32 The morns are meeker than they were

We’ve entered Fascicle 3! I swear I haven’t skipped around, the poems naturally jump from 1 to 3 this way. We’ll see if 2 comes up later on. Now it’s Fall of 1858, and, of course, she captures the change of season in her language –

 

The morns are meeker than they were –
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The Rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d be old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on.

[Emily Dickinson]

How can one ever hope to keep up with Nature’s everchanging beauty? Simply, one cannot. I’ll tell you a secret – beauty isn’t a contest. It’s not a zero sum game. We can all be abundantly beautiful, and celebrating each other’s beauty intensifies our own. Find beauty in everything and you will find beauty in yourself; we reflect what we see in the world.

Namaste, beautiful –

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Soul Care

As humans, we are inherently triune beings – mind, body, and soul. Growing up in charismatic Christian circles, I saw people moved by what they called the holy spirit. Now I see that these people use[d] religion as a means to give their souls life. They spoke in tongues and danced around rooms, “moved with the spirit.” But I feel the same spirit when I listen to jazz or absorb great paintings; I pulse with that life when I dance in a club or write a story. I may not ascribe to any religion, but my soul is as alive as ever.

We are raised to go to school, to seek education – to read books and solve math problems in care of our minds. We’re taught to eat healthy foods and exercise to care for our bodies. But what about our souls? The spirituality of religion can get stuck in legalism and dogma, leaving the greater part of the population lost and, in many ways, dead.

“A little wisp of soul carrying a corpse.” – Epictetus.

 

Our souls are what bring us to life – they’re the animating factors that shine light behind our eyes and make our skin glow. Think of humans as double layer cakes – mind and body are the layers of cake, but without frosting, who wants to eat it? Dry and crumbly, maybe it tastes good for a few bites, but something’s missing. The glue, the moisture, the decadence – the icing on the cake – the soul.

All animals have bodies and minds. But what make us human, what have the potential to make us great and transcendent beings, are our souls. Our healthy souls can unite us, make us free, give us power, and lead us in paths of love and light. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets physiological and safety as the lowest two – the only needs that are purely physical or mental. The top three are love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – the needs of the soul. So, if you don’t believe me, believe an esteemed psychologist – 3/5 of our most basic human needs are those of the soul.

But in a society, a culture, a world that neglects the soul – how do we care for it? How can we bring it to life? This takes work, consciousness, dedicated practice; Rome was not built in a day. Maybe you follow religious teachings, maybe you let music and art spark your internal fire, maybe you practice meditation and yoga. Start by clearing out the cobwebs, dusting the corners, and opening the windows – the beginning is the hardest part. Just as muscles atrophy in the absence of strain and brain cells wither away with disuse, our neglected souls wilt like thirsty flowers in the shade. We need sunlight, we need water, and we need these things regularly. People use drugs to feel alive in this way – to skip the daily practice and enjoy the light of the soul for an evening. But this feeling of ecstasy is possible on a daily basis. With practice, with care, the soul becomes stronger and brighter, and your power becomes increasingly accessible.

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So, as Voltaire wrote, let us cultivate our gardens. Let us seek out beauty and love, surrounding ourselves with objects and images and sounds and foods that bring us joy, with people who radiate light – let us make our souls happy. When we do this, all other desires are met – a body and mind connected to a healthy soul with be beautiful and intelligent and strong. So yes, have your workout and your salad, and read your books and work your sudokus, but begin with the soul. Stoke your internal fire and all parts of you will burn as brightly. 

Let the light in.

 

Love, calm, & care –

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Saying Goodbye with Grace

2016 is ending, and with it, a phase in all our lives. Years neatly section off time so that we can all have an ending and a new beginning together, but endings come around more often than every 365 days.  Whether it’s January 1st or May 24th or August 8th or whenever –

A phase in your life is over.

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Maybe you’re moving to a new city, a new country even. Maybe you’re leaving a job, or maybe you’re ending a relationship. Little endings happen every day as we walk out of buildings, get out of cars or buses, leave movies, check out at stores, finish essays or books or tv shows, but these don’t get much attention. Maybe you think about what you just did for a moment or two, make a comment about something you noticed to a person you’re with, but leaving the grocery store doesn’t typically make the news feed. But big things – these take quite a bit of our attention. And they’re often quite painful.

Whether you’re happy to go or your heart’s breaking, grief happens. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to walk around a town wondering when you’ll ever be in it again, it’s okay to cry yourself to sleep replaying memories of you and someone who’s no longer in your life.

You’re allowed to celebrate, too. Even if you’re going through a nasty breakup or ending something awful – there were good parts about it, right? You treated yourself to a fancy coffee once a week at a certain coffee shop, say, or he made you laugh til you peed your pants – just because it’s over doesn’t mean the good things go away, and it doesn’t mean you have to be sad.

Endings are bittersweet, and forgetting to balance the bitter with the sweet tips us off kilter, sets us up to begin in a strange, unhealthy way. To get closure, even from the sharpest pains, you’ve got to hold the sadness with the joy. When something’s over, you get a bit of distance from it – you’re no longer in the midst of it, so you can see clearly – without the bias you held while you were living that reality. Now you get a chance to see the whole experience as a montage, to view yourself acting in situations that already happened. You can think about it. Maybe you like how you acted or maybe you don’t, but see it. Understand it without judgment. Since the phase is over, you are no longer that person. Yes, it’s you, it looks like you and said all the things you said, but now – now you’re not in that situation. You’re no longer impacted by its stresses or joys. The part of you that actively does that thing is gone – dead. So really when you’re grieving a phase in your life, you’re grieving a former version of your self.

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I’ll use myself as an example here – I just recently moved from the town where I graduated college, where my family lives, where I fell in love twice, where I learned to be kind to myself. This was also the town where I felt more depressed than I ever have, worked through conflicts with my parents, ended a destructive relationship, and had moments of truly hating myself. In leaving it, I had to see it for what it was. I had to recognize the sadness of some of the times I went through, and feel joy to be leaving, but, at the same damn time, I saw all the beautiful moments, the wonderful job I had, the community I relished – and I had to feel sad. I had to grieve that I couldn’t be there any more, that I was leaving, and that those joyous moments were gone.

Flipping through my rolodex of memories before I left, I saw some clear images – beautiful evenings with people I love, moments alone in my favorite places – and I realized that the girl I saw in those moments, while Bethany, was no longer me. I saw myself being happy in the past, and at the same time I knew – I’m not her anymore. She’s a part of me, of course, and all my past experiences – positive and negative – inform who I am now. But, looking back, I saw a girl who hadn’t learned lessons that I’ve since learned, who hadn’t endured trials I’ve since endured, and who didn’t know she would be living in China right now, typing this out in her very own apartment. And for a few moments, I felt sad. I loved her. I felt true joy in those moments, and now they’re gone, never to be lived again. And that can be difficult to let go of. But what good would living in the past do me? Seeing her, that version of myself that I was truly happy being, I know that she is a part of me. And I trust her to build an incredible future for herself, to move forward into new upgrades of herself and to never let yesterday or last week or last month be her prime. Even if it was really fucking great – tomorrow always holds potential to be better.

stylish girl says goodbye peace out 2016

Endings are hard. There’s no way around that. But beginnings are beautiful. And the purity and freshness of a new beginning can be tainted if the past hangs around too closely. For now – it’s over. Cry about it, laugh about it, comfort yourself with the memories you’ll always have, and turn forward – hold your head high and carry on.

Love, calm, & care –

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Moods, Foods, & Recovery

How do you feel after sitting on the couch all evening with potato chips and soda? Lethargic, maybe? When I’ve been most depressed, it’s been me, a bed, Grey’s Anatomy and Oreos all night long. I don’t feel great. It’s a cycle actually – eating junk food makes me depressed. And I don’t mean the occasional cookie, I mean six at once or chips and queso for lunch every day, processed crackers always on hand, and no fruits or vegetables in sight. Now that I’ve done the work to clean out my system, a piece of cake can deflate my mood. And I’m not alone in this – I’m just especially sensitive. And aware.

It doesn’t take a nutritionist to see that processed foods filled with sugar don’t make you feel great. Without fiber along with it [as in fruit], your body freaks out, stumbles blindly through digestion, and sends the sugar straight into fat supply. Sugar is a drug – it’s like the new cocaine. Except kids are addicted. And the conundrum of it all is that, if you’re feeling down, sad, etc, what do you reach for? Comfort food. And anyone who’s ever had a meal in the south can tell you what that’s made of. Dairy and sugar. Regardless of the dish, it’s dairy and sugar. Even drinks – soda, sweet tea – you’ve heard it all before. It’s everywhere. And eating it – just like any other drug – seems to be an endless cycle.

Ours is a time of disordered eating. Maybe we don’t like to talk about it, but there it is. Food as comfort was passed down to me as a coping skill, along with a biologically slow digestive system and adolescent body image issues. I was bulimic for four years. If you don’t know, that’s the one where you can’t handle feelings so you stuff food over them in excess. As the sugars settle, self-loathing rolls in, followed by a purge – typically self-induced vomiting. It’s very cathartic if you don’t know how to actually feel your feelings. And I certainly didn’t.

It still takes conscious practice, but now I drink tea when I get the blues. And I like the way it makes me feel.

Any addiction is a learned behavior of escapism, whether it’s sugar, alcohol, or meth. It’s your go-to – it’s what’s comfortable, familiar, safe. As much as you hate it, you come to love it, even cherish it. When you become uncomfortable, you know how to fix that. As time goes on, though, you start to realize your habits aren’t sustainable – that this one comfort in your life still makes you miserable. Its secrecy isolates you and, with food especially, it’s very easy to keep problems a secret. You can eat in the bathroom, outside, in your car, in your home. You buy a binge amount at the grocery store and excuse it with a charming smile, saying, “My boyfriend was just dying for oreos.” Whether you purge or not, that’s easy to hide, too. Any time you go to the bathroom, all you need is your own finger, maybe a pen. No one knows if you’ve had three dinners or zero and most people are too involved with their own problems to catch warning signs in a friend or family member’s behavior. Even if you do notice – what are you supposed to say?

To stop negative, self-sabotaging behavior, you first have to decide that you want to stop. Reasons vary – but it’ll usually come with realizing your own worth, deciding that you don’t deserve to be sabotaged. Most personal work begins with self-love, but getting there can be an arduous journey. If you see signs in a loved one, simply beginning a conversation will help. Just be there. Get personal. Ask the hard questions – it’s always worth it. Here are some helpful ones: How do you feel about yourself? What do you think about? How’s your heart? Even a simple, How are you? with a meaningful look. Talk about anything personal – the mere fact of your intentional presence makes a difference. Because, just as the junkie might talk to his heroin, food becomes a friend. And if no one’s noticing your unhealthy behaviors, try being your own friend and turn these questions on yourself – at least start thinking about it.

Addictions are like abusive relationships in this way – you love them, and they hurt you. But you just keep going back. To get out – be mindful. Subconsciously you’re upset, and you’re taking it out on your body. Now you’ve decided you don’t want to go to food or cigarettes every time you’re bothered, but it’s engrained behavior. Luckily humans are adaptable, and rewiring the brain is possible. A craving sets in, and your body instinctually busies itself with finding a fix. When this happens, stop. Look. Listen.

Stop. Pause in the moment. Freeze. Still your body so you can listen to your emotions. Observe and describe what’s happening. “I just got in my car at 11 pm to go find candy/chips/whatever.” Investigate. “Why do I want candy right now?” Even with quitting smoking – which I’ve also done – noticing that you actually have a craving is the first step. Chances are there’s a reason, and it’s probably something you encountered – bad news, being ditched by a friend, didn’t like what you saw in the mirror, even boredom. Okay, you’ve frozen the moment, paused yourself – now what? That’s up to you.

Choose. You get to decide whether you go on your errand or not. No one’s pointing a gun at you, no one made you get into your car. What do you want – really? Try to see past what you want in this moment to what’s actually going to help you in the long run. If you want to beat an addiction, don’t forget that you want to beat it. Keep reasons on hand if you need to, and reference them in this moment. Remind yourself of how much you start to hate yourself after you eat an entire tub of ice cream. Is it worth it? Now of course you’ll relapse, but don’t beat yourself up for making the “wrong” choice. You still made it, the least you can do is take responsibility for your actions and accept that. It takes baby steps.

In recovering from bulimia, I struggled with binging long after I stopped vomiting. But I promised myself – whatever happened – I wouldn’t purge. I would have grace with myself, forgive a binge and move forward. The fog began to clear as I slowly cleaned up my diet, seeing food as fuel instead of an event or a comfort. It was certainly gradual, but here we are two years later and, while I am necessarily aware of food, I am healthy. I practice kind habits. And they’ve become so much easier with time. And I work for that. Anyone can. You can. Without a doubt – it is worth it.

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Graduation

College graduation. What a time to be alive. Class of 2016, we made it. It’s happening. What an achievement. We’re proud of ourselves.

Now what?

I’m sure you’re all as sick of hearing that question as I am, mostly because I don’t think my future is anyone’s business but my own. But what is next? How did you decide on that? Job offers, travel plans, internships, dead-end jobs. The possibilities are endless.

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This is what a crisis looks like. Me sitting in a dusty antique store. Totally manageable.

Whatever you’re doing next, I encourage you pause. Now, with graduation. Consider who you’re becoming. Have a little life crisis now, and save yourself the trouble of a massive one at 40. I find that by having an identity crisis every month or so, I stay on top of my life, remaining aware of who I think I am, who I’m actually becoming, how I’m feeling, and what my goals are – really. Because I want to live from a place of authenticity, of truth. And in order to do this, I have to be very in touch with who exactly I am. And, as humans do, I grow and change regularly. Having a clear set of values allows the growth to happen along a continuous line.

A crisis can sound terrifying. They’re mythologized with flashy sports cars or divorces, spoken about in hushed tones as if the person having one is doing something very, very wrong. But really, it’s okay to have a crisis. In fact, they’re unavoidable – life phases end, people die, shit always hits the fan one way or another. So if you allow them to happen, and you get comfortable, able to trust yourself to act well in a state of crisis, you’re way ahead of the game. And 40 will never hit you in the face. No, you’ll hit 40 in the face because you’ll have been actively living in line with your values and talents in a way that gives life to your soul.

I had a crisis yesterday, and I’ll probably have a few more this week. I feel great about it. I am alive, and crises come with that venture. Let’s handle them with grace.

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