Today I cleaned my office deeply.
I dusted and scrubbed and vacuumed and sorted and recycled and reorganized and labeled.
It was satisfying and focusing.
In the clarity of space I lit some incense and imbibed Buddha drinking chocolate while listening to Trevor Hall sing the words, “My love is just a reminder, find your center.”
During this wild time, when everyone is grappling with some form of untethering, I’ve been contemplating my relationship to ritual because I believe ritual is a necessary kind of nourishment.
In the midst of this pandemic, I am currently untethered from the structures and routines I’m accustomed to, from the unchecked consumerism that governs so much of the planet and from the rhythm and comfort of social gatherings,
(to name a few things).
I am not, however, untethered from my right or capacity to create ritual in any moment or in every moment.
Ritual can be extremely simple or as complex as you want it to be.
It illuminates the tether between your heart and reverence.
It is the birthright of every being and it lends itself freely to the imagination.
Sometimes my ritual includes cosmic cacao and sometimes it includes an apple slice.
I might light a candle or a stick of incense or I might arrange some pictures on an altar or a shelf. My ritual might involve sitting and breathing or standing and singing or wandering through the house placing my palm against the shadows on the walls.
The one requirement is directed consciousness.
I bring my attention to the moment and make a choice to honor that moment in a particular way.
As far as I’m concerned, there has been no better time to cultivate rituals that ground and sustain us.
At the end of my reflective chocolate reverie, I wrote this haiku:
Return to magic
Through breath and repetition
Ritual feeds me
Day by day, may we discover new ways to return to wonder, which is magic's base ingredient.
May we know wonder and ritual as precious resources and may we call upon them
to help us navigate the tender unknown.
Blush pink, tender edged petals, powder white in the center. Translucent leaf veins. Green tinted light. Rough bark warmed by morning sun.
I climbed trees when I was fourteen and discussed the nature of the heart in twisted branches after school with my best friend. I’m 35 now and I’ve just discovered there’s a perch in the dogwood tree that sits outside my pumpkin colored ranch house. It’s May and the flowers sing. I’m curved like a half moon against limbs, staring through blossoms into the beyond.
I wish my cat could be up here with me. Alas, he’s on tiger patrol (an invisible task force that operates in the fifth dimension and requires him to stare blankly out windows, randomly gallop through the living room, bite ankles and nap for up to eight hours at a time).
My stepsons want my husband and I to build a fort in this tree with them. I press my back into the branch and imagine a platform and their playful banter. The code they keep between them - a series of pokemon powers and poop jokes, an abiding need to rile each other up, a profound dedication to their brotherhood.
Right now the boys are at school. Alec is at work. And my best friend I used to climb with, she lives in Philly.
Birds signal flute-like while the windchimes resonate honeyed vibrations. The subtlety of sweet tones is a balm to my ears. I’m new to parenting and my stepsons are loud. To ensure their audience is never bored, they incorporate many variations into their high-volumed repertoire, such as car engine spaceship static spit riffs, dog whistle screams when they knock into each other ‘by accident’ and the general shouting of the word, Dad, even when Dad is two feet away from them. They sometimes throw tantrums the size of Montezuma in the living room that appear to be motivated by the erroneous placement of chia seeds in oatmeal and the subsequent offense taken by the chia seed victim and his fate of high antioxidants. They also offer dimpled grins in exchange for the excitement of being alive, somersault to the dinner table and ask questions like, “If reincarnation is real, what if we are our own ancestors?” I mean...woah.
Their beauty and intensity, their power and their struggle - it’s one of the most daunting and transformative paradoxes I’ve encountered. Integrating as a family has been vulnerable and humbling. I feel like I’m in a play I didn’t rehearse for, but the rest of the cast, they’ve been rehearsing for years. I don’t know my lines, so I’m improvising, which gives me the constant feeling that I’m about to fuck up and also I thought the play was about horses, but they are performing a show about the queen of England, so our theatrical motivations are a bit out of sync.
When I have bouts of stage fright, I remind myself, between deep, calming breaths, that this opportunity - it’s what I’ve been asking for.
For so long, I’ve wanted to know Love as my teacher, my master, my guide. I’ve wanted to find space in my own pain where Love can grow. I’ve wanted to experience Love as a living practice that does not reside in my intellect, that does not negate my humanness, that does not avoid my darkness. I’ve wanted to relate to Love the way I relate to breath - with unquestioning reliance.
As an introverted, only child who finds sibling relationships mysterious and genuinely enjoys silence, standing between two brothers while one flails his arms at the other and screams at the top of his lungs, “You ate my muuuuffffiiiiin!!!!”, is a prime time to find the reliance I speak of. It is in the company of panic, when we most need the presence of love.
It’s hard to ignore my judgements. There is a part of me that is rolling her eyes and thinking things like, “Are you f*#$ing serious right now with the muffin angst and the chia chaos?”
There is a part of me that is drowning in despair about entitlement and the ways I too reflected this entitlement in my own childhood. Sometimes I’m not able to hold it down. Sometimes I walk right out of the room, put my head under a pillow and let my husband deal. But sometimes I stay in the heat of the moment and I breathe and I say,
“Alright Love. Here we go. Teach me. Teach me how to open instead of close. Teach me how to guide them out of this space into a place of growth. Teach me to love them through their process, no matter how messy, loud or disruptive. In loving them, teach me how to love myself and everyone around me, deeper, wider, truer.”
I remind myself in these moments of high intensity that the family bond we are growing - it is our own masterpiece. It is guided by some tender kind of destiny.
We have been walking toward each other for a long time.
I strolled into my neighborhood grocery store one day when I was 24-years-old and headed to the deli. I’d just returned from a year abroad in Brazil. I was easeful from so much sun and confident from so much travel. I spotted Alec behind the counter and caught my breath. He proceeded to direct his super sized smile beam at my face and my heart jumped like those cats when they notice those cucumbers. Like that. Straight up in my chest. (If you don’t know what I am talking about: youtube, cats/cucumbers. Hilarious).
I’ve known Alec since middle school, but we’d never exchanged more than a few greetings. I watched him walk down the hallway in eleventh grade with his royal blue track shorts, his dark olive legs and his arm around his lovely girlfriend, both of them shining super sized smile beams at everyone because they were in love and it was uncontainable.
I always wondered what it felt like to be on the receiving end of his shine.
Social media kept me in tune with his wanderings over the years. I knew he’d broken up with his high school sweetheart. I knew he’d gone to college for a bit in New Mexico. I knew he’d moved back to Portland. I knew he worked at my neighborhood grocery store.
I approached the counter and he gave my arm a squeeze. He asked me what I’d been up to.
“I’ve been traveling,” I said, and he grinned again, brushed a piece of dark hair behind his ear. He didn’t rush to take my order. I told him I was studying dance in Brazil and because I couldn’t stay still in the clear, buoyant quality of his gaze, I quickly changed the focus.
“What’s new in your life?”
“Well,” he paused and I watched his topaz brown eyes glisten. “My partner and I are about to have a baby.”
I didn’t understand what happened next. I only understand it now, 10 years later, as I sit beside Alec, who I call husband and his oldest boy, who I call stepson.
A chill rushed down my spine. There was a shifting in my ribs. There was the sense that this news pertained to me and it was important.
“That’s wonderful.” I swallowed and tried to match his glisten.
I felt so different from him then. I was getting ready to graduate college. I was planning my next trip to Brazil. I was thinking about moving to New York City. I wanted to reach out and grab his hand. I wanted to say, “Please keep in touch with me.”
But I didn’t. I let him make me a sandwich, then I said, “It was so great to run into you!”
I swayed my hips as I walked away because I wasn’t fifteen anymore and I wanted him to notice. I let the resonance of my future self ring through my cells for a moment, then dismissed the hum as nothing more than the jitter of a long time crush.
The oldest is sitting on the couch with me waiting for his dad and brother to grab their ice cream so we can start the movie.
“Where’s Dublin?” he asks and I scan the living room for my fluffy feline guru, but he’s nowhere to be found.
“We need to get him, so the whole family’s here,” the oldest says firmly and he rises to hunt down the cat.
My heart thud thuds and I look toward Alec who is smiling at me from the kitchen. It’s the first time I’ve been incorporated by one of the boys into the verbal delineation of family.
Alec has talked me down often, late at night, when I’m freaking out about the challenges of finding our groove as a unit. He’s reminded me gently, that we all belong to each other. That, “this is how families work, Jocelyn. It’s okay. It’s messy, it’s hard, we fall all over ourselves, but we learn and we move forward. We love each other through the learning.”
I remember Alec’s eyes at the grocery store when he told me he was preparing to welcome his first baby into the world. The road between then and now has felt very long, but sometimes, sudden like, it disappears and there is only a circle of connection, unbroken and eternal.
I’m filled with reverence for the necessity of all our wandering, as I watch the oldest return with the chubby cat - the cat who doesn’t question that we are his family, but seriously questions if it’s necessary to disturb his regal slumber for a movie about space ships. I mean, he knows all about space ships. He invented them for christ’s sake.
The boys have two homes and two families. They have willingly expanded their hearts to encompass the change that split their world open two years ago. I am still trying to understand what it means to be a stepparent. These loud, magic children, they provide me endless opportunities to be a student of Love - which is the only role we were ever assigned to play.
Purple irises with yellow fringed bellies shoot up from the grass below.
This is the first spring I’ve watched the dogwood tree blossom and rested in her curving cradle. This is the first spring in our new house together, all four of us, (plus our cat ruler, Dublin the Great).
One day soon, there will be a platform here and two boys will play and make lots of ear splitting, outrageous noise. The petals will fall on their heads like soft edged blessings, like blown kisses made visible.
I will look at Alec as he looks at them and I will feel the resonance of our destiny.
I will not dismiss its sound or its beauty. I will move closer and forget all my lines. I will open my heart and so help me, I will improvise.
I want to tell you about one of the great loves of my life.
Her name is Val and it happens to be her birthday.
I don’t know the cosmic mechanics involved in uniting two souls from different countries, born 15 years apart, when they don’t speak the same language, but I am eternally grateful to the universe for the reunion offered.
Indeed, all Val and I needed was that reunion.
We needed to find ourselves in the same place at the same time.
We had the rest covered.
When the resonance of connection is tuned to eternity, you simply have to get close enough to feel the frequency of the other and courageous enough to let that frequency unfold you.
That’s how it was with Val and it cracked my heart open.
It happened like this:
Up a set of broken concrete stairs, where butterflies flirted with fragrant orchids and old men sat on benches sipping coffee from small cups, I taught dance classes to children and their mothers in a tiny room with smudged mirrors and checkered floors. It was here I first met Val - five feet tall, with strong legs, crimped black hair and a diamond stud below her lip.
I was 22 and I'd been in Rio de Janeiro barely a month.
My Portuguese consisted of greetings and numbers. I wore chacos everywhere I went. I stood out as an untested gringa the way a really tall dad stands out with their toddler at a petting zoo.
Val always danced in the back of the class, letting small whoops of joy bounce through the room when she liked a song or was enjoying a particularly satisfying sequence of movement.
Her shoulders and hips seemed to speak to each other in a fast paced dialogue I couldn’t mimic, though I tried desperately.
I wanted to say to her, “I know you from a time outside of time, do you remember me?”
But my linguistic options were more along the lines of,
“You dance so good. Would you like to meet?”
She was unphased by my stumbling attempt to express that feeling of resonance.
She was unphased because she felt that resonance too and because that’s how Val operates.
Val unfailingly welcomes the vulnerability and tenderness in every being she encounters.
Somehow we managed to make plans to go out dancing, using pantomime and simple words. From that moment on I can’t recall having any difficulty understanding each other, though it took me a solid year to feel fluent in Portuguese.
I chalk it up to the resonance. We shared access to the same frequency and it communicated for us, weaving between our missing words.
As an aside, and a wonderful example of Val’s life approach, she is a mother of four, but none of her children were in my class. She happened to be passing by one day, heard the music floating out the window and decided to join the party.
I’ve returned to Brazil numerous times over the past 14 years.
Now I’m almost the age Val was when I met her.
I lived with Val when her fifth grandson was born. I curved my body into dreaming shapes beside her family countless nights. I breathe more deeply when she is close.
Val has championed all of my growth. She steadfastly supported me during every stage of the development of my feature length documentary, which was the biggest creative baby I’ve yet to carry. Val tended to me during the delirium of dengue fever. She’s cradled my broken hearts and I’ve cradled hers. She’s always been honest with me and she’s always met me with the power of limitless love.
I’ve watched Val dance with the challenges of her life circumstances, which include - the marginalization and violence that can accompany life in a favela, as well as the uncertainty of a highly limited and sometimes absent income.
A year after I met her, she was introduced to her first sewing machine and began to express her innate artistry through sewing and designing jewelry and apparel that represents the diaspora of afro-brazilian culture.
Her work has grown tenfold since then and now Varal Da Val, (Val’s clothesline), is beginning to play an influential cultural role in recycled empowerment fashion amongst different communities in Rio.
It has, yet, however to provide an abundant income for her, though it sustains her very basic needs. What I’d love to see for Val, is the opportunity to grow her art, so it can continue to enrich community. I’d like to see Val actualize the next level of her capacity and meet her foundational needs with ease, so she can breathe more deeply and forge ahead.
That’s my ask this giving season, friends! :-)
I am collecting donations for Varal da Val, because I believe in my sister’s meaningful offerings and I believe in the importance of raising up each other’s gifts.
If you are interested in contributing or want to learn more, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Val is struggling with something she says, “I feel life moving through me and I feel power in that.”
In every moment of your humanness, may you feel life moving through you and may you feel power in that.
May you remember that we are all in this together, dancing.
Photo / Rita Astrovich
Okay party people - let’s talk about the joyful business of sticking to it.
The IT being the creative magic you are here to cultivate in whatever way best reflects your truest truth.
This doesn’t mean your creativity has to be your avocation, or anything you get paid for or even something other people see.
Your creativity is a channel you tend and tune into.
It’s how you communicate with paradox, receive messages from the spirit of inspiration, understand your human experience and move the turbulent, magnificent energy of your emotional body, so it doesn’t leave you pancake flattened on the floor.
Creativity is vitality’s soulmate.
I want to offer four essential GUIDEPOSTS to help you orient your creative process and figure out how best to sustain your radiance.
They are easy to recite and can be memorized for quick access when in a crisis state of STUCK.
Let it flow. Let it grow. Let it glow. Let it go. Yes. I know. It rhymes.
And it seems simple. And potentially abstract.
But the timeless, nature based metaphors always carry us home.
Because nature gets it. Her patterns - they line the map.
Let It Flow:
When you feel the first flicker of a creative impulse, notice what rushes in to shut you down. Center yourself in a neutral place of witnessing, so you can identify with something beyond the critic.
You know the critic? The one who says, oh real original, where did you come up with that idea?
Someone else has already done it.
I’m not good enough to even attempt something like that.
Be ready to see all the resistances without giving them too much attention.
Keep walking forward as you nod and acknowledge their presence.
This is the time to be no holds barred with the raw material of your creative inspiration.
Let it flow. Let the idea come out in its messiest, first instinct form.
Let it be as unfiltered as possible, so you have something raucously authentic to work with.
Don’t even think about censoring, editing, trimming or re-doing.
First things first. FLOW.
Let It Grow:
How do you get your garden to produce shiny, purple eggplants or your flower bed to sprout scarlet zinnias and canary yellow sunflowers?
Well, first of all - you don’t ‘get’ it to do anything. Nature is its own magic and knows exactly what to do with itself.
You plant seeds. Then, you provide presence, observation, structure and support.
You create well designed beds that will thrive. When more water is needed, you supply it. When things get tangled, you pull weeds. This is also true for your creative process.
Plant the seed of your idea and then provide it presence, observation, structure and support, so it can grow. Experiment with and develop structures that help you stay accountable to your seed's maturation. Learn yourself and your own foibles.
How can self-discipline help you thrive? What does self-discipline look like in the first place? It can't look like anyone else's version if it doesn't feel real in your own body.
What self-care practices do you need to generate so you can run the imagination marathon?
Begin to implement them. Don't take your self-care for granted.
You are the instrument through which the creative force is moving. Stay well tuned.
Remember, of course, to keep your grip loose. Our creative ideas, like actual seeds, know how to seek light. They are meant to do just that.
We are the lucky conduits through which they bloom.
Let It Glow:
Your creative idea has blossomed into its full expression!
Give it opportunities to radiate its magic. This part requires courage and tenderness in equal measure. Do the inward searching necessary to understand the best format through which to share your creation.
Perhaps it needs the attention of a loved one. Perhaps it needs a room full of people you've never met. Or, if your creative expression is a private experience, allow it space within your own heart, so it may offer its full medicine and beauty to you.
Don’t rush away too fast from what you consider finished.
This is the time when the fruit is ripe. Savor its sweetness.
Let It Go:
You opened the channel for optimal flow. You nurtured the seeds until they grew into their full expression. You danced beneath the light of your wild, perfect harvest.
Now craft the ritual that will help you honor it.
Offer your gratitude.
Reflect on your learning.
Know it will be there to greet you, should you want to return and remember.
It is time to let it go, completely.
Bid it farewell.
Let go of the ways in which you allowed it to define you as a creator.
That was one creation. There will be another. Nothing is the same. Ever.
You are not what you create.
You are the sacred vessel through which creative energy moves.
Celebrate the releasing as much as you celebrated the completing.
Releasing clears the path ahead and the ground is dusted with stars.
It is lit by holy mystery.
You are ready for this.
The only thing left to do is the only thing we can do, every moment on this earth.
Breathe. Soften. Ask ourselves patiently, with the cadence of a song,
“What’s next, my love?”
When I am afraid, this thing happens.
I freeze into a static shape. I become an immovable ball of discomfort.
In these moments, I can see the other side of my darkness - the place where the breath breathes - where the acceptance eases - where the Love mends, but I can’t figure out how to get there. Sometimes, I simply can’t find the passageway that takes me from fear to Love. From pain to healing. From restriction to release.
A welcome revelation reminded me recently that if I want to heal, it is my responsibility to steadfastly construct and tend my own passage.
Minding the tunnel that takes us from fear to Love, I do believe it’s the most necessary project we’ve been hired to complete.
Q: Who actually hired us to do this?
A: Our spirit/heart/soul. You know, the boss of the unseen.
So my goal isn’t to become a woman without fear. My goal isn’t to wrestle my fear into non-existence.
As long as we live as humans in a dualistic world, fear will remain. My goal is to build, tend and learn the passageway between my fear and my Love. My goal is to find and feel the texture of the tunnel that leads me home.
Q: Where is home?
A: Home is not a place. Home is a living entity.
Muttered under breath: That’s abstract.
Additional Answer: Home is Love. Love is a living entity that is not bound by time and space.
That’s too simple and also too confusing.
Yes. Stay with me.
I want to know the tunnel between my fear and my Love so intimately that I can walk it with my eyes closed, when I am completely mapless, when the ground is quaking beneath my feet. I want the route to vibrate in my cells, so I can reach out my hand to others and guide them home when they are lost.
Lately I have developed a collecting hobby. I am collecting materials and tools for my fear-to-Love passage project.
I am keenly searching for the things that help me resonate with Love so I can navigate closer towards her frequency.
It is one of the best ways I’ve spent my time. Ever.
Some of the things I’ve been collecting include:
Now let me tell you about my very favorite thing that I’ve collected.
It is my Holy Yes.
My holy yes is the YES I say when the landscape is charged and the emotions are sharp. It’s the YES I say to the responsibility I have for everything I feel and enter into. It’s the YES I utter gratefully into the mystery verse, knowing that I am in a slow and beautiful process of remembrance and the only ticket to ride is this one word.
I am here.
I will do this.
YES. YES. YES.
After collecting these treasures, it becomes my joy to care for them and polish them until they glow like spiritual warrior ninja flashlights or constellations or stalactite clusters.
As I am presented with opportunities daily to travel the sacred space between fear and Love, I can reach into my tool belt and retrieve my magic talismans.
Tell me sweet friends, what are your talismans?
Because you deserve all the support you can get.
Fear is no joke. But it is an illusion.
It is the poison and truly, we are the antidote.
Love rises again and again and it requires us.
Devotion has no alternate agenda. It is the heart becoming everything.
You’ve got this. I believe in you.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I want to stare at him while his sunflower eyes shine.
I want to plant my gaze and take root.
We are at a concert listening to magic drip from a torrent of sound and I love the way joy carves his face into a trail of growing light.
Lucky for me, I can pull this off without being creepy.
I'm his wife.
This afternoon he laid with me in bed while I curled into a little ball of fear and frustration. When I impulsively told him, "You don't need to hang out in my sad spiral, it's not going to change." He replied, "I'm not trying to change anything. I'm just being with you. Deal with it."
I tried to repress my desire to smile.
He's modeling what I'm learning to do for myself, I thought. I'm learning to witness my emotions without shutting them off or changing their name. I'm learning to be with myself steadfastly while I navigate the transformation that is born from loving attention.
Partnership can and should help us heal limited concepts of self love.
We model how we want our partner to be treated by the sharper edges of their own psyche, so they can see it, feel it, know it.
All kinds of relationships have the potential to offer this type of soul mending.
We are pieces that have been cut away from the same whole and we keep the memory safe for each other.
We offer it up in reflection.
Through Love we are singing a song of great remembrance. We are helping each other return to our strong and tender wholeness.
When the concert is done I place my hand on my husband's cheek and notice that his irises have the texture of a wheat field and his gaze is the soft sway of wind.
New beauty blooms beside the act of witnessing.
Sometimes I get very small and proclaim my weakness with contradictory gusto. I am grateful to have my self worth mirrored by the patience and presence of my partner. It tugs me away from the seductive grip of separation, self-judgement and pity.
It invites me, without force or agenda, to dig my hands into the bigger work of Love and learn the secret that's not a secret:
Love summons Love.
It calls us to remind others how worthy they are of their own sensitivity.
We have the opportunity every day to fan the flame of truth for all the perfect, broken pieces of our one heart. As the heat grows, so does the desire for unity.
One by one, we will find our way back together.
Piano keys clang, riding in and out of melody like rebel cowboys. The vacuum has been on for what feels like four hours. Every 30 seconds my step son discovers that the hose makes a peculiar screeching when he puts it near plastic, like how a thousand tiny mice would sound if they were dying inside your ear drum. The dishwasher is running and the dryer is tumbling. My husband, who has a calm demeanor and an absurdly high tolerance for noise, resembles a deaf monk, doing dishes serenely as if our home were some meditation shala. It makes me angry (like irrationally furious) to watch him grin (peacefully) with two large crescent dimples, looking stupid hot while he remains unperturbed by his wildly loud children.
Incessant, high volumed sound unravels me and that’s to put it mildly. I often feel shame about this. A critical voice in my mind chastises my auditory struggle as something ridiculous and embarrassing.
“Pull it together,” the voice scolds, “there are much harder things in life. You can’t handle a little noise!?!”
My younger step son hums constantly. My older step son only ever talks in the volume you use when projecting your voice for an audience at the theater. Sometimes they scream like crazed demons when they get hurt or pissed off at each other.
Children are loud. That’s the reality.
They also cultivate magic, generate joy and offer pure, uncensored insight.
The trade off is undoubtedly worth it.
Since we moved in together, I thought the solution for cohabitation was to wrestle my sensitivity into nonexistence. For a writer who writes frequently about shameless self love and acceptance, my blind spots are...well...blind.
As a million mice died inside my head and piano key cowboys declared war on resonance and my sexy buddha husband cleaned sweetly, I felt an uprising of tenderness.
I sensed a still truth and the truth said:
I am a creature of quiet. I like to be approached softly. I live in a dream space. My wisdom is wide.
My husband ushers the boys toward bedtime and their soundtrack levels down. I nestle into the couch and edge closer toward that still truth. My fluffy marshmallow of a cat strides over in the growing hush - just breath and the drip of rain outside. He melts into my ribcage and I place my palm upon his belly. His quiet is so deep. He wears it like a cape or a crown.
Beside the patient presence of my heart and the regal wisdom of my cat, I decide to trust the integrity of my wiring.
Come echo this trust prayer with me now.
If you crave silence, lean in.
If you thrive amidst auditory cacophony, lean in.
The message you seek is in the code of your making, so approach yourself as you are. There is a worthy instinct summoning your attention again and again with tremendous patience. Let all the gripping and the wrestling, all the chastising and the shaming - let it go where water goes.
Feed it back to source.
In the rushing whale song that follows, dive in deep and celebrate the architecture of your foundation.
Return yourself to yourself and remember:
You must listen to your needs and nurture your essence. Your essence is where your genius waits.
Your essence is where your tools are stored.
Your design is necessary and intentional.
Begin with this knowing.
Resilience isn't far behind.
In an airport recently I got tea at a cafe called the Wonder Tree cause I’m a sucker for names that combine fairytale like adjectives with natural features.
“Enjoy,” the thick lashed barista said, as he handed me a cup of steaming earl gray.
Then he smacked his gaze into mine, the way you do when you want to efficiently convey something sexy. We gave each other an electric look before I returned to my gate. I thought about how my husband, Alec, would grin when I mentioned this hot, wordless exchange with the stranger who made me tea during my long flight delay.
My husband and I like to share these things. To belong to each other and ourselves and the world all at once, it’s complicated and delicious and vulnerable. Talking openly about the flirtatious nature of humans is how we navigate the complexity of dedicated partnership. It’s a flashlight through the wilderness of love and sexuality.
You see, for a long time I believed dedicated partnership required an arsenal of refusal.
I refuse attraction towards anyone other than my partner.
I refuse boundary pushing conversation regarding my sexual needs as they evolve.
If it feels sensual, I refuse the vibration of energy coursing between myself and other beings.
Armed with this refusal, I became divided. Shame feeds on division and so shame arrived and set up camp.
Whenever I felt anything I believed I should refuse, shame was quick to accompany my experience.
After shame feeds on division, shame short circuits the feeling process. Shame shuts us down. Shut down, we are unable to let feelings move. When feelings don’t move, they fester. When they fester they become toxic in some way and that toxicity impacts our well being and the well being of our relationships.
My husband seeks my wholeness and transparency and this seeking is mutual. We want to have each other and also hold space for each other. It’s a complex fusion of animal instincts and spiritual companionship. We want to acknowledge and share the evolving process of being human around other humans, including the array of feelings and desires that texture connection. We want to do this respectfully, openly and with a healthy dose of playfulness, because loving is soft willingness in action and it reveals our sweetest underbelly.
This is a work in progress. I’m not advocating that if you just tell your partner you had a flirty encounter at an airport your intimacy will deepen. Conversations about attraction and desire necessitate a strong foundation of trust and a mutual interest in sharing. The sharing must be allied with connection and learning. If the sharing is used to trigger jealousy, self-doubt or other shadowy interpersonal experiences, it becomes damaging.
Alec and I have created a space for dialogue about other people’s beauty and the intricate nature of our own desire because it helps us know each other more deeply and see each other more fully. When we are honest with each other, it doesn’t negate our vulnerability. In fact, sometimes the vulnerability we feel amidst our honesty is the most crucial part of our growing intimacy.
I am wildly attracted to my husband. I’m attracted to his expansive mind and his tender heart and his wise spirit and his gorgeous gorgeousness. He gets me and he’s got me. At this point in time, monogamy is what we want, met by an acceptance and celebration of our own sensual nature.
I am attracted to other humans all the time and so is he.
Here are the beautiful things that happen when shame doesn’t short circuit our feeling process and we can talk openly with each other:
Our appreciation for the unique beauty and sexiness of other beings grows.
Our appreciation for the unique beauty and sexiness of each other grows.
We learn that attraction is like an electrical flare sent off by the charge of connection and connection can be many things besides sexual or romantic.
We are able to deepen and discover our truest bond with people because we’re not terrified or guilt ridden by the experience of attraction.
We are able to be clearer and cleaner with our own boundaries because we are not trying to divide ourself or hide something from each other, nor do we view attraction to others as a forbidden fruit.
I repeat - this is a work in progress.
Relationships reveal the sweetest underbelly and offer us opportunities to shatter paradigms of secrecy so we may better tend the tender.
In the wild territory of loving partnership, we are remembering how to be whole, sovereign, united and free.
We are learning the undulating language of belonging.
We are gazing with reverent adoration at all the sexy-sexiness.
Photo / Nick Stephenson
There’s this 34-year-old woman I know. She will be 35 very soon. She recently got married and became Step Mama to her husband’s 10 and 8-year-old sons. This woman has discovered that living with and caring for two children is a wild exercise in heart expansion, so she has been working on the art of surrender and the art of trust.
She has discovered that kids are amazing button pushers and that she sports a bunch of invisible buttons she never knew she had. All the buttons and the pushing, it’s part of the expansion, so she’s taking long breaths and looking for the medicine.
This woman is an only child who rarely fought and grew into adulthood convinced that conflict equals apocalypse. Witnessing sibling rivalry a hundred different times a day - as well as the infinite forgiveness that accompanies it - is what she’d call good medicine.
This woman is also an introvert. She thinks silence is delicious in the same way people think chocolate truffles or thick slices of cake are delicious. Although, to be clear, she thinks those things are delicious too and regularly eats the shit out of them.
When all hell breaks loose at the dinner table, because one of her stepchildren has to finish his broccoli, but he chooses to weep loudly instead and also kick his brother’s knee discreetly, she’d call this more good medicine. It invites her to loosen her grip and widen her comfort zone. It challenges her to be active versus reactive in moments of intensity.
Medicine, she is discovering, sometimes feels like pain. It sometimes feels like discomfort. Personal growth can be gritty. Discomfort wakes us up to ourselves. It shows us where we need to release control.
Yet regardless of her (obvious) wisdom and humility, this woman, who will turn 35 on the same day that her oldest stepson turns 11, would like to admit something to you now:
She LOVES her birthday with high expectations and giddy abandon and despite doing all this gritty personal growth work and claiming she’s down for sharing in a big way, that’s not so much true on her birthday. On her birthday she secretly wishes to be solely in charge of everything and showered with single focused attention. To share her birthday with her bright and beautiful stepson, who sometimes melts down on special occasions when he feels overwhelmed by emotion or transition - it’s like a mirror for this woman, (who also melts down sometimes on special occasions when she feels overwhelmed by emotion or transition, but has become good at stuffing meltdowns deep inside so they boil as resentment and despair, where as her stepson leans toward a no-holds-barred-cry-it-out experience).
This woman is aware that it’s not appropriate to feel like you don’t want to share when you’re an adult, especially when said sharing is with a child. She realizes how extremely un-adult this is of her, but she’s trying to be vulnerable and honest and find the truer story of her discomfort.
I know your head’s going to explode when I tell you this, but I’m talking about myself.
The 34-year-old woman...is me.
If you’re still reading then I assume you don’t think I’m the worst person on the planet (or you’re just fascinated by my self-proclaimed birthday greed).
Either way, I’ll continue.
I’ve been digging for a new perspective that will infuse me with a pervasive generosity of spirit, so I never have to reveal to the world (because you guys can keep a secret, right?) my embarrassing birthday-sharing issues.
Don’t worry, I’ll get there. I’m good at finding the gem inside my own bullshit. There’s more to this story than a birthday.
My stepson, Ukiah, and I, we carry a similar wound. I call it the wound of hyper-vigilance. We notice everything people say and do and feel. This gets overstimulating fast and we easily short circuit. It is both a hidden super power and a heavy burden. When our vigilance is bigger than our trust, we see the world as unstoppably terrifying. We think that anything could go wrong at any moment and then we worry about the worst case scenario and over magnify our power to protect the world from it.
If you haven’t thought of it, we have.
We don’t stop at the common-fear stuff. We’ve got all the random stuff covered too, like some micro anxiety task force.
We’re sitting there, panicking about the potentiality of sinkholes and assuming more responsibility than necessary for everyone who may or may not be impacted by a hypothetical sinkhole crisis.
When we moved into our new house, Ukiah fervently told my husband and I that he was worried there was a hole in one of the walls and that my cat would get inside it and we’d lose him. Alec suppressed his laughter while he spoke reassuring words, then brought it up with me later, giggling hysterically.
I wasn’t giggling. Not even a little.
“Alec,” I said, trying to remove the tremble from my voice, “I’m worried about that too.”
Yes - I worried when we moved into our house that a covert hole in a random wall would mysteriously eat my cat.
Shit happens. You gotta be alert. Walls are no joke.
I get it Ukiah.
I don’t just worry about sinkholes and cat-eating walls. I worry about Ukiah too. I worry about his vulnerability and his resilience. I worry that he will suffer if he doesn’t know how to anchor some of his emotional fine wiring. I worry about his ability to see the whole picture and remember he’s not the center of it, (rest assured, my inner birthday monster sees the irony in that last statement).
I worry about my stepson because I recognize so much of his intense sensitivity. I know it well. I’ve walked with it my entire life.
We are both trying to discover how to alchemize our feelings effectively.
In the last two years, I’ve begun to understand the path of ease. It’s something I desperately want to teach my stepson.
I want to teach him how to trust.
I want to teach him that there is a wordless love beyond reason and it hunts us ceaselessly.
I want him to know the joy of surrender. I want him to know the benefit of choosing love amidst all the crazy-making of uncertainty and heartache.
I want him to feel his tension dissolve, his shoulders relax and his breath land.
I’ve heard other parents say that your kids hold up a mirror to all of your issues. I believe this is true in many close relationships and that’s why intimacy is so transformative. These reflections can act as a perfect trigger and in the perfect trigger, a beautiful power is unleashed. The trigger point means the energy is charged. The charged energy means your being is primed for alchemy. The alchemy happens when you rewire your brain and your body through the repeated effort of new habits combined with the electricity of attention.
My birthday buddy and I, we are working on rewiring our tendency toward panic, guilt and blame. We are learning to use our hyper-drive mind to generate an upward spiral of creativity and action versus a downward spiral of fear and victimization. We are learning to relax our grip so we have open hands to share with others.
As we realize that we are only responsible for our own hearts and minds, we discover a new kind of freedom.
Even as I fret about the perfect way to support him - I already know the answer.
By being this.
By doing the work in myself to create a transparent display of practical examples and a sacred well of energetic information for him to draw upon.
So when that fateful birthday comes - when candles are lit and experience is shared - I’m going to loosen my grip and widen my heart.
You see, my sweet friend, my cherished stepson, he has big work to do in the world and so do I. We are sensitive creatures and sensitivity is an asset.
Hear me now - all you finely wired souls - you are not broken.
You possess the capacity to tune into ancient stories below the noise of the world and channel these stories into the consciousness of humanity.
Do not disappear. We NEED you.
Harmony seeks us amidst the chaos and the clamor, while life offers us the gift of discord to activate our memory.
We know how to generate the elixir of resonance.
Breathe long and slow. Appreciate all the buttons and your ally’s keen ability to push them.
Trust me, there's good medicine here.
Photo / Zara Walker
On a sticky evening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I sit behind a tripod, peering at the screen of a small HD camcorder as my friend and his mom let me interview them about life, dance and surviving in Brazil on a very limited income.
My friend, who I’ve known since he was a skinny 18-year-old boy wearing oversized newsy caps, has transformed into a muscled 25-year-old-man with short dreads and silver spectacles. He’s always had a way of bridging the space between high concept and simple truth, with a heart-centered perspective.
While speaking about the importance of unity, he pauses mid-sentence to seek out a more tactile representation for his thoughts. He glances at his mom and asks her to give him her hand. Lacing his fingers in hers he says,
“When a circle is formed it’s the symbol of union. This union allows us to circulate energy. This energy is what we call love.”
Expanding and shrinking the circle within their interlocked fingers, he demonstrates how to stay linked while responding to movement with pliable ease.
“When there’s flexibility in love, there is more power,” he smiles.
In essence, the circle has more strength if it can bend and undulate with the velocity of movement or change.
This isn’t just high concept - this is proven in physics and executed in architecture. It’s a truth that scientists use as well as dancers. It’s somewhere in our human psyche – the knowledge that the circle has to form and then the circle has to flex.
For a time, when I wasn't working on my documentary in Rio de Janeiro, I was an elementary school dance teacher in Portland, Oregon. In both of those seemingly discordant worlds, I yearned to discover an equally discordant piece of information.
I yearned to discover what aspects of our humanity we most need to survive a rapidly warming world.
I wondered, with shallow breath during sleepless dawns, how we will collectively handle the global climate crisis as it worsens. Beyond the tangible, necessary, overdue measures we must all be willing to take, what deep human well we will draw upon to get us the rest of the way there?
How will we stand as a united front, so we can move the planet and ourselves from one side of this crisis to the other?
In the gym, on an unusually sunny January afternoon in Portland, twenty-eight first graders look at me wide eyed as I hold a stuffed frog in my arms. I tell them the story of how this small frog traveled through the Land Of Froo Froo, across the snowy mountains and over the lava bridge, until she reached the castle of a very grumpy king.
They lean forward in their cross-legged position and practically tip onto their tummies, as I explain how the frog gathered all of her courage to perform a dance for the king, hoping that in a fit of inspiration, he'd overturn the unjust law that prohibited Froo Froo-ians the right to dance. (If you didn't know this part of make-believe history, there was a terrible decree in 17fluffywiggle20 that no one in the land of Froo Froo could move in any way that resembled dancing and Froo Froo-ians have been living stiffly under the law ever since).
After my story about the brave little frog and her journey to dance for the king (including her subsequent success overturning the anti-dance law - i.e. Frog V. King) the kids line up against the side wall and prepare to work on their core strength, their spatial acuity and their buoyancy. Or put more simply, they prepare to jump like small frogs along a green painted line that takes them from one side of the gym to the other.
I instruct them to move one at a time, to keep one frog paw on each side of the line as they jump and to wait on the other side until every frog makes it across. I know they're excited about jumping. I know they are ready to impersonate the brave little frog from the tale I spun and I know they'll giggle and squeal as they revel in the satisfaction of pushing against gravity. But I don't anticipate what they'll do when they reach the other side. I don't imagine suddenly bearing witness to a profound display of teamwork, as twenty-eight six-year-olds show me the counterpart to courage.
The first child to froggy jump across the green line, (which is clearly imagined to be the lava bridge our protagonist traveled on her way to see the king), is Jack. When Jack gets to the other side, he immediately begins calling out the name of the next little girl who’s waiting to jump.
"Annie!" he cries, "Annie, keep going, I'm here! Annie! You can do it!"
He yells out to her like this, the entire time she jumps the line, until she makes it to the other side. When Annie gets to Jack, she begins screaming the name of their next classmate alongside him, clapping her hands wildly.
And so on and so forth - every child that makes it across joins the group and begins to call the next brave jumper to the other side of the gym.
The expression on each child's face when they begin the journey looks like courage infused with ecstatic relief.
The relief of being seen and valued. The relief of being driven by en-courage-ment from their community. And so the courage builds. The consuming cacophony that accompanies the final member of the class is outright jubilant. It is dramatically heightened because at this point the stakes are clear.
NO ONE will be left behind.
And finding themselves so close to getting the whole group across the divide, this class of twenty-eight first graders, will not settle for twenty-seven.
I find myself asking why, as adults, do we so often lose our deep inner knowing for how communities function
successfully and for what individuals need to thrive? Why do we lose our basic ability to
encourage each other with wild, sincere abandon, in the simplest and greatest of tasks?
Those 6-year-olds on that January day, they tapped right into a universal code.
We feel braver when our community bears wide-eyed-witness to our challenges, loving us amidst our fear and our confidence.
We feel braver when someone waits on the other side, reminding us over and over, “I’m here!”
We feel braver when someone promises to call out our name until we make it all the way across.
As the crisis of climate change makes a tangible and disturbing impact, we need to rapidly join forces. We need to figure out what we can save and how to survive in the face of what we can't save.
Blame and villainization have no place. Rigidity, isolation and withholding will be our undoing.
We need to form a circle. We need to bend and undulate with the forces of change without breaking the circle we’ve formed. We need to call each other’s names over and over and over.
In Brazil, on that warm, sticky night, my camera battery blinks an alarming five minutes left of charge, but I know not to rush my friend and his mom. I know not to break the flow of the interview.
Hands still intertwined, my friend looks at his mother and searches for words to wrap up his metaphor.
“If we leave the circle, if we abandon each other, we…”
She cuts in without hesitation, looking directly at my camera and finishes his sentence,
“We lose everything.”