Om Shanti-week one

There has been so much going on all around me (and I’m sure you, too) and I have been MIA. Wow, it is already September 7th and I am a week into a new month-long commitment. I have decided to do yoga every day for the month of September. This is not a unique challenge, by any means. However, the “why” of any task is what gives it its importance. Here are a few things I journaled after practice tonight on my “why”:

It feels a little silly to write this, but I honestly felt called to this.

For many reasons, I have not practiced the religion I grew up in for almost a year. In light of recent events and the world I live in, I felt frustrated with Christianity and hopeless in my faith. So, I said my goodbyes to my past life and escorted myself out of the culture that I had been so completely shaped by. Months passed, full of so much beauty, bitterness, anger, gratitude, and grace. Whether I liked it or not, the Divine was underscoring everything I experienced.

But I have also been empty and longing and I have recently come to terms with that. Like, tonight.

Rilke wrote that God is “the great homesickness we could never shake off” and that seems to be my truth.

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All this to say, I think I started this ritualistic practice to open myself up to that world again and to prayer again and to the idea of God again. Maybe if my breath and body are intentional, every time I unroll my mat, I will be heard by the Lord. My sweat, the result of work full of gratitude. My balance, evidence of a quiet mind. My rest, the clear presence of a searching heart.

I am unashamedly chasing God during this journey. I will let you know what I find.

Namaste.

 

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Thank you

I have spent the last month listing things I am grateful for every day. Honestly, I had read accounts of this process changing people’s hearts and lifting spirits. But I was still doubtful. I am here to tell you that, although I am not a completely new person, this practice is transformative. Gratitude is like a wave, with each thankful moment folding into itself. By the end of the month, I was wading in an ocean of gratitude.

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Acknowledging all of the beauty and privilege that I experience every single day was humbling and moving. The ocean is vast and I have an incredible amount of things to be thankful for. I have kept up this practice because no matter how bad the day is, there is always something to be thankful for. It also gets me to clear my head for a few moments and get connected with the gifts that the Divine has given me.

I wanted to list everything I was thankful for this past month, but it was a very long list. So here are some of my favorites-

THANK YOU:

  • for this inkling of hope I hold on to
  • for strawberries on my salad
  • for David’s face near mine
  • for sun on my shoulders
  • for the song I sing in every darkness
  • for cold water
  • for Leon Bridges
  • for purple
  • for green smoothies
  • for feeling strong
  • for the pain that lets me know I am alive
  • for Jenny and young love
  • for forest park
  • for home made coffee
  • for my spirit being full and empty
  • for the train going by us through trees
  • for sleepy anticipation
  • for Tennessee rain
  • for flickering lights like stars or souls around us
  • for waking up at Anna’s house
  • for no more late nights
  • for intimacy at midnight
  • for sweetness at dawn
  • for You
  • for Me
  • for it All

 

 

 

Adventure seeker

It seems like I have blinked twice and the summer is already half over. If I am completely honest, this summer has gone by the quickest of any I have experienced in the past. There have been only a few markers or events to even denote the passage of time. Real question: is this what getting older feels like?

Regardless, that is not what this particular post is about. I have been thinking more and more about having a life of adventure. I recently finished The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron and have started reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Both books are about creative living and I highly recommend them. In a nutshell, they are both about pursuing your dreams in a real way within the structure of your real life. Since birth (most likely), one of my dreams has been to live a life of adventure. I have always wanted to be an independent, free-spirited adventuress who writes and paints and runs and rides horses and etc. In May, I got a great full-time job as a tile painter. And just like that, I became a “weekend warrior” type. The adventure-seeker-free spirit inside of me yelped and I became anxious.

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I asked myself “what does this mean?” and “am I giving up my dreams?” and “Julie Cameron would shake her head if she knew.” A few weeks after accepting the job, David and I decided to make good on a new year’s resolution: to hike the Wildwood trail (over 30 miles) in one day.  We started the trail at 6:15 AM on the hottest day of the summer. I wish I could say that it was easy peasy and such, but it wasn’t. It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was hot, my feet swelled to twice their size, and I came face to face with my weaknesses. However, it was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done. I got to spend the day with my best friend, I was outside for almost 14 hours, and I came face to face with my strengths. Additionally, I feel a whole new connection with Forest Park and for that, I am grateful.

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What does the Wildwood trail have to do with Julie Cameron, dreams, and adventure? Well, that day spent on the trail graciously showed me that I am pursuing my dream of an adventurous life. I get so focused and frustrated on what I am not doing, following, experiencing, that I ignore all that I am saying “yes” to: I have been to the coast seven times this year, I have run a lot of miles in the woods, I have spent time outdoors every Sunday for the last 6 weeks, and I have written almost every day since December. I am not intending to sound arrogant or braggy. I am intending to show myself and you that we may already be following our bliss, whether we feel like it or not.

Hiking Wildwood trail, committing to my writing practice, Ms. Cameron, Ms. Gilbert, and the “Outdoors on Sundays Project” (which I hope to unpack more next week!) have all been incredible teachers to me. They have taught me that, yes, I do long for an adventurous life and yes, there are always new and better things I can accomplish. But they have also shown me that adventure seeking is in my blood. I don’t have to worry about living complacently, and neither do you. When we find those things that make us feel alive, we won’t be able to stay away for long.

Currently: not running

I was out with my friend Kammie the other night and I mentioned this blog and she said “Oh, I haven’t read it because I’m not a runner.” I felt a little surprised and then I realized, I need to make running more relatable to other parts of life! Or maybe I need to write less about running? Anyway, if you are here and you are not a runner, welcome.  Thanks for making it this far. I promise my posts are not always completely about running. I also promise that most of them are one hundred percent nonsensical and unedited thoughts.

As of when I am sitting down to write this, I haven’t run in two weeks. Two weeks! That is the longest break I have taken in a long time. I felt a little niggle in my knee about a month ago. I thought it would go away, but it persisted. I kind of trapped myself into having to take time off and, let me tell you, not running has provided me with more challenges than I thought.

The first challenge I expected: mental breakdown. I know that sounds so dramatic (even for me), but the mental game that goes into running step after step is supremely difficult. The reward of endorphins and catharsis is worth it. However, when that rush was stripped away, I felt anxious. I felt restless and unfocused in all of my other practices. I stopped wanting to write. I stopped trying to meditate. I became helpless and a little hopeless. That story is probably not news to you and it certainly wasn’t to me.

The second thing I have experienced: an identity crisis. I have found myself challenging my identity as a strong and healthy person. Remember when I finally was at peace with calling myself a “runner?” When I had to stop running, I asked so many questions about who I was:

If I’m not running, who am I? If running is where my power, individuality, strength, health, etc. lies, then what happens when running is stripped away. Do I become a powerless, nameless, weak, unhealthy woman? I openly talk about running, does this make me an imposter without it? Have I been faking it the whole time? Am I letting myself get too wrapped up in running? Will I be injured forever? Should I just decide to quit?

I harbored all of those thoughts (and more) in my mind for over a week without knowing they were there. When they came to the surface, I was ashamed. I was ashamed for thinking thoughts that seemed so silly and I was ashamed at letting myself get so stressed out about something so privileged and trivial as running. I spent the better part of yesterday working out what fighting that shame looks like.

 I have found that, for me, the best opponent to that shame is play. Someone who is playful is not concerned about always fulfilling expectations. Playfulness lets plans be malleable and identities be fluid. Playfulness looks at not running and says “Oh bummer, I can’t run! What new thing do I get to try?” Play is so full of joy, hope, and lightness. It seems like when I am choosing to be playful with my plans, nothing can get me down.

As of when I get post this and leave, I am going on my first run in two weeks. My knee is feeling a little better and I am chomping at the bit to get back on the trails. However, I am approaching the whole thing with a playful spirit. If I can’t run the whole distance, I’ll walk. If I need to stop early, I’ll do it. If I get to the trailhead and don’t feel good about the whole thing, I’ll skip it altogether. I am a powerful, individual, strong, and healthy person without it. And so are you! Whatever that “one thing” that’s yours is, let it go for a while. Abandon your practices and see what playfulness comes out in your life. There might be a few moment of darkness, but there will also be lightness and healing.

Weekday Reading

I am feeling a little off today. I think it is because I slept in, or maybe because I skipped church (I am a creature of habit), or maybe because I had diet coke and pizza for breakfast. Regardless, I am here at Either/Or (one of my favorite coffee shops) and I’m trying to get my juju back.

I tried to read two books over the last two weeks. I am sad to say that I didn’t finished either title. One book I didn’t finish on purpose, the other I am reading a lot slower than I thought I would. Because they are unfinished, I will not number them among my 50 books. But since I like to write about everything and coffee is finally in my system, I figured I would tell you about them anyway.

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Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

This book is a treat and I am planning on finishing it this coming week. I first listened to Richard Rohr speak the beginning of this year. He was on one of my favorite podcasts (Comedian Pete Holmes’s You Made it Weird) and I knew we were kindred spirits. It’s a good episode and worth the two hour listen. Anyway, I picked this book up at the library last Monday and am only on the 39th page. Rohr dives into the notion that humans have a two-part spiritual journey with some sort of “falling” in the middle. The book is relevant and inclusive to people of all faiths. Here are a couple of my favorite moments thus far:

People who have never allowed themselves to fall are actually off balance, while not realizing it at all. That is why they are so hard to live with. Please think about that for a while. (p 28)

and

Our Western dualistic minds do not process paradoxes very well. Without a contemplative mind, we do not know how to hold creative tensions. We are better at rushing to judgement and demanding a complete resolution to things before we have learned what they have to teach us…This is not the way of wisdom. (p 36)

I can tell that Rohr and I will be fast friends at the end of all of this.

Scary Close by Donald Miller

So this is the book that I have no plans of finishing. I am usually a Miller fan (I even mentioned him in my previous post), but this book fell a little flat for me. Miller’s tone seemed to not be as warm or inclusive as his previous titles. Part of my jaded attitude might be the fact that he spends much of the time talking about being real and open with your partner. I know I have so much more to learn in marriage, but David and I started our relationship off as two broken human beings making clumsy mistakes. Even at my most guarded, I am awful at hiding my flaws or faking confidence. So I guess Miller lost me a little bit. I think when I’m a famous author with some large businesses and a public presence to maintain, I will feel the same as he does.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to challenges and resolutions, so thanks for bearing with me and forgiving me and sending me love and maybe some chocolates and a new pair of shoes.

Warmly,

Mary Emily

 

 

Wait, what is this called?

I hate to admit it, but I am an anxious person. Even when things are smooth, I will have a moment where I open my eyes and look around me at what I am doing, who I am with, where I am, how I look etc. and get dizzy with worry.
I received a little insight into my experience with anxiety lately while trying to run during Portland’s “Snowmageddon.” David is always up for adventure and luckily decided to come with me. Foolishly, I looked at my weather app and thought that 40 degrees didn’t sound that cold. I layered my running garb irresponsibly. We wore crampons on our shoes and felt like things might be easier than our previous attempt* to run in winter weather. The run wasn’t long and shouldn’t have been too difficult except for the unprecedented foot of slushy snow still covering the trail. We ran when we could, but running through the deep snow in inadequate clothing proved to be impossible. So we started walking.

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The cold wind blew maybe once before I became panicky. I was so chilly and I was supposed to be running. I complained repeatedly to David about how I had wanted to get a certain amount of miles in and had not anticipated having to trudge along at such a slow pace. Any time negativity enters my vocabulary, I swiftly turn to self-judgement. The next time I complained about how slow we were going I also said, “I’m sorry for being to so insufferable.” Which then turned into me apologizing for pretty much everything I’ve ever done in my entire life.

After a few awful miles, the trail cleared off enough for us to jog a little. I think warmed enough to get in touch with my brain at that point and I began to dwell on why this run was bothering me so much. This run. Run? I had been approaching the snowy adventure all wrong. I got so obsessed with its name -a run- that I got really upset when I couldn’t run. Instead of adapting and treating it like a fast hike with my best friend, I fixated on what I thought it was supposed to be. Apparently, my anxiety only needs a slight misnomer to use as an entry point.

“What’s in a name?” Unwaverable power.

I think I have intense moments of worry because I am calling my experiences and identities by the wrong names. I get concerned about whatever my occupation is at the time because it is a “job.” A messy apartment can make me slightly lose my mind because it is my “living space.” Being a “wife” can be daunting and being a “daughter” is almost impossible. Stir these strictly labeled things together with their connotations, put into an oven of minimal outside pressure, bake for almost three seconds and you get a muffin tray with rows of steaming bouts of anxiety.

I remember reading a great book by Donald Miller in high school. It is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and totally worth checking out. In it, Miller asserts that all of our lives are stories. That thought comforts and motivates me tremendously. If I think of “life” as a “story,” it becomes way less intimidating. A story  is something I love and can relate to. Life is too big and adult for me to grasp. All of those smaller things that I have trouble naming are just commas, characters, transition sentences, disguises, ellipses, dragons to defeat, periods, and quests to complete. If my life is a story, there is an interesting writer and a good editor. There are page-turner moments, but also lots of ordinary dialogue.

I wish I could say that David and I finished our run with positive attitudes and a cup of hot chocolate. The truth is, we finished it incredibly freezing and in bad moods. Well…mostly I was in a bad mood, David can be almost too cheerful in hard situations. I will say that I learned to be much more careful about attaching my expectations to what things are called.

Since then, it’s exciting to embark on a new day and ask the question “Wait, what is this called?” What name I decide to answer that question with can dictate my whole attitude: A story. An adventure. A gift. A dance. A walk. A race. A task. A pleasure. A life. A friend.

Being

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness. -Thomas Merton

“So…what do you do?”

That is my least favorite question, but I find myself asking/being asked it so much these days. It may be because I’m a little awkward when it comes to small talk, but I think it goes deeper than that. I used to ask “What do you like to do?” but people would truly get so thrown off that I would almost feel bad for asking. As a creative, I envy those who can answer that question without clumsy further explanation. If someone my age is on a real career path, no one side glances with questions still in their eyes. Their inner dialogue is like “I get it, they save lives.” But when I am asked what I do, I perform a complex explanatory dance just to end up saying simply “I’m a nanny.”

What is that all about? I think I feel the inherent pressure to succeed because I’ve gambled my life on art. I have spent the last two years trying to validate what I studied in school. And trust me, being a nanny is certainly a strange place to show that my education was worth it.

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I have been surprised by what I’m currently doing with my life.  Part of my job as a nanny is also taking care of a small, ragamuffin farm. I have pruned fruit trees, cleaned coops, weeded ceaselessly, and (my personal favorite) turned compost. All these things become automatic pretty quickly and provide me with perfect opportunities to consider my own existence. I know that sounds a little navel gazy, but I believe it’s a privilege and a practice we could all use a little more of. When I am struggling to shovel unmentionable waste and rotting veggies, I am also giving myself time to just be. I’m not sitting cross-legged on a pillow (although that is also something I wholeheartedly encourage), but I am meditating and diving deeper into what it means to exist.

I have been curious about the more mystical side of spirituality for as long as I can remember. I was raised in a traditional church, but loved yoga the minute my feet touched a mat. I read excerpts of things written by mystic monks and gurus with the same enthusiasm. One of my favorite things that I have gleaned from these teachers is the importance of giving yourself the permission to simply live. Thomas Merton (one of my absolute favorites) lived and died without seeing a super-computer phone or the internet, yet he still thought we all needed to let go of “usefulness” and look at existence.

I know I am not original in saying we need to relinquish what we are doing and focus on who we are. I also know that we need to be reminded that we are so much more than what we do. That is only a small fraction of the beautiful garden of self inside each of us. Merton’s quote is my thesis for living this year. I am planning on returning to school with the hopes of teaching. I will write. I will keep on running. I will create art. But I will also remember that I have time to breathe, to live, to just be.

So here’s to a new calling: Being. Focusing on that will better enable us to love others for not only their usefulness, but for who they are.