The Importance of Conversation and Connection

I am a shitty friend. I tend to neglect friendships by not keeping up, or arranging lunches or emailing regularly.

I don’t know why I do this, but I do.

When I was a kid, and people would compliment my mother on how good her children were, her stock response was, “They thrive on neglect.”

I don’t know about the “thrive” part, but she was certainly honest about the neglect.

I am always amazed and deeply grateful that the people in my life who I consider friends, who I value as friends, who nourish me and comfort me and make me laugh, who touch my heart and enrich my life beyond measure still want to talk to me, and see me, and seek me out, and hang with me even though I neglect them.

I want to tell them I’m sorry. I want to repent my shitty friend ways. I want them to know how much I appreciate their generosity in the face of my stinginess. I want them to believe that I love them even though lots of times they don’t really feel it due to the way I act, or don’t act, in feeding the friendship.

I am grateful that they don’t die as friends a result of my neglect.

I just spent four and a half hours talking to a woman who only recently has become a friend. We met for dinner at the local brewpub at 6 pm and didn’t stop talking until 10:30 and we could have gone on way longer than that but I had to get home and post this blog before the clock struck midnight in order to preserve my streak.

The  conversation we had was a meditation, a sacrament. I felt heard and I heard. I felt seen and I saw. I felt understood and I understood in return. The food came, the food was taken away. The waitress brought the check and it was ignored. The intensity of the conversational energy was so intense that, even though I saw people I knew, they didn’t approach to say hello. (One of them slipped me a note on his way to the bathroom to say “hi,” that’s how intense the conversational vortex was.)

Towards the end of the night when the kitchen was closed, and the staff was cleaning up, and there were just a few people left, the intensity subsided enough that a waitress who I love dared to venture over timidly, and then my trainer paid a visit, but that happened way later. In the heaviest of the conversational force-field, there was no restaurant, no other people. There was just dialogue.

Sometimes I feel lonely in this town. Who am I kidding? MOST of the time I feel lonely and alienated here. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: this is not my tribe.

And while it is true that the dominant and ruling tribe here does not align with my values or my politics, there ARE people with whom I share a worldview and who I feel deeply connected to. These people save me. They save my sanity. They mitigate my loneliness. I would miss them if they moved and I couldn’t sit and have dinner with them and just talk for hours.

If they neglected me, I would not thrive.

I would wither.

Namaste, dear ones.

 

Rich in Friends

Right after I posted last night, G sat me down and said,” Look. Nobody is paid what they’re worth. Nobody. Who could afford to pay either of us what we are truly worth?  We are Linchpins.  We don’t work for money anyway. We express ourselves authentically in the world. We never look at the “job description” and keep ourselves in line with that. We serve. We have a work ethic that says, in effect, “Do the best work you possibly can.” So don’t worry about money, Kath. Just keep doing what you are doing, because what else CAN you do?”

And she was right. And she made me feel so much better.

Right before I shut down for the night, I saw that an email had come in from my dear friend Zee with the subject line: “About Money.”

Here’s what she wrote:

Sweet friend, it really is NOT about money! For this lifetime you have been given the gift of love, of adoration, by people who value YOU and don’t put a price tag on your contributions, which are too numerous to even mention. It’s like having sponsors, benefactors…. You are the one who makes life an art, so you are the sponsored artist. Michelangelo? Embrace the gifts dear friend. You deserve them. You don’t have to earn them.
Love, zee

My heart broke open.

I am rich in my friends. I am rich in my relationships. I am rich beyond bank accounts and bottom lines.

How do I let myself get so turned around about all this money stuff? Sheesh.

Today we finished up my taxes and now I am ready for the accountant.

It’s all good.

It really is.

Nothing to do, nowhere to go.

I woke up this morning and looked at my calendar on my phone and there was nothing there. No commitments, no place I had to be, or go. Same thing tomorrow. 2 days in a row of blessed nothing.

So I stayed in my pajamas. I ate cinnamon toast, 2 cups of Ethiopean Yurgacheffe, a soft boiled egg.

I picked up Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking which I was about three quarters through and sat and finished it. And wept. Then I watched her TED talk, and signed up for all her social media and cried again watching the video of her song “The Bed.”

Crying in the morning is exhausting. It definitely sets the tone for the day.

I washed my face, brushed my teeth, got dressed.

I dinked around online a little. G went out for the afternoon so I was home alone.

I made chicken noodle soup from a rotisserie chicken we had eaten the legs and wings from last week while it was hot.

I chopped carrots and celery and onion and sauteed and stirred and thought about vulnerability and how much I am armored and if I would ever be able to be vulnerable, and what that would look like. My mind was a blank. As blank as the snow outside the kitchen window. As blank as this page.

I decalcified the humidifier. I walked Boomer.

I wondered if I am grateful enough. I decided, no.

I downloaded an app called Gratitude 365 onto my phone where I am more likely to keep a gratitude journal than on paper.

I need to build some serious gratitude muscle.

The soup made the house smell amazing. G came home. We slurped our soup and caught each other up on our day.

And here I sit, in my cozy lair, wearing a shawl that one of my students knitted for me, feeling hugged. Feeling grateful.

I Couldn’t Burn My Journals

People tell me I help them. I like to hear that, of course, but the truth is, the people who say that to me (my yoga students, and more recently my Health Coaching clients) often help me ten times more that I help them.

I am not being humble here. It’s just a fact.

Here’s a recent example.

That “journal burning” plan I described in my last post? Yeah. It never happened.

I mean, it almost happened. I had the mountain of my life all piled up, the chiminea all set to go, I had a big pitcher of gin and tonics at my elbow to fuel my courage. And then I lost it. I couldn’t do it, even though the conditions were perfect, and I had it all reasoned through.

I couldn’t light that match.

After a mini nervous breakdown,involving a lot of snot and tears, I downed that big pitcher of G&Ts, went to bed and slept like shit. Got up early the next morning, depressed and slightly hungover. I had an appointment to meet a client.

I put on my best Health Coach face, but he saw through it.

“No, no, I’m fine,” I insisted.

“Are you sure? because you don’t look like yourself.”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

That day we took our meeting to the track for a “Walk and Talk.”

He hates to walk. He was grumpy. I was grumpy too, so to take his mind off his hatred of walking, and mine off my defeated mood, I told him my story of the journals and the aborted bonfire.

“And you know what the big take-away was from all this?” I said.

“No. What?”

“Nobody changes.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am dead serious,” I said. “Think of anybody you have known for a long time–10, 20, 30 years or more, even yourself. Have you really changed? I mean really, fundamentally? I’m talking your basic nature here: your propensities, your weaknesses, your strengths?

Aren’t they basically the same today as they were 30 years ago? Haven’t you just been cycling through paler or more vivid expressions of who you have always been since you were like, 20?

We walked another lap in silence.

As we walked I sorely regretted saying that. Not that I didn’t believe it, and not that it didn’t seem painfully true for me after just having read through the last 40 years of my life in those damned journals. But I was saying this to a client (who also happens to be a friend) but who has come to me to help him CHANGE and here I was telling him that I didn’t believe people really change.

After walking a lap in silence, he said, “What about war? Or personal tragedies like illnesses or deep loss? You don’t think people change when things like that happen to them?”

I had to concede.

“Yeah, maybe. But from what I have seen, when horrible things happen to people their essential nature tends to becomes more revealed; it comes into even sharper focus.”

“Can we stop for a minute here?” he said.

“Look. It seems really clear to me that you are not ready to burn those journals. Is somebody putting a gun to your head? Why don’t you just put them back in the bin and deal with them some other day? Or maybe not at all. Someday you may be ready to get rid of them, but it’s certainly not now.”

So I took his advice, went home and put them all back under the basement steps. I felt instantly relieved, unburdened, and happy.

And the moral of this story? Or at least one of them?

People come into your life for a reason. They come disguised as friends, co-workers, clerks in stores, lovers, students and antagonists.

Sometime you welcome them, sometimes you try to avoid them, but they all have a part in your story, and they all help advance your plot.

I am so happy (now) that I didn’t burn my journals. Had I done so, that act might have had ramifications down the road that I now see I might have regretted. My friend was able to feel my resistance and mirror it to back to me, and for that I am so grateful.

Namaste, friend. Namaste.

 

Strengthening the Love Container

People sometimes break down in yoga class. They fall apart. They shatter.

It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens regularly enough so that I have to be prepared for it.

When people shatter, it’s usually because their “container” isn’t strong enough to hold whatever emotion detonated within them. They don’t see it coming. They get blindsided.

They come to class perfectly happy, perfectly okay, all, “Let’s do some s-t-r-e-c-h-i-n-g and get this old body moving, shall we?” And then BAM, out of nowhere, they are in a fetal position on the floor, a quivering mass, not knowing what hit them.

This is certainly not what I want to happen. I want to get the dosage right. I don’t want to lead a person in a practice that is going to break their container, but it’s really hard to know sometimes.

They might be physically strong in their body, but don’t have enough endurance. Or their inner focus or self-awareness hasn’t been cultivated to a high enough degree yet. Or maybe it’s the case that they have an energy leak somewhere that I can’t see, or possibly know about.

But me? I have a very strong container. I can hold a lot of pain. I can endure. I have practiced enduring and holding and witnessing and not making a story out of it, for years. “I have been churned,” as my Pranakriya t-shirt says. I can’t believe I’m not butter.

But last month, on my birthday, I shattered into a million pieces. And what broke me, what shattered my container was not pain, but love.

Here’s what happened.

For the 19 days leading up to my birthday, I got up to find a little wrapped present on my placemat every morning.  Little things: Pick-Up Sticks, a yo-yo, a DVD of cartoons from my childhood, PopRocks. The picture below shows them. One morning I  found a Pogo Stick. Another morning, I found that PhotoShop had been installed on my laptop. It was crazy! It was amazing!

But on the morning of my birthday, there was no wrapped present, just G’s laptop with a bow on it. I opened it, she pushed “Play” and I watched, stunned, then a little tickled, a movie of my life.

She had rummaged through old, forgotten-even-by me pictures: pictures of me as a baby, as a young child, as a teenager, as a college student, as a mother, as a yoga teacher. She had learned IMovie, and scanned all these photos into her computer, arranged them, and put music under them.

At first my reaction was, “Oh God! You have got to be kidding!” I cringe-laughed at my young-self, with the ridiculous bun high atop my head, the old school pictures of me in my Catholic school uniform and clip-on bow tie, but as the movie proceeded, it slowly began to dawn on me what this was really about: this was about love. Her love for me.

It became clearer and clearer as the movie progressed that this project had taken weeks of research, and a lot of care and attention to detail. This wasn’t just a movie; it was her way of showing me how she saw me. I didn’t recognize, nor could I accept this me.  My container began to leak, then the fissures got wider and wider until by the end of the movie there was nothing I could do.

I simply broke. I completely shattered. I could not breathe through wracking sobs that seemed to have no end.

I did recover, though. We laughed, and I regained my composure.

That night, she held a little party for me at the local brewpub. There were little fondant yoga people on cupcakes, there were coasters with pictures of me in various “eras” of my life. She thought of everything.

A lot of my favorite people were there.

 

And I loved it, but even now, almost a month later, when I think back on that morning watching that movie, I can still feel the echo of that pain, that shatter reverbing in my bones.

I keep wondering: What does it mean that I can contain physical and emotional pain, but I can’t contain the weight of love?

I know how to design a yoga practice that will help me (and my students) strengthen the container for pain; I know how to befriend and witness discomfort. But love?

I can’t figure out for the life of me how to design a practice that will increase my capacity to accept and contain the amount of love that is offered to me on a daily basis. Most people fear pain, but it seems to me that love is so much more volatile, and scary, and enormous than pain, and I don’t know how to “train” to “contain” it.

You’d think by now, living with this wonderful and loving woman, that I could bench-press a lot of “love weight,” that I’d be in shape for this Olympic-quality love, but I crumple like a soda can under it; I almost can’t stand to look at it. I feel unworthy in its presence.

When my yoga students “lose it” on the mat, my advice is always to take a step back, to start to build from a place of established strength. Stay there for a while, and begin to approach the edge gingerly, with curiosity, with openness, with genuine interest in finding out. I suppose this is the way to strengthening for love, too. Start with a dosage I can handle and gradually “up” it over time.

This is going to take some time, but it will be time very well invested.

Another Trip Around The Sun

Yesterday was my 60th birthday, and I am here to report that after years of searching, I believe I may have finally hit upon a way of thinking about aging that doesn’t make my insides curdle, and find me staring at the ceiling in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.

I think I have actually hit upon a consoling metaphor that  makes me feel happy about taking one more trip around the sun.

And it is actually that very idea of “taking another trip around the sun” that has captured my imagination.

Here is the thinking that is making me feel happy: Everyone is born on some random day on this pretty blue marble. It spins in space around the sun, with us on it, and when it gets back to that random date where we started, we have completed one year and have a birthday.

On that day we get to pause, and if we like, kind of “assess” the ride.  Like getting off a roller coaster and going, “Whew! That was, (fill in the blank): exciting, intense, exhilarating, frightening, nauseating, etc.

Every year has its particular ups and downs and ins and outs. Within each year there are times of quiet and times of turbulence. Since this roller coaster ride lasts a whole year, lots of different things can happen.

But when it slows down as it nears the “born on” day, the starting point, you get a chance to get off and think about the ride that just ended. You get a chance to look around and see who shared your ride: those who shared most of it, or only parts of it; those who made the ride more joyful and more interesting; those who made the ride easier and more comfortable, and those who made it a bit more difficult.

And this is what I have been doing for the past few days: assessing my ride, taking inventory.

So here is this year’s assessment:

I am healthy and vibrant and full of energy. My relationships are amazing. I get to do work that I not only love, but feel is the work I was put on this earth to do.

I feel loved and valued and appreciated by all the people who have shared this year’s ride with me. I cannot think of a single person who has made my life difficult in any way.

This has been a sweet, sweet ride. I feel not just happy, but ebullient. I want to get back on the ride and go again!

Can we please go again? Please??? I want to take yet another trip around the sun. If I make it, this one will be my 60th go-round. Some people don’t get to go that many times, but I’ve been lucky enough to have had lots of rides. And I want many, many more!

I want a chance to experience ups and downs and ins and outs and backwards and forwards and fast and slow and easy and hard and happy and sad. Can we please just go again?

And can all the people who have made this year’s ride so amazing and wonderful and joyous, can they all come too?

The other night I paused over my candles, took a big breath in, closed my eyes, and made my wish. As the smoke rose from the  candles, I took my seat, strapped myself in, and prepared for yet another trip around the sun.

Starting Over

For a long time this blog has been a lie. When I started it back in 2009, its purpose, its founding intention, was to be a place where I’d report on inspiring people, places and ideas. I would live my life looking for such things and report my findings here, I said.

And for quite a while I chugged along happily with that intention. Then the fracking circus moved to town. And that completely and utterly derailed me.

I became terrified at what I was seeing. I became distraught to the point physical hand-wringing and heart palpitations.

I became frantic to get out of here and to find a place to live that was safe, because I no longer trusted that this would be, or could be, such a place.

And what was even worse, I felt like a paranoid lunatic because so few people shared my fears. Yeah, everybody bitched about the constant parade of residual waste trucks, water trucks, the flatbeds with their enormous piles of gargantuan machinery making it impossible to get anywhere on time anymore, but in the next breath they would say something about how good all this was for the local economy.

My inspiration sources began to dry up as quickly as open fields turned into wastewater ponds, old buildings were razed or repurposed for fracking-related businesses, and well pads sprouted where corn used to grow.

The idea of writing a blog called “Inspiration Location” seemed ludicrous, not to mention naïve and foolish in the face of this. I could no longer read my “About” page anymore because it sounded so Pollyanna-ish. “Oh good lord, I thought, “I said I was going to go on an inspiration hunt every day, and now look at me, my sole survival strategy is to just put on my blinders and try not to see.”

“Inspiration Location” felt like a lie. And I felt like a fraud whenever I approached the creation screen to write it. I thought seriously about killing it: taking it down, and starting over with a concept blog that I could write with more authenticity.

But in the end I didn’t kill it; I kept it and I still wrote on it, albeit sporadically. I made a conscious decision not to write  about the fracking issue, though. If I couldn’t be inspiring, at the very least I would try not to make this my personal residual waste dump.

In my real life I spent a lot of time researching other places to live, cleaning out the basement, paring down for an eventual move, and occasionally writing here about oh, you know, stuff: sipping gimlets on the deck, practicing yoga, what I had for lunch—all that boring stuff the pundits advise not to write about if you want a blog that is read.

Fact was, I didn’t want to be read. “Inspiration Location” my ass.” I thought.

I clung to my daily rituals: writing in 750 words, and doing my home yoga practice to keep me grounded, stable, and operating with a certain level of unmedicated optimism.

Now the price of gas has gone down, and with it the truck traffic. Most of the white trucks are gone. The countryside is still staged for fracking, but the circus has moved to another town. It could all start up again tomorrow if the winds of profit shift, because everything is still in place and ready to go,

but….

In this little reprieve, I have had a chance to catch my breath.

And to be able to breathe fully, deeply and easily is a blessed thing, believe me.

It takes away the panic. And with this drop in panic has come the desire to find myself again, to find the self I was when I started “Inspiration Location,” the self I was before the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play came to town.

Right now, I am sitting here, watching birds at the feeder. Right now, there is a normal flow of traffic on the road in front of the house. A new year has started and with it a new/old desire to notice the little things again, and to become brave enough to remove some of my filtering screens.

I want to focus again on delight: a long soak in a lavendar-scented bath, a glass of pinot in front of the fire, a fat novel on a freezing cold day in January, the shocking red of a cardinal flying into a brown flock of sparrows.  And, of course, the daily miracle that is my life as a small town yoga teacher.

In a few days I will turn 60. I have just completed most of a memoir. I have also recently finished another 500 hour yoga teacher training. I have resussitated a dormant meditation practice and I am challenging myself to a difficult power yoga practice every day. I continue to grow, and I would even say, flourish.

I am still looking for that place to jump to in case the gas drilling circus decides to come back to town in a big way. I am a person who needs a “Plan B.” But for now I am practicing gratitude, and trying to notice, and then write down, what inspires me each day.

I recently found a little piece of software called Happy Rambles that I like. Each night before I unplug from the internet, I open my email and jot down in Happy Rambles the sweetest things I can remember from the day that is about to close.

I want to go over that list each week and pick something and write about it in more detail here. I want to make this my Inspiration Location again. I want to make this the place where I deposit the memories of my moments of wonder.

I want to amass a collection of those things that delight me and put them here, in one findable (and searchable!) place so that when/if I ever despair, I will know where my treasure box is, and go there and paw through it to locate my most authentic life. Because really, whenever I am noticing amazements it is then that I am who I really am. It is then that I am living my life with integrity.

When I never forget that my life is amazing, and that I have an infinite capacity to love and be loved, and that it is the little moments, the small things, the everyday miracles and goofinesses that make it such fun, and such a kick, to start yet another amazing trip around the sun? It is only then that I can claim that I am truly living this one wild and precious life.