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high plains, high desert

The sky here in Alamosa, Colorado can sometimes feel so incredibly close yet so large, a giant glass fishbowl full of bushy desert plants and fine sand swirling around, piling at the bottom of a mountain.  Mountains are in all directions, optical illusions creating some to appear small as they curl their bottom lip of switchbacks and raise high eyebrows full of summits and passes treacherous in winter as snow that never sees the valley beats down on the chest of the high places.

 

The bowl of the San Luis Valley becomes soaked as irrigation and veins of water fed by the Rio Grande collect snow of mountain tops becoming all but dry in summer.  Rain becomes a welcome sign that miracles can happen in the desert and rainbows can form amidst the backdrop of peaks and valleys of Mount Blanca. The landscape and sense of place could keep me here for years as I begin to understand weather patterns and hear from the folks how the weather fits into their lives.

 

I don’t really know why I left Wyoming.  I know why I left Gillette–to go to college.  And I supposed I left Laramie for the same reason–to go to a different college.  I went looking for opportunity and here I found diversity in the short time I have been here. I become aware of myself as I observe my surroundings to try to understand how to be serve, really how to best empower those around me to serve themselves. I do not know what is best for those in the valley and it’s nice to become learner once again.

 

Some things change and some remain the same.  I travel with lavender oil and rub it on the foreheads of Coloradoans now and I teach yoga to students at this college campus.  I wonder about the prospect of taking the mobile model of yoga I started in Wyoming and try it out here.  How can I weave in the fabric of place through the stories of the people?  I suppose I can start by leaving the house.  I plan trips to trails and dream of backpacking trips up fourteeners but feel some tiny bit of flesh and bone is terrified while the spirit is bold and so I remain cautious.

 

I heard someone talk about the religious or spiritual connotations of the San Luis Valley.  Every religious figure or prophet spent some amount of time thinking about stuff in the desert.  The mountains provide a prompt to think about stuff in the desert and to slow down.  The fishbowl of the valley allows for integration in twenty minute intervals toward towns spreading out like petals from the Alamosa center.  I have arrived.  And will be here now in the high desert of Colorado nodding my head to the high plains of Wyoming.

 

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”

 

-Terry Pratchett, Jingo

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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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spiritual vomit

I spiritually vomited all over myself last week.  I felt the panic and fear come on Monday and I ran out of my house to get away from my trembly dog who shows me my own anxiety through ear flapping and panting.  Running away in shame knowing that my frantic energy has affected him but these are the moments I spin out and cannot take any outside stimulation.  I feel out of control, triggered, scared, like a child.

I joke about this workbook I scribble in here and there designed to help me with my self-esteem.  Shit gets better every day but I still feel my cheeks burn when I’m told—you’re intense, you are too much, you intimidate me, you are loud.  I internalize all these things but I’ve always been big and loud and would come tramping up the stairs in my childhood home singing or speaking languages that might have been just of our family clan.  We would yell, giggle, the neighbors commented on our loudness.

We all sang and had rituals like most families I’m sure.  Some of my favorite memories are the songs we made for our pets. Our three legged dog: “Tripod—no bipod, he is a friend of mine.”  Or our black sleek lab mix Albert: “Ali-berto gentille Aliberto, je te plumerai.”  Then there was our sheep dog Buddy who we would provoke by making the letter O with our mouths and wailing up and down, up and down so he would sing with us.

These things did not seem weird or intense or intimidating as a child.  As I find myself interacting with children, much more rarely than I wished, I find that they are the most accepting of me.  They even appreciate my weirdness, my intensity.  They know my intentions without my having to say so they know I still speak the language of un-nuance, of simplicity, of utter straight forwardness. And they speak straight forward to me, sometimes in a cheek burning way—Miss Jen you are sometimes pretty but sometimes not pretty at all.  And I say thank you because all I see is not pretty at all.  And so I scratch in the self-esteem workbook.

I don’t understand some of the unspoken rules of the adult world and have professionally crippled myself numerous times—in school, at work.  Anxiety is supposedly rooted in low self-esteem and in my tradition of receiving high marks, I’ve got A’s in both.  I think every day how I know I’m intelligent but if folks are too intimidated to listen, let go of that achievement.  I can listen to NPR but I still sing nursery rhymes in the shower.

I used to get pretty stinkin’ drunk to deal with who I was because in drunk world, Crazy Jen (the name I obtained for myself in my asshole years) was accepted that way.  People found it fun.  I was a pretend extrovert, the life of the party sliding around drinking fellahs under the table watching them vomit beer as I challenged them to shotgun contests.  Slamming my car keys into aluminum, drinking, drinking, hoping someone would stay until the sun came up and I became my true introvert self so we could talk about books and God.

I will vomit again I’m sure.  Maybe beer, maybe this confusing stream of spirituality but sometimes it’s not too bad to have the warm insides come rushing out, to feel the relief and release of pressure that builds constantly in a world that isn’t ready for my vibration.  Lou Dog, who has many songs and phrases, will continue to show me when I’m off the ol’ rocker and then the choice Is mine to act on the fear or to laugh at myself and use the mantra I heard a child say this week–I am what I am.

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” 

-James Baldwin

 

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cracks and stripes

Sitting in the plush couch across from Asian decorations staring at large red plates and sticks of bamboo creating geometrical patterns and shadows creating the backdrop as I relate the geometrical patterns of my life. I blandly tell my counselor how life is a dream, a projection, a fuzzy version of reality. A veil has dropped. Maybe it dropped a long time ago. I watch the plot, the characters, the scene, the story line with only mild interest. Mostly apathetic.

A familiar story for the thinkers, the depressed, the analyzers. Life a dream. Waves of light, color, emotion, people. A familiar story for those in trauma. Unable to fully open up to life undulating between numbness and extreme pain. I’ve told my story a hundred times and it’s really nothing special as folks die and individuals reinvent themselves over and over again, purifying in the fire. In each reinvention, the dreams, the disassociation becomes greater and greater and I go to matching lengths to ground down, to find the soil of my existence once again.

April 25th, 2014 a friend hung herself and I once again sank down, went deep, and struggled to decide on the appropriate response, the appropriate way to be with myself, to be with the world. And so I ran. I went into the physical body and the breath for stability, balance, to let the power of my thoughts dull in the burning light of my physical being. On Pole Mountain every day, moving slowly over rolling hills stopping to smell, take pictures, dance, stare at the sky, stare at the ground, and sit in the mud. I would bring friends, we would bring drink, I would bring drink alone. Playing with that point when the substance can enhance physical awareness and open up the senses to deep experiences while dulling the mind just enough to justify the tall bullets of barely pop.

I let go of expectations for myself. I walked away from the holistic practice of yoga doing only what felt good—run, lift, stretch, drink, sleep. I would push myself at times but found in the letting go of the practice of yoga I was able to truly practice yoga through direct experience, an opening up to the trails of life, the trails of my own veins. I felt like a crucible with ashes in my belly, appearing like clay but red hot on the inside. And so I buried myself in the cool ground to recalibrate what this all might mean and how to find my meaning.

On the trails, during the runs in forward motion and in the tiny catches of slowing down, I begin to see the patterns of nature. The times, ways, and slopes where the wildflowers grow. The ripple of the snow from the way the wind blows, the creak of the trees, the sound of thunder near and far. I begin to feel the sunrise and sunset and anticipate in some familiar way what to expect in this place and on these runs. The weather becomes a part of my system the breeze my own breath.

It becomes harder and harder to come back and to see the patterns in others’ behavior, the same patterns of nature. Only to know the patterns will not be seen. They are obstructed, fuzzy, blended with lies on the part of the person who has not yet accepted his or her own behaviors. They do not see what I see, and this is just perception, this is just human nature. They are not who they think they are. I am not who I think I am.

On the hikes of the human mind, I feel the wind of thoughts, the dark clouds of brooding, and the creak of the heart. Anticipating the seasons of the soul from unspoken words and intense observation I feel the sunset coming knowing that it may go unnoticed, go unfelt. It does not matter. All experience, good or bad is grist for the mill. Fuzzy, painful, manufactured, in nature, all a path to spiritual growth, a way to God.

“Sometimes I reason my life is a hideous illusion, and I dream of disappearing into the wilderness, leaving behind my past, my present, and all plans for my future, the hustle and bustle for a materialism I care little for, propaganda, politics, phonies, and all the patterns I’ve encountered from their words unspoken, that alert and alienate me to believe that this surely wasn’t meant to be my playground.”

-Unknown

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i close my eyes. i close them again.

I close my eyes. I close them again. Again. And again. Until the gaze is completely inward. There lies the work. There lies accountability. Instead of blaming the oppressive paradigm of society or of being misunderstood because of my education, I take accountability.

When I look inward I am able to face the demons of what I might not want to know about myself. I am controlling. I am pretentious. I am insecure. I stay after the class I teach at the local community college to answer questions about children and psychology. The parent always knows best. Each family situation is so different. I begin to realize with ruddy cheeks that I have not given this space in my own personal life. I thought I knew best. And now I know the value of of patience and acceptance.

I look inward and realize I still do not love myself enough to receive unconditional love from another. My value is still intermixed with other factors that are changeable and dynamic like my sense of self.  As long as I continue to rely on outside sources for a false sense of control I will be fragmented. And now I am alone and see that I co-create all of my experiences and until I create love and compassion for myself I will not create it for others. Instead of being so mystic about it all it boils down to folks likening to be around someone who has a sense of self that doesn’t require too much work on their part. A steady energetic presence.

I lie. I lie about how I self soothe and I lie to others to avoid always feeling so awkward. I tell my story to thousands of people.  The truth is not always wanted or needed, though, and I can’t seem to get the love and affection of one. Today instead of overanalyzing my actions in a freezing bathroom with singing malfunctioning pipes I ought just let some sleeping dogs lie.  Because I’ve beat this dead horse into the ground. 

“I close my eyes in order to see.” —Paul Gauguin

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the most selfish person i know (a biography)

Every day is filled with tiny baby setbacks and tiny baby victories and I’ve been putting off blogging about it because I realize how much I exist in my own head.  My head is not in the bell curve, it’s not appealing to many folks, it would be cancelled after one season.  I am so very selfish and spend so much time alone.  My world is all I have.  My thoughts are my friends, my thoughts are my enemies. As I work to share my world I create experiences to validate that which I already believe—I don’t understand intimate relationships.  I don’t understand friendship.  And I certainly don’t understand the intimate/friendship combo of a long term relationship.

I set the stage for my lonely, tragic, existential play at a young age, ready to be analyzed over and over like an awful Shakespearean play that I have to pretend to like because it seems to be what I ought do.  What ought I do?  It was Valentine’s Day and I was sixteen.  We skipped school and filled a brown, sticky, stained bong with snow and took rips of the dirtiest ditch weed a kid could get their hands on.  We skipped from house to house where parents would have us or where parents were gone and we could drink stolen brandy or Bud Light and listen to Tom Petty.  We would often drive around the dirt roads that connected coal mine to oil rig to ranch to old schoolhouse.  As we passed the same plastic bong around I thought—this is it.  This is all I need.

We arrived home and my parents had tried to show me love.  They sent me flowers only to find I had skipped school and had come home smelling of booze and weed.  My parents had never sent me flowers, all of us had trouble understanding these human relationships.  My face felt hot and I bit the pieces of skin around my fingernails that smelled like Marlboro Reds.  Harsh words, questions, and raised voices.  I swung my hair over the tie dye shirt I was wearing and told my parents:  I wanted to spend the day with someone I love.  That one is drugs.

Drugs won’t purposely miss your call.  Drugs don’t give you an STD.  Drugs don’t say that you text too much.  Drugs don’t call you insecure.  Drugs don’t avoid eye contact with you but stare at your overdeveloped thighs and hips.  Drugs don’t tell you that you remind them too much of an ex and would-you-just-quit that.  Drugs don’t stalk you for seven years.  Drugs don’t punch you so hard during sex you lose your hearing for three days.  Drugs won’t fuck you only past 10 pm because you are the other woman.  Drugs won’t take money you left on the counter.  Drugs won’t ask you to suck their dick for blow.  And yet, drugs take you all these places emotionally.  Maybe I ought treat them like an ex.

My uncle once told me that my brilliant grandfather experienced setbacks in his career because of the fire.  The crazy.  That which runs in our family which I have seen firsthand and experienced even more deeply firsthand.  I knew I was round the bend when I seventeen and I shot up a half gram of meth that had been cooked up hours before.  I lost my vision.  I lost my hearing.  I barely made it up the stairs.  When I had finished lying on the bed staring at souls circling above me, I walked to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.  I had switched, something had turned.  There goes the screw.  Like Alice, I had gone to the other side.  Manic.  Depressed.  Crazy.  Gifted. Touched by fire. Out there.  Ridiculous.  Ludicrous, preposterous, risible, farcical.

Will I ruin my career?  Will my soul mate be crystal meth?  I don’t believe in either of these things, because maybe I’m crazy enough to understand that while my attributes aren’t valued by all, or many, or a lover, I am not unworthy.  There is no manual of human contact and we create just miniature projections of ourselves.  Some cells want to be with others.  Some organs stand alone.  But no part of the human body is wrong, and no part of me is wrong.  I am selfish.  I am crazy.  I am the most beautiful person you will ever meet.  I say the ugliest things you will ever hear.  Will you still love me?  Because I sure do.

“I do a lot of crummy things, and I do a lot of beautiful things, and I’m neither good nor evil, I just am. There is good, and there is evil, and here I am.”

-Ram Dass 

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yoga and the wounded healer

Coming back to the subject I’ve thought about over and over. My falling outs, meltdowns, burning of bridges, loss of friends, passing the point of no return, crossing the Rubicon, nailing my colors to the mast. I’ve dealt with some shit. I’ve caused some shit. Acute conflict felt from the edges of my heart into the corners of my soul.  I caught myself in a moment with another when I began to talk about this stuff. Eyes glazed over and the gaze becomes distant like trying to talk to my father right after work, staring at the coal dust in his eyes know he might not hear me through his own clouds and questions.

I’ve sometimes heard that being a leader comes with people you love hating you a little more each day. No matter what decision is made, there will be an angry soul who is convinced the devil is running the show. Then I wonder if it’s not just my silly little ego to call myself a leader to protect me from the thought that people really don’t like me. That I’ve been banned from spaces, from hearts.  Big, universal, hurt.

I also know it takes two to tango. Yoga attracts wounded people. Every person I talk to in yoga has come to the practice because of abuse, a crappy family life as a child, their own or others’ mental illness, social isolation, family life as an adult, bereavement, life-threatening physical illness and a whole wide gambit of crap. These wounded healers, these who take issue with me, have their own wounding experiences and two wounds don’t make a healer.

I wonder, too, at the lack of integration in yoga and search for the old souls, the professionals, the ones who have spent years letting it all sink in. Then I get caught up in teach more, achieve more, get more students, buy more leggings. What if we all took a class, sat on it for a few days. See what happens. Or what if we fight, let it runs its course, and tolerate the anxiety of growing together. What if we stop being ashamed at the way we treat each other, acknowledge our wounds and evolve toward greater cohesion and solidarity.

Instead of wondering when my soul became less human or less beautiful, I can wonder how another’s wound has affected vision and perception. And through the vulnerability of suffering and universiality maybe we can self-reflect, look outward, and meltdown in a way that leave puddles of our own gorgeous human essence.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

T.S. Eliot “East Coker,” from *The Four Quartets*

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limitlessness

I’ve been at a lot of races lately and some sounds and sights are familiar. Cold mountain air in the morning, frantic energy at the starting line. Heavy breathing and panting, feet grazing and flopping on dirt roads, quiet muffled sounds of headphones, and the crazy eyes. Those crazy eyes. Watching as the normal gaze of distraction turns shiny and human desire bubbles up from the belly of determination–color unnamed yet so familiar. Ruddy cheeks frame the eyes,  the blush of anticipation that transcends anything sexual. Eye color doesn’t matter because it’s not the color that’s doing the talking.  The hue becomes the energy of someone who has tapped into what it means to be elite. This person will be fast. This person is creating their experience.

What inspires me is being around limitless passion.  Passion that transcends suffering, pain, or any imagined barrier (because they are usually imagined, this life is limitless if we create it so). Raw, messy, passion that pulled Viktor Frankl through a concentration camp—creating meaning in an inherently meaningless world. His spiritual strength fed the fire that fueled his will to continue on, to survive, because life took on some kind of meaning. It became bigger than him.

Struggling and suffering are not always bad. It is through struggle that growth occurs—when the river is forced to find a different path because the force of the suffering, the winter melt-off, is too great. The path might be slow at first but the river carves land, edges of rocks, rumbling loud in spring, gathering strength in winter.  It becomes its own artery of life and aspiration. Find something bigger than self and struggle becomes universal.  A mountain to climb. One hundred miles to run. A prayer to an open sky. A race to win. A story to write. A fable to tell.

Take the first step by going out of your comfort zone. See yourself as part of an infinite story.  You are not the first or last to arrive on this path. And the key is to do what you have to do to get what you want and realize your own strength. 

What is it that you want?

What is it that you will do?

How will you become limitless?

 

“If you can’t run, then walk. And if you can’t walk, then crawl. Do what you have to do. Just keep moving forward and never, ever give up.”
― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

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there is good, there is evil

I’ve been going through some stuff lately.   I feel junior high spring dance insecure—hunched in the shoulders, standing in the corner of the gym in my socks with my pants too short and my pointy bra creating uncomfortable tic tacs in my silk shirt.  I look at others hoping they will notice me for me, and stick around for the anxiety of growing with me. But, as in junior high, I don’t know who I am.

I’ve had the same situation occur twice now—I have walked away or was asked to walk away from yoga studios for reasons that won’t matter in time and that I can’t understand because the discourse, the vulnerability, the connection is gone. There is no space for reconciling, and it’s not for me to convince anyone of my worth. If I’m not seen with compassion, I am not seen. But, I can’t separate that it’s somehow me being asked to step away from yoga.

Of course I have mommy and daddy issues. We all do. Families are hard. But there is space in the family to mess up, to do crummy things, to make a mistake in earnest because the love is there. The non-judgment is par for the course. The daddy issues run deep. I miss my deceased father more than words could ever express because he really accepted me. Anger, idiot moves, and all. I miss my mother too for who she was and for her letting me grow.

It comes down to the only thing I know—my experience. I know more and more I don’t know much but I came to yoga because I was accepted. I was allowed to sweat buckets, to cry, to suck at poses, to show up a few minutes late. I don’t think everything is love and light. There is dark space in the universe, there is dark space in my heart.

To teach what I know is all I can do. And the lessons I impart in yoga aren’t how to wrench your spine in a backbend, wrench your neck in a headstand, or tear your ligaments in eagle. It’s how to sit with yourself (the self you might hate, if you are anything like me) for a few minutes without running away from your body or your breath. I can teach how to sit with the shadows, how to let emotions circulate through the system.

I am driven by ego. I am driven by compassion. I am neither compassion nor ego, I just am.

 

 

“I do a lot of crummy things, and I do a lot of beautiful things, and I am neither good nor evil, I just am. There is good, there is evil, and here I am.”

Ram Dass

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pathologically indiscreet

Never underestimate the value of a candid person. So much of our time is spent trying to figure out these unwritten rules like how firmly should I shake her hand or how many sentences of small talk before I delve into an emotional topic?

I was never very good at regular rules, much less unwritten rules, and brutal honesty can catch others off guard or it can open up a space of vulnerability. If I spent time trying to understand social conventions it might take a while. While I understand the power of acting couth, I appreciate the candidness of the raw, the unfiltered.

The types of people I appreciate most are ones who dance whether anyone is watching or not, who sing whether they know the words, who make love without worrying about fat or fur, who eat with appreciation. Secrets can last for years, secrets can change the paradigm.

Imagine if we started being ourselves, if we stopped holding back or letting out too much of what is inauthentic. Imagine if we let go of social conventions just for a day, how many would become comfortable, and how many would receive a gift? Take time today to receive those in your life exactly how they are and exactly who they need to be.

I’ve always been a pretty candid person. I’m not a very secretive person; I’m not a very discreet person. One of my best friends once described me as pathologically indiscreet.

Andrew Sullivan