6am

Quickly, quietly, and without any lights on, I slip from the bedroom into the office where I quickly shut the door. I’m not sure how well it seals in the sound, but in my head, it’s like I can barely breathe until I’m divided away. I want this time for me but I know he prefers to keep sleeping.

And then, I sit. My socks, that I wear to bed every night, save for the hottest summer evenings, get pulled off gently to allow my feet to stick to the mat. It’s dark when I begin but I know that by the time I end, it won’t be. My corner of the world will wake up with me. Gently and gracefully.

The double window in the office provides a sweeping view of the rest of the neighborhood. Perched at the top of our hill, with the window facing the houses and streets that cascade below, I see everything. Well, not yet. It’s still early. But I will see everything in time.

Without any light, either outside or in, I close my eyes while I sit cross-legged on my mat. My eyes are notoriously terrible in the dark. I was once on a long car ride to Maine with my boyfriend (now husband) and when it got dark, he asked if I’d like him to take the wheel for a while. I agreed and not much longer after that we were streaming along a mountain road. He started to slow and, not seeing anything ahead, I asked why. He said “Seriously? You don’t see that moose in the road?” and I felt red and ashamed that my eyes had failed to spot such a gigantic beast.

In the silent house with my eyes closed in the dark, all that I can hear is my breath and the fan of the heat when it decides the house is too cold and the temperature must be fixed. And I begin what is a practice of muscle strength, concentration, will, balance, and peace. Moving from posture to posture, working out quirks as I go, and coming up with new ways to hold my frame to get the greatest boost.

The sun begins to rise and the dark blue sky shades lighter with pale pink and lilac on the edges and I begin my sun salutations. They raise my heart rate enough that I sweat just a little. It creates heat in my arms and legs as the sun, now hitting the horizon, adds copper and golden tones to the sky.

When I’m finished with my set and standing at the top of my mat, the sun’s rays are now hitting the tree tops and I can see smoke rising from chimneys. Some rooms in the other houses are lit from the inside now with the stirrings of morning.

After a few final postures I finish on the floor, sprawled out in a relaxed position usually relegated to bedtime but brought out at dawn to solidify both body and mind before the day ahead.

And then his alarm goes off at 7am and I know that the rest of the day has been set in motion. The sun is up, I am up, and I am finally, truly awake.

The Beach

I hated the beach. For as long as I can remember I did, anyway. Filled with grating sand always stuck everywhere and squirmy weeds that feel like predators brushing legs.

It was grotesque, really. Swimming with crabs and bacteria and letting that get stuck in as many places as the sand did.

Unsanitary.

And then there was the hot sun berating my skin. Even on a cloudy day it was killing me and planting new freckles, or moles, or precancerous cells. I always liked my porcelain skin, almost see-through on the inside of my forearms (and most other places) so I guess I learned early that red was not a flattering color. Maybe for clothes, perhaps, but never for skin.

Not even when my face would blush tomato red. I hated that feeling, too. The feeling of embarrassment to the point of physical reaction, uncontrollable, that told everyone just how uncomfortable I was.

What an evil body — pointing out my thoughts on my face without my consent.

I guess red was never my color. Nor was tan, or brown, or any other beach color except blue and shade. And porcelain. But to keep myself pale and beautiful, I ostracized myself from the beach people. They eventually learned not to invite me because I always said no. Except that first time, anyway. That first time taught me to say no every other time.

What the hell is so great about the beach anyway? Squinting sunshine, hot, sweaty, nearly naked when I was taught to be modest, and fearing the ocean’s uncertainty. Who gives a shit about volleyball and iced tea and sand castles and reading when I’m busy just trying to battle the very nature of what the beach is.

The Bridge

Alone, I stood at the entrance to the forest near home. There was a winding path that I loved to walk, through towering trees, that led to a rickety wooden bridge over a river that once barreled through but had lost its power and was now only a small trickle of its former flow.

I walked the path, hardly needing to watch my step since my feet knew where all the stones and roots obscured even ground. It felt like seconds until I came to the bridge but I knew it was at least a mile. As I approached, there was a small gap in the tree canopy that let a little light shine through onto the bridge and small stream below it. Among the dim glow of the forest in daytime, this sliver of bright light was striking.

If it were Sunday rather than Saturday, maybe this might have been some karmic sign, something etherial telling me something. But, being Saturday, I convinced myself that no cosmic signs from the universe where being presented.

It was just timing.

My Movie Scene: Life as Art

In the perfect moment, when I feel victorious, I’m consumed in the final scene of the movie about this act of my life, and I’m silently contented. It happens rarely and is so powerful that even if I hadn’t felt victorious before, the moment will make me feel that I have been.

It starts with one of a few activities, most commonly walking or driving (people watching and sitting in a coffee shop also work, but are less frequent). There’s a song playing but it’s not just any song. It can be many songs but not every song works. As it plays, time slows and everything I do is more deliberate. It brings me headlong into the present moment.

I am living now in perfect clarity with no more thoughts.

In my mind’s eye, I don’t just see what I’m looking at. I see myself as the subject in a camera frame that doesn’t really exist. It slowly pans out, always focused on me, as I’m moving along.

I’m the one driving the car towards my dreams in the end highway scene from Good Will Hunting.

I’m in the scene from the end of My Girl 2, except rather than it being Nick walking away with his stupid love sick smile, it’s me walking away, determined and happy.

In the moment, not only am I happy but I feel like I’ve won. It’s the perfect ending to the movie being made about this part of my life. Whatever battle I’ve been fighting has ended and I’ve emerged the champion. There are no more thoughts–just feelings–and it’s pure bliss.

I’ve won peace of mind, clarity, happiness, and the brief moment in time when I embody positive emotions. My body is coursing with energy usually hidden deep down somewhere and I know that there’s nothing else I can do but savor this. As long as I’m present and fully engulfed, it will last. So I smile and embrace it. It’s fleeting so I drink in every bit of it I can get. Don’t talk to me, it’ll stop it. Don’t look at anyone or think a single thought–I’ll lose it. It’s so urgent that I hold this happiness to keep it from running away when it breaks.

Keep.

Going.

Stay with me.

But,

It fades.

As much as I try to hold on, it will fall away. My thoughts come back and I return to being the me that everyone knows me as, with complex thoughts and emotions, and not just a grinning idiot blissful in the moment that my thoughts stop and I bathe in wondrous feelings.

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” – Oscar Wilde

My movie scene is just that–art. But this art happens in my life and in my head. This art is my life for the seconds that I’m in my scene. My movie scene is my life as art.

It’s the most spiritual thing I’ve ever experienced. A deep awakening of this inner life happens and makes me feel intimately connected with my mind, body, and the universe in a way that nothing else has ever triggered. It’s spontaneous and organic. I can’t make it happen but it often happens when I need it the most. It’s like it knows I could use this win.

If I’m being honest, it’s probably the reason why I understand what people talk about when they’re talking about the soul.

For me, the soul is just a state of consciousness. When my movie scene plays, my experience becomes completely cerebral. I’m aware of everything and am absorbing what I sense, but my mind and my consciousness are open. I’m fully present. My awareness acts on my behalf. It’s part of me, maybe even the essence of me, and it’s showing it’s power.

I imagine that people who regularly practice meditation may feel like this at times during their practice. It feels like enlightenment and I’ve been given access to a deeper level of emotion. In that moment, I’m truly experiencing everything in life. And as long as I remember that feeling, I’ll always be striving for it.

The most disappointing part of it all is that I don’t know how to make it happen. I can’t enter into an activity, put on a certain song, and float away to this other state of consciousness. I can’t stretch it out and make it stay for hours. It’s locked inside most of the time and I welcome its appearance in my life, but it’s shy and hidden. It won’t happen when I won’t be able to appreciate it.

But if that’s the most disappointing part of achieving bliss and living inside a work of art, I’ll take it. Living through a moment that can be described as art really is as magnificent as it sounds. I just wish that I could bottle up the moment and send it to you, because that would be easier than trying to create art about art.

Healing Decade Old Wounds

At the beginning of October, I departed Massachusetts for a quiet town in Maine, just south of Bangor, for a yoga retreat. With a number of different things going on in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to gain new perspective on where I am and where I’m going.

I drove up the coast and felt good as I pulled into the driveway of a quaint old farmhouse. The drive was beautiful and the foliage was vibrant. The farmhouse, though simple and rustic from the outside, had been remodeled to accommodate guests ready for yoga and mediation. As soon as I had arrived, it felt familiar and I was comfortable.

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Actual scenery from the retreat.

We had an introduction to the weekend. Cell phones were to be turned off, yoga and meditation were to be practiced, and words were not to be spoken. Yes, it was a silent retreat. At first, I thought I’d have no problem with it and I didn’t for a while. The night of arrival went well and the majority of the next day was quite pleasant.

There were ample walking trails to meander and walking them brought me into a damp, leaf filled wood that reminded me of plenty of other forests that had soothed me before. It felt so nice to be in that quiet by myself and be so present in every moment.

As the day wore on into evening, I got the bug to write so I did. (What else was there to do?) I scribbled out pages upon pages, seemingly emptying all of the thoughts I’d ever had. I wrote, smiled, felt glad to be writing so much, and kept writing. It turned into a writing exercise and I challenged myself to describe the kitchen in detail. I wrote about feeling like this flow of words was rare and how I needed to savor it. As I savored, words kept coming. The writing seemed endless. It could go on for days if I kept this pace! I could write a book!

And then it stopped. The words went silent. My pen stopped moving. As soon as the writing stopped, so did my joy. I didn’t know it then but my peace was breaking away from me and unrest was fast approaching. I put my pen and journal away as it was nearing the 9:30pm lights out and found my way up the unevenly crafted but sturdy old staircase toward the room I shared with two others. I tucked myself in and the lights were out. I didn’t have the trees, or wind, or notebook to help guide me anymore. It was just me.

I began feeling uneasy that night as I stared into the pitch black room. I know I was looking at the ceiling but I couldn’t see anything. I drifted in and out of sleep and in and out of nightmares. All of those nightmares centered around myself in my high school years when I was angry at the world for everything but couldn’t pinpoint a single bit of where that anger came from. I had visions of people I hadn’t talked to or thought about in many years, some even more than a decade. None of it was good. It felt horrible as I checked my watch every few hours to see if it was over yet. Is it morning? Can I get up? It wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I waited and finally the bell to wake everyone up at 7:30am sounded. I was finally able to get up and out of my head–except I couldn’t. I was still stuck there because I had no where to turn. The day that lay ahead of me was filled with more time in my head meditating, doing yoga, and staring out at the landscape as I tread through the paths of the grounds.

After breakfast, I’d resolved to break a rule. I was going to use my phone. I had to. I had to feel connected to something. It wasn’t the phone itself but who the phone could lead to. People I love are on the other side of that phone and naturally, when upset and scared, I retreat to my safe place: my husband. Only, it was 8:30am on a Sunday and there was no way he was awake. I felt even more alone.

I laid on my bed trying to write something but nothing came. I kept telling myself that I should stay and stick it out because I committed to doing this retreat (except I’d committed before I knew how terrible my brain can be to me.) That was challenged with how I thought my husband would advise me. I kept hearing him say “If you don’t like it, just come home.” He was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him but I know it’s what he would have said.

I toiled over this decision for a good hour before resolving that I would leave.

I packed all of my things, which wasn’t much, and toted my bags downstairs. I told a fellow participant I had to leave “for family reasons” and exited.

Walking to the car, I felt some guilt packaged with the wonderful sense of freedom. I’d let myself down for not staying and enjoying myself but I’d done myself a great justice by realizing when I’d hit my limit and leaving.

I drove and every mile that I traveled further away from the retreat and closer to home, I could breath more deeply and feel more comfortable. That day, as I pulled into the parking lot behind our apartment building, I was so grateful to be home.

Over the next few weeks, I recovered from traveling that deep within my thoughts. I’ve recovered and realized that as much as I did feel pain from all of those thoughts and nightmares, it helped me. There was some positive in it.

Since the time of anger in my high school years, I’ve always felt anger towards that time. The emotions that I felt then are the only bits that I could recall from that time so I ended up hating that time and those people. In reality, I was lost and scared and felt like the weirdest person on Earth because no one I knew was like me. No one I knew felt this way (or at least I didn’t know it if they did). I was angry because I felt alone.

Something happened on the retreat that allowed me to feel the uncomfortable emotions from high school and set them free. It was the exact same set of emotions that I had in high school and I didn’t even know it. I was at a retreat with some people who were probably really cool but there was a rule: silence. I couldn’t speak to them nor them to me and it felt so utterly lonely. Again, I became angry and upset because I felt alone.

The scale is much smaller (two days versus four years) but eventually, feeling the same emotions can help release some old but similar ones. I’m thankful for the retreat because it allowed that bit of unexpected healing. Those feelings have broken free–like I’ve managed to acknowledge and validate them and that’s all they needed to leave me.

But I’m not sure I’ll be going on another retreat anytime soon.