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what did yalom say?

Death.

Yesterday I had some fall-out in my heart and I knew it must be real as I ran my fastest mile yet at 6:33.  Not fast in the world of fasties but showing me my own propensity to run away from my problems.  I start to kick up my feet as fast as I can and reach my elbows out ready for the inevitable crash down a dirt road.  Forever trying to get back in my body I start yoga in savasana—corpse pose.  All of yoga is preparation to finish class in this same pose.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Death anxiety forces us to the place of business thinking.  The thinking that dictates if I just find that right person, that right job, that right mountain, that right adventure, I will be complete.  Completeness seems to lie in taking in life on life’s terms knowing we are all somehow failing horribly and also creating beauty beyond the ways that we can see and think about.

Finitude.

There are limits and bounds on life.  This life will end.  There are limits and bounds on the current state of how one is feeling as well.  The sun will set on the horizon of knowledge, there is no absolute trust and thinking in absolutes is pretentious.  The acknowledgement that we are finite and limited beings thrown into a time and place discredits that there is any ultimate truth.  What is truth now may not have been truth then and future truths are unknown.  There is no ultimate reality.  Objects in reality are relative to the subjects perceiving them. We comprehend with finite apprehension.  Chaos that is incomprehensible underlies every aspect of empirical constancy.  Chaos itself, rather than ideology, God, or even the visible world is the only determinable absolute.

Responsibility.

I’ve made poor choices in my life.  Recently, I made a few big ol’ poor ones.  I’ve made mistakes in shifting that responsibility to events out of my control and thusly I feel out of control.  Love did not make me do this or that, geography can only have so much bearing on my actions.  I am who I choose to be and no past or future event is responsible for that choice.  Bad faith is thinking my childhood made me a broken being and leads me to pretend that I have no option than to be who I have become.  This creates evasion from responsibility and a sense of loss.  I am just the product of the chaos around me.  Think of the discord of the Christian who has lost his faith.  Or the devoted wife who has lost her love for her husband.  The academic who thinks they must toil ten or twelve hours a day in research and publications.  The lawyer pleading his guilty client’s innocence.  The basic refusal to face the fact that all of these situations can be other than how they are.  There is responsibility in choice.

Loneliness.

The sacred path is a lonely one.  To embrace one’s true nature is scary like swimming upstream.  The chest can feel like one is drowning.  To feel unconnected and unlike others creates great anxiety.  It comes not from lacking people or objects but from truly facing what and who one is.  There is a myth that we can expand in our power to defeat life’s hurdles—death, disease, decay the entire time trying to hide our carefully tucked away loneliness. Embracing one’s full self will only serve to create loneliness which seems so shameful we choose not to share our pain, our deep fears, our deep crustiness that fuels us to do unspeakable things.  Our pursuit of love, companionship, marriage, denies the basic precept that we are born alone, we will die alone.

Suffering.

We can tolerate all sorts of suffering as long as we can create meaning.  That car wreck was chaos but there is choice in the response to stimulus.  My Dad died in a tragic manner but it set in motion a series of events that let me create meaning through becoming a counselor, examining deep and moving grief.  Some ways of making meaning can be positive and others terribly negative.  There will be no clear end to any suffering but there will be a clear end to becoming a victim of circumstance.  That happened because of this and this is how I will respond.  In suffering there is the uncomfortable motivation to change to move toward calm, peace, shed the pelt of anxiety.

Meaninglessness.

The ultimate nihilistic grappling.  Anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism, avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, purposelessness, madness (psychosis) and violence all create this sense of victimhood.  Why did this happen this way?  I experienced some extreme meaninglessness after changing careers and taking a trip down that road of the gypsy life.  Fun for now, depression and emptiness later.  This feeling that can a sense of being stuck in an ice tray ready to plop out into the next chaotic event.  Or, it can spur the need to create meaning in chaos, to choose how to fill up that ice tray again and use the cubes to quell that fire of the soul that will always evoke change.

Evil and demonic.

Some things, some folks, some events—are evil.  Not bad, just evil.  It is what it is.  Not an act or pattern, sin or crime, but rather what leads us to damage, be damaged, and suffer pain.  Social destructiveness.  Evil could be considered the thing that inhibits personal growth and expansion.  The acts that limit potentiality, curtails freedom, fragments the personality, diminishes interpersonal relationships.  But it is somehow needed to change.  Well that was certainly evil and I’ll not do that again.  Denying evil is denying one’s existence.  To embrace our own evil qualities is to embrace them in others not to fully eradicate that which is unpleasant but integrate into this ride of life.  Evil creates the angst that moves the train of change forward down never-ending tracks.

 

 “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.”

― Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept

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things i lost in the fire

I’ve been in this space more than once.  I created this place.  The desert.  The mountains.  Wherever, whoever, however it takes to learn what I need to learn.  I have learned so far that some things can orient me more than others—the smell of sagebrush after rain, the feel of cold wind on my cheeks, my own hands rubbing up and down the lengths of my quadriceps enveloped by the sound of my breath keeping me grounded.

I remember when I was younger trains gave me that grounding, that rhythmic breath that I craved, safe, so safe—depending on speed I could count by seconds the sounds of each car to the next crosswalk, long sighs and short whistles like sheep dipping one by one over the horizon and out of the ears of a small child wrapped tight in cotton blankets.  Sometimes, the cars of trains so pronounced that the ever-present paranoia of anxiety becomes overwhelming with the thought of derailment and destruction.

And the breath goes in and out and the train comes and goes and the chest heaves and caves.  I wonder if the body teaches lessons like work teaches lessons or if I can learn to tell the two to take it slow, let me integrate, or if that’s my own defense.   And the breath goes in and out and the lesson comes as it should it the smell of French pastries and the feel of dried tears on my cheeks orients me once again to the present moment.

With a wooden whistle, would it be known what it’s like to have an ear to the track and call up the train breathing heavy like a powerful dragon?  Does a penny feel the heat of the belly of a train before its flattened?  Does a train wreck happen slow from behind or are Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner really able to cling to the elastic sagebrush for that long before falling …just little questions with simple answers and the long low wail of the train lulls babies to sleep.

“I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night? The out-of-tuneness of the triad is part of its beauty.”
― Nicholson Baker

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deity in blue jeans

I’m finally starting to feel myself coming out of the steel-brillo-fuzz of my mind these past few months—the unscheduled deep haze of summer never went away and routine as elusive as a sunset in a snowstorm. I’m embracing the instability and calling it creativity instead. Even though I feel my chest may collapse and I can’t eat—I wonder if I purposely sit in this juicy space longer than I should. My writing gets better, I hone in on the artist. Sorrow is not the enemy—it is the seed. I’m letting go of what I think others might think and doing work from my soul space. Do I still cry so much my eye skin feels like a poor toddlers chapped ass—you know it! But I let myself cry and sob and wail remembering an entire life void of tears. Remembering getting made fun of in jail for crying when I saw my best friend. You stupid pussy, Jennifer. Why don’t you just go cry about it. Stupid bitch. You are fucking retarded. Nope. This ain’t my narrative no mo’.

I’ve been training and delving back into the world of psychology and counseling and remembering what brought me here—the desire to show folks their own ability to change. To show them their worth. To show them they don’t need helping at all but just a reminder of their own divine nature. I’ve been steeped in solution-focused, brief methods as social work has a hard on for anything quick with an immediate result. I don’t mind stopping the bleeding so a family can assess the wound, but sometimes band aids won’t work. I’ve been seeing my own counselor and pretended to have a bad connection via phone as we started our session and she asks “what do you want to be different.” Well, shit, lady. That’s the thing. Nothing. I don’t want anything different, I want acceptance of what is. I want you to sit here and hold space for me as we enter this shadow together. Let me talk about abuse. Let me talk about addiction. Let me talk about love, dead daddy, my anxiety, my successes, my day. I will tell you what I need to. Trust me. I want to trust you.

I wonder if I will continue on in this counseling relationship and begin to reflect on the friends I have sought out during this real dark depression bullshit that came on strong April 2014 after my best friend hung herself.  Some avoid my phone calls and I know they need space. They call back when they are ready and they hear my soul. Some say I’m impaired. These are the ones who are in the field as well, but I wonder if perhaps they have not dealt with their own wounds. Please don’t be fearful of my despair. It is part of me. But because despair is bad, under, dark, other–a power differential is created where because I’m on the struggle bus, I must be less than. I don’t think so but I can’t explain what I need because it isn’t words. Its being. Its silence. Its my dark bowing to your dark. I let my emotions seep out like uncontrolled sweat and some folks really don’t like that body odor. This is where my work lies—feel the things but know we all feel the things. We’ve all been devastated in love. We’ve all lost everything we love in one way or another. We are more together than separate.

I know I like what I do when I think to myself—I want me as a counselor. Not in some weird twisted way, but I like the way I think without judgement or think in the big picture. I want someone smart enough to have my case conceptualization. Someone who is not me and can say “Dude, Jen. This is abuse. You know this. Think about Safe Project. Think about power and control.” Then when I say “if I wasn’t so anxious, clumsy, stupid, slow, mean, ugly, smart, mentally-ill, etc. then he would have loved me” that counselor won’t correct those statements but honor that person who thinks that and figure out how to rewrite that story. Those are some strong words. Those are some deep feelings. Let’s stay in this moment and feel where that comes from. Maybe from being just a little baby girl and not knowing. Maybe from being a big girl and knowing too much. Sit in this space with me until the other words and feelings come. “Dude, Jen. You are amazing. You are all those things you think but more so, you are love. You are loved. You love. This is all, this is everything, this is the end game.” Turns out, we are all our own counselors if we just listen to that tiny yet expansive voice inside.

 

“You are one thing only. You are a Divine Being. An all-powerful Creator. You are a Deity in jeans and a t-shirt, and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of All that is, will be and ever was.”
― Anthon St. Maarten

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turning of the canyon walls

I’ve been waiting to write in my blog about all the things I’ve felt as I move to Colorado after 32 years in Wyoming.  16 in Gillette and 16 in Laramie, half grown up in the belly of coal country, half deconstructed in the belly of precambrian granite and feldspar crystals.  Every part of the journey brought huge questioning and regret.  I said goodbye to my best friends—the few friends I had let in during the 16 years of trying to reinvent myself.  And now I reinvent myself in the San Luis Valley.

I moved here for many reasons which bring about all the reasons I had stayed in Laramie.  I’ve run into a few folks here and they always say the same type of stuff—oh it’s not for everyone here.  They say its isolated.  Nothing to do.  I’ve become the patriotic Wyomingite, talking about how Alamosa is Laramie moved south six hours.  Yes, Laramie was three times as big but I make my life very small.  I hear I may get bored in winter and I think of my writing, reading, or yoga—I know I won’t get bored just cold in the arid winters of the high desert.

I climbed part of Mount Blanca yesterday and am starting to realize what Colorado might mean.  Mountains are bigger.  Instead of my hour jaunt around Pole Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest, I now embark on hours long journeys I stop in the middle because it’s becoming clear I will not make these 18 miles.  Plans begin to be made—have I become the lusty adventurer going after 14’ers?  They are just where we all start—I want to become immersed in the microsystems as well. I want to find the desert parts of this place, to run in the greasewood and think about spiritual shit.

I think that’s why I came here—spiritual shit.  Not to seek the Ram Dass ashram just down the way in New Mexico or attend the Course in Miracles group I found in the local gazette—but to take a leap of faith.  To let go of the narrative that I’m a fifth generation Wyomingite, that my blood runs with the buffalo, that my soulmate is in the aspens of Happy Jack.   Turns out aspens are here, too. I’ve not felt that connection yet but I know the petals of my heart will peel and shake away as I uncross my hands from my heart and let the wind of the valley sweep things clean.

“Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.”

-Ed Abbey

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wal-mart yoga

I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.

Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.

The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.

Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.

Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.

I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”

― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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an authoritive prohibition

I remember being a young girl and learning at church that I ought testify to others about my faith—ask them about their beliefs after we die. I learned in scorned looks and rolled eyes I might want to shut up. What you do after you die is none of my business. I learned in German class that the German culture does not engage in small talk and I became even more endeared the language that sounds so harsh yet can be so forward.

I gathered and collected norms about being polite through mistakes. Always the kid to be embarrassingly shuffled off for asking questions regarding subjects that were taboo. And now, it seems we are a bit more open as a society. I constantly overshare in my blog, spurred on by pictures of dogs and engagements on Facebook, opting to friend folks on social media instead of gathering the courage to talk to someone in person.

I think I’ll do it again. I’ll speak about that which is not talked about out-loud.  Money. I want to talk about the hushed subject that influences every minute of my existence. I’m at a conference right now in Indiana and end up in a per-conference session about moving from working class roots to middle class. I experienced myself chatting about my trip with the woman across from me because I had never been able to say these things outloud expect to my sister or close friends. And it’s very hard for me to get close to folks so you can imagine how that works out.

I had to ask my employer to front my per diem for meals and use the purchase card to take an Uber cab to and from my hotel. I generally run out of money by the second week of each month and freeze food to be sure I can eat. If something comes up I take the risk of bouncing a check because I doubt I will ever fix my credit. I drive a 2004 Ford Focus with a cracked windshield that breaks on the regular. I wear shoes with holes and have two bras that fit. My sister and I often joke about how we wear yoga pants because they often have built in underwear. That shit costs money. Its superfluous in our world.

Even as I talk about money I find myself in a cycle of guilt and shame because oh well this isn’t poverty. It’s this unbearable space in between where I feel I’ve lost my street cred in a professional exempt job but still live in a studio apartment with stained, ripped up, carpet and dated sinks. I’ve never lived in a space with a dishwasher in my entire adulthood. Despite my salary my student loans will continue to cripple me for decades. In gaining more education I did gain social mobility but also debt. Trade one shit sandwich for the next.

I sweat and shake with anxiety the first time I have to bring a date to my home. I’m embarrassed about what they might think about my tiny place with Rubbermaid containers as furniture and my bedspread I’ve had for over five years. How might they perceive my closet with one pair of jeans and a few dresses? The last gentleman I dated commented on our third date how little clothes I have. He had two closets of dress clothes. He owned two homes. I feel I can’t date professional men and so I end up with twenty somethings working at restaurants.  At least I feel I can be myself but find I’ve nothing to talk about with them, we are simply in different spaces developmentally yet fiscally matched.

In typing this I feel a huge relief to detail how I live each day. Its gets easier as I get older because I’m not worried about how my shoes look held together with shoe glue. I’m not afraid to ask anyone for help when my car breaks. I don’t mind riding the bus.  Some man’s insecure comments about my wardrobe are just that.  The day might not arrive anytime soon when I don’t take extra helpings of free food at events or have more than the mandatory minimum of five dollars in my savings account. Now it’s known. I’ve named my working class roots and I will continue to work just as hard as ever.

“He who is not capable of enduring poverty is not capable of being free.” -Victor Hugo

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day two (late)-20 facts about me

  • I used to hate sloppy joes. I guess they are okay now
  • I was 6 feet and a half inch at the age of 12
  • I used to study the bible 2-3 hours a day
  • I want to get my PhD in higher ed leadership even though I swore off school after my masters program
  • I love pizza so hard
  • I’m extremely insecure about my body and have spent years trying to help myself with this
  • My family has a long history of mental illness—but hey we are fun!
  • I used to be extremely shy as a child, not so much anymore
  • I would love to build a cabin in Canada or Alaska and learn mountaineering skills and live a more simple life and write, write, write
  • I’ve had disordered eating patterns in some form since I was 16
  • I wanted to go to the University of Montana so hard. Still kinda do.
  • I was supposed to play division 1 basketball, and I got injured
  • My mentor and creative writing guru said I was one of the best writers she had encountered—that friggin meant the world to me to hear
  • I love writing. Non-fiction. My life is rich with details and experiences
  • I was in county jail for 3 months. 1 month by myself. Shudder.
  • I love sticking q-tips in my ears.
  • I wear size 13 in womens shoes. Yeah junior high was bullshit.
  • I do things 100% and immerse myself in anything I’m interested in.
  • I love and hate Crossfit. I love running. I love and hate yoga. I love and hate the people who do these sports.
  • I have a younger sister and older brother. Janessa and Jesse. They mean the world to me.
  • I am extremely hard on myself and sometimes think I’m the most hideous person ever. But then I realize we are all crappy. We are all good.  We are human.
  • If you counted that was 21. I do what I want!
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song of survival

Exploring spirituality is such an intimate act and I find myself frustrated lately as I reflect on my childhood spent in Christianity.  I feel defensive because folks see it as a complete left turn when I wish I had lived with faith long enough that they thought the behaviors of the last ten years were a left turn.  But I get both sides.

Jen, you are a nerd.  Jen, you are a hustler. What are you doing exploring religion?  That’s not a thing in your life, is it?  Perhaps I have worn my cards too close to my heart and don’t want to risk being judged.  If I talk of God I become one of those crazy people at those awful meetings.  This is a safety mechanism and I act tough to be tough to survive.  Folks don’t cry in cowboy country.  Nothing is wrong.  Avoidance coping has its benefits. 

It’s hard to try to be nice all the time, to try to live by morals and codes that might not resonate with the larger universe.  Do we always speak the truth even with the knowledge the truth will seriously hurt someone?  I choose to do no harm.  I enjoy being the interpreter of moral code but see the danger in this as my compass lost its true north in the past, sometimes in the present.  We all disconnect sometimes. 

I have stories upon stories of the stuff I’ve done in the past, things that surprise even me and some of these things I speak of with a flat affect, no emotion, too much to engage.  But that’s it.  They are just stories.  Stories that have been told for ages.  Parables of life.  Sermons of the heart.  Songs of sorrow.  We all share the same underlying passions and fears. 

Each human heart a music box of life that plays a special tune.  Listen to the notes, hear them altogether and don’t get stuck on the b flat and don’t think your c sharp is somehow wrong. Sing your song, sing your life, live in a way that you stop worrying about what other folks think.  This is your song. Maybe only God can judge you, and maybe there is nothing to judge.

 

Do you know who I am?

I say “namaste” because I like what it means, not because I am Hindu.

A lot of people here think I am Christian because they think I talk about Christian values, but the truth is I am really talking about human values. 

I’ve been asked if I am a Buddhist, just because I have discovered inner peace. 

A lot of my friends are Pagans, and they think I am one, too, because I say that being in Nature is my idea of going to church.

Do you want to know what I really am?

I am awake.