HARD TIMES REQUIRE FURIOUS DANCING

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 3.35.16 PMMy heart is breaking for at least 108 different reasons. 

Reason 1. My friend lost her 24 year old son to suicide. As a mother it’s an overwhelming thought. I’ve been looking deeply into my children’s faces wondering if they’re ok. Wondering how long I have with them. Wondering what tragedies are being held in their stars. It feels like drowning. I love them so much. I always wanted to be a mom, and as hard as it is sometimes I adore it. I adore them. I love figuring out how to navigate 13 year old boy hormones, and 8 year old boy sassies, and 5 year old girl messy imagination. I love sleepy cheeks and holding hands and the sound of their voices and their sweet puffy kisses. I just can’t imagine any of that being gone. And that’s my selfish heartbreak. 

Reason 2. My friend lost her 24 year old son to suicide. She is one of the most resilient, loving, generous, brave people I know. She’s survived so much – been in relationship with those struggling with addiction, she’s experienced violence, abuse, heartbreak. She’s heroically raised 3 boys on a single mom/yoga teacher income. She dreams big. She forgives big. She loves big. It seems so unfair for someone who has already lost and overcome so much to lose more. I want to scream at the sky – hoping my voice travels as far as wherever God is – HOW DARE YOU!?!?! 

Reason 3. My friend lost her 24 year old to suicide, and she didn’t deserve it. Tell me there’s a god somewhere who “giveth” and who “taketh away” and then tell me where this “god” lives so that I can call out the fake. Why would a divine being take anything away from anyone? Some streams of religion would subtly whisper about sin, or karma or something horrible like that – as if anyone DESERVES to lose a child. I’m wrestling with god right now. But I’m wrestling with an idea, a shadow that was created by humans, and the more I wonder the less I believe and I need to be able to believe in something, and this breaks my heart. When good things happen to me, am I being blessed? When bad things happen am I being punished? Am I only being blessed but not punished? How would that work? Does god punish? Does god bless? What does god actually DO? Where IS GOD?

Reason 27. Did you know 27% of college women experience some form of unwanted sexual contact? What is going on in a world where women’s bodies are still treated like an object that men are entitled to? What was she wearing? What did she say? How much did she have to drink? WHERE is GOD? 

Reason 28. This whole situation with Brett Kavanaugh has left me reeling. It’s not even the politics of it. I can’t even deal with the heartbreak of where our country is right now in that respect. What has left me reeling, is a high school memory that I guess I’ve tried not to make that big of a deal of my whole life because “boys will be boys.” When I was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school, I was groped in the back of a suburban by a bunch of football players. I didn’t know that the one who came to the door to meet my parents (family rule) wasn’t the only one in the car. I don’t remember how I ended up in the very back – like where there aren’t seats – or when or how the other guys ended up back there. But teenagers do dumb things like ride in the trunk of cars – or at least they did in the 90s. And I was a dumb teenager on my way to a party to see the guys I liked – and I was also scared of getting teased. So I got in. I was kind of a late bloomer, so I didn’t have a lot to “grab,” but there were hands up my shirt and grabbing in my shorts. To the few people I’ve told this story they ask – What did you say? What did you do? I did nothing. I froze. I let them touch me because I was scared of what they would do if I tried to make them stop. I went to the party and tried to find the boy that I liked, tried to pretend everything was ok. And by the next week in school a rumor went around that I’d had anal sex with the whole football team. I was a virgin. 

Reason 29. After that experience, I carried around the belief that boys only wanted me for my body. So I used my body to get their attention, in hopes that they would find the rest of me interesting. Let’s get one thing straight. I was a huge flirt AND also a total virgin for my entire high school experience. But I got used just the same. Used like “I don’t want to be your boyfriend I just want to make out with you.” You’ve been in high school. You know what I’m talking about. And now as a 42 year old married woman, I am realizing that there is an undeveloped part of me that still doesn’t believe that I’m worthy of being loved intrinsically and unconditionally, versus what I look like, how easy going I am, how little I ask for, or how often I say yes to sex. There is a part of me that still behaves as though my body is a transaction, an object to “want” or “have.” And that it’s my obligation as a woman, or as a wife, to give it even when I don’t feel like it. That it’s selfish or silly to hope for romance or deep emotional connection while having sex.  

Reason 30. For the times I didn’t know how to say no. For the times I should have said no. For the times I didn’t say no. For the shame I felt for not saying no. 

Reason 31. For all the women of the world who said no and they took it anyway. 

Reason 32. For continuing to live in times when a boy’s past is the past, or his future is so bright, that it isn’t worth one girl’s body – one girl’s heart, or soul, or mind – her self-esteem, her sense of value, her right to be respected-  to bring him to justice. 

Reason 54. Considering the unfair-ness of loss, of suffering, of violence, of injustice… All I want to do is be a light. I just want to do something to HELP create CHANGE. Why does it so often have to feel like climbing up a mountain of ice? 

The heart being broken is a good thing. The rawness has it’s power. 

As the poem by Alice Walker says, “the world has changed: it did not change without your prayers without your faith without your determination to believe in liberation and kindness; without your dancing through the years that had no beat” 

Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

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Yoga is NOT about the BODY… or the BOOTY for that matter.

YOGA ASSThe other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a FB ad that stopped me in my tracks. It was for Buti Yoga, which is a hybrid movement form that focuses on cultivating “juicy booties.” In the text of the ad, it said something about becoming a “buti-sattva.” A WHAT?!?! That word sounds a lot like bodhisattva, which from my own experiences with Buddhism and meditation, is such a sacred word — for which I can think of no context in which having a nicer ass really makes sense or does it justice.

The Wikipedia definition of a bodhisattva: “Bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attend Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Wow. So this Buti Yoga is using the word Buti-Sattva as a tongue-in-cheek play on the word Bodhisattva… but for WHAT reason? How does this booty-focused movement fusion mirror the act of compassion that would be great enough to surrender one’s own enlightenment for the good of humanity, as did Gautama Buddha?

On their website, Buti Yoga is described: This calorie-scorching workout fuses power yoga with cardio-intensive tribal dance + body sculpting primal movement. Created by Celebrity Trainer Bizzie Gold, Buti Yoga utilizes the Spiral Structure Technique to sculpt + tone the deep abdominal muscles that stabilize and strengthen the body. Instead of linear movements, Gold favors movements that challenge the body along all planes of motion – THE RESULT – long, lean muscle with sexy feminine curves. I see photos and videos of women in tiny shorts, looking at themselves in mirrors, shaking their asses, and doing yoga-ish moves super duper fast…

Hmmm. So here I am thinking, this doesn’t sound much like the yoga I know and love. In the meantime, my teacher Shiva Rea commented on the post, and said so much of what I was feeling so exactly. And then the Facebook world did what the Facebook world does.

And here I am so stirred and moved and grateful for knowing what yoga IS for ME, and what it means TO ME. And also EVEN MORE grateful, that this style of “buti yoga” didn’t exist when I was new on my yoga path, because I would have fell for it hook, line and sinker, and here’s why.

I’m hardwired for movement, and not just movement for it’s own sake, but moving that gets you somewhere — gets you something — achievement, external physical appearance, you name it. I grew up as the daughter of an avid football and basketball player/weight lifter and a group fitness instructor, playing with my Strawberry Shortcake dolls under the bleachers of basketball courts, and helping my mom choreograph hip hop step aerobic routines when I was in junior high. And, as is the case for so many of us born in the 70s and 80s, we were left to our own devices quite a bit as children, and as a result COULD find any amount of trouble if we wanted to. The good news is, I liked endorphin rushes way more than the mindless buzz of slamming wine coolers as a teenager — and yes, even more than the happy numbness of smoking ditch weed out of a toilet paper tube. Movement — and athletic movement in particular — was my medicine. It’s how I worked off stress, it’s how I escaped, it’s where I could focus so much fucking anger in a mostly useful way. Track, Soccer and Cheerleading (yes, it CAN be a sport, and in the early 90s it most certainly WAS!) were my main outlets, and I spent many hours lifting weights in the garage with my dad, and making up my own silly cardio and core workouts in my basement to improve my cheerleading jumps.

And then, the other part. When I was in high school, I did the usual things that girls do to get attention from boys — what to wear, how to dance, what to say… I learned one way or another that my body was an amazing tool to get attention, and even though I didn’t FEEL good when I got the attention, I figured the attention was better than nothing at all. It took me a LONG long time to learn that I was MORE than a body. That there was MORE to me than washboard flat abs, or a juicy ass, or a tight body. It also took me a longer long time to understand that my sensuality and sexuality weren’t directly related to my physical body, or my abs, or my ass, or anything else. And even LONGER than that was to discover that my worthiness of being loved had even LESS to do with perfect abs, or ass, or otherwise. So when I see photos where women appear to be so desperately cultivating the very stereotype that I have worked so hard to HEAL from, I’ll be honest, I get nervous as hell.

The first time I tried yoga (I know I’ve told this story before) I was in college. It was a VHS tape, and the guy was in a purple leotard jumpsuit, and I HATED IT. IT HURT. IT WAS CONFUSING + FRUSTRATING. The second time I tried yoga, it was through a colleague that showed me how fun it could be (Kripalu’s breath of joy is still one of my faves!), but it was short-lived because I got pregnant and nauseous. The THIRD time I tried yoga was at the Rochester YMCA. I was a new mom, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and bored as hell all at the same time. I had started playing soccer 5 weeks post partum. I pushed myself hard to lose the baby weight and “get my body back.” And I did. I lost it fast. I stumbled into a yoga class — I honestly don’t even know why, and I was hooked by the CHALLENGE of it, and the way I felt when I got done. And, it was a great “cool down” to my aggressive workouts.

The teacher was loosely teaching ashtanga, and I fell in LOVE. I loved the system of it. The fact it stayed the SAME, CONSTANT in a world that was so uncertain with sleepless nights and missed naps and just trying to shower and shit. And there was something athletic about it — when you practice the same poses over and over again every week you can really FEEL and KNOW the changes as they happen. But if at that time, I had instead discovered Buti Yoga, which is more cardio-based, quick paced, and physically focused, it would have felt even MORE like home to me, than this practice that drove me so fucking crazy with curiosity and frustration that I couldn’t stop going back. As I dove in deeper, I ended up becoming a teacher. And as my teaching path evolved, by serendipitous accident, I discovered Prana Vinyasa yoga.

The first week of my 200 hour Prana Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training, I was completely OVERWHELMED by how very OUT OF MY LEAGUE I felt. Here I was in a room of 100 or so yogis, so many of which were thinner than me, stronger than me, had way way way cooler yoga clothes than me, spoke in a language that I didn’t understand, and made that all look EASY. I watched in awe of my teacher Shiva Rea, as she moved — like a tigress — as she talked — so much wisdom that my brain would literally just stop/shut down — as she carried herself — like a benevolent queen. And I thought “there is no fucking way I can ever be like that.” And simultaneously “Oh my god, I want to be JUST. LIKE. HER.” I spent the first 2 or 3 years in my teaching community trying with all my might, will and ego to FIGURE IT OUT. To FIT IN. I tried SO FUCKING HARD to be GOOD at yoga. I felt so unworthy. I felt like an imposter, the outsider who would never fit in.

And yet, as I kept coming back, as the teachings settled in, as my practice evolved, I would hearing Shiva’s voice, calling me OUT of my physical body and INTO my heart. “Lose your mind, perceive your heart.” This is a quote from an ancient tantric text (The Vijnanabhairava) that called to me over and over again. And as I would watch the effortlessness with which she and others in the room would embody these challenging yoga asanas, I began to understand with humility and so much RELIEF that yoga really ISN’T about the BODY. The body is surely a sacred temple, a vehicle from which we can discover and digest the practice, but it isn’t the POINT. Because if it is, I am a fucking loser at it who still can’t do any of the important fancy shit. And I just couldn’t believe that about myself, despite the inner dialogue.

I began to listen more deeply to the teachings, as my capacity to digest the wisdom expanded, and I was able to understand more fully that every moment of my struggle within finding the “perfect” form of the asana was actually THE PRACTICE. Could I be mentally and emotionally at peace in the very first stage of a handstand or an arm balance, still so close to the earth, rather than striving for something that wasn’t yet mine (the full expression). Could I focus my attention on the feedback inside my body — what it was asking for — where the healing — the empowerment — the holding — the resistance — needed more breath, more kindness, more compassion, and yep, sometimes more suck it up buttercup discernment and tapas. Could I enjoy being just RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW? And the answer more and more often, became YES. YES. yes.

Anyone who attended my yoga classes in my earliest years of teaching will tell you just how outcome/externally focused I was. I tried to teach sequences that were so difficult that hardly anyone in the room could embody them — including myself. I thought that’s what the people wanted. I thought they wanted someone who knew how to do all the difficult fancy things. And, to be fair to myself, I was teaching yoga in a state of the art athletic club, where just generally speaking, the focus on THE BODY was THE FOCUS.

As I evolved in my practice, and my teaching, I began making a shift in the message and sequences I taught. I literally had people WALK OUT of my classes. They would roll up their mat, walk out of the class, and walk right into my Director’s office to complain. I adapted. I pushed the limits. I tested the boundaries, and eventually I knew that I needed a bigger, wider space to spread my wings.

Now as a studio owner, and teacher of yoga teachers, it is even more important to me to know what yoga IS to ME, and the message that I want not only my students — but especially my teacher students to know — is that in times like these, when the word yoga can get combined with all kinds of crazy things (glow in the dark, goats, dogs, beer) — when we see Instagram selfie photos of super fit yogis in swimsuits on beaches doing the fancy poses — when we get the impression that burning 800 calories in a dynamic power yoga class is the POINT of yoga — we need to slow the fuck down and take a big old breath, and then another one, and then another one, and then another one, and then another one — and hopefully somewhere in those sweet breaths, we will remember this amazing mystery of being. We will return to the experience of the divine discovering itself through US, marveling in our suffering and our triumphs with equal wonder and gratitude. We will be humbled by this gift of THIS LIFE, THIS MOMENT, and we will FORGET the stories of unworthiness, of proving, or striving, of disconnection, of un-belonging, of un-loveable, or impossible perfection, and return again and again into the sweet union of divine recognition from within.

In her master’s thesis “Hatha Yoga as a Practice of Embodiment,” Shiva explains: “In contrast to the fitness-oriented approach to hatha yoga, I am presenting a practice of embodiment which emphasizes the process of knowing oneself intimately and experientially through one’s body. In this thesis, embodiment is understood as more than just a physical technique; to reiterate, it is defined as a deepening of interior awareness, sensation, feeling, and kinesthetic consciousness as a way of knowing how all of the dimensions of the self -physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual -are expressed through the body interdependently.”

THIS is what yoga IS to me. Yoga is a practice which continues to help me deepen my awareness through all the layers of my being in an intimate and experiential way. It isn’t about my ass. Or my abs. Or the fucking asana.  I remember some great advice I received once from one of my meditation teachers. I explained to her the sensations I was having in meditation, and she nodded and said yes, yes… and I asked her “What should I do” And she said “Keep going deeper.”

So even if what brought you to yoga initially was a desire to lose weight, or get stronger —  even if you have been called to style or format of yoga that even focuses on a singular, physical experience, keep going DEEPER. Move outside your comfort zone. Get curious. Because there is a whole UNIVERSE to discover. Imagine the tiger in the circus, circling in tiny cage and thinking that this was all there was to life, and then being brought back to the vastness of the jungle. Your soul is waiting for you. And you my dear are so beautiful, and so loved, and so amazing, and have so much to offer just. as. you. are.

This is what my teacher taught me to embody through her own magnificent and humble path, this is what yoga is to me, and what I want to share with all of YOU, and the world.

Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

 

The V word.

Hey everyone. Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. Let’s just say that we will have plenty to talk about now that I’m back!

Let’s start with the V word. And no, I’m not talking about virginity, although sexuality does have a role in this story… I’m talking about the OTHER V word — VEGETARIAN. I’ve been a yoga teacher for over 10 years, and during these 10 years, I have to admit that I have made it a point to NOT be a vegetarian, for a variety of reasons…

1. I am a mover and a shaker, and I need a lot of protein in my diet, but it has seemed for a long time that non-meaty protein sources messed up my digestion in either direction (beans one way, tofu the other… you got me?)

2. One of my students once tried to feed me the biggest shame sandwich once about NOT being a vegetarian when we ran into each other in line at a deli, and I thought, “holy shit, if this is the holier than thou attitude that vegetarians have, then deli guy, make that a double meat sandwich please!”

3. Yeah, I’m a rebel. I won’t do the THING, even if it’s theoretically a good thing, if it means it might turn me into a righteous asshole… Ok, a MORE righteous asshole, because I’ll own that, I am already a righteous asshole (sometimes).

4. Bonding. My husband and I totally bond over food, and he is a corn-fed farm boy that LOVES his meat… And I LOVE the joy of sharing FOOD with him!

DISCLAIMER. Ok. Please, if you’re a vegetarian, we got this far… Stay with me… I LOVE you, I RESPECT you, and I have NO PROBLEM with you, and I don’t want to FIGHT with you, or hear the 4 bazillion reasons why I should be a vegetarian yesterday. I get it! Read on, trust me!

5. I used to be a vegetarian. When I was in college. Why? Well, here goes, but we need a little backstory, starting in high school. From the “outside,” I was the typical top-of-the-food-chain high schooler… (we’ll take about the behind the scenes later…) I was a cheerleader, an athlete, and an honors student. I had the blond perm and the puffy bangs, it was the 90’s after all! I liked the big beefy football players because I was a teenage girl with raging hormones and they had big muscles, to which my brain said “yummy.” So when I got to college, there were even MORE big beefy football player guys, and these were the guys I continued to like. I’ve got a thing for quarterbacks in particular. Quarterback 1 was a year older, had a guitar in his dorm room, a super cool deep voice, blue blue eyes with long lashes, and a mysteriously busy schedule that made me feel so gosh darned special when he DID call. Quarterback 2 was a littler older still, a fellow alumni of the same high school, and did the “I’ll take her back to my house after a few drinks and we’ll make out, and no, she won’t notice that my friends are watching from around the bend…” Needless to say, I DID notice, and Quarterback 2 was a shitty kisser and had a surprisingly small penis, so that was the end of THAT. Quarterback 3 was sneakier. He was more honest for sure. I mean, the first thing he did was tell me why quarterback 1 was so busy (enter the girls softball team…). He made it a point to only make out with me in private, and had better assets (win-win). He would sing REO Speedwagon songs with me at the top of his lungs. He was kind-hearted, though not academically motivated (yes, I did write some of his English papers — in a perfect college freshman quarterback voice). He was fun, and he was real, and he was a real boyfriend for a while. Until he kept showing up at my apartment wasted, and puking all over the place, and I realized I was kind of done with taking care of him.

Enter punk rock boy. Punk rock boy was not a college football quarterback. He was an ad-junct 6th year art student at a college in another city. He was “straight edge,” meaning he didn’t drink or do drugs or show up at my apartment late at night and puke all over everything. He was in a band and played the drums and was super sensitive and sweet. He was a feminist, and spoke at “take back the night” rallies. And, he was also a vegetarian. It was a slow courtship that moved along at an anti-punk rock rhythm. But him being so different was exactly what I (thought I) needed at the time. So we ended up in a 3 year relationship, that led to me somewhere along the way becoming a vegetarian. And eating lots of bagels. And pound cake. And burritos. And probably a self-righteous sandwich or two… Meanwhile I gained my freshman 15 as a junior while carb loading for the marathon that never happened… because grains — wheat especially are NOT my mojo.

The good news, is that I was also really inspired by social activism, and during the time of our relationship, I made some significant changes in my academic pursuits, and studied art and social change, and took some pretty non-mainstream theology classes that led to a (undeclared) minor in justice and peace studies (because that was the totally punk rock thing to do). The bad news was that the relationship was an energy vortex. Punk rock boy was very emotionally needy and unstable, and ALWAYS broke. So in between working like 47 jobs to pay my rent and finding time to stay on the Dean’s list, I was managing a lot of psychology. A. LOT. I feel like we’ve digressed a bit further than I want to go, and clearly I have more to talk about another time (note senior year, Martinique, gay bars, Ross and Rachel syndrome).

Needless to say, we broke up. As soon as we did, he decided NOT to be straight edge anymore, and proceeded to call me all the time while drunk saying crazy shit. Then I found out that he had a porn addiction (NOT his roommate — as he had told me)  in addition to the nasal spray addiction he had told me about (I know, RIGHT? another time, another time). And so I went in a NEW direction called “let’s not date college football players OR punk rockers,” and 6 months later I was a travel agent (another long story), sitting in a restaurant in Marseille with my friend Tina eating a CHEESEBURGER and drinking the newly released Beaujolais of that year. And I was DONE with hypocritical BULLSHIT including straight edge punk rock vegetarians.

Ok. Deep breath. Back to NOW. Well, almost. In August I went to a yoga retreat in California with my husband.  Needless to say, we were practicing hours and hours of yoga together every day, and the food that was provided was all vegan. I assumed that my corn fed, meat-loving, former college quarterback (I know, I know!) husband was going to want to supplement this tree hugger hippy kale and air diet with a huge steak now and again, but he didn’t, and I didn’t, and we felt really pure and illuminated and actually ENJOYED eating kale wrapped in chard and EVEN the TOFU. And apparently, when you are doing hours and hours of yoga everyday, the tofu comes out just fine!

So we came back home, and because this is my story and not my husband’s, it shouldn’t matter to you at all what he’s eating, so back off! But since I got home, I just haven’t been able to eat meat. It’s like I know I can have it, but I don’t want it. My digestion has been a happy dream, and for the energetic level that I hold myself to on a daily basis (running a yoga studio, raising 3 kids, and being a soccer coach to name just a few), my body is a high-performance machine that CAN’T break down. I’m not gonna lie to you. I was a mermaid in a past life, and as such, I have eaten a little shrimp and a little fish here and there. But something has shifted, and it’s a little sticky and uncomfortable because I don’t want to be the weirdo (please forgive me, this is my own judge Judy talking), eating my own personal Tofurky on Thanksgiving at my in-laws — who happen to be good old fashioned meat-eating farmers. I don’t want to separate myself. I don’t want to be “better than” anyone. Ever.

And there’s a story I’m telling myself about what happens if I go deeper down this path — I’ll just go ahead and call it the yogic path — because that is what it is, and that is the journey I am on — that if I go too far down this path, I’ll get all arrogant and separate and no one will want to hang out with me any more because I will be such a self-righteous BORING ASSHOLE. And no no no no no no no my dear friends who I know ARE vegetarians I am so NOT SAYING that you are the WEIRDO on turkey day, or that you are a self-righteous asshole, this is only about this ridiculous story I have made up about myself and who I am, and who I should be, and who I CAN be. And that story is called “the magical and mysterious and super cunning EGO of Heather.” But as the great Ram Das says…

RAM DASS EGO

Other things happened on that trip in California, along the lines of getting the fuck over myself, and getting the hell out of my own way. So here I am telling just a part of it to you, and also knowing that there are ways that we are all holding ourselves back from our greatest radiance, well-being, connection and joy because of our crazy old stories. And yes, legitimately, my crazy old story is connected to some real shit that happened, and some decisions I made about people, and who people are and why they do what they do along the way, and what I needed to do to stay SAFE, and OK in the world.

So I’m not ready to call myself a vegetarian, (or more appropriately a pescatarian), in the same way that although I love Jesus like a cosmic big brother that ALWAYS answers when you need him, even if he is at the best party ever, or out with the most beautiful girl, or having the most amazing bliss filled meditation with the divine — I feel so squirmy about calling myself a christian (thanks to all the maniacal bullshit said and done under this title)… But I am not-so-secretly moving closer towards a place of equanimity by reclaiming wisdom that came to me when I was younger, that wasn’t quite refined enough at the time to serve me. And yes, I am talking about vegetarianism AND college football players. But he’s a musician too… And for the record, kale STILL makes me GASSY.

Wanna get over yourself with me? Let’s do this! The world needs us to stop being afraid of becoming who we were meant to be, and we can totally do it without becoming assholes!

 

Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

 

 

Forgiveness.

I’m taking this amazing online meditation course with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. If you read this, and get inspired or curious, they are offering it again, and you can check it out here. The other day, I was practicing a meditation on forgiveness. In the meditation, I was guided first to acknowledging the harm and suffering I have caused myself, knowingly and unknowingly. Then, I was guided to contemplate the harm or suffering that I have caused others, and I was given the opportunity to forgive myself for that too. As I came to that moment, I felt deep regret for the times that I have been unloving, impatient, or reactive to my children, and my beloved partner. And as I dove deeper into the sorrow and shame and regret I felt, I was able to identify something that had never fully revealed itself to me before…

The suffering. The suffering of the moment. The uncomfortable suffering of a moment when the oldest brother is so unkind to the younger brother, when the youngest destroys the bathroom while playing with my makeup, when beloved partner is late from work (again). Uncomfortable, sticky, not-knowing-what-to-do feelings. There is the suffering of the moment, and then there is the suffering in how to ENDURE the moment. And here, here in this wiggly, itchy, stuck place, I heard a small voice saying “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix this.” And tears began to pour from my heart. I remember times in my childhood when a situation felt wrong, or broken, or unfair, and yet there was nothing to do to fix it. I hate the feeling of not having an answer. I hate the feeling of not being able to change something into something better. Helpless. Hopeless. Disempowered.

I noticed the emotions rising, and I allowed them to be. This feeling of “can’t do anything about it, nothing can be done, no change is coming.” The shrugging shoulders, the hands up in the air, the one side of the mouth lifting in a question mark. I felt the claustrophobia, the trapped-ness, and the rage of this reality. I could feel heat rising in my body, up into my face. I could feel my breath getting short, held in. I resisted. No. I’m resilient. I’m the “find a way” girl. I’m the one strong enough to handle this. I’m the one smart enough to figure this out. And yet when that doesn’t work out, I’m the failure, I’m the weak one, I’m the idiot. Hmmm. There’s really no way to win. And I love winning.

And this isn’t just about my own life, and my own struggles, this also plays out in my relationships with my friends and family. I want to be the one that makes things better, that helps, that really “shows up,” that CARES. And yet, these efforts aren’t always successful, and often leave me feeling even less connected despite my valiant efforts. MY. VALIANT. EFFORTS.

So I hear another voice, a stronger, more clear voice ask me “Are you willing to walk with the suffering?” And I ask myself, Am I? Are you? Can you? And I don’t like the question, and I want to say NO! But I know in this moment, that if I am not willing to walk with suffering, I won’t be able to support my family or friends when they go through hard times, and I certainly won’t be able to endure whatever challenges inevitably lie ahead in my own life. Am I willing to walk with suffering? Am I willing to allow it to be there, for as long as it takes, without any answers, solutions, or changes? To just let it be? To just be WITH it? Yes, yes I am. I answer back. And it feels scary and shaky and really vulnerable. But I am willing. And to be willing feels empowering, despite what I’m signing myself up for — the unknown world of unpreventable, unsolvable, uncomfortable tragedy, hardship, or pain? Moments that will likely feel hopeless, helpless, and never-ending… Yes. Yes to all of it. YES. 

Because what other choice is there? This trying to be so helpful and resourceful and useful all the time isn’t working anyway, and I’m not solving all the world’s problems anyway and I’m certainly not full of answers and I never will be able to fix EVERYTHING exactly when I want it. And I’m tired of feeling like a failure. So suffering, yes, I’m willing to walk with you. I’m not saying I’ll like it, but I’m willing…

That night I was laying in bed with all three kiddos trying to read a bedtime story, but oldest brother was revving up baby sister, and younger brother couldn’t hear the book through the mayhem. I closed my eyes, I felt the irritation, the frustration, the anger boiling up… that this moment, which I wanted to be this sweet picture of my and my 3 sweeties all snuggled in reading together wasn’t happening, and that I had no idea how to get the older one to knock it off. Tears began to roll down my cheeks as I said yesYes to the discomfort, yes to the helpless feeling of not knowing what to do, yes to the staying, yes… My kids noticed the tears, and they all gathering in closer around me, kissing my face, holding my hands, and rubbing my head. And I was able to tell them that I didn’t know what to do, and that I was so tired and frustrated, and they all nodded as they continued to love me up. There were apologies, and more hugs. And then there was the rest of the story, and 3 little heads sticking out of the bed.

A friend going through a divorce. Another friend who struggles with an ex. A former friend that still brings itchy feelings and heat.  Wild-hearted children that are as authentic in their rebellion as they are in their loving. A deeply loving partner with his own journey towards balance. A complicated life. A big, full, beautiful complicated life. Which I can’t completely manage or control or fix…

This post rings very similarly to one I wrote a few weeks ago about “The Power of Helpless.” But I’m entering new territory, because now, I am willing to FORGIVE my SELF for not having all the answers, for not being able to fix everything… And, if I deserve my own forgiveness, I absolutely have to be willing to forgive those who have caused me suffering. “How many times? How many times should I forgive my brother?” Peter asks Jesus. And he responds “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Seventy seven times. I’m not keeping track of how many times anymore. And I can’t hold my heart in this armor to protect it in fear of what will happen if the suffering keeps happening, and if I have to keep forgiving. Because this saying yes to suffering is allowing me to forgive, and this forgiving is allowing me to be more brave and loving, and I’m not willing to give that up. Because what I want most is a big huge brave loving heart, and I want that heart to shine out and touch all the people that I love, and even the ones I struggle with, along with all the beings in the world.

When was the last time you sat down with yourself and gave yourself a little forgiveness? Try it, like this: place one hand on your heart, and dive into a memory of something that you’ve done to cause harm to yourself (judgment, unrealistic expectations, unloving behavior of any kind), and then feel the ache, the sting, the suffering of that experience. Then say to yourself “I forgive you.” Over and over and over again until you feel it and believe it. And this might bring up tears, and short fast breaths, and then inevitably long deep breaths and sighs and gulps. And just stick with that, until you’re ready to move deeper into other areas of forgiveness. Because you deserve it. Because we all do.

And there. There it is. A tool that you can use. Simple presence. The acceptance in a moment of suffering that allows you to stay, and not have to solve, or fix, but to just allow and be. And that presence might be all that was needed all along.

Blessings to you on your path! May we all shed the armor of our hearts and shine in the way we were intended! Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

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On the Edge…

I want to talk about intention, known in the yoga world as a sankalpa. Sankalpa, as defined by Wikipedia, is a “conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will.” It is a huge part of the way I practice and teach yoga, and the meaning of this word, and the practice of creating a sankalpa has continued to evolve for me.

When I teach yoga classes, we almost always begin with a few minutes of mindfulness meditation to bring awareness to the breath. We use the sense to connect to the breath, and then we use the breath as a light to shine within the body and scan for places of tension, soreness, injury or weakness (as well as strength, readiness, and health). We then shine the light of the breath into the mind, and observe the state of the mind, and the types of thoughts that are arising. We notice, and we allow. Then we move the breath to the heart, and we shine it into the corners and edges, noticing the general state of the heart, as well as the emotions circulating there. This practice gives us some good information about where we are, and what to focus on in our practice.

We use this information to identify — as in a self-diagnosis — through self-observation what we need most from our yoga practice. It might be some physical relief from tension in the body, it might be a break from an intellectual or mental challenge that is taking up a lot of real estate in the mind, or it might be a balm to some emotional pain or suffering — and likely it is some combination of experience in the body, mind and heart.

What’s interesting is how easy it is for us to identify what we “lack” and therefore what we “need.” We are so good at pointing out our own deficiencies, aren’t we? And yet, if we are truly to explore the power of sankalpa, we have to be very conscious about the intention that we create.  I want to heal my hamstring. I want to release stress from my mind. I want to soften my heart to accept love. I want to be more loving.  I want to be more patient. I want to be more flexible. I want to have more courage and confidence… You get the idea.

What I’ve been working on specifically in that last year, thanks in large part to some amazing yoga nidra recordings, is the practice of expanding my sankalpa or intention towards my highest evolutionary potential. To paraphrase Maalika Shay Devi Dasi (check out her amazing Yoga Nidra recording here), a sankalpa, or resolve is “embedded into the conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious state, and is bound to manifest as reality in time.” This means that when we speak this intention, it becomes reality. And, if this is true, we should bring the greatest potential into reality, right? So, my intention/sankalpa has transformed from trying to bring in something I think I currently lack in my life. Another recording of Yoga Nidra, by an artist named Manuji, advises: “Take it for granted that it [the sankalpa] will manifest itself in your life. Instead of staying I will become strong and healthy, say I am strong and healthy.

My hamstrings are healed. My mind is free from stress. My heart is soft and open. I am the essence of love. I am patient. I am flexible in body, mind and heart. I am courageous and confident… Hmmm. That sounds better.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned my struggles with anger before. Oh anger you teacher you. I think there is at least some part of me that has been angry at the world since I was a child. For all the things that were unfair. For all the wishes that went un-granted. For all the prayers that appeared to go un-answered. For a world that didn’t make sense. For a life where I didn’t get what I wanted no matter how hard I tried.  That frustration and disappointment led me to a coping mechanism you might be familiar with — PERFECTIONISM. Perfectionism is the myth that if I try really hard to be really good (at everything), I can control the outcome (of everything), and have what I want the way I want it (all the time). Anger — and perfectionism– are both common “side effects” of co-dependency… the more a co-dependent exhausts themselves taking care of others and trying to “fix” everything, while neglecting themselves, the more overwhelmed and angry they get…

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Perfectionism is the drug that gets me high on the days when I conquer the world and all is right and the children say please and thank you and the husband gets home from work on time and the rooms are clean and the laundry is folded and the checkbook is balanced and surprise there’s extra $ in the bank, and we all love each other and say so out loud as we hug and kiss and hold hands. Oh, wait. That never happens (at least not all on the same day)! But I keep convincing myself it will, and the more disappointed I am that it didn’t happen, the harder I try, and the harder I try, the angrier I get.

So, after losing my shit on my son last night — OK, come on, he was terrorizing his little sister’s doll by squishing it’s plastic head in — after swinging his crutches around like weapons (that would only “by accident” hit his littler brother or sister, or maybe a lamp or a window).  I stopped myself dead in my tracks. I was so ashamed for losing my temper. But instead of allowing myself to indulge in shame about it (which gets me nowhere but deeper into the mire of self-hatred) I paused and tried out a new sankalpa.

I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. woah.

This morning — like every morning — is just a complete cluster. In about 30 minutes,  I make breakfast for 3 kids who all like slightly different variations of breakfast (cereal and milk, cereal and milk with bananas, oatmeal and milk and bananas, toast with butter, toast with butter and grape jelly, toast with butter and strawberry jam, glass of juice — no not THAT cup, the PINK cup)! I also make lunches with the same slight variations. Meanwhile, I am making sure reading logs are signed, backpacks are packed with homework, shoes, snow pants, water bottles, chapstick etc. etc. etc. There can also be arguments along the way, like the 2 1/2 year old who wants to wear a summer dress and rain boots in -8 degree winter weather. There’s a large margin for error — spats between the kids, messed up breakfast orders, a missing mitten, a homework assignment embellished with “Frozen” stickers, a black sharpie missing it’s cap… And then there’s the clock tick tick ticking away at any possible chance of being on time.

But this morning, as I felt irritation rise in different moments, I repeated my sankalpa. I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. And guess what? We walked out the door early today, and as we crossed the snowy yard my five year old look up at me smiling and said “This is the BEST LIFE EVER!” I almost cried my heart just broke open with joy. I dropped all the kids off and got myself ready for work, and had a quick meeting, where I repeated my sankalpa before discussing a slightly uncomfortable situation. On the drive home I called my insurance company to discuss my cracked front bumper and got some disappointing information. I repeated the sankalpa again. Even though I had a tight time frame, I was early to pick up the kids from daycare and school.

Usually after school there are more spats and melt-downs, but today there were none. I was even able to share some of the frustrations of my day with my husband without inferring BLAME, or SHAME, or some state of self-sacrificing martyrdom (which I am quite adept at!) And guess what? He was home from work earlier than usual, helped me make dinner, and even got the kids to help me clean it up!

I know I am new to this sankalpa. It could be beginners luck. It’s only been a few days, but I feel strong and fierce and also more tender and competent. I’m willing to overcome my inner-cynic, and assume that the universe is affirming my new intention as my truth. And this truth, that I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE is allowing me to handle these feelings without having to contribute so much energy to expressing them, AND to recovering from them! Already I can feel the spaciousness and freedom.

I’ve been downhill skiing quite a bit lately. This is something that I never imagined I would be able to do. I have stood on the edge of a steep hill, a hill so steep that you can’t even see the bottom, and I have felt my fear, and I have turned my skis down that hill anyway. I have lost my balance and caught myself more than once before fear took my down. I have literally said the word NO right out loud to stop myself from falling, and have put my foot down hard into my ski and moved beyond my doubts about myself. And somehow, this dance with anger feels similar. It’s new territory, and yet, I’m ready for it. I remember telling my homeopath once that my only goal in life was to learn to overcome anger. She told me it was a very admirable goal. And after all this time, all I had to do, was claim my skill with it, instead of allowing it to overpower me.

I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. This is not to say that because I am the master of it I welcome it into my life. It just means that if and when it comes up, I will know what to do. I am no longer helpless. I am no longer a victim. I am no longer ashamed.

And so, I can’t help but wonder. What is your source of shame? What is the habit or emotion that feels so much bigger than you that you feel powerless against it? What situation or circumstance feels hopeless? And what sankalpa or intention might manifest for you the reality that you seek?

May we all become masters in this life! And may all our wildest dreams and desires manifest through our heartfelt and humble commitment to the amazing power of our evolution!

Om. Amen. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

The Power of Helpless

 

Last Sunday my 10 year old broke his leg while skiing. It was his first “official” time skiing after a lesson the week before with my friend Sarah, who is an excellent ski instructor. He was a quick learner. He was excited, capable and ready. He and his Dad hopped the ski club bus with some of his best friends and their dads, and had an amazing afternoon of skiing and fist bumping fun. Until the last run. He was chugging along in his best snowplow, and an adult skier lost control and cut in front of him and they collided. And now he is in a full leg cast with a broken tibia, and will be for months. He’s been home from school for a week. And we are making the best of it. We really are.

This morning as I sat in meditation, I discovered first a sense of love and care for Max that cause my heart to break open with sobs and shudders of emotion. As I allowed that emotion to “be,” it moved deeper into regret. Regret that I wasn’t there to protect him, regardless of whether or not I could have. Then grief, grief for the loss of our regular daily schedule and activities– his, as a joyful extrovert who loves school, loves his friends, and loves his sports — and mine, as a busy working/stay at home mom with few precious hours to pursue my dreams and desires — yoga, writing, teaching (that happen during the school day). The grief stayed for a while, and under the grief I found anger. Anger that this happened to my son, that it caused him pain, that it messed up his life, his ability to do what he loves, to MOVE and to just be able to go to the bathroom without anxiety of falling. I allowed the anger to be. And then behind the anger was blame. I wanted someone to be responsible. I want to find the person who wasn’t paying attention and collided with my son, and I want to hold them accountable, make them pay somehow, make them understand what they’ve done to us.

And then another shift. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless felt like an abyss. A big wide dark open space of nothing. I continued to name the feeling. “Helpless.” And helpless continued to be a big wide open sensation. The longer I sat with it the more I expected it to turn into something more intense or uncomfortable or upsetting. But no, there it was, helpless — just a vacant space. So I sat with helpless for quite a while. And as I sat, I realized that the feeling of helpless is the root of many of my greatest challenges with reactivity, anger and rage. I recalled times as a child when I felt completely disappointed and angry at a situation that I had no power to change. Helpless. I recalled a moment in high school where an older boy put his hand up my shirt in the back of a suburban and I didn’t want it there, but I was too terrified to say anything, afraid of getting teased or worse. Helpless. Watching my parents marriage crumble. Helpless. Watching my brother and sister struggle in the collapse of our already glued-and-taped-together family structure. Helpless.

Helpless to my husband’s over-commitment to work. Helpless to his affinity for cigarettes and old fashioneds. Helpless to my kids not getting along, not keeping their rooms clean, not doing what I want when I want them to do it. Helpless. To the hours I spend every day serving these people who don’t do what I want when I want them to, when I’d rather be doing what I want to do. Helpless.

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My innate reaction to helpless is to fight. Fight everyday. Fight with fists up, guns blazing. Fight the war of the imperfect world. Fight to make it better. Fight to improve. Fight against injustice, violence, disrespect, mindlessness, lack of effort. But this fighting is so exhausting. Many nights I lay awake replaying all of the skirmishes of the day, and already devising the plan of attack for the next day, the next week, the next conversation, the next infringement. And now I’m not so sure that this is always working. Yes, I think being an activist of life is a good thing. Always looking to improve, to heal, to make the world a better place is a noble and valiant goal. But not when it exhausts my nervous system. Not when it turns my beautiful curves to edges, my voice sharp, my heart flat. Not anymore. Not after all these years.

So I decided today, while in my meditation, and in the moments afterward, that I am going to explore this feeling of helpless with more curiosity. Because my gut is telling me that helpless is an illusion, and that’s why it is such a vacant experience. I’m ready to discover the power behind this illusion. Because I believe there is power there. The kind of power I’ve been searching for my whole life. Maybe it’s the power of acceptance. Maybe it’s the power or surrender. Whatever that power is, I caught a glimpse of it today, and I am intrigued, and curious, and excited.

This is what I love most about meditation. It always provides at least one tool when you open the toolbox. More and more as I practice, I’m able to say “I don’t know what to do.” Instead of doing what I usually do when I don’t know what to do — which is FREAK OUT!!! There is a power in the not-knowing, in the being willing to admit not-knowing.

May we all be free from the external forces that create feelings of helplessness, and may we all arise in our true sense of power, and peace.

Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

 

 

 

 

On Love and Grief.

In memory of Emma Lilly Ritenour-Sampson 6/2002 – 12/21/2015

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Yesterday we said goodbye to our beloved Emma-dog. She was a part of our lives and our family for 13 years. She’s in the background — and the forefront — of many of our (growing) family photos over the years. Her story is interwoven with ours; moments of joy, sadness, frustration, silliness, laughter, anger, hope, all stitched together. The day I met her was serendipitous. I was a new transport to Rochester, MN (oh love – you silly thing!). I was homesick, lonely, and feeling quite forlorn in a “city” which felt nothing at all like the CITY (Minneapolis!!) where I had grown up. One day I was driving home from the high school where I worked (where I had hoped to make friends and was failing miserably), and I saw the sign “Paws and Claws Humane Society.” I turned the car around, pulled into the parking lot and went inside. I went to the counter and nervously asked the woman working what I had to do to see the dogs. “See that bulletin board?” she said, “take a look at the pictures, and if you see a dog you want to meet, just tell me their name and we will go get them for you.” I walked up to the bulletin board, and there were many dogs; young dogs, old dogs, big dogs, little dogs, and somewhere in the middle of all those dogs was the 100 watt light bulb shining smile of “EMMA.” I went back to the counter and said “I’d like to meet Emma please.”

A few minutes later, a door opened, and there was a stirring and a commotion as this little burst of yellow leapt up on the counter, spilling brochures and magazines everywhere, while dragging an employee on the other end of the leash behind her. It was love at first sight. This wild little thing stole my heart. She finally settled down (a little) and I was able to get a better look at her. She wasn’t roly-poly puppy cute. She was adolescent puppy; wobbly on new long legs and lean torso. I’m pretty sure she peed on floor right at my feet. She probably shredded or chewed something up too. But she had me by the heart. I filled out the extensive application form, which felt both appropriate — I mean a dog IS a living thing — and nerve-wracking — “what if we’re not good enough for her?” And in the meantime, heard two conversations involving other people interested in adopting this Emma. I stepped outside and called Brandon from my cell phone. He was at work “Babe, I need you to come to Paws and Claws like, now.” “What?” he said “Why?” “There’s this dog and her name is Emma and I love her and if you don’t come meet her right now someone else is going to get her because they have to meet everyone in the family and someone else can’t have her because she’s MY dog.”

Let me tell you a few things about Brandon you may or may not already know. 1. He’s a farmer’s son. Meaning, he’s a hard worker. Almost to a fault. He works. He works hard. Everyone he works with likes him because he works hard and doesn’t cause a fuss (ever) or they don’t like him because he works so hard you can tell when someone else isn’t. Hard workers don’t leave work early, they stay late. Hard workers don’t ask for special favors. Hard workers keep work at work and life at home. 2. He’s a farmer’s son. Meaning, he grew up on a farm, where animals lived happily outside, and humans lived happily in. There wasn’t mixing of animals and humans in inside places. Nevertheless, this guy got out of work early and came over to meet this dog who I was in love with. I was nervous. What if he didn’t like her? What if he could tell she was a little “naughty” and said no? He walked into Paws and Claws, still in work dress pants and shirt and tie. I explained to him a little bit more what the process was, and then they went to get Emma. She walked out like a show pony, paws touching the floor so gently, sweetly leaving slack on the leash until it was handed to Brandon. She walked right up to him, sat down, and put a paw on his knee, and looked up at him with the sweetest brown eyes ever. (Oh my gosh, was this really the SAME dog? She was so good, she was so smart, she was even better than I thought!)

Papers signed. And then we waited. Waited to find out if we were good enough for this EMMA dog from the polaroid picture on the bulletin board at Paws and Claws. We got the call. We were approved. She was ours, as long as we agreed to… (enter many things that required money and time — along with all the other things that we didn’t discuss but agreed to by default). The date was set. We were to pick her up on October 21, 2002, the day after we returned from a weekend celebrating Brandon’s birthday in Chicago. I got a call that morning from my brother that my sister-in-law was in labor with (our family’s first!) baby! I got a sub for work, and drove up to St. Paul, excited to meet this little babe (note to self – write blog post on the amazing Madeline next). The hours ticked by and she wasn’t here yet, and there was a dog in Rochester, MN that was counting on me to get her, and if I wasn’t there I was pretty sure they’d just tear up my application papers and send her off to someone else. So I called Brandon. at work. again.

“Babe, I need you to pick up Emma today.” “What?” he said. “Why?” I explained that this sweet baby Madeline wasn’t born yet or was just born or whatever and I wouldn’t be back in time to get the dog, and if we weren’t there when we said we would be there I felt quite certain they would tear up our application and give our sweet dog to someone else. “I’m not putting her in my car,” he said “she’ll get hair all over it.” “Well, babe, I don’t CARE what you DO with her, but you have to go and get her. Take her for a walk!” And I hung up. Fast forward a couple hours. I pull into the Paws and Claws parking lot, and there is my husband, (in dress pants, shirt and tie) sitting on one of those parking lot curbs, feeding our dog pork chops. Now she was in love — with HIM!

We put Emma in the car and went home. What came after was: pooping and peeing everywhere, chewing up stuff, discovering she HATED being in a kennel (so much so that she would put her teeth through the front grates and pull to try to get the door open and get out), that pork gave her the runs, and that she had what the experts call “a hard play drive.” I got up in the morning and walked that dog. I drove home on my lunch break and walked that dog. I got off work and walked that dog. We walked all over. We explored every nook and cranny, every inch and trail of Quarry Hill Nature Center. We went for “bike rides” which consisted of me sitting on my bike and her pulling me — pedaling was optional, but not necessary. We snuggled with her in OUR BED (yes, farm folks, we’ve got a convert on our hands!) We snuggled with her on OUR COUCH. We pulled over on the side of the road to see what was wrong if she looked nervous, or whined, or breathed funny when we took car trips with her.

She helped Brandon propose to me. We got home from a dinner out, and it was November and snowy and beautiful and I had been diverted with large quantities of red wine, and she took me out to the park across the street from our house and we ran and played and rolled in the snow while Brandon set up the candles and the music and the whole proposal. And we came back to the house and I knew right away and we laughed and cried and hugged and she was right there with us, wagging her joyful tail.

When Max was born, she was very protective of her big brother. If someone held her too long, Emma would sit in front of them and look them up and down, and if they didn’t give the baby back to mama, she’d bark at them. She loved our babies, even though she also sighed with jealously, and as we added to the lot, sighed a lot. But she was a proud sister, who held her head high and wagged her tail proudly when we’d walk (and we walked and walked and walked) with the stroller. Even last week, she still loved to walk, even though it was more like a slow limp. We’d make our way up to school to drop off the kids, and she’d pause every time someone passed, in hopes she might get a pat or two from some young dog-lover.

To say she was empathic is like saying Matisse’s art is “ok.” Emma felt, and she felt it all. During arguments sometimes she’d get right in the middle and bark along with us, and other times she’d curl up tight on the couch and tuck her nose under her paw. She hugged back, and there were literally times she and I fell asleep that way, my face buried in her soft neck, or her nose tucked under my chin. She licked tears off my face more times than I could ever count, all kinds of tears, but when sadness came, she came closer instead of retreating like so many humans I’d tried sharing my heavier feelings with.

And she smiled. SMILED. For real. She even smiled for cameras. I have the good fortune of one of my besties and favorite people being a photographer who is ALSO a dog person. We have photo after photo of Emma smiling. She was a happy girl, and it was so fun to watch such a joy-filled rambunctious alive being embody happiness the way she did. She also gave stand-up hugs to a chosen few of my friends (usually the most petite ones with the sweetest voices) — paws on shoulders, pinned to the wall hugs. And our friends loved her and tolerated her pee, and her poop, and her chew marks on things, and loved her TOO (not anyway, not still, not despite). Because Emma was the kind of dog you loved, even if you weren’t a dog person. No one could help it, she was just that kind of being in this world. Like a love magnet. She made the faces of strangers soften. She drew compliments and admiration. She was Miss Congeniality.

She was tolerant. Like kids riding her back like a horse tolerant. Happy to pull a kid on a sled across a snowy yard tolerant. Fingers in eyelids and lips and ear and  tail-pulling tolerant. She smiled. She accepted it as affection. She was leave me home alone for 6 or 8 or 10 hours and I won’t pee on that damn floor tolerant. She was “you’ve got three kids now and you hardly remember me but I love you anyway tolerant.” Near the end, she was in a world of pain but keeping it tucked inside so she could stay with us a little longer tolerant.

Who loves like that? I don’t. I’m fair-weather-y, stubborn, conditional. I’m all open-hearted optimist one minute, and terrified of getting hurt control freak the next. I’m temper and apologies. I’m take you for granted, regret it and try harder. I’m hugs and kisses and tears of wonder and joy and then cynical and hard-tongued and apathetic and recalcitrant. I forgive when I feel like it, or when it looks good and because it’s the right thing to do. And yes, I am also a wild-at-heart-unabashed-wide-open-brave lover of love who wants the world to be beautiful, and believes I can help make it that way. But even that, she had a part in, because she helped heal the places in me that were afraid of trusting, she showed me what it felt like to be forgiven, she gave me hope on days when my tank was empty. There are so many ways, even though she was technically the “orphan” that we saved, that she actually saved me.

Gosh I miss her so much. She was what made our house feel like a home. The jingle of her collar, the tap of her nails on the hard wood floors. She held the space for us. She kept it safe. She kept it alive. I miss her soft ears, and the way they never got pokey even as she aged. I miss the soft place under her chin, like a refuge. I miss her yellow body being somewhere, anywhere, on a couch, under a table, getting busted being on one of the kids beds, with all the bedding crumpled under her like a queen. I miss her big warm tongue and her kisses. I miss the smell of her paws (like popcorn). I miss the weight of her.

And right now I am grieving and it is heavy. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this sad before in my life. Or maybe I’ve just never let myself feel this sad before. I remember this fall when Brandon’s beloved Grandpa died, feeling like there were just no words anymore that mattered. I was left speechless in the gravity of it. We were left speechless. And here, now this morning after the day I said goodbye to my truest most loyal and bestest friend, the world feels flat, icy, like you could make a wrong move and just slip off. There is an emptiness in the physical space that she filled, and yet my heart is brimming with love. I don’t know if I ever knew how much I loved her. No, I did. I remember claiming I would never love my own flesh and blood children as much as her. (Why did I think I would I have to choose though-? She’d never make me!)

But this is the crazy gift of loss, of grief, is that if we let it, it breaks our hearts wider open, and we see, sometimes through the lens of regret, but hopefully just through the lens of of own human-ness what a privilege it is to love and be loved. Something has been freed in me. Something wild and untamable and so very alive.

Thanks Emma. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.30.55 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.31.15 PM

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