Do I Need to Take Out a Billboard?

When the Universe wants to tell me something, it practically takes out a billboard.

Right now, there’s a flashing, Vegas-style “SURRENDER” billboard front and center in my psychic landscape. Which, incidentally, is a desert-scape. Even though I’ve never, not once, been to the desert.

I’ve been fighting a lot lately.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve been waging this intense internal war against outside factors I may or may not be able to change. This isn’t foreign territory to me. I’m kind of a control freak by nature. But I’ve gotten better, these past 11 years, at letting go.

It’s progress not perfection up in here.

But the past few days, I’ve just been mad. I’m mad at the pandemic. Mad at the landlord for the shop. Mad at myself for being mad.

By yesterday, I’d worked myself up into a frenzy (for about the third time this week. And it was only Tuesday). And I just wanted to sit in my own anger and self-righteousness.

So, I didn’t meditate. Didn’t do yoga. Didn’t run.

Because all those things would’ve helped. And I didn’t want help.

I was mad as hell, and I intended to stay that way.

And so I did.

Which sucked.

Then chose to engage with someone who always sets me off–always makes me feel less-than, like I’m competing to prove I’m smart enough and capable enough to be taken seriously by them.

Which is the stupidest thing ever.

But I fall into this trap every. time. I. engage. with. this. human.

By the time I was done with that conversation, I just wanted to come home, give away all my belongings, and paint all the rooms white.

And that’s what psychic surrender looks like for me, by the way: clean slate. All the rooms white. And spare. Open and airy.

So, I took a little scooter ride. Came home and did some yoga. And just let that shit go.

I talked to some friends last night–honestly, with no pretense. Admitted I was struggling. Which, you know, feels a little like defeat. I want to be all Zen. And I was the antithesis of Zen yesterday.

But so it goes.

And then, this morning, the Yoga Camp mantra was I Surrender.

Okay, Universe. I hear you.

When I first encountered the idea of surrender, I confused it with weakness, with giving up.

But surrender is about accepting what is. I have to stop fighting and take stock of the situation, so I can move forward with sure footing. Surrender is rest and peace in the middle of a complete an utter shitstorm of life being life.

And, for me, surrender is believing that the Universe has only my best interest at heart.

Only good, even when I don’t get my way.

Only good, even when things look dire.

Only good.

I surrender.

Impermanence, Presence, and Peanut Butter & Jelly

I’m on Day 16 of a 30 Day (online) Yoga Camp.

This isn’t the first time I’ve committed to a daily yoga practice. I think the longest I did was 90 days or so. Every time I commit to sustained daily practice, I learn something new. Yoga tends to meet you where you are. Which is why I like it so much. It’s a moving spiritual practice–and I find that I’m constantly applying what I learn on the mat in my everyday, walkabout life.

Today, I was thinking about presence & impermanence. Simultaneously. Because I was running. Running which is like meditation for me. If mediation involved 1001 creative ways to say fuck.

Today’s run was kicking my ass for no discernible reason. At about 1K, I seriously considered laying down on the sidewalk for a quick nap. But I kept on. Because I persevere like that. Anyway, at about 4K, I’m feeling better. Perky even. But now I’m trying to decide how far I want to go. A 5K? 4 miles? (I like to switch up my systems of measurement whenever possible. You know, just to keep things interesting).

I’m trying to decide on a goal distance. But I’m also focused on staying present. Just being where my feet are. But presently, I’m running up a hill. And that hill feels pretty steep. Then my thoughts start wandering to the idea of running more than 3.12 miles. And that makes me tired just thinking about it. So, I pull myself to the present again, but presently I’m still running up that damn hill.

But then I think … impermanence. I mean, this hill isn’t going to last forever. This moment isn’t going to last beyond, well, this moment.

And then my mind melts because I’m both present and impermanent. But my feet are still moving. And so I settle deeper into this moment, not striving or pushing. Just being and letting my feet move me forward.

And then I remember that the Yoga Camp mantra for today is “I enjoy.” And I think what my present impermanent self is going to enjoy most is the brief walk home after this 5K.

Which was true. I always relish the afterglow of a run. It’s pretty spectacular.

But the walk also gave me some time to contemplate why I’m so disconnected from my own energy. I felt that way all weekend really. This vague sense of malaise. Unsettled.

It could’ve been the full moon.

But I was looking for something I could exert a little more control over. The moon tends to be pretty intractable. So I settled on food. And my mindfulness–or complete lack thereof–around food.

I’ve never been a particularly mindful eater. And if I get too hungry–watch your appendages. Nobody is safe. I’ll grab whatever is there & eat WAY too much of it. I seriously got AFTER some trail mix yesterday, in an unfortunate combination of slightly hungry, bored, and grumpy as hell. But y’all, I showed that trail mix who’s BOSS. Yup.

But for real, I’m a speed eater. Even when I’m eating a Little Debbie (there are SO many Little Debbies consumed in this house, and we make zero apologies for our behavior), I throw it back like it’s a race.

So, as I enjoyed my walk home (being both present & impermanent), I decided the goal for this week is to a) drink enough water so I know when I’m hungry and when I’m not, b) to eat more fresh fruits & veggies, c) to only eat when I’m hungry & until I’m full, and d) to be present while I’m eating. Which is going to have to involve more chewing than hoovering, I suppose.

And because I like to start on my goals right away (Virgo. Over-achiever), I had a handful of raspberries for a snack after my shower. I chewed each one individually. I noticed the tartness of one, the sweetness of another. And, for real, those things feel hella weird in your mouth. Not mushy, but not firm either. And you can FEEL each individual little bump on the raspberry on your tongue.

Each berry was dutifully contemplated and enjoyed. Very zen.

But y’all, I’m about to starve over here.

If you need me, I’ll be mindfully consuming a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (there’s fruit in jelly, y’all. That’s a fact).

I’m Improbable? No, You’re Improbable!

My current life is highly improbable. Maybe that’s why I find it so beautiful. It’s a bit of a mystery to me how I got here. But, yet, here I am.

From the time I was 8 years old, adults constantly nudged and prodded me toward leadership roles. But I was having none of that. I had no intention of leading anyone anywhere. Because, not only did I not think I was capable, I also didn’t want to be seen. Other kids, they were smarter, more popular, more stylish, more together… I just wanted to settle into being (relatively) smart, blending into the background. Leadership takes confidence. And all I was confident of was that I was the world’s biggest dork.

Even in college, I chose the path of least resistance–for my studies at least. I opted to major in literature, with the idea that I’d teach high school English. Not because I really wanted to teach. I just couldn’t think of anything else I might be good at. Which is about the world’s worst reason to be a teacher. But it seemed accessible and didn’t require much vision on my part. (It would’ve been a disaster, by the way. Teaching really is a calling. And I did not have it. They would’ve eaten me alive).

But somehow a few of my undergraduate professors convinced me that grad school was a good idea (my parents seemed less sure. They though perhaps I should just go on and get a job). Grad school was both a good idea and all kinds of humbling. And, concurrently, I was navigating my path toward addiction at breakneck speed. It took me 6 years in total to get my Masters degree. It’s supposed to take 2. It took me a hella long time to pull my shit together enough to write that thesis. But I did it.

And then I quit. Without perusing my doctorate. Not because I didn’t want it. I still want the damn thing. But because I knew I’d have to contend with folks smarter than me in my classes and later compete with said smart people for a job.

Path of least resistance.

I took various communication jobs I hated. They paid the bills. I was okay at them. I didn’t really want to do any of them.

Then I taught writing at the University of South Florida. I was pretty good at it. But more importantly to me, I loved it. I loved the students. Loved my colleagues. Loved mentoring and working on the textbook. I felt totally alive.

But, when the director encouraged me to get my PhD so I could move beyond adjuncting (which is a ton of work for an itty bitty amount of pay, and virtually zero professional recognition), I said no. Because I didn’t think I was worth the investment. It would’ve cost too much (even though I was spending thousands and thousands of dollars a year to drink myself into oblivion). I didn’t want to move where the tenure track job might take me. But really, I just didn’t believe I deserved more than I had.

After I got sober, after I gave birth to our daughter, when I was ready to remake myself (career wise), I knew I wanted to write. Not teach people how to write. But actually write words on a page, which ideally folks would pay me for.

The problem?

I hadn’t worked in the field in a decade.

So, I took a contract job writing about hangers. Luxury hangers, to be exact. No, not airplane hangers. You’re thinking too exotic there. Hangers to hang one’s clothes upon.

I was writing SEO content, so I had to carefully consider words to describe and refer to hangers–but I couldn’t use the same word too often or the search engines would flag the content. It was like a game: a thousand ways to describe a hanger.

No one said it was an exciting game.

For these efforts, I earned approximately $2 an hour.

But, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I kept at these weird contract gigs, earning about $50 a week until I had some writing samples collected. Which was a crucial part of the plan. Because, when a friend called with a potential gig with a multinational client, I had writing samples to send her–even if they were about those godforsaken hangers.

I got the gig.

To be clear, the only reason I got this gig, which in turn led to another friend offering me a gig with her agency–thus kicking off my writing career–is because my friend took a chance on me.

Every writing job I got after that fell into my lap. Someone would refer a friend or a client to me. Or hand me a lead to pitch. I brought approximately zero percent of my business in on my own.

Let’s be real clear here: this is not a humble brag. This is me telling you that even when I was doing something I was good at, I did not have the confidence to market myself or my craft. At all.

After 3 years or so, I’d collected enough steady clients providing me with ongoing work and leads for new work that I finally started making some decent money writing.

Just in time for me to decide I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Which sounds bananas, right?

But, even though I was good at writing and I generally enjoyed doing it, I just couldn’t see this being my long-term path. It just didn’t resonate and bring me joy the way I’d thought it would. I suppose, ultimately, I didn’t feel fulfilled. Which turned out just fine, because then I got this wild bookstore idea.

Let’s review real quickly, so we’re all on the same page: I’m the same kid that refused any sort of stab at leadership (informal or otherwise) because I believed I was too dorky to be effective. If I was going to put myself out there at all, I relegated myself to runner-up position, not the spotlight. I quit grad school without pursuing a PhD, not because I wasn’t interested but because I might fail if I had to compete. I’d carved out a niche for myself as a writer, but could’t ever find the confidence to market myself.

Obviously, I’ve got some real risk aversion going on here.

And yet. I knew.

When I told my partner, Simon, that I wanted to open a used bookstore in EAV, and he responded with enthusiasm instead of taking my temperature and tucking me in for a long nap, I knew. I knew this, this was the right thing.

I had no zero clue how I’d get from the inception of the idea to an actual brick and mortar store. I didn’t have any business or retail experience to speak of.

And still.

I’d finish one step in the process, look around, and ascertain the next right thing. And then I’d do that.

All the toxic things I’d always believed about myself, all the reasons I’d fabricated about why I couldn’t do whatever… I just kind of said fuck it and did exactly what I wanted to do. Exactly what felt right.

It was like a switch flipped.

I definitely got pushback from some grown-folk I respected who I thought would support me. They did not. In fact, they actively discouraged me. I did it anyway.

Not because I am strong. But because I was tired of limiting myself. Tired of being afraid of failure. I was tired of a half-ass stab at life.

And so.

I opened myself to all the encouragement I received–from people I knew and people I didn’t (yet). I let myself believe that my little contribution to our southeast Atlanta community would be met with goodness and support (it has been). And I finally tuned out the inner voice that tells me I am not enough–and listened to the Universe as things fell into place one at a time and I received confirmation after confirmation that YES. This is right. This is what you are called to do. Now go the hell forth and do the damn thing.

And so, with the help of so many good souls who sent money, and good vibes, and donated books and helped in huge and small ways, I now have this bookstore–that is so much bigger than me. That brings joy–and books!–to other people. That is the calling I’ve been looking for my whole life.

Because I got out of my own way and opened myself up to the possiblities.

It’s improbable that this risk-adverse human would own her own bookstore. But the improbable has turned out to be just what I needed.

Which is to say, if I can do this thing, anyone can do anything.

Note: I saw Glennon Doyle’s post (linked above) come across Facebook last night, and it made me laugh–but it also made me think about the ways in which my story is a bit improbable, too. Maybe we’re all improbable–and that’s the magic of it all.

Grace & Ease

When I signed up for AA*, it was with the understanding that they were going to fix me. Although I’d mostly pulled my shit together from the outside, on the inside I was a mess. I felt suffocated by shame, terrified of actually experiencing real emotion, and mostly just broken. Oh, and I was completely devoid of effective coping mechanisms.

Drinking was my coping mechanism, and it landed me in meetings with an oddball bunch of folks who drank bad coffee.

I liked those oddballs though, because they didn’t find my obsession with alcohol or my inability to stop drinking once I’d started strange in the slightest. And they told me I never again had to be the person I’d been when I was drinking.

That felt like being born again.

Part of what they laid out for me was that I never had to pick up a drink again, as long as I followed the 12-steps. And continued going to meetings. Like, forever.

A couple competing things were going on for me during the first 2 years of sobriety: I never felt really at-home in AA (which made me feel like a complete loser, because folks are always saying how they never felt at home anywhere until they walked in the rooms of AA. Huh. I didn’t feel at home there, either. So what was wrong with me?), and I had a couple sponsor relationships that were pretty damaging (which is tough because your sponsor is supposed to walk you through the 12-steps, and you have to trust them in order for that to be a possibility). Oh, and I was hella stubborn… as I’ve always been.

So, after 2 years I quit AA. Cold-turkey. No sponsor. No meetings.

But here’s the thing: I’ve always been a spiritually-oriented person, so I stayed committed to spiritual practice. I’ve also been in and out of therapy since I got sober. And I talk about recovery a lot.

I never neglected my recovery. I wasn’t “white knuckling it.” I was working to stay sober by constantly examining the patterns in my life, exploring my lack of coping mechanisms and trying to implement ones that wouldn’t blow up my life, and taking a hard look at the need for escape that made me want to drink in the first place.

But even after 11 years, I don’t consider myself “recovered.” Because, although I’ve never picked up a drink or drug again, I’ve got these addict behaviors that can creep out from time to time. I think of them as relapse light. They can be incredibly destructive. And they’re insidious.

When I was about 5 years sober, I had been a stay-at-home mom for 3 years. For me, staying at home was one of the most beautiful, mind-numbing, joyful, isolating experiences of my life. It was so beautiful and so horrible at the same time that my mind almost melts when I think about it even now.

I am grateful for the time I got with our daughter. And I wouldn’t trade it. But it was excruciatingly hard.

I think we’ve already covered the idea that my coping mechanisms can be iffy. During the hard and seemingly interminable toddler years, I did not pick up a drink. But what I did do was lose myself in an incredibly emotionally entangling toxic friendship. This friendship was obsessive escapism–and it fed this minor messiah complex I’ve nursed since I was a kid.

Relapse light.

Instead of dealing with my shit, I was escaping. And getting unentangled from that relationship was emotionally messy, logistically awkward, and shame-inducing.

It also showed me I had more work to do in my recovery.

I don’t think it’s inevitable that relapse is part of recovery. If I’d ever believed it was, I don’t think I would’ve put in the work to get sober. But building a recovery that is joyful and full of growth and exploration means looking at the other ways that relapse light can happen–and addressing those openly and without shame when they arise.

And just acknowledging the way that old behaviors have caused chaos in my life makes me more compassionate towards folks for whom relapse with drugs or alcohol is part of the journey.

AA did fix me. Or, maybe more accurately, AA helped me face the idea that I was powerless over alcohol. And that’s a fact for me.

But I do find power in taking control of my own recovery, in finding what works, and in creating real coping mechanisms that allow me to move through the world with more grace and ease.

And god knows I surely needed more grace and ease. Don’t we all?

*You don’t really have to sign up. But you do have to show up.

**I’m reading The 12-Step Buddhist, which spawned all these recovery musings.

Book Nerd Love (a Thank You)

Almost 2 years ago, I got this wild idea to open a bookstore.

What could be better for an extrovert with an immense enthusiasm for both people & books, right?

Except that I tend toward the risk-adverse. And I have a well-documented history of sticking with what I’m good at. Running a business? Well, that was uncharted territory…

Opening a bookstore involved writing a business plan (I resist even making a to-do list), figuring out funding (I’d rather eat a bug than think about finances 90% of the time), and securing a commercial space (a daunting task requiring contracts and commitment and other scary stuff).

If I’d attempted to embark on this bookstore adventure at any other point in my life, I wouldn’t have gotten past the daydreaming stage. But an incredible alchemy spiritual lessons I’d internalized from some folks who don’t even know they are spiritual teachers and the pull of committing to a neighborhood like EAV and putting down roots to serve the community–well, it made me brave(r).

And, really, the Universe kept nudging things into place to bring this little venture to life. Every time I got nervous or wondered what the hell I was thinking, another piece would magically just fall into place. To the point that opening a bookstore felt like a calling–an answer to a question of community and place, a real labor of love.

From its inception, so many folks pitched in to make Bookish happen. In big ways and small ways, they offered support, money, encouragement, connections. When the Grand Opening finally happened, and the store was packed with southeast Atlantans–most of whom I didn’t even know yet–I felt it… that knowledge that community spaces are always bigger than the people that run them. And that Bookish really was going to be a place centered on connection and community.

That connection, and the dedication of loyal customers to spreading the word about Bookish, is what has carried us through this pandemic. We’ve been delivering books to people’s doorsteps since we closed to the public on March 15th. We’ve Facetimed with our customers to show them what we’ve got in stock that hasn’t made it on the website just yet (pivoting from zero online presence to getting an e-commerce site up & in a groove has been something real special). We’ve texted recommendations (complete with pictures!) to customers looking for books to keep their kids entertained or something they can escape into to shut out the pandemic world for just a bit. We’ve ordered (and sold) what feels like a metric ton of antiracism books. And we’ve fielded special orders through just about every communications means possible (except carrier pigeon).

People have rallied around Bookish, and we’ve been happy to respond by keeping the community in books throughout the pandemic.

The bottom line is Bookish has been fortunate, and I know it. And I’m so very grateful.

So, when the air conditioner broke just over a week ago, I figured it would suck but I could figure it out. And then our trusty AC guy called with the repair bill. I knew it was going to be pretty shitty when he asked if I was sitting down.

Damn.

When the number came in at over a thousand dollars, I cussed the folks who leased me a building with an 20+ year old AC unit, and I railed against commercial leases in general (you really don’t want to get me started on this particular topic. It makes me a tad stabby).

And then I thought back to 2 of my favorite customers who, on separate occasions completely independent from each other, made me promise if finances got dire I’d ask for help.

I suck at asking for help.

But staring this AC bill in the face didn’t leave me a whole lot of wiggle room.

I thought, when I posted the GoFund Me to Keep Bookish Cool, that I’d raise a couple hundred dollars. Which would at least put me in a financial position that felt less precarious. It was a relief just to consider not having to swing the whole bill. I felt lighter.

And then the donations started coming in. Some in $10 increments. Some closer to $100. Every single one felt like a tremendous gift. I watched the number steadily rise. And I kept blinking back tears. Because what was even happening?!? I started looking at the names of donors… and they were my neighbors, my customers, people from Parkside (hey, Pandas!), folks from Burgess-Peterson Academy, people I know well, and people I don’t. But all of whom I now love. Because within a few hours the GoFundMe was 100% funded.

The amount of gratitude I feel isn’t easily quantifiable. To ask for help and have the whole community rally around me has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

It’s the most clear affirmation that Bookish truly means something to the community–that it really is so much bigger than me & my dream. And that investing in community is 100% where it’s at.

Not that I ever really doubted… but still.

So, for every friend (whether they be long-distance or an ATLien, new or old), every customer (regular or less frequent flier), every person who loves the idea of Bookish even though they’ve never been in the door, every EAVer who supports local business always–because it’s what we do, every single soul who donated even a dollar to this campaign–THANK YOU.

Everyone needs a bit of hope every now and again. And I don’t think I knew how much I needed y’all’s light until you gave it so freely.

The love that poured in through this GoFundMe has buoyed me. And it’s also paid for an AC repair AND July’s rent.

I am humbled. I am grateful. So from one book nerd to another: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

Inner Voices are Bananas

Folks used to say AA would completely ruin drinking for you.

Obvi, right?

But here’s a truth you have to understand before that statement can make one iota of sense to you: addiction is based on lies.

In active addiction, you lie to yourself. To other people. To the Universe. And the lie that keeps coming up, the one that can be most destructive, is that maybe you aren’t an alcoholic at all.

Maybe you can drink like a normal person this time.

And so, if the lie sneaks up on you masquerading as truth, you could find yourself at a bar, ready to relive the glory days (pro tip: puking does not a glory day make)–which likely translates into getting blackout drunk.

Except, the whole time you’re inching toward oblivion (or hurtling, depending on if you are Bud Light or Everclear), the AA slogans that drive you nuts, the quips that old-timers offer up in meetings, seemingly random passages from the Big Book will pop into your head.

And AA will have ruined drinking for you. Because you know. You know there’s hope, that people really do recover, that you can have life. And that you don’t have to slowly die like this.

And once you know, you can’t unknow.

In early sobriety, I counted on this idea that AA would ruin drinking for me. In fact, if I started to “romance the drink” (it’s really supposed to be romanticize. but there was a woman who always said “romance” in the meetings–I swear she managed to work the phrase into every meeting she went to–and I always giggled at the idea of sitting across from a Bud Light bottle at a fancy restaurant, leaning in over candlelight. You know, romancing) I’d always come around to the idea that the whole damn thing would be ruined for me anyway, so why even bother?

Lately, I’m finding a parallel between drinking and toxic thinking. Well, in the ruination of both destructive habits at least.

Drinking was ruined by AA. Toxic thinking has suffered a similar fate from a one-two punch of Buddhist lovingkindness and a more critical examination of my own self-talk.

Yesterday, I was walking through the neighborhood cooling off after my run. I came up on a house that had a lot going on in the backyard. I immediately started passing judgment on who those people were that lived in the house. Not on the state of their yard. On their character.

What the hell, right?!?

My inner voice had some feels about that: Oh my God. Why are you so horrible? Who even thinks those kind of things?!? What is WRONG with you?

But then, like some sort of weird voiceover, the lovingkindness/invisible therapist voice was all: What an interesting response to a cluttered yard. Let’s examine that a bit… what do you think bothers you so much about what’s going on here?

Even though I still don’t have a deep grasp of what bothered me so much about a few old cars in a backyard (although I can guess & it’s not pretty), that toxic self-talk, the one full of recrimination and blame meant to cause shame, got gone immediately. Like I could actually feel it receding.

So, as bananas as the whole experience of having two competing voices battling for my attention in my own damn head was, I can tell you that shutting down that super-critical asshole voice in my head that is always trying to convince me I’m a shitty person felt like a pretty big triumph.

I have a feeling that banishing toxic thought is a lot like recovery–it’s a daily maintenance kind of situation. But I’m kind of digging this forward momentum.

Because once you know, you can’t unknow.

Wonder what I’m going to ruin for myself next?

Simple Wisdom

Just be where you’re at, right now.

I know this doesn’t sound particularly deep. But it’s 100% my mantra for today.

I am an all or nothing kind of girl. I don’t half-ass too much. Which can be good.

Or not.

Because, sometimes, that all-in-ness can translate into not paying attention to where I am right now. I make everything a referendum on my personality, my worthiness, my potential. Which means there’s little room to respond to current conditions–whatever those may be.

This idea of just being where I’m at right now popped up in yoga this morning (thanks, Adriene!). It helped me work through the fact that I was way bendier one one side than the other today (I like to be symmetrical, thankyouverymuch). A small thing, sure. But just being able to sense what my body needs, and to not see my current state as a limitation (or even a triumph) but just to let it be… it feels kind of revolutionary.

I’m a Virgo. We rarely just let things be.

The reminder to just be where I’m at also came in handy on my run–when my ankle went all janky and my joints literally felt like they were unhinged. Why? Who the hell knows? But it looked something like this:

Typically, I’d get all up in my feels (and WAY into my head) about what would happen if my ankle got pulled out of alignment because my hips were too tight and then my foot got all janky and I couldn’t to to the chiropractor because COVID and then my leg got so off-balance and tight and out of whack that I couldn’t run and then I’d be all mentally out of balance and sad and not nice and then maybe no one would like me anymore.

Right.

And that started to happen. It did. But then I remembered: just be where you’re at, right now. So, instead of that shitshow of a mental spiral, I just kind of shrugged.

My body feels a little weird, right now. So right now, I’m going to take it easy. Because that’s what I need. Not forever. Maybe not even tomorrow. Right now.

Instead of making myself miserable trying to power through this morning’s run at optimal speed, I slowed it down. And suddenly I realized there was a breeze. And that it was cool out–instead of hella swampy like it has been the past few days. I chose to be fully present in the moment–and the moment was beautiful, even if it wasn’t the run I’d planned out.

Just be where you’re at, right now.

Just be.

Mantras & Tea Time

I’ve got a long-standing habit of trying to scuttle away from fear.

Can you really blame me? Fear–intense, soul-chilling fear–has been part of my world since I was 8 years old. And lots of times, I don’t even know what I’m afraid of. I just know that I’m scared as hell.

Portrait of a Fear-Scuttler as a Young Girl

To cope, I learned to shove the fear down. Way down. In psychic places that I tend to avoid completely.

For me, fear and anxiety aren’t the same thing. It’s likely they stem from a similar psychological source, I suppose. But they feel different. Anxiety feels sketchy, like I want to climb out of my skin–but I’m simultaneously too scared of life in general to move. It happens all at once. And it’s broad and far-reaching. I know what it is and can identify it. I pretty much hate it, but I know how to move through it.

This fear, though, it’s more stabbing. And it comes out of nowhere. If it was audible, it would be a horrified gasp. It’s quick and to the point. Which is why I can shove it away. It doesn’t linger and settle into a generalized malaise the way anxiety does.

So now that we’ve established this fear situation, I’ll tell you a story:

The 30-day yoga camp I signed up for with Adriene (after my brief failed venture to find more “spiritual” yoga) comes complete with mantras. Which is rad. My mind tends jump all over the place like a ferret in a popcorn maker, so anything that can focus my thinking a bit is welcome.

Today’s mantra: I embrace.

Y’all know the drill. You set an intention (using said mantra) at the beginning of the practice. Mine was “I embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature.”

Huh.

I have no idea where that came from. It popped into my mind & I ran with it.

So, there I am, meditating after yoga (because during yoga, I’m just breathing. That’s the beauty of it. I’m focused and breathing, connecting with something still and quiet at the core of who I am), and this fear pops up. And it stabs me once in the heart (it’s a bitch, and it knows how to wound).

Of course, my instinct was to push it away. You don’t really invite a bully to sit down to tea.

Except–you kind of do. Or, more aptly, it’s what the Buddha would do:

Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara [the demon god] continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would report with dismay that the “Evil One” had again returned.

Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest. Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea, place them on the low table between them, and only then take his own seat. Mara would stay for a while and then go, but throughout the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

Tara Brach, Ph.D., Inviting Mara to Tea
Source: Mara Tempting Buddha

I’m going to be straight up and tell you that I did NOT invite my fear to tea. But I also didn’t chase it out with a pitchfork, either. I took a few tentative steps closer to it, though. I looked at it, not to probe into where it came from or why it was there. But just to see it. Just to embrace all of myself, all of my experience. Including the fear.

Maybe that’s what it means to embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature: to simply walk towards what arises, seeing it as a teacher instead of a threat.

I would’ve explored that further, but right then the dog nosed her way into the room and sat square on my lap and started licking my face. And then the kid came flying in to retrieve the dog–and Mara left on his own accord, because the whole scene as just too chaotic to bother with tea anyway.



But Is It SPIRITUAL Enough?

Since I started writing every weekday, my meditation practice has gotten bumped.

Which, you know, is about the worst idea ever.

But I’ve got this idea that all the “for me” things have to be done before 8 a.m.* Except running. Which I’m willing to fit in whenever–because I need people to like me, and running facilitates that. More than you might imagine.

In an effort to restart my spiritual practice, I decided I want to incorporate yoga as a moving meditation before I do sitting meditation. Because more is better, right? Really, it’s not even about more though. It’s about focus. My mind flits off in a zillion directions during meditation (totally normal. But annoying), and yoga is a way to focus that energy before I sit.

I decided I needed a more “spiritual” at home yoga practice. So, I set off in search of one (via YouTube because pandemic). And I landed on Ashtanga yoga, which felt 100% unfamiliar and super-spiritual for some reason. I fired up the video and began.

This seems like a good time to mention that I’ve been doing Yoga with Adriene for something like 6 years. Her motto: find what feels good. She’s goofy and pretty much exudes lovingkindness, even though a screen. She doesn’t take herself too seriously (I’m a Virgo. By nature, I take myself WAY too seriously), and she insists (gently) on self-love and coming to the mat just as you are.

I’m not this cute when I do yoga, no matter how spiritual it is. But, you know, GOALS.

So, I start this other yoga, the unfamiliar, not-Adriene one that I have deemed “spiritual.” And I immediately hate it. The instructor is kind of just barking out poses, which I’m trying to jam myself into. Because, even though she’s saying to listen to my body, I don’t believe her. Everything about her demeanor indicates that I am a grave disappointment if I can’t do these strange poses–some of which I’ve never seen in my life. I realize that I am projecting on this woman, but I swear she readily facilitated that projection.

I’m on minute 44, feeling less spiritual than ever, when Jane comes Kramering into the room.

“Your aren’t doing Yoga with Adriene?!?” she asks, clearly baffled by my disloyalty and, at the same time, skeptical of this rather austere woman who has replaced Adriene on the screen.

“I can do different things sometimes,” I mutter, disgruntled by both the interruption and the challenge to my new “spiritual” yoga practice. I send her back out from whence she came, still muttering internally.

I flop back down on the mat and look at this severe woman staring back at me.

What am I even doing?

Everything in the room feels weighed down. And lacking in joy. Which makes me wonder why I always think that truly spiritual things have to be so heavy. And hard.

Doing yoga with Adriene is light and airy, full of love and acceptance and the things I try to center in my life. It feels good to invite her (via a screen) into my space. And I trust her. I value her guidance and her insight and her focus on compassion and love.

Why do I think that isn’t spiritual enough?

I grabbed my laptop, climbed up onto my bed, and nestled into the pillows. I sifted through entries until I found the perfect 30 day yoga camp–with Adriene.

Because light and love are spiritual, too.

And the fact that my 9 year old has more intuitive sense than I do? Well, I’m just gonna take that as a sign I’m raising her right (that is what it means, isn’t it?!?).

*I wrote this post after 8 a.m. & the world still seems to be spinning. Amazing.

Rural Florida & a Sign

Once, years ago, I found myself driving though a rural part of Florida. I was headed to work in the late afternoon, teaching writing to folks who thought writing had nothing to do with what they wanted to do with their lives.

It’s real bleak to share the thing that brings you joy with folks who couldn’t give a single shit about it.

But, there I was, driving along, watching the flat land stretch out to the horizon. I think there were cows. In my mind now, at least, there were cows. Rural Florida is, indeed, the South. It bears no resemblance to its coastal, sometimes more urbane, cousin. And driving though it requires some good, twangy country music.

At least, for me it does.

I’ve loved country music since high school. It’s storytelling at its finest. And it fills me with big, big joy. Or brings me to tears. But it never fails to make me emote, to feel. Country music feels like being alive to me. It’s that good.

It was also the background to a helluva lot of my drinking.

Of course. The perfect country & western song involves: Mama, trains, trucks, prison and gettin’ drunk.

So, I’m driving through rural Florida, feeling real countrified and a drinking song comes on. Since music is soul-memory, immediately that song triggered the most definitive craving for a drink I remember having in sobriety.

And, because sometimes when things are going to hell in a handbasket, life throws in one more thing & shit gets even more real, I was at that moment, driving by a bar with a neon Bud Light sign shining like a beacon. (Yes, I drank a lot of cheap beer. Let’s not dwell on that life choice right now.)

It took my breath away, this longing for a drink. Or was it longing for the part of me I had to let go in order to keep living?

Maybe both.

But what drove me to tears was feeling completely stripped bare. Defenseless. Vulnerable. Because, I realized right there in rural Florida with country music floating through the air & that damn neon sign beckoning, when I quit drinking, I relinquished my ability to hide.

Alcohol had been my shield from feeling anything too deeply. It’s a terrific numbing agent. And now it was gone.

I was going to have to feel things I’d been sheltering myself from for years. There was no place to hide anymore.

The terror I felt in that moment, faced with actually living my own life, was staggering. I wanted to bolt. Physically, I ached to run & hide.

But there was nothing to do except keep moving forward.

I turned off the country music. Mid-song, which is like sacrilege. And I kept driving.

It’s such a small event, really: the music, the bar, the willingness to keep driving. But it marked the beginning of my choice to get sober–to cut the bullshit, do the work, get real, and live my life.

Sobriety is an ongoing process. And it’s rarely dull. I’m constantly presented with opportunity for growth. Which really just means that I have to handle shit as it arises–the squirrelly, the scary, the just plain old too much. Because, without the alcohol, there really is no place for me to hide when things get … intense.

But that’s okay. It becomes okay. Because there’s healing and there’s big, big life out there.

And when I feel too out of synch with myself, with my emotions, I find that a little country music gets me right back where I need to be.