselves not only when they’re in the salon but after they leave. At her core, I believe, she personally fosters that kind of growth and inspiration on the inside, not just on the outside.

As she moved around the chair, I told her about the shifts in the past six weeks. My reflection now, on a Saturday morning, brings me back to a feeling, a very clear thought I had yesterday at 6:15 a.m. after finishing what was my first exposure to an Anyusara class (through yogaglo)…

I have made changes in the past six weeks that I used to think would be impossible to do.

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Waking up early. Developing a home practice instead of going to classes. Good sleep. All of these and more little shifts (the 1 percents) I’ve experienced and have been writing about are leading to what I can now see as BIG CHANGES. I feel overall like a more calm, stable version of LJ, with fewer extreme fluctuations and a much more pleasant demeanor on a regular basis. I’ve been open minded and less judgmental about situations I’ve recently faced that, if I based it on my past experience/self, I would have never DREAMED possible.

As I looked into the mirror before leaving the salon, yes, my hair looked really cool. Angie certainly didn’t disappoint. But the peace I felt inside I knew was overflowing, and I knew that part of me—the inside, not the outside—shined far brighter than even my biggest grin.