My Learnings – 2010s

I get emails from Marie Forleo because I signed up for her B-School program back in 2015. She is fun and passionate and teaches valuable stuff to entrepreneurs.

At the end of 2019, she had a series of videos about reflecting on the past decade: what you’re proud of and why, what you learned and why those lessons are important, and what you want your future self to know.

The exercises serve as a reflection on how far we’ve come and can guide us into the next decade with clarity.

I enjoyed reflecting and I felt empowered, encouraged, and enlivened because this exercise met my needs for appreciation, understanding, growth, and celebration. I’d like to share my “lessons learned” part of the exercise.

Everything happens FOR me
This idea resonated deeply with me when I first heard it, maybe around 2014 or so. It’s a reminder that even when “undesirable” things happen, it’s because I’m going to learn from that experience in some way, I’m going to grow from it, and expand my perspective through the process. Even the physical pain I’ve experienced on a monthly basis in the past, I believe happened FOR me so that I could really understand and embody what it means to take care of myself, to set boundaries, to accept what is, to relax into a challenging/uncomfortable situation and be with it, to have patience, to reflect and go within, to reach out and ask for help, and to value my body and its abilities even more when it’s not in pain. I have learned so much through the experience of the past monthly physical pain–even though it was so hard to be in it at times and I had to miss out on doing things I wanted to do. There are lessons even from that.

A definition of suffering = voluntary participation in events, situations, and circumstances that disempower you
Again, when I first heard this (from Iyanla Vanzant via Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations podcast, just this past August) it hit me hard as an empowering reminder that I can choose something else. I can choose not to participate, I do not have to stand there and be disempowered and suffer. Maybe it is more about emotional suffering than physical suffering, though emotions do create a physical response in the body. I went through a lot of emotional suffering in the past because I allowed myself to participate in disempowering situations, to give my power all away to someone else.

I am responsible for how I feel; I let everyone else off the hook
Another reminder (from Abraham via Esther Hicks) that I can choose, that I have a choice of feeling bad or feeling something else, that I have a choice to allow myself to stay in a bad feeling state or situation or choose to shift towards a better feeling state. This is a challenge sometimes and it’s a continual practice that I consciously engage in. It’s not easy but I believe it’s worth it in order to show up for myself and align my vibration with who I really am.

Listening to, honoring, and acknowledging my body; self-care in many forms
Without the freedom to move in my body, my world becomes much more limited, contracted, and it’s hard to keep a hopeful outlook on life. I know this feeling so well. Because of it, I have deeply embodied the learning and practice of checking in with my body to really listen to it and honor it and understand it. Creating some space for dialogue and language to support myself in this. And acceptance and self-empathy for when I’m not able to do what I want to do. This is a continual practice because I still find that I push myself too hard sometimes–my will wants to drag my body along behind it. But I ask it, “What can I do to help?” “How are you feeling?” “What do you need?” And I acknowledge it when I know I’ve pushed it a bit–or even when I haven’t. When I feel good, I acknowledge and thank it for the good feeling: “Yay, we did it! Thank you for supporting me in this.”

Be curious
This is so helpful in learning and to ask questions without the fear of being seen as “stupid” or thinking that we need to know everything or to be “right,” which the mind chatter has a way of scaring us into thinking. Curiosity is so important in the process of expanding yourself, to see what you’re capable of, to see what works and what doesn’t, to move forward with less fear. And it’s fun to be curious. 🙂

Have fun, be joyful
Life is supposed to be fun! Another teaching by Abraham. We are here for who knows how long or for what purpose, but doesn’t it feel good to enjoy yourself and have fun while we ARE here? The fact that we ARE here is a miracle and we get to be in our body which we can move, think, have freedom and independence, and to taste, touch, hear, see, smell is such a privilege. I am so grateful for all of my senses because they allow me to experience the world and my life fully.

Savor what feels good; celebrate
Again with the fun and joy. My teacher, David Ross formerly of the World School and currently at Andrew University, ingrains this into his students–and it’s a fun practice. Savor what feels good because it feels good to savor! And to be able to remember that good feeling in my body for a longer period of time, to be able to create and maintain that good feeling again whenever I want. Celebrate even the smallest victory. It’s a way to enjoy life even more.

I am taking these lessons into my next decade of life, continuously and consciously practicing them, and I’m sure I’ll learn even more along the way. Life is a continual process of growth and evolution, if we allow it to be. And I am allowing it! 🙂

Choose Freedom. Choose Myself.

I am sick and tired of this feeling of needing. This feeling of graspiness and attachment, that if I don’t have “him,” I am less than and not worthy and uninspired and unmotivated. This need for “him” to be all things to me, to stave my loneliness and boredom, to entertain me, to be everything for me. Why do I have this need? I’d like to be free from it. I’d like to choose freedom. FREE YOUR MIND!

Why am I still stuck? I’ve had this transformation, this huge opportunity to do something different with my life and I’ve taken some steps–some large steps–yet I stay small.  I don’t “go for it” in terms of how I spend my days and my time. I could be doing so much for my life and myself. But I stay small and get in my own way. Is it fear? Fear of what though?

I continually lose myself in these relationship situations. I forget what I’m about, what I want, and I only chase what is in front of me because I believe that I want only that. The blinders come on and I forget the rest of my life and purpose. For “him,” I put myself in bondage.

And so I need to be reminded to choose freedom. To remember myself. To find myself instead of lose myself. Even if I am “in it” with someone else.

And maybe this is why “T” was presented to me: to remember to choose freedom. To see if I can choose freedom and choose me, even while choosing to spend time with someone else. But this is also the fourth day that I haven’t heard from “him” and this does not meet my needs for connection, communication, and closeness.

I’m feeling shitty and lost. Weak and vulnerable. Which tells me that I have to find my strength again in order to return to being the best version of myself that I want to be–for me first, and then for someone who wants some of this (!).

Three Lessons from Emergency Open-Heart Surgery

Emergency open-heart surgery uprooted me from the life I was living in 2015. In the span of a month, I went from living in Manhattan to staying in a hospital in San Francisco for a month, and then permanently living back in San Francisco, which is my hometown. I would have liked making the move back home to have been of my own volition, but it wasn’t. And things work out the way they are meant to.

Through my recovery, I learned some things that help me live more fully.

~ I learned to listen to and honor my body
~ I learned to set and maintain boundaries around my energy and time
~ I learned to be kinder to myself

By learning and practicing these three lessons that help me embody my authentic self, I can continually give myself permission to learn and grow, to accept what already is and be grateful for it, while cultivating my desires for what’s next and practice being unattached to outcomes.

Living like this empowers me to align with my purpose, continually heal, and live in joy and connection with myself, others, and the Universe.

Run Away, Run

“we will drive until the moon balloons
to just past perfect for a night like this”

– From “God and When My Mother Passes” by Denise Benavides

In silver armor we step on the gas
pedal through universes,
for the special occasion when soul mates
with soul, entwining, finding
crevices to fill, the emptiness
so long suffered through.

The tarnished I/us that was, the polished me/we now who will be, future more perfect than past.

For a night like this the moon fulfills dreams,
moon beams lift us up to black sky beyond
stars blanketing an abyss,
millions and billions, we surpass them
all, shine brighter in each other’s arms where we fit,
no longer dry husks, empty, but supple bladders, full
to swollen, balloons are our red hearts
drifting side by side, red to bursting as fluids
mingle, life created, cell by cell, multiplying
like our prospects, our hopes and joys, despair
subsides, a submarine of loneliness sinks to the bottom of the sea,
like blood that is more leaden than water.

The ocean knows and carries us
across miles towards our new life together,
the one we almost ran from once,
too scared to fail, to hurt again
always again,
to be destroyed and damaged as so many times before
we set eyes on each other.

This night, we shed our silver armor, expose
our luminous love-woven skin, and speed in
to battle our debts together, settle into each other’s losses.

265 W __th St. #3C

There is the fact that I survived. What lies beyond that fact are the many losses this survival incurred. Of these losses, one is easier to talk about because it is tangible, it has a shape, a latitude and longitude, unlike the other losses—some for which I don’t have a name, only a space within me that knows things have disappeared, possibly irrevocably. As I adjust to a new life with parts of myself having been damaged and replaced, I realize that some losses are too full of sorrow, shaped like black mourning crows ascending to faraway treetops, to talk about. I can only ask questions: Will my body get stronger and allow me to create the future I desired for myself before all this? What can I release to feel free again? How can I reconstruct my life? Where do I belong now?

Since my sudden and unexpected departure from New York City, I’ve seen pictures of the apartment I used to inhabit. A friend lives there now with her boyfriend and they’ve made it look fabulous with their modern furniture: the navy blue tufted loveseat, matching reclining chair and ottoman, light wood industrial storage coffee table, whimsical lamp, new artwork, airy light blue curtains, no piles of books. All the things that are not mine. Not my dark wood leaning shelves filled with books, not my storm blue couches that pulled out for visitors, not my yoga ball chair, not my structured lamp, not my dark blue blackout curtains secured for the south-facing windows, not my candles and yoga mat, not my stacks of books on nightstands, on end tables, on the floor. All the things that I had chosen for the first space I’d occupy independently, without roommates or relatives. I imagine myself visiting now, walking across the threshold and breaking down in tears. The space that I chose and filled all on my own but never got to empty.

Instead, a few of my girlfriends emptied my apartment while I was in San Francisco, in the hospital for a month, recovering from the emergency open-heart surgery that replaced two bacteria-eaten heart valves and saved my life.  While I was in the hospital, still bewildered and drugged up post-surgery, it was decided for me that I wouldn’t be going back to NYC any time soon, so why pay the exorbitant rent for being absent? Being former New York inhabitants themselves, two of my girlfriends flew from SF to NYC to generously take on the task–with the help of a few friends who also lived there–of selling and donating all the big items and packing and shipping all the rest back to SF. A month after my surgery, my apartment was empty and a friend took over my lease the next month. I never got to say goodbye. At the time, it didn’t feel like such a loss because I was too busy being grateful to be alive.

* * *

After viewing over twenty apartments all over lower Manhattan—tromping up five floors sometimes, entering other people’s spaces or spaces that had been empty for several days or weeks, imagining myself and my furniture there, making a life—I finally found a space that felt right. This one with its easy rectangular shape, only three floors up, its high ceilings giving the illusion of more space. I remember receiving all my boxes and furniture shipped from San Francisco that first day of March, after all the papers were signed and the space cleaned out, repainted.  The moving men grunted up the three flights of stairs with the heavier furniture and boxes as I stood overwhelmed with nothing to sit on and a forest of boxes surrounding me. I remember the next three exhilarating weekends I spent at Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Container Store deciding what I needed in order to settle into my new life in NYC, making the place mine.

Within the walls of the 400-sq-ft one-bedroom space, I became familiar with the sounds of my apartment. The nightly crash from the tenants above me, a neighbor during his usual 11:00pm departure, pounding down the stairs as if being evacuated, car horns blaring at every hour of the day, the fire trucks screaming down my street at what seemed like once every two hours (could there be such a need for help?), lovers arguing outside at 4:00am sounding like they were in the next room. And above all this, the normal frenetic din of the city that caused my apartment to vibrate on its foundations, buzz…buzz…buzz.  

For a person living in New York City, I spent an inordinate amount of time in my apartment on the days I wasn’t working. My space became a refuge from the long hours at work, from the disappointments of relationships, from the anonymity of NYC that causes loneliness even while being smothered between people on the streets and in subway cars.  I think this happened because of my south-facing windows. A few months after moving in, during one homebound weekend, I experienced the phases of sunlight moving through my apartment over the span of a day. These phases I didn’t get to see while working 10-12 hour days at the job that brought me to NYC—leaving in the morning when the sun’s early rays cast the apartment in drab grays and returning home most nights to dim luminescence from the streetlamps, allowing me enough vision to fumble the switch on the nearest lamp.

But I discovered this: for about four hours during the day, the sun shines hot and bright through the windows and the whole apartment is a sun-drenched happy place where bold colors—blues, yellows, browns, a shock of purple—and warm feelings are all you see and experience. That’s when I felt the freest to do anything. Usually I played my music loud and read, or wrote. Or danced and practiced yoga, or napped. I did whatever I wanted because it was just me in that space, with room enough for my stress to dissolve and my hopes to expand. I reveled in the strength of my body and the whims of my mind, believing life could be nothing other than this. As the sun slowly finished its day’s work, arcing below the tall buildings, I was like a cat, curling myself into the shrinking panels of warmth cast on the hardwood floor, trying to reap the vitamin D benefits of some UV, chasing strips of comforting light before they disappeared. Then, without the sun to placate me, I would get ready to go out for another New York City night.

* * *

On a 70-degree February day in San Francisco, ten months after my surgery, the ocean called to me as it used to when my thoughts became tangled and needed unwinding.  I walked down Balboa Street to the ocean and passed under the wide windows of a second-story apartment, one of many in a tall, light gray block of a building. The windows were thrown open for the occasion of the warmest day in the city so far. The bright notes of recorded acoustic guitar music drifted down to me. It was an older genre, I think. Maybe 1960’s or 70’s. The upbeat tune and melodic notes were the perfect music for a warm, sunny afternoon. The music immediately lifted my mood and filled me with all the hope that a carefree Sunday can bring to someone on her way to see the ocean, wanting to feel the expanse of it ease her loss. I wished I knew the song and I felt like I could be friends with the person playing that music. I even felt attracted to the person without knowing him, just because of that music. I was in love with everything for those few minutes, after the music entered my body, made me groove and snap my fingers to the beat in its wake while I walked along. Toward the ocean in anticipation. So pleased to be there.

On my walk back from the ocean, feeling consoled, I passed by the apartment again. Its windows were still wide open but music no longer drifted out of them. I didn’t realize that I’d been hoping to hear the music again until I felt the disappointment in its absence. I took a good look at the apartment, trying to get a glimpse of the tenant through the open windows, maybe get his attention, yell up to him and ask him what song he’d been playing earlier. That’s when I noted it was a south-facing apartment. When the sun is out and as it arcs from east to west, its rays stream through those and all the other windows facing south the entire day. I remembered an exercise from a writing book that I had just read: “Write ‘Things I didn’t know I loved.’” One response those south-facing windows elicited from me was this:

The freedom of walking around naked in a sun flooded apartment that was all mine.

I wished to live in that apartment building then, in longing for my apartment in NYC.  And I remembered myself in that sun flooded apartment, full of hope and expectancy, ready, and awaiting my next NYC experience. But as the sun begins to arc low, the panels of warmth cast on the hardwood floors shrink and fade away, along with that version of myself. I am here now. But over there, my New York City apartment: the only space that has ever truly been all mine in a time when I was free, whole, strong, and certain of what I could accomplish.