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I am addicted to a few things. Relationships and love are right up there with buttery cinnamon toast. I've been in a string of relationships since I was seventeen. At the end, even when I'm the ender, I'm terrified. I am scared of ending up alone. I miss having the comfort of another person to help me with mundane decisions and to comfort my sensitive being. And, in truth, while solo-camping will always be my thing, I totally and completely love having a co-pilot. I enjoy the joy of shared experience. I also love the multifaceted freedom inherent in not depending on another person.
At the end of a previous relationship, I tried being my own boyfriend. Yep. :) Anytime I felt a lack or longing for my previous love, I asked myself what I really wanted, and I responded literally and generously. "I want comfort. The perfect boyfriend would just take my hand, walk with me on the beach and downplay the drama I've amped up." I would literally put one hand in the other and walk with myself on the beach, talking myself down, comforting myself, laughing at myself. Falling in love.
It often doesn't last very long or with consistency. I forget, I get caught up, I don't put the time and energy into the relationship. I fall back into the trance of needing another, and often, fall back into not being particularly nice to myself.
At the end of a four year relationship that seemed to be headed towards the real deal, I was disenchanted, sad, empty. I remembered my evolution in the previous relationship gap, how good it felt, how whole I was, and wanted to take it a step further.
I said yes.
I found the perfect best man.
I called on my dear friend, follow writer, former Special-Needs Spanish scholar, Chris "Bama" Milucky. He had recently reached out to me, asking for permission to tell a story about our friendship in Dirt Bag magazine, the mountain biking 'zine he has a column in. He was stoked.
He went above and beyond. I arrived at his beautiful plot of land, in the middle of the Colorado, a little bit nervous. He had bought whisky, flowers, made me an aspen leaf crown, had a speech prepared, and was even more nervous than I was. I realized I was launching into the real deal. A life dedicated to loving and being there for myself. Whoa.
I said my vows in my pink tie-dye hammock, a vinyl record Bama picked playing on a fold-chair, the warm Colorado day folding into a crisp night. His speech transformed my nervous laughter into chills, and what was silly, fun, and wild, Bama dug into the ground with determined depth. It is courageous. It is not easy. It is exciting and sobering.
And he, of all people would know. He spends half his year, late fall, winter, early spring (Mountain bike off-season) living alone in rural Kremmling, Colorado, in an airstream, away from his wife, totally off the grid, and with cowboy grit. He has a wagon tattooed on his arm. "A wagon is my spirit animal."
We rejoiced, drank whisky, watched the cool indigo-blue sky turn to twinkle, danced silly in the airstream, laughed, giggled, and I eventually timidly walked to my hammock in the aspen grove to fall asleep. Alone. Newly married to myself. I felt happy, scared, lonely. I hoped the ritual would bring more power to my love for myself, freedom from need, offer peace to my days.
I woke up freezing. It was the summer! What the heck. I forgot about how the elevation of the area, and the westerly wild depth of this area that was set quite deep in the Rocky Mountains. I shivered. There was no way I was falling back asleep. I considered my options. I surrendered to Bama's offer to platonically curl up on the couch/bed next to with him and his dog Larry. And, so, I did. The warm body of my dear friend and his crazy dog brought me layered warmth.
I considered the meaning of my choice to return to someone, in this case, a man, for warmth after I decided to commit to a lifetime of fulfilling all my own needs. I surrendered to the moment. I could have stubbornly shivered until the sun rose, but I chose to be close to someone, to take care of my want for warmth and utilize my willing buddy. Yes, outsourcing is allowed. Sometimes I will want to take care of myself by being close to another. In this case, it was nice to be next to my friend who shares a serious care and concern for living a life well lived. I gave gratitude for him and our special-needs friendship.
Later in the summer, I went on to honeymoon on a multi-day solo-backpacking trek though Northern Georgia's Chatthoochie National Forest. It was phenomenal. I felt the love. I felt the freedom. I drank two cups of coffee in the morning if I liked, my wife was cool with it. I skinny dipped in isolated mountain pools, I meditated - gasping for breath - in super cold waterfalls, I made myself delicious meals, I took great care of myself, I stopped whenever I liked to sketch strange new plants. I had no one to answer to. It was brilliant.
I'm coming upon a year anniversary of this special night. I will be in Europe. I will celebrate.
In the last year I have gotten close to amazing people, particularly one. I have been entranced for awhile, on and off. My heart has been broken, several times. I have lost and refound myself, several times.
I finally got the ring, (rolling eyes emoji) I can't believe I procrastinated with the ring... I'm glad my wife didn't make a big deal about it. I got a beautiful tattoo I truly love, in Leon, Nicaragua while on a surf trip with 3 girlfriends. An indigenous friend told me to never get a tattoo that encircles and cuts off a whole part the skin. So, I got two incomplete bands. So much meaning... As I have discovered, after nearly a year of marriage, it is, and will never be, complete. Two wings of attention that a healthy marriage (and Buddhist practice) need to thrive: honest awareness coupled with loving acceptance. Being real with what's happening, and being soft and caring in it's acceptance. And, my amazing friend Colleen added that in the two openings of the rings, opening and opportunity to let another and others in is also symbolized. Beautiful.
This first year of marriage has been far from perfect. It has been special, sweet, fun. It has also been profoundly difficult, hard to maintain, and there was a serious learning curve. Falling asleep with (just) myself most nights has been the hardest. My guru said to snuggle up with a body pillow. A body pillow does not radiate heat, play with my hair, and tell me everything is going to be okay.
In the early and difficult days, Bama said, "I think you need to get a tattoo of a tractor." Whhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?
"They take a little while to start up in the morning, but by the end of the day, they just get the work done."
Note: when asking permission from Bama to publish this post I received the following gem in response.
A Story of Spiritual Connection in a Globalizing Digital World.
For a long time I have felt like I have been tuned into a frequency that allows me to feel the sadness of the violence and injustice many fellow humans feel in central Africa. I've never been clear on why, or why this place, or why it hurts so bad, or why it matters to me. Recently, for my graduate program, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into research about the wars, genocide, and gruesome violence that the children in central Africa endure. I felt overwhelmed with pain, heartbreaking compassion, and a feeling of guilt mixed of privilege and place. Because of the fast pace of the program, I felt the need to process the information efficiently, mechanically, and intellectually. I lost my usual sense of optimism and agency. Feeling disempowered and holding the issue without the normal humanity I am used to, I felt the need to just hug my African brothers and sisters, relieve their suffering, and mine, and just experience a human connection. I felt the need to process emotions that felt paralyzing. I felt a sense of urgency to get to a place of empowered positive outlook, to be able to do the work to contribute to the solution of children and violence happening in the heartland of our planet, in the middle of Africa.
I reached out to Mbali Creazzo, a South African priestess who was the source of the book 29 gifts. We shared Skype usernames, and I awoke early to log in and hoped for no technical difficulties. Mbali emailed me a minute before our session to tell me the electricity had been out in Cape Town for few hours and we'd have to reschedule. On the minute of our meeting, she informed me, the electricity reconnected, she assured me, this would be an important meeting, the ancestors had restored electricity for the occasion.
Mbali called upon my ancestors and consulted with them through a traditional spread of bones, shells, and artifacts. Through Skype, I heard her wise and strong voice, I saw her face of warm sun, she saw my swollen eyes, and it felt like I could smell Africa once again - a magical mix of Earth and Spirit. Here we were, all connected... she in dusty Cape Town, me in wet Florida, and my ancestors?
She began by communicating that my father's mother is with me closely, and that she is the one who has given me my medicine, the special gift I offer to the world. My original skepticism evaporated... my grandmother Norma, a daughter of Swedish immigrants, has given me, and all her offspring, undeniable and incredible artistic talent. In my role as an art educator I know art is perhaps the most precious power I offer. Mbali told me my Mother's Grandfather, my Grandpa Paul, is my current guardian, and has special intentions for me. My Grandpa Paul, like my other Jewish ancestors, escaped Europe, fleeing persecution, oppression, ethnic cleansing. He, even more than my other ancestors, was highly political, a proud socialist, human rights supporter, and a man who changed immigration law in his inspired action. She told me, that he along with my other Jewish ancestors, look to me as processor of the burden of genocide. She told me she believes, without doubt, it is my work to restore spirit to my ancestors who were victims of ethnic oppression and war and repair similar happening on the planet with my medicine... art.
She also said that, despite my skepticism, my intuition is accurate and my heart has a valid connection to Africa. "This is very clear: Mama Africa is calling to heal you, and for you to heal her."
At this I started crying the kind of cry that's hard to stop. I already felt, with some doubt, a very real, but unexplainable feeling of purpose involving: art, children, ethnic conflict, and Africa. And even without having personally experienced the Jewish Holocaust, I have always tasted it's blood in my mouth. I have felt, from a very young age, this feeling of the weight of the Jewish genocide on my shoulders; perhaps the residue of survivor's guilt, feeling both guilt and gratitude for living in the current privilege and comfort that I and many other white Jews currently enjoy. I have also felt from a young age, even before delving into research, a camaraderie with the African diaspora and our similar experiences of persecution, oppression, enslavement, and genocide. It feels painfully guilty to be apart of the diaspora that currently enjoys abundance, camouflage, relative safety, and ease of social mobility.
I cried and cried. It just poured out.
Mbali offered a comforting laugh. She calmly recollected that before our session, she took a nap in the blackout. She dreamt that her bed was overflowing with water. She said it was a message from the ancestors... I needed to cry and I needed to heal by way of water. She said I needed to process the pain of the lineage of genocide. She said I needed to use water to heal the wounds of the genocides of the past to offer my medicine to the genocides of today and the future. She said I needed to process the guilt. "You cannot work from guilt. You need to work from a different place... a whole place." She said I needed to reunite with Jewish ritual and begin African rituals of ancestral offerings. I needed to go to the water, the Atlantic ocean, often and offer milk, alcohol, conversation with the dead. She said, most importantly, I needed to offer my hungry Jewish ancestors, who were victims of genocide, a feast, it had to be on a full moon. She said that in the conversation, my ancestors will communicate through the ocean, and I had to listen.
It turned out that Passover, a Jewish honoring of injustice and ethnic pain, Good Friday, a full moon, and a lunar eclipse would be on the same night/morning, and I called upon some friends to join me in a morning of ritual and offerings. They had all recently lost someone, and felt moved to join in the process. We arrived at 4 am and set up our boards.
I gave my offerings to the sea.
I began my communication with a clear intention to listen to my ancestors. My conversation was filled with apologies, gratitude, and thanks to my Jewish relatives on the other side. When I asked them to please help me serve and support our African sisters and brothers, I offered white flowers, and at that moment the most gigantic wave of the morning came on shore and covered me. I responded with, "Thank you."
My friend joined me offering, as she had recently lost a dear one. We cried.
We did yoga, while watching the setting moon eclipse.
We paddled far out to watch the new day's sun rise.
When we returned to shore, we witnessed two other spiritual rituals in motion... Same time, same spot.
We saw surfers had gathered to do a "paddle out," a traditional send off with the ashes of a recently passed fellow surfer. As we had done this not too long ago, for a friend of ours, and the fiance of one of the friends who joined me on this mornging, we felt a kinship and offered our respects to their recently departed.
Twenty feet East, we saw a group in a circle, dressed in all white, a traditional African, Indian, and Baptist tradition, we heard Creole chanting, and realized we were witnessing a Haitian Baptist ritual of rebirth. The freshly dunked devotees walked out of the water glistening in the early morning sun.
We noticed several members seemed to be distracted by trying to document on smartphones, we respectfully approached, and offered to document for them, so they could participate. They were incredibly appreciative.
At the close of the ceremony, we exchanged heartfelt hugs with huge smiles. I felt the most warm, loving human connection, in the morning light, embracing one another, witnessing their fresh, optimistic faces, filled with innocence, renewal.
It was a morning of mourning, it was also a morning rich with ritual of rebirth and new light. I felt renewed, and full appreciation for a woman on another continent, who guided me to a clean space and renewing habit to be able to do the work I need to do.
Thank you Skype.
Thank you Mbali.
Thank you Ancestors.
Next year, in Africa.