Monday, December 21, 2015

The light inside

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, one of my favorite nights of the year.  I plan to turn off the lamps and light all the candles in the house, so the soft glow of firelight can dance on the walls while I listen to Paul Winter's annual solstice celebration on WGTE radio.  Someday I hope to fly to New York and visit St. John the Divine Cathedral where Paul and his consortium host this extraordinary event every December.  But for now, I'll cozy up on the couch with a mug of something hot and enjoy the concert from the comfort of my living room. 
It will be a wonderful respite from the busyness of the past few months and the sorrow I've been feeling since a close friend recently told me his cancer has made an aggressive return after lengthy treatment.  Surgery is scheduled for Christmas Eve.  Hopefully, he'll be able to go home the next day to be with his family, but nothing is certain.  And until the test results come back, all we can do is wait...and pray.
Last week while driving home after a long, difficult day, I was stopped at a red light.  As I sat there, my thoughts drifted; bittersweet images from the past flashed through my memory, then worries about the future took their place.  Finally I took a deep breath and noticed the license plate on the truck in front of me.  It read:  BPRESNT
I've been practicing present moment awareness for over twenty years, so you think I'd have the hang of it by now.  But these days, it's not been easy, and I was infinitely thankful for the synchronicity.  I smiled, remembering what I had said to my friend earlier that morning: "We'll take this step by step.  Whatever happens...no matter what, you're still you, you're still here today.  Really, that's all any of us ever have."

This year in particular, being present in every moment of my life has been an ongoing challenge.  For over a decade, I've been teaching workshops that incorporate lofty ideas and beliefs.  The past twelve months have brought those lessons into a tangible reality that is occasionally frustrating, often mesmerizing, and continually palpable.  It's easy to practice an ideal when safely harbored within the walls of my home.  But what happens when the darkness outside creeps through the cracks, shadowing what had previously been brought to light?
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I've longed to be real outside of teaching yoga and writing essays and novels, beyond my quiet world of meditation and contemplation.  Slowly, but surely, the past ten years have aged me (often times in reverse), but they've also transformed me into someone brand new.  Although much of it has been painful, it's what I've wanted...to be connected to people on a deeper level.  Even the hurt can be healing because at least I know now how much I can let myself feel.  
Maybe that's why I love the winter solstice so much.  For when things become as dark as they possibly can, there's always the reassurance of light returning once more.  At the dawning of winter, the sun will rise higher each day, steadily reminding us of the promise of springtime.

I'm reminded of a Christmas Eve more than twenty years ago, when I stood at the altar of Christ Presbyterian Church holding a single white candle.  The overhead lights had been extinguished while the minister lit a long taper from the Advent wreath.  He lit mine, then I walked to the choir loft where I shared the flame with the sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Once a soft glow filled the loft, I went back to wait by the pulpit, watching as the ushers lit the candles of the people who stood at the end of each pew, who in turn passed the light on to the person next to them. 
Silent Night played softly in the background, and when the last verse was sung, the whole congregation was illuminated by a warm, white light.  I listened to their voices echoing in the open space, captivated by how each individual flame created the entirety of the brilliance that filled the church.  Then I realized I wasn't alone, a solitary candle shining in the distance, for I knew that our source of light was one and the same.
And it still is.    
I may not know what the future holds.  Shadows may obscure my path, and I may need to wait a while longer for guidance or momentum.  Still, even though it may be pitch dark outside the haven of my heart, the light inside will still burn bright.
Always.

Open Road:  Year Three is now available in paperback and digital download on Amazon.com.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An introduction to "My Journey of Faith and Hope"

For the past six months, I've had the honor of working closely with Mary Stocki McKinstray in bringing to life her mother's memoir, My Journey of Faith and Hope.  During the process of writing The LaceMakers and Franciszka's narrative, the tumultuous world in which we now live often reminded me of events from the early to mid-1900's.  When Mary asked me to write the introduction, I felt blessed to share what this work has meant to me and how it's changed my perspective of the past and my place in this world.  Please enjoy and share our labor of love.


Introduction to My Journey of Faith and Hope

This year commemorates the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.  In preparing to write The Lace Makers, I spent nearly a year researching literature, attending lectures, and watching hours of World War II footage, yet there were very few stories told by Polish survivors of the Russian labor camps in Siberia. 
While Jews all across Europe were murdered during the Holocaust, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Slavs, Serbs, Czechs, Gypsies, Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, political prisoners, and the mentally ill were also taken from their homes and unlawfully incarcerated.  Many of them were systematically executed; even more succumbed to starvation, exposure, and disease.  By the end of the war, between one-third and one-half of the Polish population had died...nearly six million people.  Half of them were Christians.  Conventional history has proven to only reveal pieces of the puzzle, not the complete narrative. 
The Holocaust was not primarily a Jewish genocide.  First and foremost, it was a human tragedy, one that our world is still embodying in ways both explicit and concealed.   Hitler and Stalin's regimes were not created in a vacuum and neither were their consequences.  Until we can completely acknowledge the full scope of the tragic events of our past and their catastrophic results, we are doomed to repeat them. 

When Mary Stocki McKinstray asked if I would help edit her mother's memoir, which Franciszka had been diligently writing in the years before her death, it was a rare opportunity to expand my awareness of the Holocaust through a first-hand and very personal account.  In weaving together Franciszka's notes which are hand-written in Polish/English, and references from other resources, Mary and I discovered a captivating narrative that goes beyond the war, beyond pain, suffering, and the reconstruction of a new life.  It's an incredible journey, one I've been blessed to nurture into publication.
While it has been an enormously daunting process, bringing this narrative to light has also been an honor.  Historical literature is predominantly written by men, yet women's stories are unique in that they allow readers to deeply experience the often overwhelming emotions and enormous psychological effects of waging war.  In My Journey of Faith and Hope, Franciszka's story reminds us that even though evil may pervade for a while, faith, hope, and love transcend time and space.  The extraordinary courage she found in her later years to record her memories for her children has been an inspiration. 
This book is a legacy of a woman who embodied resilience when confronted with hatred, endurance while accepting the unknown, and peace at the end of a long, difficult path to liberation.


Kate Ingersoll
Toledo, Ohio
November, 2015

Discover this book online here.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Raising the bar

In my thirties I was a fairly serious weight-lifter, eagerly pumping iron at an all-ladies gym.  During my last years of teaching, I'd been dealing with incomparable stress, which left me with TMJ, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a wicked case of fybromyalsia.   My physical therapist suggested weight lifting as a good way to build strength and give my muscles a larger range of motion.   So, in addition to yoga, hiking, and gardening, I hit the gym at least six days a week.
One of my doctors says I'm a walking miracle, as everything's been healed except mild numbness in my hands whenever I garden or knit too much.  Still, I was dedicated to staying off medication, avoiding unnecessary surgery, and creating a healthier lifestyle.  When I moved to California 2008, one of the bonuses of my job was being on my feet at least nine hours a day doing some pretty heavy lifting in the Esalen farm and garden.  Sure, I went to the gym on campus now and again, but since I spent the majority of my time outside and walked at least six miles a day up and down some pretty steep hills, I found that the natural world provided a much better workout.
It's been eight years since I ventured into the world of spin classes, treadmills, and free weights, yet that's been something I've longed for since the beginning of 2015.  I missed the intensity, the variety, and the challenge.  Still, I'm not one to want attention while I'm working out.  In fact, when I was a Lifestyles member, I meditated in my car before I went inside the gym, mentally zipping up my energy so I wouldn't be over-stimulated by the blaring televisions, the shouting instructors, the music blasting from the overhead speakers.  In addition to not being bothered by the mayhem, I found others didn't really bother with me.  Once while I was taking a break on a bench in-between leg lifts, a woman actually sat on me.
"Oops!" she exclaimed.  "Sorry!  I didn't see you there."
"No worries," I told her.  "That was my intention."
Yet, since I joined a new gym here in the Toledo area, I've been setting much different intentions, and the bar's gone way up. 

The gym I belong to now is quiet, save for the upbeat music softly playing in the workout area and the locker rooms.  The classes are taught in an upstairs private space and best of all, there's a steam bath I enjoy after working out or taking a hike at Wildwood.  Exercise has once again become my favorite form of entertainment, recreation, and self care...and I'm loving every moment.
Most days I arrive between one and three or in the evening, so it's usually just me and bunch of guys lifting or running or swimming.  I don't mind at all since I spent a lot of time at Esalen working with men, learning how to do things efficiently and effectively on a bigger scale.  I've seen dudes bench press three hundred pounds when I'm lucky if I can do thirty.  They grimace and grunt and grit their way through set after set after set, sweating like dogs and slapping each other on the shoulders when they can add ten pounds to the bar for another round.
I watch them all, then try to up my game, just to see what I can do.  But I have to admit that my Type A personality crept in during the first couple of weeks so much so that I came home sore, fatigued, and sometimes in pain.  Once I set the bar so high, it would have been more productive if I had limboed beneath it.  I paid dearly for that workout and have now changed my ways, incorporating what I often tell my yoga students, "The practice doesn't have a goal...it has a purpose.  Discover what yours is today, because it might be different than it was the last time." 

Last week, during a yoga class, one of my friends said, "You're still a relaxed Type A, but you've mellowed even more over the years."
"Just wait another ten years or so," I smiled at Brenda. "I'll be even softer then."
"I hope I'm still around," she chuckled.
"Oh, you will be," I replied.  "You're the first person who helped me reframe my energetic personality so I don't feel like such a hard ass."
I recently took a personality quiz and discovered that I'm high in both alpha and beta tendencies, so that makes me fairly balanced and able to lead as well as compromise.  But after living with cats for the better part of my adult life, I've realized that, like them, I've softened my alpha tendencies, but still know how to go for what I want...especially if it involves attaining a long-held desire.  For them that might mean a highly-coveted, comfortable spot on the couch or a romp session in the yoga room.  For me it means a life-long career as a writer and a healthy relationship.
I've been spending more time with men this year and have come to realize they're not all that different than women.  Yes, their brains are more focused on one thing at a time.  Yes, they can get things on the top shelf of the cupboard that are far out of reach for me.  Yes, most of them are hard-wired to fix things, whether it be a broken toaster or a broken heart.  But most fellas want the same things that most women do:  to be loved, to be appreciated, to find meaning in their lives.
Still, I've come to accept that I'm more attracted to men who actively move forward...no matter what they're doing.  Maybe that's why I love to work out with them around.  I'm an alpha cat, and can wait patiently for things to evolve.  But there's something about an alpha dog who knows what he wants and goes for it, whether it be a promotion at work, another lap in the pool, or another ten minutes talking with me on the phone.  I swear, there's nothing quite like a man who assertively, yet not aggressively, finishes what he's started.
Take the man I had dinner with last spring, the guy who fearlessly called me a badass.
Pete's a long-distance runner and was lamenting about how he had torn a meniscus near the end of a marathon.
"Oh, man," I said, lifting my brows.  "I'll bet that hurt.  What did you do?"
"I finished the race," he replied nonchalantly.
"No kidding?"
"Nope...then I had surgery on it."
"I should have had surgery when I tore mine doing gardening work for a friend," I told him.
"How'd you do it?"
"I fell into a deep ravine while my foot was planted on the edge.  I ended up landing on a rock and got pretty banged up."
"What'd you do?"
I shrugged.  "I climbed out of the ravine and finished the job."
Then we both laughed, realizing we had more in common than a distaste for ultra-spicy food and a dedication to fitness.
Near the end of the evening, we were talking about the long, challenging road I've taken to find a publisher.  I was in the middle of writing The Lace Makers, and told Pete that I wasn't sure how I could get the finished manuscript into the hands of an agent who had both clout and integrity.  He listened patiently while I described the ups and downs of self-publishing and how all I really want to do is find my own place in the literary world.
It was enchanting when Pete smiled and said, "One day you'll be totally rich.  Your books will be sold all around the world and you'll be famous.  But you won't be happy because that's not who you really are."
At the time, I replied that even though I don't seek praise, I'd be overjoyed if my work touched peoples' lives in some way.  Now I wish I'd asked him what he thought might make me truly happy.  I still wonder, What would he say...this man who revealed that I'm now leading with who I am and not what I do?
Meeting someone like Pete raised the bar on what I truly want -- someone who's strong and kind.  Someone who knows who he is and also sees me clearly, no matter how much I might try to hide.  Someone who can both call me out into the space between us and invite me inside of myself into places I didn't know existed. 
Someone who will be the man, so I can be the woman.
Since that night, being a vulnerable badass has been an ongoing challenge, but it's been worth it...and after all this time, I know Pete was worth it, too. 

Ever since I graduated from college, I've had to exercise my masculine side to earn a living, pay the bills, run a household and a small business.  Over the years I've lifted the bar higher and higher, striving to improve every area of my life.  While developing this kind of strength is all well and good, it can never take the place of a real man.  And I don't want to lift weights like a man or talk like a man or even work like one for that matter, for I've come to fully understand what Bobbie Barrett said to Peggy in season two of Mad Men:  "No one will tell you this, but you can't be a man.  Don't even try.  Be a woman.  Powerful business when done correctly."
This year has been one of enormous changes, but not all of them can be seen on the outside...at least not yet.  These days, I no longer need to zip up my energy to be in this world, to work outside of my home, to date or go out with friends.  I find I can set the bar high and still work with my ever-changing limits, because every day brings something new.  I may not always be able to run as far as I'd like.  I may need to take a step back after taking two steps forward.  My yoga practice may need to shift and change as the seasons do. 
It doesn't really matter.
        What matters is the awareness I bring to what I'm doing, be it in the gym, writing a novel, or meeting someone for a cup of coffee.  I may succeed or falter, but at least I'm making the effort.  Raising the bar might not always be comfortable, but it always encourages me to grow...and that, too, is powerful business when done with an open heart.