A Love Letter to Myself

August is a hard month for me. I long for escape to nature, for solitude, and inspiration. Instead I just feel depressed. I end up spending the majority of the month butting heads with my worst critic- myself. It's not August that's to blame, but my own perception of my life.  

In yoga, the practice of svadhyaya is sometimes translated as "study of the self". It's an important part of any spiritual path if we ever hope to be at peace with our own lives. We can engage in svadhyaya in our daily living through mindful attention to the present moment and we can create a formal practice of svadhyaya with things like meditation, mindful yoga, or journaling.  

As we cultivate self study in our everyday lives we start to understand how our own perceptions of ourselves and our world create a feedback loop of recurring reactions and habits. For me, this is sometimes a painful process- like looking at my reflection in one of those terrible lighted magnifying mirrors and seeing all the crap inside my pores. Ugh! Similarly, when we get up close and personal with our own heart, we are likely to discover some things that make our stomach turn with guilt, shame, or sadness.

This is where loving-kindness comes in.

We must be tender and gentle with ourselves, otherwise our self study can easily turn into a blame game where our inner critic loudly tells us how insufficient we are. For me, this often triggers a reaction where I feel the need to "step up my game", to be better, do more, study harder, make more money, stop doing this, start doing that. You get the picture. 

But, if we can have some compassion for ourselves and perhaps even hold some loving space for our inner critic to be heard, we will uncover something beautiful there- a desire for our lives to have purpose and meaning; a need to connect and to love;  and a heart that wants more out of life than to play itself on repeat. Maybe, with loving kindness we could turn that critic into a cheerleader- someone who roots for us and keeps us aware and motivated to align ourselves with our deepest values.

Yesterday, after a challenging meditation practice (by challenging, I mean boring and totally distracted), I was moved to write. What came out was a love letter to myself. When I was done, I felt like I had just received a big hug from someone I love. You can read the letter below.

 I encourage you to write your own love letter as a practice of deep listening and compassion.  At first, it might feel cheesy and awkward, but just do your best to stay open. You don't have to share it with anyone else. It's a gift from you to you.

Dear Jess,

I am writing you a love letter because I feel like I owe it to you.  I have been pretty hard on you over the past 35 years.  Also, this month is August -your most challenging month, so I feel like you could use a love letter.  It’s the time of year when you bump right up against some really deep patterns of uncertainty, boredom, laziness and insecurity.  I see how afraid it makes you to feel these things and how it makes you want to run away- away from your life and your commitments.  I see how the desire to separate yourself from your own life might seem like a quick and easy fix and I know there is something very exciting about the idea of embarking on a brand new path- entirely alone- where you can just recreate yourself again.  I don’t blame you for buying into the idea that you can “be better” and “do better”.  That message is out there loud and strong and sometimes it overpowers that smaller voice inside of you that says “I am enough.”

I want to apologize for being one of the voices in the “be better” chorus.  It was displaced insecurity on my part and a total betrayal to you.  I promise to be kinder from now on. You are kind, smart, and hard working.  You are generous.  You are soulful.  You are a gifted teacher.  I promise to believe in you from now on.   I think that, together, we can forge a really beautiful path through life- one that is filled with love, joy, purpose and pleasure.  I think I can be the best teammate you have ever had because I trust you with my whole heart.

I know that there are some big questions that you are working out right now and I know that your pattern is to try to figure things out alone. I really admire that streak of independence in you!  Let’s work them out together and let’s invite some other people who love you to help you work it out too.  I think that they really would love the invitation.  I know it’s scary to just lay your heart out there, so be gentle with yourself, but be brave too.  These people deserve your trust.

I hope that this August can be different for you.  I hope that you can enjoy yourself. I hope that you can lighten up!  I hope that you find a way to move your body every day, to be inspired by books, art and deep passionate conversations; to practice staying open to change by actively engaging with nature- your own, and the world around you.  All the answers you need are right there.  

With love,

Jess

 


 

Looking for Coyotes

"It is strange to feel change coming. It's easy to ignore. An underlying restlessness seems to accompany it like birds flocking before a storm. We go about our business with the usual alacrity, while in the pit of our stomach there is a sense of something tenuous.

These moments of peripheral perceptions are short, sharp flashes of insight we tend to discount like seeing the movement of an animal from the corner of our eye. We turn and there is nothing there. They are the strong and subtle impressions we allow to slip away.”                                                                            

- Terry Tempest Williams

One of my favorite places is a piece of  land that borders my family's home in northern Utah.  We call it "The Cedars". To many, it might look like a tangled mass of dead wood, scrubby bushes, and animal bones. To me, it's a haven of fragrant cedar trees and sagebrush; a sanctuary of desert stone against expansive sky.

This December as I hiked with my dad, he pointed out tracks: elk, rabbit, deer, and coyote.  I have heard the coyotes howling in The Cedars. I am always searching for them, hoping to catch a glimpse. My dad said coyotes are so attuned to movement that they walk when we do, stop when we do, and start moving again when we move. For the rest of the hike I paused every so often and waited, looking out the corners of my eyes for movement as I continued on.

I held my breath. I did not see a coyote.

Since then I have been thinking about how we scan the horizon of our lives, squinting as we look for evidence that we are on the right track: a growing bank account, perfect health, a promotion, or praise.  When we don’t find tangible proof, we believe that we must work harder. We push on- either charging forward or dragging our feet; whatever it takes to keep moving.

Maybe what we need is stillness.

Yoga contains movement and stillness.  In yoga we move our body in new ways, making shapes that give rise to new perspectives on what we are capable of; and then in the stillness, we have time to feel the effects of movement- the drum of our heart; the tickle of sweat; or the ecstasy of a deep, complete breath.  

We need movement to relate to the space within and around us. We need stillness to abide in that space.

In stillness, we witness how our own sensitive body holds the signals we were too busy to notice- a warmth in the belly; a fluttering in the chest; or an unexpected surge of energy that rises from the ground up.  Maybe these are the signs we have been looking for; that let us know something is there; waiting, like the coyotes, for us to stop in our tracks; to listen; to feel; and then to keep moving forward.

jess and spine.png

 

 

 

 

Listening in Japanese

I recently returned from Japan where I taught a four week yoga teacher training to Japanese students. In case you’re wondering, I don’t speak Japanese; so needless to say, communication was a challenge!

But still, at the end of the training we understood each other more deeply than when we began.  During our final closing circle we all marveled at the bond that was uniquely formed through support, encouragement and trust.

I listened to each student share her experience of the four weeks- the highs, the lows, and the transformations. Though I didn’t understand the words, I could feel each students’ heart-open and full and completely present.  

In the end, I was glad that I didn’t speak Japanese.  If I did, I might not have learned:

that sometimes we just have to listen, even if we don’t understand;

that listening is a full-body experience;

that practicing yoga is practicing listening;

that a smile and a shrug of the shoulders can mean, “I don’t understand a word you are saying, but I appreciate you and I am listening”;

that laughter is a great unifier;

that looking someone in the eyes is one of the most courageous gifts we can offer;

that a hand on the heart and silence on the lips means,“I thank you deeply-more than words can say”.

I am so grateful for each student, my translators and every stranger I encountered in Japan.  Thank you for being my teachers.

 

 

Falling In Love With The World: How A Gum Wrapper Woke Me Up

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.  I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” –Mary Oliver

Two Fridays ago as I was waiting for the train, I reached into my pocket for my phone. It wasn’t there. I reached into my other pocket. No phone.  I patted myself down hoping to find the familiar shape that would ease all my worries, insecurities and boredom.  Nothing.

(Insert horror movie sound effect).

I am not lying when I say that I felt as if my heart stopped beating for a moment.  What was I going to do?  How would I possibly engage with the world without email, text, Facebook and Instagram? I felt as if I had forgotten to put on my pants (okay, yoga leggings).  I felt naked and vulnerable. Then about 3 seconds later I felt ridiculous.

Come on, Jess,” I said to myself. “You’ve got this.  It’ll only be a few hours and then you will be home to your phone and everything will be okay“.

The train arrived while I chuckled to myself for being so silly.  I sat down and reached into my pocket for my phone.  It still wasn’t there.  The reaching was reflexive, like yawning or scratching an itch.  I sighed and leaned back into my seat, wondering how I would pass the train ride without obsessively organizing my calendar or making to-do lists (much to my boyfriend’s chagrin, I don’t play games on my phone- making lists is my version of Candy Crush).

I decided that this 25-minute train ride was the perfect opportunity to practice doing nothing; to sit in stillness and pay attention to the world around me. So I sat up straight, relaxed my shoulders focused on my breath and did nothing for about 10 seconds.  Then I remembered that I had a pack of gum in my purse.  Saved!  Now, I had something to do!  I dug around in my purse, found the gum and started chewing.

A few minutes later, I was ashamed of myself.  I mean, I call myself a yoga teacher. I teach my students to stay focused and attentive to each breath and each moment, yet here I was grasping for anything to entertain my mind and distract me away from the present.

As I was chastising myself, I began to fold the gum wrapper into tiny squares.  I folded and folded until there was nothing left to fold.  So I unfolded and started to fold it into tiny rectangles.  I unfolded and folded a few more times.  I made about 10 different shapes with my gum wrapper – tiny gum wrapper paper airplanes, tiny gum wrapper cones and tiny gum wrapper pirate hats. A few minutes before my train stopped I smoothed out the wrapper, ironing out all of the creases and wrinkles with my fingers.  It was so thin and soft from all the working.  It was delicate and light and velvety. It had become the most lovely gum wrapper in the world.

Somehow, the beauty of that tiny little wrapper woke me up.

I looked up and saw the people around me for the first time. They were marvelous!  They were interesting!  I wondered what their lives were like-where they were from, where they were going, who they loved, what stories they would tell if they had the chance.  It was pure magic. I felt connected and intimate with them- as if they were all my best friends and lovers.  The rest of the train ride, I did nothing but sit in wonder and reverence.  I felt deep gratitude for my life, gratitude for my city and its people, gratitude for forgetting my phone and remembering my ability to be amazed.

It doesn’t take much to shift from a place of boredom to awe, to bring the mind from complete distraction to full presence. It may be a yoga class that connects us to our bodies for the first time all day or the sun breaking through the clouds on a grey February afternoon; it could be the moment that you see simple object as something extraordinary.

We get to choose what holds our attention, whether it’s our iphones, a gum wrapper or the people in front of us.   I hope we can choose wisely. There is  a world that is right in front our eyes, waiting for us to take it in our arms and fall in love.

On Nostalgia and Getting Carried Away

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were”.

-Marcel Proust

 Autumn is my favorite time of  year: the cool air, the fresh juicy apples, the vibrant leaves. It is crisp. It is clear. It is the perfect time to practice the art of being present. So why do I always get nostalgic during this season? It’s as if each falling leaf represents a past version of myself. Something about it makes me want to go on long walks and think about who I used to be and what my life used to look like.

There are various ways that I have learned to nurture this nostalgia. I listen to songs that make me cry. I look through old photos, reminiscing about good times with good friends and old boyfriends and past cities that I lived in long, long ago. Sometimes as I am walking under the clear blue sky with falling purple and yellow leaves all around me, the cool clean air kisses my cheek and reminds me of the long walks that I used to take with those same past loves in those same past cities.

There is something warm and sweet about nostalgia. It’s like a soft, cozy sweater- safe and wholesome. It has the power to remind us of the beauty that life holds, the beauty of our own past that has brought us to where we are.

Nostalgia can also carry us away. Like hot cocoa that is too sweet, it can make us thirsty, unsatisfied, and craving something different than what is currently there.

Milan Kundera, one of my favorite novelists writes:

 “The Greek word for “return” is nostos.  Algos means “suffering”.  So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return”

 What is it that we hope to return to in those moments of nostalgia? Is it that lover? Is it that city? Is it the way we used to be when we were younger? Was life easier? What is better? Were those walks we went on 10 years ago more lovely than the ones we take now? Were the leaves brighter then? Was the sky bluer?

Perhaps it is simply that the suffering of our past has been forgotten and we are left with the memory of the sweet without the bitter.

The present moment is hard to be in because it is filled with discomfort- the noisy city, the cold air, the tiny cramped apartment, the stomachache, and the lingering tension after an argument with someone you love.  The present has the capacity to make us suffer RIGHT NOW. So, it’s easier to take a hit of nostalgia. You just put on your headphones, listen to Bob Dylan singing about the North Country and suddenly your veins are full of hazy sweet memories.

It takes work to be present. It takes perseverance and dedication to return again and again to what’s right in front of us. Being present requires that we meet the noise, the cold air, the tension in our bodies and minds, the fear of discomfort and everything else without running away, without pulling the sweater of nostalgia on to keep us warm and seemingly safe.

Listen, I am all for long walks and listening to sad music. So, do it and revel in it. It is part of being human and it is lovely. But, if you are up for a challenge follow the steps below and enjoy this beautiful season as it is now, before it’s gone:

 

 Walking Autumn Mediation:

  1. Prep: put on your shoes, a warm sweater, and leave your phone and wallet and headphones at home. You won’t need them.
  2. Start walking in whatever direction seems interesting. If you ask yourself why it is interesting to you, don’t try to answer. Just walk.
  3. Notice how your body feels. Where does the weight land in your feet? Your heel bone? Your toes? Don’t fix it. Just keep walking the way that you do.
  4. Notice to the texture of the ground that you walk on. Is it hard or soft?
  5. What does the air feel like on your skin? What sounds do you hear? What do you see? Notice the desire to reach for your phone and take a photo of the yellow leaves or a selfie of you practicing mindfulness. Witness these things and then let them go.
  6. Keep walking in any direction that is interesting. Be willing to change your mind and change direction.  Don’t be too concerned with why you changed your mind.
  7. As you walk, notice what you are thinking about. Are you thinking about somebody? Are you thinking about a past conversation or experience that you had? Are you planning the rest of your day or week? Are you thinking about a future experience that you hope to either have or avoid? Be curious about your thoughts, but don’t dwell there for too long.
  8. Come back to this moment. Notice the air on your skin. The weight of your body as it moves through space. Let the thoughts come and then let the thoughts go.
  9. Repeat steps 2- 7 until you are tired or until life requires you return home to your phone and your wallet. They will be right where you left them.

 

Embracing Discomfort and Why I Want to be a Rockstar

I am not just talking about those “yoga teacher rockstars” (yes they exist, with groupies and everything!). I am talking about real-life, torn-up jeans wearing, guitar slinging, tattooed ROCKSTARS. Or, at least that’s what I wanted while I was at Governor’s Ball a few weeks ago, watching Alison Mosshart of The Kills wail her heart out at an unearthly decibel.

I have never been one for large drunk crowds of people and typically avoid situations where any or all of my senses feel like they are going to explode.  So when my boyfriend bought me tickets for Governor’s Ball last month, I had to feign excitement by saying things like “ gosh, I am super amped for the festival tomorrow!” and “gee whiz, I am pumped to hear some live music!”.

Fast forward to me standing in a sea of people, raising my hands in the air like I just didn’t care, tapping my foot with an irresistible urge to jump and scream and growl and be heard. There was something about the way Alison Mosshart sang- loud and guttural; something about those steady, hard drums (ahem - root chakra!); something in her black attire, bleach blond hair and cherry red lipstick that was dark, urgent and necessary. As I watched The Kills perform, I felt like I was a 15 year old girl again- sitting in my bedroom, listening to Nine Inch Nails and painting my CD player speakers with Revlon Vampire Red nail polish. It was passionate and dramatic and I liked it. I needed it.

Sometimes my yoga practice doesn’t feel so dramatic. When I move my body on my mat it is slow, deliberate, and controlled. On the best of days it is graceful and I feel strong and empowered. Other times it is heavy and messy and makes me want to cry. The fantastic thing for someone like me who is an introvert is that I get to practice my art on the privacy of my own mat - sometimes at home, sometimes under the guidance of my teachers.

Rockstars do it in front of millions. They dish up their heaviness and messiness and heartache right up on a giant stage with hot, bright lights on them. They are unafraid to be vulnerable, to dance around and whip their hair and sweat all over the place. They’ve got guts to sing their truth loud- even if it’s dark and ugly and uncomfortable.

I don’t like being uncomfortable. It’s really uncomfortable! And I especially don’t like to advertise my discomfort for the whole world to see. That is supremely uncomfortable.

In yoga we have the sanskrit word tapaswhich means to burn or purify. My favorite translation of tapas is "the willingness to endure intensity for the sake of transformation".  Even though my yoga practice isn’t loud and dramatic, it has taught me that being uncomfortable is one of the best ways to grow; that stepping past the edge of my own awkwardness is the only way to get beyond it. It’s shown me how to ease-fully stretch a tight muscle or work to strengthen a weak one until the challenge shifts; until the boundary of what is uncomfortable changes and I expand beyond my perceived limitation.

So, maybe it is the moments when one or more of my senses feels like it is about to explode that are the ones I should be seeking, or at least stop avoiding. Maybe I should go to more loud concerts. Maybe rather than avoiding Times Square on a hot summer day, I should walk directly through it. Or maybe I simply need to give myself permission to be dramatic once in a while - to stomp my feet, and shake my fists, and shout when I am excited or angry. And if someone sees or hears me being messy, maybe that’s okay too.  Maybe that person will learn something about me in that moment.  And perhaps that person will realize that they also have permission to be imperfect- to be seen and heard, even if it is dark and ugly and uncomfortable.Eb

How Einstein Helped Me Open a Bottle of Orangina

Two weeks ago as I was waiting for the train up on 125th St, I saw a woman attempting to open a bottle of Orangina.  I watched as she struggled with the cap, trying to twist and turn it from different positions and angles; left hand vs. right.  I observed as she positioned the bottle between her thighs and used both hands to work the cap loose.  I appreciated her resourcefulness when she pulled out her keys and began to saw at the perforation and I winced when she held it between her back teeth and began to clamp down.

I was trying hard not to watch-I didn’t want to embarrass her nor did I want to be caught with the staring problem that most non-native New Yorkers learn quickly to overcome.  The only issue was that I could not look away because I was salivating at the thought of how satisfying it would be if I could be the one to get the bottle open.

We have all been there-watching someone we know struggle with a jam or pickle jar; our muscles flexing, our fingers twitching, our jaws gripping in a sort of physical empathy as we watch the battle between man and lid.   There is an unspoken rule that you must let the friend/co-worker/lover struggle for at least 3 attempts before you can step in and say, “Um, do you mind if I give it a try?”, knowing with 100% confidence that you will probably get the job done on the first attempt and then hand it back with a glint of pride in your eyes but trying to be humble saying “Well, you loosened it for me.”

So, as I watched this girl work so hard for her refreshment, I wondered what was stopping me from stepping up and offering to help.  I certainly wanted to get the cap off of the bottle.  I could already hear the crisp bubbly “tst” of the carbonation being released as the metal perforation finally gave.  My forearm muscles were aching in anticipation!  Still, I chose to pretend I didn’t notice, to watch out the corner of my eye, to act as if I was engrossed in the standing water and the floating metro cards on the tracks below.

There is a quote by Albert Einstein:

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. 

 So, was I choosing not to help this girl because I didn’t know her? I think so.  She was unfamiliar to me and therefore I felt separate from her.  I could not easily see her struggle with the Orangina bottle as my own struggle.  If it had been my sister, my roommate or a friend I would have quickly lent a hand (pun intended!). Einstein goes on to say

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

 As I stood there on the train tracks remembering the wisdom of Einstein, I knew that I had fallen into exactly what he had described- a prison of my own delusion that I was separate from Orangina Girl.  At that moment I made a choice that would definitely not change history, but it would satisfy a thirst.

"Can I help you get that open?”, I offered.  The girl’s face, flushed with effort and frustration, flooded with relief. “Can you, please?  I have tried everything”.  I took the bottle in my strong hands and twisted hard…then a little harder…. and finally, “Tst”.  Relief.  I handed the bottle back to her with a humble shrug and said “Well, you loosened it for me”.  She couldn’t reply because she was already chugging the cold liquid sunshine inside the bottle.  Afterwards, she wiped her lips and said, “That was satisfying”.  I couldn’t have agreed more.

From Empty to Expansive: How I Survived August

Hello September! I am so glad you are here!

To speak plainly, August is always rough for me. Not only is it as hot as Hades in the city, but there is a necessary slow down that often leaves me feeling lethargic and lackluster.

I enjoy slowing down by choice, like going on vacation or taking an afternoon off for self care. However, in August it always feels like I am forced to be less productive. Many of my students high-tail it out of the city in pursuit of cooler climes, so my schedule gets very expansive (ahem, empty).

I usually start out the month enjoying the spaciousness of my days. I have more time to relax, take care of myself, and spend time with friends. But I soon start to question my worth.  

I was the type of child who hated getting sick and missing school because I felt like everyone was doing fascinating, life-changing things while I was lazily eating applesauce and soup and watching Days of Our Lives with my mom. As a grown-up, every August I feel that my lack of focus and motivation is a deep-seated problem that means I am an inherently lazy human with no discipline. As a result, I usually spend the better part of the month feeling insecure, and to put it bluntly, depressed.  

I don’t think I am alone. I believe many of us continue to define ourselves by our productivity, the amount of work we can get done in a single day and the paycheck that comes with it. But who do we become when our productivity goes down? What happens when we can’t throw ourselves into our work because we get sick, or injured, or we have a major life change that requires all of our attention? What if we just lose steam and motivation?

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali remind us of the concept of samskara, which is the human tendency to repeat the same habits over and over again, remaining stuck in the same patterns and cycles of ignorance so that we never fully awaken to our true nature. The word samskara is often translated as “wheel” and I have heard samskara likened to a hamster running endless circles on its’ tiny wheel, never getting anywhere. Luckily Patanjali has a remedy to this cycle which is viveka- discrimination between the real and unreal, the permanent and impermanent, and the Self and non-Self.

As I felt myself fall into the same cycle of late-summer insecurity, I decided that I did not want to be a hamster on a wheel. I started to watch my thoughts carefully during meditation and daily tasks- noticing when my inner dialogue started to bully my already fragile self, and observing when I started to spin yarns about who I was and wasn’t.  I practiced shifting the narrative to something more compassionate.  It went something like this:

Bully Jess: “C’mon Jess, you only taught one class today.  Why are you so tired?  There’s no excuse for this.  You should be writing more. You should be teaching more.  You should be advertising your services. You are lazy. You are a waste of space. You need to find a way to make more money”.

Nice Jess: “Wait, it’s okay that you are tired.   It’s really hot outside and you put a lot of energy into that class you taught. It went well and you felt really connected to your students.  What would make you feel more energized right now?  Maybe a little yoga?  Maybe some cold watermelon? Or maybe you are simply tired and need a nap.  It’s okay that you are not making as much money right now.  You are about to get really busy in September, so try to relax. It will be okay. You are okay.”

It may sound like cheesy affirmations, but it wasn’t.  It was simply me being a friend to myself.

It helped. I began to focus on what I WAS doing instead of what I WAS NOT.  I was cooking more, enjoying lunch dates and long weekends with my new husband, meeting with friends,  spending time reading and deep-cleaning the apartment.  When I started to change my storyline, I was able to focus on the gift of space that I had been afforded.  

Now September is here and as always, my schedule has already started to fill up- a reminder that nothing is permanent. As I look ahead to busy weekends and shorter days, I am grateful for  August; for the hot afternoons and the long days that helped me learn to feel more at ease with myself in the sticky, but empty (ahem, expansive) days of summer.

Enjoy this meditation practice for working with sticky emotions:

 

  1. Sit in a comfortable position either on a few pillows, blankets, or a chair. You can also lie down.

  2. Notice the sensation where the floor meets your body. Release the weight of your body into the floor.

  3. Notice your inhales and your exhales.

  4. Turn your attention to the energy of your emotions. What emotion is the strongest for you right now? Be open to the possibility that you may not feel any strong emotion. Let your attention rest on that emotion (or lack thereof). Is there a word or image that comes to mind?

  5. Notice any sensations in your body that arise.

  6. Turn your attention back to your normal, comfortable breath.

  7. If you choose to, you can work with the mantra “I Am”. As you inhale, soundlessly repeat the word “I”. As you exhale, repeat the word “Am”. You can also replace these sounds with a different mantra that feels more personal to you.  

  8. Stay for several rounds of breath. The point is to become more familiar with your emotions, not necessarily make them go away.

  9. Return to this practice anytime you need a reminder that you are okay as you are.

Making Space for Magic

I love to travel - leaving the familiar routines, habits, and objects behind and taking only what’s necessary.

When we leave the “stuff” behind and take only what is essential, a kind of alchemy occurs. There is a lightness and simplicity to our choices. We spend less time wading through clothing and adornments and we create more time to walk, swim, breathe and enjoy life. It’s magic.

But for me, as soon as I return home the spell is broken.

Immediately upon opening the door to my apartment, I feel claustrophobic and anxious. My body tightens as my eyes scan the rooms, criticizing the worn out furniture, the broken sink and the dusty windows.

Usually, my tactic is to clean obsessively. I throw out a bunch of old things and buy a few new things to create a sense of peace and temporary transformation. It’s as if the new aquamarine towels will somehow evoke the sense that I am gazing out once more at the Mediterranean Sea, or that the sweetgrass incense will transport me to back to the silent prairies of Minnesota.

I recently was given a copy of the popular book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She advises only keep the objects that spark joy. It’s not about buying new stuff. It’s about appreciating the beautiful things that already surround us. In doing so, we open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing joy each and every time we come home.

As soon as I started the process of decluttering my apartment, I felt a shift. By stripping down to the most essential and joy-inspiring objects, I carved out more space in my home and began to feel softer, more spacious and relaxed.

It was magic.

We must begin the task of decluttering and letting go of what no longer serves us. It may be as simple as taking a box of clothing to a local shelter. It may mean cutting out a food from your diet that does not nourish you. It might be the difficult job of ending a hurtful relationship. Once we let go of these forces that take up valuable time and energy, we can start to see more clearly and with more appreciation the space that we reside in.

We don’t need to go anywhere to find magic. That which brings us joy is already there.