Yesterday we entered the sign of Virgo and it’s the dawning of my favorite time of year. During the last weeks of August, I feel a rush of energy when the shadows start to lengthen, the crickets chirp throughout the day, yet there’s still enough sunlight so I can work long hours in my garden at twilight, enjoying the lush landscape, gorgeous colors, and abundant harvest.
As many of you might know, I’m a third generation Virgo on my mother’s side. My little sister is also a Virgo as was my paternal grandfather. As a matter of fact, I know at least one person who has a birthday on every single day from August 25th – September 22nd (I know five who were born on September 18th). My best friend in grade school and I eventually discovered we were born in the same place, on the same day, and almost at the same time. These days, I’m happily surrounded by a host of folks born under the last sign of summertime. Yes, we Virgos like to stick together, for who else could understand our propensity for perfection, our anal-retentive attention to detail, and our innate desire for order?
When my overly-honed sense of tidiness isn’t driving someone to distraction, it truly comes in handy. Many moons ago my little sister and I drove to Cedar Point in my little green Honda. Along with a box of tissues and a small trash basket, there was a huge container of Handi-Wipes in the backseat and Greta teased me mercilessly. “You’re such a mom,” she laughed. But I was the one laughing at the end of the day when we returned to the car, covered in amusement park grit and grime, and Greta asked, “Can I use some of those?”
“Sure!” I beamed, pulling a few Handi-Wipes from the container.
As we proceed to wipe down our arms and legs, Greta ate a little crow, saying, “I’m sure glad you had those! I feel so much better now that I’m cleaned up a little bit.”
“Told ya,” I smiled good-naturedly. “Aren’t you glad I’m such a mom?”
As I said, it takes a Virgo to truly understand another one.
I recently returned from a magical week in Sedona, Arizona, but I almost didn’t make the trip west. All summer long, my back had been dogging me, along with anxiety about leaving the house. What if the air conditioning breaks while I’m gone? I wondered. What if one of my pets gets sick? What if there’s a fire in the electrical system or the refrigerator breaks down? What if I don’t have enough money to cover all my expenses? What if I hate the weather in Arizona and pass out from the heat?
As you can see, I’m quite a worrier if I let my thoughts get out of control (another Virgo tendency). In the end, I decided that the best way to quell my fears was to send myself a care package to Sedona Pines, the place where we’d be staying. I filled it with non-perishable foods, stuff I couldn’t take with me on the plane, and a small gift for my friend, Sandy, who had planned the trip back in January of 2015. After tracking the package west, I felt my heart lighten when I knew it had arrived at its destination…and finally started looking forward to the first trip I’d take in over six years.
I was all packed and ready to go three days before my friend, Nidhi, would take me to the airport. My gardens were pruned, harvested, and weeded. The house had been cleaned from top to bottom. The laundry was done. My traveling clothes were laid out, and the rest of what I’d need for a week of hiking in the red rocks fit neatly into one carry-on bag and a backpack.
On the morning of my trip, I anxiously walked from room to room, checking the windows, making sure all extraneous appliances were unplugged. My cats were well fed, the litter box had been scooped, and I made sure to locate each one before Nidhi pulled up in the driveway. Then, as if by magic, once we rolled down Central Avenue toward the highway, the butterflies in my stomach dissipated. As I hugged Nidhi good-bye at the airport, my heart lightened, knowing I was finally free of responsibilities for an entire week. A couple of hours later as the plane lifted off for Phoenix, I was listening to a song by Lady Antebellum, some of the lyrics imitating the life I’ve been leading this year:
I run my life…or is it running me?
Run from my past, I run too fast or too slow it seems.
I’m on the cusp of turning fifty, and it’s been a long-standing challenge to let go of the past ten years which have turned me inside out, exposing parts of life that have been a challenge to reorganize and reframe into something that reveals not the shame I’ve been dragging around like a dirty, old security blanket, but the incredibly valuable lessons that have been learned. I’ve written books about it, meditated on it, talked with friends and colleagues and a host of healers, but in the end, there was a piece missing, something I couldn’t quite articulate.
As the plane reached its cruising altitude, I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders, looked out the window at the vast landscape beneath me, and realized that the trip I was about to take was infinitely part of the plan. After all, my friend, Sandy, and I had talked about going to Sedona ever since my late twenties. Now, twenty-two years later, we were finally going.
I’ll share more of the magic that is Sedona in the weeks to come and some of the incredible experiences I had while hiking among the red rocks. But suffice to say, over and over again while on vacation, I silently thanked my inner-Virgo for bringing extra Handi-Wipes. For being so well-organized. For knowing how to organize, pack, and prepare for the trip of a lifetime. And for knowing that when I feel fully ready to go, Providence meets my preparation.
|All packed and ready to go...with TWO packages of |
Handi-Wipes sticking out of my backpack.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Yesterday I returned from a magical week with my friend, Sandy, in Sedona, Arizona. It’s hard to completely describe the incredible experiences I had while hiking in the red rocks, but in the next few weeks, I’ll try to share with you as much as I can put into words. Until then, here’s a blog I wrote about a trip to Yellowstone…and all the ways I’ve been trying to keep it real since then.
Have a wonderful day…and look for “It takes a Virgo” sometime next week.
The real thing
Originally published on June 16, 2014
A few years back my friend, Sandy, and I were on vacation at Yellowstone National Park. Having been there many times before, Sandy wanted me to enjoy all of the incredible attractions she had experienced. The majesty of Old Faithful. The uncommon variety of the natural hot springs. The plethora of wildlife.
Ah, yes, the wildlife.
On our drive into the park, Sandy and I saw a herd of bison on the horizon and, finding a safe spot to stop, we pulled over and took countless pictures. The zoom on my camera isn't that great, so all of my shots ended up fuzzy -- or the group shots appeared as though I photographed a handful of enormous raisins scattered on the prairie.
"Don't worry," Sandy said. "You'll see a lot more."
And sure enough, an hour or so later we were on our way to check in at the lodge when Sandy stopped at an intersection.
"Look over there," she nodded, indicating the passenger window.
Turning my head I saw an enormous bison sitting on the grass, not five feet from our car. "Oh, that's not real," I replied, thinking it was simply a stuffed replica, welcoming us to Yellowstone.
Until it snorted and my eyes shot open.
"It's real," Sandy laughed as she drove across the intersection.
"I guess so," I stammered, not used to being so close to a beast that could gore a hole into Sandy's sidewalls if it had the notion. I swiveled around to watch the bison regard the next car and the next and the next...never moving from its perch on the side of the road.
As the day unfolded we saw many other bison, and one scene in particular was truly spectacular. A short rainfall had thundered through the park, leaving behind several rainbows in its wake. We stopped by an outlook and took a plethora of pictures. This time I was able to capture the majestic beauty of the herd as it grazed and rambled across the dewy grasslands.
"They're all real, Katie," Sandy teased.
"Yep...sure are," I agreed.
Never again was I to doubt that what might look imaginary or artificial was the real deal.
In a world of virtual reality it's often difficult to discern what's real and what's not. You're reading this blog on your computer, your I-phone or mobile device, and the only thing you can touch is the screen or your keyboard or mouse. There's no book to hold. No pages to turn. You're not sitting with me on my porch while I regale you with stories or insights from my often unusual life. But does that make what I'm writing any less real?
While I've been elated to put my work into the publishing world, there's another side...a darker one...that reveals itself in quiet moments when my computer's been turned off. When I'm talking with friends who say, "I wish I had a real book you could sign." When I look around my office and see no evidence of the work I've put into my books for the past three years. Everything's been saved in a folder on my hard drive, then backed up on a thumb drive I keep in the desk drawer. The printed versions of the books that I used during the editing process have been boxed up and stored in my basement.
It's like being pregnant for eons, going through the pain and elation of giving birth, and then having nothing to show for it.
But is that perception real...or not?
Can I be like that peaceful bison and sit by the side of the road, knowing I'm real -- and that my books are real -- without having to prove it to everyone beyond a turn of my head? It's an interesting thought...and one I'm entertaining more and more as the summer unfolds.
A while ago I tried internet dating and absolutely hated it. While I put a lot of time and energy into my profile, it seemed the men I was matched with had a few drinks, took a selfie at the bar they were inhabiting, wrote a bunch of snarky crap, then called it a day. Not that all of them were horrible, but the majority were and after a short period of time, I dropped my membership.
"I'd rather have the real deal than the virtual version," I lamented to my girlfriends. "Guys can be anything they want online. But then again, so can anyone."
I decided that this summer I'm going to dip my feet back into the dating pool, though it's not been as I imagined. Internet dating services haven't changed all that much, but I sure have. Yes, I go through the matches eHarmony sends my way, weeding out any man who answers, "What are you looking for in a woman?" with "A pulse." Blocking any matches with men who say their occupation is "Astro traveling." (I'm not making that one up...I swear.) Still, I'm considering any man who looks kind and at least seems honest in his personal bio. Sadly, there aren't many who interest me.
For this picky lady, it's slim pickins out there.
Yet, I've noticed that since I put myself out there in the virtual world, men in the real world are noticing me more and more. They chat me up in the grocery store. Stop me at the park and ask for directions. Even roll down their windows at an intersection and nod my way. (When that happens, I embody the bison -- i.e. I sit stoically, lift an eyebrow and smile.)
"My light must be on again," I told my friend, Lisa, the other day.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's like I'm a taxi and I've been driving around with my light off for years," I explained. "Only now I've turned it on and men are noticing it." After a short pause, I then added, "Only this time I get to choose my passenger. I'm not taking on any more men just because they need a ride...or I need the work."
So now I'm traveling on into the often unfamiliar world of virtual publication and publicity, venturing into the endless possibilities that are open to me as I search for a new agent and publishing house. I'm dipping my toes into the dating pool where I've learned to navigate the precarious sharks and gravitate toward the friendlier dolphins. And through it all, the mantra in the back of my mind echoes, "Keep it real...keep it real."
I'm sure that when my productivity meets providence at an intersection in the near future, I'll look around and be able to recognize what's true and what's fiction. And if I'm having any trouble with that discernment, I trust I'll be guided by Sandy or Lisa or a host of friends who know who I am. Who know the real me...and want nothing more than to see it reflected in the life I'm now creating.
|Keeping it real at Red Rock State Park, Sedona, AZ|
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.
It is our choices.
(from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
A couple of weeks ago, Satish and I were playing a pretty complicated game of chess. In years past, it was fairly easy for my young friend to win the game…and often in four moves or less. These days, I give him a run for his money, although Satish will say that’s because he’s out of practice. Even though it’s true, I still like to think I’ve become a more worthy opponent.
“When Danta and I are playing, I have much easier time,” I explained to their mother, Nidhi. “I respond to what he does with a piece, then he responds to what I do. It’s a more interactive way of playing.” Glancing at the board, I noticed Satish made a wily move with his bishop. “With my pal here, it’s different. He’s always thinking five steps ahead, planning out how he wants the pieces to move around the board. And while I can often figure out what Danta’s thinking, I’ve yet to figure out how Satish’s mind works.”
“Yeah, but I still win sometimes,” Danta said, looking up from a book he was reading.
“Yep,” I admitted. “These days I think we’re 50/50, right?”
“I think so,” he replied, then stuck his nose back in the pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Soon enough Satish captured my king. As I shook his hand to congratulate him, I asked, “Want a rematch and this time let the queen move any way she wants?”
“Okay!” Satish beamed.
For years the boys and I have contemplated playing chess by bending the rules just a bit, allowing the queen to also move like a knight, yet we never gave it a test run. While Danta loves the castles and Satish can make the best of any piece, the knights are my favorite, for their stealth way of maneuvering around a chess board often allows me to capture a pivotal piece. So as Satish and I set up the game, I was more than eager to see how thinking outside the box might allow me a better chance of winning.
Which it did…immediately.
Within two moves, I had Satish’s king in check.
“You know Katie loves those knights!” Danta said, peeking around the pages of his novel. “Now it’s like she has three of them!”
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking about the queen moving like that,” Satish admitted. “I'm going to have to get used to it.”
Which he did…immediately.
Still, changing the rules made the game much more fun and sharpened my ability to anticipate the plans Satish was formulating. In the end, he still won, but not after I had captured nearly half of his pieces.
“That was fun!” he exclaimed.
“It was,” I agreed. “It’s fun to change the rules sometimes.”
Then again, I’m not one of often follow the rules of engagement. Sure, I obey traffic laws. I don’t double park. I pay my bills on time. I don’t dive into the pool at the gym…and wouldn’t, even if the sign clearly stating the regulations wasn’t clearly posted on the wall. Of course I know laws and guidelines are in place to provide healthy boundaries, but I don’t often do what I was taught by my family and the American culture.: I didn’t remain in a job because it had a salary and benefits. I didn’t marry Mr. Right and have children. I didn’t embody all the things a good girl should do as she grows into a woman. Now I can readily admit that everything I chose to do instead was deliberate, even though not much of it seemed so at the time.
I’ve always been able to go after what I really want. Whether it be a teaching position, a career as a writer, or anything else, if the object of my desire was able to be obtained by me alone, I was always able to manifest it. Even so, there were many times I needed to reframe my perception of a happy life. Many times I struggled to let go of the tug-of-war I had with my familial conditioning vs. my creative unconscious. Many times I marveled in my ability to get up every time I faltered. In every instance, I was eventually able to bring to light the object of my desire…sometimes to my detriment, but more often to my delight.
I suppose it comes naturally.
The other day I was working with a trainer at the gym to help move me beyond weightlifting workouts. After ten months, it became totally boring to do some version of the same routine over and over again. As in chess, I wanted my metaphorical exercise queen to move in unpredictable ways, so I asked Gordon to put me through my paces.
Which he did…immediately.
We started out with one-leg dead lifts, which weren’t so hard – until I added a kettlebell to the mix.
“Start with your dominant side,” Gordon suggested.
Automatically, I stepped my left foot forward.
“I’m left-handed, too,” he smiled.
“I should be,” I replied. “But I’m more ambidextrous.”
I went on to explain that a few years ago I took a survey for a local professor who studies hand dominance. “I imagine you’re mixed-handed,” his wife said. “Being a writer taps you into the right brain.” As it turns out, I tested left-hand dominant, even though I write, eat, and use my garden clippers with my right hand. But I vacuum, turn locks, open jars, and pull weeds and do most everything else with my left.
Every time Gordon asked me to practice an exercise leading with my dominant side, I made the conscious choice to step forward with the left. Sure, it felt more natural, but it was also more challenging, for leading with the left allowed me to learn the pattern of movement more efficiently. It gave me a better baseline from which to springboard. It allowed me to think outside the box of the years of weight training I’d accomplished and allowed my own body weight to be the best resistance…even when I fell on my behind.
At one point, Gordon threw some kettle bells in the middle of a huge, foam box, then attached some handles to a strap on the side. “I want you to push this and sprint as fast as you can across the gym. Then pull it backwards as fast as you can. Stay up on the balls of your feet and your toes, too.”
I did one round and while it was tough, when Gordon asked, “Is that heavy enough?” I replied, “Nope.”
He added more weight and again I pushed and pulled it across the floor.
“One more time!” Gordon cheered. “You can do it!”
Which I did…at least half way. Pulling the box backward, my fatigued legs gave out and felt myself falling fast to the floor. A split second later, I landed on my left sit bone and burst into laughter.
Offering me hand, Gordon asked, “Are you okay?”
“Sure!” I nodded. “I’m fine.”
“You did that well,” he smiled. “Falling I mean.”
“When my balance is challenged, I’ve learned how to fall gracefully out of yoga poses…and land as softly as I can,” I said, dusting off my backside. “I’ll feel that tomorrow though.”
Which I did…sooner rather than later.
Still, pushing outside the box challenged me to do more than I ever thought possible. A couple of days later I was back at the gym, working out by myself, putting myself through all the paces I had learned. It was hard, harder than anything I’ve done in a long time, but it felt amazing. Muscles I didn’t remember I had burst to life, allowing me to challenge myself in ways I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. Sweat poured down my face as I practiced using the TRX, then power-slammed a weighted ball, then worked with the heavyropes for good measure.
I know that by mixing things up, by going outside my comfort zone, by not only thinking, but working outside the box, I am creating a unique life experience, one that is genuinely, wholly my own…not only in the gym, but on my yoga mat, in the garden, when I write, and most often when I interact with others.
Yesterday I shared some of Dumbledore’s wisdom with my friend, Steve, saying, “What a wonderful thing to know that it’s not my abilities that show me who I truly am, but the choices I make in how I use them.”
Steve nodded. “Yes…and if I follow my code and do what’s good and right and true, then I know I’m doing just fine.”
These days the choices I make are based not only on stretching my muscles in new, fascinating ways, but also my perceptions of what I think and believe. Like Satish playing a game-winning session of chess, I strategically think five steps ahead as to how a choice might impact my life and the lives of others. Will it bring grace and peace and truth? Will it cause harm to myself or another person? Will it keep me in a revolving cycle of old behavior or open new doors of healing?
“There are not many people who think that far ahead,” Steve grinned. “But Snow White, I’m not surprised you do.”
Shifting on the front porch swing, I felt a twinge in my left sit bone and smiled, knowing that to live outside the box may bring a few bumps and bruises along the way, but it also reveals the incredible happiness in knowing I’m continuing to live an honest, authentic life.
Friday, August 5, 2016
When I was younger, my mother loved to tell a story about my older sister's kindergarten woes. An older boy waited for her at the bus stop and teased her mercilessly. Sometimes she would come home crying; on other days, my sister refused to ride the bus to school. I gave her suggestions about how to get him to stop, but with no success. Even though I was only four, one day I asked Mom if I could go to the bus stop and show my sister how to take care of the problem.
"Don't worry, Mommy," I said. "I'll make him stop."
When I came back home, I told my mother that the boy would never bother my sister again.
"What happened?" she asked. "What did you do?"
"I told him to stop teasing people," I bluntly replied. "Then I kicked him in the shins."
Sure enough, from then on, my sister could ride the bus, free from the taunts of the little boy who must have been terrified I would do worse than kick him if he ever dared to bother my sister again.
Yes, I was sassy and I was naughty...and even though I no longer kick anyone in the shins, I often find myself standing up for the underdog, speaking up when I'm tempted to remain silent, and using laughter to bring honesty to a situation.
I thank God for my sense of humor. William James very eloquently stated: "Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." Born with an innate sense of verbal timing, I honed my comic ability by entertaining my mother, my grandparents, and my little sister, all of whom were a captive audience.
Pa-pal, my maternal grandfather, used to bounce my sisters and me on his knee while babbling in an imaginary language, dropping in our names every so often to keep us curious. The cadence and tenor of his voice was fascinating, and we giggled with delight every time he spoke his special "Pa-pal language." I imagine this is one of the reasons I loved to read to my students and use a wide variety of accents and inflection.
Once I was reading Miss Nelson is Missing with a great deal of expression. The kids in Miss Nelson's classroom didn't show respect for their good-natured teacher, but when a nasty substitute named Miss Viola Swamp took her place, they quickly learned the error of their ways. I was using a wicked voice for Miss Swamp when I noticed one of my first graders leaning over to the child sitting next to him. "Oh my gosh...Miss Ingersoll's crazy!" he whispered.
I paused, bouncing my eyebrows for effect. "Better crazy than boring."
Jon's eyes widened and he gave me a squeamish look, but on the last day of the school year when I asked what was the best thing he had learned in first grade, he eagerly replied, "I learned it's way better to be crazy than boring!"
I have been both crazy and boring, often simultaneously. There were years in my late twenties when, deep in the process of working through emotional garbage from the past, I thought I would never smile again. But I've survived years of challenging life experiences due to the fact that I'm tenacious enough to dig deeper in the hopes of finding even a kernel of absurdity in my life's circumstances.
I went from falling in love with a man named Terry who broke my heart, to working with a teaching partner named Mary who deliberately betrayed my trust by slandering my reputation in our school system. She was soon followed by a teacher named Harry who manipulated circumstances so that I (and many other students) no longer felt welcome in his classes. Then along came Jerry, a psychologist who blatantly said to me, "If you weren't my client, we'd be dating." (I terminated therapy the following week...and no, we never dated either.) Years later, a man named Barry was a hypocritical roadblock in my pathway to a workplace I dearly loved. This all culminated in 2009, when I was providing undercover information to a narcotics officer named Detective Terry in the hopes that an imminent drug bust would rid my neighborhood of the heroin dealers who lived five feet from my home. Naturally, he was of no real help.
Looking at the bigger picture, I can now laugh at the common thread that weaves them all together. From Terry to Mary to Harry to Jerry to Barry and back to Terry again....round and round the circle of fire.
And I swear, even though all the names have been changed, they still rhyme.
I can't make this stuff up.
I've long since let go of all that drama and have learned that to be sassy is to be resilient...and I'm not alone.
Last Friday I had the pleasure of spending time with my pals, Satish and Danta. While helping fix lunch I noticed a homemade tally board on the refrigerator that said something like "Satish's Sassy Chart." It seems Satish's sister and cousin had created it to reveal just how many times my pal could come up with a good one liner in a day. I laughed out loud when I saw how many marks he received in less than an hour. Even though we were born thirty-odd years apart, the sassy apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I've heard Satish repeat silly phrases I've said over the years and use them in hilarious context. Verbally quick as lightening and with a razor sharp wit, Satish knows how to infuse any conversation with unpredictable, yet incredible humor.
"What's sassy mean to you?" I asked him, nodding toward the chart.
Satish gave me a little grin. "Oh, you know...to be a little sarcastic."
I nodded. "And funny, too."
"So how come you got so many on this day?"
Satish shrugged. "I don't know...guess I was being really sassy then."
"Too bad I missed it," I chuckled.
After lunch we drove to the bookstore, and I listened intently for some sassyspeak from my Satish, but to no avail. Yet later while playing The Game of Life with Danta, Satish and I marveled at how many pink pegs (representing daughters) he had acquired to put in his little plastic car.
After lunch we drove to the bookstore, and I listened intently for some sassyspeak from my Satish, but to no avail. Yet later while playing The Game of Life with Danta, Satish and I marveled at how many pink pegs (representing daughters) he had acquired to put in his little plastic car.
"Wow! Those are a lot of girls you've got in that thing, Danta," I smiled.
He dramatically rolled his eyes as he's not quite into the stage where girls are kinda fun.
"Yeah...that's 'cause he's a real ladies' man," Satish chortled.
"Go put a tally on your sassy chart," I laughed. "That was a good one!"
But Danta didn't think so, and after a short wrestling session between the two of them, he quickly landed on a square that granted him a son.
"Whew!" Danta grinned. "But still, all those kids are going to pay off at the end."
Ironically enough, neither Satish nor I had kids in the game, but I still won, having garnered the most money with my salary as a movie star...which I told them would be that last thing I'd want to be in this lifetime. Still, after losing to both of them at chess earlier in the day, it was a nice way to balance our game-playing karma. While it's no longer a kick in the pants (or the shins) to have an eight and ten-year-old smoke me at a game I've been playing for decades, I still enjoy being the top dog every six months or so...and they were both gracious in congratulating my win.
As I was leaving, I gave Satish a hug and a kiss, saying, "Can't wait for our next play date." For it's great fun to hang out with a little fella who's just as much of a sassypants as I am.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
It’s been a long, hot summer here in Toledo, especially since all of the gorgeous trees that once lined the end of my block have been cut down. For the past ten years, one by one, the lovely hundred-year-old maples that used to shade my house have been ground into mulch, leaving the front yard exposed to extreme heat and sunlight all day long. By mid-morning I could fry an egg on the metal surface of my screen door, not to mention the toll it’s taken on my morning glories which hesitatingly uncurl themselves for an hour or two, only to wither in the late afternoon.
I can totally relate.
An odd duck to the end, I don’t experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the winter like most people. Every summer between Memorial Day and early-August, I long to spin a chrysalis around myself and hibernate until the crickets come out at night, chirping a lullaby of imminent autumn.
Satish, Danta, and I were tooling around town last week and the subject of a new house came up in conversation. For a few years, I’ve been longing to move out of the city and into the suburbs, so I told Satish to keep an eye out for homes in the Monclova area.
“That’d be so cool!” he nodded.
“I’d like to live a lot closer to your family,” I explained. “And we’d get to see each other more often.”
“Yeah, then you can come over to play all the time!” Danta beamed.
“Right!” I smiled. “That’s the idea…plus I could take you to school and stay overnight if Mummy and Papa need to be out of town.”
Always the pragmatist, Satish asked, “How much land do you want?”
“Oh, about an acre,” I replied. “But here’s the thing…the house has to be on a shaded lot.”
“How come?” Danta asked. “You can’t grow food in the shade.”
I winked at him. “Right! The back of the property can be sunny so we can plant our vegetables and greens. But the house needs to be shaded because summertime is too intense for me.”
“Too much light…too much heat…too much noise,” I explained. “I’m already fiery enough…or didn’t you know that?”
“Yeah!” Danta laughed. "Can I still help you with your garden at your new place?”
“Sure! You still want me to pay you in books, ice cream, or cash?”
Danta giggled. “Uh huh!”
So these days, when I’m stuck inside listening to the air conditioning hum, I often fantasize about what my next house will look like. I visualize it located on a quiet, rural road, surrounded by trees, with a little out-building and a charming plot of raised beds chock-full of chard, greens, and basil. Then, in the evening, I sit on the front porch in the shade, appreciating the incredibly enchanted flower beds I’ve been growing for almost twenty-five years.
This year it’s been challenging to get out in the garden, not only because of the weather. My back went out in early June and I spent two months doing intense physical therapy in the hopes that my L5 would miraculously move back into place. My sacrum would feel better for a while, but inevitably, after an afternoon pulling weeds or an hour or two pruning shrubs, I’d have to come inside, take a hot bath and lie down for the rest of the day. There were weeks when I’d talk my yoga students through most of their practice, endless days when I could barely sit down or stand up without pain shooting through my sacrum, hips, and legs.
Ten days ago, I thought I had it licked. I woke up on a Friday and felt fabulous. Went to the gym and worked out with no problems. Came home and picked up the house, readying it for the next day’s yoga class. But come Saturday morning, I was riding the slippery slope back into needing to wear a brace and pop Ibuprofen every six hours.
By Sunday, I was in agony. Getting out of bed was excruciating. Getting dressed, nearly impossible, so I stayed in my pajamas all day long. Deciding to practice what I preach to my students, I listened to my body as it shouted out, “Please stop!”
So I did.
Other than getting on the floor to do the PT exercises, I stayed on the couch, watching Netflix or reading. While the strengthening isometrics helped some, by nightfall I was still in unbearable pain. Still, if I didn’t get up and feed the cats or scoop the litterboxes, no one else would. If I didn’t do the laundry, there was no one else to do it. So, gingerly making my way down to the basement, I decided that once I made it back upstairs, I’d skip dinner and just go to bed. Bending over to pick up a laundry basket, my back seized and I knelt on the ground, tears filling my eyes.
“Oh, my God,” I cried. “Please help me. I don’t know what else to do to help myself heal. Please, please show me a way out of this pain.”
It took some time to climb the steps. To put away the laundry. To pour kibble into my cats' food dishes. While taking a shower, I thought about writing in my journal, something I haven’t taken the time to do in several months. Pulling on a fresh pair of pajamas, I found my journal where I had left it on a shelf in my office, grabbed a purple pen and propped myself up in the living room, waiting for the words to come.
Crickets chirped outside an open window as sitar music played in the background. Relaxing into the haunting melody, I began writing about how it has taken me nearly my entire life to come to a place of self-acceptance…away from the peer groups of my past, away from the organizations and occupations through which I had identified myself. Away from the things I thought I wanted, the things I was taught I should be or do or have.
As the words unfolded on the page, I clearly realized why it was my low back that had been in agonizing pain, for it was reflecting the internal pain I had been carrying for decades. In yogic tradition, the pelvis, low back, hips, and legs connect us to our tribes of origin, to one-on-one relationships, to our feelings about money and sexuality and control. As I wrote about all of the failed relationships from my past – both personal and professional – I realized what a great gift each person had given me…and through that realization, I was finally able to forgive them all. Through their abandonment, I learned to take care of myself. Through their betrayals, I learned how to establish healthier boundaries. Through their disrespect, I gradually learned how to respect myself. Through their not wanting me, I was given the freedom of not being involved in relationships that would be riddled with drama and expectation.
In part, I wrote:
I can forgive them all for cutting me open so I could bleed out my karma, burn out the past and rise from the ashes, free from them and from my own self. Perhaps this is all my life will ever be. Perhaps not, but unless I fully accept that this is my life now, no matter how much I try to change it, I won’t ever truly heal.
An hour later, when I stood up to go to bed, there was no pain. When I walked to the back of the house, I did so effortlessly. When I sat down on the bed, for the first time since I can remember, I did so with ease and grace. Lying there in the dark, I asked myself, What if this is it? What if this is all you’re ever going to have…all your life is ever going to be?
Without missing a beat, I thought, I’m healthy. I’m happy. I do what I love and love what I do. I live life on my own terms and because of the choices I’ve made, I have the freedom to do and be whatever I want…all of the time. If this is it, well, that wouldn’t be so bad at all.
Ever since that night, I’ve awakened to a pain-free existence.
It’s a beautiful life I now embody, this place of fully accepting what is…and what is not. Letting go of what’s past, letting it be ground into the mulch that will fertilize the future. What I have now is more than I had ever imagined, for there’s more than enough love and abundance in my life and it fills me to overflowing.
Like a caterpillar who knows when it’s time to accept that life as it has been is over and done, during this long, hot summer I’ve been spinning a chrysalis of silence around myself, unsure of what’s next, but completely trusting my instincts. I'm willing to allow myself to dissolve into something unrecognizable all the while believing that whatever emerges on the other side will only be a reorganization of my perception of what is possible.
Now, in every moment of every day, I will remind myself, This is it, Kate…your real life unfolding.