Some small thoughts, like droplets in my mind.

Certainly, the emotion that most impedes progress in any endeavor is the emotion of fear. When I feel fear, it is a quickening in my heart, a sharpness in my in breath, a closing in of my mind. The world becomes smaller as my fears expand. Lately, I’ve been turning to the trees, looking up to the highest leaves and beyond to the clouds and sky. The world starts to expand again, and my breath slows, and my heart stills.

Certainty is what we seek. The feeling of uncertainty is most, most uncomfortable. When I’m uncertain, it can be incredibly difficult to elucidate 1) what I’m uncertain about, specifically; 2) how to handle myself in my uncertainty; and 3) how to feel certain once more. Maybe it’s impossible to ever really feel certain, but it’s important to attempt.

A realization from last night’s walk: when my dog runs up to me with her tail circling wildly, her eyes bright and wide, and her tongue launching wet gobs of happy saliva, it is briefly impossible to feel uncertain.

Next year I will be thirty. My friend Claire calls it “the magic of turning thirty.” I think I know what she means. There seems to be a noticeable difference between those women still meandering about in their twenties and those regal thirty-something ladies lounging on self-confident sofas. Six more months of aimless wandering before the beautifully consistent straight-and-narrow. Am I being too optimistic?

“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” – Pema Chödrön

Photo credit here.

Be Seen

Today is a wonderful day: International Women’s Day. Women all over the world are speaking up, speaking out about where work still needs to be done to foster equal representation and to encourage courage in the face of those who wish to make us small.

The idea that to change the world we must change ourselves rings very true to me. How can we bring peace into the world if we ourselves are not peaceful? How can we encourage loving relations in the world if we are not loving toward ourselves? Initially, this idea of changing ourselves can seem more manageable than changing the world. Physically, of course, the world is enormous, and it is indescribably complex. Yet, as we are with ourselves continuously, there is always an opportunity to change ourselves, any moment. However, women’s inner worlds are also complex. If you are like me, it can be difficult to look inside. It can feel overwhelming to unearth all the emotions, fears, preconceived notions, and anger. I believe that’s why we can spend quite a bit of energy trying to change other people, other situations, other modes of thought. Yet if we have hatred, how can we expect others to release their hatred? If we judge and discriminate against some others, how can we demand others to not judge and discriminate against some other others? It takes courage to change the world, but it might take more courage to change ourselves.

This year’s IWD theme: Be Bold for Change. Be bold for change in the world, be bold for change in yourself.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time this semester feeling small, not wanting to be noticed. I believe this is because I am in a new relationship, and I’m being noticed, and there is an excellent chance this person will notice aspects of my personality or habit patterns that I am not proud of, or that are holding me back, or that are contradictory, or maybe even harmful to myself or others. This is ironic, because I spent a good deal of time last semester desiring that someone would notice me, that someone would see me. What I realize now is that I wanted someone to see my good, but not my not-so-good. So I’ve been slowly shrinking myself in hopes that I just won’t be noticed.

But what an opportunity. There is someone who sees me, who is seeing me more and more deeply. I can show someone who I am, I can share with someone how I think, I can tell someone my fears, I can mess up and be afraid and trip over myself and that person can be a witness to all of that living. Someone seeing me so closely is really, really scary for me. But what can I do but to keep showing up, keep refusing to get small, keep encouraging the courage in myself? It hurts to be seen, it hurts not to be seen. Which do you choose?

Happy International Women’s Day. Remember not to focus only on how far we have yet to go, but also on how far we’ve come. Remember the freedoms that you experience every day in addition to where your freedom is restricted. Remember that you are not alone, and women all over the world experience heartache, jealousy, self-criticism, rage, and fear. Remember that we all want to be seen, we all want to be loved, we all want to feel safe, we all want to feel justified.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

What I really want to say is this…

It’s been over a month since I last wrote. I’ve been experimenting with some drafts…they’re patiently waiting to be completed. One is about being “likable”, another about coping with ignorance, and a third about the difficulty of change.

However, inspired by the writing advice of Natalie Goldberg, what I really want to say is this.

The greatest challenge of my life is living with integrity, honesty, openness, and love. However, there is no other way to live. Who do we think is going to do our living for us? What is keeping us from living the most beautiful life we can envision?

No matter how much self-criticism arises, I can consistently find pride in my efforts to live a good life. Effort is the key. Results are not keys.

What is it going to take for me to change? What am I waiting for? No one will save me.

Mind, show me your worst. Show me your scariest. Show me alone, unwanted, destitute, and broken; a total failure. I have seen your imaginings. They are childhood fears distorted in an adult reality. They are empty.

In two weeks exactly I’m driving away from this southern Oregon nest. Ashland has cradled me through my early to mid-twenties. She has brought unbelievably empowered and inspired young women as role models and friends. She has brought me the opportunity to grow with an outrageously amazing band. She has brought me joy unimagined, sorrows deep and black. She has held me in her arms and allowed me to struggle and strive. And now I uproot and grow towards the midnight sun, land of my babyhood and youth.

Playing at the farmers market dressed as a fairy angel.

Walking a path in Lithia Park and running into Elizabeth.

Picking blackberries with Henry; finding the herd of bucks.

Riding bikes home with Elliot in the warm summer evening.

Practicing in the hot teepee on Mountain, baby Eowyn naked.

Sitting out on the Caldera deck, my leg up on Frankie’s lap.

Late night talks with Ian in the Orange Avenue kitchen.

Smelling the wisteria in the morning at Squawking Hawk Acres.

Soon the memory of driving away will be added to this list, my car full of all the possessions I lay claim to in this world. It’s already all falling away: the bakery, the band, the Orange Avenue house, Ian, the last symphony concert. And yet, this is only the beginning of my one wild and precious life.

Image from pixdaus.com.

Three years

I’m in Alaska right now, enjoying the cold and the snow and the spruce. I suddenly felt called to work on my dear Positive Affirmations and saw a notice that it has been three years since I started this project.

I remember the night well: it was 2013 and I was living with my then-boyfriend Henry. He was working on nursing school homework in the living room and I was in our bed, reading. As so often happens with me, inspiration excitedly dropped in without warning. I envisioned a way to uplift women (and men) through poems, journal entries, quotes, inspiring books, and stories of strong women. I wanted to channel the life experiences I hold as a woman into words that could uplift others. Although I go in and out of writing regularly, I feel proud of what I’ve put together so far. I’ve had many women (and men) approach me with gratitude for what I’ve shared. Acting as an open book helps to heal myself. Vulnerability brings in the goodness and authentic connection.

A lot has changed in three years. My relationship with Henry has transformed into a dear friendship. I joined Patchy Sanders and traveled around the country. More ink has been carved into my body. I decided to move back to Alaska and apply for grad school in biological sciences. I took hallucinogens for the first time. I sat Vipassana again. However, I feel like I’m exploring the same themes as I was three years ago: how to cultivate self-love, the importance of friendships, forgiving yourself, Spirit, and vulnerability. These are common themes in our experiences as women (…and men) and they deserve to feel the sun on their faces.

I’d like to continue challenging myself to bring my ideas and pondering forth in the most beautiful, articulate way possible and to touch the most hearts. Thank you for reading.

 

She found herself where she had been finding herself

I received a healthy response to my last writing. That morning and afternoon I had been riding an inner hurricane. I had a good cry at a yoga class in Morro Bay, California. I felt like something opened in me and experienced a strong desire to share my history of Looking at myself.

I got an email from my dad this next morning. It said this:

Sara,

Make no mistake about it, despite whatever doubts you have had, you are now and always have been an incredibly beautiful girl/woman in both body and soul. Take a look at the attached, have you ever seen anything so beautiful? [Followed by a photo my dad took of me on one of our XC ski adventures.]

Love you,

Dad

And from my mom:

The wisdom and grace that you possess at a relatively young age is an amazing, beautiful thing. You have figured out many important things about yourself that took me many, many years to understand, and have given me so many gifts that sometimes you feel like the mom and I feel like the daughter.

You are always in my mind and my heart my spectacular girl. I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Plus support from many other loved ones. And shared feelings from women friends. Why is it so difficult for us to believe we’re not enough?

One of my favorite quotes from Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar column is this:

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

To accept something doesn’t require fanfare or vast effort. It is a simple decision made quietly. I accept what has been given to me by my loving parents, a healthy body and brain and heart.

Looking at myself

I’ve spent hundreds of hours looking at myself. Thousands.

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I took this photo with my phone after I had been gazing at myself in my bedroom mirror. I’ve since taken all mirrors out of my bedroom. Sitting in front of one sometimes felt like a black hole in time.

I started young. There’s a photo of myself that I have clearly suspended in my mind’s eye. I’m probably about two-and-a-half, naked, and in our downstairs bathroom. I’m brushing my hair in front of the mirror. I have an innocent, absentminded look on my face. It’s cute.

The childhood years were full of innocent, playful mirror gazing. Silly faces. Playing in the sink without even considering the mirror. Once I hit puberty and grew things like pimples and more eyebrow hair the mirror started to catch my attention. I remember standing to the side of the sink counter so I could get really close to get all those new dark eyebrow hairs. Get them with tweezers. Find all of the blackheads. I remember those strips that squeezed dry on my little nose. I remember burning my hair to a crisp with Angela to straighten out the curls.

For all of middle and high schools I wasn’t really concerned with my body, but with my face and hair it was a battle. I never thought I was beautiful in high school. I was always checking. Mirror checking, or window checking, checking in bodies of water. Checking to see if I was beautiful yet, hurry up, come on beauty, where are you? My parents often told me I was beautiful, but parents are supposed to say that. I see now how blessed I was for such amazing parents.

The mirror. Such a powerful thing, to view your reflection. To not only see your physical reflection but to assess, compare, observe how your mental reflection of the physical is so transient. Elation at the accepted, at the normal; depression at the rejected, at the strange.

The whole world shifted when I went to college and was aware for perhaps the first time that I had a body that was different than others, and that certain women’s bodies were idolized, noticed, and talked about more than others. I became very small so I could become very noticed. And thus began my more conscious journey with eating. I can’t even remember what it was like to eat without thinking about it. I often wonder if I will ever reach that ease again, that innocent, carefree state of nourishing myself.

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This beautiful photo of me was taken at one of the saddest times in my life, when I first moved to Mount Shasta. It’s important to remember that it’s difficult to assume the state of someone’s heart by their outside appearance.

Still, I miss all that hair.

I still spend hours looking at myself. In my bathroom, at the yoga studio, in store windows, in the rear view mirror. I still spend time with tweezers, although less than before. I still spend time with those blackheads, although I’m slowly convincing myself to be more gentle with my skin. I still have moments when I’m terrified of what I see in the mirror. How did I come into this strange body? Why do I have so much hair everywhere? Why does my belly look like that? How does it feel to be delicate, blonde, and pearly, translucently skinned?

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This was taken four minutes ago. This is what my 27-year-old self has grown into. This is the face that I look at every day, with love or with fear.

I also have moments when I look into the mirror and see an incredibly beautiful woman, a woman who has traveled the world for music, who has traveled the world for inner peace, who has traveled the world for love, who has run a marathon, who has climbed mountains, who has fasted in the wilderness alone, who is preparing to move home to Alaska. A very strong woman with long dark eyelashes framing blue-yellow eyes. And I gasp at all that beauty.