A strong foundation...

It's been forever and I'll spare the dramatic apologies for not posting in awhile, as I'm sure your world has continued to turn JUST FINE without updates from this anxious hippie. To put a Dickens-esque twist on things, "I had plenty to say, I had nothing to say..."

I spent a fair amount of my summer on my yoga mat, and one thing that my teacher said over and over in class was that it is nearly impossible to truly live with an open heart if you don't have a strong foundation. Over and over, she'd hammer this into our brains as we moved through sun salutation A, which is arguably the foundation of the power vinyasa yoga I practice. 

This statement was ironic because in many ways, I've spent the last few months realizing what a shoddy foundation I have/had. 

When I think about a foundation, I think about something solid and strong --- something so solid and strong that you could build a house on it. In many regards, I recognize that I am fortunate to have all the components of a strong foundation: a loving family, deep friendships, a career I enjoy, my health, a place to live...on and on. My life is not in shambles in any sort of obvious, traditional sense. I recognize that I am lucky or blessed or whatever word you might want to use, and I try to operate from that mindset. 

That said, this idea of a foundation makes me think of things that are immovable --- and the reality is that relationships shift and careers can change and health can disappear, overnight. And what I realized with all of this discussion of foundation was that I'd spent a lot of time building a life where my joy was contingent upon things that shifted: relationships, a number on  the scale, other people's opinions of me, validation from external sources. My entire mood or day could be dictated by a text message (or lack there of) or a "bad" yoga class or run or feeling like I wasn't getting the things I felt like I needed from others.

I wish this was one of those posts with a bunch of Pinterest-friendly tips about building a strong foundation or changing your life to live it on your own terms. 

Instead, this post is written from a place of being very much in the middle of this discovery and this process of building what I would consider a strong foundation.

I spent a good portion of my summer doing one of two things: working on curriculum for the school year (literally the best distraction ever) and consuming fast food whilst watching Law and Order: SVU on a nonstop loop. I sprinkled in yoga and time with friends, but most of the summer was lame. 

I also spent an inordinate amount of time thinking and writing in my journal and being really honest about the fact that I wasn't exactly experiencing my peak level of happiness. It sucked. It was hard. 

At the end of it, I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to build a foundation that was about sadness and Law and Order and Jimboys tacos (okay, maybe the tacos and Olivia Benson can stay but just on a lesser scale). But to be honest, I really had (and many days, have) no idea about where I wanted to begin.

I made a GIANT list entitled "Things That Make Me Feel Like A Hot Mess." I'm not kidding. I'd post a picture, but if anyone ever saw the list, I might actually die. It was long, and it was ugly. Some of the items were BIG DEAL THINGS, but some of them were small things like, "I feel like a hot mess when I leave dishes in the sink for days" or "I feel like a hot mess when I can't find my keys."

Starting at the bottom seemed like a rational place to start. What *DIDN'T* I want? Then, I could slowly move closer towards a place that felt more like where I wanted to be.

Here's what I have learned: the little things make a big difference. Over the past few months, I've worked really, really, almost-stupidly hard at making small changes in tiny things. But dang it, I take my vitamins (sure, they're gummy but they get jammed down my gullet daily) and make my bed everyday and always do my dishes and wash my face PLUS moisturize. I MEAN. These seem like little things, but the little things make all the difference.

Some of them have been bigger things, like having some difficult, honest conversations. Like asking for help. Like stepping back from things and people that don't feel great. Like starting over, every single day. 

When I started this process, I started working through Danielle LaPorte's amazing book, The Desire Map. To keep myself honest, I haven't finished, but one thing she asks is that you set goals about how you want to feel. And to be even more honest, when I started, that question BAFFLED ME. 

How do I want to feel?

At the start of this journey, all I could write was "Not like this" or "Like not-crap." That's about all I had.

And then one day, in savasana at the end of a yoga class, I realized that all I wanted was to feel good. It was so simple: to feel good.

On different days, that means different things. Sometimes, a giant salad and a sweaty workout feels good. Sometimes, McDonalds feels good (don't hate, chicken nuggets are delish). Other days, being around the people I love feels good and some days, I retreat to my apartment and relish silence and cat snuggles. 

I just want to feel good.

About myself.

About who I am.

About my life. 

I want to feel good, even when people or circumstances or whatever don't look the way I want them to. I want to learn what makes me feel not-good, and be better about avoiding those things, even when it'd be easier or faster or more fun.

It's small and it's simple. I want to feel good. I get closer to being able to put more specific words down about the way I want to feel almost every day. 

But until then? The foundation I'm slowly building is about showing up the way I want to show up, and feeling good. And sometimes good is good enough. 

The practice is to trust...

This morning, I walked out of my yoga class. There was nothing wrong, except for the fact that it was insanely crowded and people were being turned away. Since I had exactly zero things to do today, I decided to take one for the team and come back to the 4:30 PM class. I hate writing things like this because I feel like it makes me sound like I'm looking for some sort of karmic props, but honestly, it just seemed like the right thing to do. When you live in community like I do at my yoga studio, everyone has to take a turn being generous and I figured today was my day.

I wish I could say I walked out feeling stoked about my choice, but honestly, I felt prettttyyyyyy put upon. I knew that what I was doing was the kind and generous thing; however, I quickly spun into that place we all go in which I start huffing and puffing about how others should've given up their spot or wondering aloud to my cat when someone was going to do something kind and generous for me (um, that answer is daily because the people in my life are awesome) and you know where that goes. 

It kicked off a day of feeling pretty sorry for myself. As I've written in just about every post for the past year, I'm not in my favorite place in life. I'm sad a lot, and anxious even more and it doesn't take much to send me into a place where I'm eating a lot of leftover trail mix and crying over Parks and Recreation episodes alone all day. When I'm not shoving Target brand Caramel Cluster trail mix down my gullet, I like to mentally decide how everything that I feel is going wrong in my life should go. I make some pretty harsh judgments about how others should be behaving, and how circumstances should be unfolding. I assume that I know how life should be transpiring (spoiler: ALWAYS IN MY FAVOR) and get sad, mad and frustrated about all the varied things that don't seem to be going according to my perfect plan. IT'S FUN. 

This afternoon, I took myself back to yoga. I almost didn't go at all because honestly, continuing to spend time with Netflix and my bed sounded pretty dang great, but I pulled on my Wunder Unders and hauled myself back to take a class by one of my friends and favorite teachers. I was still feeling pretty huffy about my day all the way until the end of the class, when my teacher told the most beautiful story.

My teacher is pregnant, and she recounted how she'd gone grocery shopping in our city's hippie co-op grocery store this week and made a stop at the bathroom, first thing. A woman there did the thing where she race-walked up to the bathroom (we've all done it!), beating my teacher to the front of the line. There are only two bathrooms, and this woman made her way in to one, and proceeded to take forever, as did the person in the other restroom. My teacher said she spent the entire time in line in judgment of this woman, wondering how on earth someone could push her way past a woman who is nine months pregnant. 

And then the other bathroom door opened, and the cleaning crew emerged. In a public restroom, particularly one in an interesting area of town, is there anything better than being the first to use a sparkling clean restroom, especially while pregnant? Nope. Not really. 

My teacher went on to share that so often, we are waiting for things to turn out the way we think they should. We are impatient. We judge the way others are doing things. Instead of seeing the gifts before us, we spend time waiting for what she called the "million dollar check wrapped in a big red bow" while overlooking the ratty letter tucked under our doormat with the good news we're really seeking.

Her message this: we are never not being looked out for, no matter how alone, sad, angry or abandoned we might feel at first. The Universe, God or whatever you might want to call a higher power is always working on our behalf --- even when it feels like we're doing good things and not being rewarded, or when people aren't behaving the way that we want them to. Everything is going according to plan, and we are always right where we are supposed to be, even when life feels like the furthest thing from that.

Naturally, I get it now. I get that I was supposed to roll up my mat this morning -- not necessarily for cosmic brownie points, but because this lesson was exactly what I needed to hear. 

We are never not where we are supposed to be. The work, and the practice, is to simply trust that everything is unfolding as it should. To wait and see. To view even the most heartbreaking and challenging of times as a gift. An uncomfortable gift, to be sure, but a gift nonetheless. I was mentally scrolling through all of the other times in my life when I've felt this downtrodden and thankfully, I was reminded that I always come out on the other side, more joyful and blessed than I could've imagined being in those dark moments. This perfect class was a reminder and a challenge, from here on out, to simply trust that even when I feel sad or slighted or hurt, that the Universe is just waiting to give me exactly what it is I really need, even if it's insanely different than what I wanted or imagined. 

The one about coming home...

Last time I wrote here, I wrote about leaving on a 10-day silent retreat. Before I left, I was full of earnest goals and the keen sense that I really needed to get some things together. That hasn't changed, but sadly, I did not make it the full 10 days. 

Even writing that leads me to be immediately defensive: BUT WAIT LET ME TELL YOU WHYYYYY. 

Last Wednesday, I packed my bags, said my goodbyes and prepared to leave, thinking nothing of the fact that the friend I'd hung out with the night before suddenly had the world's worst "food poisoning." I ate sushi for lunch and headed out on the two hour drive to silence. On the way up, my stomach felt kind of strange, but I chalked it up to nerves and the fact that I have a slight shellfish allergy, yet continue to consume sushi like the carefree, reckless gal I am (I am neither of those things). I remedied this stomach queasiness with an enormous Diet Coke and a large serving of french fries to "settle my stomach" thinking that surely, this would help since 21-year-old Amy relied on hash browns and Diet Coke as she learned to navigate the world of drinking. 

When I arrived, I felt grosser, but again thought, yeah, of course you're nervous: you're leaving behind everyone you love to meditate for 10 days in total silence. SEEMS ABOUT RIGHT. As our first night progressed, I began to feel so tired I thought I might die (again, chalking it up to "Of course you're tired --- long drive, sitting in a dark and silent room, blah blah) and fell into bed thinking I'd wake up feeling fantastic.

Instead, I woke up feeling like death had come to take me, and wishing that it would.

I absolutely refuse to write about the full details of this stomach flu online, but let me just say: imagine being deathly ill, with all the accoutrements of a gastrointestinal disorder, in a dorm-style bathroom you're sharing with 10 women. No privacy. No sound barriers if you know what I mean and I THINK YOU DO. I woke up in a pool of my own sweat while simultaneously freezing and all I wanted was for someone to pet me and put a cold compress on my neck and take me to a place where I could lose every nutrient I'd recently consumed in private dignity.

If you know me, it's likely you know that one of my weirdest quirks is my absolutely paralyzing vomit phobia. The last time I'd vomited was when I was 14 years old and it was HORRIBLE. Since then, I've employed a variety of tips and tricks to keep myself from ever puking again. Yes, I've discussed this in therapy and NOPE, it didn't help. There is nothing in the world I dislike more than puke --- my own or that of others. I just cannot. CANNOT. I know, I'm going to make an incredible mother one day. 

So, you can imagine how traumatizing it was for me to break this 17 year streak of vomit-free living in a horribly loud and dramatic fashion outside my cabin because like a small child, I couldn't make it to the bathroom. 

To my credit, I did not bail on this retreat the minute that happened. I crawled back to bed (after cleaning up, I'm not a monster!) and proceeded to sleep for the rest of the day, minus a few interruptions to tell the course manager and teacher that no, I wasn't able to sit and meditate, mostly because I couldn't move or breathe or think without wanting to end it all. I was told that I absolutely had to come watch the video teaching discourse that evening, so as not to miss further instructions and encouragement and I hauled my poor, sick self to sit on a cushion to watch and had to leave twice to get sick and then fell asleep and awoke to my own snoring. I'm sure everyone around me was like LEAVE, ALREADY. 

I woke the next day still feeling like hot garbage and tried my best to follow the schedule. After attempting to eat some oatmeal and regretting it immediately, I asked the course manager if people normally went home when they were this ill. She was quick to tell me that yes, some people did, but that I would have to talk to the teacher. I spent the rest of the day trying really hard to find my center and get into the meditation practice.

I don't know if it was illness or my own defeated attitude or the reality of what happens at a meditation retreat, but it just wasn't happening for me. I sat and tried to meditate on my own breath but was distracted by not feeling well or worrying I'd infected everyone else. I don't want to write a lot about my feelings on the style of meditation practiced there, but as someone who does take meditation pretty seriously and incorporates it regularly, I didn't feel super connected or peaceful when it came to this style. There were fleeting moments when I felt peace, but those mostly came when I walked around outside. Also? I WAS SO SICK. I couldn't find my groove to save my life.

Once I started mentally flirting with the idea of going home to my own bed and toilet and bathtub and cat, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I'd known that I would have moments when I felt like running away --- I'd honestly had them since I pulled into the center. But once I gave myself permission to listen to my body and be really honest with myself about whether or not to go home, I couldn't stop.

I told the manager that I wanted to go home, and she explained that I would need to meet with the teacher again. I sat down in front of the teacher and explained that I was still feeling horrible, and had lost two days of the course and that I thought that I really, really just wanted to go home. 

Again, I don't mean to speak poorly of this style or the center or anything about this practice that is amazing for many, but to be honest, I was stunned by what the teacher said to me, which was basically that I shouldn't be a person who assumed that spirituality was easy and I should "just trust her wisdom" and stick it out.

This is where my own internal bells and whistles started going off beyond not feeling well.

There are people in my life I consider teachers --- and I am so lucky. One thing I both love and hate about them is that they absolutely refuse to give advice. I have asked my yoga teacher numerous questions about what I should do or how I should accomplish something, and she has the same response every time: What do you want to do? Why would you trust anyone other than yourself? 

To have someone who'd had two very short conversations with me suggest that I couldn't handle hard things and should just "trust her wisdom" made me squirm. I looked her dead in the eye and said, "You know, I'm a person who really struggles to trust myself, but in this situation, I'm going to: I want to go home."

What I told her is not untrue. I struggle to trust my own wisdom on a daily basis. I can't order a coffee without second-guessing myself and one thing I've been working on a lot is doing exactly what I want to do, how and when I want to do it. For so many years, I've believed that what I had to offer wasn't quite up to snuff with what others had to offer, or that my way was immediately wrong because someone might not like it. But you know that little voice inside of you, and that feeling you get when you know you're doing the exact right thing for you, even when it's scary? That's just what I felt when I announced that I was going. I felt free and whole and strong. 

And then, of course, I felt terrified for a minute or two. Leaving this retreat felt scary. Is there anything more humiliating than talking something to death and then failing? I'd been planning this since January. In the weeks leading up to it, I'd felt alternatively terrified about going and also desperate to go, simply so I could hear my own voice and thoughts. Before I left, I wrote in my journal that all I wanted was to emerge braver and more clear about who I am. 

I got both. I'm in no way someone who is down to barf or anything, but I faced my biggest fear and didn't die. And most importantly, I listened to myself, and trusted what I heard. And then I took action.

It's been interesting being home. Some people made jokes about how they knew I couldn't shut up for 10 days, har har. Others told me they were "disappointed" or "surprised" that I couldn't hack it. 

Others (my favorites!) unequivocally supported me and understood that I got exactly what I needed...it just looked a little different than I'd planned. 

 For someone like me, quitting and not following through and setting myself up to be judged but being willing to do it all anyways is the single most liberating thing I've done in years. I think the best part is that I just don't care. I had approximately .5 seconds of worrying about all the judgment I'd face and then, I got in my car and drove away anyways.

Some experiences belong only to us. I can talk about this experience until I'm blue in the face, but only I know how sick I was, and how sure I felt when I decided to leave. And as my friend Lyndsey so wisely texted me when I told her I was coming home, "These things only mean what we let them mean."

To me, this experience meant one more step towards trusting my own voice and moving by my own spirit. Here's to all the steps after that one. I have a feeling they'll come a little easier this time. 

 

On 10 Days Of Silence...

As I write this, I'm surrounded by piles of clothes and blankets, ready to be rolled up and tucked into my bright pink suitcase as I take off on what might be the craziest journey I've ever been on: a 10 day silent meditation retreat.

When I tell people that I'm going, they assume it's some sort of glamourous yoga situation: hours of practice with a sprinkle of meditation, glorious fruit plates and a big pool and "spirituality lite." I wish. Man, do I wish.

Instead, I'm leaving for a hardcore, wake-up-at-4-AM-meditate-10-hours-a-day "retreat." The entire goal is noble silence: no eye contact, no touching, no reading, no writing, no communication of any sort, with any human being. NO iPHONE. I don't even know.

If you know me, you know I'm a communicator. It's something I pride myself on. I am the person who will reach out to make plans. I rarely let a text go unacknowledged. I show up. I love to share how I'm feeling with those closest to me and I like to think I'm a decent listener. I believe in the power of being vulnerable, that connection matters and that we have incredible power to love and care for those around us, and we should. I believe that the world owes us nothing, but boy, we owe the people in our lives the world.

And yet. There's been something missing for me for awhile. Just over a year ago, I spent several days in bed, paralyzed with sadness. And while I've been able to get out of bed these days, that sadness and longing has not completely dissipated. I've tried yoga and running and therapy and talking and mantras and chocolate, and here I am, with some really beautiful good days and some days when I feel so lost I can barely breathe. 

One thing I've figured out about myself this year is that I'm really good at showing up for others, but I'm pretty terrible at showing up for myself. This means that often times, my life feels like a roller coaster I'm not in control of: am I feeling loved? Did I get a good reaction? Is there more that I can do? I want to share my feelings --- but not if it will upset you. I want what I want --- but not as badly as I want you to have what you want. I want to be happy --- but I want you to be happy even more.

It's exhausting. Because a big not-so-secret life secret I'm figuring out is that people will hurt you, usually unintentionally. People who love you will make you feel like you don't matter, and people who you love deeply will change their mind, and it can all feel so unbelievably painful. And when you're living in a way that makes these things paramount to your happiness? Whoa. It's impossible to ever feel like you have a firm grasp on who you are and what really matters. 

A year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to complete about 40 hours of silence with lots of meditation. When I finished, I felt so free and so clear. I was so angry and resistant to doing it, but when it was over, I felt like I had released things inside of me that I didn't know I was still clinging to. I felt something open up in me.

Many people (basically everyone in my life, really) has asked me the same questions: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? I've heard everything from it sounds like a waste of time to it's impossible that I'll even make it to the idea that this must be a cult. And I try to explain, because even though I'm TERRIFIED --- more terrified than I've ever been about a trip --- I'm going.

I'm going because I need a break from the things that consume my mind most days. I'm going because deep down in my bones, I know that this is what I need to do to move forward in my yoga practice and in my journey towards being my best self. I'm going because I find peace in meditation, as painful as that is for me to admit and as much as I resist it. I'm going because I want to get clear on who and what matters to me, and how I want to live. I'm going because I want to get out of the energy of others in my life and get into who I am, deep down, without any sort of anything from other people. 

I'm going because I hear over and over again that the love and the answers and the truth I'm seeking so desperately already exist inside of me, and I want to find them so badly. 

I'm going because I want to show up for myself, and this seems like the way to do it. 

I'll see you on the flip side, hopefully full of more love, compassion and self-acceptance than I can even dream of right now. 

 

On running...

I've never been good at running, yet, I have always had a weird fascination with running. I considered runners to be the ultimate athletes, with their lithe limbs and tiny shorts. Every single year, since 2007, when I made my New Years resolutions, "Run A Half Marathon" would find its way onto my list. I would resolve to "be a runner" and bust out the Couch to 5K program, some running shoes and have at it...for like two weeks before once again deciding it wasn't for me. I joined a few running groups but would always be thwarted, usually by my own lack of discipline and one time by a fractured foot but mostly because I just couldn't commit to making it happen, despite wanting so desperately to be a runner. 

As I shifted to a healthy lifestyle from one that had been sedentary, I attempted running every few months, despite the fact that I hated it. Long time readers of my blog(s) will remember that several years ago, I swore off running for good. It became such a source of stress, particularly as I lost weight, because it seemed as if EVERYONE was a runner: why shouldn't I be? And yet, I just didn't like it. It doesn't feel natural in my body and as any runner will tell you, it's HARD. There are those occasional magical runs that make you feel like you're floating on air but mostly it's an ugly slog towards your destination. At least for me. 

Even after swearing off running, it still haunted me because it felt like this giant goal I'd never found success in. Running felt like this insurmountable beast that I could never conquer and it became something that seemed to symbolize how I see myself at times: as a quitter, as not quite disciplined enough, as someone unwilling to be uncomfortable to achieve something great. 

A few months ago, I found myself feeling incredibly sad and uncomfortable, to a point of near-desperation. I saw a notice that my yoga studio would be partnering with a local running store to do some half marathon training. I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to sign up. I hadn't run in years and I was afraid of failing once again. And yet there was something in me that knew this was part of my journey, and something I needed to do, for me.

I signed up. I spent Tuesday nights and weekends running with a group, and early mornings and late evenings running all alone. Just me and my iPhone, tracking my miles and blaring horrible rap music. Sometimes I would run and feel all of my feelings all at once, and sometimes, I would zone out and temporarily forget the sadness and frustration I was feeling. I would never say that I loved it, but I started to feel so proud of myself every time I finished a scheduled run. 

I told very few people what I was up to. In the past, I've broadcast my goals all over the place and this time, it felt so intensely personal and like something that was just for me. I needed running to be this thing that was hard and uncomfortable but also totally private, and just mine. I was part of a group, but as training continued, I spent more and more of those runs by myself, getting comfortable with being really, really uncomfortable. I didn't want the pressure of other people asking how it was going. Also? In all reality, I didn't want another public failure in this arena. 

Yesterday, I finally met my goal of running a half marathon, on the hottest day of the year, no less. The race itself was HOT and hard. A groin strain that had come on a few weeks ago came out to haunt me around mile 8, and at mile 10, I got a cramp so bad that I had to sit down. Before I left yesterday, I tucked money into my little pack along with my energy chews just in case I decided to get a cab midway through the race, and I considered it more than once. 

Around mile 11, it hit me that I was going to do this. In a totally magical moment, Katy Perry's "Roar" came on, and it all felt so perfect, and of course, I started to cry. 

I cried because it hurt and I was hot and tired.

I cried because for so long, I believed that I couldn't do it.

I cried for the girl I was seven years ago, and the girl I was four years ago and nearly 100 lbs heavier for whom running a mile was an impossible feat.

I cried because as I approached the finish line, I realized that I had spent months shifting this belief that I was an undisciplined quitter and this was the culmination of all of those uncomfortable moments, both mentally and physically. 

I cried because I proved myself wrong.

I cried because I DID IT. 

I don't think I realized how big of a deal this was for me until it was done. Yes, it's an accomplishment to finish a half marathon, but that felt small in comparison to all the things I learned from the process. I didn't realize how deeply ingrained many of my negative beliefs were, about who I was and how I show up in the world. And slowly, week after week, I've chipped away at all of them. Crossing that finish line yesterday gave me the evidence I needed to say, "See? You're not that girl anymore."