That Time I Died.

I’ve shared the below ramblings in case there is someone, somewhere, out there who has had a similar experience or is going through one right now, who may be able to relate in some small way. So much of ourselves is locked away inside our minds, unable to be expressed through language. This is my feeble attempt to capture a tiny portion of my experience in words, for anyone out there struggling with a transition, questioning their life’s purpose, or looking for a sign that it’s time to change.

I think I died recently.

Not physically, of course; but some piece of ‘me’, the person I was, passed on and left a naked, shivering soul in its wake, a soul whose layers of identity have not yet fully developed. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. The process started a few months ago, subtly at first, when I began feeling the unrest that comes with an acute bout of doubting one’s life path, one’s career, one’s values. Then the pangs of unrest grew to waves of questioning what I should change, what direction I should aim for, who I should be, what I should let go of. The universe reached down into the churning water and offered me a hand in the form of a career change – one that would pull me out of academia, out of science communication, out of the safety and security of a well-worn path. But that safety and security had been suffocating me, even if it allowed me to work from home and make my own schedule and not feel huge amounts of stress.

Why was I so unhappy in that security? I still don’t fully know. Partly, I felt that my growth was stunted – even as I was finding joy in new hobbies and interests, there was a nagging feeling that I wasn’t realizing my potential, and that my heart wasn’t beating with joy in my work. And that troubled me. My work colleagues and supervisors were lovely people, and I appreciated the mission of the work – it just wasn’t my mission anymore. I had also become jaded with some of the aspects of my line of work, had lost enthusiasm for communicating on social media, for aspects of academic science and the disconnect I felt between that science and what we should be doing to heal our planet. It was a lot of things really.

So when the universe reached down to me as I churned in those waters of doubt and curiosity and fear and wonder, I took a leap of faith and grabbed that hand. It came in the form of a completely different line of work, with a non-profit focused on ancient yoga, meditation, philosophy, and wellness practices. I know this non-profit intimately, as I’ve studied with the head monk for a number of years. Now I would be working for him. My heart leaped, but stomach dropped, my mind whirled. I listened to my gut as best I could but still had no real idea whether this was the opportunity that would push my personal growth and nurture self-fulfillment. This is not a chill yoga studio job, this is a job that requires huge inputs of energy, attention to detail, dedication, vision, and stamina. In fact it’s more than a job – it’s a commitment to a vision about how to live, about preserving sacred knowledge and upholding traditions that I still don’t fully understand. It’s about opening oneself up to scrutiny, shedding any sense of what ‘should’ be, and of diving head first into a different worldview. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do it successfully. All I knew is that I had asked for a shift, and the shift came to me. I had to at least give it a shot.

Before officially starting this new job, I journeyed up to Monterey and Carmel, California, a region I used to live in and where part of my heart still lies to this day. It was a beautiful week of reconnecting with dear friends, building deeper relationships, wandering the magical coastal trails and marveling at Monterey pines, oak woodlands, and fields overflowing with wildflowers. My heart grew as I spent time gardening, cooking, connecting with beautiful people in ways that I could never adequately express gratitude for. Every little moment was a deep joy. And, as a dear, wise mentor once told me – Joy and Love vibrate at the same energetic frequency.

Then came the day I had to drive back home. It was a strange mix of feelings – leaving a place I had already left years ago, to go back to a place that was both older and newer to me. But this time it felt different. My body tried to hold me back. The magic of that place had caught me in its delicate web. As I began my drive south along the Pacific Coast Highway, the visceral pain hit me. That’s when the tears burst forth, my heart exploded, and my death began.

The convulsions were like little earthquakes of emotion that had stored up for years, waiting for this moment to release and rip me open. Tears rolled down my cheek and neck and soaked my shirt as my beloved Monterey faded into the coastal mist in my rearview mirror. The sobbing was unusual for me, foreign, as if I was watching someone else’s emotional outburst from outside my own skin. I let it flow as best I could as I stared out over the crumbling cliffs and deep roaring ocean below, mentally telling myself to keep both hands on the steering wheel. There was a point along the drive where Big Sur was behind me and I knew that after this next curve of the road it would be gone from view. It felt like a definitive transition point from north to south, from my past self to whatever self was about to manifest. I had to pull over at a dirt turnout and just breathe. I wasn’t ready yet. I needed to soak in that past for just a bit longer. I watched deep blue waves crash in slow motion against the cliff bottoms, white water swirling and disappearing back into the blue. I absorbed the layers of mountains stretching beyond view in both directions, linking land to water, capturing clouds, pouring themselves into the ocean. I reminded myself that that place is still there, it will always be there. That place and those memories and love I have for it exist and evolve just as I do (or don’t). You can never go ‘back’ but you can always circle forward.

Eventually, the tears dried up a bit and an internal shift gently nudged me that it was time to continue my drive south, ‘back’ home, ‘forward’ into the next phase of my journey, where I was leaving the comfort of a ‘safe’ job for one that would undoubtedly push all my boundaries and test my limits. I felt overwhelmed, numb. But with a deep breath, I pulled my car back onto the highway and looked forward. New waves of tears hit me throughout the drive, but I kept going, kept being.

“Nothing comes ahead of its time, and nothing ever happened that didn’t need to happen.”

― Byron Katie

I didn’t know how to express it then, but more recently I listened to a recording by Byron Katie, a practitioner of self-inquiry (whom another dear friend brought to my attention). Katie described a difficult time in her life in which she ‘died to self’. She realized that the person she identified as herself no longer existed, had never really existed, and she had to come to terms with what that meant for her life and how she related to other people as a result. At first it was jarring for her – she cried for weeks, months, she said – but eventually she realized that the death freed her from false identification. The tears became tears of joy and wonder at the magic of life. She was, she is, we all are something, but we don’t need to be a certain ‘thing’. We give ourselves and objects names so that we can relate to each other, but beyond those names we are all connected in a continuum of experience.

Every word she said rang true to me. Katie described how telling people her name felt like a lie, even calling a chair a chair felt deceptive, because that’s not really what it is, it’s just the closest approximation we can give via language. More and more over time I’ve felt untrue when I describe who I am to people. “My name is Kristen,” I’d say, but I’d wince. Who is Kristen, really? “I’m a science communicator.” Lie! What does that even mean? I didn’t feel connected to my work or that description of myself anymore. I felt like the world was much broader, that I was a small piece of something massive, something indescribable, and my life’s goal was to understand what that was just a bit better. When I heard Katie describe a very similar process of self-shedding, of re-establishing what it meant for her to negotiate the world around her, it clicked into place for me. Aha! I thought. I, too, had died to myself. Perhaps I had not had the full spiritual awakening that Katie described, but it did feel like a death followed by the beginnings of a re-birth, painful and freeing at the same time, tears filled first with sorrow then with gratitude.

A large piece of my former self died after that trip, or thanks to that trip, and the emotional response that accompanied it told me that my body and mind were shedding the weight of that identity which had held me down for so long, like a chain keeping me just beneath the surface of the ocean. Identities can end up suffocating us, whether they define our job, our family role, our ethical standpoints, or our lifestyle choices. Shedding some of my identity was terrifying, heart-breaking, but ultimately so healing. If nothing else, quitting my previous job and throwing myself into the waves of unknown gave me that gift. At least I can now reach the surface and take a breath before dipping under again. Without death, we cannot have renewal. Nature knows this, but us humans tend to forget. Re-visiting Monterey, a place so meaningful to me, also gave me that gift. It opened me to the links between past, present, and future; of the beauty in each moment and the potential in the next. Even if my new job, or my new layers of ‘identity’ that inevitably build up like plaque, eventually need to be sloughed off again, that emotional release I experienced (and continue to experience) will have been worth it. And that’s what I have to remind myself each day, especially the days when I feel useless, or out of place, or wistful.

During the first few weeks of my new job aka my new ‘life’, my emotional state continued to fluctuate wildly. I was still shedding the last bits of that old layer of identity, often via tears. During my drives to work, I started listening to the podcast on Non-violent Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (recommended by yet another wonderful friend).

Besides providing the soothing comfort of listening to the voice of man who sounds like Mr. Rogers describe concepts like compassion and self-awareness, the podcast also magically pulled together everything I had been feeling, experiencing, and learning over the last few months. Life is beautiful like that. You don’t necessarily need to know what you are doing or where you are going, just have enough faith to know you are where you need to be in this moment. And as I sat in my car on my new hour commute to my new job-that’s-much-more-than-a-job, I started to feel more confident about those little moments.

Nonviolent communication emphasizes deep listening, to ourselves and to others, as a way to express compassionately what our needs are and how we can honor and fulfill each other’s needs. Our entire language – how we speak to others and what we think about ourselves – can shift away from assumptions about who and what we are, toward more fluid and meaningful concepts about what we need to grow and how we can cultivate empathy together. I realized that my internal dialogue is incredibly judgmental and static (as is the case for many of us, presumably).

My recent ‘dying of self’ had cracked open a new way of seeing that made me uncomfortable because I didn’t have the proper language or context to understand it. How can oneself die? It’s only possible if we understand that we are fluid, changing entities that are always in a process of death and birth. Dr. Rosenberg explains how we limit ourselves and our needs through ‘I am’-heavy language that weighs us down and keeps us locked in identities (I am American, I am lazy, I am old, I am strong, I am weak), instead of language that indicates how we feel or what we need in a particular time and context (I am tired today, I need to rest). Society has used static language to reinforce power structures, create loyalty, incite war, and make people believe they fit into a particular box. We only exist in the boxes we create for ourselves.

A few days after I started listening to the nonviolent communication podcast, I was sitting with Swami at the end of the workday as we wrapped up. “Our organization is based upon nonviolent communication,” he said to me. “Clear communication is very important for maintaining transparency and strong sense of fellowship.” I blinked and nodded my head. I hadn’t mentioned the podcast to him. This was one of those brief moments that countered all the self-doubt, the waves of fear and questioning, the agonizing over whether I made the right decision to change my life. Here was a little dose of magic, life connecting dots for me, of providing a little overlap in the various streams of thought and meaning in my life. Maybe it was a coincidence, but maybe it was a gentle squeeze from the universe to let me know it will be alright. Everything is connected, I am right where I should be in this moment.

***

On my drive south from Monterey, I made one other stop, at the General Store in Big Sur. I wanted to extend my time along the central coast for as long as possible, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. So I stopped and dawdled for a bit. When I came out of the store, I noticed a table strewn with paintings and sketches, in the middle of which sat a sign that said “Free Art.” Usually I’m too shy to approach people and risk opening up a dialogue in such a case, but today was unusual. I had nothing to lose. I walked up to the table and greeted the man sitting quietly beside it, presumably the artist. He wore an old baseball cap, his skin was ruddy and softly wrinkled from years of central coast sun, and when he smiled I saw he had a few teeth missing. He radiated a calm, gentle energy.

One of his art portfolios was spread open on the table and a painting caught my eye immediately. It depicted a spiral, emanating from sort of sea serpent that only materialized after a few moments of observing the painting. I was intrigued and asked the man about it. “If you asked me about any other piece of art, I could tell you the story of it. But this one, I don’t know. I just had to paint it, and I kept painting until I felt it was done.” He looked up at me and continued, “You should take it.” It reminded me of the Fibonacci spiral, a concept that had come up in recent discussions with Swami, and with friends. The Golden Ratio, found throughout nature and the inspiration for much of classical architecture and art. I gladly accepted the art, telling the man this meant more than he knew to me, especially on that day. “Wait one moment,” he replied. “Just sit down here, open up to a page in one of these poetry books” – he motioned to the stack of books on the table beside his sketches – “and I’ll be right back.” I opened one of the books to a page of poetry about surrendering to God and life, and one about just sitting without expectation. He came back within minutes, and handed me a sticker with an image of cliffs and ocean and sunshine, and the words ‘Love Warriors, Big Sir’ printed across the top. I smiled and thanked him. Magical moments of joy amidst sorrow. I continued on my journey south after that, retaining the memory of that connection even as I rolled with the waves of emotion that swept through me for the rest of the drive.

Fast forward to last week, I’d been working in my new position for a few weeks and while I’ve still been adjusting to the dramatic change, I’ve been finding my center a little more each day. I have no doubt the emotional waves will continue to pour in and out, but now I am grateful for those too, for how they clear out my system, allow me to feel deeply, and to guide me toward truth. One of our projects last week at work was to create an outline for our website redesign. My task was to research how to use the Fibonacci sequence and Golden Ratio as the foundation of the visual aesthetic. Boom, full circle yet again. The connections are always there, ready to pull you back into the flow whenever you feel yourself hurdling into the far reaches of deep space. I don’t know where the flow is taking me (if anywhere); maybe it’s meant to take us deeper into ourselves until we realize we are each the center – and the periphery.

For most of my life I’ve felt that I’ve walked in the cracks in between identities, always feeling the internal battle associated with seeing ‘both sides’. I shrink back from conflict and violence, because I feel the fear and sorrow on all sides that create that violence, and I understand it. I want to placate it, but that is not always my place. I see why people defend their values so strongly, yet I see how useless and hurtful that can be. I understand why people are drawn to patriotism, or individualism, or religious fervor, or a belief in the scientific method. But I cannot align myself with any of those things. It has been the main frustration in my life though perhaps it has given me opportunities to find clarity. I thought perhaps throwing myself into this new line of work would finally allow me to pull myself out of the crack and land on a shore of solid beliefs that align with a particular community – but now I don’t think that is my destiny. I think I will always be following the cracks in between, walking the harder path, the one with more shadows and shades, unable to climb up onto one side of the other for long. I’ve never ‘fit in’, but what is there to fit into? What I am now realizing is that perhaps instead I am re-calibrating. I am not denying one thing (e.g., science) for another (e.g., eastern philosophy); I am instead finding my way through the center, realizing the value of each perspective and slowly accumulating the wisdom to understand the limitations of any one lens, no matter how encompassing it may be. The path between need not be lonely, if you give fully to yourself.

But who am I to know? None of us really knows, and that’s the thing too. We are all spiraling around each other in this mathematical sequence that most of us never even recognize, creating a constellation of human experience meant to propel us toward self-realization, if we choose to flow in that direction. And if we don’t? Well that’s ok too. The universe is still here, and we are still floating in it. And there’s always Netflix. And when Netflix is no more, perhaps we’ll go back to the stories of the stars.

Fibonacci spiral in nature (it underlies plant growth, animal growth, galaxies, and the universe).

Today I feel.

If there’s one thing everyone knows, everyone understands, it’s that emotions are both powerful and changeable. In these months of mental and physical isolation, of fear and fear-mongering, and of facing a future that seems more opaque than ever before, emotion can be a crutch or an avenue of healing. We are each trying to process our emotional state on a daily basis.

I’ve found that some days I am driven by anger, others by sadness, and more and more I just feel exhausted. But on rare days when a gentle breeze pulls me into the present or a wave of clarity washes through my brain, I feel fortified and ready again to be an active agent in my own story. I won’t lie and say I feel hope, or that I even believe hope is a very useful feeling (to me, hope is more about passive wishing, while having faith – in the world, in oneself, in a higher power, whatever it is – pushes me to purpose). But I do circle back to feeling inspired or in awe every now and then, and it is those moments I try to string together into a reality driven by compassion instead of more basal emotions.

I wish I had the capacity to express my current state of mind as beautifully as writers like Sarah Orah Marks in this piece for the Paris Review.

‘I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves,” she writes. “I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded…In fairy tales, the king is the king. If he dethrones, his bones clatter into a heap and vanish. Loosen the seams of the stepmother, and reach in. Nothing but stepmother inside. Even when the princess is cinders and ash, she is still entirely princess. If I had a machete I would use it to cut the mice, and the princess, and the king, and the stepmother, and the castle, and the wolf, and the mother, and the sons, free from their function so they could disappear into their own form.”

She so aptly captures the anxiety of working for an external goal for so long that you don’t even remember why you wanted it in the first place, and of the relief from letting that goal go so you can fall into your true self. As I continue on that journey for myself, of recognizing my own hands and learning what they really want to do, all I can offer is a stream of consciousness that logs my daily emotional journey.

Maybe you’ll relate, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll nod your head in agreement, or shake your head in horror at my internal monologue. If this is useful for you, great, and if not, may you find your own path through emotional growth. For what it’s worth, I’ve documented my emotional state over the course of several days, each day dominated either by anger, sadness, exhaustion, or resolve, as a reminder that emotions are capricious and beneath their tumultuous surface we will always have to deal with our true selves lying in the deep, still waters beneath.

Anger

lewis-roberts-lbaBN1OOGQo-unsplash

Today I am angry. I am angry at a world full of meaningless noise that clogs my ears and my mind and threatens to drive me crazy. I’m angry at the leaf blowers outside my home three times a week, and the weed whackers, water pressure hoses, and lawn mowers. I’m mad at the companies that hire the people to use these loud pieces of equipment to blow things around and chop things up ceaselessly so that there is never a moment of quiet peace. I’m angry that we care so much about cleaning streets and sidewalks and using leftover crude oil to pour them into existence over once beautiful natural land. I’m angry that trash collection begins at 6am, and that we even need trash collection at all. I’m angry at myself for producing trash, for giving into a society that normalizes the use of plastic-wrapped everything, convenience everything, mass produced everything, injecting us with the desire and need for variety and flavor and exoticness and excess and ultimately waste. I’m angry that a pandemic has made us even bigger plastic polluters. I’m angry that the only ones to ever benefit from a disaster are the rich and power hungry, and that everyone knows it but no one dares to try and change it. I’m angry that people aren’t taking to the streets every day to demand our leadership and our entire governance structure be dismantled. I’m mad at myself that I am not in the streets, that I don’t know how to be a charismatic leader for change. I’m angry that I don’t know WHAT we should be doing – should we be protesting in the streets, striking big businesses, demanding change by removing ourselves from the system? I’m angry that I still spend much of my day sitting in front of a screen typing meaningless words about topics that don’t matter if people want to be stupid and ignorant and greedy. I’m angry that so many people can so readily take advantage of their fellow humans because they know they are desperate, ill-educated, and want to believe in miracles and conspiracies because it’s so much easier to see in black in white instead of grey. I’m angry at the people who are smart but choose not to use their critical thinking because they are angry too, and their urge to proselytize overtakes their ability of self-enquiry. I’m angry at myself for taking so long to figure out what I should be doing in this life to be a positive force, not just a resource drag. I’m angry that I was born into a world overflowing with consumerism, with companies telling us we have to buy things to define ourselves, and for believing that for so long. I’m angry that corporations like plastic industries, cruise lines, airlines, and big oil get bailouts and subsidies while sustainable farming, healthcare, and education don’t. I’m angry that our world is so clearly a dystopia but few people seem to feel the need to break out of the mold or demand better. I’m angry at all of the disgusting, mindless television, the exploitation of people for entertainment, the sensationalized news media on all sides and the people whose brains get molded by them, and how stupid it makes people. I’m angry that so many people perpetuate violence and completely ignore it, based on the hundreds of choices they make each year about what to eat and what to buy. I’m angry that I don’t have more of a platform to invoke change, to help people, to push out injustice, to spread compassion, to contribute positive things to the world. I’m angry at so many people, and human systems, and the messes we’ve created, that sometimes I don’t feel it’s even worth it to want to help. Today I’m angry at the world, and I’m angry at myself for being so angry.

Sadness

matthew-henry-6x-hVXXiBxs-unsplash

Today I am sad. Sad for the millions of animals crammed together in dirty pens that never had a chance. They didn’t have a chance at life before the pandemic because they were in line to be murdered for steaks, wings, and bacon. No chance at life now because with supply chains broken, businesses are murdering them immediately just so they won’t have to spend money feeding them until supply chains are mended. I’m sad for all the people that never had a chance. The generations of abused and victimized that may have very well changed the world for the better and helped us evolve past our current brutality, if they had ever been given on small leg up and out of oppression. I’m sad for all the people that are so desperate for someone or something tangible to blame external to themselves that they will swallow the most outlandish lies that will only be a slow poison that leads to pain and death. Death of bodies, death of minds, death of potential. I’m sad that even in the midst of a global pause of the biggest machine on our planet – the economy – we can’t conceive of more creative and compassionate futures instead of just ‘getting back to business as usual’. I’m sad that we’ve failed ourselves. That we let our creativity and potential ooze out of us like sweat as we lounge on our couches watching celebrities watch TV. I’m sad that I don’t want children because I don’t want them to grow up feeling guilt, anger, loss, and suffering that, while it has existed through all time, is particularly gut-wrenching in this era. I’m sad that people still believe in ‘progress’ like it is a ladder to material heaven, where you can buy anything you want and everything grows bigger and bigger forever and you stretch so wide you don’t know where your mind ends and the lavish clothes and jewelry and cars and yard décor begins. I’m sad because all I want is to live in a tiny cabin on a few acres of land with woods and water, but this too is materialistic. I’m sad because it takes so much money to live so simply if you want to do it away from other people and noise and business. I’m sad because someone sprayed pesticides outside my apartment and now there are dozens of bees dead or dying on the sidewalk, writhing in confusion as their tongues splay out and they crawl in circles until they lose all hope and energy and give up. I’m sad because I feel isolated from everyone; I don’t want to watch TV, I don’t want to buy things, I don’t want to be happy and optimistic, and I don’t want to go back to normal. I’m sad that I can never choose a side, because I see all the grey and nuance in every situation and therefore ostracize myself from all factions. I’m sad because all of the best things about life – the magic of nature, the spiritual essence of ourselves, the beauty of our universe – is all trivialized by the pettiness of the small amount of our brains that we actually cultivate. I’m sad because I may never know the full capability of my brain. I may never discover whether I have a soul and how to free myself from bodily form. I’m sad that suffering is inevitable. I’m sad that the few in power can harm so many not in power, and that if we could all just band together we could create revolution, but people don’t tend to want revolution. They want to go back to normal. To go back. To revert. To recede. To hide in shells and hope that the waves of war, or disease, or disaster will wash over them and move on so that they can meekly pull their heads out again and continue crawling in circles in the sand. Today, I am filled with sadness.

Exhaustion

vladislav-muslakov-CwIU33KGToc-unsplash

Today I am exhausted. Everything in the world makes me tired. My brain hurts from the millions of repeated messages and useless soundbites perpetuated across every media platform. I’m exhausted by people who’ve lost all sense of empathy for their fellow humans – or anyone else for that matter – and who for some reason want to slave away for an inanimate ‘economy’ instead of figuring out what a system would like that could support peoples’ livelihoods AND their wellbeing. I’m so tired. Tired of seeing the same tone-deaf stories over and over that never broach the root causes of all our problems. I’m tired of fighting for the narratives that have been buried, I’m tired of being angry about all the misrepresentation, misleading, misquoting, misogynism. I’m tired of people. I’m tired of everyone complaining about not being able to go to concerts or Disneyland. I’m tired of people in power telling us that workers want to go back to work and we should let them – they don’t WANT to go back to work, they just need to be able to survive. I’m tired of a lying government, and of an entire country and world that for some reason is afraid to hold that government accountable, so afraid of one insane man that they let him destroy people’s lives, destroy the environment, lie to the public, and get away with anything. It’s absolutely exhausting. I’m tired from trying to stick by my ideals while I watch the majority of people revert to tribalism, violence, prejudice, laziness. I’m tired of the memes, of the ‘let’s use this pause to expand our consciousness’ tropes, of the people who say they appreciate this pause but aren’t planning to do anything different when life starts speeding up again. I’m tired of living in my brain that won’t stop churning with anger, sadness, and disappointment. I’m tired from reading about all the productive things everyone else is doing while I lay in bed wrestling with mental darkness. I’m tired of people wanting a cure but not once thinking about how they could have helped prevent a pandemic in the first place by choosing to support fair, compassionate, sustainable entities that don’t destroy or exploit animals, wildlife or the environment; but instead they buy everything on Amazon, from China, on sale, in bulk, never considering that the better the deal, the greater the behind-the-scenes suffering may be. I’m tired of trying to explain that disease is not something that just appears, it’s a direct result of our interactions with the world and our choices. No one wants to listen, so why put the energy into it? I’m exhausted from spending the better part of my life fighting to get people to care about how they treat our world, only to see that world continue to disintegrate under the weight of willful ignorance. I’m exhausted from trying to avoid all the news that’s pure vitriol, all the entertainment that’s nauseous distraction, and all the opinions that want to be heard regardless of whether they need to be. I want to be far, far away from it all, alone, in solitude, where I can rest, where my body can rest, where I can learn to move with the currents and cycles that we evolved with, not the ones forced upon us by corporations. Today I’m completely exhausted.

Resolve

tobias-tullius-eGn1DLGBkUA-unsplash

Today I am resolved. I’m resolved to feel the emotions that rise and fall within me and acknowledge from whence they came, and resolved to let them subside so that I can begin to learn what equanimity is, what a baseline of peace is, what it means to not be ruled by emotion but by one’s inner voice, one’s intuition. I am resolved to find little (and maybe big) ways to feel like I am contributing something of value to the world around me, whether it’s through an attitude, a behavior, a creation, or a conversation. I resolve to not berate myself too much on those days where I lay in bed for hours bemoaning existence and suffering, and resolve to have days where I do get out of bed and practice gratitude for the ability to recognize beauty and compassion. I am resolved to not let the narrow-mindedness, prejudice, fear, or anger of others be my own downfall. I’m resolved to learn how to not rely on my outward mask (not my physical mask of course, but the mask that holds in my true self) for protection, and to instead worry less about how people perceive me and focus more on how to be true and strong. I’m resolved to live by my own ideals even if the ideals of those around me continue to deteriorate. I’m resolved to search for the essence of my creativity so that I never succumb to the greed or anger that so many others are buried in right now, that is so easy to sink into. I am resolved to give myself time and space to breathe, to look inwards, and to practice letting my intuition guide me. I’m resolved to express gratitude to those who help me thrive, or help me see beauty, or love. But I am also resolved to not be lulled into false contentment by an overflowing stack of gratitude journals, 30-day yoga challenges, and mindfulness podcasts that end up as temporary distractions. I am resolved to find the real source of equanimity and peace, which is found by nothing else other than looking within, without distraction, without external noise, without checklists or stickers or material rewards. I am resolved – no matter what emotions may well up within me – to always enjoy the wonder of a blooming flower, the bright whiteness of floating clouds against a blue sky, the flutter of a surprise butterfly, the superb jaggedness of mountain peaks, or the reflected light of sunset on the ocean water as it creeps up the beach. I am resolved to nurture compassion and positivity in my interactions with others, even when I am internally outraged or saddened. I am resolved to continue advocating that animals deserve their lives, that the planet deserves our respect, and that our actions always affect those around us, even when I temporarily feel that advocacy is futile. I’m resolved to confront my ego on a regular basis and adopt a lifelong practice of recognizing its limitations and never considering myself better than anyone else. I am resolved to go on, even when I may not want to, and to speak my mind when I need to. I am resolved to listen to my heart, to be kind to myself, and to do the best I can to live a life that is light, that transmits beauty and love, and that transcends the pitfalls of egotistical drives. I am resolved to be who I need to be in this world.

Thoughts in the Wind

A fierce wind rattles the window, forcing itself through invisible gaps into the room where I lay. I pull a blanket up further over my chest and listen to the gusts howl, and feel the errant drafts cross my cheek. Wind carries life and death with it, and life waiting to live. Minuscule seeds; insects; bacteria; viruses; all held aloft for miles and miles on their airborne journey in hopes of fertile ground.

I, on the other hand, am water. My veins transport fluids that also harbor life and death; life giving nutrients, dead cells to be disposed of. I feel heavy and uncoordinated. I yearn to flow and ooze into a mold that will unburden me, that will give me a shape so I can stop wondering what it is I am. But the liquid also cools my mind, and though my vision through it is hazy, it magnifies certain images so that I may examine them in all of their horrifying beautiful detail.

When the sun burns with its fire of life, its heat courses through my watery veins and reminds me that liquid has no shape; it is a shape-shifter. We have the magic to define who and what we want to be – if we can see beyond the illusory bounds that try to contain us. We are water people reliant on air, and fire, and earth too. Through our breath we bring in the knowledge of the universe, and through our feet we touch the wisdom of our own soul.

Fear is always easiest. It lives and breeds like damp moss on the underside of anger’s sharp rock. But a river flows freely across boulders and down deep ravines toward the sea without fear or anger. It flows with courage of self-knowledge. When it is no longer a river its energy still spreads and carries life and death, just as does the wind, and the soil.

It’s time to burn the lifeless shells within which we’ve hidden for lifetimes. The heat of creation is waiting for us to forge ourselves into vessels of peace and actualization. Will I let my ego evaporate with the beads of sweat on my brow? The fire may burn and scar, but we will be lighter for it, ready to scatter new seeds across the plains that will nourish those who come after us, if we are willing to tend to them. What will sprout from those seeds of intention?